Here’s the full transcript from Episode 43 of the Wild Business Growth Podcast, featuring eCommerce Expert and multi-time CMO Mark Friedman. Please excuse any minor typos from the transcription service. For more information on this episode, including the episode link and pictures, check out the show notes here.
Full Transcript – Mark Friedman Podcast Interview
Mark Friedman: 00:00 I’ve gotten out of it as much as I think I’ve offered back.
Max Branstetter: 00:18 Hi. Hello and hi again. Welcome back to the Wild Business Growth Podcast presented by Hippo Direct. This is your place to hear from a new entrepreneur or innovator every single Wednesday morning who’s unleashing creativity to grow their business. I’m your host, Max Branstetter Digital Marketing dude at Hippo Direct and you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org for any help with podcasting or digital marketing. This is episode number 43 and today’s guest is Mark Friedman. He’s the Chief Marketing and Digital Officer of AmeriMark and previously served as the President of eCommerce at Steve Madden and the CMO of Brooks Brothers. He’s experienced firsthand both the booming rise of eCommerce and the devastating downfall of traditional retail in what’s now known as the Retailpocalypse. You’ll hear all about that. Plus the perks of having a mentor and being a mentor. It is Mark. Enjoy the show. Alrighty. We are here with Mark Friedman, the eCommerce changing landscape of retail expert. That’s your new title. We just made it up. (Mark Friedman – cool) Mark, thank you so much for hosting us at your beautiful home in Westfield, New Jersey. How are you doing today? (Mark Friedman – I’m great. Thanks for having me. This is going to be fun.) Of course. Yeah, having a blast already, but uh, we, we have some crazy connections that I want to get out of the way first. So, so first, my amazing girlfriend Dana, who once again paid me to say that. She, uh, she’s very good friends with your amazing daughter, Dana. So we’ve got Dana’s everywhere. (Mark Friedman – we do) Also, you are just a block or two maybe away from, from my cousins and Aunt and Uncle Cliff, Lori, Josh, Sam, their house just down the street here in Westfield. So I used to come here all the time for Thanksgiving, every single year growing up. Of course, back then I didn’t know you existed, so that was kind of crazy. Uh, but you were just playing golf with my Uncle Cliff this morning. So I’m pretty sure, um, a lot of those things contributed to this interview, so. (Mark Friedman – Absolutely. He played well today and we were on the same team.) There we go. Yeah. So we can, we can do a second edition that’s more of a golf recap, but, but for now, I mean, you are, you’re the Chief Marketing Digital Officer at AmeriMark. You’ve had experienced President of eCommerce at Steve Madden. You’ve been the CMO of Brooks Brothers. Very prestigious positions in the marketing world and a lot of the world in this changing world of retail. But, uh, for anybody that’s not too familiar yet, you might give them a little bit intro of your background and how you got up to the things that you’re doing today.
Mark Friedman: 02:42 Yeah. Uh, it’s, it’s kind of interesting. Um, I got my start in, uh, in accounting. I was an auditor for one of the big eight in those days accounting firms, Yeah. Touche Ross. And you know, I came out of school thinking I wanted to be an accountant and, and moving into auditing and, you know, certainly realized after a few years that that was not the way I wanted to spend my career. So, um, I had an opportunity for one of my clients, uh, to go work for. Well, one of my clients was a company called Popular Club Plan and they were the initial founders and developers of the business called J. Crew. And I met some of the people there. They ultimately were going off and this is in the late eighties. They were going off to develop their own private label catalog business. They had venture capital funding. It was one of the first catalogs to be venture capital funded. And they asked me to come and join them. I was the fourth employee as a Controller. (Max Branstetter – Wow) Which was great because it gave me the opportunity to move into a business and although we were still accounting and finance, I thought maybe it would give me the opportunity to do something, you know, different. Fast forward, after a couple of years, I moved into catalog marketing. Uh, the name of the business was called Tweeds and you know, I honestly knew nothing about anything really. (Max Branstetter – you knew nothing about anything) I knew. Yeah. (Max Branstetter – well that’s a good place to start) Yeah, so ultimately learned how to decide how you mail catalogs and to whom you mail and how frequently you mail. Spent seven or I guess it was nine years in the Tweeds, uh, business taking on broader responsibilities. And then we got acquired by a company called Hanover Direct. And from my time at Tweeds, once I moved into marketing, the rest of my career was, was catalog and marketing based and then ultimately four-wall retail and digital based.
Max Branstetter: 04:33 Wow. So what is it about marketing that’s what’s been the glue? What has kept you in the world of marketing where you’ve experienced some of these other lines of business?
Mark Friedman: 04:42 I think the fact that, you know, I got involved in it kind of by happenstance, but what was good for me is that I’m fairly analytical. When I interview people, I ask them about, you know, if you have to, on the spectrum of being analytical versus being creative to people where they are. Um, I clearly am more on the analytical side. (Max Branstetter – yeah. Well, you’ve been analyzing this interview like crazy. Laughter) You know, from a marketing point of view, certainly creative and branding is a big part of that. But, you know, being able to measure and understand, you know, what can you spend to acquire customers, um, you know, where is the ROI on just about anything that you’re investing in. So having that background has really lent itself to being, you know, having a good marketing career.
Max Branstetter: 05:27 Right. And when you think about these, these different companies, you’ve been at this a wide range of companies, but, um, a lot of the stuff that you’ve done has been in the ecommerce world and this digital world and sort of the newer world of marketing and online retail. What, what’s been the biggest learning curve with this new line of ways to market things?
Mark Friedman: 05:48 Well, you know, I was lucky because I had a lot of friends who were in the catalog business that were not able to make, uh, didn’t have the opportunity or weren’t able to make the change into digital marketing. I was lucky. The, uh, the job that I took at Brooks Brothers was in 2000 and was my first opportunity to move into something that was beyond just catalog. We had, uh, they brought me in as the general manager of the catalog and the web business. It was a nascent web business at the time. Um, and then ultimately, um, doing the marketing for the stores. But I guess your question was what was the, what have I learned about the differences?
Max Branstetter: 06:24 What, what’s been the, a lot of the stuff that you’re doing now and that a lot of online marketers are doing these days didn’t exist 20, 30 years ago. What’s been the biggest challenge with adopting this new technology?
Mark Friedman: 06:34 Yeah, and maybe I would answer it and say that although there are lots of challenges and we can talk about those, there are some pretty significant consistencies. You know, catalog, it’s just a different medium. You’re sending a book (Max Branstetter – right) in the mail to somebody. You’re targeting them specifically if they are your customer, you’re prospecting for them if they’re not. But you can, you know, all the metrics and all the analytics of who buys and what the, the list you send out. And I know this is your family. (Max Branstetter – yeah, exactly. Yeah. Hippo DirectL The list you send out, um, you know, you’re able to tell whether it was a good list or not for your business. The challenges, you know, in, in the web, this whole concept of attribution. You know, you spend a dollar in a particular marketing channel and then being able to determine if you did get a sale, what was the driver of that sale? (Max Branstetter – yes) Was it the fact that a customer saw your ad on, at being retargeted or did they get a marketing email from you or do they receive a catalog from you or did they see something on a billboard or a TV ad or what have you. So, attribution, you know, is a big challenge for us. And now in the company that I’m in, at AmeriMark, we’re very heavily, uh, catalog mailers still. Um, and we use that. We use the catalogs to drive traffic to the web.
Max Branstetter: 07:56 Yeah, as you mentioned at Hippo Direct, that’s something we’re huge into too. In terms of attribution, what’s the biggest way that you’re able to find out what actually points to the success of a campaign?
Mark Friedman: 08:05 in the scenario where the customer and customers don’t shop this way. When you know, I’ll come back to this, but you know, when a customer clicks on a page search ad in Google and then they come to your site and buy well, that’s kind of a no brainer. (Max Branstetter – right) It’s One Click in the journey and you know that, um, from that page search you’ve got an ad, you’ve got a sale. The challenge has been from when I’ve started, you know, and when I started in digital, Yahoo was actually the search engine. Google was 80. (Max Branstetter – I remember those days. Yeah. It’s still around, but I think the landscape has changed a little bit) Yeah. And so, you know, now what happens is there are so many different marketing channels digitally that a consumer can see your ads, whether it’s emails, paid search, natural search, could be direct load, it could be retargeting or affiliate marketing or more email. And now make matters worse with the, the continued evolution of traffic from desktop to mobile, that even plays havoc with making decisions. Um, and the fact is so many customers, and it’s not just millennials. So many customers are shopping first on their desktop. Then they’re going out to a store and using their mobile device. When I was at Steve Madden, I would stand in our stores and watch people look at shoes, pick up the shoe, see what the price of the shoe was and right in front of, you know, the sales associates and me, you know, they’d go on to, you know, to Google and use a product listing ad search and you know, they, they buy a pair of shoes from somebody else that might’ve been selling Madden and you know, for a lower price.
Max Branstetter: 09:44 Wow. These days, how do you decide how much of your efforts to devote to mobile versus desktop?
Mark Friedman: 09:49 Yeah, so I think in our case it’s less of devoting the effort. Um, and it’s more of letting, you know, the, the customer decides where they’re going to, what tool they’re going to use to get there. Clearly the millennials, you know, you fall into that (Max Branstetter – guilty) and my two kids fall into that. Right. (Max Bransteetter – guilty as charged) you know, so you’re, you’re glued to your, your mobile phone and the capabilities of the mobile phones, you know, now are making it so much easier for you to shop. (Max Branstetter – well I mean they are mini computers basically, mini laptops) They’re, they’re not as easy to browse. You know, I think it’s more of a situation where you kind of know what you want. So you go on your mobile device and you execute it. On a desktop, you know, our customers are browsing, they’re being able to see quicker and faster, um, the wide array of products that you know, you have as a retailer.
Max Branstetter: 10:38 Absolutely. Let’s get into this world that eCommerce. So you mentioned some things about digital earlier. What’s been the biggest thing that has kept you in this eCommerce or digital world as a focus? Because you spoke earlier about what you like about marketing. Well, what is it about the digital and online part of marketing that’s kept your interest for these years?
Mark Friedman: 11:01 The fact that it changes almost every week that you have to have a, uh, I’m not a tech guy. Um, I, I’ve, I’ve, I say that in all the conversations. I’m not the tech guy (Max Branstetter – you seem to know your way around a smartphone) If you ask my kids, they would probably not agree with you, but so I liked the fact that, that the technology, you know, continues to evolve. I like learning about it. Um, you know, there’s this whole concept of, of taking, you know, eCommerce, uh, hosting into the Cloud. Um, you know, it was kind of this bubble where you know so many businesses now as opposed to having, you know, boxes of servers, you know, um, that you have to manage. You’re doing it at a, at an AWS and Amazon web services or in other, there are other competitors just makes it so much easier to execute. You can scale up and down as necessary. So I think the fact that it’s a constantly evolving game, um, that somewhat, you know, it’s competition, it’s competitive for me is what I really like.
Max Branstetter: 12:03 Yeah. It’s funny you mentioned the Cloud piece. I was down, uh, earlier this year in Florida and my grandpa was down who he turns toward 95, I almost said 25. He turns 95 later this year and was reading the Wall Street Journal and saw the term Cloud Computing and he looks up and he asks Cliff actually, he goes, what is cloud computing? And it just kind of like struck me as you know, to a 95 year old that is something that’s completely foreign, completely out of this world, but it’s made people’s jobs so much easier. It’s made storage so much easier. Um, it’s, it’s such an interesting thing. So that’s just one example of how drastically things change. And for 95 year old, how hard that concept is to grasp. But what other big ways stick out to you for how specifically eCommerce, how eCommerce has changed since when you first got into it to now? Um, cause obviously it’s growing and growing.
Mark Friedman: 12:59 Yeah. You know, I think, you know, the, the other thing that definitely has changed is, and not all companies are taking advantage of some of these capabilities, but the ability to personalize and segment a website based upon the customer’s prior experience. Um, the ability to test things on a, on a website, do A/B tests. And, um, we were actually, this week I’m meeting with one of our vendor partners who does exactly that, um, and being able to say, you know, so, um, you know, Mark Friedman comes to the site, let’s say, uh, we, we know in the past that he’s bought golf equipment and maybe we’re a business that sells, you know, golf or other sporting goods as well. Well, you know, based on his last purchase, whereas some history, you know, let’s make sure we show him golf when he gets to the homepage of the site. (Max Branstetter – right) I know that sounds very simplistic, but you’d be surprised how many companies are not doing that, not tailoring their email communications to you, not tailoring your visits to the site and it makes a difference.
Max Branstetter: 14:01 Yeah. And I can’t tell you, I’m sure you see it all the time on the back end and as, as just a general consumer seeing this, how many times that you go to a site and then next thing you know, you know, you’re on Facebook, you’re on Instagram, you’re on one of these sites and you already have an ad from them.
Mark Friedman: 14:15 So a friend of mine was telling me this week, she, um, she was on her mobile device I think. This was Title Nine. And she was saying, you know what? Before I thought about Title Nine in my newsfeed, there was a Title Nine remarketing ad there. Um, and it’s really the way it’s, it’s changing. I mean, look at Alexa, you know, or (Max Branstetter – yeah) Or, the Google
Max Branstetter: 14:36 Yeah. Do you have a speaker device? Is she going to come on? (Mark Friedman – Any second she might. Yeah. Laughter The other one, the g one. We have a special guest.
Mark Friedman: 14:45 But you know, you know the, the ability to interact with those kinds of devices and then have product show up at your doorstep. Um, yeah. That stuff is just continues to evolve it. And what I find so intriguing about the space.
Max Branstetter: 14:58 Yeah. And at your doorstep and we’ll see where it’s, you know, at the time of this recording, there’s some stuff in some videos going around and you know, Amazon’s been testing out Air drone delivery and that sort of thing. But we’ll see. Time will tell over the next few years how widespread that gets and if we’re truly going to have packages flying around and into windows and stuff like that. So that’s a whole other can of worms, can of packages. But what can companies do? So let’s do like a, a case example. If you are a, a retail company that’s starting to sell, sell stuff online through your own website, what are some key pointers for things that you can do that are essential to succeed in the eCommerce world?
Mark Friedman: 15:41 There’s a couple obvious pieces. I mean, first of all, you’ve gotta be able to build your brand. So you know, if you have a brand already, um, you know, then you know, building the site is more mechanical and tactics. But you know, if you’re a startup business and you don’t have a brand, getting a website up and running nowadays is fairly simple. There’s a number of companies that, um, you know, Shopify and Shopify Plus is great, you know, hundreds of thousands of, um, retailers they’re putting people in, into eCommerce business almost overnight. So if you, if you have to build your brand, I think more and more social, um, is playing a big, big part. So whether it be Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, um, you know, especially Instagram and Facebook, how they have evolved their businesses really (Max Branstetter – yeah, the advertising model in that. Yeah.) Yeah. It really helps to, um, to allow for early stage companies to fairly efficiently drive new customers.
Max Branstetter: 16:42 And if you were to make a guess on the future of eCommerce, like if you’re making guess over the next few years, trends that are happening in that eCommerce space, anything that comes to mind?
Mark Friedman: 16:54 Well certainly all the AI stuff that’s happening, all the artificial intelligence stuff that’s happening is going to continue to make a big deal. I’ve seen some virtual, a virtual reality things that are absolutely incredible. (Max Branstetter – yeah) That are happening now. It’s not, it’s no longer, you know, it’s going to be, you know, 2025. In 2020 we are going to see, you know, you and I are going to be able to interact. (Max Branstetter – this whole interview could have been virtual reality) You know, but next year I think you’re going to see a ton of things. Gartner just put out a study about AI and virtual reality and how it’s basically 2020s it’s coming out. (Max Branstetter – yeah. And have you toyed with any of those in your professional career? Not at AmeriMark. Not even really at Madden very much, but um, in the, I spent a year consulting on my own in between, um, leaving Madden and joining AmeriMark. Um, and I worked with two companies that are early stage that are looking to be able to help retailers in virtual reality. Basically walk into a store, take an image of 360 view of all of the product that’s in the store and basically put it up in a, in a digital experience and allows customers almost to insert themselves in the center of the store and make a purchase. Yeah, it’s cool.
Max Branstetter: 18:17 Yeah. It’s (Mark Friedman – and you don’t need crazy glasses for it) Right. Well that’s the game. That’s like the biggest barrier right now is the crazier the glasses are. If you’ve got those big giant things then it’s kind of, it’s huge hurdle to entry but once as it gets smoothed out, you know, people talk about, once it comes into contact lenses form, things like that, then it can become really, really widespread once people get used to it. What’s your take, kinda like, so the other side of the things in the strictly offline space as far as brick and mortar retail, and I’m sure you’ve heard the term Retailpocalypse all the time. I mean there’s news and I see it on LinkedIn, you know, with their daily news updates all the time of how many brick and mortar stores and traditional retail outlets that have been huge names in the space. You know, we saw it with Toys R Us and you see like the list goes on and on and on. What’s your reaction to seeing those things when you see all these giant brands just have to close thousands and thousands of stores?
Mark Friedman: 19:13 First of all, it’s sad for sure. Um, I still don’t understand how Toys R Us with the kind of brand name and brand awareness that they had over the years, couldn’t figure out a model to be a much smaller business and, and sustain, um, what they had right or sustain a business, not necessarily to the scale that they had. Um, but you know, also you look at Amazon and we talked earlier about the drones and you know, in the day, you know, people would sit around and say, geez, how are we going to place a, an order today, gang it all up so that we can get over the shipping hurdle and you only have one, one, one amount to get over. Now, you know, you open up your mobile phone when you wake up in the morning and you don’t have toilet paper, so you press a button and the toilet paper shows up. Two hours later you realize you’re out of milk, you press another button and the milk shows up and without any thought about shipping and handling. So that’s changed, you know, a big part of the landscape. Retail, I think part of what hasn’t kept up, um, is, you know, customer service I really believe still matters. And you know, I love shopping at Nordstrom because, um, I feel for the most part, there are people that are, that are knowledgeable about the products. I had an experience years ago where I bought a pair of pants at Nordstrom and um, they weren’t quite right in the length after they were hemmed and the person got on his belly and stood behind me to see whether or not they were really, you know, level. That kind of customer service doesn’t really exist in many, many stores. And I think that’s hurt retail. And I also (Max Branstetter – it has) you know, I think back to what I like about my space and the analytics thing. Retailers have been very, very slow to leverage the data that they have about customers. You know, these big retailers have had private label credit cards for years. That was, should have been an awesome tool for them to know if I had the card, they knew, you know, there was a reason for me to have that card, to use that card, to build brand loyalty and then to market me differently than other people. And they were very, very, and many of them very slow to use that information. When you think about your career, what stands out as some, as some of the biggest Aha moments that you’ve discovered working in this space? Like what are memorable moments as far as that you’ve really got things clicking, building a brand and the online and digital space? I go way back in the days when (Max Branstetter – please do) yeah, well I do go way back, you can tell by the gray hair. (Max Branstetter – no, no, no – not at all) When I was at tTweeds and we were acquired by this business called Hanover Direct, I eventually moved into one of the other portfolio brands called The Company Store. And The Company Store had been bought out of bankruptcy in the late eighties, I guess. And um, no, um, I guess sometime in the, in the early nineties. (Max Branstetter – we’ll put like a circa on there – Laughter) Yeah. And the nice part of that business when I got involved, it was, it had been previously a family owned business. Um, it was down comforters and pillows and the creative was great. The product was great. It was assembled in, in Wisconsin. I had moved into that business as the VP of Marketing. And my job was all the catalog circulation and get the book into the hands of, of the customers. I had spent the prior year in the parent company building in what I’ll call a unified database. We took all these businesses that we own. There were eight or 10 of them and created this unified database so that if Mark Friedman had bought across multiple brands, we didn’t have that all put in one easy to use tool while you spent a year bringing it together, stitching together much like you have to do today, stitching together Mark in company one and in company two and in company four. And having built that database, once I got into The Company Store, we were able to leverage what I had learned in that database. We grew that business in three years, from 40 million to $140 million and we grew EBITDA as a percentage of net sales each of the years. Um, that was the single best time, I guess from a, um, a financial perspective in my career. People would say to me, Geez, how did you do that? (Max Branstetter – yeah you stole my next question) Well, I used to say to folks, we had great product, great creative, we executed well on customer service and distribution. And so long as the marketing guys didn’t screw it up, we were going to be successful. (Max Branstetter – there you go. Those darn marketers, you got to watch out for them) You know, and, and in those days, you know, we were able to mail the phone book and it was, (Max Branstetter – now that’s a throwback) Now you remember when there was a phone book and there was no web, you know, so this was um, you know, early nineties, we were just getting started. Um, I guess it was late nineties now because when I left there, I went to Brooks Brothers in 2000, you know, and that’s a business, you know, back to you, you ask about other things. So that’s a business where when I started, they had a team that was focused on the full price retail stores and they had a team focused on the factory outlet retail stores. And then we had a catalog/web team. Everybody hated everybody else. Every channel viewed the other channel as competition. (Max Branstetter – that’s a recipe for something – Laughter) And you know, this whole concept of silos and the silos still exist in businesses that are catalog and web. You know, you know, unless they have been, you know, well integrated, you know, you still have catalog folks who think that the web is cannibalizing their business. When in fact the catalog is one of the most significant drivers, um, to the web business in those situations. (Max Branstetter – It is indeed and it’s crazy to think about so many different you silos like that and everybody’s kind of going against each other within the same company. But it does stuff like that happens all the time.) Yeah. And what’s amazing is that, you know, after having been, you know, focused in digital now for the last almost 15 years and then over the course of my consulting, and even now, (Max Branstetter – well before Facebook, by the way) well before that, and you still walk into these businesses and they’re still structured in a silo kind of way.
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Max Branstetter: 26:07 On a slightly different, note. So I know in addition to your, to your full time jobs, you’ve done a lot of advising and a lot of mentoring to other business professionals. So what tips do you have in that regard? So from the mentor side, not the mentee side? Any advice you can share there?
Mark Friedman: 26:23 Yeah. Um, I, I’ve loved doing that. It’s just something I like to feel like I’d give back. And, you know, I’ve got a lot of, um, there’s lots of, um, you know, things, information that I can help folks with and what I’ve learned, I’ve gotten out of it as much as I think I’ve offered back. Um, there is, most of the early stage folks are earlier in their career. Um, every once in a while you’ll see somebody who’s more seasoned. Uh, but it’s basically, you know, folks from, you know, 21 right out of college to 30, or, you know, early thirties. Um, their ability to stay focused on the prize is incredible. I don’t know that I would’ve had at that age, uh, the sticktoitofness that, um, that they do. Um, and in almost every situation that I’ve been in, in these mentoring things, folks are having to pivot along the way. They come in with an idea, they think they know what it is, what problem they’re trying to solve, and then as time progresses, they realize that maybe it’s not quite what they thought it was. So either they can’t get the business off the ground, people don’t want to buy it, they don’t want to pay for it, and then they have to maneuver. Um, I don’t know that of the four or five companies that I’ve seriously mentored, I’m not sure one, uh, uh, maybe one kind of got some reasonable scale at what they started with. (Max Branstetter – it’s just crazy to think about. How do you come into contact with these companies? How do you establish yourself as a mentor? You don’t exactly to stand on a mountain and go I’m a mentor, you know, come here.) No. Um, it’s all networking. You know, one of the things that, uh, you know, I mentioned before I had consulted for a year. You know, all that came from was, you know, me being a good, um, connector of people, of people that I know in the industry, staying in touch with people that I have come across with, um, in the industry and to mentor. The more formal aspects of the mentoring is with a organization called XRC Labs. They started, I think in 2015. Um, it was a, uh, an individual who partnered with Parsons School in New York City, um, and a few other organizations and, uh, they’re now taking applications for their eighth cohort and basically what they do is every six months they have a new cohort. They just finished their seventh one. Um, and I participated as a mentor. So what they do is they make a small investment in a company, in one of these eight companies in each cohort. And then they try to partner two or three or four mentors with the founders. They go through a 12 week intensive, how am I getting my business off the ground? And as part of that, I would work with them and help them, um, you know, think about what they were doing from a marketing point of view. Um, and it’s been great. Um, you know, I’ve, I’ve taken a couple of small investments in a few of them, the ones where they felt like I could help them and I connected and um, you know, they’ve done nicely, so it’s been great.
Max Branstetter: 29:21 Yeah, that’s amazing. Well, it’s so cool that you’ve done that. I love that you’ve done that cause it’s really, you have so much knowledge to share and you hear that from time to time is obviously people that are looking for mentors. There’s a lot that they, there’s a lot that they can gain from the mentors, but more often than not, it really benefits the mentor as well. And as you’ve said it yourself and that there’s so much that you can gain from the mentee as well. It’s such a strong thing that I think more people can benefit from. So that’s cool that you’ve
Mark Friedman: 29:46 Yeah, absolutely. And you’re right. I’ve gotten a lot out of it. I don’t mean economically, I mean it’s helped me to stay in touch with people earlier in your career. (Max Branstetter – Yeah) It’s allowed me to see, you know, firsthand new technologies that are out there that I ordinarily wouldn’t have had that opportunity.
Max Branstetter: 30:01 Right? Yeah. Like these drones that are flying. I’m just kidding. (Mark Friedman – I think there’s one at the front door now.) Yeah, probably it’s more toilet paper coming in.
Mark Friedman: 30:13 So let’s switch gears to a segment on inspiration and creativity. So first question here, very, very specific. No, it’s a very, very general question. What do you do to stay creative? Well, um, I think some of it is the mentoring that we just talked about. So, I take inspiration from the things that they’re doing, um, I go to conferences. Um, actually, in March, was at a great conference that’s early in their, uh, in their, uh, being, it’s called Shoptalk. I do it every March in Vegas. Um, they are bringing together, uh, I think they had 8,000 people between vendors and marketers and people in our space. (Max Branstetter – Holy Moly.) And you know, they’re getting real senior people to go up on stage and talk about things like we’re talking about what inspires them, how they stay creative. So you’re doing those types of things. Um, I read a lot about, you know, things that are in our space and I also, and this is getting harder and harder to do, um, you know, I get tons of cold calls and emails and phone calls and not too much snail mail anymore. Um, you know, of people that are trying to sell me things. (Max Branstetter – Yeah) I’ve always been very sensitive, not to waste people’s time. Not to have to take meetings unless I’m serious about it. (Max Branstetter – Right, well T=thank you for being so serious in this interview – Laughter) But I will, um, you know, take a meeting if there’s something that’s interesting that will get me an opportunity to learn a little bit. And you know what, I try to always position it. It may not be relevant for me today from the vendor’s perspective. But you never know who I can introduce them to. If I like what they do, maybe eventually I’m going to need them. Um, and that’s kind of why you never know. The networking I referred to before. Um, it’s, it’s a big part of where I think my, if I, if I have been successful, I’d say a lot of it had to do with that.
Max Branstetter: 32:06 Yeah. Well there’s so much you can learn from other people and it’s, you truly never know when, you know, a connection that you meet now is going to come into play 15 years from now. So you really never know, especially with the landscape of everything changing. And you mentioned reading. What do you like to read?
Mark Friedman: 32:21 Well, I used to read the newspaper but don’t read the newspaper anymore. (Max Branstetter – No? You’ve switched to online or you switched away from the newspaper?) I read them online. I, I’m still a, a big sports fan so I still read the Daily News sports section online. (Max Branstetter – of course) But a lot of, um, you know, the trade, um, kinds of magazines. I actually like reading the Harvard Business Review, which is great from a leadership perspective. They do some technology stuff. There’s a bunch of online sites, Retail Dive and Chain Store Retail or Chain Store Age. Even USA Today has a bunch of really good tech stuff. But you know, I have a lot of information pushed to me each day. Um, I’ll scan it and if I find something that’s interesting, um, oftentimes I’ll share with my team as well. (Max Branstetter – yeah. In terms of reading, how about, do you ever read fiction books or things that are totally different from the business or, or sports world?) I really, you know, I, I was never a big reader and I wish I was. And now as time has progressed and the iPad and um, you know, I really don’t go anywhere without my, my tablet. Um, and although I, obviously I could read books on it. Or, you know, just go to sites and apps and things and get my news that way. And it’s, you know, it’s self education as well. Totally.
Max Branstetter: 33:45 Yeah. That’s part of why I love podcasts so much just because there’s so much you can learn from it. Like there’s so many amazing resources for learning these days. So, and talk about self education. Like we’re this content age, whatever you want to call it is an incredible age for that.
Mark Friedman: 33:59 It’s, it’s sometimes it’s overloading. (Max Branstetter – you have to be selective certainly) Yeah. And actually, you know, we talked earlier about me leveraging technology, um, you know, maybe I’ve listen, started listening to podcasts for the last couple of years. (Max Branstetter – This is that you have like a Wild Business Growth tattoo on your left arm) You know, up until a few months ago, I hadn’t heard about yours. And i have been listening ever since.
Max Branstetter: 34:24 I appreciate it. Appreciate it. And you know, for too long, we’ve come full circle with this interview. But how about hobbies in addition to soaking up information that way? What do you like to do with your free time?
Mark Friedman: 34:38 Play a lot of golf. (Max Branstetter – yeah even today) I play a lot of golf. I wish I was better. Um, but I do that. Um, we travel, um, as well. (Max Branstetter – you mean as a family or work travel?) I do some travel for work now. We’ve done a bunch. Not as much as I probably would have liked as a family. We were in Israel, uh, last year and, um, we also go to Florida quite a bit. My kids who are, uh, I have twins that are 25, um, still like traveling with us. (Max Branstetter – that’s good. Yeah. Well now they’ve grown out of like the teenage years where they hate you guys. So now it’s, now it’s okay to travel again) Yeah, they’re good about that. So, uh, but you know, traveling is, is good actually I like to shop. Um, I know that sounds a little weird, but you know, having (Max Branstetter – makes sense in your industry) you know, um, you know, it’s funny when I worked at Steve Madden and I was there for seven years, when I first started to get to know Steve, um, he would say to me that, you know, because he was in the shoe business for so long. He walked into a mall and he couldn’t walk with his eyes up. Right. Because he was always looking at shoes people were wearing. You know, slowly over time, um, I started to do that. Um, but I, I do like going to the mall less to actually buy, but more to see what’s the experience like, which stores are hot, which stores are not. Um, I think that’s, that helps me understand, you know, the consumer and how he or she may be changing.
Max Branstetter: 36:06 Yeah. Well that curiosity is so important. I kind of can mirror that. I used to work in brand management in the laundry business and so with detergents and dryer sheets and fabric softeners and all that. And once you’re in that world, it applies to any CPG company, once you’re in that world, you can never go into a grocery store or drugstore, any pharmacy, anything like that the same way again. Because you always have to check the laundry aisle or you can’t walk by whatever aisle your brands are in without thinking, oh, that’s a new product. Or, oh wow, they’re doing a big discount there. Like it, it changes your insights. (Mark Friedman – yeah, for sure) Totally can, uh, get what Steve was talking about with the shoes there. And how about on the people’s standpoint? So who’s been most influential for you in terms of your professional career?
Mark Friedman: 36:53 Specific names or just types?
Max Branstetter: 36:55 It can be names. Um, yeah. And if we’re going to get a cease and desist later, you know, we can, we can edit the names out, but yeah.
Mark Friedman: 37:03 Um, there’s been a few, um, first one, um, was this fellow that brought me to Tweeds. His name is Ted Pamperin. Um, and it’s, uh, I actually worked for him twice in my career. And, um, he, he gave me my, my really first start because, um, he took me out of accounting and the big eight firm and brought me into this startup as a controller. Um, but then I learned the direct marketing business from him. Um, he had 20 years on me. Um, he had done quite a bit already. He was a very accomplished guy and probably would not have stayed in the space and come up the way I did if it weren’t for him. Um, so that was a big, he was a big contributor. And then when I got to Brooks Brothers, the CEO, there is a fellow named Joe Gromek. Joe had spent a bunch of time at Saks. He was a merchant and a businessmen. Um, had an uncanny, kind of like what I like to think I have, but yet a really uncanny ability to look at a sheet of numbers, no matter how many numbers were on the page, he could pick out the one that was wrong or the one that was really the most important one on that piece of paper. So I worked for him at Brooks. Um, and then, uh, what’s funny is when when he left Brooks Brothers, we had gotten sold. So a bunch of people on the executive team left. I stayed behind. And then about six months later I left and people were asking me geez, would you work for Joe again? And I’m like, well, I’m not so sure. You know, I don’t know. Well, anyway, fast forward, a number of years later, Joe became the CEO of a company called Warnaco. We had the license for Calvin Klein underwear, Calvin Klein jeans and Speedo. And he, (Max Branstetter – which is why I’m wearing a Speedo today) Great. I’m glad you are wearing something over your Speedo. (Laughter) He called me with, um, the head of HR who was also something, somebody we work together with at Brooks Brothers and said, hey, we need a digital person. You know, why don’t you come and help us? So I left my job and went to work at Warnaco. So I worked for Joe twice also in my career. Uh, he was also a big, big part of bringing me along from a, a marketing and a, and also gave me my first opportunity at Brooks in four-wall retail.
Max Branstetter: 39:26 Wow. And you’re, you know, you’re just kind of proving your examples and your, your, your statements earlier is that you talked about how important networking is and this network that you’ve created and your business partners have come. There’s several touch points throughout their career when people, you know, from several years before came back and become your associates again. So it’s so important. We’re going to test you on that number thing though, that you have, you know, an uncanny ability. We’re going to have a giant sheet with a hundred digits of Pi and you’re going to have to pick which one is incorrect. (Mark Friedman – I’m not very good in the word search puzzles that, you know, trying to find out those) Yeah. So let’s get to a fan favorite section here called the Wild Business Shoutout of the Week. The Wild Business Shoutout of the Week. This is where we talk about a recent campaign that caught her attention. And earlier there was something involving donuts which caught your attention and now I’m hungry for donuts, which might be tied to that. But, you want to, uh, you mind sharing what you saw?
Mark Friedman: 40:21 Yeah, yeah, it was great. You know, I get so many emails from companies that I’ve worked for or just from others that I get inspiration from, but you know, I happen to like Dunkin Donuts coffee. Now Dunkin coffee. (Max Branstetter – Yes. Yeah. They concised up their brand) Gotta change. You got to stay with the times. And I’m surprised they didn’t just go to DD or something like that. (Max Branstetter – Yeah, well actually, now that you brought that up, one of our previous guests, Ann Bastianelli, one of my former marketing professors, that was her example for the Wild Business Shoutout of the Week. She was on the show previously and we talked about the change of Dunkin. So, now we have Wild Business Shoutout of the Week inception going on, so thank you Mark) And so I got this email from Dunkin, you know, I get them almost every day I guess. And you know, I was by myself. I open it up and I’m like, wow, that’s cool. Right? And I get a lot of stuff and I don’t react that way. But the, the main image in the, in the top of the email was a sneaker that was fully encased in multicolor sprinkles, you know, that they put on the donuts. So it caught my eye. It was very colorful and I scan down and ultimately, you know, they talked about the, this cobranding that they were doing between themselves and the footwear company called Saucony. And then also it was, it was all related to the Boston Marathon. It was the second time they had done this last year. So they did it again and it was basically, you know, a mashup of three things, 2 organizations and a thing, an event, that happened in the Boston Metro area because both Saucony and Dunkin are based up there. And then obviously the Boston Marathon and it, it just, it was what I thought was great marketing and from the sense that it, it caught my attention enough that it stood out from the litany of emails that I see. I can’t say to you that it made me go buy a donut or that it made me go buy a cup of coffee or that it made me go buy a pair of Saucony shoes (Max Branstetter – or made you run the marathon) Sure, it didn’t make me run the marathon. (Max Branstetter – You’re in pretty good shape though, I think you could do it) But, I just thought that, you know, in, in this very difficult climate to cut through the clutter and the noise that’s out there. Um, they did an amazing job.
Max Branstetter: 42:38 Yeah, they totally did. And you said yourself it literally made you say, wow, that’s cool. Uh, so it really stood out to you. It wasn’t just oh, okay. But you know, we, we do a lot of work in email as well. So we do a lot of stuff with email message copy and, and what stands out and, and, and what doesn’t. From your perspective, what, what are some of the most important things that make things stand up to you? That make emails stand out to you? So in this example, it was the image. Is there anything else you can think of?
Mark Friedman: 43:07 Oh, certain subject lines, um, you know, catch your attention. (Max Branstetter – Well that’s the first thing you see.) It’s, it’s the first thing you see even if you don’t open it and, you know, there’s all kinds of schools of thought about, you know, should they be long, should they be short, you know, should they, you know, if you’re offering something, you know, if you’re giving free shipping or if you’re giving a percent off, should you include it in there, should you get it, you know, make it a tease and get the click. Um, so, you know, we do a lot of testing on subject lines on all the different attributes that I just mentioned. That’s the first thing. But I think great image, um, is, is really important. And, and frankly, part of the reason why I push our team on subject lines, if you’ve got more than half of your traffic, and in most businesses that I’ve been in late lately, 70% of emails are viewed on a mobile device. Well if I have a subject line that pushes, you know, is too long and pushes the image down where it can’t be seen, you know, when a customer, you know, scans their emails, that is not a good email for me. I want to be able to have something compelling, some kind of an imagery that might get somebody’s attention. And in the case of the Dunkin and Saucony, it caught my attention.
Max Branstetter: 44:21 Yeah, it’s gotta be short and sweet. And in this example, literally sweet with the donuts. But, it can push you down too far. And the other element of this campaign, which I liked so much is I know the previous guests we add on, Drew Davis, he’s got this concept called Brandscaping and it’s basically, you know, in his book he covers all these collaborations between brands that jointly, you know, did campaigns or launch something together. Um, and in this case, this is really a brandscape between three separate things with Dunkin, with Saucony, with the Boston Marathon. And when you do that, it can be of interest to any of those audiences. So you got, you know, each of the brands own “fan bases”, um, but also you have more likelihood to just create buzz and bigger marketing buzz and break through the clutter that way as well. So they did a phenomenal brandscape here and as you mentioned, this is their second time doing it. So clearly they’ve had some, they’ve had some success with it. And what I like is that they refreshed the shoe as well, they just didn’t, they didn’t do the same shoe again. They, made it a little different. And so this could be something that becomes an annual thing for them and they can work in some other brands if they want and they can keep mixing in different designs every year. So it’s really, they provided some great legs for this campaign. (Mark Friedman – legs, shoes, very good) Yeah. Yeah. (Laughter) This whole interview is just for that one pun. So couple more, kind of more fun, random sections to wrap up here. First one is called the Unusual, Pet Peeves, Quirks and Weird Talents. So what’s your biggest pet peeve?
Mark Friedman: 45:59 Uh, boy. People that should have high energy, um, that don’t. Kind of people that are, I’m a Type A guy, I don’t like sitting around doing nothing. You know, I know we’re all wired differently, but there comes a moment in time when you need to show that you have a sense of urgency and people that should, that don’t, uh, that kind of is a pet peeve.
Max Branstetter: 46:20 Yeah. Yeah, totally get that. Yeah. It’s frustrating when you see potential in someone in general and it’s just, they don’t take advantage of it. How about quirks? So is there anything that maybe your, your kids or your wife call you out for that maybe is a little bit quirky and there’s no shame in this. Everybody’s got quirks and it’s actually something we celebrate here on the podcast.
Mark Friedman: 46:43 Probably not a quirk as much as the fact that, um, you know, I need glasses to read. And (Max Branstetter – well that’s a common one) And oftentimes my son, if I’m looking at my phone and I don’t have my glasses, he’ll offer to hold it about six feet away from my eyes. Um, so he thinks that I can see it then. So I’m not sure it’s a quirk. Also I like order. I’m a neat kind kinda guy. I’m a list kind of guy. I need to know. (Max Branstetter – oh, we love lists too) Yeah. Oh look at that. So you got a good plug there. (Max Branstetter – yeah Thank you) I need to kind of get my day in order, um, each day and know what I feel like I need to accomplish. And um, so that’s probably a little bit of quirky.
Max Branstetter: 47:26 Yeah, I get that too. There’s, you know, if a, if a drawer is out an inch or something, but everything else you need to push it back in and can’t leave cupboard’s open or anything like that. (Mark Friedman – yeah, if the picture on the wall is not straight.) Yeah, that’s absolutely. Yeah. Wow. The Dad’s side, my dad’s side of the family, especially my grandpa Fred, is that with everything. So I think part of that we have in my gene pool as well. And how about weird talents? Is there anything that you’re really good at but might not have so much use? So for example, like I can say the alphabet backwards really quickly.
Mark Friedman: 48:03 Yeah, yeah. No. I saw you, I think you had talked about that. I don’t know if I have that kind of a, of a quirky talent. You know, I don’t, I’m not sure that I have something that I do that I would say that I excel at, you know, I think I’m good at a bunch of things, but, nothing that I’ve got that great talent.
Max Branstetter: 48:27 But it could be, I mean, when you were speaking earlier about being so good with numbers and the analytical world, maybe there’s something in there in there that could be out there. I take that back cause that’s not really something that has no use, that is good use for the business. So yeah.
Mark Friedman: 48:41 I can’t do the alphabet thing. I can’t, I can’t tie a cherry stem with my tongue. Not one of those people.
Max Branstetter: 48:49 Yeah. Not Too many people can as well. Alright, so only a little bit of time left here. I’d love to wrap up with some rapid fire Q. And. A. You ready for it? (Mark Friedman – got it) Alright, let’s get wild. What’s your favorite website? (Mark Friedman – CNBC) Alright. (Mark Friedman – I know that’s a little weird, but) no, it could be anything. It’s a weird talent. No, I’m just kidding. (Laughter) Uh, and I know you were a baseball coach. What’s your favorite memory from your coaching era?
Mark Friedman: 49:19 Oh, that’s a great question. (Max Branstetter – well thank you. That’s strike three) Um, I will say when, and being baseball coach spent most of that time other than the first year of tee ball where it was coed and most of that time with my son Evan. And um, he was on a team, Red Sox (Max Branstetter – he played for the Boston red) but he played for this team, for the Red Sox two years in a row. We won our little world series and seeing how happy kids were. Yes, because they won. But because they had a good time. Because I saw the worst kid on the team become better over time. That brought me great satisfaction and seeing parents that were happy, whether we won or lost, were happy about the fairness that they thought that I had displayed, um, to their son with equivalent playing time, even for the kids that were not as strong as the, the better players on the team. Um, I got great satisfaction out of that.
Max Branstetter: 50:20 Yeah, that’s very powerful. I’m glad it was as fulfilling as, as you would think. And congrats on the championships. I’m sure. I mean, we’re sitting here in your dining room and there are trophies everywhere. No, but it’s, it’s a ton of fun when you win something like that and, um, had to be pretty special coaching your son for, for all those years as well.
Mark Friedman: 50:39 Yeah. Um, and, and, uh, it was great and we coached a bunch of sports and, but baseball’s always been my favorite.
Max Branstetter: 50:46 Yeah. Yeah. The same thing. My first love there. What’s your favorite band of all time?
Mark Friedman: 50:53 E Street, Springsteen E Street Band by far. I’m not even sure there is a close second.
Max Branstetter: 50:59 Is this New Jersey? No, I’m just kidding. Um, so you’re a big golfer. (Mark Friedman – yes) You like to golf and then golf again after you golf. (Mark Friedman – absolutely) What’s your favorite place or course that you’ve ever golfed at?
Mark Friedman: 51:10 Uh, I haven’t, well, I certainly haven’t played as many courses as a, as Cliff has played and that’s for sure. Though, we’ve done a couple of, uh, golf trips. I have not played Pebble Beach. I would like to. Um, and, um, I would say that, uh, uh, we, we played at Pinehurst and, um, you know, I think Pinehurst was a, um, we played the number two course there. Um, that was outstanding.
Max Branstetter: 51:39 Wow. Yeah, those are some, that’s kind of a, a bucket list thing for any golfer there. So, final question here, and this is, this is a tough one. So it started off some previous guests as I would do the same question every time, but a lot of the same answers came up. So I’m going to put some restrictions on you. So this is, you’re going through the gauntlet here. So if you were stranded on an island and you can only have one object with you, but it can’t be your cell phone, a laptop or a book, what would it be?
Mark Friedman: 52:11 A picture of my wife, my two kids, my parents, um, and um, my four grandparents that, um, for a long time were a big part of my life. So, you know, I think family is very important to me. And, um, you know, I have a sister as well. Uh, we’ll, we’ll pack that. We’ll pack her into there.
Max Branstetter: 52:34 This is one hell of a picture.
Mark Friedman: 52:35 Yeah. You’ve got to make sure you cover everybody. Family or extended family. Um, you know, I, I think that would be a, you know, something that would help me to think back to a, you know, all the things that I’ve done.
Max Branstetter: 52:47 Yeah. And the time before you’re on that damn island. But, but that’s a really, really nice answer that you nailed it. I wasn’t thinking of anything remotely close to that. You, uh, want to take that back because that makes me seem like not a family person. No, I’m just kidding. No, but you never know where these answers are going to come and that’s a very, very good answer. So we’ll, we’ll start working on that picture if that, you know, with the 47 people in it. (Laughter) But thank you so much Mark. Uh, this has been a blast, you know, connecting and again, thanks for hosting this, this, you know, beautiful home here in Westfield. Westfield’s very close to my heart and it’s been so fun chatting about all these different things. Before we wrap up here, what’s the place for people to connect with you?
Mark Friedman: 53:26 They can get me at on Twitter at @mbf61 also on LinkedIn my handle there @MarkBFriedman get me there, also on Facebook if they like, but um, you know, certainly they can feel free to reach out.
Max Branstetter: 53:42 Awesome. Cool. And now the stage is yours. If you want to end with a final quote or any final thoughts you want? Up to you? How you want to wrap it up?
Mark Friedman: 53:52 Well, first of all, thanks very much. This was a lot of fun. I enjoy talking to people that are trying to get content out there. (Max Branstetter – of course) I did not know of your business and your family’s business for a long time. Despite my friendship with Cliff. You guys have certainly made a great career out of this and are now evolving, you know, your business a bit into more digital initiatives. So that’s great. Um, so I’m, happy to be able to support any business that is reaching out to the consumer, either with some, what we might call old school tactics, but also, uh, you know, with a new school tactics and then, you know, just back to the mentoring stuff. (Max Branstetter – yeah) Um, you know, really happy to help folks, um, that feel like they have a need very easy to contact me, which we talked about. And you know, I’ve, I’ve been known to answer questions of folks just out of the blue. People seem to think maybe I have something to share, um, and, and very happy to do that.
Max Branstetter: 54:53 I would tend to agree with that.
Max Branstetter: 54:57 Mark the mentor. Thank you so much Mark. And shout out again to Dana, Dana and Uncle Cliff. Thank you, wild listeners for tuning into another episode. If you need some more business growth ideas and insights, make sure to subscribe to this podcast on your favorite app and leave us a five star review on Apple Podcasts. You can also take a peek at our business and marketing resources at Hippodirect.com/blog and Hippo direct.com/newsletter. That newsletter is the Hippo Digest and it’s your weekly recap of creative marketing from all around the web. Finally, you can find us on your favorite social media platform at the handles @HippoDirect, and @MaxBranstetter. Until next time, let your business Run Wild. Bring on the Bongos.
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