January 30, 2019
Joining us on the Marketing Mix Podcast with Jeff Ragovin is Ryan Berman, Founder of Courageous, who assesses purposeful marketing trends, tapping into emotion and the notion of authenticity defining the industry today. Given the anticipation of the 2019 Super Bowl, Ryan discusses his predictions for ad themes and how brands will need to be courageous enough to stand out among the crowd.
Jeff Ragovin: Is your company Courageous the result of your new book?
Ryan Berman: I wrote the book to position my 70 person creative agency here in San Diego, but the book basically gave me the courage to fire myself. Anytime you watch a movie, the protagonist thinks that the treasure is one thing but it turns out to be entirely different. Truthfully, that’s what happened to me. I really thought we were going to use the book as a platform to position my old company. But as I got into it I realized how hard change really was. When you start off as an entrepreneur, you’re still being creative and doing all the work. When you grow into 70 people, you’re suddenly a manager. What I really missed was the messy work- the thinking, doing and coming up with solutions. If I’m writing a book about courage I thought that I should probably live it- and that gave me the strength to start Courageous.
Jeff Ragovin: As the founder of Sock Problems, you’re solving world problems through socks. Talk through your company’s vision and ideals.
Ryan Berman: We sock problems in the world with altruistic socks- each sock is socking a different problem, and has a four star charity navigator partner associate with it. We’ve got 12 problems that we’re socking right now, including inequality and climate change. 25 percent of every sale goes back to a different charity partner. We wanted to give people the chance to express how they really feel- and wear a sock that they can share on social, and then finally send money to the actual experts.
One of the things I learned on the journey of writing this book is that we have the wrong idea of what courage is. I always talk about Sock Problems as my “courage” brand. Any brand sits on the spectrum from a coward brand to a courage brand. If I’m going to write a book about courage and I have this idea that I’ve had for a decade but am not taking any action on it, that’s probably an issue. So many people inspired me to try out this idea and see what happens. The book really did inspire me to try and build a company that made the world better. That’s the goal for Sock Problems- we’re about 9 months old now, and we’ve got a long way to go. But it’s a purpose driven company. Our tagline is “Care, Wear, Share.”
Jeff Ragovin: 50 percent of the Fortune 500 since the Year 2000 are now extinct. What’s the biggest threat that brands are facing today as they go from preservation to liberation?
Ryan Berman: Firstly, are you open to the idea that you can be helped and are you willing to hear a different point of view? And once you decide on something, do you have the will and the grit to push through? I named my book “Return on Courage” because if a brand has lost their way, they can return on courage. I also think Return on Courage is how you can maximize your return on investment. One of the reasons I enjoy having a company called Courageous is because it quickly declares who we’re not for. We’re trying to qualify for companies that are open and willing and recognize that change is real. Openness is a big deal- recognizing that you’re not invincible and that something could take you down. I’d rather help you put a plan in place to help you take that problem down, rather than simply react to something that’s happening in the marketplace.
Jeff Ragovin: Are there any brands that really stick out recently as mega-courageous?
Ryan Berman: Two of them do. The first is Method soap. It’s a simple commodity that they made courageous. With their purpose, “People Against Dirty," they picked a clear enemy. Great companies pick clear enemies, and there’s no gray area.
The other brand is Dominoes. In 2004 when Russell Wiener was the CEO, they threw out a 50 year old recipe and completely started over. As terrifying as it was, they told America that they messed up as a company and came out with their “Yes We Did” campaign. It was a total product makeover, but Russel kept the team the same- even though they were responsible for negative sales for three years. He didn’t want to lose any institutional knowledge.
I believe that you can turn courage into a competitive advantage. The only way to operationalize courage in a company is to instill courage into the people. If the people believe, you have a shot. SpaceX is a good example. It makes it easier to work at a company that has a purpose, even if there’s no proof they’re going to be successful.
Jeff Ragovin: What advice do you have for brands that might need to reposition themselves in a more authentic way?
Ryan Berman: Just the fact that they’re starting to think about it shows so much progress. It’s about helping brands embrace the humanity and the imperfections of their brand, like how Dominoes did. If you know you have a meaningful product and you can be more courageous with your message, it’s always for the better. Don’t be afraid to embrace that humanity. There’s a clarity epidemic that’s happening nationwide, and I hope companies do the hard work to find out what they’re about, and mirror that in their brand.
Jeff Ragovin: Aside from Method and Dominoes, what brands are doing it right?
Ryan Berman: I like what Gillette’s doing right now. I always thought it was ironic how a brand like Gillette that specializes in faces, didn’t have a face of the company. Then Dollar Shave Club came along with Michael Dubin as the face of the company, and sold it for a billion. I love Gillette's response right now and the fact that they have a point of view. If you don’t know what you stand for, you’re never going to know when to take a stand.
Jeff Ragovin: Do all brands need to have a face or a figurehead to reach consumers?
Ryan Berman: Not necessarily, but we all want to be more human. According to Salesforce, 80 percent of decision is made on emotion, and 20 percent on logic. We purchase something on emotion, and we justify it later with logic. How can we be emotional or passionate? That’s the stuff that’s sticking. Another brand I’m intrigued by is Walmart, and I love what they did with the Golden Globes because they’re always exactly who they are. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what kind of car you drive- you get free pickup. This is completely unlike services such as Amazon Prime or Costco, where customers have to pay for this kind of service. They’ve always been about low prices and democratization, and that was a courageous act. I had never seen myself as Walmart customer until I saw that. It’s on brand, and it’s human.
Jeff Ragovin: How can brands measure emotion and tap into that?
Ryan Berman: Market the creatures, not the features of your business because that’s where the emotion is. It’s got to be authentic and will probably be rooted in a feature, but if you can find that, that’s how you connect with people.
Jeff Ragovin: What are some of the key marketing trends for 2019?
Ryan Berman: I think the trend is authenticity. Find your version of authenticity and what you can market about yourself. Having the courage to find the thing you’re most clear about in a very noisy world, and not being afraid to be that person/brand is where I would take the shot. It comes down to being authentic, being values oriented, finding your purpose and finding a point of view. Make sure it’s human enough so that when it goes out to the public and you’re not there to defend the work, it actually sings and hums and connects with people.
Jeff Ragovin: We’re approaching the Super Bowl. Do you have any predictions for ad themes brands are likely to embrace?
Ryan Berman: It’s an amazing platform, because you’ve got hundreds of millions of people watching. It’s a tricky spot, because you’re throwing a dart in a dark room in terms of considering what the country can take. This now becomes a conversation about context. I imagine that we will have a third of brands who will take a stand, and be on purpose and cause. And a third of brands will lean towards making people laugh- going off the premise that the super bowl is a place for people to escape, and that they should mirror that in their work. And the other third won’t be Super Bowl worthy, and they won’t have the clarity to put their work out to the world, and not thing too much about the contextual side of the creative.
Jeff Ragovin: Thank you for joining the Marketing Mix Podcast.
Please note, the above has been paraphrased for editorial purposes