Get ideas for managing creative and using business to do good by listening to episode #48 of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast. I had a conversation with change maker Justin Herber, CMO and Chief Brand Officer, Tractor Beverage Company.
Listen now to hear Herber discuss creating your own way, pursuing the best version of what an idea could be, owning your role in the relationship, and much more.
This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
Differentiation is key in marketing. And now with the rise of AI, I can’t help but think – how can I differentiate from generative artificial intelligence?
One way – our unique backgrounds.
An example. Our CEO’s book – The Marketer as Philosopher: 40 Brief Reflections on the Power of Your Value Proposition. This book is wildly different than what an AI would write. And just as different from most business books you’ll see – which sometimes seem as formulaic as an AI writer. There are reflections, not directions. There are da Vinci-style illustrations illuminating the core concepts. The book is bound in leather. I think Flint McGlaughlin was able to create it because of his unique background – theology and philosophy combined with marketing bound all together in one human being.
I thought of the importance of our unique backgrounds while talking to our latest guest on How I Made It In Marketing. His background was no less unique – West Texas, childhood illness, art school, world travel, Hollywood, and now – marketing.
One of the lessons he shared was “make the work you would like to see.” So, I asked him about how one’s unique background affects and informs that ethos. While we can all learn the same marketing skills, they are powered by this fingerprint that no one else has – our lived experienced.
You can hear his answer to my question, along with many more lesson-filled stories from a colorful career, in the latest episode of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast. Our guest is Justin Herber, CMO and Chief Brand Officer, Tractor Beverage Company.
Tractor is the first and only Certified Organic, Non-GMO, full-line beverage solution in food service. It is #216 on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies, having grown 2,520% in the past year.
Herber manages a team of 11, along with three agency partners.
Listen to our conversation using this embedded player or click through to your preferred audio streaming service using the links below it.
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Some lessons from Herber that emerged in our discussion:
One of the favorite things Herber ever created was a series of paintings for a gallery show in Malibu. To truly explain, it's important to understand how he got there.
He was born on a farm in West Texas. All of his family were farmers and ranchers. As a kid, they were exposed to a lot of environmental toxins and that led to his lungs collapsing and Herber being hospitalized. At seven-years-old he was in an oxygen tent and on endless cycles of respiratory therapy and nebulizers, unable to really do anything. One day, an attending nurse brought him a book called "Draw 50 Dogs" by Lee J. Ames and it changed his life. There, he spent countless hours learning how to draw, it became his obsession as well as his therapy.
Herber went on to become quite a prolific artist and aspiring filmmaker in high school and was recruited by several art colleges. He ended up becoming the first ever incoming freshman to receive a Studio Art scholarship at Pepperdine University. Everyone else he knew from Texas ended up going to local colleges, into the service, or straight into the job force. He was one of the few that left Texas and made his way to California, despite it not being considered the prudent or responsible thing to do.
He didn't believe in the suffering artist, probably because art was a tool to healing rather than an expression of suffering so early in his life. He always aspired to make accessible, commercial art. For his senior show, he had prominent placement in the gallery and ended up selling the majority of his paintings.
He did what any sensible 21-year-old would do with the money and bought a video camera and one-way ticket around the world, which opened up a whole new realm of opportunity.
In the aforementioned around-the-world trip, Herber made his way to the Thai island of Ko Phi Phi Don. In the afternoon, bars and cafes would play bootleg copies of American movies that were all illegally recorded on a camcorder and travelers would gather around drinking and watching the movie. One afternoon the Michael Bay movie Pearl Harbor, which had just recently come out, was the feature attraction. Herber was the only American in the room and just remembers everyone – Brits, Aussies, Scandinavians – just glued to the movie, completely enthralled by it. He was more interested in watching the people than the movie and wondered what Michael Bay's secret was to pulling an audience in. Five months later, he was Bay’s creative assistant helping him do that very thing.
With Bay, Herber had more access than any 23-year-old should ever have. Through a series of events, he became Bay’s de-facto right-hand man through an entire feature production, witnessing his specific type of genius come to life. Every frame was dynamic and compelling. Every cut was precise, even when frantic. Every sound cue only serves to enhance the visuals. On the commercial side, Herber would help put together treatments, concepts and style guides for national campaigns and commercials.
Herber really liked how Bay’s style and ideas could translate to both commercial and feature concepts and made a conscious decision to diversify his experiences and skills to be able to create across a variety of mediums. Throughout his 20s, he made it his goal to "go to film school without paying for it" and to learn everything he could from first-hand experience. He was able to be part of some breakthrough campaigns for iconic brands like Apple, blockbuster movies, and meaningful work for brands like Louis Vuitton as well as non-profits, and learned the ins-and-outs of the business of storytelling. He was able to make some really cool things – films, commercials, print ads, events and experiences – all born out of a curiosity to learn and to try new things. He had even written a few screenplays with his best friend that ended up getting them signed to an agency and eventually landed them as some of the hottest screenwriters in Hollywood.
Entering his 30s, he didn't have an MBA. He didn't have a film degree from NYU or USC. He didn't have a short film that he had written, financed and directed. What he had was a ton of exposure, great contacts and a broad base of knowledge that could translate into multiple forms and mediums. He also had an understanding of what he was good at and where his shortcomings were and was able to embrace his strengths rather than develop his weaknesses.
For Herber to truly thrive, he needed to be creatively fulfilled.
As a creative, sometimes it is easy to get stuck on the idea of ‘What do I want to say?’ Often times, it puts too much pressure on creating rather than just getting into the process. For Herber, it has been helpful to think of it from another perspective – ‘What would I like to see?’ If you can engage yourself in the joy of being a spectator, it is easier to get out of your own way and focus on the experience you are trying to create rather than the intellectual challenge you are trying to solve.
This mindset and process has helped Herber create foundational work for brands like TOMS, Nike and now Tractor Beverage Company. Marketers will often refer to it as an "audience first" approach, but Herber finds that to be more observational rather than experiential. As humans, we all experience the same emotions and starting with how he would like to feel if he were to come into contact with a brand, a piece of content, or an experience helps make the process more real.
Here's a quick example. When he was working with Hot Wheels to expand their YouTube channel, the brand was launching a new monster truck product and wanted to keep it outside of the arena. He asked himself, "What would entertain me if I was an eight-year-old kid?" He ended up creating a competition series in which the monster trucks would race downhill through zany obstacles made from household items and shot it like they were covering the Olympics. The series became a breakaway hit and vaulted Hot Wheels to becoming the #1 Boys Toy Brand on YouTube (which was their stated goal).
In all the work that Herber has made and projects he has overseen, perhaps the thing he is most proud of building is Tractor Beverage Company. To him, it represents the culmination of his experience to date. He was able to meld his visual sensibilities with narrative and infuse it with meaning and purpose. He was able to pull through his farming roots and marry them with strategy, marketing, artistry and design. He was able to fold in business lessons and strategies to find smart ways to spend and grow strategically.
When they first started Tractor, they had a series of formulations and a unique business model. His vision for Tractor was to create massive disruption and a breakthrough brand, something that had never been done in food service beverages. If they were going to compete against the legacy brands, they needed to look and behave like a forever brand and have a very distinct point of view rooted in what they truly cared about.
Very early on, he was able to fold in some collaborators to make the brand present bigger than it was. They made a beautiful film with his friend Rachel McDonald that got on the radar of competitors and played to the heart strings of an executive who would become Tractor’s CEO. They didn’t have much of a budget, but what they had, they invested into the National Restaurant Show which effectively announced their arrival onto the scene. The work was beautiful, the brand was tight, the product was great, and the industry took notice. Shortly thereafter, they rolled out nationally with Chipotle as their first big customer because Chipotle loved the brand and story.
They kept overhead super low and didn’t take a salary for the first six years of the company. Last year, Herber was finally able to come on full time to run brand, marketing and creative. They continue to push the brand to become the best version of itself.
Herber also shared lessons he learned from the people he collaborated with:
via Adam Hoff, CEO Campside Media/Former Writing Partner
Herber’s best friend from college, Adam Hoff, began writing with Herber in their early 20s. They went on to sell multiple TV shows, a couple of features and started a production company to license intellectual property to be adapted for film and TV. They worked really well together because they complemented each other very effectively but were extraordinarily different in many ways. In those differences lied the tension and in that tension was the magic of their work.
Here's an example. The first TV Show they sold was called THE EDGE. Hoff had worked as a corporate hedge fund attorney and became fascinated by the world and wanted to develop a show set in the space. He had a strong sense of place and the characters that occupied it, but Herber wasn't really feeling it. Herber had never stepped foot into a hedge fund and didn't know too many finance people – his perception of that world was one he couldn't root for. So Herber challenged Hoff and said they needed to have something root-able and relatable and came up with the idea of having their lead character working with the FBI to help take down the institution from the inside. They were coming at the project from two entirely different places but were able to use that tension to create something dynamic.
The show ended up selling to the USA Network and got killed just before going to pilot. The script made the rounds though and became their calling card which led to a lot of exciting work and opportunities.
via Blake Mycoskie, Founder, TOMS
Herber was friendly with a bunch of the early TOMS people and they often talked about collaborating, but it took a while to find the right thing – which ended up being shooting a documentary in Nepal. A small team, including the founder Blake Mycoskie, traveled to Nepal and into the small villages with a sight-giving partner to help them understand the challenges in the region. Many of the farmers were blind due to cataracts, which could be fixed with a 15-minute surgery, which TOMS was looking to fund through selling eyewear.
They were in-country for 10 days traversing the foothills of the Himalayas and all got close through the experience. Herber saw Mycoskie's curiosity and business acumen. He understood Mycoskie’s desire to use business to do good. He also understood Mycoskie’s POV and upbringing since they were pretty close in age and both Texan. Herber also saw that Mycoskie had a lot of ideas, and he could help Mycoskie "distill and elevate" to make the ideas the best they could be.
His role wasn't to be a bombastic creative director or probing documentarian. His role was to help interpret Mycoskie’s ideas and make them resonate through all of the key creative coming out of TOMS. Over the course of five years, the brand exploded and became the model for using business to change business. Through working closely with Mycoskie, he also got a front row seat to what it takes to build a brand that makes an impact. He saw Mycoskie being able to balance the demands of a growing company with his desire to continue to use business as a tool for good. Herber experienced all facets of the brand in helping them tell their story and it helped bring together so many of his skills and passions.
via Victoria Brynner, Founder, Stardust Brands
Herber worked under Victoria Brynner who runs a consultancy for luxury brands producing high-end photoshoots and brokering celebrity deals for luxury brand campaigns. She creates iconic work for iconic brands and has incredible vision, taste and authority. She is one of the most impressive people he has ever met.
Brynner became one of the most trusted curators and producers for brands like Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel, Tag Heuer and for photographers like Annie Liebowitz, Steven Meisel and Karl Lagerfeld. She was masterful in her handling of relationships and uncompromising in her vision and execution. She was quick to weed out projects or people that didn't align to her ethos and vision and kept collaborators close. She had a specific vision for the life she wanted to create and for the work she wanted to be part of and expanded from her passion and expertise.
Brynner was incredibly gracious, but also firm in mentoring Herber. She expected a lot from everyone, but also had the grace to be kind, humorous and supportive. Working with her stretched him and exposed him to a world and ways of working that he never could have imagined, especially coming from his background. During his time working with her, it definitely opened up some imposter syndrome. What business did a guy like him have flying to Paris to pitch celebrities for a Louis Vuitton campaign? Because she believed in him, he was also able to believe in himself without changing, but evolving.
Herber learned from some of the incredible work he got to do with Brynner. They brokered a deal for Scarlett Johansson to be the face of Louis Vuitton for two seasons. They did another campaign for Louis Vuitton, a travel campaign with Catherine Deneuve, Mikhail Gorbachev, Steffi Graf, and Andre Agassi. It was one of the first campaigns that was a give back campaign, and it gave all the proceeds as to the climate initiative back in 2008-2009. So it great exposure for Herber in thinking about how to advance a brand through a singular campaign and who is the celebrity that embodies that ideal.
Growing up in Texas, specifically in the farming communities, people were bighearted and kind. There weren't any hidden agendas, backstabbing or back-talking. All of his family members knew the value of hard work and operated with gratitude and an understanding that many things are out of your control.
When he started working in Hollywood, the opposite seemed to be true. He had never been yelled at, cussed out, berated or insulted until he started working in Hollywood. He somehow became a magnet for difficult and demanding people, largely in part because he didn't take it personally and found it to be ridiculous and silly. One of his bosses had a complete meltdown on him asking me how he could be "so f@#*ing stupid" and he responded with something like, "Every day it is a struggle for to me to overcome my own stupidity and lack of intelligence and I thank you for keeping me employed. I will try to be better."
Working in a creative field is a privilege. It is a dream career. To Herber, he was always puzzled by the utter lack of joy people had doing a job millions of people would kill to have. If you can't enjoy a career where your job is to make things that will make others think, feel, or smile…then why do it? Oftentimes, when he was making a film or building a campaign, he thought, "I can't believe someone is paying me to do this."
With his team and with his collaborators, he tries to keep enjoyment and lightheartedness front and center. He tries to remind everyone that what they do should be fun, even when it is stressful. It's his belief that you can have high expectations and pursue the highest level of work without it turning you into a monster.
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Daniel Burstein: I've got an idea about creativity, and that is we need to wrestle to make truly worthwhile work. And the story I always go to that inspires me. And look, if you've listened to How I Made It In Marketing, you know, I don't tend to get religious on here, but it's the perfect story. So please bear with me. Whatever your beliefs are. It's from the Torah. You might call it the Old Testament. Jacob wrestles with the angel and then becomes Israel. And I bring it up because to me, that's how creativity should be. You have to wrestle with it.
That which comes easy is often not too worthwhile. By wrestling with it we are on the other side and our ideas are all the better for it. That's why I love the lesson I saw in a recent podcast guest application, embrace healthy friction, well put. We as humans tend to avoid wrestling. We tend to avoid friction. But as creatives we must embrace it. Here to share the story behind that lesson, along with many more lesson filled stories, is Justin Herber, the CMO and Chief Brand Officer at Tractor Beverage Company. Thanks for joining us, Justin.
Justin Herber: It is a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
Daniel Burstein: I'm going to cherry pick a little bit about your background to let people know who we're talking to. Alot more background here, but here are some of the highlights that I thought were most interesting. You were a creative assistant to Michael Bay at Bay Films, where you worked on Bad Boys 2 and commercials for brands like Mercedes and Victoria Secrets.
You were the Brand Creative Director at Tom's, the shoe company. You were a Screenwriter and Executive Producer, and you're repped by agencies like United Talent Agency and CAA. You were Vice President of Creative Strategy at Another, which is an agency where you are leading campaigns for Nike, Shopify, W Hotels and NBC Universal. And right now you are CMO and Chief Brand Officer at Tractor Beverage Company. So Tractor Beverage Company is the first and only certified organic, non-GMO full line beverage solution in food service. It is number 216 on the INC 5000 list of fastest growing companies, having grown 2,520% in the past year. And Justin manages a team of 11 along with three agency partners. So tell us, Justin, what is your day like as Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Brand Officer at Tractor?
Justin Herber: Well, the days are packed with a lot because we're a growth stage company and being not only Chief marketing Officer but Chief Brand Officer, I have purview into a lot more things than just marketing. So really my area of focus is making sure that we're operating internally the same way we are externally. So I think the best brands are the ones that align their internal values with their external expression. So a lot of the work I do is working with the founders and our founding principles and making sure that that's being pulled through in every piece of communication, whether that's internal or external, the practices we're taking on, and then how that extends into marketing.
So within the marketing, I'm overseeing creative, I'm overseeing communications, I'm overseeing B2B as well as B2C and numerous agency partners. So my days are filled with kind of a variance of things ranging from business to creative to culture. So every day is different, but it's all moving in the same direction of trying to create a breakthrough brand that really leans heavily on its founding ideals and that really lives out its mission to the fullest potential.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, that's great. I think there's a lot that a lot of people can learn on the call whether your B2C, B2B, whether you've got a growth brand, whether you're more established. I mean, every brand cares about values these days, it seems. I think there's a lot we can learn from you and there's a lot we can learn from your background. So let's jump into some of the lessons from the things you've made in marketing. So your first lesson is create your own way and looking at your background and your story, you certainly seem to have done that. So can you give us a bit of an idea of your background and how you kind of got into the creative industry to begin with?
Justin Herber: Sure, sure. Well, yeah, I was born on a farm in West Texas and all my family were farmers and ranchers, and there really wasn't such a thing as a creative field. That idea wasn't out there that you could make a living by being creative. At an early age, I actually was really into art and drawing, and the way I got there was I had chronic asthma as a child, so my lungs collapsed and I ended up being in a hospital and actually in an oxygen tent for a period of time. And I remember my mom came into the hospital room and she had a huge stack of homework and she just threw it in the trash can. And she said, you just need to, you know, take care of yourself. And I remember around that time a nurse brought in this book that was called Draw 50 Dogs, and it was by this guy, Lee J. Ames.
And it was the step by step on how to draw a German shepherd, how to draw a poodle. And I literally just laid there in the hospital bed drawing for hours on end. And it was a way of escape. It was a way of kind of therapy. But it became my passion and the thing I love the most. So from there I just leaned heavily into the arts and I was always making films. I was always doing little paintings. And that kind of led me to getting some notoriety and winning a few kind of national or local and regional, we had a Western Art Show in Texas, and I would get the blue ribbon in that. And then got on the radar of some arts colleges and started looking at where to go. And I ended up becoming the first ever incoming freshman to get a fine art scholarship to Pepperdine University.
So it took me out of Texas and into California. And I think I always had aspirations of doing something more than just art, but maybe getting into filmmaking. You know, growing up, I was always making films with my buddies in which we were always prepubescent cops, you know, chasing down bad guys. But that landed me at Pepperdine and kind of became the segway, me transitioning into more of the creative field. It gave me a nice footprint in Los Angeles and in a nice entryway kind of into the world of Hollywood.
Daniel Burstein: So, you know, when I read that story, one thing I thought of is my mom still doesn't quite understand what I do. I wonder what your parents think about what you do and what your job is like. You know, my mom, when I tell her what I do, she's like, come on, that's a job. Like, they pay you to think of ideas and, you know, and it is. And it's funny, when you mentioned Creative Field, I was thinking Field probably means something very different in West Texas. I'm guessing Marfa was not Marfa when you were growing up. So, I mean, what did your parents think or what does your family think? You go back for Thanksgiving or the holidays is everyone else a rancher? I don't know, working on oil fields? These are like, I don't understand West Texas. I'm just using all of the like tropes I see on TV, but.
Justin Herber: It's pretty accurate. I mean, I don't think my dad understood for a long time he always wanted us to go into engineering or something practical. And now he's like, oh, you made the right move. But I remember being several years back we were at a Christmas at my aunt's house and they live outside of a town of 420 people in the middle of nowhere. It is wide open. It is hardscrabble work. And I'd recently worked on a campaign where we had brokered a deal for Scarlett Johansson to be the face of Louis Vuitton. And it was this big celebrity negotiation. It was a really big campaign. And sitting at the dinner table with my cousin's husband, who's a rancher, and he's just as country and cowboy as can be.
And I'm trying to explain to him what I do. And there was no way to close the knowledge gap of what marketing even is or what Louis Vuitton is. And it was just this huge gap in our two worlds. But I think that's what I kind of always relate to is like I grew up a farm family, so I think I'm always trying to bridge that gap of culture between the way I grew up and then the things that I see on TV and in the work that I create. It’s always trying to make sure that that little eight year old kid or my cousins can contextualize and get some understanding out of the other work that we're creating.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, mean our backgrounds can really inform our own work. And I'm going to probably ask you more about that. But I also want to wonder, just for like your own personal fulfillment, like were you a fish out of water growing up and do you feel like moving out to L.A., getting into creative fields, getting into marketing, you've kind of more found your tribe or, you know, one thing I always think of , one thing I always love. I don't know if you remember the Blind Melon video from the nineties. No Rain. Do remember that video?
Justin Herber: Yeah. Yeah.
Daniel Burstein: There’s this bee girl and she's just walking around. She doesn't fit in anywhere. And at the end she finds her tribe of bee people and she's dancing around. And I remember being in high school and I grew up in a more metropolitan area, I mean in Florida, but I remember in high school, like I was a little fish out of water, like I would act up more of , I was in the A.V. Club, I was on the host of the TV show in High school. You know, I was always, like leaning towards the creative and but like calculus and chemistry and these things would beat me over the head. And then being able to find a profession, just making a living, doing this, like, my gosh, the fulfillment for me, you know, just through the roof. So I wonder for you, like, like, did you fit in out there? Did you fit in in the ranching lifestyle or did you find your tribe? Like, how did it work out for you?
Justin Herber: I think in high school, yeah, I was pretty yeah, I was in drama and I was also on the basketball team and I was also on the baseball team, so I was pretty well rounded. So but I always had these interests that weren't in the mainstream, you know, I was interested in videography and photography and movies and storytelling in a way that was a little bit outside the norm when I was in high school. And at this point we had moved to Houston. So it's a little more cosmopolitan than my West Texas upbringing. But definitely when I went back to West Texas and I'd have my camera, and I’d be kind of cruising around my grandparents ranch and my grandparents would say things like, Oh, he's just doing that creative stuff, and they didn't really understand it. They never really fully appreciated it, understood it, but it definitely felt like once I moved to L.A. and once I was around people who are more entrepreneurial, who were more interested in creating, it definitely found like I found my tribe a little more, and I found that understanding.
Because for so long ihere was no way for me to even contextualize, like how I would make a living doing something creative. And that was my goal through my twenties was to be able to sustain myself through a creative expression. And so I had to be able to learn how to really nurture and accept that creative side of me and then to really lean into it. And then when I started making a living, doing it full time, that was when I really felt like I came into my own and where I had ownership over my story, my purpose and my point of view. But it took some doing, it took some time. I had to shed that layer.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah. Let's talk about shedding that layer and how you broke in, because I think there's sometimes a belief or an understanding that well I mean it certainly helps to come from a wealthy family for anyone, you know, like you can, they can just pay for film school and they've got connections and all these things. But that's why I really like this lesson where he said, don't pay for experiences, let experiences pay for you. So how did you do that?
Justin Herber: So after I was working for Michael Bay, which was my first job out of college, I had untold access, like more access in any 23 year old kid ever should have. I really wanted to learn the business of filmmaking, and I knew a bunch of kids who paid 120K to make, you know, I a pretty marginal short film at best. And I didn't want to spend $120,000 or take out that loan or have to work my way through it. So I said, Hey, what if I just tried to learn everything I could about entertainment by working my way through the system? So I ended up getting a job at a talent agency for about a year and a half and learning the business of entertainment, learning, making a good network, making good connections, reading scripts that were coming through, building kind of my network there. And then I wanted to get into postproduction to learn how films came together and worked with a really exciting motion graphics house that was doing all the Apple work early on. And then made my way back around to eventually to Tom's. And in that whole time I was learning everything I could about every facet of filmmaking and unknowingly every aspect of marketing too. So I was getting visibility into how campaigns come to life and how movies come to life and the politics behind it and the creative strategy behind it.
And so I looked up at, you know, in my early thirties and I didn't have a straight path and I wasn't the kid that had the MBA or the film degree or the short film that had won the awards. But what I had was a breadth of experience that I could apply to multiple different mediums and to multiple different creative expressions. And so when I think of letting the experience pay off for you, it was curiosity that fueled me and thinking about how I was going to be able to build an understanding, skill set and safety net that would allow me to have longevity in this career.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, well, I wonder how your experiences, how you've kind of rolled that into the brand in terms of experiential marketing, something we hear about a lot. Because one thing you've mentioned, I know you said you were like touring through Thailand when you first saw that film Pearl Harbor, and then you mentioned, you know, you were on the set of Bad Boys 2 in Miami working with Michael Bay. And so like, yes, these are work experiences, but this is also an experiential thing you went through that someone would probably purchase if they could. And it reminds me of I interviewed Jonathan Merrill, the co-founder and CEO of the Escape Game, on How I Made It In Marketing, you know, and they make one of those escape room things.
And for him, even like they made an online booking engine. Because even like the booking engines that they could buy were not the right experience for what they wanted the customer to go through before they even got into that escape room. And so I wonder for you from these experiences you've lived, you know, going through, you know, through the entertainment industry and some of these things, like has that affected at all how you market the brands you've worked on, like to try to create an experiential experience for customers?
Justin Herber: Yeah, I think that for me it was always about trying to choose the most interesting path in front of me. And I think when you do that, you collect life experience, you collect relationships, you collect understanding, you can operate with empathy. You understand that the world is bigger than your backyard and you get exposed to much more. So that was the case when you know, right after college I bought a one way ticket around the world and me and a buddy just traveled with a backpack for four months and we were, you know, staying in $1 hostels and we bought a kayak and we circumnavigated this Fijian island and we're meeting the Chief of the island.
And what you realize is that all humans experience the same emotions. All humans experience happiness, excitement, loss, grief. And so for me, I think the variety of experience serves to create a more holistic view and holistic understanding of how a brain can express itself or how a piece of whether a film or a script can express itself. I'm not doing things through research, I'm doing it through experience. And that to me creates more texture, more soul, and also more connective tissue for a brand to have.
Daniel Burstein: And also, how does that affect the experience you want someone to have when they actually use that brand, right? So like you could buy a shoe, that's a thing. I mean, anyone can buy a shoe, walk around in a shoe. Buying a Tom’s shoe, that is a different experience. You know, you know, the philanthropy that goes into it. Some say you might want to buy it so people see you wearing Tom’s shoes and know the philanthropy going into it when they see you. Building this brand, Tractor Beverage Company. Chipotle. I know is, you know, one of the main places. So Chipotle, that's an experience in itself, too, right? I mean there there's a lot of places to buy Tex-Mex, right? But you probably go to Chipotle maybe because you like the taste better, but there's a certain different experience there.
So I wonder if, you know, kind of going through with that entertainment industry background, which is all about experience, which is all about, you know, you talk about Bad Boys 2. How can we take people on this fun, wild ride with Martin Short and Will Smith? You know what I mean? Like, have you tapped into any of that for any of the brands you built or worked on either as Chief Brand Officer or for agency clients you’ve had.
Justin Herber: Yeah. I think my approach is always just trying to figure out how to make the best version of what something needs to be right. And to me, that often comes down to finding the central kernel of truth and expressing it in the most powerful way possible. Like in working for Michael Bay, you're making popcorn movies, so you're always pushing. How can you have the most fun? What's the most fun we can deliver to the audience? And then with Tom's, it was about the impact that you can make with a purchase. And so really you're trying to center in on the central truth of the brand and then express it in the most meaningful way possible. So to me, it's always getting down to the truth of the brand.
And with Tractor, it was founded by a farmer who wanted to change the way his family was eating, and that translated into drinks as well. So central to the ethos is his truth is that you can live out a healthier life if you eliminate the harmful things that are put into it, into our food system. So really, to me, it's about identifying the truth and then expressing the best version of it and the personality that's right for the brand or that’s right for the experience.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I mean, that's a great quote. I always forget who said it. The truth well told, right. That's the explanation with advertising is the truth well told. So there's the two sides, right? As a marketer, you got to find and tap into that truth and then you got to tell it. Well, as a creative, right.
Justin Herber: Exactly.
Daniel Burstein: So here's another lesson you say make the work you would like to see. And when I first read that, I got admit I had a little internal pushback until I read what you're talking about. Because I've definitely worked with creatives, I've worked with writers, I’ve worked with designers, and they're so focused on themselves, right? I work with so many designers where I've had, you know, long form content or, you know, long copy, and they're like, I would never read all that. And I'd say like, you know, who would read that? You know, the potential customer. Like, none of us care until we're a potential customer for that. But you mean something different. So talk to us about make the work you would like to see. How have you lived this ethos?
Justin Herber: I think for me this probably comes more from the creative roadblocks we put our way when you're thinking about it through the lens of creating. So I think so much pressure is put on the suffering artist and the, you know, what is the story I need to tell? And I found that getting out of my way and saying, what is the story I would like to see as a viewer? What would I like to feel? It helps kind of eliminate those roadblocks and kind of your desire to be clever, etc.. So you really just think about what the work needs to be and do and say. And it can lead to exciting places.
So an example of this is I was overseeing the Hot Wheels YouTube account for a company called Fullscreen. I got brought in to be the creative lead and strategy lead on helping them figure out how to become the number one boys toy brand on the Internet. And so they had this assignment that they needed to take these monster trucks that they had created that needed to live outside of the arena. So what can we do with it? And rather than try to be overly clever about it, I thought about like, you know, these are eight year old kids that are going to watch this. What would I want to see as an eight year old kid? Well, I'd want to see the most epic backyard downhill race possible. So we constructed this really amazing set with these awesome production designers that was this downhill race. And it was made from all these household obstacles. They were crayons, there were spikes and they were, you know, kind of trapdoors and things like that. And we covered it like we're shooting the Olympics, like we're shooting an ESPN, you know, X Games event.
And it just became this joyous thing to watch that I think if I was trying to be clever about, you know, what is the ROI or the KPIs associated with, you know, how are we going to reach brand growth and all the algorithmic stuff, then we wouldn't have gotten to an exciting creative place. And that ended up being kind of the creative unlock for a lot of the content that they did. And it was just putting myself in the mind of an eight year old kid. What would I want to watch? What would be fun for me to see? What are the things that I wish I could do if I was a kid turning that on YouTube.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, like what you'd said before to me said I'm not data driven, I'm data inspired. And I think I was really nice because when we talk about creative work, I mean, I hesitate to use this term, but it's art. Ad what you made what you're talking about there for that eight year old that was probably his or her art, you know, I mean, and so to just if we look at spreadsheets too much and analytics and all these things, like, yes, I like what you said, they can inform us so we can learn better about who we're trying to reach. But at the end of the day, it comes to that inspiration and to that unique whole difficult to explain, you know, put in lightning in a bottle, right? I mean, you ever feel that way?
Justin Herber: Absolutely. And I do think there's a balance of quant and call, right. It's like being, you know, not data driven but data informed. And I think about kind of the revolution that happened within Major League Baseball a few years ago with sabermetrics, right. And you had all these teams who were building these new metrics and they're really building these kind of data centric models. And, you know, the A's were really exceptional for a few years. But then you look at what the Astros did and what they did was they had this great sabermetric model, and then they brought in Nolan Ryan, who, you know, as a Texas kid was my hero, but one of the greatest pitchers of all time. And he was the eyeball test for them.
So what he did was he was able to kind of bring heart and soul and experience to some data metrics and build this team that has been a contender for the last five years. So I think about what we do in the same way it's making sure that you're using the right data sets to inform certain decisions, but you should never be programing based on algorithm. And you know, when we were working at Fullscreen with YouTube, there was a real desire to kind of be more, it's almost like paint by numbers, by the data, because the algorithm is so specific within YouTube. But it was about working with the analytics team to help understand why things were working on a more qualitative level rather than quantitative level. And I think that's kind of we were able to find the right blend of quant qual, you know, art, science.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, and it's the blend for sure, but I like tapping into that unique creativity. We had a previous guest on How I Made It Marketing, talking about, hey, don't overlook your gut, we’ve got so much data. And someone had written in and they said, this was really helpful to me because we were very data driven. And so, for their content marketing and so we were creating content based on the data. Well, what happened was we were creating the same content our competitors were because we all had access to the same data. And so we realized, like we did need to tap into that gut some to, you know, find some differentiation.
And I want to ask you about that, especially in terms of make the work you would like to see. You know, we all have unique backgrounds and you have an especially unique background, like you said, you grew up in West Texas, Hollywood, even a child of illness. And I wonder how you've tapped into that background specifically to inform the brand or the communication you do. And I’ve got one specific example that I thought of on our side. Our CEO is name is Flint McGlaughlin. He has a book called The Marketer as Philosopher. You know there’s business books, like you said, paint by numbers business books. So you know they have a specific paint by numbers way they followed. And he created something just wildly different. He's got a background in philosophy. It's very philosophical. It's got these reflections. It's got these like da Vinci paintings. It's even made bound by leather. I once met the guy who made the leather and he was showing me, I never knew this about leather. Like on leather you could see an individual cow got, like, an injury from, like, barbed wire or something like that. So anyway, my point is, all these things I could have never created because he's got a background in, you know, philosophy and theology and living out West and all that stuff. So I wonder for you, you know, your unique background, how has it informed what you've done? And have you seen the movie Vengeance out of curiosity?
Justin Herber: I haven't seen Vengeance, no. So you know, actually I saw it, I take that back. Yeah totally.
Daniel Burstein: So I saw it almost the same day I got your applications. Funny, I never think about West Texas. And in the movie, if you haven't seen it, it's this writer for The New Yorker and podcaster from New York, and he goes to West Texas. And so it's not one dimensional, it's multifaceted, which was nice. But I think a whole big part of it is the thing we've heard for so long as there's two Americas right? There's the coasts, and then there's either middle is real America or flyover country, depending on your opinion, right. And so and that's kind of what B.J. Novak is kind of experiencing. So with your vast experience from your unique background growing up in West Texas, then going to Hollywood, child of illness, all of these things like how have you infused that into your brands?
Like how have you infused that unique childhood growing up? Because I want to say real quick, while you're thinking more I could talk forever. Is because when I think of and I didn't want to drive it this way, but I am thinking this, Tom’s and Tractor and maybe some of the other brands you've worked on. If you take that two Americas philosophy, right. They seem like, well, they are brands of the coasts, right? They are brands of not going to get political, but an elite that lives on the coast. You know what I mean? But you've got that background that honestly, I don't have. I grew up, you know on the coasts. I've lived on the coast most of my life. Like, how has that background informed what you do with these brands so they're not one dimensional or should they be? Maybe they should tap into just a specific audience.
Justin Herber: Yeah, I mean, I think that coming from West Texas, I saw the movies that were being made as a kid, and I always want to be a bridge between the two worlds and I think that informs what I do with marketing as well. Like I still think about what's going to resonate with my high school buddies, what are they going to think is important? So and even gut checking with my mom and my parents and helping them understand. And right now a Tractor, we're an organic beverage company, but it's founded by a farmer who's like the most salt of the earth guy possible. But there is this kind of perception of organics that it might be an elitist proposition. And so it is really working to kind of sand down the edges and to pull through understanding and to really think about like how you make something that should be universal, more universal. How do you build kind of some commonality into it and how do you not feel elitist in presentation?
And I think, you know where Tom's like, you know, Tom certainly started as a coastal brand. It started in Santa Monica, but then you saw the adoption of really like the Midwest became the super Tom's fans. And everyone was united around the idea that you could do good with a purchase and that you could vote with your dollar. And so I think that that was a brand that really kind of brought a bunch of different types of folks together. They just wanted to do something good. I think that, you know, most people have goodness and want to see the world be a better place. And I think that I always try and think about what positive effect a brand can have and how to make something that could potentially make the world just a little bit better place be that through giving back shoes or even through the promotion of organic farm practices.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I think that's awesome. I think sometimes when we try to niche down, you know, I mean we as marketers are human beings and we're all caught up in the, you know, minutia of what's going on in our country. And so when we try to niche down, sometimes we make a mistake of just, you know, looking at it through one specific lens where, like you said, if you're looking at something, let's say just for example, it’s environmental, I saw right here in Florida, I mean, this is a little more political about the solar movement that's going on. They found like, hey, this taps into really two groups that might be considered on different sides of a political spectrum. One is obviously environmental, but the other group is a group that wants independence, right? And it's the same product. You figure out the value proposition for it. And then you figure out that, you know, you don't have to look at it in a one dimensional view. So I really like what you're saying with that.
Justin Herber: Yeah. And for me, like on the on the organic side, you know, growing up in West Texas, all my family, they were farmers and my mom's cousin was a crop duster. And so , he was a former Air Force guy and his job was crop dusting. And he was exposed to all these chemicals they were spraying on the cotton fields. And he ended up getting a really rare form of cancer. And so for me, I think about him and the job that he had, where it was helping to debug farms. And would he have had a different outcome had he not been, you know, exposed to so many harmful chemicals? And it's like I think people agree that you shouldn't have harmful chemicals in your food.
You know, we have 87% of kids have glyphosate in their urine, which is, you know, a shocking stat and that's basically it's roundup. So just think about like how to contextualize that. And at Tractor we're trying to provide a cleaner product for people. And how do you get people to understand that it's a choice that we're trying to provide? It's not a mandate we're given, but like we can make choices about the food we put in our body. And I think my job as a marketer, sometimes it's to help contextualize that and help people understand that.
Daniel Burstein: Right? So, yeah, exactly. It's like the value you can provide and then tapping into the thing that is important to them. And even though you might have these different niche audiences where different things are important to them, right, you can still provide that value in different ways, right? I mean, I mean health we all care about. But whether that's independence or environmental or whatever it is, finding that value and attaching it to what's important to that person. And I think that's where data would come in, right? Understanding what's important to those people so you can find out how to tap into that.
You say, pursue the best version of what an idea could be. And you know, here I've seen, and this is kind of we'll get into this specific lesson I talked about in the beginning later. But creative is hard work and I think sometimes it gets the idea of like, oh, there's this unique spark of inspiration and that's it. But I mean, you've got to push a lot, right? I mean, is that what you are talking about here pursue the best version of what an idea could be, don't stop at the first you know first thought of it.
Justin Herber: Yeah I think this I would apply this specifically to Tractor it's when I first came to Tractor it was three founders and some great products. And they had some kind of rudimentary branding and they had this awesome business model where they said, hey, nobody's really tried to introduce a clean product into food service and we'd like to do that. And so I looked at their value prop, I looked at their products and I said, like, if we're really going to break through, if we're really going to create something that can live in food service and that can onboard the right partners and they can get the belief of the customer, we're really going to have to have the brand dialed and we're going to have to make this feel like a forever brand. It can't just be a kind of a cottage industry brand. We're really going have to build something that reflects kind of the soul of the founders and the intentionality of the way these things were created.
So for me, it was always about pushing it as far as we could to feel like it could be a forever brand, that it could feel like it could be a true disruptor, and that would be a brand that people would want to engage with and participate in. So there were multiple passes of the brand that were fine. But when you think about striving for brand excellence and you know, my time with working on the Apple account or working on Nike, you're always pushing for excellence. So you're always pushing for the best version that something can be. And I saw that with all of the founders and lead creatives of the agencies I was working with. It's like you always have to try and land it in the best place possible and it's unrelenting and it's challenging and you have to rethink things from time to time. But at the end of the day, you can have a brand that you've really put a lot of heart and soul and thought into and can be super proud of.
Daniel Burstein: You know, one specific example you give. I want to ask about this. You said you made a beautiful film with your friend Rachael MacDonald to kind of breakthrough in the National restaurant show. So I wonder, they're like, I mean, I think that's a great example, like how far did you need to push? How much did you need to push, or how did you get to that idea of making a film, right? I mean, that's not the first thing that many brands do, right? You know, I mean, I'm sure you did other things. You know, there's logos. We got our PPC ads up, we got our, you know, programmatic going and blah blah blah. But making a film. So can you tell us about how that idea came about and how you use it at the National Restaurant Show?
Justin Herber: Yeah, so early on at Tractor, it was the three founders and kind of their family money and just myself. And the four of us are just trying to make magic happen. And so I folded in some of my network and one of which was a filmmaker friend named Rachael MacDonald, and we created a brand ethos piece and we made this beautiful short film for nothing. It felt like a big investment at the time, but essentially like what a social boost would be on like an Instagram ad at this point. Like it was literally like nothing. And the film was so beautiful and touching and it didn't get huge distribution because we didn't have distribution dollars at that point. The algorithms had changed a little bit from my time at Tom,’s so you couldn't have something really get picked up. But what it did was it got on the radar of some executives. And they saw this little startup beverage company that had some heart and soul to it that was making beautiful work and people paid attention. And so that was the way we got to our first CEO was he saw this film that we made and he said, These guys are doing something different and I'm going to take all my experience and I'm going to bring it to bear there to help with that team. So that was a you know, it felt like a big investment at the time, but it was an investment that paid off.
And then secondarily, you know, we didn't have much of a marketing budget in the following years, so we had to make every dollar count. And being in food service where it was B2B at the time, we weren't really breaking through on the consumer level. We were really trying to prove our prove our brand on a B2B level. So what we did was we spent our money at the National Restaurant Show and we got an amazing booth and we looked at the parameters of how big you could build the booth, specifically how high you could it. And we built the highest booth in all of the National Restaurant Association show and had this amazing muralist from Argentina. Do this just beautiful, beautiful work. And it looked like it was the next big thing in beverage. And so it was, you know, it was a big investment at the time. But like I said, like at this point it'd just be like another line item. But that was the thing that announced us. So we had to be really intentional in the beginning about doing work that we knew would represent the brand in the best way possible, but would also allow us to look like the version of the brand we wanted to be and we're aspiring to be.
Daniel Burstein: That is a great tip for trade shows. I actually never really thought about that make the tallest possible booth. When you're on that trade show floor sometimes it's just to sea of chains if you see that one thing sticking up puts something interesting at the top.
Justin Herber: Some free advice.
Daniel Burstein: So when you talk about brands like Tractor, you know, going up against my gosh, such entrenched incumbents, I feel like when you talk about pushing it as far as you have to go, you have to do something I would think just very different to break through, to know those brands and to break through., right. And so one thing I've seen some smaller brands do, I think is a mistake is they look at the market leader and they're like, how can we copy everything they do and do it ourselves?
I wonder what you've, and I'll give you an example real quick, but I wonder what you have done when you started with Tractor, or it could be Tom's or another company and you've seen here's what the incumbents are have done. Here's what we specifically need to do differently that's a radical or that another brand can't go to that place. And so real quick, here's an example I was that wrote a case study for a company called Shinesty, and they do a print catalog, which you wouldn't think much people do anymore, but they do a print catalog and their whole thing is it's sensual, sophisticated, not J.Crew. So their whole thing is to do something radically different that sticks out.
So they had these holiday suits, just these gaudy holiday suits. They call them Dirty Dangerfield Shumashy season. They had a one-piece swimsuit made out of dungarees called the Jacksonville Jeankini. And, you know, basically they just did all these things they thought of like, okay, what would J.Crew do and how can we do something outlandishly different? Because that's the incumbent brand and we need to, you know, break through. And so I wonder for you, you know, when we think of a Chief Brand Officer, sometimes we think of, oh, brand protection and let's make sure everything's aligned and right and we're representing in the right way and showing up the right way. But what have you done to just, you know, have you done anything to do to do something radically different, to break through against these very entrenched incumbents that they couldn't do? They can never go there.
Justin Herber: Yeah. So we have a couple of really exciting initiatives coming up this year that I can't really talk about, but I will tell you about how we've done it in the past. So initially Tractor Beverage Company was a soda company. So we were all craft sodas and it was impossible to get any pull because of the way the contracts are constructed where you can't share valves in those environments.
So it's kind of like an all or nothing proposition for Tractor. And there were a few shops, G-d bless them that took a flier on us and put us in there. So when we're having trouble getting traction in the soda space, we ended up innovating into the non-carbonated space, which was a huge opportunity that hadn't really really been done in food service. So our founding farmer Travis created these amazing beverages that were made from the best ingredients in the world, that were organic, non-GMO, that had functional properties to them, and that were just lights out flavor wise.
And so that was an innovation that we were able to do because we were so small and we say, we look for the opportunity in the obstacle. So the obstacle was we can't get into the fountain, so what do we do? And we tried a number of different things and it ended up being the non-carbonated product that really broke through for us. And that was what Chipotle saw and they said they wanted to carry. So that's what we did on the product innovation side. And as far as on the brand marketing side, we were really I'll just say we're going to really lead with our values of leaning into organic with an exciting initiative that's coming up and then really just advocating for consumer choice in food service.
Because if you think about it, anywhere you go, you can get any type of beverage you want. You go to Albertsons, Kroger, HEB, Whole Foods, there's carbonated, non-carbonated, non-GMO, energy, whatever you want, but you go into food service and you're essentially provided the same eight options you had for 50 years. So we believe that people should have more choice in food service. And to us, that's super clean and super delicious. So I think that we're going to be advocating for providing consumers a different type of beverage when they go to places like Chipotle or any of our other prospective partners.
Daniel Burstein: There's a great lesson in what you did with non-carbonated right there, because I have just very little experience in that industry. But one thing I learned from my little experience is the power that distributors have and the reasons why you're seeing how difficult it is for a brand to break through. So anyone listening in the food service industry, or in the food industry, if you've got a start up and you get frustrated, that's a great lesson there from Justin of how, okay, here's where the incumbents are, here's where the distributors are, you know, have kind of a stranglehold. Let's go somewhere else, zig zag. I like that.
In the first half of the podcast, we talk about lessons from the things you made in the second half we talk about lessons from people you collaborated with. And this is the first lesson I talked about I love, you mentioned embrace healthy friction, and you learned this from Adam Hoff, who's a CEO of Campside Media and was your former writing partner. So tell us about how you and Adam embraced healthy friction.
Justin Herber: People often think of conflict as a bad thing. They think of it as somebody is right, somebody is wrong. But when you embrace healthy friction, you can come at things with opposing viewpoints and arrive at some place that's sharper. So, you know, Adam and I were best friends from college, and he was the first person who really inspired me to write. And we wrote multiple screenplays. We sold several TV shows, I think three TV shows, two features. But early on in our process, we had very diverging working styles. I was a little more atmospheric and cerebral and he was a little more bombastic, and we were developing a project and he really wanted to lean into his stylings on it.
And I just found the world to be a little bit unrootable [with main characters that a viewer couldn’t root for], and it wasn't something that I could really relate to or pull through. And I wanted to participate in that world that he was creating. But I wanted to find kind of the emotional center of it.
So we had multiple discussions about the best way to do that, and he had strong points of view, and I kind of had my own viewpoint on it, and we're able to arrive at, the story we're developing was about Wall Street bankers, right? It was kind of like industry before industry. So this was, you know, 10 to 12 years ago. And I said, listen, I'm not going to root for Wall Street bankers. Like, how can we root for these guys? And so what we arrived at was, what if it's kind of a first day of school story and the new class is coming in? And we learned that the guy we've been following is actually undercover and he's trying to take these guys down from the inside. And then we kind of had this like kind of Donnie Brasco on Wall Street. And that was kind of what the unlock was. But it took wrestling, you know, it took kind of being willing to advocate for our point of view and being also willing to realize when you're wrong. It didn't often get heated, but there were definitely like multiple hours of conversation to get to a good place, you know, and multiple rewrites. But I think that that healthy friction, not thinking that your way is always the right way, but being open to other people's ideas and trying to create an environment where ideas are welcome and where iron can sharpen iron, creates the best work.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I mean, that's so true because really what's going to happen is then the customer is going to see the work and they're not going to say anything to you, they're just going to ignore it or not act, right. So you need that other viewpoint. I know for me I started in the agency as a writer, and so you work in writer art director tandem and talk about healthy friction, iron sharpening iron. You don't just have different viewpoints, you know, people, writers and designers think very differently. But if you mesh those two, you get you get some good work, hopefully. And it goes to really your next lesson where you say own your role and the relationship. And you learn this from working with Blake Mycoskie, the founder of Tom’s. So how did you learn this about working with Blake.
Justin Herber: So I was friendly with a bunch of people early at Tom’s, and I got brought in very early to kind of help on specialty projects. And we were always looking for the right thing to do together. And that opportunity presented itself in 2010 when they were doing a trip to Nepal to really understand that there was a giving model behind sight giving. So a small team of us went to Nepal. Blake Mycoskie included. And I was the Director and I had a camera crew with me, a sound guy. And being in the field with Blake, I saw, you know, his desire to build this amazing brand and to continue to use business to help others. And I realized my role in it. You know, in the past, I've been, you know, the creator and, you know, kind of the one who is writing screenplays, making films. And really I realized my role in that relationship was to help interpret all the ideas that he was having and make them resonate.
So he was the kind of guy who has a lot of ideas that are like really amazing. And we often talked about the concept of distill and elevate. So take the ideas, distill them down to what the best version they can be, and then, you know, elevate it. So for me, that was kind of the role that I played with him, was helping to tell the Tom story. So it was going in the field and telling the story of the giving partners and what was happening in country. But also taking some of his concepts on the consumer side and really figuring out how to make them work. So kind of my role was just to be almost a sounding board and interpreter and then recontextualize it in a way that we could then kind of create great work out of it.
Daniel Burstein: I want to mention too, like I don’t know if people are overlooking that, that is such a non-egotistical way to view each job you have, right? I think sometimes if you're creator or sometimes in marketing we have these big egos. Then we go in and we start it's all about us, you know how am I going to lead this? You know? But to just look at what your role is going to be on that team and how you can support others, I love it. Reminds me of the show Quantum Leap, remember watching that show? He just jumps in into all these different situations. And he's like, okay, what am I doing here? Right?
Justin Herber: Yeah, in a lot of these scenarios, you can't bring ego into it. You have to think about what's going to be best for the brand. And I think at working for that's kind of always been the role I've found is even with Michael Bay, it was kind of helping the process get to a good place or helping their creative pitch decks get to the spot where he thought in his head or the deck. So a lot of it was, I've kind of found this place of being able to interpret people's ideas into something actionable, at Apple or with Blake, it happens with you know Travis from Tractor. So I just kind of found that I am a collaborator here and I kind of don't believe in the idea of the great auteur, or at least not myself as auteur. At least there are other auteurs out there. But I think that creativity is a collaborative sport. So and I see myself as an interpreter of those ideas and trying to figure out the best way to tell those stories.
Daniel Burstein: Well, that's nice view, because as creators, sometimes we fall a little too in love with our own ideas, don't we? I mean, you know what I mean? And then we fight too hard for them and we don't listen to others. And so I think that's a very great and humble way to look at it. When you talk about relationships, I also was thinking, you know, relationships are so important in business And as a creative. What about the relationships with all those business roles that kind of maybe don't fit as naturally for you?
So like I was interviewing Jean Hopkins, she's a Chief Revenue Officer at Onescreen.ai, on the How I Made It In Marketing podcast, and in one of her specific lessons she said, make friends with the CFO, like that CFO is such an important role as a CMO. She talked about even, you know, the head of HR. How she, you know, built that relationship and stuff. And so, you know, I like to say, corporate creativity is a funny thing. Like as creatives we come in, we're kind of a, you know, the round hole in this square peg hole or whatever, you know, I mean, we don't quite fit naturally into the business part yet we get the creative part. But how have you done or how have you learned to kind of build relationships with those, the CFOs, the, you know, all those other types of folks that kind of run the business end of the organization?
Justin Herber: To me, I think the creative is rooted in great strategy, and strategy is rooted in business objectives. So the business objective has to be the first thing. And if you can help the CFO and COO and CEO all understand that you are trying to create pathways to action on the business objectives, then you're in a much better place. It's not creative for the sake of creative. It's actually like rooted in trying to drive the key business objectives or KPIs around what leadership has decided. So for me, when I first came to Tractor, you know, I was the fourth person in, but I was working full time doing a bunch of other things and. I came on a year and a half ago as a C level, and really what I did first was just kind of listen to all the challenges and then understood that like sales was what needed the most support at the time.
So I was going to put my energy into building really great sales tools and a really great sales strategy. So just knowing that it wasn't about trying to create something that's going to break through on the marketing side first, but it was about building the tools that were going to allow us to all be able to succeed. I think creates a team environment and it shows that as a marketer, you're not invested in your ego, but you're invested in the outcome for the business and that you're going to make sure that everyone else is heard. And along for the ride.
Daniel Burstein: You know, another nice thing about that, something comes I've seen when I see a new marketing leader come in is we all have that tendency of when I have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So to come in and just hit hard, whatever your thing is, you know, if I'm going to make a film as the first thing. But I like that, you know, going in, listening and saying, what does the company need? Let's talk about another lesson, carefully cultivate and curate. And you learned this from Victoria Brynner, the founder of Stardust Brands. And I think this was from your time in working with the fashion industry, right?
Justin Herber: Mm hmm. So Victoria was a job that it was someone who I worked for actor Michael Bay, and she is one of the most impressive people I've ever met. She is an amazing curator, producer, tastemaker and her studio, Stardust, would produce these luxury photoshoots. So she would do shoots for Fendi, Chanel, Dior, you know, like I said, doing deals for Louis Vuitton. And she kind of expanded her world into brokering deals for celebrities to be the faces of these campaigns. So she really harnessed what she was great at and just truly owned it and then nurtured the relationships around her. So she was able to grow the agency relationships, the brand relationships into a really dynamic business that was multi-faceted. But she was also unrelenting in her creative point of view and in her taste and in what she brought to every single project.
So, you know, I was in my early twenties, mid twenties working with her, and I was this kid from West Texas, and we're flying to Paris to meet with Louis Vuitton. And I always felt like a fish out of water because I felt like it was imposter syndrome. You know, they were going to figure out that I was born on a farm and be like, you know, who's this kid? But she took a level of investment in me and really nurtured me and gave me the confidence, but also the roadmap on how to kind of build my career moving forward, which was nurturing really great relationships and staying true to what your vision for creative should be and what your vision for the brand and also the business that you're creating. So she was tremendously instrumental in that and showing me how to say no to the right things, but also how to be firm and resolved and how to always bring class and integrity to everything.
Daniel Burstein: I wonder, did you learn anything about building a brand, building a value proposition from the marketing industry? I saw you mentioned, you know, Stardust Brands worked with Annie Leibovitz, Steven Meisel, Karl Lagerfeld, you know, and when I think of the fashion industry, I mean, one of the things, yes, there's a quality of clothing, but they're giants at building a brand, right? They're just so good at building that brand, building that fuel for it, building that value for it. So, I mean, being up front and being around folks like that, like, did anything seep in that helps you later when you're doing some that brand building work?
Justin Herber: Absolutely. I mean, being around the Annie’s and Kyle the Karl Lagerfeld’s of the world is amazing and intimidating. But I think the thing I learned the most from was the celebrity casting side, because when Louis Vuitton would come to Victoria and they'd say, hey, we're casting for this fall campaign, can you help come up with ideas? She would fold me into that, and then we would think about what the best brand representative was going to be. It's a big commitment for these brands. This is before influencer marketing, etc.. And when it was, you know, celebrity driven campaigns weren't the norm stateside. They're more common internationally. So there's a really niche industry and you think about the importance of a campaign like that. So you really have to think about cultural relevancy, brand advancement, opening up a new audience, exposing people to new talent.
So we did some incredible work. We did, like I said, we did a deal for Scarlett Johansson, the face of Vuitton for two seasons. Victoria did this amazing campaign that was for Louis Vuitton, where it was this favorite nation's campaign, where they got Catherine Deneuve, Mikhail Gorbachev, Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi all to be part of this amazing travel campaign. It was actually one of the first campaigns that was a give back campaign, and it gave all the proceeds as a favorite nations campaign, gave it to the climate initiative back in 2008-2009. So it was really it was great exposure for me in thinking about how to how to advance a brand through a singular campaign. And who is this celebrity that embodies that ideal.
Daniel Burstein: I mean, that's a great lesson for and if you're not working on a major global brand, like you mentioned, influencers, that's a great lesson on that level too, because and you're giving over some of the ownership of what that brand is to an influencer when you're signing up with them. So sometimes we just look at like, Oh, you know, what's their engagement, what's their reach, what are some of these numbers? But I mean, you got to really step back and ask who they are and what does this say about our brand if we're trying to build something? I would think, right?
Justin Herber: Absolutely. And at that time, you could be more singular in that and you're vetting through multiple layers. And now we probably don't have the same level of vetting that we would like with influencers because it really is more about eyeballs and micro audiences, etc.. But it yeah, we it's a totally different ball game.
Daniel Burstein: Now let's talk about one last lesson and I think this is a perfect one to end on. And if you've listened this long and you're not a marketer, this lesson is good for you too. It is good for anyone. And you say, don't be a dick. So I'm sure you learned that lesson from having dealt with people who were dicks to you before. And we're not going to attribute this to anyone specifically, but tell us how you learned this lesson and how it changed how you've managed your career and lived your life.
Justin Herber: I mean, for me, growing up, creativity was a privilege. There wasn't such thing as a creative job or a creative endeavor. And so when I came out to Hollywood and I started working on movie sets and I saw how tightly wound people were and how people were just miserable, it's like, What are we doing? We should be having fun. We're getting paid to do something that people dream of. We're getting paid to, like make people laugh, make people smile, give people joy. So for me, marketing is that too. Like, sure there's stresses and there's deadlines, but truthfully, we're getting paid to create work and to tell brand stories. And that is the greatest privilege that we have. And we should be very, in my view, people should be really excited to create something that has the potential to make some world a little bit better, make them think a little bit differently. So for me, there's just no room for being a dick or being difficult or being surly. Marketing should be fun.
Daniel Burstein: I like I get so deadline driven and the numbers too. I mean, once you throw those numbers in there, it gets stressful. But my gosh, look at what we get to do. I get to sit down and talk to Justin, this is so much fun and pick his brain about all sorts of things. Well, let's end it on. You know, we talked about so many different things about what it means to be a marketer from the creativity aspect to the business aspect to, my gosh, just be a decent human being. What are the key qualities of an effective marketer if you had to break it down?
Justin Herber: I think curiosity and empathy are key. I think always learning, exploring, observing the world around you, being an empathetic listener and understanding, are keys. Because if you're just going to hammer a message for the sake of hammering a message, it's going to fall on deaf ears. So I think that marketing at its best is rooted in empathy. And then I think great marketers are constantly curious and always looking for new ways to do things. Always looking for new pathways. So I think those are the two for me.
Daniel Burstein: Well, Justin, it's been an absolute joy. Thank you for sharing your journey with us and thank you for letting me pick your brain for the past hour.
Justin Herber: It was a pleasure to be with you. Thank you so much for allowing me on here.
Daniel Burstein: Absolutely. And thanks to you all for listening. You make it possible. Have a good one.
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