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Digital Velocity Podcast Hosted by Tim Curtis and Erik Martinez

15 Integrating Offline and Online Branding - Brent Niemuth

This week on the Digital Velocity Podcast, Brent Niemuth of J.Schmid joins Erik and Tim to discuss the secret sauce of branding and how to integrate offline and online branding.

Brent explains why companies should invest in effective branding. He says the “Simple answer is because if you don't, if you don't invest in your brand, if you don't invest in good design, good creative, other brands will. You will stand still and the other brands will pass you by. The ones who do invest in it.”

Brent says that all companies have a brand, whether they invest in it or not. He says that branding is, “simply the perception of what other people think of you, right? So, if you spend no time or effort, or money on your brand, there's still gonna be a perception of you in the marketplace. It's just going to be controlled by other people. They will determine who you are. They will determine what they think of you and suddenly you've lost control. I would much rather be in the driver's seat and dictate how I want you to perceive me. So, yeah. It's so logical and makes so much sense. It's hard to believe that there are folks still out there that ask the question, why should I invest in my brand?”

Listen to this week’s episode to discover expert tips about improving and implementing branding both offline and online.

About the Guest:

Brent Niemuth is President & Partner at J.Schmid in Kansas City, a leading creative and branding agency specializing in direct-to-consumer marketing. Brent has gained a national reputation for challenging industry norms and is known for his strong belief that brands need to be more human. He is an award-winning designer and highly sought-after speaker on the topics of creativity, design and branding and has been helping build brands such as Microsoft, House of Blues, Reebok, Jockey, Sheraton & Westin Hotels, and Disney Resorts for over 30 years. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas and still claims to be the fifth Beatle.


Tim Curtis: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to another edition of the Digital Velocity Podcast. This week, we have Brent Niemuth, President and Chief Creative Officer at J.Schmid in Kansas City, a leading creative and branding agency specializing in direct consumer marketing. Brent's gained a national reputation for challenging industry norms and is known for his strong belief that brands need to be more human.

He's an award-winning designer and highly sought-after speaker on the topics of creativity, design, and branding, and has been helping brands such as Microsoft, House of Blues, Reebok, Jockey, Sheraton, and Westin [00:01:00] Hotels, and Disney Resorts for over 30 years. He's a graduate of The University of Kansas and still claims to be the fifth Beatle.

Brent, welcome.

Brent Niemuth: Hi guys. Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

Tim Curtis: Yeah. Nice to have you. We've been looking forward to this for some time.

Erik Martinez: Yeah. You've been on our long list for quite some time, so I'm glad we finally got a chance to bring you on.

Tim Curtis: For the listeners, we have known Brent for a while.

Brent Niemuth: You know, we probably have had similar discussions over the years just casually. It's nice to make it official.

Erik Martinez: Yeah, absolutely. Brent, why don't you tell us just a little bit about yourself and your background and how you came to be where you are today?

Brent Niemuth: Yeah. I'm a Midwest boy from way back. Kansas City is home, has been for most of my life.

I am a designer by trade. So, that's what my degree is in from the University of Kansas through their design department. I started at a small design shop here in Kansas City. A small shop of about 10 people, but with a small shop like that [00:02:00] comes the opportunity to do a lot of things. So, I was able, very early in my career, to just get a broad range of experience by doing it out of necessity.

It was a great way to get into the business, starting small like that. From there, I moved on to a bigger agency, one of the bigger agencies in Kansas City, and was creative director and headed up their creative department and was able to get involved with a lot of big brands. You know, it was time to put on your big boy pants and see how the big guys do it.

So, had the opportunity, the privilege really, of working with brands like Disney, House of Blues, a lot of the ones you just rattled off. A lot of the resorts out in Vegas. Helped launch W Hotels, things like that. So, it gave me a peek behind the curtain of how these big brands operate and how successful brands are built.

 From there, I went on my own for a few years and started Niemuth Design, intentionally to get away from the big agency environment.[00:03:00] I had my fill and so went completely to the other end of the spectrum and just flew solo for a few years. Which was also great, and then J.Schmid came calling 17 years ago and Lois Brayfield, CEO of J.Schmid, and I talked over a period of time and realized there was an opportunity in the industry to combine the best practices of direct marketing with this seductive storytelling of branding and advertising, and boom. Here we are today.

Erik Martinez: If I recall, J.Schmid, 17 years ago, was heavily steeped in the catalog, direct mail industry from a planning and execution, not just creative standpoint, right, but you guys have really evolved into being primarily a creative shop.

Brent Niemuth: A hundred percent. Yeah. At the time, the shop was started by Jack Scmid, the J in J.Schmid, as we say, and it was started with his skillset and his set of clients, his expertise, which was on [00:04:00] the data and analytics side. So, he built the business on that side. Lois came in and started to elevate the creative portion of it, but it was really still tilted heavier on the data side. We evened it out over the years, and I would say within the last ten or fifteen years, for the most part, while I've been here, we leaned heavy creative, and in the last five to seven years, it's been an intentional move, a business move on our side to own creative. So, we put all our chips on the table on the creative side.

Erik Martinez: Gotcha. So, for a 21st-century company, why, in your perspective, is brand and design vital? In other words, why should brands invest in it?

Brent Niemuth: Great question.

Simple answer is because if you don't, if you don't invest in your brand, if you don't invest in good design, good creative, other brands will. You will stand still and the other brands will pass you by. The ones who do invest [00:05:00] in it.

The best example I can give is, if you were to compare brands to humans, which I often do because to me, it's essentially the same approach. It's just like investing in yourself. We all as human beings ask ourselves, how do we want to be perceived? How do we want other people to see us?

How do we want to engage with other people? We want to present the best version of ourselves. So, we pay attention to how we dress, how we carry ourselves, how we take care of ourselves, our health our image. All of that is important to us as human beings. How competent we are, how well we deliver on our promises. Those aren't just human traits. Those are brand traits as well. The exact same thing. So, if you do it for yourself? Why would you not do it for your brand? Maybe, the ultimate question there is not why should I invest or what will happen if I invest in my brand?[00:06:00] It should be rather, what if I don't?

Tim Curtis: One of the things that I often will talk to clients about, when the conversation comes up about, you know, whether it's a creative or brand particular type of conversation, one of the things that I have mentioned, similar along those lines is, if you're not investing in positioning your brand, then you're allowing the competition to do it for you. That's a dangerous place to be. So we really do have to be aware of what's happening around us in the industry. We need to be an advocate for our own brand, our own reputation. It's an asset.

Brent Niemuth: That's an excellent point. It's a fact that we all have brands, All companies have a brand, whether you invest in it or not because it's simply the perception of what other people think of you, right? So, if you spend no time or effort, or money on your brand, there's still gonna be a perception of you in the marketplace. It's just going to be controlled by other people. They will determine who you are. They will determine what they think of you and suddenly you've lost [00:07:00] control. I would much rather be in the driver's seat and dictate how I want you to perceive me. So, yeah. It's so logical and makes so much sense. It's hard to believe that there are folks still out there that ask the question, why should I invest in my brand?

Tim Curtis: And I think sometimes it's almost as if they don't think about it. They're running through all the traditional metrics that we talk about in online commerce, but that really important conversation about branding is one that doesn't happen. I think sometimes it doesn't happen, not intentionally, it's because it's not been focused on. So, I think it's building that awareness. At least that's how it strikes it to me

Brent Niemuth: A hundred percent. Yeah. I think that's the biggest misconception about branding is that once you determine what it's going to be, here's who we are, here's what we're going to stand for, it's like a windup toy. You wind it up and then you just let it go, and stand back and let it do its thing. Which is completely wrong. It's gotta be a daily, intentional effort. It's one of the most frustrating things to be in the [00:08:00] business of branding, helping brands define and determine what makes them different, how are they going to go to market, how are they going to separate themselves? You craft the story. You craft the plan. Here's the strategy. You deliver it in a document. They say, thank you very much, this is great, and they do nothing with it.

Tim Curtis: Yeah. File it.

Brent Niemuth: Yeah. They file it and assume that the brand is going to take care of itself. It's dangerous.

Erik Martinez: Do you think that is a function of the fact that we are so heavily measurement-focused? I admit I'm one of the heavily measurement-focused people and branding, in my perspective, is something a little bit above and beyond measurement. Not that you can't measure it and you can't succeed at saying, hey, we've accomplished some level of awareness or reach of a potential audience. I'm not saying that at all, but what I'm saying is, tangibly saying, [00:09:00] my branding is a positioning of who I am, what I stand for, what I deliver to my customers, and that still feels a little bit out there.

Brent Niemuth: Yep. It was the biggest eye-opener for me when I came to J.Schmid 17 years ago. Again, my history was from advertising agencies, branding agencies, and very much the creative side. Still strategic, but through the creative lens, but it was typical consumer advertising and branding, and when I got into the world that J.Schmid lives in, I was introduced to direct marketing and direct marketers, really for the first time. I was not a traditional direct marketer and I was flabbergasted by how much you can measure and how much data and analytics can enlighten the process.

Yet, it was also a deterrent for many to wrap their head around brand because you can't measure it. In many ways an intangible. You either believe in it or you [00:10:00] don't. I wish I could predict or add data points to it, but I haven't figured out a way how. Again, it circles back to our first question and answer of you either do it, or you don't, there's your choice. I believe you have to do it, but yes, Erik, to your question. I think direct marketer specifically because of the nature of what we do, we measure everything and for good reason, but that means that the branding component is a little harder to convince folks to invest money in that's not quite as black and white.

Tim Curtis: It's harder for them to conceptualize, you know, the brand, cause they're not looking at a KPI. You know, at CohereOne, we are deeply, deeply, deeply involved in client data work, and one of the things that's so important, and one of the things we stress with clients is that running that business is both art and science and the data is filling the science component. It's giving indication of where things are, what's happening, but it's [00:11:00] not telling you the context about why that's happening.

One of the things that we have to remind them is there's something larger happening here that we think may be a brand concern or maybe a creative concern. They're not going to see that in those traditional KPIs necessarily, the root cause, but they will see performance issues, and so we have to remind everyone that it is art and science and it's about balancing the two to be a really, truly healthy organization.

Brent Niemuth: It's gotta be both. There's art and science to everything we do. Even from the Cohere perspective, from the data side, there's art and science in what you guys do. At J.Schmid, from the creative side, there's art and science to what we do every day, and it's a combination and a balance of those. To your point, Tim, specifically on the creative side. When we're designing catalogs, for instance, we all know that there's a lot of science baked into that. There's best practices. Study after study that prove, iFlow research and if you do these things, [00:12:00] it's likely that you will increase sales.

So, it's very baked in. Those rules have not changed for decades. We follow those best practices. We use them. They're proven techniques and they're predictable. So, they're safe, right? People can understand them and deliver on them. What's missing there is the power of the creative component itself, which is creativity by its nature is unknown. It's unpredictable. We don't have the answer yet when we start a project. We don't know what we're going to think of. So, it's messy and it's unpredictable, but it happens to be the part that people react to, that they connect to. That's where the emotion comes in. So, you can't have one without the other. You have to combine them together, art and science.

Erik Martinez: So, in a presentation, you gave a couple of years ago, you mentioned some research that stated that people said that 80% of the brands they purchase from don't matter to them. What's the driving force [00:13:00] behind that answer, and what's the solution?

Brent Niemuth: When I heard that research, it was a study done years ago, I think by Harvard Business Review, if I remember correctly, but they interviewed tens of thousands of consumers across the country and asked them the question of all the brands that you buy from, of all the brands you give your money to, not just brands you've heard of, but these are brands that we interact with, that we buy goods and services from, how many of those brands actually matter, and it was only 20%. Eighty percent of the brands that we buy from apparently don't matter to us. We don't care about them and that just blew my mind. Again, as a guy who's committed his entire career to branding and try to get folks to not just buy from brands, but to love brands, the fact that 80% of brands out there people don't care about.

I think the problem there is, there's a lot of problems, but the fundamental problem is there's no personal connection. That brand has taken no time to try to build a relationship with me and that's where it's [00:14:00] missing, the relationship. Brands are about relationships and relationships are about feelings, and if I don't feel anything about that brand. If it's just something that I need and I'm going to buy it and if they don't have it, I'll go to the store next door that might have it cheaper, there's no relationship, no connection. Well, then I'm not going to care about you.

So, the way to overcome that, to get past that is, not to oversimplify it, but we have to find a way to connect emotionally. We got to build a relationship somehow. To put us from the 80% category of a brand that they might not care about. We got to give them a reason to care. So, shared values. That's why we emphasize so much with our clients that it's a good thing to let people know what you stand for, what you believe in. If there are shared values, if your customers believe what you believe, there's a chance that that relationship will grow.

Emphasizing what you offer that somebody else doesn't. I think a lot of those 80 [00:15:00] percenters fall in the category of commodity items. If you sell a commodity good or service that is literally no different from a dozen other brands that offer the same thing, you got to find a way to either sell something different or unique or sell it in a way that is different and unique.

Erik Martinez: And the insurance industry has tried to do that, right? Great example, right? Car insurance, we all need it. We all have to have it if we have a vehicle and yet Progressive and Allstate and Geico and American Family and Farmers all have slightly different takes on how to get that message and get you to connect with them.

Brent Niemuth: Perfect example, and it's one I use all the time. The insurance industry commodity service. I don't understand insurance. I just know that I need it. So, who am I going to buy it from? Well, they all basically offer the same thing. So, which one am I drawn to? Well, insurance companies have figured out that you can use [00:16:00] personality. Personality alone can get you across the finish line to at least make yourself stand apart or get people to remember your name.

That's where the gecko came from Geico is they wanted people just to remember our name. Let's just start there. How do we get people to think of our name top of mind? Well, let's get this cute little character, this gecko, and hopefully, people will have recall for us when it comes time to buy insurance, but Erik, that's a perfect example of goods and services that they sell, basically a commodity. Hard to set yourself apart, hard to get people to care about you, but Hey, I like Flow. I'd like to hang out with Flow. I'd like to have a beer with Flow over at Progressive. She's likable. Maybe that insurance company would be nice to deal with.

Tim Curtis: You know, Brent, we both do a lot of public speaking. We've recently shared a keynote and one of those conversations or one of those topics that you've spoken on is that of humanity marketing, and I go [00:17:00] back, gosh, I'm trying to think, it was a couple of years ago, we were at the same conference and you were talking about, you know, answering the question that a lot of times comes up is I'm a B2B company. right? I'm selling that commodity and there's nothing interesting about my business. Well, you kind of turned it on its head using that humanity marketing and said, but you're still marketing to humans. So, the same basic emotional needs that you want to appeal to in that decision-making process, that's going to exist both for a consumer company as well as a B2B company. I mean, isn't that kind of where you're going with humanity marketing?

Brent Niemuth: That's where it all starts, and to me, that's the basic, most fundamental first question we have to solve in, again, creating a relationship with our customers. Especially direct marketers and especially B2B companies, they struggle with this notion.

We, as marketers in general, tend to group people into buckets based on buying habits and data that we have on [00:18:00] them and how they look like others and we call them consumers because they consume things. They're a target audience, so we target them with messages, but that's not very human. That's based on a transactional relationship alone. We're trying to get people to buy something and nobody that I know of, I don't want to be sold to all the time constantly as a consumer.

Tim Curtis: Because you are just barraged.

Brent Niemuth: Yes, it's constant, and they don't know me and they don't care to know me. They just want me to buy from them, and then along comes a brand that treats me like a human being. They actually know me and offer me things that might help my life become better and so I'm drawn to them, but they're few and far between. The difference is this notion that they see me as a human, the others see me as a number and I think if more brands just approached marketing in general in more of a human way, that it's not a business selling goods and [00:19:00] services to a consumer. We are people that have a really cool product or service that we think other people will benefit from.

Erik Martinez: Yeah. So, let's take that a step further, and let's talk about just media saturation for a moment. I did some research recently, kind of in preparation for our conversation, and found a statistic from Envisage Digital that every single day there are 4.4 new million blog posts published, and in 2017 Forbes Magazine identified that individuals are seeing somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 ads a day. So, the question is, and I think I know what you're going to say for the answer, but let's play this out. How do brands cut through this clutter and particularly the digital ad clutter that we're starting to see in our everyday lives?

Two-part question, Brent. Second part is what can we do about it? [00:20:00] What are the steps to move beyond and help establish and cut through that clutter in order to make those connections?

Brent Niemuth: Great question. We've heard these stats now for some time, right? A while ago it was 4,000 marketing messages a day. Then it's 5,000. Now, it's six to 10,000. It just keeps increasing. We rattle them off just like a number, but you stop and think about it. That number of messages a day is impossible, humanly impossible to process. We can't stop and think about each of those individually. So, what we've done is become defensive to them and we block everything out, Everything gets blocked out. Which makes it even harder now to cut through. So, how can we? Some brands do. They're very successful at getting our attention very quickly. They stand out. They're different somehow than the others. I think, first of all, we all have to understand that the solution is not to just yell louder. If everybody's [00:21:00] yelling at folks, you're not going to get their attention by just yelling louder or yelling more often. You're just going to become part of the noise.

So, rather than yelling at everybody and then yelling at everybody louder, I think the opposite is true. You become more targeted. You become more specific. Maybe start by not yelling at everybody. Start with a smaller audience. Who are the folks that we think are going to be drawn to our brand right out of the gate, the early adopters? Let's talk to them and then don't talk to me blasting everywhere. Reach me where I am. Come talk to me one-on-one, in a personal way, but where I am. Am I on social media? Is that where I interact with brands? Do I like to walk into a retail store? Do I prefer to get a catalog in the mail? What's the best way to have that conversation?

So, very targeted, very specific, very personal combined with what I call radical simplicity. As these messages [00:22:00] get dialed up, four thousand, five thousand, six thousand a day, I think human nature makes it seem like we need to get more complex. We need more stuff, we need to add more things, we need to say more, and I think the opposite is true. Again, simplify it. Strip down your message. Make it easy to comprehend. If I'm trying to process that many messages, the simpler ones are the ones that are going to get through.

To your second part of the question, some specific things that we can do

Erik Martinez: Besides calling you immediately for help.

Brent Niemuth: Start there.

Erik Martinez: Without calling Brent immediately for help today. What do I need to do?

Brent Niemuth: That is the answer to all your problems?

I think it's you know, again, human nature makes us want one simple answer. One solution. Give me the silver bullet. What's one thing I can do that's going to make all of this go away and it's not just one thing. It's going to be everything. It's everything [00:23:00] you do. You look at the brands who do a great job, who get noticed, who do cut through the clutter somehow, who get people drawn to them and become loyal to them, they do everything right. They don't just do one thing. Don't think in terms of channels, necessarily, and I'm going to give you two parts to this answer because they're almost contradictory in a way. First, don't think in terms of channels when you're defining who you are as a brand. So, when you're doing the big picture thinking. Who are we? Why should people care about us? How are we going to differentiate ourselves from the competition?

Don't immediately go to execution and channel at that point. Think broadly. We're not going to change who we are based on who we're talking to and how we reach them. So, don't commit to execution and channel at that point. You're thinking strategically, but then, once you've dialed in on, okay, here's who we are, here's how we're different, here's why we think people are going to be drawn to us, then get very specific about channel [00:24:00] when you're communicating because the same message delivered in the same way won't necessarily work equally well, as you guys know, across channels. You've got to fine-tune the message. How you talk to people in a 32-second TV spot is very different from how you talk to them in an email, which is very different from how you talk to them on social media. So, channel and message do matter at that level but don't get caught in the weeds when you're trying to think broadly as a brand.

Erik Martinez: Let me ask a follow-up to that cause I'm having this discussion with one of my clients. They've been working with an agency, and they're not sure that the results that they got were what they were hoping for.

When you have clarity of who and what you are, and then you start going into your channel messages, I'm also hearing you say, Hey, let's attack those channels a little bit differently because the audiences and how they receive information within those channels is different.

[00:25:00] Is it your position that even though those channels are different, and how we may talk to them may be different, the overall message still has to be consistent, and it can't be a little bit of this and a little bit of that because they're not going to be able to connect the dots across all the different platforms that exist out there, especially if they're living on social media, right, and that's our primary method of consuming content. So, how do you advise your clients to deal with that particular issue because I think back to the numbers thing that we talked about earlier is we have this tendency to hyper-segment and overthink, which is to your point, about being simplistic.

So, crafting a message that's unique to a channel or a particular piece of media is different than having a completely different message overall. What I see is a lot of confusion in marketing today where the brand is trying to say something way [00:26:00] over here. This is what we are, who we are, how we approach the world, and then when you get down in their individual channels, they're saying something completely different.

Brent Niemuth: Yup. Yup. I totally get the question because it's a constant challenge with a lot of folks we work with because it's confusing in that wait, you're telling me to stand for one thing as a brand. Draw a line in the sand. Own an idea, and then when we go out and we talk about that consistently, we hammer home that message, it's not diverse enough because we're not splitting it up. Which is it? Well, it's both. Here's the best way I can explain it. Again, I'll use the same analogy that I often do.

Think of this as if it's a person. We all have unique personalities. I am who I am, and you either like that, or you don't. I can't change who I am and so when I interact with people that's baked in. I believe what I believe. It might not line up with your [00:27:00] beliefs. Yet, it might. There are going to be natural connections between me and certain types of people who might become friends over time because we have similar values, but I don't change who I am and I don't change what I believe based on who I meet.

Yet, I talk to different people in my life differently, in different ways, at different times. So, I'm one person. I stand for one thing. People see me in a certain way. That doesn't change. However, I talk to my wife differently than I talk to my coworkers and I talk to my coworkers differently than I talk to somebody I meet for the first time out on the street.

I act a little differently at home when I'm relaxed versus when I'm speaking to you guys on a podcast, right? So, my behavior and the delivery [00:28:00] of my message is probably different and unique based on who I'm talking to and where I'm talking to them. Yet, who I am as a person, never changes.

Erik Martinez: So, that's the unifying concept.

Brent Niemuth: Right. Who are you as a brand? What do you stand for? What are your beliefs? What makes you different? How do you roll, man? Are you full of swagger? Are you humble? Are you witty and funny? Are you the expert? Are you the leader? Whatever you are, be that all the time. Yet, you can behave and act and talk differently, slightly. You're not going to change who you are, but you can deliver that message a little bit different based on who you're talking to and where you're talking to them.

Erik Martinez: That's a fantastic analogy because that really in my mind clearly communicates how we actually interact with the world. Sometimes I feel like the brands we work with are a little stiff, and they always want [00:29:00] to be either exactly the same thing to everybody all the time, or they go the opposite direction and they really do create mass confusion about who and what they are and what they stand for because this audience is getting a wildly different message without the unifying concept.

Brent Niemuth: You know, Erik, you bring up a great point. I want to hit on that just a little bit more because to me there's a difference between consistency and sameness. I think when we coach our clients to be consistent in your brand presentation, consistent in your delivery, what they might be hearing us say is be the same. Say the same thing every time, all the time and that's not what we're saying. Being the same every time is different than being consistent. It's a fine line between the two, but there is a difference.

Erik Martinez: I think that an important distinction because it's hard to be the same all the time.

Brent Niemuth: And nobody wants the same. If you were the same, if a [00:30:00] brand behaves the exact same way, every day, at every touchpoint, I'm going to get bored with them. Then they become predictable and we never, ever as a brand want to be completely predictable. There's a nice little component or element of surprise. Unexpected things happen from cool brands all the time because it's slightly out of the norm. It's still who they are. They haven't changed who they are, but Ooh, they just surprised me today because that was different. I've never seen that from them before. It makes me like them even more. Yeah, being the same is dangerous. Being consistent with a little bit of surprise baked in there every now and then is good.

Erik Martinez: I think that's fantastic. Thank you for clarifying that because I will admit I'm that numbers guy and I struggle with that particular concept.

Brent Niemuth: No, everybody, struggles with that one. Yeah.

Erik Martinez: I think you've really helped me clarify when I'm having conversations with my clients. Hey, it's [00:31:00] okay. It's okay to have a personality and let's be honest, we all evolve. The brand has to evolve.

Brent Niemuth: Yeah. We change over time. Yeah. Human beings evolve. We grow. We change over time. So do brands.

Tim Curtis: Switching gears a little bit here. We've talked a little bit about elements of neuroscience and marketing. We haven't said it, but it's about the human behaviors, their responses here and there, that sort of thing. Going down that vein just a second. I want to talk about, J.Schmid's bread and butter, which has been catalog.

The three of us have spent significant portions of our life now in marketing, specifically in print marketing catalogs, direct mail. If we're following the neuroscience, what we're beginning to see is, you mentioned it early on about tuning out, scientifically, we are seeing that our brains are adapting to those messages.

We have developed the cognitive skill of skimming, digitally skimming. We didn't have it before. [00:32:00] Every single message was a violator, was abrasive and, really caught our attention. One of the things that has been the most consistent for print, Brent, we've talked about this before, print being a digital champion. Print serves as a vehicle to get someone to the website.

The expectation is not that someone's going to get a catalog and then, old Sears call into a call center and place an order. That's not it at all, but print, and specifically in that long-form, the catalog form, is still the absolute best merchandising marketing you can do because you're able to see pieces of content together.

Whereas, in the digital side, it's still largely a product detail page world. You're still largely looking at one item at a time. So, print gives us opportunities to really do things that have not been done. A lot of what has been happening the last two years, especially during COVID, is that offline component, that print component, has really become the new black dress.

You have all [00:33:00] sorts of these brands, and we're all trying to respond to this and just overwhelmed by the number of brands, that are adopting print, specifically catalog, to help drive their online business, and its working fantastic. One of the questions that I have, specifically for you, is, you get this question a lot from people too, there's also this group out there that says, no, that's an old, outdated way of doing things. What's your response to them to show them what can happen with print and changing the parameters of their thinking?

Brent Niemuth: Great question. Tim, you and I have deliberated on this one personally, you know, in private conversations a lot, right, because we get the question a lot. You know what's the argument when people say, well, print is outdated or expensive. My answer to that often is it's not outdated because it's more popular and effective than it's ever been. Now, ironically. So, the numbers speak for themselves.

It's probably more cool now than it's ever been. Which is funny. You know, we [00:34:00] laugh at that notion at our office all the time because, for years, print was the uncool kid in the room and the new shiny digital thing got all the attention and we felt neglected, and yet we're thinking, man, it's still a powerful tool, and then suddenly, in the last five years, to your point, specifically, the last couple years, somehow print has gotten cool again.

And all these digitally native brands that were launched online have caught on and said, wait a minute. What if we mailed a catalog? What would happen then, and they're seeing great results and so more and more doing it. So, print is cool again. So, it's not outdated. It's just the opposite. If you're not mailing something print. If you're not putting something that has ink on paper in your customer's hands, you're the one that's outdated. How about that? Take that.

Tim Curtis: Yeah. That's right. Stick it to them, Brent.

Brent Niemuth: It's an investment. It's not cheap, but I would say exactly that. Well, it's expensive. [00:35:00] It's an expense. No, it's not an expense. It's an investment because you're going to get your money back and then some, especially if you treat print, again, for a very different purpose than digital. I don't want to trash digital because digital is a huge part of our lives and it's not going away, ever.

It's gotta be a combination of the two, but digital seems to work better for the masses for a transactional to make the buying process easier and more efficient. We can reach more people in more ways through digital, yet for those special instances, for special customers who deserve special attention, print is the perfect answer because it makes them feel special.

If I can hold an item in my hand, I feel closer to it. Neuroscience tells us that. If I can physically touch it I'm already connected to it in a much bigger way than digital. So, we view print catalog specifically as [00:36:00] something for special folks out there who want to be treated specially with a special message in a special way and it's the perfect storytelling vehicle. If brands are all about a story, we've got a story to tell, we're going to tell it in a compelling way, hopefully, create an emotional connection. A little booklet in your hand, in the form of a catalog, is a great way to communicate a story.

Tim Curtis: We watched the cool hip brands, those really forward-thinking brands, monstrous response, and return on investment. Just incredible. As people transitioned in their careers to other companies, that word spread and so you have a lot of people who were receiving these pieces, then they were doing it, and now as we work with clients and as Schmid works with clients as well, you know, we're really kind of finding the ways to integrate them so that they're not this disjointed piece, but that you have design continuity, for example, through the various channels. You know, we talk about this budding [00:37:00] print market and what's happening in this resurgence.

Part of that, we have to also have the conversation about what's been happening on the digital side. It's the onslaught of the privacy legislation that's really specifically targeting the online community in terms of marketing. You have a lot of coming regulatory changes that are going to be happening. You have companies that are, like Apple, Google's now following suit. They're trying to make themselves a little bit more privacy-friendly. So, all of that, of course, is adding to a bit of a diminishing return in the digital space. The targeting is not as exact as it was. We don't have as much information as we used to have. It's a black box and clients are the same way.

So, as we talk about these, now, the question is, okay, so we're going to be holistic in our marketing. We're going to do it offline and online. We're going to have a combination of a catalog, maybe some additional direct mail. Print may be in the form of a postcard or something. We're going to hit top of funnel, bottom of funnel, where we're going to do that.

We're going to continue to do what we're doing on the digital side, but now we're going to try to work together to integrate [00:38:00] those. So, my question is, you're seeing a lot of this, but do you have a brand in your mind that you're thinking here's a great example of someone who's done print and they've really done a good job of connecting that print and that online component.

Brent Niemuth: Yep. One comes to mind right away. You're familiar with it because Cohere, it's a shared client Mashburn.

Tim Curtis: Yep.

Brent Niemuth: So, we can both speak to this one.

Tim Curtis: Yeah. I was hoping you were going to say this. This is my example too.

Brent Niemuth: Yeah, I was not prompted. It just happened to pop into my mind as you were saying it because to me it's a perfect example of a digitally native brand. These guys didn't print a catalog in the past. You know, a fashion brand, husband and wife team, Sid and Ann Mashburn. Well-known designers in the industry. Had retail stores, but sold primarily online and all of their marketing efforts for digital, for the most part, and then decided let's give a catalog a shot and see what happens.

So, you know, through the combined efforts of J.Schmid and our friends at [00:39:00] CohereOne, put together a program that was hugely successful. The first one in the mail, right out of the gate, boom, which is not often the case. It usually takes a few, but I think it was so successful because they did such a good job of not just treating it as a separate thing. Okay. We've got our digital efforts over here, then we've got our retail stores. That's a separate thing and then, now we've got this print channel going, catalog, maybe some direct mail to support it. Three separate things.

No, no, No. That's not how consumers see it. They see it as all one big thing. In their minds, they're not saying, okay, hey, I just got a catalog in the mail from Mashburn. That's interesting. I wonder if I can buy these same things online and I wonder if some of the things I see online I can get in the store. No, of course not. We all operate in this blended world where we're dealing with a brand, how we deal with it, channel, it's usually a combination. I'm going to get the catalog in the mail. It's going to inspire me. [00:40:00] I'm going to go online. I'm going to dig around a little bit and then maybe I walk into the store to actually make the purchase.

So, that experience from touchpoint to touchpoint better be consistent. So, when we created the catalog for Mashburn, we intentionally tried to mimic the experience that you have in the store, which is very hands-on, very personal, very tactile. We studied their social media feeds and understood, had a good feeling of how Sid and Ann, the names behind the brand, how they, talked, their tone of voice, and we got a vibe from them and the brand. So, we just translated what was already happening in the stores and on digital. We just brought it to life on the pages of a catalog. So, hopefully, the result was this seamless experience across channels that I got to believe helped push those numbers up when the catalog actually dropped because it felt familiar.[00:41:00]

Tim Curtis: Yeah, and it was an exceptional job start to finish. You really look at the end result, you know, just stunning creative. It was a beautiful piece. You immediately felt as if you understood the brand. The imagery, the copy, everything spoke back to their personality.

The right audience was targeted. The right messaging and the right creative. You know, I can't underscore enough just how successful this was. When you see that, and we've seen that multiple times, it propels a brand in a completely different echelon because once brands understand wow, I'm able to use this, dramatically grow my sales in a way that I hadn't anticipated. I can go to markets where I don't have a retail store. Those were all concepts that for many people who are starting out are new or untested concepts, and in this example with Mashburn, it just proves that you can do it and you can be very successful and when you are, your business can change [00:42:00] trajectory.

Brent Niemuth: It's a great case study and I would point to the fact that aside from the execution in the catalog and all their digital efforts and their wonderful retail experience, I think that the underlying thing that makes all of that work, back to the original discussion at the top of the show here, is it starts with a great brand. Those guys understand completely who they are. They're authentic. It's a buttoned-up brand and so everything after that becomes execution but it starts with a brand that understands itself, that's truly different, that you're drawn to because it feels human. Without that, if that had been an average brand that wasn't very well-defined, it would have been a much harder thing to accomplish, to make it somehow feel interesting in a catalog and mimic an experience in the store and a digital experience for a brand that just doesn't have much [00:43:00] life. It's an amazing brand to start with. That makes everything else easier.

Erik Martinez: That's fantastic, and for those of you out there that are a little skeptical about this, cause again, I'm a very numbers-driven person, I can tell you that the data and Tim probably can confirm this because they look at a lot of the same data that we do when you look at the intersection of your digital customers and your print customers, they are incredibly productive customers. They are some of your best customers because they're interacting with your brands across multiple touchpoints. Whether it's online, offline, in a retail store, it doesn't really matter. They're interacting with your brands in multiple touchpoints. That's one of the key takeaways I'm getting from that case study example is a strong brand has a really loyal following [00:44:00] and they don't care how, there's no silos here, right? All the silos have been broken down. It is about the personality and the brand.

Tim Curtis: When you see the numbers like we do and you measure, we measure incrementality. In other words, we measure, what is your business' usual performance? What is your business performance when you introduce print into the marketing equation? So, we see that and we actually see where those best customers get better with a print touchpoint. There's something about that physiological touch, right? The haptics of holding that piece. We know that to be true. Science tells us that's true, but at the same time, we're also looking at response, incremental contribution, how much money are we putting into the bank at the end of the day, and all of these metrics are positively affected, and when you start to really create an audience of super performers like that.

Well, for your digital efforts, that's really where you want to use those as source audiences for [00:45:00] lookalikes, spend-a-like campaigns online, because it's creme de la creme, right? You have nurtured those customers in, and so you want to find more of them. So, it is connected and you find those ways to connect the on and offline, the digital and the analog, and that's really where the synergy is. I think the creative is that umbrella that covers both in the branding component. So, I firmly agree, Erik. We see it all the time. We have to test and retest because sometimes the numbers are so strong. We're like, well, let's test this again because are we sure that strong and the lifetime value does prove out.

Brent Niemuth: Tim, you make a great point. I just want to riff on that thought for a second. This notion that when you look at the data, you look at the numbers, it doesn't lie. The folks who live in that overlap area. The folks who bought from the catalog also bought online also probably walked into the store and bought and in many cases, they bought from both brands. They bought from Sid Mashburn, the men's wear, and they bought from Ann Mashburn, from the women's wear. Same person, [00:46:00] buying multiple channels, multiple things from both brands.

Those are the guys we want more of them. I would imagine that these are probably brand fanatics who have loved the brand from day one, and regardless of how we reach out to them, you know, we could do skywriting, or deliver a paper airplane with a handwritten message on it and it would resonate with them because they love the brand.

I've always felt strongly that you should focus on them more. We want more of them. I think too many brands get concerned with the fringe folks who we'd like for them to buy from us. We're not sure why they don't. If we attract them with the right offer, maybe they'll buy one time. I don't know, and we obsess over them. Why aren't they buying from us? We need to go get them. Where I think what if we spent more time and more effort romancing the folks who are already buying and just figure out a way to get them to buy more. Give them more opportunity to do so, and I think the catalog is what did that in this case. It [00:47:00] just gave them one more chance to interact with a brand that they already love and they're already buying from.

Erik Martinez: That's fantastic. So, Brent, as look to wrap up today's conversation, is there one piece of advice that you'd like to give our audience or have them take away? I mean, we have a lot of great things we've talked about.

Brent Niemuth: Well, it's the thing I always come back to. It's the soapbox I always get on. So, I'll get on it again. The best piece of advice I can give any brand and I give it all the time is that you need to be more human. Quit assuming that you're a business making a transaction with consumers. The sooner you start behaving, not just thinking about and not just believing that we need to be more human, but behaving in a more human way. Reaching out to other human beings who have a need that we might be able to fill. Talk to them in that manner. [00:48:00] Reach them where they're at. Whether it's in their mailbox, or online, or in an email, or in a store. Develop a relationship with them and bring something to their life, you know, make it better somehow. Those are the brands that we're going to be drawn to. It's not that complicated. We're trying to figure out the secret sauce. To me, that's the secret sauce. Just be more human.

Erik Martinez: Brent, what I love about this it's channel-agnostic.

Brent Niemuth: Yes.

Erik Martinez: It doesn't matter. Whether you're in print, you're in the store, or you're on your digital platforms. Doesn't matter. That's the thing that I find so compelling about this whole conversation. So, thank you so much for your time and energy today. If somebody wants to get a hold of you and say, Brent, help me craft that story, help me make my brand more human? How do they best reach you?

Brent Niemuth: Send me a fax.

 [00:49:00] I prefer to be contacted by carrier pigeon. No. Send me an email. I'm an email guy. I'll respond to that before anything else. Brent N as in Niemuth. Brent N, S C H M I D. No T, D,

Erik Martinez: Brent Thank you so much for your time today.

Tim Curtis: Yeah. Thanks, Brent.

Erik Martinez: This was a fun conversation. I really love watching you work. Over the years I've had the opportunity to watch Brent in action, talking to clients, doing this process that they call brand quest. I don't know if you still call it that, but it's amazing to watch what they do and how they create that story for a brand. So, if you want I'm going to give you a commercial. You're not allowed to give me a commercial, but I'm allowed to give you the commercial. If you really want top notch branding work, give Brent a call, or shoot him an [00:50:00] email. Don't call him. Well, thank you. That's all the time we've got for today's show. I'm Erik Martinez from Blue Tangerine,

Tim Curtis: and I'm Tim Curtis from CohereOne.

Erik Martinez: Have a great day, everybody.

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