July 17, 2023

Marketing: High growth can be excruciating (podcast episode #64)


I had a power-packed conversation with Pete Housley, Chief Marketing Officer, Unbounce, in episode #64 of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast.

Listen now to hear Housley discuss building high-performing teams, leveraging data-driven decision making, and achieving high growth in business.

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

Marketing: High growth can be excruciating (podcast episode #64)

The How I Made It In Marketing podcast is underwritten by MECLABS Institute, the parent organization of MarketingSherpa. Join us for an AI Guild session Wednesdays at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. Learn more at MECLABS.com/AI-Briefing

Growth. You see this word everywhere. Growth marketing.

But do you know what uncontrolled growth in our bodies is called? It’s called cancer.

Sorry to be negative, but I think it’s helpful to provide a check on the groupthink and buzzwords roiling around our industry.

OK, growth. Sure, growth. But why? What is the vision? What is your business growing into? And how do you grow a business sustainably? Because again, not all growth is good…uncontrolled growth is cancer.

Which is why it was so refreshing for me to see this lesson in a podcast guest application – ‘high growth can be excruciating.’

In this episode of How I Made It In Marketing, I discuss the story behind that lesson, along with many more lesson-filled stories, with Pete Housley, Chief Marketing Officer, Unbounce.

Housley manages a team of 81 in marketing, customer success and enablement, an ad budget of $3 million, and 15 vendors, including software and direct media channels.

In 2020, the company raised $38.4 million in a funding round led by Crestron Partners. Unbounce currently has 17,000 customers.

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

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

Stories (with lessons) about what he made in marketing

Some lessons from Housely that emerged in our discussion:

You are only as good as your team

The single biggest lesson Housley has learned in his career is the importance of a team and making sure that your team is better than you are. He has spent his career developing high-performing, inspiring teams, over and over.

At one point when he was CMO of Zelllers, he had 140 people reporting to him, but he did not have a functioning leadership team in place. As a result, he was compensating for his lack of team and trying to do it all himself.

His CEO sat him down and he will never forget these words, “Pete, you are only as good as your team. You can never compensate for a lack of team. Your top priority must be to develop a team which is better than you are.”

He has lived by these words and with that in mind, people and team are always the number one priority.

“How data saved my life”

Marketing has really changed over the past few decades and we have moved from what was once largely brand marketing and traditional media (that was often not measurable) to today’s environment of digital, ad tech, attribution, journey mapping, and so on.

Over the years, Housley has learned how to support all his recommendations with data. And with this in mind, he has been able to sell some very tough ideas at times, even controversial ideas. This approach to data is not restricted to performance marketing; it applies to decision making across the board. He has some fun examples, which reinforce how data saved his life:

  • Getting thrown out of a boardroom when positioning Zellers
  • Launching a web dating start-up with a $20 million ad budget
  • Growing ad spend at Indochino from $2 million to almost $18 million in five years with a rigorous approach to channel marketing including ROAS by channel, fractional channel CPA’s and extensive LTV/CAC modeling.

High growth can be excruciating

Achieving single-digit growth is one thing but achieving high annual growth of 20% or 30% can be excruciating at times. We need to set BIG targets, we need to be held accountable to those targets, and we need to be constantly thinking about new ideas. It can get relentless at times. It takes fortitude, a cohesive, motivated team, and a strong product to achieve high growth.

Housely has learned this the hard way by working for some pretty tough and demanding CEOs at times, but in the end, he would definitely call himself a “growth guy’ and he has a playbook he learned from:

  • Indochino and the relentless pursuit of plan
  • Lavalife, where innovation + media drove meteoric success
  • Setting milestones for brands, and the importance of brand experience

Lessons (with stories) from people he collaborated with

Housely also shared lessons he learned from the people he collaborated with.

“How to crack a strategy. I mean really crack.”

via Karen Palmer, COO, Bozell Worldwide

Housley started his career in brand marketing at Procter & Gamble. There he learned all the disciplines of classic CPG marketing. It was an amazing experience and really set the stage for a successful career in marketing. But one of his development opportunities was identified as strategy.

This was not his core strength; he was very tactical. When he left P&G and was interviewing for a job in an ad agency, Bozell Worldwide, the COO, Karen Palmer, asked him if he had any weaknesses. He said “strategy.” She said, “If you come and work for me, I will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about strategy, and this will become your core strength.” Over the course of about two years, he was involved in almost every strategy project. Strategy has been a core strength of his now for 25 + years.

Everyone needs a mentor.

via Luke Sklar and Anne Sutherland

Housley was lucky enough to have two mentors over the years that spanned most of his career over 25 years. These two were his sounding boards and advisors. One was Luke Sklar, who was the founder of a marketing research firm, who ended up helping Housley to shape both research and strategy over several marketing jobs. Sklar was a sounding board and a brilliant marketer. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago.

The other is Anne Sutherland, who was a former colleague in his advertising days and literally one of the smartest people he has ever met. Anne has remained a friend and a colleague for 30 years and her strength is brand positioning for meaningful differentiation. He has brought Anne into workshop positioning with several of his teams and to this day, he still uses her frameworks.

Housley thinks part of the secret of his success is the influence of both Luke and Anne.

Everyone needs true internal partner(s) in business.

Via Morgan Whitney, COO, Indochino

To be effective as a leader and for companies to be effective, we can never operate in silos. Housley has always sought out true business partners all throughout organizations as well as partners at the executive level. His philosophy is to treat every employee and department as if they are customers.

As an example, Morgan Whitney was COO at Indochino and Housley was CRO. Over the course of six years working together they developed a level of teamwork and trust that made them incredibly effective leaders. They both felt supported and encouraged by each other to be their best and do their best. They calibrated on everything, challenged each other, got through both good and tough times, always had each other’s backs, and led bi-weekly board discussions together.

Related content discussed in this episode

Servant Leadership in Marketing: We are only as good as how we handle humbling moments (podcast episode #54)

3 case studies of marketers that made a positive change in customers’ lives (while getting results for their business)

Communicating Value Proposition: We answer questions from marketers and entrepreneurs

B2B Marketing: Marketing shouldn't be about driving demand; it's about driving value (podcast episode #40)

Introductory Guide to Developing Your Customer Theory [an interactive worksheet]

About this podcast

This podcast is not about marketing – it is about the marketer. It draws its inspiration from the Flint McGlaughlin quote, “The key to transformative marketing is a transformed marketer” from the Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages free digital marketing course.

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Not ready for a listen yet? Interested in searching the conversation? No problem. Below is a rough transcript of our discussion.

Daniel Burstein: Growth. You see this word everywhere. Growth marketing. But you know what? Uncontrolled, uncontrolled growth in our bodies is called. It's called cancer. Sorry to be negative, but I think it's helpful to provide a check on the groupthink and buzzwords roiling around our industry. Okay. Growth. Sure. Growth. I agree. But why? What is the vision? What is your business growing into and how do you grow a business sustainably?

Because again, not all growth is good. Uncontrolled growth is cancer, which is why it was so refreshing to me to see this lesson in a podcast. Guest application. High growth can be excruciating. What a word. Here to share the story behind that lesson, along with many more lesson filled stories is Pete Housley, the Chief Marketing Officer of Unbounce. Thanks for joining us, Pete.

Pete Housely: Daniel It's great to be here today and I look forward to riffing with you on growth and leadership today.

Daniel Burstein: We're going to have a lot of fun. Let's take a quick look at your background so people understand who I'm talking to. Just cherry picking now from your long and storied career. You started that career as Brand Manager at Procter and Gamble. I had many other roles, but you went on to be an Account Director at Boswell J. Walter Thompson, TBWA Side Day. You were CMO of Department Store as Zellers Chief Revenue Officer for Indo-China, and right now you are Chief Marketing Officer at Unbounce. At Unbounce, Housley manages a team of 81 in marketing, customer success and Enablement, an ad budget of $3 million and 15 vendors, including software and direct media channels at Unbounce. The company Unbounce in 2020, raised $38.4 million in a funding round. Led by Crestron Partners and currently has 17,000 customers. So can you give us a sense what is your day like as CMO of Unbounce?

Pete Housely: Well, I, I like to keep at 30,000 feet while I also play in the weeds of my leadership would be characterized by, as we talked about developing high performing teams. And with that in mind, we set quarterly priorities and we probably have at any given time 10 to 15 initiatives in parallel and literally I touch base with all of those almost on a on a daily basis.

Daniel Burstein: All right, great. Well, let's take a look at some lessons we can learn from that storied career. Like I've said before, I love the job as a marketer. I feel like we actually get to make things. We've never been a podiatrist or actuary or something else. But I know if they walk away like having made things like we do, we make brand campaigns and I love it.

So here's your first lesson. You said you are only as good as your team. How did you learn this?

Pete Housely: Well, first of all, I don't think anybody can ever be successful with what I call Lone Ranger syndrome. You cannot go it alone as a leader, and you can never compensate for your lack of time. I would say over the course of my career, I've probably built somewhere between six to a super high performing teams, high talent, highly engaged, results driven, cohesive groups.

And these outcomes do not necessarily happen by themselves. It takes planning and courage and leadership. But this reminds me of a great story that I had. So as you mentioned at one point I was CMO of Zellers, which was a major department store in Canada with over 300 stores and $3 billion in revenue. I had 140 people in my internal in-house ad agency, and if you can believe it, a $140 million ad budget, which is a very, very large number even in today's standards.

And at the time, Mart was coming to town, a direct competitor. And so we had a change vision. And I found myself running around trying to do a thousand jobs. And I had not yet established that senior leadership team in marketing to do the job. So my CEO did a bit of an intervention with me and he called me into his office and he said, Pete, I've been watching you and I love your enthusiasm and your heart and your hustle, but you are trying to compensate for your lack of team.

And so my advice to you is that you take some time and you think about structure and strategy and you recruit the best and you should always have your team better than you are. And Daniel, I have lived by those words ever since. My team is better than I am, and I love that. And I always have a succession plan and I'm never worried about the next level because we focus so much on team.

So that that would be one of my number one leadership principles. And as part of that, in my top ten repertoire, I have people in team almost at the top of my list. So, Daniel, I start every one of my meetings with the topic of people in team. How are you doing? How is the team doing? And every single minute that I start with it, everybody knows that. And then they understand that I'm a people leader and that I care about people first. And so I think that's just been a really good lesson in leadership for me.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I love that. I mean, the whole second half of the podcast is lessons about people that we collaborated with because I felt like I was so key to marketing, you know, And when I would see those people who didn't do that, and I remember that little bugs Bunny sketch, Bugs Bunny playing baseball, they remember Bugs Bunny pitching that Bugs Bunny, the catcher, the Bugs Bunny grunts, the people he was running around like, you know, but so this leads to the question, what would your top piece of advice for building a team? Right.

I mean, so, for example, I interviewed David Appel. He's a CMO of Intuitive Health earlier on How I Made It In Marketing. And one of his lessons was fancy terms can lead to bigger missed expectations and one of his red flags he always looked out for and like building a team, I'm going to quote him directly because I couldn't say it as well as he does marketing buzz word, vomit dumping, dumping, coinciding with budget bragging, marketing, buzz word, vomit, dumping, coinciding with budget bragging. And those were the people. And he had a red flag. You got to avoid those people. For my team. I don't need to promote them from within. I don't need to hire them. So I wonder for you, like, what is your advice for all the teams you've built in your career? What's one of your top one or two takeaways on on how to build that team so you're not Bugs Bunny running around playing your position?

Pete Housely: That's it's such a great question. First and foremost, what I've learned over the years is you need to align the values of the organization with the candidate profile. So, for example, if you want a high growth company and you're just going to take no prisoners, you need a, you know, a different type of of a candidate. But if you're a values based company who really believes in work life balance and like so you do need to mirror the values of the organization with your candidates.

And then I think with that in mind, I spend a lot of time creating the job profiles. So when we look at an organization structure and I do something called role mapping, which is we look at the skills, the competencies, the tasks across a number of functional areas, then we write the job descriptions and then we recruit for the best.

And this is super interesting. Daniel I do not trust my own hiring ability. I have my success rate on hiring elite candidates is about 50%. And so I, I think that I need a panel of peers helping me with this. So we do group interviews. We do what we call technical interviews for technical competence. We do behavioral interviews for leadership characteristics and culture fit.

And then we all get together and collaborate and make a shared decision. And I think, Daniel, it's not just about the recruiting. It's also about the onboarding that first 90 days, even 30 days can be the make or break element to a candidate's success. So generally I would say that I overboard all of my direct reports. I spent countless hours and investment walking through context and examples and getting in the weeds with them and then they they fly on their own.

But the faster we can do knowledge transfer and really set people up for success makes a good candidate great and a great candidate. Unstoppable.

Daniel Burstein: Or the to two nice things I like that you said there you know we talk about this kind of vague notion of culture fit and stuff. We're interviewing and stuff, but it's such a good point. There is someone who could be a fantastic marketer at one organization that is just not going to work out. And they're all it's like putting a, you know, square peg in a round hole.

And then the onboarding. I love it. We mention that too. I forgot who I interviewed on the podcast, one of my favorite onboarding lessons. Obviously all of those things, you know, you need to teach an onboarding, so be successful in your organization. But one thing this individual did is on the first day at work, this was when people were working in office, they would send to the house as beautiful basket of fruits and flowers, whatever it is to that person's spouse to thank them.

Pete Housely: It's amazing.

Daniel Burstein: We're lending this person all day long. And I'm like, what? And that's, you know, I don't. A hundred bucks, but what a way to say like, wow, you know, for that spouse to be like, wow, where you working? That's great. So I love that people first.

Pete Housely: It's great.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. So let's talk about your second lesson here. You just call it how data saved my life. So that's a pretty bold statement. I'm guessing you weren't in the E.R. and hooked up to some machines. How did data save your life?

Pete Housely: Well, and that's a little bit of a hyperbole. Our hyperbolic statement. I come from a background years and years ago at Procter and Gamble Brand Marketing, where we really it was all about the brand and the positioning and the advertising. And of course there was a product advantage or a product leadership in terms of the product efficacy. But brand marketers to a lesser degree used data in their decision making today we can measure literally everything.

We can measure offline advertising and online advertising. And there are ways to attribute marketing channels. But with the pressure on return on ad spend, we need to use data. And what I have found over the years is armed with data. I'm way more powerful in front of a board of directors, in front of a CEO trying to get budget.

You know, when there's peer groups fighting for the same budget backed with data, we are just so powerful. So a great example would be at Indo-China. So in you know, I was chief revenue officer for almost seven years and we built that company from $20 million to literally $110 million in about five years. And we did that by scaling media and doing it quite scientifically, just as context for the listening audience in the channel was a made to measure suit company 80 showrooms, a digital pure play at inception.

So when I started we had a boat, I don't know a million or $2 million of ad budget. And when I look looked at the data, the cost per acquisition, the CPA on getting a customer was about $80, and yet the average order value was more like $600. So even at gross margin that what we call LTV lifetime value to CAC cost of acquisition ratio was three or 4 to 1.

That means that at that ratio you're profitable on your acquisition of marketing. So with that in mind, we went on a journey on channel attribution, designing an in-house fractional model on your cost per acquisition. Literally for every channel, for Google, for Facebook, for podcast, for offline, for direct mail and so on, and we were able to basically go from one or 2 million to 4 million to 5 million, 10 million, all the way up to $80 million ad spend being profitable at the customer level every step of the way along that journey, we built this super sophisticated data models.

I'm talking like a CDP customer data platform with a semantic layer which had all the labeling of all the data points. So I could literally run pivot tables against anything and anything to really get all that customer data and point marketing in the right direction. So that was really a lot of science. And I had I had been kicking around digital marketing and making that my shingle almost that I hung on my door for a number of years, but I went on an intellectual journey of data marketing and attribution to achieve this.

And even as I segway today, I'm on a new journey now. And that journey is a I'm marketing and I'm becoming a student of all of those tools and literally only a student. And I guarantee you I'm taking my current marketing team through this journey. We're testing all the tools, we're embracing it. And so on. But, but I would say that one of the secrets to my success is my data focus and my ability to manipulate and use data.

Daniel Burstein: So I, I mean, that's a hot topic. It kind of piqued my interest. Any early lessons, early advice, early piece of wisdom?

Pete Housely: Oh, my God, Yes, yes, and yes. So first of all, I started using chat CBT three months ago. I'm permanently logged on to it. I consulted five or six times a day for research and ad peer review. We also, you know, on our team are, you know, toying with many of the new tools around design. So whether that be mid journey or daily or you know Photoshop I products, I mean I would encourage everybody to see what that could do and a minor shameless plug for Unbalance.

Of course, we have an AI based landing page builder which is super sophisticated and exciting, but my advice to marketers would be you need to study AI capabilities. And I'm not sure your job as a marketer will be replaced by AI, but you'll be replaced by marketers if you're not using AI. And so I'm very specific with my team.

On embracing the tools. And Daniel, with that in mind, I'm actually hosting a podcast called Unprompted AI Marketing in You, and we're talking to all kinds of experts about AI marketing and all of the use cases. And but I'm finding it super exciting and powerful.

Daniel Burstein: I'm just let me also ask you, you talk about data, you talk about return on ad spend. Totally agree. It's extremely helpful. But let me ask you about another use of data. So do you have any examples or any lessons from using data to help the customer, to help improve the customer experience? And give you a quick example, because I think sometimes when people hear this, it has to be like groundbreaking way to like change a customer's life.

But sometimes it's pretty simple. I wrote some case studies about, you know, how brands can help customers. And one was a company called Big by Melissa. They were a cupcake maker and they just tried to improve the user's purchase journey. Right? When they step back and look at data, they saw the post-purchase journey. Wasn't that great? Customers really weren't clear what where their products were when they were going to get it.

They worked on that, improve that experience. And not only did the customer experience improve, but email revenue went up, which I think is kind of the gold standard we should.

Pete Housely: Absolutely.

Daniel Burstein: So any examples you can have?

Pete Housely: I have a great example of that. And this goes back to the Zellers days. So large department store, 350 showrooms, We were looking at the data and trying to find insights around the customer and usage patterns. But what we uncovered was that Zellers was the number one seller of kid's clothing than any other retailer in Canada. It dominated like 60 or 70% market share.

And so with that in mind, we thought about moms, and what we did was we repositioned the department store as mom's store, making mom's life easier because we knew she was coming in for Kidswear. But how did that show up in terms of our operation? Well, we had narrow, cluttered aisles piled with boxes down the aisle. We widened the aisles for baby strollers.

We put in maternity parking. We we really did all of our advertising catering to the life of mom and the job of mom and how much work that is. And it was phenomenally successful. And really that just came out of an insight on data on the relationship of who our core customer was.

Daniel Burstein: Let me tell you why I love that so much, because we could talk about return and spend and all the channels you talk about, those are essential. But every customer touchpoint is an opportunity for branding and marketing. And so when you're saying you can have that all in your ads, but when you say, you know, hey, we're the place for moms, they show up, there is the maternity parking, a show up, the aisles are wider, the aisles being wider. That is an ad that is marketing. That is it's an action.

Pete Housely: Fundamental courtesy and respect for your customer. Don't make it difficult for them. But it is interesting, you know, Daniel, as I talk about, you know, a core segment or cohort of your customer base and in that case, call them moms. Circling back to our conversation on a I. The big trend now is for customerization 1 to 1 marketing and really based on individual data serving of customers experience is and ad units directly tailored to them.

And we can do that by creating dynamic content in our ads I learning machines but that personalization engine really is where things are going, you know, to the extent that like, you know, I don't necessarily want to log in to, you know, my favorite ski gear brand and then get served up ads for Lady ski wear. Right? They should know me and they should not only know that I'm not just into sports, but I'm into skiing and mountain biking.

And my expectation is they serve me up promotional materials or ad units to play directly to my sweet spot. And I think that's where we need to go. And we are going in the marketing community.

Daniel Burstein: No, I love that. But I would just to get on a soapbox for a second, I would say sometimes the challenge is marketers think myopically and they think about those very powerful tools. And other groups within the organization, for example, might be, I'll give you a great example. I love you. I ordered a washing machine or dryer or something from Home Depot, and that was when I was working in an office.

I actually had to come home to get the delivery and I see some truck coming around. I live on kind of a dead end where people would have to turn around and I was like, Well, it can't be. That was like some U-Haul or some shady looking truck, you know? And then, you know, I go back to working in a ding dong and it was them, and it was delivered in some U-Haul or unmarked truck with some guy who didn't have a uniform on or whatever.

And I'm sure what happened within that organization was that department said we can save 12% if we outsource this. But and this is why I love to go back to your Zellers example. That is a touch point. That is the thing about you. That is the experience where the marketer has to get involved falls short.

Pete Housely: It it's interesting and I've often been what I call a heretic in many of the organizations that I work for. And I'm often not the popular, you know, point of view, but I've always been a champion for the customer. I study the customer lens, I wear the customer lens, and I do find very often companies and manufacturers, they make recommendations and decisions that satisfy their own needs.

I think we need to market the product this way, but it may not be compatible with what the customer is thinking. I'm like, Guys, you know, hold on. And coming back to the data reference, the easiest and most disarming, you know, argument is to say, all right, maybe you're right, maybe I'm right. Let's just do a pulse, check with the customer and get the customer point of view.

Who doesn't want to get like the real answer here? And so I've used that in many, many examples so that we don't have to have the debate, you and I, about it. We just get a customer validated point of view.

Daniel Burstein: And I assume that led to AB testing, marketing, experimentation and that sort of thing.

Pete Housely: Yeah, I insist that all of my campaigns are AB testing on a percent of the time.

Daniel Burstein: To use a Segway. That's how you get to be a high growth company. But you said, and I love this, I called out in the beginning, high growth can be excruciating. And I want to point out as a writer, you didn't say high growth can be difficult in say, high growth could be hard. You said high growth can be excruciating. That word paints a picture. So tell us, why is high growth so excruciating?

Pete Housely: Yeah, I've thought a lot about this over the years, and I've been associated two or three times with high growth companies that are getting, you know, in excess of 30% growth a year. And it's one thing to set a baseline on your last years, you know, sales and revenue and do a 10% increase. Oh, we'll increase media medium, we'll get some new partnership revenue, we'll do these things.

But to get that hyper growth of 30% is what I call the road less traveled. So let's use a scenario. We're trying to get 30% growth. We set the targets. Now you're in month one of the year and you're getting 20% growth. What you're feeling right, right out of the gate. So then you've got to think about new ways to course correct and deliver.

And so while I was at into we went through that period of seven years of that kind of growth, and it did get excruciating to the point where on one hand you're making that growth. But if you hit 30 and your goal was 35, the ethos was you failed and you just hit 30% growth. So keeping the team motivated and still stretching on the goals is was, you know, definitely excruciating.

And I think the risk, of course, is that you can make short term decisions to force some of that excruciating growth. What does that even mean? Deeper discounting? You know, like things like that. We have a lot of tools in our toolkit to drive growth. But I think what I had to find was and we talked a little earlier about recruiting high growth requires high achievers and a lot of heart and hustle and, you know, fortitude to do it.

And you've got to be prepared to fail and to get back on the saddle and keep going. So it was a you know, it was a pretty good lesson for me. And, you know, I would like to think that high growth is just a function of product. But the reality is, when I think of the companies that just got meteoric growth through product and, you know, and not that kind of work like Lululemon comes to mind, you know, it you know that Lululemon pant became a cult, you know, movement on that yoga lifestyle and they just took off.

But generally speaking, it takes planning and marketing and discipline and focus to get the kind of growth that we're talking about here.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. And like you said, having that right team. And so in the second half of the podcast we're going to talk about is lessons you learned from people that you collaborated with. The first time we talk about lessons we learned from the things we made in the second half. We talk about lessons we learn from people you collaborate with.

But first, let me mention that the How I made It in Marketing podcast is underwritten by McLeod's Institute, the parent organization of marketing Sherpa, to learn how Mac Lab services can help you get better business results from deeper customer understanding, Visit Mac Klobuchar slash results. That's m e c l ABC.com slash results. Let's talk about some lessons you learned from the people you collaborated with.

Your first lesson was how to crack a strategy. I mean, really crack. So you learned this from Karen Palmer, the CEO of Bozell Worldwide. How did you learn this lesson from Karen?

Pete Housely: Yeah, it's one of my one of my favorite lessons. And before I go there, I'm going to go to a place is subsequent to learning that lesson. I've really been known for creating disruptive brands, right? Interrupting the status quo, finding that positioning for a brand. You know, or a business that is meaningful and relevant and also disruptive. Getting back to your question on how to crack a strategy and I mean really crack, when I was at P&G and I was I was a good, you know, performer and gee, I was there for about four years in brand marketing and ran a number of brands.

But I had a supervisor, you know, in the last year or so who said, like, you just really don't know strategy or you're missing the strategic nuances, or if you only had $100 for your next marginal investment in marketing activity, where would that go? But she didn't necessarily help me understand how to be more strategic. She was more like, you should just solve this problem yourself and you should figure it out and you should be more strategic.

That was entirely not helpful to me. So young marketer, I'm four years in. It's probably about time to get my next iteration and I loved advertising as part of brand management. One of the pillars that you work on is advertising development and big ideas. Excited to be so. With that in mind, I applied to an agency called Bozell Worldwide.

The CEO, Karen Palmer, the founder, one of the smartest people I've ever met. And when I say smart, I mean wicked smart. And so while I was interviewing with her typical interview question, uh, do you have any weaknesses? And of course, you never really want to disclose a real weakness, but in this case I said, Well, as a matter of fact, I've been told that I'm not very good at strategy.

And so that to me is something that I really want to learn. And she basically said, Wow, you've come to the right place. If you come and work for me, I will take you under my wing and I will teach you everything you need to know about strategy. So over the course of the next few years, she brought me into every strategic problem.

So we would solve like a beer category and the positioning and then we would do like insurance companies and then we would do like, you know, Cadbury beverages and, you know, and so on and so on. But I really learned through a disciplined approach how to crack a fundamental positioning or brand strategy. And today that is still one of my strengths.

And what makes me a creative marker marketer in addition to that data guy that I talked about, is grounded on sort of that strategy on how to really carve out a unique space for a brand.

Daniel Burstein: I mean, there's two things I really love about that because, one, that is true leadership, right? I mean, a weak leader would say, let me get my a player on the strategy. A true leader is saying, how can I grow that person? This is where they need to grow. The other thing I really love is I've asked that question many times in interviews, and normally what I'm looking for is not so much what the weakness was, which is how do people talk about things and are they transparent, Are they open?

Do they blame others? But I had never I don't think I've ever thought as that's an opportunity to say for the value proposition of the company. Great, Come here. Come work for me. We'll fix that. So I love that.

Pete Housely: Well, I think Daniel, like just for the audience here, that question is very often comes up on a standard interview question, and we should have answers. And the worst answer I've ever heard is, oh, you know, you know, I'm a perfectionist or I'm too hard on myself.

Daniel Burstein: It's good to say that.

Pete Housely: Yeah, such bullshit. Your bullshit meter just goes off the roof when someone says that, Oh, you've planned out so that I'll like you even more. But now I just realize that's a shallow, superficial answer.

Daniel Burstein: Totally. Or that everyone should know that. Questions coming up. And then if they're kind of stumped, you're like, Well, what kind of prep did they do.

Pete Housely: Buddy?

Daniel Burstein: Well, let me ask you let me ask about strategy, something very specific when it comes to strategy, when it comes to high growth companies. Here's what I've noticed. It's a powerful value proposition and specifically the ability to focus on the ideal customer. So I wonder your thoughts. I want to give you a quick example, but one, your thoughts on how to identify that ideal customer, because I was right now with this Q&A blog post on the Marketing Sherpa blog, I was running one where people were sharing their value propositions, and the thing that I noticed is that really the weakest part of their value proposition wasn't the articulation so much, it was they were not focusing on an ideal customer, for example, it was just a general business consultant. And how many business consultants are you going up against? Right.

So I just wonder if in your case we talk about strategy, we talk about a high growth company, we talk about being disruptive. What have you done in your career to identify who's that ideal customer that like Lululemon did that right? It wasn't for everyone. They found that ideal customer and that's why they grew so fast.

Pete Housely: Yeah, first of all, marketing 1 to 1 is finding that ideal customer profile. We call that like the ICP, right? And that is your bullseye. We know that brands and businesses have all kinds of customers that are right and left of their ICP, but you need to have a focused lens on who that customer is and then generally what I say in marketing is then go find more of your best customers, go find more customers that mimic that.

And so depending on, you know, how you look at an ICP, is it lifetime value, some kind of engagement, some kind of net promoter score? I mean, there's a number of ways to find that, but we really do need to dig into, you know, we used to call it customer personas and we'd say, Oh, this brand has persona one, two, three and four.

But I think today in 2023, we are more narrow on finding that ICP and hopefully the brands and the businesses have, you know, the first party data to understand who exactly it is. When you only have third party data about your customers, it's a little bit harder to find out. You might need to do some or focus groups or some type of other diagnostics, but definitely lasering in on that is crucial to today's decision making and focus.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, let's let's talk about another lesson from your career. You said everyone needs a mentor. You learn this from Luke Sklar and Anne Sutherland. So how did you find Luke and Anne and get them to mentor you and what did you learn?

Pete Housely: So it's a great story. So when I was at Bozell, one of my peers was this lady by the name of Anne Sutherland, who was just a super smart account director, way ahead of me on the strategic front. And she went on to create a business called Planning Ahead, which was basically sort of the traditional British planning model for advertising, which was a very, very disciplined approach to cracking a brand strategy.

It an advertising strategy that was only introduced to North America, you know, 20 years ago. And she and I became great friends. But what happened was I used her at every single business going forward as my mentor, my peer review. You know, very often I brought her in to consult with my team and teach my team how to think the way that we would think.

But what I found over the years was that I had the sounding board in and in life decisions and in career decisions and on business problems. She was there, you know, in with me and still is today in parallel. And at about the same time, when I was doing research in my young career, there was a founder of a research corporation.

His name is Luke Sklar, and they did a lot of packaged goods, research and retail research. And once again, Luke followed me through my career. And at one point I was president of a restaurant conglomerate called Milestones of 40 Restaurants. And Luke was literally best friends with the CEO. And so because of my relationship with my mentor, Luke, I got handpicked for this president's role.

And then Luke was in my sort of day to day advisory. But what I used to say to both and Luke was you to make me smarter than I would otherwise be like definitely armed with the sounding board. And, you know, sometimes they would kick the crap out of me like, you're not thinking clearly or this is a weak solution or you're not being courageous on this point of view.

It was amazing. And literally, I would not be where I am today if it wasn't for both of them.

Daniel Burstein: No, that's that's great. So now that you've advanced in your career, what are your tips for being a good mentor to people? So, for example, I interviewed Tara Robertson, who's the CMO of Bit.ly on How I Made It Working podcast, and one of her lessons was form a Shine Crew, which I like that Shine crew never heard of it before, but she had this whole group of these confidence people she could trust that would challenge her, that would, you know, cheer for her and all these things.

So now that like I said, you've grown in your career, what advice would you give on being a mentor to others?

Pete Housely: Yeah. So just for context here, four years in the American Marketing Association, I was a formal mentor in their program. So once a year for about six or seven years, I took on an aspiring mid-level marketer and we would get together and that was amazing. But to answer your question, there are informal mentoring relationships and formal mentoring relationships.

So my first advice would be get an informal mentor in an organization. So you're you're a mid-level manager, you're a marketer, go tap the CFO and say, Hey, I'd like to get to know you better. Is there any chance that we could have coffee one once a month and you'll be like an informal mentor to me or similar?

And so I always encourage people, look one or two levels up and just say, Hey, I really admire you. Would you spend some time with me once in a while? Nobody is going to turn down that overture. Then the next level would be a formal mentoring relationship where literally we, you know, we sit down with people and we'll use tools like strengths Finder or a number of tools to sort of find out, you know, what color your parachute is.

And then what we do is over time we set goals. And then when I'm a formal mentor, I then use accountability and we hold our mentees accountable. So just to recap on that, informal or formal mentoring relationships are wonderful, but in my opinion, everybody needs a mentor.

Daniel Burstein: Very nice. You also say everyone needs true internal partners in business. And I noticed when you say that mid-level marketer you suggested the CFO, which I thought was really interesting outside the marketing organization. You mentioned one of your you learned this lesson about needing true internal partners from Morgan Whitney, who was the CEO of Indochino. So how did you learn this lesson and how to use it in your career?

Pete Housely: Yeah, that's that's a really good one. You often see companies operating in silos, so you'll see sales and you'll see marketing and you'll see technology and you'll see retail operations or whatever, whatever the nature of your business is. But certainly when you're at the executive level, the cohesiveness of the executive team is seen and felt throughout the organization.

So establishing those internal relationships and partnerships is absolutely critical. And again, that has been part of my playbook, Daniel, over the last 20 years, even You know, in my Zellers days I sought out like the VP of merchandizing to be my pal, and we just like went on this journey together and we both had equally big portfolios.

But I think a really great example was at Indochino, we talked about high growth and how excruciating it can be. We had brought in Morgan Whitney as our CFO, and very quickly she became CEO. But I can't even begin to explain the strength of this partnership, teamwork and trust. And just we had each other's back at every single moment.

And we shared the preparation for the board decks and we delivered together. And it was really fun. And it was interesting. When I left Indochino as CEO, I said to Morgan, You don't even need a CMO because you now because you and I have worked so closely together, you can absorb a VP of marketing underneath you and carry the whole portfolio beautifully. And so that was really redeeming. But again, you just can't stay in your own silo. You do need to seek relationship and true partners are cross-functional organizations.

Daniel Burstein: So you've been an executive at many organizations and I wonder if you had any advice when you're first coming into that organization, like how do you understand those people you're about to work with so you can form these partnerships? Because, for example, you know, we teach for your customers. You should have a customer theory. We even have a guide to developing your customer theory.

Understand, when they move towards that, they move away from all these things about your customers sometimes that don't even involve your product and sometimes we forget that those people internally are, in a way, customers as well. Right? And we need to understand them on that level too. So I wonder, you know, as an executive coming these organizations, how do you kind of learn about those those other executives as a customer so you can serve them and build that relationship with them?

Pete Housely: So I'm going to go back to all my cool tools that I've learned, you know, over my career. I'm a huge believer in understanding the decision making models of my peers, my employees and so on. So what does that even mean? I'm a I'm a big fan of Color's Insights or Myers-Briggs, but I do like to know a person's framework for decision making.

So, for example, let's say that I'm just go, go, go, and I'm doing it and I'm like, Idea guy. And you, on the other hand, need all the data and all the information and precision to make a decision I need to be able to respect your decision making model on your terms in order for you to, to want to work with me.

And so we all bring different perspectives and we all have different decision making models. And so I'm just a huge fan and a student of sort of behavioral psychology to understand that and respect that. And I think that's job number one.

Daniel Burstein: You give those test to your team to understand people.

Pete Housely: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Daniel Burstein: Well, now we talked about all different things, about what it means to be a marketer. If you had to just break it down and simplify it, what do you think? What are the key qualities of an effective marketer?

Pete Housely: I think well beyond, you know, the tool kits and the disciplines of marketing. I think the number one thing that comes to mind would just be curiosity. Like you need to be a curious individual, cool and excited about pop culture and excited about trend watch and excited about what's motivating or not motivating, you know, to customers. So I think with that curiosity, yeah, it would, it would go a long way.

And then I think as marketers, we sort of straddle that. The, you know, the business side of us versus the creative side of us. And I think really effective marketers have the ability to swing both ways on the business logic and, and, and the creativity. I'm a little overindexed on the business side and a little under indexed on the creativity.

And I know that. And with that in mind, like I revere the creative folks and surround myself with, with, with lots of them, something that's very topical today is the MarTech tools that are out there are absolutely overwhelming. You know, I run about 15 tools today. I think at one point, you know, I had 30 and we're probably getting like tool creep in our organizations.

So as we understand, you know, email service providers and lead scoring mechanisms and call center operations, there's so many tools, let alone like the algorithms for, you know, ad serving units and how to optimize your Google and your Facebook. It's a little bit overwhelming. So I think what we need to do is study and always be learning.

And one thing that I've tried to do because I'm getting to be an older guy now, is to just do a lot of research and keep myself fresh, which I think we all need to do.

Daniel Burstein: Well, thanks so much. Yeah, we learned a lot from you in this conversation and hopefully we'll keep our ideas there.

Pete Housely: Thanks, Daniel. That was lots of fun.

Daniel Burstein: And thanks to everyone for listening.

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