How branding and marketing work together


April 30, 2024

Spotlight Podcast -
April 30, 2024

How branding and marketing work together

Insights from Kevin Knight

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How branding and marketing work together

Show notes


00:00 Introduction

00:40 Kevin’s career journey

03:52 Early days at Facebook

06:02 Challenges with digital ads

09:56 Scaling a team from 600 to 3000

12:45 Marketing in B2B vs. B2C

15:27 How to use AI to help you

18:35 Why you need to start early

20:20 Growth strategy for any business



Kevin Knight’s LinkedIn

Show notes


[00:00:00] Kevin Knight: If you're an early stage startup, you're thinking about all of the things that you have to do to make the next milepost in building your company. What separates the companies who are really good is being able to tell their story in a compelling way. That's marketing.

[00:00:14] Kaz: Welcome to Zypsy Spotlight. I'm Kaz, co founder of Zypsy, a design and investment firm that supports startup founders with brand building expertise. 

[00:00:21] Kevin: In this episode, we discuss how branding and marketing work together. 

Today, we're excited to have Kevin Knight CMO and consultant. Kevin has years of experience in consumer and enterprise marketing and has helped companies like Pinterest and Facebook become household names.

Let's deep dive in. We're your cohosts, I'm Kevin.

[00:00:39] Kaz: I'm Kaz.

[00:00:40] Kevin: From achieving his dream job at Google to converting challenges into opportunities. We'll discuss Kevin's career journey and how he worked with some of the biggest brands in the world.

[00:00:48] Kevin Knight: If you go back and look at my career, it would be so easy to make it sound like it was a very deliberate journey that I set out on and it was all mapped out, but it's really a series of fortunate events, but at the time they didn't always feel fortunate.

It's just amazing how much serendipity plays into this. I'll share with you one example that I think for me became a really formative part of my career. So I was at Facebook, which for me was a dream job.

I had even chosen my business school. I got an MBA from MIT because at the time, Google was only recruiting MBAs from a handful of schools, and I desperately wanted to work for Google. And I got that chance with an internship, but then the economy collapsed, and so I really missed it, and I wanted to get back into that, strong consumer web.

It was where it was at, so this is 2010, and I get hired. And this is a dream job. You don't dare hope for more. And I've been there in a sales marketing role for probably a year, maybe a little less than a year even. And by sales marketing, it was my job to create marketing collateral and provide marketing support to the sales teams.

They could go sell more ads on Facebook and Facebook made the wise, but somewhat jarring to me decision. To instead of having just one general sales marketing team, let's verticalize it. So we need to have an automotive marketer doing automotive sales marketing and entertainment and consumer packaged goods and financial services and so on.

And so the team grew from what was two people at the time, maybe three. But it meant there was no reason to have a generalist like me in there. I wasn't a CPG marketer or retail marketer and entertainment marketer or anything like that. So this was terrifying, like I basically just learned that my job doesn't exist anymore.

One of the folks in leadership was like we heard you wanted to move to New York and someone around here saw you present to a client recently said you did a good job presenting and we got an opening on this client facing team called the global customer marketing at the time, which became the Facebook creative shop.

You can have that job. And I'm like, gosh, the whole reason I was going to move to New York was because it was going to help to do sales marketing. Cause the sales team was headquartered there, but I just rolled with it. Honey, let's go to New York, and it just threw me into an experience of working with the most incredible marketers, both inside Facebook and outside clients at places like Frito Lay and PepsiCo and Procter Gamble that completely up leveled.

I felt like I basically gained a decade of marketing experience working in that Facebook creative shop because I sat at the intersection of so many smart people and so many incredible campaigns with so many big brands. And I came out of that so much stronger as a marketer than I ever could have hoped to be, if I had just stayed in what I thought at the time was my dream job. And that's really just taught me to be really open minded. Sometimes when you get a curve ball in your career, that could be a break that you didn't even know you needed and completely changed the trajectory of your career.

[00:03:52] Kevin: Up next, Kevin dives deep in his Facebook journey and the birth of the creative shop that changed marketing on social media. 

[00:03:58] Kevin Knight: I joined Facebook 2010. So it was about a 2000 person company at the time, which of course, compared with what it is today was a very small company. A couple of years before the IPO. And what we were doing is mainly selling fans, right?

That's what people were buying back then was I want more fans, more followers of my page. And the Facebook creative shop was born exactly out of this problem. Facebook could not perpetually be in the business of selling fans. We needed to become a marketing platform and the insight that led to the creative shops inception was that a lot of brands were limited in their ability to spend money on Facebook by their imagination or vision or understanding for what marketing on Facebook could look like.

We would go in and we would spend time with the marketing teams, the one that I worked most closely with and had so much fun with was Frito Lay and PepsiCo. But also Johnson and so many others JPMorgan, Chase. And we would go in and we would just get to know them and get to know their business challenges.

And then we'd come back maybe two weeks later, maybe a month later. Okay, we digested the challenges that you have in your business. Here's what we heard you say, and we've created a marketing campaign that will solve that challenge. And they would look at that and they'd say. This is great. This is exactly what we need.

How much does this cost? And we'd say to do this right, it would cost, 1, 000, 000 or something. And all of a sudden, that client went from spending 100,000 a year to 1,000,000 to 5,000,000 because we were showing them what they could do. And then it was circular because once we had shipped some of those campaigns, we could shine a really bright spotlight on them at places like the Can Lions and Adweek.

And then everybody else looked at those and said, that's cool. I didn't realize you could do cool stuff like that on Facebook. I want to do cool stuff and this rising tide lifted all the boats and really helped propel Facebook into a much, much bigger higher revenue trajectory.

[00:06:02] Kevin: From Facebook to Pinterest. Kevin talks about how to deal with the challenges of digital ads and how creative teams have changed over time.

[00:06:09] Kevin Knight: We thought of ourselves as an in house agency, but we had to be careful not to position ourselves as competitive with the actual creative agencies of record and the media agencies, of course. And so we did have clients ask us, can you do everything for us? Can you do all the production? 

And we wouldn't do that because we didn't want to put ourselves in a position of competing with these really important stakeholders. But if you fast forward in my career so the other thing that was really fortunate about my time at Facebook is while it felt pretty early to be there when it was a 2000 person company, that's very different from a company that has maybe 200 people.

And I got to work with people. Who had been there in the really early days. And I was just fascinated by their, war stories of what it was like to build Facebook long before it was a foregone conclusion that this company was going to change the world. These were the people fighting for success, tooth and nail for every inch of progress.

And I wanted that experience. I had the chance to join Pinterest when it was a hundred person company back in 2013 and we faced the same thing there. Where a lot of people would now, of course, social media and digital marketing were total mainstays in every, advertisers or marketers portfolio.

But a lot of companies, we would find that they were very willing to test Pinterest, but then they would stop spending very abruptly. And it was because of performance, because the ads were not performing. And if you really unpacked what was going on, they were taking content that they had created for Instagram, and they'd stuck it on Pinterest, and thrown some ad spend behind it, and it was not performing.

Pinterest is a completely different use case than Instagram. But if you're just sitting at the surface level, you're like, oh, and the news doesn't help, because the media would always describe it as like, photo sharing app, Instagram and image sharing app, Pinterest. It was like, no, these are like anyone who uses them knows how wildly different they are.

Yes. They both have pictures, but so does a photo album. And we weren't in the photo album business and. So I replicated that there and here I had to figure it out because I was, one of the earliest employees. And so I ended up recreating what was a similar team to the Facebook creative shop, we called it the the creative strategy team.

So much less of a creative name at Pinterest and partner with agencies in exactly that way. But we found, and this gets back to your question about production. We found that many of these advertisers were saying, okay, we got you. Like we understand it's a totally different use case, but here's the thing.

Facebook has made it so easy for us to take the same content and distribute it on Instagram and Facebook through the same campaign, same mechanism, same targeting, same sales team. It's so easy. And we do have working dollars at our disposal, but we've spent all the production dollars on, Facebook and print and TV and whatever else.

 So the solution to that was I created a team called the pin factory inside Pinterest and the pin factory actually would create ads so we built out a whole studio. We would even take photos of your product and turn them into ads. We'd write the descriptions. We would do everything and we would attach it to your spend level.

So if you were going to spend like a hundred grand on your ad campaign, we'd make you say 10 pins or something, but it got to the point at its peak that the pin factory was making 60 percent of all of the ads that ran on the platform. And then of course. You start preparing for an IPO and you've got to think about margin and things like that.

You have to wind back some of those things because you can't keep them going forever. And you need to have the discipline to know when something like that is necessary, and when it's not, and then have the courage to wind it back, which the team at Pinterest did. And, the brand strategy team is going strong, but the pin factory no longer exists, because everyone now knows how to make content for Pinterest, and it's baked into their plans every year.

[00:09:56] Kevin: From managing a billion dollar P&L to scaling a team from 600 to 3000, Kevin goes into how these achievements at Pinterest and Compass establish his strategy at Vida Health.

[00:10:06] Kevin Knight: Keeping with the theme of, things that maybe look like good luck or bad luck, but you can't ever know. And you've just got to make the most of it. I started advising a company called Expert Voice while I was at Pinterest. And this was a company that had basically built a community of credentialed experts.

So these are people who might be yoga instructors or ski instructors, or they work at REI or they work at an electronic store. And these are people who have so much credibility that when consumers ask them for recommendations of what to buy, consumers usually take their recommendations. They were treating these people as a network of retail salespeople and companies were using their retail sales training budgets, to engage this audience.

But I looked at it through the lens of my experience at Facebook said these are almost like influencers. These are the people who actually influence purchases and marketing budgets are much bigger than retail training budgets. Let's pivot this company to focus on marketing budgets.

So I pushed for that while I was an advisor and the company bought into the vision but asked me if I would join a CMO to help navigate that transition. And so I took the leap of faith. Unfortunately we didn't have enough cash on hand to navigate such a pivot. And we ended up having to do layoffs and I left the company and, found myself wondering what to do next.

But in hindsight, it gave me my first CMO job and my first experience with a company that was low on cash and brings a whole level of discipline to your execution. After consulting for a little while I had the opportunity to join Compass and I thought I've done marketing my whole career.

Maybe I should do a general manager role and maybe I want to broaden my role away from marketing into sort of just general business, general management, CEO type stuff. So I owned a billion dollar P& L. I managed a team of about 3000 people and built it from, it was about 600.

When I got there, we did three major acquisitions in my time. And what I found is that I really love marketing problems. So sometimes you have to do those things that might look like the most logical next step in order to figure out, no, you know what, if I'm going to wake up every morning and have a set of hours in front of me to spend on something professionally, I want to spend that time doing stuff that is related to marketing.

Those are the types of problems that really energize me in solving. And after about a year at Compass, I had the option to join Vida Health as a CMO, get back into marketing but also do what I had done other times in my career, which is basically take an industry that is relatively stagnant.

And apply technology to try and shake it up a little bit and make it better. And heaven knows healthcare needs help getting better. And so I've been here for about four and a half years doing that.

[00:12:45] Kevin: Hear from Kevin on why experience in both B2B and B2C marketing makes you a stronger marketer.

[00:12:51] Kevin Knight: There are two problematic artificial dichotomies that persist in marketing. The first is that you're either a B2C marketer or a B2B marketer. When the reality is, if you have done both B2C marketing and B2B marketing, you're probably a better marketer. Why? Because B2C marketing tends to train you in really figuring out what the consumer wants, how emotion plays into it.

There tends to be more of an emphasis on the creativity, the message, you're standing out from the crowd because it's very noisy. And so you tend to develop marketing strategies that appeal to people's emotions and help them make decisions and help your brand stand out. Those are wildly valuable skills to apply to B2B.

On B2B, it tends to be a little bit more about finding the right buyer at the right time and hitting them with the right hook. But most B2B marketing lacks the creativity doesn't really stand out from the noise. I mean it's fascinating, if you walk through any convention hall with a bunch of B2B vendors, it's just amazing how all the booths say the same thing despite the fact that the companies do pretty different things.

 I think that if you're gonna be a marketer, you should probably get experience in both B2C and B2B. You're going to be a lot stronger marketer. The other artificial dichotomy I see is the dichotomy of, are you a performance marketer or a brand marketer? As a person who worked in brand and creative strategy roles at performance marketing platforms, worked at Google and Facebook and Pinterest, these are the biggest companies when it comes to performance marketing. I learned that the ads that you deploy on performance marketing channels are going to be far more effective and far more efficient if they have a strong connection to your brand, if they're consistent, if the creative is strong and grounded in consumer insights and all of those types of things. 

So I resist those labels because while I think that they apply to the first, maybe couple of roles you have, you have to generally choose okay, for my first marketing job, do I want to do B2B or B2C performance or brand? I get that but especially when you get to the CMO level, if you haven't built yourself into an expert in all four of those, vectors of marketing, then I think you're going to be limited.

Because they're really interconnected and every skill that you develop in one of those vectors is translatable. Arguably essential to the others.

[00:15:27] Kevin: AI is only going to get better. Kevin talks about how to make AI work for you, not against you, in marketing. 

[00:15:33] Kevin Knight: This is just another one in a long series of technological innovations that is going to make people more productive if they look at it that way, having video conferencing. It is a complete game changer. You used to have to travel to go to meetings like this. We'd have to be in the same place, in the same room, and here we are, and we're an entire ocean apart right now at this moment. It would be easy to look at that and say that's going to just take so much time out of my skin.

I'm not on airplanes nearly as much or something like that, but we're able to fill that time with other more productive things. And that leads to even more compounding of innovation. So the way I think about AI is every marketer and every person every, professional needs to look at the work that they do and figure out which of those tasks do they enjoy.

Which of those tasks are energy sucking, mundane things that they don't really enjoy doing. Then I would challenge everyone to try and find a way to replace the mundane tasks that you don't enjoy the most with AI.

So for me, I can use AI for things like HTML, which, I don't really love, or I can use AI to help me build formulas in spreadsheets where I'm not super expert. But when it comes to writing, for example, I do a lot of writing and I love writing and I've actually tried to use AI to get me started on my writing before I write it.

I find that because I love writing so much, I have to just erase everything that whatever AI platform wrote, because I want to do it, my own way. And that calculus is going to be different for every person. Some people are going to, use AI and to do content creation and others to do, sort of menial tasks, but everyone needs to find a way to have AI replace some of the stuff they are doing so it can free up time to learn and develop the craft and the skills that humans are really exceptional at. The good news for marketers is marketing is all about human insight, what motivates people to buy and how can we articulate what we're selling in a way that, motivates people to buy.

I'm not worried about marketing as a field disappearing into a sea of robots. But I am worried about marketers being rendered irrelevant if they don't adapt, and there used to be one of my favorite examples of this, there used to be people whose job was to operate elevators.

Nowadays, elevators have a computer inside them and they operate themselves. So if you saw yourself as an elevator operator, then you were going to be worked out of the job. If, however, you saw yourself as maybe in hospitality, then there were lots of other jobs that you could move on to with the skills that you developed as a friendly elevator operator.

That's the, existential crisis, but existential opportunity that's facing everybody right now is how are we going to use the free time that we can garner from using AI. To get better at the stuff that makes us happiest and most differentiates us.

[00:18:35] Kevin: Learn from Kevin, as he explains why getting marketing help early can align your startup's vision with its message.

[00:18:41] Kevin Knight: I've advised a lot of early stage companies. What I would say is it is really important. When you're an early stage startup, you might not feel like you need a CMO or maybe even a marketing team. And you might be right. But you do need marketing because if you're an early stage startup, you're thinking about all of the things that you have to do to make the next milepost in building your company.

That includes selling your product, recruiting your team, attracting more investors, and myriad other things. What separates the companies who are really good at doing those three things from those who are not is being able to tell their story in a compelling way. That's marketing. So it's amazing how many companies, I help even at early stages and they just, maybe the founder can articulate a little bit of the vision, but then you look at their website and like it isn't quite landing on the website there.

And that affects everything from what prospects, how prospects interpret your solutions and what your company does to employees that you're trying to recruit. So I would tell every founder particularly in the early stages, Invest in getting a little bit of marketing help in the beginning, even if you're going to DIY the marketing execution for the next little while, because if you can get someone who's a professional to help you really nail your story, your positioning, your messaging, all of those types of derivative things, then you're going to just be able to align all of the activities you do under sort of a common umbrella.

And have it be a lot more efficient and effective as you're doing those really important things of recruiting your team, recruiting investors and recruiting customers.

[00:20:20] Kevin: Our conversation with Kevin highlights a valuable lesson from Zypsy. World-class design is a growth strategy for businesses of all sizes and this also applies to marketing.

[00:20:29] Kevin Knight: Zypsy is looking at this and saying, just because you're small or a young company doesn't mean you can't have world class design. And in fact, world class design is going to set you apart and accelerate your growth.

The same is absolutely true of marketing. So many companies think that they can't access world class marketing. And so I would encourage people to reach out, get advisors, get consultants, get fractional CMOs, get the help that you need in the early stages of your company to have a professional help you with that storytelling that positioning that go to market messaging.

You can do that and really separate yourself from your competition very quickly because most people who are early stage founders think, I can't do stuff like that because I'm not big enough. And you have proven to them with Zypsy that there is a way for them to tap into that type of work and that type of differentiation, even at the early stages of their company.

[00:21:29] Kevin: If you liked this Spotlight episode, please leave us a review. We're just starting out, so every review really helps. Follow us on Twitter at zypsycom if you don't want to miss an episode. That way, you'll be able to see every time a new show goes live. That's all from us today. Thank you for listening to this episode of Zypsy Spotlight.