Is your digital marketing firm failing your business? If you want to get better results, there’s no better place to learn than the strategies used in the fast paced arena of political marketing. In this episode, Phillip Stutts (@phillipstutts), author of Fire Them Now, points out the common failures in the digital marketing industry and how the strategies and tactics used in politics can be used to win for business.
Phillip has more than 20 years of political and business marketing experience. He’s contributed to more than a thousand election victories of senators, governors, representatives and two US presidents. Now, Phil’s digital marketing firm helps politicians and small businesses and multiple Fortune 200 companies.
Phillip has been referred to as a “political guru” by ESPN and a “marketing genius” on Fox Business. In this episode, we’re going to talk about why political marketers are producing some of the most successful marketing in the game.
Phillip Stutts: It really starts probably back in 2012. I was diagnosed with an incurable Esophageal disease. Basically, the nerves on the muscles on my stomach do not work and when you eat, the nerves and the muscles push your food down into your stomach. Mine don’t, and they’ll never do it the rest of my life.
I mean, it’s done. I have a dead esophagus
For the first five years under that disease or four and a half years, I had three major surgeries. They’ve shredded my esophagus.
I am on a path the next 10 to 15 years of having my esophagus removed and being on a feeding tube the rest of my life. Until about a year ago or a year and a half ago, I did what most everybody does, which is I went to the doctors.
I didn’t want to face my prospects and I didn’t do any research on the disease.
“I just took my medicine, listened to my doctors and went home.”
The bottom line was that I became depressed over the fact that I was in a pretty dire situation. That ended up bleeding into my marriage, it bled into my parenting for my little girl, and I really became just a genuinely not nice person. Selfish, you can even say narcissistic in a way.
Slowly but surely, over time, I just decided I didn’t want to live my life that way.
When Professional and Personal Intersect
Phillip Stutts: The funny thing is that the first things I changed were I created basically a startup company, a digital medium marketing company in politics and didn’t address my family issues or my health.
The company exploded, and we went from two employees to 20 employees. We went from basically less than a million in revenue to we’re now at eight figures. We started the company in 2015. Over that three year period where we’re doing this company, I started to address my personal issues, approach my wife and told her that I understood that I was a problem and I needed to change who I was. I fundamentally had a lot of flaws that caused a lot of problems and heartache with her, and I was the problem.
“She wasn’t the problem. I had always put it on her, and the fact is it was me.”
Facing that really sucked, but I really don’t have any other motor in me than growth. I decided, if I was going to grow, I had to change my wiring at the young age of 39, 40 years old. Same thing in my parenting.
My daughter now is everything to me, she is my whole life, and I don’t know if I always felt that way. I was really in a bad place. I probably attribute this not on to the way I was raised or wired but also just in the disease that probably put it on steroids a little bit.
Phillip Stutts’ Turning Point
The last thing was in August of 2016, I went to the Mayo Clinic and my doctor for a review after my third surgery. The doctor basically said to me, “Phillip, the surgery was successful,” the two previous ones were not, they failed.
They cut quarter of my stomach out, wrapped my stomach around my esophagus, and then shredded my esophagus so food would dump into my stomach, and then they stapled it all together.
“I’m a mess inside right now.”
All right, I’m a fucking mess, right? He said, “The staples will come undone one day, it could be in a year, it could be in 10 years, you just don’t know. You can possibly can do this surgery one more time but that’s it.”
If you look at my stomach, it looks like I’ve been in a knife fight. I’ve got scars all over the place from the surgery. What happens after the second surgery or if I have to do the surgery again? They said, “We’ll remove your esophagus and you’ll have a feeding tube the rest of your life.”
I’m 43. I’m going to be in my fifties and I’ve got a feeding tube the rest of my life. I went, well, I can’t just eat the way I’ve always eaten, take your medicines that you’re recommending.
Not only recommended high doses of antacids ,which have long term dementia effects, they also recommended opioids for pain.
“I’m not doing that anymore. I’ve got to get a hold of this.”
I spent six months putting everything in my power, everything I knew what to do into understanding the disease itself. Not taking action, understanding it. I took thousands of tests from food allergy tests to blood test, took poop tests, took urine tests, blood tests, I took everything.
We determined that I had an unbelievable, horribly unhealthy gut. My gut health was in terrible shape. I am skinny, I’ve worked out five days a week for the last 20 years of my life, and I thought I ate healthy. I didn’t know, I didn’t understand what was going on.
As an example, one of the foods is dairy, I am incredibly intolerant to dairy, and I ate cheese, milk, some kind of dairy every single day of my entire life until this test came back that said, “You should not eat dairy.” It’s crazy.
Take Your Moonshot
Phillip Stutts: That was the first six months and then a year ago, I went to a conference in Los Angeles called the Abundance 360 Conference with Peter De Mendez, who has now become a friend.
He got on stage and talked about taking a moon shot. Everybody in their life should be taking moon shots. I went to the convergence and I thought I was going to be working on my business. It hit me like a bulls eye in the head that I needed my moon shot to be my disease.
I decided I will find a way to get this disease cured in five years. No one’s ever been cured of this. Ever. It’s rare, and I tell you that is one out of a hundred thousand, but most people have it in their 70s and 80s. My age, it’s probably one out of millions.
“There’s no money in rare diseases.”
No one’s looking for a cure, no one’s trying to find a cure. I’m out there on the ledge. So as part of this transformation of my psychology both in the way I lead my business, became a father and a husband, I decided to take control of my disease.
You’re asking me what this book is about, I’m getting to that. But the bottom line is, I created this moon shot.
Mindset Is Everything
Phillip Stutts: I wrote an article in Inc. Magazine a year ago, it got picked up, someone saw it who’s a researcher on this disease. Reached out to me, said that my moonshot was idiotic but she would call some doctors. Found this one doctor at Johns Hopkins.
I was treated at Hopkins and had failed surgeries at Hopkins, but this doctor had never been introduced to me. He had been working on this disease for 20 years.
She put me in touch with him. I said, “I believe stem cells could probably cure this disease,” – by the way, I’m not a doctor, I just made that up. He said, “I believe stem cells actually can be the cure to this disease.”
We put a team around me and started working on it, and I had a call with the doctor last week. We’re almost approved by the FDA and we’re going to create a one-man clinical trial. I’ll be the guy.
It’s never been done before, it has not been done on animals. They will extract stem cells out of my calf, culture them, grow them, and then in the fall of 2018, they will begin a clinical trial where they will inject stem cells into my esophagus to see if it will regenerate the nerves in the muscle.
The reason that that long story’s being told is that I started at a depressed place, I started at a place where I didn’t lead my life the right way.
“And I changed my mindset.”
Because of that, I’m on the precipice of a clinical trial. If that trial succeeds, holy cow, that’s amazing. If that trial fails, I’ll figure out plan B. I mean, it doesn’t really bother me.
Ultimately, this disease is a blessing. It changed my life for the better, improved my life in so many ways. I wouldn’t take it back, and frankly, if you gave me the chance to go back and not have it, I would take it still.
Marketing Isn’t What It Used to Be
Phillip Stutts: Why that relates to this book that I wrote called Fire Them Now -The Seven Lies Digital Marketers Sell, is that in a parallel universe over the last three years that I created my startup company, I kept seeing CEOs of businesses very frustrated in the digital marketing space. They kept hiring digital marketing agencies to help market their businesses. In the past they could market their business by running TV ads and radio ads. It was a straight shot, hey, let’s buy a TV ad, look, people are coming in the door. There’s this huge ROI. This is easy.
The digital marketing space is not that way. These owners of these businesses were so confused and pissed and frustrated and they had fired one digital agency and then they hired another one and they fired another one.
I’m in the political marketing space, and I go, “Well, why did that digital marketing firm do this and this?” I just started seeing that on the business side, digital marketing agencies were stealing from the people that they had hired them.
“They were being fraudulent to the people that were hiring them.”
And I found that the principles that we were employing in politics were the honest and truthful way for these businesses to succeed. In a way, these business owners were sticking their head in the sand, much the same way I did for my disease and into my own life for a long time.
It resonated with me. I felt empathy. I understood their pain. For these business owners, their business is their life. They built something, they own it, it is something that’s very valuable and important to them. And they’re losing market share.
They’re trying to get ahead of the game, but they’re not doing anything because they don’t understand the digital marketing space for their own business.
So I decided to shed a light on that and tell the lies that the digital marketers are out there selling businesses, then lay out a lot of stories on businesses that are doing the right things and how political principles can actually grow a business and grow their market share.
I lay out tons of examples of how businesses had used political principles to grow, and that was the impetus of the book.
Let Go of Fear
Charlie Hoehn: I can’t tell you how personally inspiring that is, that you took that mentality. It’s so frustrating and sad. So it’s great that you took the growth mindset.
Phillip Stutts: I would even tell you this, just a month ago, my wife sat down and says, “You’re still being held back,” and I go, “How?” And she says, “There’s certain amount of fear still in you.” That is so intuitive, it really is.
Charlie: How did she pick that up?
Phillip: Well, we bought some property and we want to build a house and I was like, “I don’t know if we have the money.” She’s like, “Well, if you change your mindset and said, ‘I‘m going to figure it out’ instead of saying how we can’t do it…let’s figure out how we can do it.”
“Frankly, the thing that will hold anybody back is fear.”
Literally, this is four weeks ago, I just said, “That’s it. Fear will never grip my life again.”
I’ve already relinquished about 80% of it, right? There’s this 20% that’s still holding me back a little bit. I’m giving up that 20%, I’m done with it. I don’t want to live that way anymore, and I don’t want to see businesses live in fear.
The Future Is Disrupted
Phillip Stutts: We talk about the disruptive economy, look, we’re in Austin right now. We’re in the hub of tech. People in the tech industry will laugh out loud at automated cars like that’s a done deal, it’s happening, right? My five year old daughter will never drive a car. That will never happen.
It’s not about automated cars and it’s not about truck drivers or the first people to be disrupted. It’s about the second and third order consequences of that one disruption in an economy that will have thousands upon thousands of disruptions.
The example I talk about is, in the book is, look, if you work in the emergency rooms of hospitals and all of a sudden, we have automated cars that are 99% safer, what does that do to emergency room nurses? How many will be cut?
When governments can’t collect speeding tickets anymore, how does that affect revenue, tax revenue, and where do we get the revenue to make that up and who has to be taxed? Then the biggest impact of all I think is organ donations. Last year we had 38,000 people die in car accidents in America, millions worldwide.
What happens to those people on organ donor lists when those people that passed away in a car accident and when their organs aren’t available anymore?
Charlie Hoehn: They got to go to the 3D printers.
Phillip Stutts: That’s right. That’s absolutely right, there’s a guy named Tony Atala at Wake Forest University, go look him up on YouTube. He gave a Ted Talk on this – he’s literally 3D printing organs.
Your Product Is Not That Amazing
Charlie Hoehn: Talk to me about the marketer’s lies.
Phillip Stutts: Marketing isn’t a fraud. Honest marketing works. Listen, if I told you all seven we’d be here for six hours because there’s so much context behind it. That’s why you have to read the book to understand the context. I’ll give one example.
The lie is, “My God, your product is amazing, I cannot wait to market your product.”
“Digital marketers stroke the ego of an owner and they tell them that their product is amazing.”
The product may not be amazing to the customers. But in the pitches, these marketers will say, “My gosh, this is the coolest product ever seen, your customers love it, we’re going to market this, we’re going to…you know what? You’re going to sell out for a million dollars, hundred million dollars, whatever.”
That’s a lie, it’s all to stroke an ego of an owner who is very proud of their product or business. It doesn’t put the priority of trying to grow the business first. What it does is it helps the marketer get the contract.
Long-term Contracts are a Scam
Phillip Stutts: In politics, we have contracts that go month to month. I’ve never signed a contract in 22 years of being in politics where any client of ours could get out of the contract in a two week to four week notice, which forces us to innovate constantly because we’re fighting for our jobs every single day.
On the other hand, digital marketers in the corporate space get six month contracts, 12 month contracts, 18 month contracts.
“If they fail, if they succeed, whatever, they’re going to get paid first.”
A buddy of mine is a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. One of their startups needed a digital marketing plan. They hired this digital marketing agency out of San Francisco, and the agency made this VC pay a signing bonus before they started. $75,000. Yes, before they got the work- started.
Six months into the 18 month unbreakable contract that this guy signed, everything was failing.
The marketing plan had not worked, they had spent way too much money, and it was a total bust. And they still had to pay the marketing firm for 12 more months before they could get out of the contract.
Marketers Should Earn Trust
Phillip Stutts: Another lie that I talk about goes kind of complimentary to that story. In politics, we’re the ultimate startup. We start with a candidate that has no name, no brand, and no money. And over a nine to 15 month period, we have to raise millions of dollars, spend it all and try to get that person elected.
“When we don’t have money early in the campaign, we have to test every concept possible with very little amount of money.”
On the digital marketing front, I try to tell business owners this. “Look, we want to test 10 concepts, we know two or three will work, we know seven will probably not work. But before you spend a lot of money, let’s do a small spending plan and let’s test all these concepts. Let’s do a three month probationary period so we can earn your trust, show you what works, you’re not out a lot of money, and we’ll figure out where the ROI is for these ads.”
It earns trust and it shows the company we’re putting their needs above ours, we’re going to find out what works before we spend all their money. What corporate marketers do as they go, they test too. All of them test, that’s not a lie.
They’ll go, look, “We want to test these concepts, but we need a hundred grand a month,” or if it’s a small business, they’ll say, “We need 20 grand a month and we’re going to do all this testing.” And then they come back and say, “Okay, we’ve spent 60 grand of your money, now we know it works and let’s get in to the real budget and we need another 200.”
Again, they’re getting paid before any success. My whole principle, or the whole concept of the book, is to say no.
Phillip Stutts: The marketer should put your needs above their needs.
In politics, if a candidate loses, we lose.
What I mean by that is our business is 100% reputational and referral. I cannot advertise my marketing company. It would be laughed out of the industry. Every expenditure I make in politics goes on a publicly viewable website, the federal election commission, or some state based website.
Every competitor of mine knows who I work for and how much I’m spending on a particular campaign. They will cut my legs out from under me. They’ll gut me if I lose a race. They will crush me in any pitch.
“My focus is on winning. It is on the client.”
And when the client wins, then I get to run around and brag about how great we were and we get to make money.
We get win bonuses and not signing bonuses.
If you understand that concept, then you understand how fast we have to move in a 9 to 15 month period, from zero dollars to millions. To raise money, to spend money, to test concepts, to figure out what works, to get out votes, to win.
Only Winning Moves You Forward
Phillip Stutts: For us and in writing this book, we really understood the concept was winning. And people don’t talk about winning business. They talk about market share and they talk about what’s the ROI and can we get a 10% gain.
In politics, you win or you die. You’re out of business. In 2016, our marketing firm, got 120 races we worked on including the presidential campaign. We won 92 out of 120 races. I still fail, I still had races that didn’t win, that’s the honest truth. But we won a lot more than we lost.
“Because of that, we’ve doubled the company basically every year we’ve been in business.”
I don’t think I would have done that had I not had so much accountability in the fact that we have election day and the fact that we have transparency and all of these things are lacking in the corporate marketing space.
When I started thinking about I went, my god, these are incredible concepts. Why aren’t businesses doing that?
Charlie Hoehn: For digital marketing agencies, how could they implement that into the way that they do business?
Phillip Stutts: Well, think about this, we are in a customer-centric economy. Like when we talked about the disruption a little while ago, everything is coming down to the customer.
The customer is in charge now. I mean, if you go buy a car these days, the dealership no longer is in charge, right? The customer’s in charge. If you go to a restaurant, the restaurant can’t treat you bad anymore because there’s Yelp.
One of the things we’ve done on our corporate marketing side is that we say to any business, come work with us. We’ll give you, for the first three months, no contract, and we’ll do these small testing projects. After that, if you’re satisfied with us, let’s figure out how we can work together. By the way, it will still be a month to month contract after that. You basically can get out any time.
“But you have to prove it to the client, to the business owner, every single day.”
The reason my political business took off so fast is I think I understood that concept maybe subconsciously, when we started the company three years ago.
The reason we picked up corporate clients is because I get this, that is where the world is going, and I built a customer-, client-centric company that only succeeds if they succeed.
The Effort Goes Both Ways
Charlie Hoehn: How often do you hear from your corporate clients, new corporate clients, “We haven’t seen an agency interact with us this way at all”?
Phillip Stutts: Every single one. Now we made mistakes. We took some clients that said, “Just another firm,” and then didn’t pay us and for the actual ad buying that we did for them. All of a sudden you went, “All right well it is a two way street.”
“If I am going to be transparent and I am going to be at the GOAT, you have to be.”
So then, we actually fired a couple of our corporate clients.
These guys need to be on the same page as us. They need to be fast, they need to be strategic and smart and they need to understand out ethics and our transparency. We all need to be on the same page, and if we’re not, it is just not going to work.”
If you go to phillipstutts.com/audit, I wanted to provide value to business owners. While I was writing the book, we spent three months creating a marketing audit for any business owner out there.
You basically go that website, fill out all your publicly listed, your website, your social media, your digital presence. My team will spend a week or two going through all of your information publicly available. It’s very private, and you’ll see the agreements we have on there.
The audit will literally take five minutes. We will monitor and audit your companies marketing and prep it, and then we will grade you and we’ll put together a score card. We’ll tell your business if you’re being taken advantage of, we’ll tell your business if you are doing the wrong things in social media, so you can take that back to the marketing firm and sort of expose their lies.
If your marketing firm is actually doing a great job, we’ll tell you that too.
We’ll give you a great score but we will also tell you if we think you’re over spending or underspending and we will put that all together for you, complementary.
Work with Phillip Stutts
Phillip Stutts: This was something I identified that no one was writing about, but I wanted to go one step further. You don’t need to hire us. If you get done with your audit and you are impressed and you want to hire us, that’s great. We can talk about that. We have to be aligned in order to work together, but I wanted to provide value to the reader in a way that I didn’t think anybody else was.
Charlie Hoehn: Did you say there is a minimum threshold of a type of company that you like to work with? Of what you like to spend daily?
Phillip: No. It depends on the needs of the client. There are businesses that are doing half a million dollars a year that want to create really cool videos for their company. Well, we have a full-service digital production team. We shoot ads, we produce ads. Last year we were awarded the best digital video on a presidential campaign. On the corporate side, we’ve done beer ads, we’ve done car ads, we’ve done a bunch other things.
So we have an incredible creative team, and it’s a lot of fun but look? Some of those smaller companies can’t do big campaigns. So we do creative work for them.
I want to serve, the only thing I ask in return is that we’re aligned.
Know Your Voter or Buyer Inside Out
Charlie Hoehn: How do you guys actually go about winning?
Phillip Stutts: The first question we ask in a pitch in politics is, “How are we targeting your voters?” Right? And this goes back to what we talked about earlier which is if you are thinking in the business sense, we are asking about the customer first.
“How do we target the customer? What is the customer like? What are the voters like?”
So we try to understand more than anything what the voters want in their politician.
And those that mean that I go to a politician and I say, “All right you have to believe in these things because this is what the voters want, but I will tell you this and this, this a hot topic right now.” If I have a candidate that is running and he is a pro-gun, pro-second amendment and he is running in a district or state that’s anti-second amendment, like wants gun control. I am not going to tell him he should change his position.
I am just going to tell him, don’t talk about that issue. Speak to these three issues that you are aligned with your voters and make that the core focus of your campaign and then we figure that out.
We do a lot of research, and then we have an extraordinary amount of data in this world today. Data really is the driver of everything we do. In politics, every single state has a voter file and the voter file is if you are registered to vote.
I know your name, I know how many times you’ve voted, I know if you vote in primary general election, I know your age, I know whether you’re married, I know that you’ve got kids, I know everything about you.
“And this is before I get into consumer data. This is just voter data.”
You’ve got to understand think about this in business terms, if we are so precise in that front that’s how we approach customers and clients when we’re doing campaigns on the business side.
If you vote in primaries as a habitual voter, boy, you are going to get a lot of messaging from me. If you are a voter that only votes in presidential election years and it is a non-presidential election year, then you won’t get many ads from me, does that make sense?
We look at the trending, we look at the actions, we understand and then we do a very complicated series of research on every single voter individually, and we create voter profiles of every single voter and every single state. Then we target that person with individualized messages based on what they care about and where they are aligned.
That is a very simple explanation to the very complicated way that we do it, but that is our secret sauce.
Not All Research is Good Research
Charlie Hoehn: So how does that differ from maybe a digital ad agency? Is it fundamentally different?
Phillip Stutts: No there are similarities, but here’s what I would say is the difference: we do research. Tons and tons and tons of research. Not every small – I would say not any small business is doing a lot of research.
One of the things that we advocate in our corporate marketing campaigns is can we do some research to figure out your customers before we spend your money? I think that is really important.
I will give you a great story and it is a corporate story. It is in the book, but there is a startup that would have come out a couple of years ago called Bodega.
So Bodega was going to put kiosks in apartment buildings and work places, basically like a vending machine but with all the staples of anything that you would have. So you don’t have to go to the CVS or the Walgreens or whatever. It is all in a kiosk. So if you live in an apartment building and you needed a toothbrush, you could go down to your Bodega kiosk and get that.
It sounds like a pretty good concept, got millions of dollars in venture capital funding, millions. Some of the big dogs were putting money into those. It was such a good idea, they actually went out and did research and they said, “Well let’s research Hispanics to see if they like it or if they are offended by the word Bodega.”
Guess what they found out? The Hispanics didn’t give a shit. 96% of Hispanics said, “No, we call grocery stores and corner stores bodegas,” right?
So they were like, “Great, no problem! Let’s go.” And so they went out and they created this and they started putting it everywhere and they expended all of these capital.
They had one big flaw, and the flaw was that they didn’t research every market or target audience like we do in politics. They didn’t research “woke millennials” who were offended for the Hispanics that the word bodega was being used. They called it cultural appropriation, they were offended that, how dare this company come out and do this to Hispanics. The Hispanics didn’t care.
“They took to social media and they basically crushed the entire startup.”
It’s barely in existence now compared to what it was. I lived in Washington, DC, for 17 years. I lived in a very gentrified neighborhood. To live in a very gentrified neighborhood, we had mini-bodegas in my neighborhood.
Another offending element that they didn’t research was that people in cities where they were trying to put this in big metropolitan areas, they didn’t realize that people liked their bodegas. It makes sense.
In my bodega, the bodega that we always went to in my neighborhood in Washington, DC, was owned by this Ethiopian family who had this incredible story how they came to this country, and I wanted to spend all my money there because I love that family so much. I love their story. They were hardworking, they’re immigrants, they were working 12 hours a day seven days a week.
That’s where I wanted to put my money, right? So in addition to offending millennials, they didn’t realize that they were taking away the jobs and the businesses of the city businesses that they were trying to put these kiosks.
Now the company obviously didn’t do their research properly, they didn’t look at their target market properly, they targeted and research the wrong markets and eventually it cost millions and millions of dollars. I would tell you in politics, that would never have had happened.
Take Time to Research Well
Charlie Hoehn: Do you talk about how to do proper research in here?
Phillip Stutts: Well it’s not hard. If I were to do this for a corporate or a company that hired us, I would literally sit down with their team and spend a day and try to understand their product and their customer. I need to understand the product, but it is about the customer first.
Just like the voter, I care about the customer. I really don’t care about the owner or the company or the product.
“I need to understand it, but my emphasis is on the customer.”
So I would sit down and try to understand where they’ve had success as a business, and then is there room for expansion, and what those customers look like. We would do the research and go out and try to figure out what that is.
We have partnerships with lots of research firms that help us and work with us on that, and then we use that data. And then once we had that data, we start doing our small testing plans.
On the other side of this, you have a lot of businesses that just want a, “How do I get rich quick pill?”
“I don’t know, research?”
“No, no, no just give me the ad that’s going to make me the 10X ROI on my product.”
This is again is where we walk away, because we have to be in alignment. Look, I am looking to grow with that business. I am not looking to make a quick buck on that business. In order to do it, you have to do the proper steps.
Charlie Hoehn: Right, let’s talk about getting negative, what do you mean by getting negative?
Phillip Stutts: Wvery single person that is listening to this will say the same thing, “I hate negative and political campaign ads. I hate them. Take them off the air, if I see one more political campaign and it is negative I am not…”
And as a political media ad maker, I would tell you basically, “Fuck off,” because it works.
“We wouldn’t do it if it didn’t it work.”
It is the most effective way to run a political campaign. In fact, you probably even seen this.
You have seen a candidate for office or a politician stand up on the microphone and say, “I will not run negative ads on this campaign. I will stay positive.”
I say that guy is a dead man or that woman is a dead woman. I mean, if you want to commit suicide go do something like that in politics.
So I have decided I was going to introduce the concept in the book of negative ad campaigns to businesses, but it is not what you think. It’s not club them over their head like we do in politics. While that’s fun in politics, that’s suicide for businesses. So that is not what I am saying.
But there is a way to take the negative ad concept and use it in a comparative fashion to run an effective campaign for businesses. I lay out a couple of examples the book, but I will give you a couple that aren’t in the book.
Wendy’s vs McDonald’s: Funny and Smart
Phillip Stutts: McDonalds maybe in November put a tweet up and they made a mistake. Literally the tweet said, “Insert copy here,” like the person that was running the tweet just didn’t realize what they did.
Well, Wendy’s saw this and responded with, “McDonald’s your tweets are broken like your ice cream machine.”
“That’s going negative, but by the way, do you have any negative connotation of Wendy’s?”
No, it’s funny. By the way, McDonald’s is the king. I always say it’s better to use this concept when you’re the underdog. You’re punching up. If you are McDonald’s and you are punching down, that could be a problem.
That tweet generated millions of social media hits. It generated probably hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions of free advertising for Wendy’s, and everybody laughed at it. Everybody.
It was fun, it was smart, and I encourage business to do these types of things.
Mac vs PC: Thoughtful and Branded
Phillip Stutts: The best example I think of all time is Steve Jobs. Apple versus the PC, Mac versus PC. He had the nerdy PC guy and the really hipster cool Mac guy. You never saw the Mac guy say anything negative about the PC guy. It was always the PC guy stumbling over himself, doing something dumb, being nerdy, you know?
Here is the cool thing about it. I mean I understand that is a cool ad, it’s a good example, but in researching that concept, I found out that Steve jobs had made over 360 ads, Mac versus the PC guy.
“They made 360 plus ads, he only ran about 60.”
So this was, he understood this concept and then he took the best ones, the ones that were the least offensive, the ones that matched the principles he was going by, and those were the ones that ran. So he really believed in the concept.
Now if you are going to argue with Jobs, that’s fine. That’s on you. But my thing is he didn’t do this half assed. He didn’t just put up a tweet. He ran millions of dollars in ads. He ran it simultaneously to the iPhone coming out, and you can attribute all of those things, the iPhone, the iPad but the Mac ads, part of that incredible surge that Apple took off.
In a way, it branded everything that Mac was doing as cool, young, hip.
Pepsi vs Coke: Stages of Grief
Phillip Stutts: There was a Pepsi challenge, and it was done in the ‘80s, and it spurred the biggest mistake in all of corporate history by Coca-Cola.
They did a new Coke, which was the biggest backlash. And that’s why I say, they are like these stages of grief. If you run a negative ad or do it in a smart, comparative way, your competition is going to go through stages of grief.
The first stage they are going to go, “Why is my competition doing that?” And then they are going to put their heads in the sand like we talked about earlier, because they are like, “I don’t like what this company is doing to me,” and they will put their heads in the sand.
And then they will come to this conclusion like, “Wait a second, they are hammering us right now. What are we doing?” And then they are going to scramble to try to adjust to it. The smart marketers are already onto the next ad while this company is trying to play defense.
“In politics, everything that we work for is to be on offense.”
Are we on defense? Of course we are on defense sometimes, but we’ve got to be on offense more than we are on defense. I am taking that to the corporate marketing front because I want my businesses to always be on offense.
By the time this business finally responds, they do it in such a horrific way because they don’t understand this principle, this concept, this strategy. When Coke comes out with a New Coke and it was the biggest disaster in the company’s history. It almost bankrupt the entire company. This isn’t a small business, this is Coca-Cola, and they almost were bankrupt over Pepsi literally taking their market share away from them.
Young people were starting to drink Pepsi at a much higher clip than Coke, and so they freaked out so much over it that they created a new Coke and it almost bankrupt the whole company.
Generic Gestures are Pointless
Charlie Hoehn: If these are such powerful examples and this works, why don’t we see more of it in the corporate realm?
Phillip Stutts: We live in a very politically correct world, and they don’t do it. This is so obvious and this is one of the lines in the book: A lot of digital marketers out there tell their clients, “Don’t rock the boat, don’t put yourself out there, put generic content out so they can check the box…”
I will tell another great example.
Delta Airlines put out National Hispanic Heritage Appreciation Month. I told this story on TV the other day, and the interviewer was like, “What’s wrong with that?” And I go “Look, there is nothing wrong with that concept, but it is such blatant generic gobbledygook pandering that it doesn’t do anything. Here’s what Delta did, they said, “Let’s check a box. Let’s make sure the Hispanic community is happy with us.”
No Hispanic gives a damn about Hispanic Heritage Appreciation Month. Here’s what they should have done, here’s what their marketing company should have recommended and here is what is a 10X on that concept:
Identify three Hispanics in Delta Airlines who have an incredible story of coming into this country, earning their way in, coming to the company, working from a small job to a senior level management role. Highlight their family, their story. People love to buy into great stories, and I am sure that there are Hispanics at Delta Airlines who have unbelievable stories.
For that month that Delta did that, they could have highlighted stories. They could have put them on the screens of their TV where you sit on your seat on Delta Airlines, “Read this family’s story that works in our company.” Everybody that read that story it would brand that company as Delta Airlines, they have an incredible company, they care about their employees, all those good PR aspects that every business wants.
But on the other side, think of what it would have done internally at that company. To highlight an employee instead of some generic gobbledygook crap like, “Let’s just generically celebrate everyone.”
“It doesn’t do anything. It’s all crap.”
What I try to do is get businesses to not put out generic crap and gobbledygook that most marketers will tell the companies to do. Then at the end of the month, the digital marketers sends a report that says, “We put out 12 press releases this month.” They didn’t do anything, but guess what? “We stayed busy, pay us our check,” and the company does it because they go, “Oh the marketing firm has been busy.”
I am not interested in that.
The Impact of Fire Them Now
Charlie Hoehn: Tell me what is the impact you’re hoping this book is going to make?
Phillip Stutts: Had I not changed, had I not had the disease that I have, I would probably be divorced one day, my business would gone out of business, probably would have severely impacted my child for the rest of her life by a broken marriage. It was based in not trying to grow, not trying to be better, not living in fear and selfishly.
I am living an extraordinary life right now. I feel an abundance of love, vulnerability. I feel I am vulnerable for the first time in my life. I have empathy for the first time in my life.
I want to help other people get out of that state. I understand how it feels, I’ve lived it. It sucks, and even if you don’t live it in every aspect of your life, if I can just help businesses get out of that and help propel people into better places, that is the impact I want to have.
Charlie Hoehn: How can our listeners follow you and potentially connect with you apart from the audit if they just want to thank you for the podcast?
Phillip Stutts: For your listeners, we discounted the Kindle ebook. We just reduced it and we’ll leave it up for a couple days after the podcast goes out.
My Facebook page, my Twitter, my email is in the book, everything is in the book. Twitter is @phillipstutts, just my name, and my Facebook page is CEO Phillip Stutts. So those are two places you can find me.
We’re Just Talking: McKenna Bailey