RENEGADE THINKING from the Founder/CEO of Renegade AND the author of "The CMO’s Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing."

Turning Marketing into Service w John Hayes, CMO, AmEx


john-hayes (1)A common phrase in the service industry is “the customer knows best.” While waiters and retail associates will roll their eyes at this, especially when it’s delivered by a manager following an unpleasant customer interaction, there’s definitely some credence to it. American Express is one company that takes “customer knows best” to heart, and has used the adage to help inform its marketing strategy for decades.

AmEx CMO John Hayes and I caught up around the time of the CMO Club Awards, and he gave me a glimpse into the intensely service-focused world that runs American Express from the inside out. From creating an Open Forum that lets small businesses help each other out, to starting a publishing arm way before “content marketing” was a buzzword in—wait for it—1971, to offering live streamed concerts to its music fans, Hayes and his team are are not just believers in “marketing as service,” they are the poster children for this approach. 

Drew: One of the big issues that big companies have is how to keep their marketing fresh and nimble and not get stuck in a rut. Over the years, you have been incredibly innovative in terms of your marketing. Have you been able to institutionalize this innovation?

There are a couple of answers to that question. The most fundamental is that you have to continue to focus on the customer. If you become focused on the issues that present themselves inside the company instead of looking outside at the customers, you’re sacrificing innovation. If we’re going to be a great service company, we need to be serving them, we need to be communicating with them, we need to be marketing in the places where our customers or our prospects spend their time.

Being customer-focused is the first part of innovating because what you’re trying to do is anticipate the needs that those customers have and looking for an advantage over your competition, which usually comes from serving your customers in a unique way. The second part is to generate a level of curiosity about what’s happening in the world, both in terms of the talent you bring into the company as well as the culture that you build and maintain over time. We have been able to build a culture of curiosity where people are curious about how to make things work better.

Drew: You’re a great service company, yet one might argue that you also sell a lot of products. Has a service mentality always been front-and-center at American Express? How does being a great service company affect your marketing?

American Express has been around since 1850, and when we first started, we were a freight forwarding company, not a payment company. Then we slowly moved into the traveler business and the travelers check business. The company was 108 years old before the first American Express card appeared. Since the beginning, there has been a focus on being a great service company, whether that service was freight forwarding, opening up markets for people to travel and experience, offering people a safer way to carry their money with travelers checks or offering them something like the American Express card to simplify their lives and make it more rewarding. All of those things come from a service culture, a company focused on service.

This brand has been about 3 things from its very origin: Trust, security, service. So the iteration we experience today happens to be mostly in the form of plastic payments, whether that’s corporate, small business, consumer or for our merchants, but that’s just the way we’ve taken service to market today. It starts with understanding what business you are in and understanding that this is a company that believes it’s noble to serve. From that comes the way we go to market.

Drew: I saw the case history on Small Business Saturday, and there’s a lot of evidence that it drove a tremendous amount of traffic. That was probably among your more measurably effective initiatives, at least from a small business standpoint. But my understanding of Open Forum is that you can’t find a direct link to revenue, yet you’ve been investing in Open programs for years.

I think there are some general trends that are very positive but you’re right. When you get to a granular level, it’s difficult to say this program generated this many cards and this much spending for American Express.

We have a belief that if you serve people well, they will become your customers, because people find it rare to be served extremely well. We don’t require people to be a cardholder to use Open Forum. We created the site because we knew that part of enabling the success of small businesses was helping them understand what other small businesses had already learned to help them be successful. That’s why we created it, and that’s why we made it an “open” network – so people could find the people that would be of most value to them.

When you’ve contributed in a meaningful way to a small business’ success and then say, “Hey, I’ve got some other services for you. I’ve got a card that could help you manage inventory better,” they are quite open to it because they’ll say, “Well, you guys have already been enabling my business, enabling my success,” and that’s the philosophy. Some programs we can measure on a granular level, and some we can’t, but we’re careful not to overvalue the things we can measure or undervalue the things we can’t. 

Drew: You’ve been developing content, one way or another, for small businesses for years. Given that everybody is creating content, and other companies are targeting small businesses like you are, what are you doing to stay ahead?

What’s really important is that we don’t do things just because they’re a trend; we do things because we think it’s the right thing to do for our customer. In 1971, we started a publishing group called American Express publishing. Wow, what a concept. Who was talking about content in 1971? But this company has the foresight to understand that if you’re going to be a lifestyle services company, you’re going to serve businesses and people. You need to talk to them about their life, not what they’re going to use to pay for something.

The philosophy that got this company to create a publishing group in 1971 is no different than the way we think about our company today. If you’re in the service business, every interaction with a prospect or a customer should be a service interaction. We provide those magazines as a service to those customers. If you look at what we do on stage – bringing music to so many people on a live-stream basis – the philosophy is the same. That is our way of serving customers who we know have a passion for music because of the things they do, because of the way they spend their money. We should be helping our customers experience what it is they want to experience, and many of these experiences are open architecture because we want prospects to know that’s what it feels like to be a member.

Drew: Have you seen your role, in the last 10 years, evolve as a CMO? 

My role has evolved a lot. First, it’s evolved from the standpoint of understanding what is happening in the world related to media. How are people consuming media? How are they absorbing new messages? Those things have changed fairly remarkably in the last decade. Part of my job is to make sure I understand how the world works today from a media standpoint, whether that’s social media, digital, or traditional, and how it’s changing. How are brands being established in the landscape today?

My role is also about identifying which elements of American Express will not change from 1850, and which elements absolutely will in terms of how we go to market. Trust, security, and service will not change. This company has existed for 163 years because it’s reinvented itself, but always around the ideas of trust, security, and service.

Drew: What role is Big Data playing in your job today?

Data is a fundamental part of what we do today, and it’s a great opportunity, because data can allow us to optimize on a much shorter cycle. We also see it as an opportunity to serve customers better. I can anticipate your needs, I can help you with the things you want, I can begin to understand what you might need in the future based on data and that data can be very useful in service and marketing standpoint. I won’t talk about marketing without mentioning service because I think there’s a lot of marketing out there that is of no service to anyone and frankly doesn’t have much impact. The things that are sustainable are the marketing elements that serve people well. So data becomes an enormous opportunity not only to find prospects, but to also understand them and to offer things that are a real service to them, so that you can begin the relationship on a service level and not just a sales level.

Drew: If you had to justify the creation of Open Forum today based on data that you didn’t have because you hadn’t yet introduced it, how would you do it? I believe there’s a risk today that marketers might not take the giant leaps of faith in an untested program because its’ impact is not going to be linear.

I think your assumption is entirely correct which is that the data allows you to find the opportunity, execute the opportunity, and prove that it was a success; all on shorter cycles than ever before. You’re not waiting 6 months to say ‘did it work?’; you’re saying ‘let me show you the week after Small Business Saturday’. Let’s take a look at the behavioral shifts we saw. You’re able, because data is as robust today, to see insights to what might have cause and affected certain positive outcomes.

You cannot be a great marketer without experimentation. Experimentation requires great accountability. You have to be experimenting with a purpose and you have to have the data and the metrics that will allow you to demonstrate what worked and what didn’t. It’s okay to fail as long as you don’t fail twice on the same thing. That’s the way we try to operate here, we experiment a lot we have some things that work phenomenally well which the world gets to see on a broad scale basis and we have some things that don’t work at all and we say that didn’t work fold it up let’s not do that again, let’s try some other things. That to me is a big part of how the job has changed because 20 years ago, it was not as experimental as it is today because the data wasn’t as robust, the metrics weren’t easy to access, the cycles took longer and there weren’t as many new permutations to try.

Drew: Let’s talk about the Link Like Love and Card Sync programs. Are they both social? They have transactional elements, which is very different than some of the other things you’ve done. How would you evaluate those two programs, and do they have futures?

They definitely have futures. They come from a very clear observation of many digital channels, which are unlike many traditional media channels, which tend to be really focused on communications. These new channels are distribution channels, they’re service channels; they operate on so many different dimensions that it allows you to create products specifically for these platforms.

I believe iIt’s a missed opportunity if you’re working in the digital space and all you’re trying to do is create a communication. You’re going to disappoint people, because people who consume these channels don’t see them as just communications channels.

If you start to build products and services that exist within these very robust platforms then you start to create more interesting things that people can spend time with on the platform. You’re building something that mirrors the behaviors you’ve already seen customers take in those categories and on those platforms. Our philosophy has always been to build things that compliment the platforms that we’re building them on.  We are able to distribute products, services, and communicate with our customers because the channel is so robust it allows us to do that.

Drew: Let’s take Facebook Link, Like, Love, how does that work?

We have a lot of card members who spend time on Facebook so this program now gives them a way of further utilizing their Facebook presence. We then offer them things based on their social graph, their friends, their behavior, and their traditional spending behaviors. We’re then able to see how well we’ve done because some things have an enormous uptake. We’ve offered other opportunities to customers to sync their cards that have not gotten enormous uptake.

When we launched Tweet Divide, it was basically a similar product on a different platform. We communicated with people who were going to South by Southwest before they went on their route. We also reached them in a variety of ways en route to South by Southwest. There was a special show that we were doing, which we were live streaming with Jay-Z. If they wanted to attend the show all they had to do was sync their card on Twitter, tweet the show, and they would get tickets to the show. The viral effect was unbelievable. It was an incredible show. The headline the next day was something along the lines of “The most innovative new startup was American Express.”

We don’t like to just put everything on autopilot, particularly with something like South by Southwest. If you’re going to do something, we believe it should live up to very high standard of innovation and newness so we didn’t repeat it this year. We are taking the things that worked from it and applying it all over the place.

Drew: As the CMO, how much influence do you have on the entire customer experience?

At any company, that grows with time. I do believe there is a benefit of having been in this position for so many years. You have earned the right to influence many things that ultimately build your brand by doing things, demonstrating the value, measuring the value over time. I feel for CMOs who are just coming into a complex organization and trying to manage all of the elements that they believe are impacting both their brand and their business. It’s very difficult in a short amount of time to get your arms around it. I don’t know of a company structured in such a way that the CMO has control over all of the touch points.

For me, what’s really been tremendous is having the steady support of a CEO who has said “This is important,” and being able to demonstrate to my colleagues: “Here’s the value that we can bring,” and how, if we work to together and bring something that has synergy to the market, we all benefit. We’ve seen the impact that service has on the American Express brand, our customers and their behavior following a positive experience. It’s really been about picking things off and demonstrating the value of each over time.

It took me a few years before I was really able to get people on board and see how we can be more successful with greater synergy. It’s really a plea to consistency. Some people think consistency means boring and tired, and I don’t. We’re demonstrating that we have a consistent level of talent. Our organizational structure has allowed us to build relationships internally, and some things that were difficult 12, 15 years ago are second nature today.

Q+A on Small Business Saturday w Scott Krugman, American Express


As far as I am concerned, Small Business Saturday is the quintessential example of Marketing as Service, achieving the kind of success that most marketers can only imagine.  The service in this case not only establishes a day that puts the spotlight on small businesses and rivals Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but also enables small businesses to be more competitive throughout the year, with marketing toolkits that highlight their distinct advantages over their larger competitors.

With the third annual Small Business Saturday set for November 24, perhaps the most remarkable part of this program is how it is developing a life of its own, with politicians uniting over its significance and more and more small business owners trying to take advantage of “their” day. To better understand the thinking behind this program, I spent a good hour on the phone with Scott Krugman, Director of Communications at American Express.  Here’s part 1 of my interview with Scott.

Drew: So let’s start with the origin of the idea of Small Business Saturday back in 2010.
Well, like all good ideas, in a way, they originate from our customers. AmEx OPEN’s been around now for twenty-five years, and the reason why we’ve been around so long and been so successful is because we really take the pulse of our customers in a variety of ways, and in this particular case, what we found out through research and talking to our customers, their biggest need coming out of the recession was more customers. So that got us to thinking, what can we do to help small businesses get more customers?

Drew: So after identifying the need, what then?
After a number of conversations with a lot of people, the thought came: what could we do to drive business to small businesses during key times throughout the year?  Naturally, that got folks in the room talking about the holiday season. Obviously big-box merchants have “Black Friday.”  Online merchants, more recently, have Cyber Monday.  So we thought there might be something there for small businesses, and the thought here was, let’s give small businesses their ceremonial kickoff to the holiday season.  Let’s get their holiday shopping season off to a strong start.  Let’s create a day for them.  It wasn’t as quick and as simple as I’m making it out to be, but what that ended up becoming was Small Business Saturday.

Drew:  Looking back now, it seems like a no-brainer, but why back in 2010 did you think it would work?
We thought it was the right message at the right time.  There were a lot of conversations that were happening about the importance of small businesses to the economy.  The “shop local” movement was going strong, so we knew that there would be a lot of support.  We also knew through research that 98 percent of consumers said that they wanted to support small businesses.  So we wanted to create something that would take that support and turn it into sales.  And as we started iterating, it became clear that this was a movement. 

Drew: So how long did it take to go from idea to execution?
I should point out in terms of the timing element, this was basically getting the concept of Small Business Saturday to market—it had to happen in a matter of a few weeks.

Drew: Wait, let me make sure I heard you correctly. So in 2010, from green light to execution, it took how long?
A matter of weeks!

Drew: Did you advertise Small Business Saturday in Year 1 (2010)?
There was definitely advertising.  There was also a press conference at city hall involving New York City Mayor Bloomberg and our CEO, Ken Chenault.  There was a lot of earned media around it in terms of announcing the day.  It was a unique enough concept where it got a lot of curiosity and a lot of pickup.

Drew: What role did social media play in the launch of SBS?
There was a lot of social media around it.  In just that first year, we saw 1.2 million people liking the Small Business Saturday Facebook page.  That’s a lot of likes in a very short period of time.  We saw 30,000 tweets using the hashtags #SmallBusinessSaturday and #SmallBizSaturday.  I was told this, and I guess it was determined with Google, that it (“Small Business”) was the fastest-rising Google search term over that time period. So, I mean, there was a lot that went into it, but we knew in order for this thing to take off, it really needed to have a strong foundation in social media for it to become viral.  That certainly worked.

Drew: So why do you think this program took off?
We’re looking at four factors that really helped.  One was there was a lot of inclusiveness.  There was national scope.  The message was clear in terms of individuals being able to boost the economy.  This is really key and really important, because as much as we talk about American Express in this—and we’re not always comfortable doing that because we feel it takes away from the day—it became an agnostic day.  For small businesses to participate, they don’t have to accept the American Express card.  For consumers to participate, they don’t have to use the American Express card.  Is American Express making an offer for consumers on the day?  Yes.  But, they’re not limited to using that card in order to make a difference.

Drew: How did small businesses react?
It created a solution to help spur more business for small businesses, and small business owners really took to it.  I think in Year 1, not as much, because there wasn’t a lot of time to get them to own the day.  So I would say Year 1 was probably more about claiming the day.

Drew: So this feels a bit like cause marketing, another idea AmEx essentially invented.
You know, there are a couple schools of thought on that.  Small businesses definitely needed the help.  But at the same time, this isn’t charity.  Small businesses are the engine that drives the economy.  They’re creating jobs.  If people support small businesses, they’re supporting their local communities.  So they’re not just supporting the businesses, they’re supporting themselves.  They’re helping everyone.  It makes the entire engine work, especially as you’re coming out of recession. But the other piece of it is, it’s the discovery aspect of what makes small businesses so special.  And it’s not the fact that maybe they do need the help, but it goes beyond that.  It’s helping consumers rediscover these businesses that have been there all along in their communities: the amazing customer service, the unique selection and the special experiences.

Drew: So how do small business compete against larger rivals in the face of discounting?
They focus on their core elements.  Large businesses spend millions of dollars a year on customer relationship management tools to understand their customer. Small businesses?  That’s an inherent part of who they are.  So it’s a day for them to really leverage those strengths and allow consumers to kind of rediscover what makes them great.  But at the same time, it’s helping small businesses not just own the day, but give them the tools that they need to thrive during the day.  This might kind of take us a little bit into Year 2, but we can always pivot back and forth.

Drew: It must have been tricking to balance AmEx branding and the SBS idea…
This is one of those campaigns where the message was so compelling, and the reason for doing it was so genuine, that people naturally wanted to take part in it.  Again, this is where it needs to become more than just about American Express, because you’re not going to get the response from public officials if Small Business Saturday is owned by any one corporate entity.  You’re not going to get that kind of response.

So that’s why it’s more than just about us.  We might have been the one to push the idea into the marketplace, but in all honesty, it’s the small business owners that owned the day.  It’s their day.  We might have given it to them, but they have taken it and made it their own.  We will always support it.  We will always do things in the marketplace to support the day and to support small business owners because that’s what we do at OPEN.  But it is their day, and that’s what makes it genuine.  And frankly, that’s what’s made it successful.

Drew: Was it hard to relinquish ownership of this idea?
That’s a fair question.  I think it’s one of the tough things when there’s such a good idea on the table.  I think the natural inclination is to want to own and control it.  But that’s the irony here.  For it to be successful, you couldn’t do either.  And I think there were enough smart people in the room to know that.  Ultimately, we realized, it takes a village to create a day.

Drew: AmEx “$25 offer to shop small” couldn’t have hurt the program.
For us to do this right, AmEx also had to be “skin in the game,” so of course the card member offer was critical.  Otherwise, it’s just lip service.  Like I said, Small Business Saturday is what we created for the entire small business community.  But I think our merchants come to expect us to look out for them in ways that others don’t.

Drew: So, did Small Business Saturday drive small business sales? 
Yes, actually.  I can tell you on the record that transactions of—we can only right now measure folks that use the American Express card, right?  That’s what we have available to us.  So for merchants that accept the card, card transactions were up 23 percent on the day.

Drew: How about the softer measures like favorability among small businesses towards the AmEx brand?
I’m limited in terms of some of the metrics that I can discuss.  But let’s say our philosophy is, if you do the right thing, customers are going to recognize that about you.  And I think that there are not many companies that would have been able to do something like a Small Business Saturday in a genuine way.  I think that has a lot to do with the OPEN brand as it relates to American Express, frankly.

Drew: It must help that this is not the first time you’ve focused on small businesses.
Yes.  We’ve been in the marketplace for small businesses probably longer than anyone else.  I believe we had the first business card devoted to small businesses.  I think because of the history we have in this community, there’s an expectation that we are going to be supportive beyond product offerings.  So I think that it’s one of those situations where all those interests are aligned.  Obviously, we have an interest in doing the right thing to help small businesses: it’s what we’ve been doing.  Our customers expect us to help them with their solutions.  So I think you could say, in a lot of ways, Small Business Saturday was a result of us doing what we have always done, and that’s listening to our customers’ needs and trying to find solutions.  It just so happens that we found something, in this particular case, that was massively innovative.  And is there a halo effect from that?  Absolutely.  That’s why I think you see a lot of other companies wanting to be a part of Small Business Saturday as well.

Drew: So is this about doing well by doing good?
Like I said, I think for a company to do the right thing in a meaningful way, it needs to be genuine.  And I think the marketplace, whether it’s small business owners or consumers, are smart enough to know when it’s not.  So I think it needs to start from the desire of wanting to do good and wanting to do the right thing.  That’s where Small Business Saturday is no different.  That’s where it starts.  I think there’s… if you do the right thing in the right way, good things come with that, yes.

Teaching Social Business at San Jose State (with IBM)


Ben Franklin’s line, “well done is better than well said,” gets at the very heart of Marketing as Service.  If you want to truly engage your target to the point that they have a genuine desire to do business with you then you have to do something–it can’t be just talk.  A great example of doing something is IBM’s recently announced collaboration with San Jose State University with a program they call The Great Mind Challenge.  This program brings together students, teachers, IBM’ers (as mentors) and local companies that seems to be a win/win/win/win for all involved.

As part of my background research for a story on this program (see, I interviewed Larry Gee, the SJSU instructor working with IBM to teach “social business” to a select group of undergrads.  I think you’ll find what Gee has to say about this business/academic collaboration quite interesting.

DN: Can you give me a little background on this program from SJSU’s perspective?
SJSU,  College of Business, has always brought innovation to the classroom so students can learn, apply, and differentiate themselves in the business world.   SJSU and IBM has a long relationship over the years.  It is only natural that ideas are bounced back and forth between us;  how we can make a difference when preparing the next generation of leaders.  Bringing social business into the classroom was one of those ideas that fit the innovation framework.

DN: Why did SJSU decide to collaborate with IBM on this project?
SJSU, College of Business,  decided to collaborate with IBM on this project because Social Business is a critical skill that students need to have to be competitive in the market place.   Social Business is a transferable skill across multiple disciplines ie business, bio-sciences, engineering, humanity & arts, etc.  Students worked on a real business problem, real time, to learn and apply social business tools and processes.

DN: Do you have collaborations with other large corporations?
Yes, we have collaborated with other large corporations such as Cisco, Google, Microsoft to name a few.

DN: If you were talking to another educator at a different university who was considering a similar collaboration, what advice would you give them?
My advice:  1) Identify key social business partner asap.  This is critical because a real life component is needed to reinforce key concept and process.  2)  Plan quickly with a clear course work and administration buy-in roadmap for execution in 60 days.  3)  Execute plan and have class up and running by next term.

DN: How are you evaluating the success of this program?
Students must be able to understand and apply social business tools/process to a real life problem.  The program success is measured on how well students learn, grasp, apply, and demonstrate how social business can be used in a business environment to increase competitive advantage or improve business process cycle time.

DN: How have students responded?
Students response has been great because they have already been exposed and used social media, Facebook, blogs, bookmarks, wiki, to name a few,  basic components of social business, at a very young age.   What is new then?  They are able to build a social business environment using various social media tools they already know and use, but this time, in a business setting.

DN: Can you speak to the advantages of having IBM experts mentor your students?
Certainly.  Having a subject matter experts available to talk, demonstrate, and relate to actual projects are key.   One can read articles and talk about them in class.  But when you are given access to the latest  materials and platform to create a social business environment then this is collaboration at its highest.  Mentor is only a few clicks away to kick around ideas and bring those ideas to reality.  This is where academia  and business intersect.

DN: Is there a risk with a program like this that it will be perceived more as a marketing ploy for IBM than a more company-neutral business course?
I don’t believe the program is a major marketing ploy but rather a  business neutral course because majority of tools and contents used were not IBM but rather current tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Bookmark, wiki, etc.  GBS, IBM Business Partner, provided the real life problem for students to do a deep dive into their social business space.

How to Sell More by Selling Less


He was harder to shake than a telephone poll and just as dull.  Another financial advisor spouting out his expertise into my ears before I’d even downed my first cup of coffee.  I didn’t know the guy from Adam and he sure as heck didn’t know me.  Nonetheless, he droned on until my patience expired, forcing a polite but stern, “thanks but no thanks,” followed by a hope-ending click. [Funny enough I just got another cold call much like the one described here. Make them stop!]

Later that week, I attended my fifth Media & Technology CEO Summit put on by my friends Tom Livaccari and Ken Shapiro, two UBS financial advisors who are about as far from the cold-calling yacker as you can get.  Long-time proponents of the approach I call Marketing as Service, The Livaccari Shapiro Wealth Management Group offers a textbook case on growing your business by selling less and doing more.

Know your Niche
For Marketing as Service programs to be effective, it’s essential to have a tightly defined target to whom you can deliver a meaningful benefit.  Having been entrepreneurs themselves in the ‘90s, it’s not surprising that Livaccari and Shapiro decided to focus their practice on advising entrepreneurs and CEOs of Internet, media and tech companies. Remembering the unique issues these entrepreneurs faced, Shapiro noted, “We always wished we could find an advisor that would in essence partner with us.”

Start Small
Since Marketing as Service programs can be costly, start small and build from success.  When Livaccari and Shapiro first realized they could help their clients by bringing them together, they started with a roundtable discussion among a few CEOs facing the same issues. The program grew quickly. Reported Shapiro, “They found [the events] so valuable that [attendees] suggested other CEOs that they thought could benefit from similar discussions in the future.”

Vary the Value Add
At the core of every successful Marketing as Service program is something of genuine value to the target.  For Livaccari and Shapiro, the value to their prospects and customers is more than just useful information.  Explained Shapiro, “Clients tell us that these summits have helped them stimulate meaningful ideas, make valuable connections and in one case even initiated a conversation with a party that later acquired their company.”

Rely on Relevance
One of the more obvious aspects of Marketing as Service is the benefit of pinpoint relevance to everyone concerned. “Because the content and the other participants in these events are so relevant to our clients and prospects’ lives we find they are eager to join us,” added Shapiro.  “This leads to these events being excellent ice breakers, which enable people to experience first-hand our consultative and value-added approach.”

Differentiate by Doing
The essential notion behind Marketing as Service is the fair exchange of value between buyer and seller, during which the seller earns the trust of the buyer by doing something meaningful instead of just talking about how good they are.

“These events are an excellent way for us to provide prospects a window into the way that we interact with clients, put their needs first and help them with a wide array of issues that are not commonly addressed by others in our field.”

Triumph with Trust
It is the mandate of any form of marketing to build trust. Without trust, there is simply no brand, especially in the financial services arena. Marketing as Service programs like Livaccari and Shapiro’s CEO Summits are particularly good at building trust.  “From these events prospects often begin a dialogue with us regarding whichever matter is most pressing to them, and over time this often leads to them becoming a client as they gain comfort with us, our approach and our thought process.”

Extend your Engagements
Done correctly, Marketing as Service programs offer unique opportunities for meaningful engagement that go well beyond a specific event.  With the goal of being recognized as “uncommon partners,” Livaccari and Shapiro have built a community of likeminded CEOs who are thus positively inclined to share what they’ve learned. “We know that as long as we put our clients’ needs first then over time they become our best sales force as they share with their friends the positive experience they have had.”

Final Note:
Having been in their client’s shoes, Livaccari and Shapiro have built a successful practice by simply doing what they wish others had done for them when they were entrepreneurs. Its not rocket science. Just smart marketing.  For more insights on their approach, see the Q&A with Shapiro on these pages.  (This article first appeared on

Oh and if you found this content useful, feel free to subscribe via email or RSS in the box at the top of this page.  Thanks.

How to Build Trust with Clients & Prospects via Marketing as Service


The following is an interview with Ken Shapiro, who along with his partner Tom Livaccari, have grown The Livaccari Shapiro Wealth Management Group at UBS through the judicious use of Marketing as Service. This interview focuses on their event series called Media & Technology CEO Summits which I’ve attended many times and always found useful.  [This interview is also the basis of my upcoming post on]

DN: Tell me what you call your event series and how it came into being?
The program began when more than one client asked us during the 2008 downturn if it was better to fire employees before or after Thanksgiving. Having struggled with the question ourselves when we were entrepreneurs during the internet crash in 2000, we suggested that we facilitate a roundtable discussion on this topic with a few other CEOs facing the same dilemma. They found this so valuable that they suggested other CEOs that they thought could benefit from similar discussions in the future. As this grew to 50+ CEOs at an event, we decided calling it a roundtable was a misnomer so we renamed it the Media & Technology CEO Summit.

DN: Describe the basic structure of these events.
The CEO Summits consist of a networking breakfast and then an interactive panel discussion consisting of industry leaders such as those that built Gilt Group, DoubleClick,, Take 2 Interactive, and, Omnicom, to name just a few examples.

DN: What were your original goals for this program?
Our primary goal was to provide a forum that would help our clients be more successful and to reinforce for them that we go far beyond the norm to help them achieve their goals.

DN: How did you decide on your niche and what distinct value are you trying to bring to your target?
In the 90s we were both entrepreneurs of internet and tech companies ourselves and saw that we had needs that wealth management professionals were not fulfilling in a way that was of value to us.

Principally, having much of our wealth tied up in the illiquid and risky stock of our own companies, we always wished we could find an advisor that would in essence partner with us to not only conservatively manage the money we had already made, but as importantly be an additional member of our extended team of core advisors to help us think through the myriad of issues we faced while trying to build and maximize the exit value of our companies. These included everything from sophisticated wealth planning, to having a sounding board to help us think through critical business and personal issues to selecting the right M & A advisor to ultimately help us sell our companies.

Because of our experience [as entrepreneurs] we realized that if this was a problem for us then it likely was for many others. We therefore narrowly focused our practice on entrepreneurs and executives building digital media, marketing and technology companies and architected and built every component of our practice to provide them the comprehensive advice that we were not able to find when we were in their shoes.

We were confident that our unique perspective and approach would enable us to be an uncommon partner to these individuals and enable us to provide such distinct and value-added advice that would separate us from our competitors.

DN: What do you think these events say about your practice?
These CEO Summits have been a great way for us to foster a sense of community amongst our clients and other leaders in these niches. Clients tell us that these Summits have helped them stimulate meaningful ideas, make valuable connections and in one case even initiate a conversation with a party that later acquired their company.

DN: Have you been able to meet prospects and ultimately gain new customers as a result of this program?
Because our clients derive so much value from our CEO Summits they often ask if they can invite CEO friends who would similarly benefit. This ends up being a great way for new prospective clients to be introduced to us and our way of thinking. Ultimately, people hire us because the trust us, like us and believe that having us by their side with our differentiated approach will help give them the highest probability to achieve their personal, family and professional goals.

These events are an excellent way for us to provide prospects a window into the way that we interact with clients, put their needs first and help them with a wide array of issues that are not commonly addressed by others in our field. From these events prospects often begin a dialogue with us, as their situation dictates, regarding whichever matter is most pressing to them and over time this often leads to them becoming a client as they gain comfort with us and our thought process.

DN: How do track down your speakers and persuade them to come?
Speakers include clients, friends and other notable industry leaders. Because our attendees are amongst the most important and dynamic leaders in their niches, we find that speakers welcome the opportunity to participate and engage in a dialogue with them.

DN: How hard is it to get your target to show up to these events?  Does it beat cold calling?
Because the content and the other participants in these events are so relevant to our clients’ and prospects’ lives we find they are eager to join us. This leads to these events being excellent icebreakers which enable people to experience first-hand our consultative and value-added approach.

DN: Seems like these events must be time consuming to put together, especially when you consider all the pre/post event follow up you do.  Is it worth the trouble?  And if so, why?
Though these events take a tremendous amount of time and effort to organize and run, we feel they differentiate us substantially from others and are well worth the effort.

DN: How have you been able to keep the hard-sell out of these programs?
We begin each day thinking about how we can be most helpful to those with whom we interact. Because of our problem-solving mentality we never think in terms of sales cycles. We know that as long as we put our clients’ needs first then over time they become our best sales force as they share with their friends the positive experience they have had.

The New Curators (of Content)


How Thrillist, PSFK and start-up iFlow are capitalizing on the accelerating need for content curation. (This article first appeared on
Barring the invention of a “time turner” like the one Hermione Granger sported in 3rd Harry Potter novel, most of us will never have enough time to consume the information we might otherwise want to absorb.  There’s simply too much info and too few waking hours.  Enter the notion of curation, a relatively new term that is not unlike the editor of old, a trusted person or organization that filters information and aggregates it in an organized fashion for others to enjoy.

According to Steve Rosenbaum, author of Curation Nation, “curation is the new way of organizing the web going forward.”  And no doubt he’s right.  Curious about why new curators like Thrillist and PSFK were thriving while the traditional publishing world floundered, I spent some time with their respective founders, Ben Lerer and Piers Fawkes.  These conversations plus one with Eric Alterman, the founder of a new curation engine called iFlow, revealed four insights that could help you too capitalize on the curation phenomenon.

You can’t curate for everyone, so be targeted
In Brian Solis’s recent tribute on to Rosenbaum’s book, Solis noted, “the social capital of a curator is earned through qualifying, filtering, and refining relevant content.”  The key words here being filtering and relevance, something that Thrillist with its focus on urban males 22-30 has done exceptionally well.  Explained Lerer, “we’ve zoned in on a niche group that was previously starved for the kind of information we deliver.”

Thrillist, for the uninitiated, started in 2005 with a newsletter to 600 New Yorkers and is now in 18 markets with 2.5 million subscribers.  Added Lerer, “our voice is extremely targeted to a very specific part of the male demographic.”  Lerer and his fellow curators of newish nightlife have built a highly profitable business during a time when traditional publishing tanked. This was done, according to Lerer, “by zoning in on a small sector of the population and speaking to them in a voice that they trust.”

It’s not curation without a well-defined focus
The New York Times famous line “All the news that’s fit to print,” made sense when newspapers were the primary source of daily information.  Now it seems more like a potential epitaph, as newspaper readership plummets in the face of more focused web-based alternatives. One of the up and coming alternatives is PFSK, which founder Fawkes described as “the go to source for new ideas for creative professionals.”

Founded in 2004, PSFK has grown from a trend-spotting website to a hybrid company that publishes content, creates events and provides consulting services to clients like Nike, Target and BMW.  When asked if PSFK was in the curation business, Fawkes affirmed, “yes, our job is to find new ideas and we present them up to 50 times a day.”  Reflecting on their focused approach, Fawkes added, “every month a million designers, ad folks, digital entrepreneurs and media mavens get inspired by our content.”

If the curation is good enough, it will [almost] market itself
In the new world of curation, “information becomes currency and the ability to repackage something of interest as compelling, consumable and also [as a] sharable social object is an art,” wrote Brian Solis. This perhaps is the fundamental difference between the old world newspaper and the new world of curators.  New world curators can connect and engage with other curators, helping to disseminate information quickly and at little to no cost.

Ben Lerer of Thrillist recalled taking this approach out of necessity since, “one of the stipulations with the money we raised was that we couldn’t spend any of it on marketing.”  “So we focused all our energy on building something that people actually liked and would want to pass along to their friends,” explained Lerer.  By “putting content first and making sure its written for the guy reading it,” Lerer and his team developed a loyal audience that in turn shared the content and or acted upon it demonstrating they too were in the know.

Human curators beat the algorithms
No matter how you many words you type into Google, you’re not going to find a recommendation you trust without clicking deep into another site.  On the other hand, a quick visit to Thrillist and PSFK provides recommendations and ideas that are trustworthy without fail. When discussing the shortcomings of algorithmic curation, serial entrepreneur Eric Alterman explained, “only human curation can deliver real time content… that consumers are actually seeking.”

Seeing an opportunity in the limitations of algorithmic curation combined with the overwhelming flow of content generated via social media, Alterman is just about to launch a new curation platform called iFlow.  Alterman believes that iFlow will address the problem of information overload, enabling “efficient curation into highly contextual aggregate streams [that] include all content types.” Given Alterman’s track record of turning ideas into successful companies like KickApps, his hope “to bring the art of content creation to the widest possible audience,” is anything but a pipe dream.

Final Note:
While admittedly I’m no longer in Thrillist’s demographic, I became a fan in ‘08 when one of my clients wanted to connect with their readers.  Seeing Lerer’s presentation at a recent PSFK event, I was simply blown away by their success in three short years.  It was the quality of the presenters at this conference that got me thinking about curation and led to my conversations with Lerer, Fawkes and Alterman (see their respective interviews on

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