Get ideas for advertising, product development, and more by listening to episode #52 of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast. I had a dynamic conversation with Dr. Marcus Collins, Head of Strategy, Wieden+Kennedy New York, and Clinical Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
Listen now to hear Collins discuss what he learned about community from working with Beyoncé, how academia can inform practicing marketers, and much more.
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We’ve been thinking long and hard about community lately, working with the MECLABS SuperFunnel Cohorts. I’m sure many of you are as well. It is certainly a popular topic right now for marketers.
And here’s one way I could know our community was working – when we could step back and not solve a community member’s problem. When members were helping each other, collaborating, solving each other’s problems. Making those valuable connections. That is a key inflection point to me.
So when I read this lesson in a recent podcast guest application, it really stuck out to me – “You don’t ‘build’ community, you ‘facilitate’ community.”
It’s not all about us, right? It’s not all about the brand. It’s all about them.
Joining me for a dynamic discussion to share the lesson behind that story, along with many more lesson-filled stories, is Dr. Marcus Collins, Head of Strategy, Wieden+Kennedy New York (WKNY), and Clinical Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
Wieden + Kennedy had $413.5 million in 2021 revenue, according to Campaign.
Collins is in charge of the strategy department and leads a team of 70 at WKNY.
Listen to our conversation using this embedded player or click through to your preferred audio streaming service using the links below it.
Some lessons from Collins that emerged in our discussion:
Launching the campaign that moved the Brooklyn Nets from New Jersey to Brooklyn taught Collins that identity is more important than value propositions.
Working with Beyoncé taught Collins that you don’t “build" community, you “facilitate” community.
Launching the Real Tone technology for Google’s Pixel 6 taught Collins that when people feel seen, they also feel heard.
Collins also shared lessons he learned from the people he collaborated with.
via Steve Stoute, the CEO and Founder of Translation|UnitedMasters
Collins learned this lesson from Stoute’s career transition from the music industry to the marketing industry.
Collins talked about his own past as a songwriter, growing up listening to hip hop, and how that has inspired the phraseology he has used in marketing. In fact, “that’s a bar” is how he refers to a clear, evocative phrase that people can register quickly, like the “1,000 songs in your pocket” description of the iPod that Apple used during its launch.
He even uses this phraseology inspiration from hip hop in his decks to his students and his clients. For example, when he talks about the important of social contagion, he has used the Jay-Z lyric, “we don't believe you, you need more people.”
via Ed Suwanjindar, the Director of iTunes and Apple Music Marketing
Collins learned that the most powerful skill you can have is the ability to communicate – clearly and evocatively – during his time at Apple where Suwanjindar would question even his most basic statements to see if he could make them clearer.
via Prof John Branch, Clinical Associate Marketing Professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan
Branch introduced Collins into the world of academia, and taught Collins that Collins’ new campaign ideas were grounded in the theoretical foundations of academics like George Loewenstein and Solomon Asch even though Collins hadn’t realized it when he came up with the ideas. The more Collins understood the theoretical foundations, he became a better strategist and it helped him see the world differently.
Collins also shared how his study for getting a Doctor of Business Administration helped him better learn these theories and use this academic research to challenge marketing leaders’ pre-conceived notions.
For example, a client thought that things get shared on social media because they are funny, and Collins was able to teach him that according to the academic literature people share for social currency, to evoke emotion, or as a way to provide practical value. As an example, Collins loves Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, Sarah Silverman, and Eddie Murphy – but he would never share that toilet humor on Facebook because his mom is on Facebook, and he would never share on LinkedIn because his business colleagues are there.
This also brought up the need to understand that we are not our customers, and we have to be careful of the preconceived notions we have about them.
For example, when it comes to segmentation, we look at people through own eyes, as opposed to looking at it things through their eyes. He used the Daniel Kahneman example, “Deborah drives a minivan. Does she have kids? Do her kids play a sport? Where does she live?”
You have ideas in your head based on your own preconceptions, but Deborah might have that minivan because she plays the harp, and needs to move the harp around. So we have to get closer to our customers, and realize that the world does not revolve around us, it revolves around them.
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 rough transcript of our discussion.
Daniel Burstein: We've been thinking long and hard about community lately, working with the MECLABS SuperFunnel cohorts. I'm sure many of you are as well. It's certainly a popular concept right now. And here's one way I felt that our community is working when we can step back and not solve a community members problem. When members were helping each other, collaborating, solving each other's problems, making those valuable connections. That to me, that's a key inflection point.
So when I read this lesson in a recent podcast guest application, it really stuck out to me. You don't build community, you facilitate community. It's not all about us, right? It's not all about our brand. It's about them. So here to share that story behind that lesson, along with many more lesson filled stories, is Dr. Marcus Collins, the Head of Strategy at Wieden & Kennedy New York. Thank you for joining us, Marcus.
Marcus Collins: Thank you for having me, Daniel. I'm excited to be here.
Daniel Burstein: All right. So first, let me just kind of talk about your background. I cherry picked some things off of LinkedIn. Bachelor's in Materials Science Engineering from Michigan. I've had a few people of engineering back backgrounds on., and it's always very interesting. They're very, very smart people. So I look forward to seeing what you can learn from you there. Then you went on to get your MBA from Michigan and you're Doctor of Business Administration from Temple. Congratulations.
Marcus Collins: Thank you, sir.
Daniel Burstein: You are were an iTunes Partner Marketing Manager at Apple Computer. You've been the Chief Consumer Connections Officer at Doner. You've been a jury at the Effie and at Cannes, and you've been an instructor at Miami Art School, NYU, Harvard Extension School, and you are currently a full time Clinical Assistant Professor of Marketing at Michigan. Along with being Head of Strategy at Wieden & Kennedy in New York, there's a lot there.
Wieden & Kennedy Here's some information I found about Wieden & Kennedy online. According to the online publication campaign Wieden & Kennedy had 413 and a half million dollars in 2021 revenue, and Marcus himself as Head of Strategy, he manages a strategy department in New York, and that is a team of 70 people. So there's a lot there. But before we dive into your background and see what we can learn from you. Give us a sense, what is your day like as both Head of Strategy at Wieden & Kennedy in New York and as a Professor at Michigan?
Marcus Collins: It's pretty awesome, actually. I get to put ideas in the world as a practitioner, as an advertiser, and get to put people in the world as an academic. And truly, that's kind of the bridge that I play bridging the academic practitioner gap, thinking about ideas with great, great rigor from an academic side and think about how do we apply those things to the products and ideas we put in the world.
Daniel Burstein: It sounds like fun. I mean, smart and intense, of course, but also sounds like fun. So let's take a look at some of the lessons from the things you made. Here’s your first lesson. You said identity is more important than value propositions. How did you learn this lesson?
Marcus Collins: Well, I had the chance to work with the Brooklyn Nets when they were the New Jersey Nets, moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn. And at that time, the New Jersey Nets wasn't a great team, truly. They didn't have a lot to show for themselves, no shade to New Jersey, but they weren't a great team and we're moving them over to Brooklyn, which was kind of upsetting to the borough of Brooklyn . Well, I mean, New Yorkers aren't really big fans of imports coming in from New Jersey, honestly, not only that, but they were building an arena in the Atlantic terminal of Brooklyn, which was going to upseat a lot of companies and local companies, businesses and people who live there. So people weren't really looking for this thing.
And for us, that became a big challenge. How do you bring a team to a city that doesn't really want it? And we thought to ourselves, Well, there's not a lot of great value propositions at our disposal. So what if we set that aside for a moment, set aside the product just for a moment, and let's focus on Brooklyn and focus on the Brooklynites and what do we know about Brooklynites?
They are extremely proud of themselves. Very, very, very proud. So we said, Well, great, well, how might we stoke that Brooklyn pride? And we pulled from a page from Edward Bernays, the godfather of propaganda, as it were. And he has this idea that you can unite a people by declaring an enemy of the state. So we focused on that. We said, Well, luckily for us, there is an inherent enemy of the state for Brooklyn, and it's called Manhattan. So we sparked a rivalry between Brooklynites and Manhattanites and used the Brooklyn Nets as a badge of identity, of saying that I'm from Brooklyn.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I mean, it's true. I was born in Brooklyn. I moved at one month old. I'm still proud of being born in Brooklyn. I agree with that identity thing, and I love that you mention that, too, because like I jumped in, the city where the team is moving from is usually upsetting not the city where it's moving, too. So that's a unique challenge. But when I want to challenge us for a moment, it makes sense in the context you're saying it, absolutely. And I think maybe is that a unique context? Because a lot of, you know, people listening, they're selling more traditional products, B2C, B2B, And so I wonder maybe shouldn't identity be part of what a value proposition is? And maybe you're saying it's not about features and functions, it's about what it means to the customer.
And so I just want to give you a quick example here. We've got a free digital marketing course and In Session number 18, Flint McGlaughlin teaches. When we're talking about value proposition, you are fundamentally answering a first person question posed in the mind of your customers. And that question is, if I am your ideal customer, why should I buy from you rather than any of your competitors? And there's a lot of answers there. But couldn't identity be one of them? I mean, I think of the nets, I think Louis Vuitton wearing that purse, isn’t identity part of that value proposition.
Marcus Collins: Sure. But when we think about value propositions, we typically associate it to the product offering, right? If we borrow from Clay Christensen's jobs to be done and we think about the functional job, but when we talk about identity, we're thinking about the social and emotional job, and that's usually not a part of the equation and not a part of the calculus. As we start to think about value propositions. You know, even Theodore Lovetts Marketing Myopia talks about the idea that we focus on benefits as opposed to features. Features are value propositions. Benefits are people propositions, if you will. Like what do people want? You know, the old saying, you know, I don't buy a drill, I don't want to drill, I want a hole in the wall. And the same thing goes here. It's that, you know, people didn't want a new team. They weren't looking for that. However, people definitely want to project their identity. They want they want to feel proud, especially if you're a Brooklynite.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I feel like. So technically, let's say I'm a B2B marketer, I'm selling that, you know, some boring software products, some infrastructure, some, you know, you know, cement pipes that go in the ground. Like where does identity fit in there? Is that the idea of, you know, the famous IBM thing? No one ever got fired for buying IBM, its into your career like how do you how do you tap identity to there?
Marcus Collins: Sure I want to look smart. I want to bring new if I'm you know, in procurement and I'm bringing in new things either I don't want to rock the boat because that's not really accepted here. Therefore I'm going to buy IBM. To your point, what's tried and true. So I don't look like a fool. But if I want to look like a change maker, I want to look like someone who's ushering in change. Then I'm more inclined to bring stuff that people don't know, right? It's really and from this perspective of identity is how do I want to be seen? Like, how do I want people to see me. Like a lot of the sayings, its not about how I think I am , or what people think I am, It’s what I think people think that I am. Ththis idea of identity is looking at the emotional and social jobs that people are trying to get done. And I would argue that our identity anchors almost everything that we do because it's our identity, that our cultural subscription is established.
Daniel Burstein: Now, let me ask you one last question of how we find out what identity as customers want, right? Because I like this idea. I mean, one thing we talk about the value proposition, it's finding out who that ideal customer is, right? Your product is not for everyone and you can't really make a strong value proposition or strong marketing if you try to make it for everyone is trying to make it for that ideal customer. But the challenge we face as marketers, a blind spot we have is we're so focused on our own brand, we're so focused on our own products, right? We focus on them all the time that it's hard to really get in those heads. I'm sure the owner of the Nets at the time is like, This is awesome. You know, we're moving a basketball team there, right? Right. How do you get in the heads of customers so much to help understand where identity plays in?
Marcus Collins: But I think the first is you can't think of it as customers. Like, we often think of customers as these machines that eat messages and crap cash. But instead we should think of customers as people like real life human beings. And the only way that we really know people is to get really, really close to people, right. And this is the paradoxical part here, is that, you know, we have tons of information about people, tons reams and reams and reams and reams of data.
However, our ability to extract insights from said data has only increased marginally. That's because the mistake information for intimacy. So the idea here is that if we start looking at, quote unquote, consumers as human beings, people, collectives, and we get really close to understanding the things that make them tick, understand, understanding the emotional and social job as well as the functional job they're trying to get done, then we increase our chances of getting those people to move.
Daniel Burstein: And I think that ties well into the next lesson where you say you don't build community, you facilitate community. So how did you learn that lesson?
Marcus Collins: Yeah, so I had the great pleasure of working with Beyonce Knowles. Beyonce as we know her. And I was writing digital strategy for her in her I am Sasha fierce days. And a part of my job, part of my remit was about was for moving her offline fan club online. And this is 2009. So Facebook is a thing. Twitter is really starting to come into its own and in my mind, this is going to be very, very easy. It's Beyonce, after all. How can I get this wrong?
So we the team collectively, you know, we made a fan club for her. We built a community for her online through these different platforms, her website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.. And it was a party no one showed up. I was like what’s going on here. Beyonce is arguably the biggest artist in the planet at that time, and she still is, to be honest. Why isn't this working? And as the team, you know, we start to kind of look across the social web to get a sense of what's happening. There's this community off in the recesses of the Internet who call themselves the Beehive. And these were a collective of people who saw the world similar to Beyonce. Beyonce has always believed in encouraging or empowering women's empowerment. And they saw the world similarly to her. And she was sort of consecrated among them. They called themselves the Beehive. They had their own language. They had their own artifacts, their own behaviors, their own norms.
And the team decided, let's just cut this thing that we're building here and let's help those people connect. Let's just help those people realizing what they want to get done. And that became Beyonce's official fan club. And from there, I learned this is about building communities, but facilitating community because communities probably already exist. It's about finding them, understanding the things that matter to them, understanding that what they value understand their points of friction, and how might we use our resources to help remove said points of friction.
Daniel Burstein: And that was great. I've seen, you know, even more B2B companies and B2C based companies, when they're looking to get online, they learn from social media listening. So I wonder how you discovered the Beehive, because they learned, you know, they're like, what should we be doing online? Oh, we're looking at these platforms. So people are already there on Pinterest, they're posting our, you know, marketing charts or something like that, or they're doing this or that. And so that really part of social media listening, that part of, you know, when I started in marketing, maybe you're in the same place, it wasn't a two way conversation, right? So I was just like, you do a print ad in the Wall Street Journal, you're talking to them. So how do you facilitate that two way conversation? Was it social media listening? Like, how do you discover the beehive? How do you how do you, you know, before you can really tap into them, you've got to discover them.
Marcus Collins: Exactly. It's that in the we call this methodology in academia a net and a graphic study. Where we're looking at these people engage in discourse across social networking platforms. And that's kind of the beauty of it. You can watch them unobtrusively engage in their cultural practices and glean insight from it. In fact, my, my, my doctorial will work was all net and a graphic nature, primarily. I looked at Reddit to look at how communities engage in their cultural practices and how brands of branded products spread become socially contagious within these groups. There's so much you can glean from observing people, and by observing people, we get to get much closer. And the closer we get the better we understand. The more we understand, the better we can serve them. And the Beehive is just one example of that. I mean, to date, I would arguably say that's my Excalibur, leveraging a net and a graphic research to understand how communities tick. What their cultural characteristics are, and how might we as a brand, whether you're McDonald's or Delta, Ford or Nike, how might we contribute to these cultural characteristics to help them do things they really want to get done?
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I mean, that is that is the great, beautiful thing about the Internet. I remember, like I said, it started in print advertising. I remember my boss being in the airport and seeing we had an ad in the Wall Street Journal and he actually saw someone interacting with the ad, obviously can't read their mind. And we thought, what a cool experience. You're actually seeing someone interact with the ad, Right? And then, you know, fast forward on How I Made it Marketing earlier. I had the CMO of Mint Mobile and he told me every time they launch a campaign, he personally is on Reddit and he's seeing what people are saying about that campaign. It's almost like a superpower, it’s very cool..
Marcus Collins: It is amazing because Reddit is a community of communities, right? And the best part about it, this is the coolest thing about Reddit for a researcher is that each one of these subreddits, they have moderators, and the moderators are cleaning the data for you. So when people post things that are outside of the cultural characteristics of the community, the moderator removes that post and if that person continues, they remove the person from the subreddit. So you were looking at the best distillation, the best archive distillation of the cultural practices of a community. For a researcher, good night. It doesn't get better than that.
Daniel Burstein: That's awesome. I hadn't really thought about it. It's probably cleaner data than some. There's a lot of garbage out there too, right? You got to sift through.
Marcus Collins: That's right.
Daniel Burstein: And here's another lesson I think it ties into exactly what you're saying now. When people feel seen, they also feel heard. So how'd you learn this lesson?
Marcus Collins: So I had a chance to work with Google in the launch of the Pixel six. And the interesting part about this iteration of the pixel, there are introducing a new technology they call a real tone and real tone technology was a camera technology where this camera lens was able to identify melaninated skin more than it ever had before.
And if you know anything about photography, the Shirley card, this essentially was the way by which cameras were able to pick up different skin complexions. And when it got to darker skinned people of color, it was terrible. I have pictures of me as a kid where I look as black as night or in some ways I look completely washed out. The technologies of photography had not caught up to the technologies of everything else. Photos just did not express what people really looked like. And, you know, we thought was super powerful as we talked about this product and we talked to people, of course, through net and a graphic means as well as ethnographic means or just in field conversations. We realized that when people feel seen, they feel like they have a voice and what we took for granted in photos is that yeah, I’m in the photo, but it wasn't really me.
And that idea of being seen is just a very empowering experience for people. And we, we put the communication out in the world when we launched the product and that was the stories we got back. I mean, you talk about people interacting with the ad or interacting with the print ad. I mean, people were telling their stories. It's almost as if, you know, we were inviting them to be vulnerable because the brand was being vulnerable, saying this is something that we as an industry have not done well, but we've invested five years into doing this well. And the stories were just so heartfelt and evocative. People saying, like, I feel like Google gets me and who doesn't want to be gotten?
Daniel Burstein: I mean, I think that's an awesome place to be as a marketer too, like truly delivering value to the customer. So I want to get your thoughts on, you know, marketers within an organization or even, you know, working in an agency, getting involved in actual product development. Because when I hear you say this reminds me of a conversation they had with Jeff Bradford, who is the President of Dalton Nashville, who was a guest on How I Made it Marketing one of his lessons was well crafted video can shape perceptions by connecting emotionally with your audience. Of course, that's what we think as advertisers, marketers. I saw some of those ad they're great. They obviously you know, the ad you're talking about for the Google Pixel six connecting with the audience. But it sounds like what you did went further. I mean, yes, there was the ads and they connect emotionally, but the product itself actually seems like it connected with the with the audience. So, I mean, what's your opinion or do you have any advice on marketers, folks who work ad agencies actually getting involved in product development to bring that value to potential customers?
Marcus Collins: 1000%, I mean we're marketers, right? So we're not just marketing communicators, we deal with the product, the price, the place, the promotion. The four P’s, Tyrone McCarthy four P’s, right? So we are responsible for product informing the product with the insights, the understanding, the intimacy of the audience of the people.
So I would argue that, you know, good marketers, brand managers, you know, their job is to inform innovation with the people. And the interesting part about the real tone technology, again, this is a five year investment on behalf of Google, is that it started with this is a people problem, not a product problem.This isn't a pixel problem. It started with a people problem. And I think that's a powerful thing for marketers that instead of starting with business problems, start with people problems because if you move people, people will move business.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I think that's a great point to to technology companies. I know you've got a background as an engineer, right? And with all due respect to engineers, I was interviewing, someone I forget who it was now, I could credit it. And he said, you know, technology companies need more English majors and they need more poets because they need a better understanding of people and not just technology.
And I think that's a fair impression too, with the rollout of AI and some of the things I don't know. What about your thoughts on AI from both the engineering background, the marketing background of, you know, some companies, you know, that is very famous now that Google took a very hesitant approach. They said, hey, we're going to wait until this is just right to roll it out, you know, open AI supported by Microsoft, took the very aggressive approach. They rolled it out. It became a big thing. So I wonder what your thought, too, on whether it comes to technology, something like A.I., something so you know, breaking is where do you find that balance with putting the people first or the technology first or maybe both?
Marcus Collins: Well, it's interesting because I feel it both on the marketing side where people say, AI’s taking over creative? Do we need copywriters now that we have AI? And even the academic side, it's like, do we even assign papers to students now that we have A.I.? And that's looking at the world through our lenses, right? But if we look on the other side for a student, maybe it's kind of cool not to start with a blank page. A blank page is really daunting, but it's kind of scary even as a copywriter. But it has the stuff to work with. Yeah, I'm not going to use that material, but it's some source material to start with. And then I kind of go where I need to go like that's kind of freeing. And I think you're right. Just as much as engineers need more English majors and more poets, I think that poets and English majors can benefit from understanding the underlying physics of the world around us, right? Maybe what we don't need is polarity. Maybe we need more of balance, as you mentioned.
Daniel Burstein: I like it. I like it. Well, speaking of working together in the second half of the podcast, we talk about people we worked with, people we collaborated with. That's the great thing about being a marketer. We get to make things. We get to make them with people and learn from those people. So the first lesson you have is if you have an idea and it's logical, but people don't get it, then you're probably on to something even if people make you feel like you're wrong. You learned this from Steve Stoute, who's the CEO and Founder of Translation United Masters. How did you learn this from Steve?
Marcus Collins: So Steve Stoute is a legend in the world of music and also in the world of advertising. He was an ad exec music executive for four years and years responsible for managing Kid and Play managing Nas. He ran urban music at Interscope. He worked under Jimmy Ivine. He is the guy. Steve Stoute is the guy. And so the lure has it that he launched the soundtrack to Men in Black, you the Here Comes The Man in Black with Will Smith. And as the legend has it, the lure goes that they sold 10 million copies or so the of the soundtrack. And that's massive in the music industry, it’s a diamond a certified diamond. And the folks at Interscope are just a over themselves with the excitement.
But then Steve found out that the folks at Ray-Ban sold 20 million Ray-Bans. Now it's $17 for a CD $150 for a Ray-Ban. And he's like, wait a minute, and why did people buy those Ray-Bans? Because Will Smith put them on his face and said, I make these look cool. And Steve said, I am in the wrong business. Because when brands have proximity to cultural products or cultural creators, cultural producers, people are inclined to buy, people are inclined to move because they become receipts of who they are or who they want to be.
And when Stoute made this move, people say, You're crazy. Why would you leave the music business? You're at the top of the game. He was already a multimillionaire. Why would you leave this to go to this other industry? And people said he was crazy. And Stoute will repeat this, it was a constant refrain. And I worked really closely with him for the four years as a translation. He would always say, If you have an idea and it's logical, it makes sense., but everyone else thinks you're crazy, everyone thinks you're wrong, then you're probably on to something. And I look at that in my career now, you know, like, why would you why would you go get a doctorate like you're executive at an advertising agency? Why would you do that? Well, well, it doesn't make any sense to you, but it makes all the sense in the world to me. I always felt like I'm on to something and that on to something has been extremely powerful in my career.
Daniel Burstein: Well, let me ask how you use that as a manager or as a leader within your own business. So we talk a lot about obviously work you've done with different brands or different clients, but you manage a team of 70. And so how do you manage? Because I would think they all think that to too, that not ideas are logical or makes sense.You don't want bad ideas going out the door.
I was reminded of this. I was interviewed by Kathryn Hayes of Wharton on her Sirius XM show, and she was going into some of the newest research into brainstorming and how really it's more of the social dynamic and not really an idea to get the best ideas. So now you managing your team of 70, how do you manage them and make sure that okay, even if they think it's logical or if they think it's right, at the end of the day, the best ideas are going out the door to the client. Plus you're keeping your team happy. I mean, you got to keep both that balance, right?
Marcus Collins: That's right. That's right. Well, for me then, following Stoute's mantra is that I don't have to evaluate the subjective part, I can evaluate the more objective part, the rationality, the logical steps you took to get there. And I can say as a strategist say, well, I don't know that bridge from A to B is actually as solid as you think.
Or maybe you should entarogate this a little bit more because I think that's where you're missing, that got you to that that that outcome. So it's pushing on does it make sense, is it rational, is it logical as opposed to challenging the idea in and of itself? So and I work in a creative environment. I work at an ad agency here at Wieden, where creativity it's part and parcel to everything we do. It's the center focus to what we do. So when I work with the strategy department, our job is to create ideas that move our business forward for our clients. I can provide points of view. I can provide provocation against the rational arguments as opposed to beating up the creative, which is a bit more subjective.
Daniel Burstein: I like that provocation against the rational arguments. That's interesting. I've not heard that in terms of an advertising agency before. I really like that. Here's another lesson we talk about. The most powerful skill you can have is the ability to communicate clearly and evocatively. You learn this from Ed Suwanjindar, he was the Director of iTunes and Apple Music Marketing. And how did you learn this from Ed?
Marcus Collins: So, you know, everyone at Apple, Apple is communication matters, especially in the Steve Jobs days. And remember, I started as an intern there before I became one in a larger capacity. And every time I talked, Ed would say, I don't know, what are you saying? I don't know what you mean. It'll be things that are like very, very simple. I'd say, Oh, that shirt is red. He'd go, What? What do you mean? I don't understand what you’re saying. And it drove a complex with me, I was like is something wrong with me and my I felt like I was being Gaslit. But what Ed was teaching me was the power of language, the power of words. He'd always say to me, be surgical about your words, be surgical about the word to use. He told me to go on the Apple website, and he'd say, Read the copy. Look how short the copy is. Someone's very intentional about the words they used.
And at that time it was fairly early in my career. But as a marketer, I was on the earlier side of my career. I found that to be really powerful as I became a manager, as I became a leader, especially when I got into academia. But I started to give more talks when I started to have to be responsible for the words that I use. Being surgical became really important to me. And so as I think about myself today, I'm constantly thinking about words. We as academic, we beat up on words. We interrogate words to no end because of how important language is. And when we're putting ideas in the world as marketing communicators, words are even that much more important. So I am constantly telling myself, you got to be surgical about your words because the words matter.
Daniel Burstein: Look, I'm a writer, so I love that. And I kind of I wonder, like, where you find inspiration for the words. Cause like I’ll tell you, say for me I found kind of like we were talking earlier, boy there's just such a wealth of information online. There's, you know, in like customer reviews of your Google reviews. Yelp reviews. I could talk about Reddit, all these different things. I mean, for B2B, sometimes it's G2 and TRUSTPILOT and it's not just what they say sometimes or the sentiment. Sometimes it's specific words they use to describe it. It's different than the words we would use internally, especially for some complex B2B products. And so I will sometimes lift specific words from a review. I get them from review as a way to talk about that thing. And I see you nodding. So, maybe you've done something similar. I wonder, like, what is your inspiration for getting those words right? Because I love that. I mean, I've thought a long time about just one specific word in a headline, or should it be this or that or what?
Marcus Collins: That's right.
Daniel Burstein: What is it evoke or what is it literally mean and all these things. So where's your inspiration for getting those right words?
Marcus Collins: You’re right? It's like phraseology. It's the combination of words that you hear. You go, Oh, that's nice. Oh, that's good, that's nice. You know, and I used to be a songwriter, so when I hear certain words, I go, Oh, it paints such a nice picture. And I grew up listening to hip hop. So, you know, the analogy I use when I hear or read a tweet or a post and I go, Oh, that's a bar. Like in hip hop, when there's a really good line, we call it a bar like, Oh, that was a dope bar. So when I hear someone say words or I see it written on a page or I see it written online, I go, oh man that’s a a bar. Let me hold on to that. It's just really, really, really good language.
And I think that that's sort of the power of language, the power of a Rosetta Stone that when we were able to communicate things in a way that, to your point, is evocative but also clear. People can register the idea quickly and they are more likely to buy in. And ultimately isn’t that what we're trying to do get people to move, get people to buy into an idea such that they feel compelled to move.
Daniel Burstein: Well, if we're going to go there and I'm glad you're going there, if we're going to go there, then I also want to talk about the analogy. And I mean, that's what so many ad campaigns are based on. right. And some places I have seen, I mean hip hop does almost a better job than any art form I've seen in making that analogy from, right. To paint the picture, you're trying to paint. So I wonder too, where you tap into for the analogy for a campaign, right? Because a lot of things, especially when it's a new product, we don't understand it at first. I remember Steve Jobs famously said when the iPod came out, it's like putting these songs in your pocket, right?
Marcus Collins: Thousands of songs in your pocket. Yeah
Daniel Burstein: Obviously, it was just a hard drive, you know, in an aluminum case with an interface, blah, blah, blah. But he made it an art, you know, as a hip hop artist might do. So where do you go? Where's your wellspring to find those analogies? And, you know, we're talking about a product launch, any ad campaign.
Marcus Collins: I mean, that's a bar, right there, A thousand songs in your pocket, that's a bar. For me. I mean, it is hip hop. I mean, I literally go to hip hop and in my decks to clients, in my decks to my students, I am constantly pulling hip hop references, just constantly. You know, when I talk to my students and my clients about the importance of social contagion that people move because people move, like nothing draws a crowd like a crowd, right?
So if you can get people talking, it will get other people talking. And I would leverage that lyric from Jay-Z. We don't believe you need more people. Well, we don't believe you need where people come from the take over, right. So I'm constantly just pulling from hip hop because to your point, they are the best at making these analogies. They are the best at finding these similes, and they can do it in such a way that it's just so clear and also evocative and the best copy does that. In fact, if I were if I were a creative director, I would only look for hip hop artists as copywriters.
Daniel Burstein: My favorite, just to drop on it real quick. And you know, if you're talking about personal branding or personal value proposition, there is a Jay-Z lyric I'm not a businessman, I'm a business man.
Marcus Collins: So let me handle my business. That's right. That's right.
Daniel Burstein: Let's talk about one last lesson here. You said execution without good theory is a practice of luck, not strategy. And you learned this from a professor, John Branch. He's a Clinical Associate Marketing Professor at the Ross School of Business University of Michigan, where you're currently teaching. So how did you learn this from Professor Branch?
Marcus Collins: So John Branch, he's my best friend, but he was also my professor when I was in the MBA program. He actually introduced me, ushered me into the world of academia. I befriended him as a student professor. And then when I became a practitioner after graduating with my MBA, I engaged him as a peer, we were colleagues. But he on academic side, me on the practicing side, and I would talk to him about new campaigns that we were doing I'm so excited about.
And every time I'd bring him the strategy that led to the execution, he'd always reference an academic. He’d go, oh, that's George Lowenstein. Or, Oh yeah, that's Solomon Ash. I’d go where are you getting this from? How is he doing this? And he's like, Boy, everything you're doing is based on some theoretical foundation, even if you don't know it. And what I found is that the more I understood the theoretical foundation, it actually widened the options, the creative options, right. And the greater my repertoire of theory became, I would say the work got a lot better. I became a better strategist. I just saw different. I saw the world differently. It widened my aperture and it took John kind of doing that over and over again, saying, How does he do that? So fascinating. And I've just found that the better we understand the underlying physics of a thing, the better we can operationalize it. And truly the better we understand the underlying physics of humanity, the better our opportunity to tap into it. And everything around us is governed by theory. And we say, Oh, that works in theory, when we're in practice. But everything is based on theory. Theory is the best description that we have of the working world around us. And the better we understand that, the better we can leverage it.
Daniel Burstein: So take me into the room where it happens, so to speak, how, you know, academia, it's got, you know, certain definitely positive elements to it, researching and learning and stuff like this. But in certain business boardrooms, it's got a bit of a negative connotation. It's archaic, its not happening. And one thing I've noticed and one thing I've written before about is the overconfidence bias, right?This is using academia real quick. You could explain better than I can, but I've seen Daniel Kahneman talk about fund managers, stock fund managers, and how they see their results and they become overconfident. And when really maybe it's just due to randomness.
So take me into the room, you don’t have to mention names, but maybe, you know, an experienced CMO you're working with Marketing Director, they've had success in their career. They get that overconfidence bias. How do you bring that academia, that theory in there, to help ground it in something deeper?
Marcus Collins: Yeah. So great, great example. I remember some years ago we're looking at some a campaign we're going to run on social rights and social activation. I remember the client saying, Oh, everyone would love this because it's funny and people share things because they're funny. And I go hmmm that's not true. They are like what do you mean? Like, I watched this. That was funny.That's why I shared it. It's like, Well, no, no, no, no, no, no. There are tons of things that are funny that I would never share. I mean, I love toilet humor, like Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Sarah Silverman, South Park, Family Guy. Yeah. I grew up with Eddie Murphy what he are you gonna do, right. Like the raunchier, the better, as far as I'm concerned.
But I would never share that on Facebook because my mama's on Facebook and I would never share that. I only did because my colleagues are on LinkedIn, right? So I'm not sharing them because of their humor. I share them for other things. And there's actually quite a wealth of literature on why we share. So instead of relying on bad theory, the theory is if it's funny, people share it. Let's set aside bad theory. Let's look at causality based theory, where people share a why to gain currency, which is why I wouldn't share Family Guy stuff on Facebook. People share to evoke emotion. People share as a way to provide practical value. People share stories, not facts. Oh, what would that sort of arsenal of theory? We can now start to inform the work that we put in the world that's based on why people do what they do, as opposed to why we think people do what they do.
Daniel Burstein: Well in that example, and tell me what you think about this. I think the real underlying theory isn’t people share because they're funny, which that's part of it. The real underlying theory is the people I'm trying to reach are like me, I think. I mean, I've seen this kind of flaw in logic often, right? That like and we have to realize that we're not always our customers. And I wonder if, like kind of academia could bring that in to that understanding of, I mean, sociology and all of these things, anthropology. Even business is the study of other people. But we when we talk about overconfidence, by us marketers, we think, Oh, I would like this.
My favorite and you can give me one too, if you want. Is as a writer working with designers, Oh, no one reads long copy, you know, no one reads long copy. And it's like, well, the person who reads long copy is a person who's looking for a refrigerator, and the refrigerator broke that morning. No one else is going to read long copy out about a refrigerator. But when your refrigerator broke that morning and your milk's getting warm, then maybe you would. So I wonder what your thoughts are about that, too. It's like really the underlying theory is more that like other people are like us when really they could be different from us.
Marcus Collins: 1,000%. I mean, this is our challenge as a discipline with segmentation. We look at people through our own eyes as opposed to looking through the work through their eyes, right. You know, we'll say, you did say a great Daniel Kahneman one. You know, Deborah drives a minivan. Does she have kids? Do her kids play a sport? Where's Deborah live? You have those answers in your head because of how you perceive Deborah, right. But Deborah might have a minivan because she plays the harp and she needs to move her Harp around, right.
So the idea really is that we're just not close enough to people and we think that the world revolves around us as opposed to the world revolves around them. And the better we understand them, the better we’ll understand their world, and the better we'll be able to get their jobs done, be it functional, emotional or social.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I love that. Reminds me of a great quote I've heard it attributed to the Talmud and maybe many other places, but we don't see the world as it is, we see the world as we are. And I think that was our biggest challenge, not just as marketers, but as humans.
Marcus Collins: Let's write 1,000%, 1,000%. The way we see the world informs how the way the way the world forms in our eyes.
Daniel Burstein: So we've talked about so many different things about what it means to be a marketer from that kind of academic theoretical pursuit. To I mean, I love this conversation and that you dropped in both hip hop and Eddie Murphy, along with all these academics. I mean, I think that that will be a unique podcast for that reason. But if we had to break it down of all this complexity about what a marketer is, what are the key qualities of an effective marketer?
Marcus Collins: I think we are radically, radically empathetic. I mean, that's what empathy is. It's a self aware perspective taking, right. And the best marketers are able to deny themselves, to deny their biases, to deny their ego and set aside their lenses, to pick up the lenses of someone else and see the world through their eyes and understand how they make meaning.
Because to your point that the world is subjective, right? Things aren't the way they are. They are the way that we are. And if we're going understand what people are , then we will understand their worlds. And that is the best marketers can do, is to be empathetic. Which is why, and to go back to Eddie Murphy, the best marketers are really comedians because they do this very well. They look at people go, that was odd. That was weird. Okay, something is happening here and they apply theory to a social phenomenon and they're able to make meaning through the eyes of these people.
Daniel Burstein: You know, I love that you say that, as you mentioned, kind of hip hop has been a big inspiration for you. I think as marketers, I mean, we are essentially creators. I think that that word creator is bad, I don't even like to use anymore. It's been just like taken up by everybody just trying to make a dime on social media.
But I try to look at other people in the world who create and for me stand up comedians. I mean, they are people I try to learn not just listen to their unique work, but learn about their process. Because when you think about what they're trying to do, like you said, they're observing people that are sometimes different from them in the world. They're trying to deconstruct and figure it out, and they are ultimately direct marketers, they are conversion focused. They need to get a laugh and, you know, if they succeeded or if they failed. So I love that you bring it up, stand up comedians.
Marcus Collins: That's right.
Daniel Burstein: But thanks so much for your time, Marcus. This was so informative and such a fun conversation.
Marcus Collins: My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.
Daniel Burstein: Thanks to everyone for listening.
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