Get ideas for product development, international expansion, and marketing messaging by listening to episode #46 of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast. I had an illuminating conversation with Jake Watts, Vice President of Marketing, PDI.
Listen now to hear Watts discuss why you don’t need to go looking for good ideas, you never have the right answers to begin with, and you should always take the ‘dogs.’
This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
“Remember that the customer is the subject and your offer is the object,” Flint McGlaughlin taught in Effective Headlines: How to write the first 4 words for maximum conversion (McGlaughlin is the CEO of MECLABS and MarketingSherpa).
I thought of this quote when our latest guest talked about essentialism. One place I see scope creep and bloat is in messaging – we get so focused on our own product and company we forget that our customer doesn’t know (or care) about our product…they care about themselves. Our guest said his job is simplification, and keeps his message about complex health care products simple by using this litmus test – “if I explained this to my mother or father, how could I message it so they could clearly understand it?”
Learn more about the mental model our guest uses to keep his brand’s marketing communication as simple and easy-to-digest as possible in this episode of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast. I sat down with Jake Watts, Vice President of Marketing, PDI.
PDI is a privately held, third-generation, family-owned company. It currently has 1,000 employees. Over 75% of US hospitals trust PDI for surface disinfection. As head of Healthcare Marketing for PDI, Watts oversees a team of eight marketing professionals.
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
Some lessons from Watts that emerged in our discussion:
Watts was part of a team that built China’s first remote monitored peritoneal dialysis device to save and sustain the lives of 100,000 Chinese patients.
Using the “Jobs to Be Done” framework he learned from Clayton M. Christensen, Watts and his team discovered what the ideal customer wanted from the product…which can be very different in Asian markets than it is in the US market.
Watts was part of an organization that built the market’s leading disinfection portfolio to solve healthcare’s biggest problems by doing less, rather than more.
Just like there is scope creep for agencies and consultancies, there is idea creep and resources creep in corporations. Watts helps guide his current team to focus – narrowing down campaigns, products, and projects to just the highest priorities that will yield the most for the customer, the sales team, and ultimately, the business. One of the inspirations that helped him refine this technique is the book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown.
Watts helped build new pricing models with old ideas to unlock millions in product opportunity across the globe.
Watts also shared lessons he learned from the people he collaborated with:
via Eric Noshay, Senior Director, Renal Therapy Services, Baxter International Inc
Watts learned this lesson from Noshay while building and launching the first dialysis services offering in Indonesia in collaboration with the Indonesian government. Working in Indonesia was not seen as a plum assignment at the time, but when Noshay was able to communicate the opportunity in this overlooked yet quite large market, it inspired Watts to take on the opportunity.
He learned a related lesson from another one of his mentors at Baxter, Lisa Rometty – “always take the dogs.” When you take on the less glamorous projects or job roles, it can only go up from there. And no one is going to blame you if it doesn’t work out because it was a dog to begin with.
via Chris Rector, CMO, GAF
Watts and Rector built a new business model innovation team and capability within the world’s largest roofing manufacturer.
via Keyne Monson, CCO, PDI
After the death of a colleague’s son, Watts saw a leader’s approach to building/rebuilding a team in crisis.
The Behind-the-scenes Story of How We Optimized Outdoor Advertising That Was Featured in a USA Today Article
The Compounding ROI of Sequential Conversion Increases: How one company took a small gain and multiplied it tenfold (instant PDF download)
Don’t Give Clients What They Want: “That’s also the name of a convention for adults who dress as toddlers” – Podcast Episode #6
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.
If you would like to apply to be a guest on How I Made It In Marketing, here is the podcast guest application.
Not ready for a listen yet? Interested in searching the conversation? No problem. Below is a tough transcript of our discussion.
Daniel Burstein: If you've been with your organization for any length of time, you probably noticed that things just tend to get more complex. Your organization likely just adds more and more on top. A new tool, a new channel, a new team, a new responsibility it’s much more rare to actually subtract. I like to think of those are the barnacles that just kind of kind of grab on to the ship of your marketing organization. But it is the rare but brave marketing or business leader who will argue for less in that strategy meeting or planning session.
Which is why a lesson I read in a podcast guest application recently really stuck out to me. You should almost always do less than you think. I love that and I can't wait to hear the story behind that lesson, along with many more lesson filled stories from our guest today, Jake Watts, the Vice President of Marketing for PDI. Thanks for joining us, Jake.
Jake Watts: Thank you. I appreciate you having me on.
Daniel Burstein: All right. Let's go through your background, so I am just cherry picking from your LinkedIn. A lot of good stuff here. You say Philosopher by training and Marketer by choice. You have a B.A. in philosophy from Columbia University. You were a Digital Strategy Consultant at Scholastic early in your career, Digital Product Manager at Zions Bancorporation. Summer Marketing Associate at Danaher Corporation while you were getting your Master's in Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern. You were Group Manager and Associate Director of Strategy and Business Model Innovation at Baxter International, Director of Marketing and Business Innovation at Beckett Dickinson, VP of Business Model Innovation at GAF. And now you are the Vice President of Marketing at PDI , long Career you’ve probably learned a lot, can't wait to hear about it.
But let's talk about your current role here for a second. As Head of Healthcare Marketing for PDI, Jake oversees a team of eight marketing professionals. PDI is a privately held, third generation family owned company. It currently has a thousand employees, and over 75% of U.S. hospitals trust PDI for surface disinfection. So give us an idea, Jake. What is your day like as Vice President of Marketing at PDI?
Jake Watts: Yeah, good question. It's incredibly exciting here at PDI, we are a leader in surface disinfection and infection prevention. Phenomenal family company. You know, my day consists a lot of simplification, of taking the complexities of what we do from a portfolio standpoint, from a human standpoint, and trying to boil these down to the essentials, right. What are the highest priority tasks that we're trying to accomplish as an organization?
So right now, it's deep thinking about where the market's going, where our portfolio needs to go, you know, who are the right type of people that we need to have on the team to be successful. How do we help the people who are on the team, you know, really achieve their best and deliver, you know, what they've committed to deliver and really to run the business day to day and help our customers be successful with our are leading products.
Daniel Burstein: Great. I think that is a lot of challenges that our audience is facing, too. It'll be interesting to hear what you learned in from your career to be able to address those challenges in what you're doing today. So let's jump into some lessons you learned from your career. The first lesson you said is you never have the right answers to begin with. So how did you learn this?
Jake Watts: Yes. So I had a pretty unique opportunity of living in China for three years. And, you know, that was facilitated by my work at Baxter Health Care. So I was part of a leadership rotational program when I joined Baxter out of graduate school. And as my second rotation, I chose to go to China and never been done before. But I really I had this aspiration of living in China, working in China. My father had lived in Taiwan for a couple of years back in the late seventies. And so it was kind of part of my blood and I wanted to go there and have a new challenge. And so I was part of that rotational program. I was able to join a newly formed team in China called the Business Model Innovation Team for Baxter.
And the intent of that team, the intent of that team was to use, you know, the tools of lean startup, essentially, to find new innovations for the Chinese market that could potentially be exported to other emerging markets and also potentially back to the United States. So a little bit of reverse innovation. So that was the intent of the team.
We did the traditional, again, business motivation process or lean startup process where we really got deep within the market to understand the customer's needs. We were focused on the renal business. So anything involving dialysis was part of the business know I was involved in and also our fluid systems business, our medication delivery. So part and part of the team that I joined was you know, from the very get go get parachuted into China don't speak the language, don't understand the culture very well, don't know anyone. And at that time I was the only foreigner in the office. And, you know, just was immediately embraced by the organization and by the team and had the chance to really dive in with the hypotheses we had to try to create new businesse,s and get in the market and start testing immediately, testing what might work, testing, you know, what would resonate with customers. And so that's kind of where my lesson comes from and I can get more in depth here.
But what I learned was that you go into a new situation or you go into, you know, a new marketing challenge with answers already in your head. You have these pre-built frameworks, you have these ideas of, Hey, here's what worked in the past in my previous role. I'm just going to lift and shift and go and solve the same problem. And what I learned in, you know, jumping into this team and being there for three years was that what I came to the table with was almost always wrong. The answers I thought the customers needed or the product that I thought the customers needed or the solution they needed was almost always wrong because I brought my preconceived notions to the table of what they needed and, and in due and in bringing that, bringing these potential solutions. And they automatically, you know, almost initially the first response in I this what I love about the people in China that I encountered, they would almost always tell you how wrong you were from the get go. And I love that, I came to love that honesty in that candor. And so that's a lesson that really sticks out to me in marketing from my career is you just never have the right answers at first. And so you should go out the market and learn quickly.
Daniel Burstein: Was there anything specific about you being an American going to China? And, you know, very different culture, different economy, all these things that you had to overcome or a challenge you had, and then you figure a way to overcome it. Because I love your lesson. I mean, we've interviewed so many marketers on here and is a very common theme. This is a common theme if you're in the same country or industry or all these things. I wonder that extra challenge of being an American, going to a very different culture and economy. Is there any like tip you have? If any of our listeners are about to go over in China and try to launch a new product or try to learn about, you know, potential customers?
Jake Watts: Yeah. I mean, there's so many lessons. It's, you know, we come, you know, if you're American, right, you come with this framework of all the products we've created in the States here, our corporation, these are the best products. They solve the problem the best, and people should pay for them based on how we built this model. And we can just literally bring it here and everyone will welcome us with open arms and say, thank you so much. I've been missing this product my whole life.
That's just not true. It's because I think that there's just fundamental assumptions that I had and others have, you know, as you come over to any emerging market. I spent time and we'll talk about this, I spent time also in Southeast Asia, a lot of time in Indonesia. It's just the case that people expect different things of products. They hire. You know, I'm a big advocate of the job to be done framework that, you know, I learned from Clayton Christiansen and I'm sure other guests have shared, but they have different jobs to be done right. And they're not necessarily the same jobs as those in developed markets.
They may be connected, but the truth is, is that from my perspective, oftentimes in the states we only look through the lens of functional jobs to be done right. So my current role, you know, as VP marketing at PDI, were we're deeply focused on the jobs to be done for our customers in the infection prevention space and surface disinfection.
A lot of it becomes a functional challenge to solve. How quickly can you kill a bug? How you know, how quickly can a room be disinfected? These are very functional jobs to be done. But what I found in my time in Asia was that oftentimes there were social and emotional jobs to be done that were connected to the product that weren't accounted for in a developed market, a developed market type product that you would lift and shift to another market. And I can get more in-depth in what I mean by that, but.
Daniel Burstein: Like do you have any examples of the social, emotional or...
Jake Watts: Yeah. So, so I had the, you know, just amazing opportunity to help create and lead a program where we created a peritoneal dialysis device that was intended to be used in the home. So if you know anything about peritoneal dialysis as opposed to hemodialysis, hemodialysis happens in a center, right? Because the blood has to, you know, to be very simple about it, the blood has to be cleaned. When you're in the peritoneal dialysis happens in the home and the patient administers that to themselves.
Well, if you know anything about peritoneal dialysis, you know some of the really important jobs to be done beyond just, hey, I want to do this therapy is, my environment, my home is a source of infection, right. And I'm terrified of getting an infection because infection can lead to greater complications. In addition, many of those that we encounter in China building this device and I'll get more into what this device was, is many folks in China who were doing peritoneal dialysis were older and they had younger children who were deeply concerned about whether this therapy was being done correctly. And their parents or grandparents were being safe in using this. And so as part of designing this solution, we started to think about ways that we could inform caretakers who remotely, who weren't there, that the therapy was being done correctly by their parents or their grandparents in the home using digital technologies.
So the kids, the caretakers, had this emotional job to be done, which is I need to know Grandma, Grandpa, you know, my dad is safe in doing this right? While the user themselves also needed to make sure they were doing the correct steps in avoiding, you know, getting any infections or other complications from doing this therapy.
Daniel Burstein: And that's to marketing specifically are some good lessons there. But I just wonder like at a general business or personal level, did you have any like adventures over there from just, you know, I don't know, cultural differences or anything going on?
Jake Watts: Yes. You know, there's plenty of adventures when you go to a place where the food is new, where the language is new, where the cultures new in. A lot of people ask me, do you miss it? And I said, I deep, deeply miss my time in China because I felt like every day you'd be learning something new or seeing something that you had never seen before, you know? So, you know, a great story here. That's it. That, in retrospect, is hilarious. But at the time was a little bit interesting to understand given the cultural difference. Was a colleague of mine and I went out to pitch a as we're working on all these new concepts these new business model that we're going to build for Baxter, is we went out to a place called Luoyang and…near where the Longmen Grottoes are. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site, just this these ancient statues in these grottoes. And there's a hospital nearby that we're going to pitch our services to.
Well, it turns out that the woman who is going to help us build the software component of this solution was also working for our competition, who was pitching to the hospital president and their board for this solution as well. So we had a person that we thought was part of our team was actually working for both teams who are pitching the same hospital. And so my colleague, who may have been a little over creative and overzealous at the time, said, oh, I'm going to take advantage of colleague's naivete about our culture and how things are working. So we'll do a very long launch. So we went to this. We took this woman who is part of the software team working for both sides. We did this very long launch and then I said, you know, hey, there's this UNESCO's World Heritage site that's not too far from here. I'm going to kick myself if I don't if I don't go to this place and see it, you know, we had four or 5 hours until we had this appointment with the hospital.
And so my colleague said, that's great. Let's get la driver and let's go out there. So we went out there and he said to this woman, Hey, we're going to go out there and we're going go see this. He's a foreigner. He's never seen this before. And we're going to show him this and give him a great experience. And so everyone kind of went along with it. But, you know, as we're at the grottos, we get a phone call from my boss who's, you know, of course, upset, saying, hey, the competition who's supposed to be presenting right now is saying that you've kidnaped their software developer and they're going to call the police.
Well, here I am, you know, seeing this beautiful UNESCO's World Heritage site, you know, basking in these beautiful Buddhas. And my boss is saying, hey, you're being accused of kidnaping someone, and the Chinese police are going to be called and, you know, you better get back get your you know what, back to the hospital as soon as possible because this could get nasty pretty soon. So we went back. There was an interesting kind of almost altercation with the other company. We went in, pitched the business and we won it. And unfortunately for the other guys, they lost it. But, you know, just a kind of, you know, misadventure over there where, you know, my naivete and culture met my colleagues creativity and these interesting, interesting, you know, cultural touchstones that you don't get, you know, certainly doesn't happen when we're going to talk to Kaiser or anything like that around here.
So just a phenomenal experience. There's dozens of experiences like that where I look back personally and just say the business wasn't just like, let's hit a number, it was fun. It was an adventure. It was, let's go figure out what customers want. Let's build something new. Let's build a new dialysis device for the home. Let's go pitch a new solution to a hospital in the middle of nowhere.
And, you know, getting a little bit of fun trouble at like that's what I genuinely miss about the marketing profession there. And my time there was it was exciting, it was creative. It was kind of your living on the edge and you're just kind of making it up as you go. There's something that's really refreshing about that, and that's what I miss about my experience in Asia.
Daniel Burstein: Well that’s something too, when you are a business innovation and I think people are looking for, but I think the challenge and this kind of ties into your next lesson when we do that. It's always just maybe adding something else on top, adding something else on top. So I like this lesson. You said you should almost always do less than you think.
So it sounds nice, but one we live in a culture of more. And two, I was also thinking like there's just no shortage of agencies and vendors and tools and platforms and new innovative technologies that are reaching out on LinkedIn, knocking on your door, trying to get in there. So how did you learn this and how do you actually live up to you,should almost always do less than you think.
Jake Watts: By the way, this lesson always makes you unpopular, right? Because it's incredibly easy to do more. It's incredibly easy to say, yes. You know, if you've spent any time in innovation or product development or, you know, whether that's on software side or device side or product side, everyone wants to add another feature. Everyone wants to do another project that they heard that some customer wants or sales requested. Everyone wants to be able to do those things. And by the way, as a marketer, you want to be the good guy, right? You want to be the guy who's providing the materials or the or the girl who's you know, really delivering for sales or really creating something new or creating a splash in the market. And those feelings and those aspirations are real.
What I found, though, whether it was my time in Asia building new products or solutions or my time, you know, as in my current role in doing, you know, the VP of Marketing, where, where we really straddle the line between new product creation and leveraging the products we have into market and driving business growth. Is that, if you're not disciplined enough just like there's scope creep in any you know I worked for agencies earlier in my career and there would always be scope creep, you know clients would always take advantage.
And I think there's something that happens. There's idea creep, there's resource creep. And I think one thing we've done phenomenally well here at PDI is really focus on what matters most to our business financially and more importantly, what matters most to our customers, right. So we've been able to really look at our business, look at the list of, you know, we have a list of 50 different potential new products that we could bring to market or, you know, 30 different campaigns we could execute.
But we've really taken a hard look, you know, and really practice what you preach of essentialism, right. So there's that great book by Greg McKeown where he talks about essentialism, right? Our highest priority tasks and, you know, and the discipline of saying no. So our company, you know, with me and with our leadership team and, you know, the great people in our marketing and communications team have really just looked at the scope of all that we can do.
And we've looked at the projects that are being proposed, and we've really asked a simple question, as you know, what is our highest priority task? Which ones are going which programs, which projects are going to yield the most for our customers, for our sales team and ultimately for the business? And so we've been really disciplined about that.
And, you know, to me, that constraint alone is really important in running a business and being disciplined about portfolio creation and really, you know, team development, all the above. That essentialism is key.
Daniel Burstein: You know, one other place I've seen that scope creep is in messaging is in the marketing messaging itself. So I wonder how you kind of keep that reined in at PDI because for example, we have a free marketing course and in one of the lessons Flint McGlaughlin teaches, remember that the customer is a subject and your offer is the object. And in some in B2C products too, but especially in complex products, B2B products, my gosh, you go to their Web page. Look at their marketing. They're just talking about themselves. They're going on and on and on.. So I love one word you said real quick when you when you were introducing your day, that simplification. So how do you take that simplification into the messaging?
Jake Watts: So this may sound a bit silly, but I ttell, you know, I was working on a brochure the other day with a phenomenal colleague. We're launching a new product here in March. And the rubric I use is if I explain this to my father, who knows nothing about and he knows what I do, but, you know, he knows nothing about the products. Or if I explain this to my mother, how would I do that? How would I do it in a way that they understood what exactly I'm doing? Now this is not going to work in every case. Of course, if it's highly technical, you're going to have to you know, you going to have to spell it out. We work with the EPA and the FDA and, you know, you can't talk to them as you talk to your dad, right. Like this doesn't work. However, I found it to be a very helpful mental model for me, which is if I'm going to create messaging for a nurse or an infection preventionist, how do I make it as simple and as straightforward as possible that tells them about what this product will enable them to do?
You know, this goes for presentations. You know, we all know that, you know, working in any corporation, you know, PowerPoint becomes a language of the way the business is done. It's again, there simplification. How do you make this as comprehensible and as easy to digest as possible? And I always have my father, my mother sitting on my shoulder saying, Jake, this makes no sense. And so I'm always trying to, like, push messaging or push the way we lead and communicate through the lens of simplification.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I love that. Have you ever actually tried to sit down on Thanksgiving and Target? One thing I found with the jobs we have today, like my mom, is how is that a job? Like, you know, like have you talk to them through and like.
Jake Watts: Yeah, so, so it's funny, last summer I was with my mom and dad and, and my mom always asked this question, I think, you know, every other year. Now remind me, remind me what it is that you do. You know, if you want to go tell her friends and be proud of me and I love that, right. And so I'm like, okay, how do we make this really simple as possible, right> And I had those conversations with my parents and, you know, walking them through the stories, storytelling. Here's the problem that customers have. Here's how our product solves that customer need or problem, how our product addresses that. And here's the result, like being as simple as possible. You know, I get the head nod. You know, my dad’s a builder and developer. He doesn't know anything about surface disinfection or health care, but he knows what it means to solve a problem. He knows what it means for a customer to have a problem and for you to deliver on a need and to create an outcome. Like he understands that. And so, I don't know, maybe it's a silly way that I've kind of, you know got to simplification for my own life and career, but I found it to be incredibly useful.
Daniel Burstein: I like it. It's a great shortcut that speaking of solving problems, you also mentioned you don't need to go looking for good ideas they're already in your organization. So how did you learn this? What kind of problem were you trying to solve?
Jake Watts: So, look, I mean, you know, all those who listen this podcast will know how many consultants you've hired in your career to go find, you know, new ideas, only to, you know, three or four weeks later bump into someone who's been in the organization for, you know, ten years or, you know, eight years or whatever it says. Now, I actually tried that, you know, ten years ago. And here's what we learned. Like this is like almost like a law of gravity, right? Like it's almost like a nature's law, which is anytime you go out to look for a new idea for an organization or a new product or a new business model or whatever, it's almost always the case that someone has thought about it in your organization or tried it or know, implemented it or something has happened that way, right.
And so what I've what I've kind of learned is that most good ideas are already in the organization. They're hidden in the closet somewhere in a file drawer, somewhere they're in the kind of institutional tribal knowledge of an organization. You know, I have a number of different experiences with this. You know, one that really spoke to me is, you know, my time at Becton Dickinson when we were trying to both create new devices for our interventional care business and to look at pricing, was that we, we resurrected an old model that had been created around pricing tiers and, you know, floors and ceilings. I mean, this is not, you know, pricing floors and ceilings is not like this esoteric idea or esoteric model of being a marketer and creating value for a company and for customers.
It's a very simple way of having discipline around pricing now. So when I was at Becton Dickinson, for example, phenomenal company, great products worldwide. So if you have a worldwide business where you're selling products all over the world and you have all these folks who are autonomous in their business units in different countries, they're going to start creating their own pricing models, right?So and then pricing is now going to start to, you know, as another law of nature here. Pricing is now going to start to go all over the place. And so I had the opportunity there to work with a phenomenal pricing leader as a marketer and to sit down and say, okay, you know, pricing is off in Brazil, pricing is off in some of these other key markets. Let's look, you know, is there any old work that we've done that could go and to refine those pricing tiers and pricing models to create profit and to really anchor to where our customers are and the value that our products are creating.
So he and I resurrected this old Excel model that someone had built, brilliant model wasn't implemented, and we were able to take that, ingest all the data, you know, that we had worldwide on pricing for a particular portfolio. And we're able to now go and nail pricing tiers and find millions of dollars in upsided value just by seeing where pricing had gone wrong across our portfolio and across our countries. And what it really taught me was that as much as, look, I get the desire to come into an organization new, or at your organization, you want to do something big and splashy. And oftentimes that means hiring someone who has a big brand in the consulting space. And because it makes you look like you're doing something.
But oftentimes, you know, the most successful marketers, the most successful business people I know are really good about treasure hunting in an organization for things that people have tried and maybe not gotten right. Or things that are sitting there that could create value and they're able to find kind of the diamonds in the rough, stitch them together and execute them in a way that's a lot faster, it's a lot cheaper and it creates the value we're looking for anyways. So,you know many lessons there but I just learned that the answers, oftentimes the idea already there. You just need to be a good treasure hunter, right? You need to go find them.
Daniel Burstein: I like treasure hunter. But also one thing I learned early in my career, like as an outside consultant, is first I'd come in and be like, Oh, here's a brilliant idea. They’d be like we did that, you know? And so I've learned, like, so if there are like any outside consultants listening, ask as much as you can beforehand of the situation of what they really already did. Because if it seems brilliant it's and it's obvious they've probably already tried it right.
Jake Watts: Yeah there's always that one person, and as you're an outside consultant there's always that one person in the organization that's maybe a little rough around the edges, tough to deal with, you know, who's been there for a long time,. Who's like the institutional knowledge person we have one on my team who is just this phenomenal person who like literally can remember, oh you know I've been here 30 years I remember when you know Mr. Johnson tried this, you know, 20 years ago. And here's what we learned. And like finding those people to me is like the first person you'd go to. Tell me who has been here the longest. So I can start to kind of just digest that history before you go and try anything new.
Daniel Burstein: Okay Jake. So now you realize I have to play devil's advocate because we probably just lost half our audience because half our audience is consultants and agencies and stuff. So I'm going to ask and I'll give you some positive examples. I'm going to ask, when do you bring in outside agency and consulting help, right? And I'll give you two quick examples from my own career.
One, there was this nonprofit called the Bear Foundation we worked with. It was founded by a minor league pitcher. And what he did, it seems very simple he just put signs in minor league baseball stadiums with missing children. And if you saw those children, you know that obviously they're getting found. And, you know, our team, it's a simple it was an A-frame sign and we brought a total outside perspective. Optimized that sign. We found more missing children, right. And that's simple, so imagine the complex.
But one other quick example, too, and you mentioned we've done that before, we've done it before 18 months ago, 20 months ago, 20 years ago. You know, I was talking to a company about their TV ads and it was a security company. And so there were these very entertaining ads, but also it didn't feel like it hit on what a security company needed, which they didn't want entertainment about a funny burglar. Like, hey, if your neighbor's home got broken into and you're about to go out of town on a business trip, you're scared your wife and kids are okay. Are you going to buy the funny ad? And they would be like, Oh, no, we tested. We tested it's good work. Stick with the ad.
And then you go a level deeper into like, how did you test oh you tested with a focus group. So if you're in the mall or whatever online and someone gives you a $20 gift card and you sit there, I would rather see the entertaining ad, but that's not the customer experience. Where again, your neighbor's home got broken into are my wife and kids. Okay. So let me ask, in fairness, when do you bring in the outside consulting agency and that expertise and that different viewpoint?
Jake Watts: Yeah, actually, you know what, look you know.
Daniel Burstein: I'm glad you said what you said because it's so true. It's so true. It's important for everyone to hear we get oversold by consultants. But when do you bring them in?
Jake Watts: Yeah, look, I mean, I've got great friends. I have great friends that are consultants, you know I worked for agencies early in my career. And so they are essential to do very particular things and bring a different perspective. I think there's four things that come to mind for me. Well let's start with the idea itself. Oftentimes, the time is just not right for an idea, right. Maybe ten years ago when Mr. Johnson tried this is just wasn’t right. The timing wasn't right for a market. You know, you didn't do as much of in-depth research in the right way to, you know, really develop a product that was hitting a market need. You didn't have a product market fit because you didn't do the right work.
So I think oftentimes, you know, if you're coming as a consultant and people say, we tried that here. Well, that could have been done ten years ago. And the market's different now, right? So that's part of it from my perspective. I also think that you do need people to come in from the outside to have a different perspective. It's very clear, no matter if you're in the best company in the world or a company that's just getting started, oftentimes we only see the world, you know, to your earlier point. We only see the world through our eyes. I studied philosophy as an undergrad. And that is a truth. The truth is we don’t see the world as it is. We see it as we are, right. And so you need people to kind of check that right. An organization can have it, there can be a gravitational pull around a particular leader's point of view. And so other things cannot be seen.
So I think you do need a consultant in that instance. And from my perspective there are two other things. Oftentimes consultants have capabilities that an organization doesn't have, right. And therefore can do the fourth thing, which is to help them execute something that they found, right. So to me, if you're able to really and great consultancies do this, if they're able to articulate those well, those value propositions and really understand the customer's need they're trying to solve, whether it's capabilities that's execution, it's a different perspective. It's Helping something that may not be timely or not have been the right time to be now be timely. I think those are the ways that agencies and outside companies can help an established company realize their vision and create value.
Daniel Burstein: Well put. Well put, and thank you for letting me give you a hard time and taking a fair and balanced approach there.
Jake Watts: Yeah. No, I love it.
Daniel Burstein: So the first half of the podcast we talk about lessons, we learn from the things we made. That's I think, a uniquely fun thing about being a marketer. We get to make things. I've never been an actuary or podiatrist, but I don’t know if they actually make things. But in the second half, you know, another key thing is the people we make them with.
So here are some lessons from the people you have collaborated with. You say boldness and clarity of vision are what motivates teams to sign up for the previously unthinkable. And you learned this from Eric Noshay, Senior Director, Renal Therapy Services, Baxter International Inc. And I think this gets into your time in Indonesia, right?
Jake Watts: Yeah. Yeah. Look, on the face of it, if you're a big multinational company with offices everywhere, Indonesia is not necessarily the most the most obvious choice to test new models and to launch new initiatives, right. You know, oftentimes companies are looking to China and India, but Indonesia is a massive market with a massive population within the top five of populations worldwide.
Young population, very, you know, interesting government dynamics and a market that you don't hear about, right. It's something that that people don't pay attention to. And so, look, you know, every from the outset, it's all about team, from my perspective, right? Is no, no one individual, you know I didn’t parachute in here and solve all these problems. And this is why I love talking about this.
You know, guys like Eric who are able to look at a market like Indonesia from headquarters at Baxter. So I was in Southeast Asia and he's at headquarters in, Illinois, in Deerfield, Illinois. He's able to look at a market like Indonesia and say, okay, massive population, growth trends, investment by the government in health care, really able to see the trends, to find, you know, this opportunity for us and to say, okay, we want to grow our renal business. We want to take a bet on doing something new in a market that no one really wants to pay attention to quite yet. And work together to paint a vision of what dialysis and renal therapy services could look like in Indonesia. To me, that takes vision, right? Because it's not the obvious choice.
And so I learned from Eric as we got into this whole adventure and it was an adventure, a lot of adventures in Indonesia that were just as wild as China. Is he was able to take this and paint a vision for leadership that said, here's a place where we need to take a bet, where we need to learn how emerging markets are going to be in the future and what dialysis could look like in emerging markets.
Now, China certainly is an emerging market and India is, too. But those are spaces where multinationals have been playing for a very, very long time. So it wasn't an obvious choice. And so his ability to really articulate a vision, to work with our team, to put an action plan around that vision, to be very simple about what the outcomes of this vision could be to me was just a lesson of a lifetime about how you inspire people to do unthinkable things, to do something that's not, you know, generally accepted. And to just get clarity around what it's going to look like at the end of that vision, getting everyone on board and moving forward. So, you know, something I take with me and just a phenomenal leader who's had a huge impact on my career.
Daniel Burstein: Well I wonder too, like what role does experimentation play when you're trying to get a team motivated about taking something else on? Because not everyone listening is going to be sent to Indonesia, but we're all either as leaders, going to have to send our teams into doing kind of the less glamorous products, the, you know, the newer things, the less exciting things.
And one thing I found is when you're in those less highlighted, less spotlighted areas, you can experiment a lot more. It's fun to experiment because, you know, there’s alot of feedback, you're learning. I've written before about the compounding sequential gains. You learn one thing and you experiment, you learn another. So either in your own career or when you're managing a team, when you're having to send people into that kind of less glamorous, newer area, like, do you let them experiment more? Have you learned from that experimentation?
Jake Watts: Yeah, I love experimentation. Like I had another phenomenal leader and mentor her name is Lisa Rometty, she's at CBS right now. And she said, Jake, always take the dogs. And I thought that was brilliant because you know her point was it could only go up from there, right. And no one's going to blame you, you know, on the downside, because it's a dog.
But what I learned about those kind of under the radar projects, those projects that are unappreciated, is that that's really your opportunity to shine as a marketer, to do something that is a little outside the box. You know, you can as our CEO says here, like you're on the page, but you can color outside the lines. And and the thing I love about that is you can take risks, you can experiment. You know, people give you a little bit more leeway when you're taking on products, programs, you know initiatives that are dogs. For lack of a better way of saying it and it's really an opportunity to shine to create impact. You know one of the things that we talk a lot about as a team and think a lot about is impact. You know, we all have our titles and those are important. But at the end of day the kind of legacy we leave and the roles that we have is the impact that we've created. And oftentimes it's very difficult to realize impact in products or programs that have been established for a very, very long time. You know, it's a percent there, percent here. You know, it's potentially a new product. It's a tweak on a product. But some of these, you know, unglamorous assignments or products where maybe these are opportunities for you to make your mark.
And I think, you know, as ambitious people, as people that want to look back on a long career and say, here's all the things that I did and tell their grandkids and that, hey, I did something, be proud of it. Oftentimes that comes out of things that are just not glamorous. And so, you know, I'm a counterintuitive thinker many times. And so I want those under the radar projects because I think those are opportunities to prove yourself and to show to others what you can do.
Daniel Burstein: I'll tell you that always take the dogs to when you're making your career choices. You know, a lot of people want to hop on to that hot brand. But, you know, at the end of the day, if you are on the rising ship, like, what did you do? Like it might be a bigger struggle, but finding that brand that needs a turnaround, you know what I mean? I mean, imagine if you were part of the team that turned Apple around, you know, 20 years ago when it was heading down versus, you know, joining Apple now. What are you really doing?
Jake Watts: Yeah, yeah.
Daniel Burstein: Here's another lesson. And I love for a guy that works in such a complex field and has worked in complex fields, I love how much you use the term simplicity. You say radical simplicity plus alignment is key to leading large and challenging organizations towards new business models. And you learn this from Chris Rector, CMO, GAF. How'd you learn this from Chris?
Jake Watts: Chris is my former boss. Just a phenomenal person, brilliant businessman. You know, the first thing that really struck me about him, you know, I came from a multinational, you know, tens of thousands of people working there, always putting together, you know, beautiful decks. And don't get me wrong, there's utility and beautiful decks. And the first thing that struck me is how unbelievably simple he made everything, right. In fact, I never remember him even putting, and the guys a Chief Marketing Officer, never putting together a deck that had anything more than bullet points. And I know that this seems like a really kind of weird and obscure way of thinking about this. But like, coming from where I came from, which is like almost McKinseyesque, which has its utility again. And it's essential in some ways to run a business. This guy ran an organization of 100 people by literally boiling down what the key initiatives were, what the key tasks were, what were the key things that need to be done to really grow a phenomenal business, to be the leader in roofing manufacturing. And the guy did it through bullet points.
And I just I always think about that because whenever I get a little bit wild in my, you know, I'm going to put a different font here or I'm going to create a shadow box there or like or whatever it is I'm doing in PowerPoint making it pretty. I just remember Chris is who's really key to success was simplification. And then connectively when you're keeping it simple was alignment. He would always sit me down in his office and was like Jake I want to talk to you about this Japanese term, nemawashi, it's about alignment, about, you know, getting people on board and helping them to understand your vision and helping bring them along to doing something new.
And, you know, someone who came in from essentially from all my time in Asia, as I talked about where it was radical push of the boundaries, break things, try new things. To an organization where a guy was so dialed that it was simple and you had to get everyone on the same page and aligned. That was tough but he did it through that alignment and simplicity because that was the only way that people could sign up to do something new. And to me, it was almost like a paradigm shift in the way I think about how business is run. And Chris really showed me how that can be done in a phenomenal, successful organization.
Daniel Burstein: I love that you mentioned that about PowerPoint specifically, too. Because I was, you know, in an organization and I realized at some point, you know, we're spending all this time to make all these nice PowerPoints and we're just showing them to each other. And even if you're presenting to the CMO, it's not the customer. Like the customer doesn't see any of this. It doesn't impact the customer at all. And maybe that's where we should focus and spend less time presenting each other. So this just kind of interesting career trajectory I noticed. So when I look at your career, it seems like health care, health care, health care, roofing, health care. Do you want to share anything about how what did that kind of little segway come from?
Jake Watts: Yeah, you know, maybe not. We'll see how the next you know, however many years I got left go. But, look health care is a phenomenal space to be in. You are always impacting people's lives for the good, more or less right. You're doing things that are you know, our tagline here is be the difference, right? We care about, you know, we have this saying called the mother brother. And it's all about all the people that we impact through the products we have. And so I love health care. I love what it does for people. Part of me is just kind of looking at a career in health care and saying, okay, well, this opportunity came up. Can I do innovation? Can I build a team? Can I test new models? Can I advance an organization a different direction that's not health care organization. So part of it is almost like a look in the mirror moment to say, you know, like life short, why not try something new? You know, I want to be a person who's always pushing the boundaries and innovating and doing new things. This is an opportunity for me to practice what I preach, right? To look at a new opportunity and to try something different and new. It was a phenomenal experience. It was definitely another kind of fish out of the water moment. Like I had been living in Asia for five years. But it was my chance to again kind of get that rush of being out of my comfort zone and to doing something that you know, I was challenging and that I didn't think I could do.
Daniel Burstein: Well, I wonder, is there anything you learned from that industry that you brought to the health care industry that was different? Because one thing, you know, in Marketing Sherpa we published a lot of case studies and people are always looking for case studies in their industry. And sometimes it's like you send them a case study? They're like, Oh, no, no, I'm an OEM parts manufacturer to domestic automakers. That was for an OEM parts manufactured to foreign automakers. It's like, open your mind, because I remember once we published a case study on the Obama campaign and not to be political, but they had done more A/B testing than any other campaign at that point. And I was proud. There were some people in the audience who clearly weren't in politics, very different industries, but they're like, wow, I learned this and I was able to apply this lesson. So sometimes we're so literal about our industry, so did you learn anything from roofing that you can apply to health care.
Jake Watts: Actually, there's like a really you'd be surprised about how it's not a one for one connection, but how much I think that infection preventionists are like roofing contractors. So a roofing contractor, you know, they're starting out they’re a contract and they want to build their own business. There's like fundamental skills that from going to be a person who puts shingles on a roof to someone owning their own business. There's a whole skill set that a person has to develop to be a business owner. Just like in infection prevention. You know, you can be a nurse, you can have all those experiences. But once you become an infection preventionist, the ability to understand how to run an organization that's dedicated to infection prevention requires a massive amounts of skill, right?
It's not just knowing the science and all the clinical components. It's learning how to lead an organization. It's having skills that are not necessarily ones that you learn in nursing school or ones that you learn in a graduate program. And so to me, it's there's a very interesting connection between those two because we work a lot with infection preventionist and our ability to help them upskill, help them to become a leader that is looking at a whole organization and managing organization. Room infection prevention to me is one kind of mental model that I brought from roofing into health care, and there's others, but that's one that that kind of is top of mind for me.
Daniel Burstein: That's interesting. And it's a good reminder that we're all just really humans at the end of the day. Which brings up this last lesson it’s a very hard hitting personal human lesson. So I appreciate you for being open and transparent and sharing it because I hope it'll help the audience. You said leadership happens outside the boardroom. Why empathy is the greatest hidden competitive advantage in organizations. And you learned it from Keyne Monson, CCO, PDI, how did you learn this lesson?
Jake Watts: So, Keyne’s current boss. I’m gonna say all kinds of good things about him. But I have been you know, I've worked with him in three different organizations. And you know what I've learned from him is empathy. And you know, it's my feeling that at the end of the day, you know, behind every spreadsheet, behind every new product are people, right? You know, the people in our plant who are or phenomenal who deliver our products every day to our clinical people, to the nurses who use our products. These are people who, you know, behind the title have families, have tragic experiences that happen in their lives, who have challenges. And to me, what I've learned is that if you want to motivate people, if you want to have them buy into your vision, if you want them to believe in you, right. You have to sit where they are, be with them, understand their challenges at a human level so that you can help them to perform, help them solve their problems and really help them to shine.
You know, Keyne and I had a colleague who is one of the best people I've known in my life, not only professionally, but personally. He had a tragic experience that happened to him and his family and you know it was the first week that I had joined the organization. And this had happened. And I, I still remember going with Keyne over to this colleague's home. And just sitting with him and his family after this tragic accident. And, you know, it was that one moment for me that, like, I realized that after all is said and done no one's going to remember any of the jobs that I did or any of the products I launch. No one no one will really care about that ten years from now, 15 years from now, nothing that will matter.
But what they I hope they remember and what I'll certainly remember from this experience with this colleague who had a tragic accident family. Is that how he felt? How we made him feel? How we made me feel, how I made that team and that organization feel. And that's the stuff that people remember. That's the stuff that motivates and inspires people to give their best in organization. And that's the stuff that really to me is the difference between teams that are transformational to an organization and teams that struggle, is that human empathetic connection. And I really saw that modeled well and continue to be model well by Keyne in our organization.
Daniel Burstein: Well, thank you for sharing that. Yeah. So talking about, you know, and thinking about showing up as a human at work, I wonder, you worked for five years in Asia. You mentioned Indonesia, Shanghai, I believe Singapore also. I wonder if you learn anything from that culture that you've taken to how you show up as a human at work.
And so, for example, I interviewed Liz Harr, who's a partner at Hinge on the How I Made It Marketing Podcast earlier. And she worked in Osaka at one point and her manager took her aside and he told her, just be. Like it was very, I guess, a Japanese culture lesson, just be. And when I interviewed her behind her head, up behind her head, she had this big artwork from Bhutan that she found while she was in Bhutan that said, Just be. And she made this her mantra in life. So again, mantra, mantra, I never say right.
So again, you know, it's not just, you know, all the great business strategies you've given and simplification, these sorts of things. It's like, how do we show up as humans at work? So is there anything you learned? I wonder from that Asian culture that really has stuck with you today and how you shop as a human, how you lead your team, how you go through it all?
Jake Watts: Yeah, you know, one of the things I learned and this is true in Shanghai, this is true in Indonesian Singapore was that the individual and like personal quirks that people had, that they brought to work. They kind of let those shine, especially like I love Singapore, Singaporean people and I feel like just like their personalities were always on display. Through their language, the way they talked about things. And there's a lot of really interesting people in my office there in the Singapore Baxter office and in Indonesia. And they just like there was almost a joy in the way they brought themselves to work and like it was them bringing all their kind of unique quirks to work, right? Like they're just the food they love. You they brought their all their challenges from home. They talked about all this stuff and it became part of the way we bonded as a team, as an organization is because they brought their whole self so work. So that's what I I learned from my time there and what's kind of translated over into my time now that I've been back from Asia is, you know, all the like silly, weird things about me, you know, the philosophy stuff in the background, you know, my kids and my family. I live in New York City .
Like all the all the things that are that I want to airbrush maybe or downplay about, I am. And the things that make me unique actually are strengths, right. And part of growing up in corporate culture was that I felt like I had to, like, chop those pieces off and like be a certain mold, like, hey, you want to be a CMO, like, you got to look like this. You got to, like, talk like this, and, you know, you can't say, dude, and, you know, whatever. Like, you know, now I'm a little bit on the opposite. I probably need to dial it back, but I learned in Singapore it's like just being yourself. That authenticity like that shines when you see someone who isn't their self. It is so obvious that they're not being who their authentic self is.
And to me it's very difficult to like lead and to follow a person who you don't feel like you're seeing the whole person. And maybe they're not going to see everything about a person. But you feel like you feel like you're getting a real person. And so that's what I learned from Singapore and I've tried to just try to, you know, maybe, you know, button up my collar a little bit, you know, talk about the things I'm interested in and use the random things that I've been reading, you know, as I do my audible reading or listening on the way to work or a podcast Just talk about the things I'm interested in and use the stuff I'm interested in it. You know that quote, you know, we don't see the world as we are., that I read a lot in philosophy. And so, you know, I'll punish my colleagues by quoting philosophy or saying, hey, I read this book the other day and, you know, just really, really letting myself be who I am and what I care about is one thing that I learned from Singapore, my time in Singapore. And to me, I've just found to be like a really helpful thing to do if you want to be a leader.
Daniel Burstein: And it's so much more fulfilling too, right? So you talk about being a successful leader too, but it's kind of this weird thing. I mean, I think when you're earlier in your career, you feel this uncomfortability of like, you can't really be who you are and when you walk into those four walls. But what a great thing to be a human being and then to step into those four walls and still be a human being, you know?
Jake Watts: Yeah, exactly. Exactly right. And that people who love you for it. Leaders who can say, I like her. She's super interesting and quirky and fun. And, you know, good leaders can see that about people. And they can cultivate that and to use that to help people to be their best. And so, you know, being an authentic self, I think is so important.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I love it when I first worked, I started my career in a smaller agency. So it was a little easier to be human. But then when I first started working with big software companies, I was on a team with an SVP who just loved Share. She was the SVP for the Americas, you know, she just loved Share and she just let everyone know. And it like a silly thing, but I was just like, wow, you can do that, you know? And I loved it. I loved it. Everyone loved her for it. So all right. So we've talked about so many things about what it means to be a marketer from a business leader perspective to the human perspective. If you had to break it down, Jake, what are the key qualities of an effective marketer?
Jake Watts: Yeah, look, I think we talked about a few of them, but in my mind the difference between a brilliant marketer and a good marketer is the ability to simplify the complex. I don't think people don't have the mental bandwidth nowadays, they don't have the time. They want to understand why something creates value so that they can sign up for it. And to me, again, it's really about being able to take the complex and making it simple. Oh yeah, can I add more?
Daniel Burstein: Well it can't get too complex, but go on.
Jake Watts: I won't get too complex. I'll simplify into a one, two, three, four model here. Number two and again we touch on this a bit is authenticity ,right? So I think if you're a good marketer, you're able to articulate to your team and to the market what your strengths are, what your weaknesses are, or your opportunities for growth. However you want to say, I think if you want to be a good marketer, you just have to be candid with your team, with your whoever you work with your organization, like here's what I am deeply passionate and good about. Here's where I have challenges and you're able to kind of rally people around that authenticity to me absolutely essential.
The third, I'll stop at three because three is always a good number. I really do think that you have to be, to be a good marketer, you have to be a realistic optimist. You know, it is very easy to be an unrealistic optimist. Trust me, I've seen enough innovation presentations to be that were as unrealistic as you possibly could get, you know, from drones to robots to, you know, whatever. I've seen the unrealistic.
But I think the difference between good and great and a marketer is someone who can bring that kind of honest candor to something, You know, hey, here's where the challenges are but is able to, like, identify the problem but optimistically build on it to a solution. And so that to me is always like a touchstone for me of a great marketer because it's very easy to be a critic.
It's also very easy to be pie in the sky. It's also incredibly difficult to like merge those two into the same mind. And I think to me that's one thing that really I look for as we interview people as, as we try to develop ourselves and our team here at PDI. Is how do we become realistic optimists, to deliver, you know, the promises that we're that we're offering to and the products that we offer to our customers. So those are three things. I'll stop at three, but those are three that I really I think about.
Daniel Burstein: It’s funny because they are simple, yet they are very complex, right. It’s certainly simple to say and think about. But boy, is that complex to do.
Jake Watts: Exactly. Exactly.
Daniel Burstein: Well, thanks to you so much for your time, Jake. I learned so much from you today.
Jake Watts: Yeah. Thank you. Loved talking to you. And, you know, wish you all the best of luck. Love the podcast and all that you're trying to do for Marketers everywhere.
Daniel Burstein: Thank you very much and thank you all for listening.
Get Better Business Results With a Skillfully Applied Customer-first Marketing Strategy
The customer-first approach of MarketingSherpa’s agency services can help you build the most effective strategy to serve customers and improve results, and then implement it across every customer touchpoint.Get More Info >
Marketer Vs Machine
Marketer Vs Machine: We need to train the marketer to train the machine.Watch Now >
Free Marketing Course
Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages (with this free online marketing course)See Course >
Project and Ideas Pitch Template
A free template to help you win approval for your proposed projects and campaignsGet the Template >
Six Quick CTA checklists
These CTA checklists are specifically designed for your team — something practical to hold up against your CTAs to help the time-pressed marketer quickly consider the customer psychology of your “asks” and how you can improve them.Get the Checklists >
Infographic: How to Create a Model of Your Customer’s Mind
You need a repeatable methodology focused on building your organization’s customer wisdom throughout your campaigns and websites. This infographic can get you started.Get the Infographic >
Infographic: 21 Psychological Elements that Power Effective Web Design
To build an effective page from scratch, you need to begin with the psychology of your customer. This infographic can get you started.Get the Infographic >
Receive the latest case studies and data on email, lead gen, and social media along with MarketingSherpa updates and promotions.