Clients want content that inspire them to push themselves and do things that are irrational. This irrational behavior according to author of Friction: Passion Brands In The Age Of Disruption, Jeff Rosenblum, will create loyalty from your customers. If loyalty becomes the core of a big company where people trust each other, then disruption happens and an emotional connection between the customers take place. Jeff shares his stories of being a disruptor in the business world from the get go and his belief why brands are built and not bought.
Our guest is Jeff Rosenblum, the author of Friction: Passion Brands in the Age of Disruption. Jeff has such great insights as to what it is to help a brand get through all the static electricity that’s out there. He said, “Brands need tools that don’t create scars.” He’s got a great story around Patagonia that brings that to life. His whole point is that advertising should be emotional not transactional, and that sometimes we ask advertising to do too much. There are so many things that need to happen to get a new customer and to keep them. He said, “At the heart of every great brand is trust.” You’re going to really enjoy hearing the insights from Jeff’s book, Friction.
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Friction: Passion Brands In The Age Of Disruption with Jeff Rosenblum
I’m really excited and thrilled to have Jeff Rosenblum, the author of Friction: Passion Brands in the Age of Disruption as our guest. He has so many things that I want to talk to him about. Jeff is a documentary filmmaker, an industry disruptor in the advertising world and the founder of a marketing agency called Questus, which has counseled influential brands like American Express, Apple, Disney, Marriott, the NFL, it goes on and on. Jeff, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it a lot.
Jeff, I always like my guests to tell me their story of origin. That can be, “When I was a kid, when I was in college, I knew I wanted to go into advertising.” Take us to that place where you said, “This is the career for me.”
I can take this thing all the way back before I was born. I was speaking about this when I was drinking a bourbon and that whole cliché advertising experience. In a lot of ways, I was actually bred for this job. My father is a salesman. My mother is a shrink. My grandfather was a Rome-runner. When you think about those three pieces of genetic code, I was almost inevitably going to become an advertising man. I’m not saying I’m great at it but I think I was certainly bred for it.
Sales meet shrink. I had a big career in advertising selling advertising for Condé Nast. I was completely fascinated by psychology of what motivates people. How do you persuade people? Then if you take the showbiz factor of it with jingles and everything and catchy headlines that pull people in, I already knew I wanted to do it so I find that fascinating. Before you started your agency, what did you first start doing and what did you love about it?
The interesting part of that DNA is I’m not a creative guy. I have virtually no design skills. My background is more on the research side of things and hence, the power of that genetic code from a shrink. It’s all about listening to consumers and what they really want. It all had actually started in the early ‘90s. I was fresh out of school, I was working at a research company, and I had a motorcycle not because I was cool. I had it because I was really flat broke, it’s all that I can afford. When you put on a motorcycle helmet, it’s actually a lot like taking a hot shower. I’ve learned subsequently, what happens is you’re getting alpha waves in your brain. It’s your highest form of neurological creative thinking.
What I realized is everybody is soon going to be connected to the internet then all of the conversations that we’re having and all the data that we’re collecting is going to shift from the offline world to the online world. Lo and behold, it turns out I was correct. I’m still a 24-year old zit-faced kid. I barely graduated college. The next thing I know, I had Microsoft, Netscape, Sun Microsystems, Walt Disney, Discovery Channel, Levi Strauss all as my clients because I was one of the first guys in the country to figure it out. There are still a couple of other young kids on each coast, but this was the domain of young folks. It was really cool and really exciting gathering all that data for these huge companies. What always happens to me is I started getting bored. Once the adrenaline wore off, I realize that all I was doing was market research. I was moving around a lot of numbers, I was making a lot of PowerPoint, nobody really cared. They have wind up collecting a lot of dust.
I went down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and I was having this incredibly psychedelic experience. I had this incredibly non-psychedelic thought which was, “Why not start an advertising agency?” It turns out that all these brands that had hired me wanted to understand not just how to collect data through the internet, but they wanted me to help them understand what should they do with the internet? How do you build a brand leveraging digital? I figured, “All the agencies out there don’t seem to get it, I’m going to start an agency.” I called my best friend from college. He was an incredible artist. He had private gallery openings, famous people like Johnny Depp were buying his paintings. I was like, “Let’s start an agency.” He was like, “Have you ever been in one?” I’m like, “No. Have you?” He said, “Absolutely not.” “Fuck it man, let’s do it.” We showed up. We had two desks, one chair, a stolen laptop and a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, and we had one client. It was three months’ worth of work and we realized that we had three months to go find another client. Fast forward about ten years later, we won Agency of the Year. Then the next year, we won it again. Then after that, we created the documentary and now we created the book. In a lot of ways, we’ve been disrupting things from the get-go.
What an impressive hero’s journey and a great story. I just love the visuals of one chair between the two of you. I doubt that you were so cutting edge that one of you were saying, “I’ll have a standing desk. I don’t need a chair.” The book Friction, I’ve read it. It’s not only got great insights, great visuals, but it really gives people a huge way of thinking about that advertising could eventually evolve to a place where it’s useful and not interrupting. Can you talk about that, Jeff?
The name of the book is Friction. Friction is anything that gets in the way of people doing what they want to do in life. It’s anything that gets in the way of their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations and even their day-to-day goals. What it’s about is brand solving people’s problems. People don’t wake up in the morning wanting brands to interrupt them with clever advertising anymore. They want brands to do a lot more. They want brands to fight friction. They want brands to help improve their lives one small step at a time. What this means is creating content and experiences that empower people rather than just advertisements, which interrupt people.
Can you give us an example of one of your clients you’ve done that for?
We’ve done it with a lot of cool clients. Universal Orlando is a client where we follow the entire consumer journey. To be clear, a lot of what we do is we create ads and what we’d like to think are good ads. This really isn’t about the depth of advertising. That false eulogy has been written before. It’s about recognizing that we’re asking advertising to do too much. It’s just as important to have a great website, and more important than the website is the content that sits in the website, and to recognize that not everybody is the same. Very frequently a brand will have about six different personas and each persona has different needs. As they go through the sales funnel, they’re going to have different needs across those personas. Ultimately, you might be looking at a full content matrix as you go from aware to interested to converted to evangelist. It’s about having a video in the right place. It’s about having user-generated content in the right place. It’s about having an app in the right place. It’s about making sure that the app has the right features and that it’s technologically connected to the experience, geo-targeted in that example. With every client, it’s sometimes less about the activation and the big idea and it’s very frequently more about following the journey and putting the right information at the right place at the right time.
One of the things I don’t like to do is talk too much about my clients because it sounds like I’m tooting my horn. What I want to do is toot the horn of a brand I don’t actually work with, which is YETI Coolers. I just saw an article. The guys that invested in this company, they invested $57 million and it’s about to go IPO for $3.3 billion. It is not some fly-by-night crazy technology company. These guys make coolers. Literally, the same product that’s been around for over 100 years. Coolers would keep your beer cold, your soda cold, your bologna sandwiches cold. There’s nothing cool or exciting about this. They have turned YETI into a full-blown lifestyle brand. At the core of the friction that they fight is the product is fundamentally better than the competitions. It’s literally certified grizzly bear proof. Nobody needs a grizzly-proof cooler. When is that going to happen? It’s really nice to know that your product can go further than you could possibly go in your wildest adventure. What I really love about these guys is on their website, they’ve got commerce. You can buy these things like any other website, but they’ve got a full-blown storytelling platform. They’ve got a series of videos. Each of these videos are about eight minutes long. They have this protagonist like “The world’s most intense fly fisherman,” “The world’s greatest ski guide,” “The world’s greatest barbecue pit master,” and she happens to be this 89-year old woman; these crazy stories.
It’s funny that I misfocus. I could go and said, “These ads,” because they’re not ads. You literally never see the YETI brand except for maybe one second, the product will flash in the background. In one of these videos, you’ll see a competitor in this overnight kayaking race. This death-defying race that people are in. At one point, you see one of the competitors past out cold with a YETI hat on. The point is these videos are amazing. You watch these things and you’ll email me and be like, “These things are incredible.” They’re eight minutes long. I’ve watched dozens of them. I’ve shared them with my friends who have watched dozens of them. We post them to each other when we text. We put them on Facebook. We’re here talking about it in front of all your listeners. We can’t get enough of proselytizing for the YETI brand. The friction that they fight not only in the product is that people in that category who are going outdoors to go on their adventures, they want inspiration. They want to see content. It inspires them to push themselves further to do things that are more exciting. It’s not just the macro perspective of how much money they’re making, but it’s the fact that this brand has become a full-blown lifestyle brand. It’s no longer just coolers. Ad Age ran this article and it said, “If you can’t afford a YETI cooler, you’ll buy a YETI hat.” People always buy the t-shirts, the hats and they tell all their friends, “These coolers? They cost $700.” You can get a perfectly good one from Coleman for $150, the same size. That’s the power of fighting friction. That’s the power of telling a great story.
[Tweet “Are we asking too much of advertising?”]
The big takeaway for me from what you said, Jeff, is when you provide content that’s emotionally engaging without a lot of advertising in it and take people on a journey, a story, then they become your brand ambassadors and share it, and then that elevates your brand much like what I’ve seen Nike do and Harley-Davidson. That if you can afford the most expensive Nikes, you can buy a t-shirt and the same thing with the hat with the Harley’s. It’s really a great, great example and a story and a strategy on what we do. One of the things in your book that really stood out for me both from image standpoint and word standpoint is you talk about, “Brands need tools that don’t create scars.” We’ve talked about a great brand obviously not doing that. Let’s talk about brands that are creating scars and first start with, what’s an example of a brand creating a scar?
What we’ve referred to in that example is how to go in where we open the book and the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, realizing that some of his products scarred the rocks that he loved to climb so much. That’s how he launched Patagonia. The point is that brands also need new tools the way that Patagonia did when they restarted their company and do scars or anything that hurt what people love the most in this world, which is their own brand reputation and their customers. Sometimes brands learn the hard way. United Airlines, that example is so profound because it doesn’t matter what United Airlines tells me. They could have the most charismatic person, a flight attendant on the phone, on the microphone at the flight, telling me to have a great flight. They can develop the most absolutely beautiful TV ad or print ad or banner ad or pre-roll. They could do the greatest thing ever done. There’s nothing they can say that’s going to get me to believe that they care about me, in any way, shape or form. I saw them standby while one of their passengers got dragged off the plane with blood coming out of his face. I saw it, you saw it, everybody saw it. The amazing thing is when you watch those videos, it’s not just what was going on. Here’s what I thought was really interesting is, how many cellphones are actually in the foreground of those videos? Type into Google, “United Airlines, passenger getting dragged out,” and it’s not just the fact that one person was filming. Everybody was filming, everybody has a super computer in their pocket. Everybody has an incredible video camera in their pocket. If you do terrible things like United Airlines, you’re going to scar your brand reputation and you’re going to scar your customers. It’s really hard to heal a scar.
That leads right into another thing that’s in Friction, which is talking about transactional versus emotional relationships. If you treat people like a commodity, like a transaction, there’s no culture that would stop that behavior because it’s just a transaction, “These are the rules.” If you come from a place that’s an emotional, “We care about our customers,” whether for me, Starbucks always pops up in my head. I am a big fan of Howard Schultz. I read his book, giving his employees or even part time health benefits when he didn’t have to. All that culture shows the employees that you care about them as people and then they in turn can care about their clients and customers, and then take that effort to remember your drink order. To me, that’s the difference. I’d love to have you explain what you see what brands can do or anyone who’s starting their own company, whether a big brand, existing or new to make people feel emotionally connected versus transactionally connected.
We can continue on that example, United Airlines makes a ton of money. In a lot of ways, I don’t know the numbers, but people might argue what’s the best airline company. At the end of the day though, it’s still a transactional company. I would never tell my friends that United Airlines is great. I will never spend $29 on a hat. I would never sit there and tell you that United Airlines is great, but they still get a ton of money from my travel expenses. There’s no shame in being a transactional brand. Transactional brands make sense. They have a good product. They’ve got good marketing and they charge a fair price. There’s no shame in that. It’s just not what my book is about. My book is about breaking through to what we call a passion brand. These are the brands that have an emotional connection. There’s nothing rational about buying a YETI cooler for $700 when you can get one from Coleman for $150. There’s nothing rational about buying a YETI hat and promoting that brand like a walking billboard. There’s nothing rational about telling all your friends on social media to watch these videos. What happens is when brands create that emotional connection, they elicit irrational behavior. It’s irrational in the most positive of ways. Ultimately, the best way to get irrational behavior out of your customers is to act irrationally yourself. That’s a crazy concept. Brands have to act irrational.
[Tweet “Advertising should be emotional, not transactional.”]
Irrational video for YETI is, “We’re Yeti and this is what makes our coolers so great. It’s grizzly-bear proof. It keeps your stuff cold.” You talk about features, you talk about the benefits, all that stuff. An irrational behavior is, “I’m going to create an eight-minute video. I’m going to invest in this video. I’m never going to put my logo in there. I’m never going to tell you anything about it and I’m never going to ask you to buy this product. I’m just going to do something to inspire you and entertain you.” That’s totally irrational. Going back to the Patagonia example, if you look at the homepage of their website, which probably has about six horizontal panels, the vast majority of them don’t talk about Patagonia products. They talk about all of their initiatives defending the environment. They literally had a panel on their homepage of their website that said, “Don’t buy this jacket,” with a picture of a jacket they sell. They were engaging people in a conversation about the damage that has done to the environment when you throw out your old jacket and when you buy a new jacket. They created a documentary called Worn Wear, which celebrates and extols the virtues of people who literally hold on to their Patagonia products for 50 years. That’s totally rational. They’re creating content, talking people out of buying their products. What did they get out of that? Unwavering loyalty and an absolute army of evangelists.
That’s the whole core. If you can get people to trust you as a person, as a brand, they stay loyal. The same thing is true in your company. If you can create a place where employees feel that you trust them and they trust you, that you’ve got each other’s back and you’re never going to do anything to hurt them, they will stay loyal because you’re not just in it for the money.
Before we wrote the book, we created this documentary called The Naked Brand. We sat down with Kevin Plank, the CEO of Under Armour, who in my opinion is literally one of the most impressive and successful executives on the planet. He started the company from his grandmother’s basement and he grew it into something that competes with Nike. He’s as nice a person as you’ll ever meet. He’s cool, he’s nice, he’s competitive, and he’s everything you could ever ask for. We’re filming and he says, “At the heart of every great brand is trust.” I remember watching this and I’m like, “You’ve got something more for me? That sounds a little thin and pedantic. I could use a little bit more depth.” Then what I realized over the coming days, weeks, months and years that I’ve thought about it, that’s what makes him so smart. He doesn’t cloud everything with a bunch of silly thoughts. He gets right to the heart of the matter, trust. At the heart of every great brand is trust. When you create content that inspires, educates, removes friction, it shows empathy and it creates trust.
As a Pitch Whisperer, I’m all about helping people be clear and concise and compelling. It’s not about trying to impress people with your vocabulary and how smart you are or telling them everything you do. It’s like, “Here’s the takeaway,” and that’s what helps you create good advertising. Back to what you were saying about this irrational behavior causes people to really engage with your brand, I think the Dollar Shave Club is another example of breaking through the clutter with that crazy comedies and going up against the big guys at Gillette that have been doing it for years. That really seems to me to be your sweet spot both in the book and what you do for your clients.
That’s hilarious that you bring up that example because my father sent me an email. Obviously, he’s a fan of the movie, fan of the book. He’s my dad, he’s very supportive and he loves to talk about these things. He’s talking about friction. He’s like, “I signed up for Dollar Shave Club. I felt this was a friction fighting brand, but I could not sign up. I couldn’t work my way through the sign up process.” It’s interesting because what we talk about is macro friction and micro friction. Macro friction is what we’ve been talking about. It’s these things that go on the entirety of a category. It’s YETI creating these great stories about the outdoors. It’s Patagonia defending the environment. The flipside of it is micro friction. These are the things that happen at that relationship level with prospects and with customers. It’s really as simple as help people make purchases easily, which seems really easy. How hard is it to take somebody’s credit card number? Every bit of technology that makes buying products easier, makes selling products harder. When we figured out desktops, mobile came along. When we figured out mobile, social came along. Then wearables came along and virtual realities coming along. Everybody I think should go buy an Alexa for $40 because it’s incredible for shadowing the fact that pretty soon, we’re not going to need screens at all. We’re just going to have little speaker phones following us wherever we go. This is a super computer that sits in your house and talks to you for $40. That makes it easier to purchase. “Alexa, go buy this new XYZ for me. Go buy Friction, the book.” It makes it harder and harder for brands to sell in particular if their products are not available on Amazon.
Amazon is the master at that user experience of one-click buy. In Friction, your book, you have chronological steps for removing friction and one of them is number seven, this user optimization. That’s exactly what we were talking about with Dollar Shave Club, right?
Yeah. It’s optimize, optimize, optimize. Consumers have no empathy for your brand anymore. They just have heightened expectations. One of the things we talked about is it doesn’t matter what category you’re in, Uber is your competition. In a world where you can just in three clicks, get a car, it shows up, it takes you wherever you want to go. One click, plays the music you want. You never have to breakout your wallet to pay for a five-star rating system. It keeps everybody civilized. There’s virtually no friction in the Uber product. There’s friction in the Uber brand, but let’s talk about the product. There’s no friction in it. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to buy a shaving equipment or any other product, people are used doing Uber world. They’re just not sympathetic or empathetic when it comes to friction in the relationship that people have with brands.
Amazon is taking it to the next level. You and I don’t have to wait a day. We’re going to have a drone deliver your package. Talk about instant gratification. The friction of going to a shopping mall and parking, no wonder malls are dying.
What I saw on the news is that they were talking about manufacturing is going to come back and it was going to fix retail. All I could think when watching this is like, “You’re out of touch. We all want manufacturing to come back in America. That would be awesome, but retail? Retail is screwed.” Unless you’ve got a very unique product, people are going to go to Amazon. I think they have bigger problem to that, and maybe we’re a little off topic with this. I think a lot of impulses that people have right now, a lot of that brain candy is just happening in their digital environment: the selfies, the Instagram, the Facebook, the Snapchat. People are entrenched in that behavior that I don’t think they wake up in the morning thinking, “I really need to touch that part of my brain by going shopping.” When was the last time you heard someone say, “What are you doing today?” “I’m going shopping.” You don’t hear that anymore. We used to hear that all the time. The economy is pretty strong right now for a lot of people. I don’t think it’s the economy that’s holding back retail. It’s the fact that our brains are physiologically changing.
Teenage girls just love to go and hang out at the mall. That became a social thing, not that they were necessarily buying a lot of things. Now, the retail therapy that so many women love to use is they get the same fix from online clicking and stuff shows up. They buy it in three different sizes and all that good stuff. You have this great quote in here about, “Winners act like winners before they are winners.” Can you talk about that?
That’s not my quote. That’s Bill Walsh’s quote. The name of the book that Bill Walsh wrote is actually an autobiography. It was written after he passed away through some ghostwriter. It’s an autobiography. The name of the book is The Score Takes Care of Itself. “Winners act like winners before they’re winners.” The point is this, Bill Walsh walks in to the San Francisco 49ers headquarters in approximately 1979. He didn’t look like a football coach. He’s got the neatly combed hair. He’s got a sweater, he’s got khakis. He looked like a professor. The only thing that was missing was a Bent Billiard pipe. He didn’t yell. He didn’t scream. He didn’t give rah-rah speeches. He totally, completely and fundamentally revolutionized the way that football was played. He had this one simple idea, “Put the ball where the other team isn’t.” The Super Bowl trophy is called the Lombardi Trophy named after Vince Lombardi because he really created the strategic underpinnings of football before Bill Walsh. It was based upon strength and willpower. Big strong men blocking other big strong men, big strong linemen and running backs. Bill’s idea was make it look like that. At the last second before handing off to the big strong running back behind the big, strong alignment, pull it back out and throw it to an area of the field called the flats, which was about six yards from the line of scrimmage but really wide. Nobody was playing with a 53 yards of width, the whole football field.
This is what brands need to also do. Put the ball where the other team isn’t. You’re not going to win on strength and willpower by investing in huge advertising budgets, by trying to find a more creative agency than anybody possible. It’s undifferentiated. You have to find a place to put the ball where the other team isn’t. “The winners act like winners” quote, as if for me at least, that story was just perfect. He wrote this business book and I basically poached it and retold the story. The other thing that he really did is he focused in on culture and he was, “All winners have to act like winners before they’re winners.” He was focused on, “Receptionist, when you answer the phone, you’re going to answer it this way, with class, sophistication and intelligence.” He was going to take care of all these little things. He never had these goals like, “We’re going to win theSuper Bowl. We’re going to make the playoffs.” He literally had players that almost were revolting. When he told the owner on him, “This dude is not focused.” Meanwhile, he won five Super Bowls and almost every Super Bowl that has been won since has all been based upon Bill Walsh’s principles. The key is, “Put the ball where the other team isn’t,” and that includes culture and behavior before your bottom line goal.
We’re going to close with one of your quotes which is, “Great brands are built, not bought.” What does that mean from your lips? To me, that’s just as strong a quote and I want to hear what people should take away from that quote.
I’m glad you like it and I appreciate the compliment. It’s about creating experiences for people. It’s not about buying paid media interruptions. Paid media in advertising still works well, just asking it to do too much. Build you brand, don’t buy your brand. Build great content, build great experiences. Then you can spend money on paid advertising. “Great brands are built, not bought.”
[Tweet “At the heart of every great brand is trust”]
Jeff, I can’t thank you enough. The book is Friction: Passion Brands in the Age of Disruption. It’s a fantastic book. I highly recommend everyone get it. It’s one of my new favorite books. It’s a coffee table book. It’s just so clever, even the cover looks like matches that you can literally strike it on the side. People could follow you on social media, @JRQuestus. Thanks again, Jeff. This has been a big treat on how to eliminate friction and how to go from transactional to emotional connections to get brand ambassadors.
I love the podcast. Thank you so much for having me on.
- Jeff Rosenblum
- Friction: Passion Brands in the Age of Disruption
- Ad Age
- Dollar Shave Club
- The Score Takes Care of Itself
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