In today’s episode, Allan welcomes Chris Kneeland. Chris is the founder and CEO of CULT. CULT is a Marketing Engagement Agency that specializes in turning everyday customers into brand advocates. Chris and Allan discuss the significance of “word of mouth” advertising by providing a remarkable service or experience. Not all marketing strategies have a high price tag. Your happy customers are your marketing department, and your brand will create lasting impressions.
Allan has started and grown several multi million dollar businesses. His mission is to help you do the same. Welcome to the Business Growth Pod, building the future one entrepreneur at a time.
Hey, everyone, welcome to the show. I’m Allan. I’m a family man and attorney and an entrepreneur. Each week, we provide resources and advice to help build your business. Are you ready? Then let’s go.
Hey, everyone, Welcome to the Business Growth Pod. As always, I’m Allan Draper. Excited for our guest today, I love talking about marketing. I think a lot of small business and early entrepreneurs underestimate the significance of marketing and the small topic of bringing revenue into the business. So we’re going to talk about that today. Before we get there. Do me a favor, leave me a review, whatever platform you’re listening to this on, go ahead and drop me a review. And also make sure to follow or subscribe to this podcast. So you get automatic downloads. When we drop new episodes, which happens every Wednesday. My guest today is Chris Kneeland. And he’s the founder and CEO of Colt. And we’re gonna get into that name a little bit I’m interested in in that name. It’s a marketing engagement agency that specializes in turning everyday customers into brand advocates. Chris is one of the veteran marketers out there. He’s a senior adviser to CMOS at Zappos, Harley Davidson, Best Buy GoDaddy and dozens of other brands. So welcome to the show, Chris. It’s an honor to have you. Yeah, thanks.
I’m thrilled to be here. Sincerely.
Tell me a little bit about Colt about that name. That’s such a that’s such a strong name. And I guess that’s kind of what we’re talking about here a little bit. Right. And, you know, getting some of that brand awareness.
Yeah, I mean, certainly, it’s provocative and maybe even controversial, we love the metaphor, because we don’t think it’s that hard to actually get a customer. We think it’s really hard to get a cult like follower, and yet not so difficult that we’re that more people should try it. I think we we frequently come across businesses that are reeking with all of the raw ingredients of being super special, super beloved potential to be iconic. And they don’t, they don’t claim it, they don’t live up to that potential, they sort of devolve into this low common denominator, just super transactional relationships. And so we thought that if we could inspire people with something like, what if you could have a cult and obviously a good one, you know, there’s cool movies and cult favorite bands? Yeah, people could look at certainly the cult of Apple or the cult of Tesla, or the culture Starbucks and start to say, okay, maybe there is actually something positive, to be drawn from what might at first blush be a negative metaphor.
Yeah. Love it. I mean, that’s what we’re all striving for. Right? So I speak mostly to entrepreneurs that are within six months of starting their business up until about two or three years, I really helped them see that hockey stick growth, but especially those that are just getting their businesses off the ground. And it’s something that, you know, they’re, you know, it’s brand is so hard for early businesses, it’s, it’s so hard, because it’s a longer play. And a lot of these businesses are just trying to figure out how to keep the lights on and the doors open. Why is it that early entrepreneurs first year to in business? Why is it that they should be focusing on their brand? And what are some steps that they can take to turn some of that into, you know, an ROI that’s somewhat immediately in the future? Yeah,
I actually, we spend a lot of calories trying to help people understand that it’s actually harder for you know, a Coca Cola to stay iconic than it is for a startup to embrace all these core brand principles. I don’t, I don’t like it when people sometimes think maybe when we’re more successful, or maybe when we’ve been around for five or 10 years, or maybe when I get to a million dollars, or a bigger, you know, I can hire a CMO. Like, there’s just a lot of excuses for mediocrity. We know there are businesses that the core brand principles are best applied before you, you know, open your store or launch your website or launch your mobile app because if you just replace the word brand with reputation or experience, then you start to say, Yeah, I want to make an experience that’s so amazing that I will never need to advertise. That’s what Robert Stevens with Geek Squad did, right. Robert Stevens is the CEO and founder of Geek Squad, which later sold the best buy. And he had this great quote that said, advertising is going to be a tax that will pay for being unremarkable. And I never want to pay that tax. So I’m just gonna start creating remark ability and every single thing that I do, so that I’ll never have to pay that tax and he grew to millions and millions of dollars without any paid media boom. And the same thing. Spanx, the same thing, Costco, the same thing. I think that people mistake marketing for advertising. And they start to think about paid media and discounts. And those are like, the bane of my existence. And when I see a brand, that’s, it’s Bing, you know, when I see when I get my Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons in the mail three times a week, I bang my head against the wall and say, What a missed opportunity that you’re so unremarkable that you’re resorting to bribery, to try to get me to come in and try it,
though. I mean, that’s, that’s a powerful message. That’s a very powerful, and it’s actually a scary message for early entrepreneurs. Right? You know, this concern about paid media, you know, because no one’s ever heard of them before Chris, like I, you know, in my mind, I’ve got, you know, a listener that let’s say he has a, he or she has a small business that’s home service business, their, their pool cleaner, window wash, or pest control guy landscape or something like that. How do they get rolling,
one of my very favorite examples is actually from a pest control company. But before I give it to you, let me just let me in, let me just level set here, the best way for somebody to know about your business is not from you. The best way for somebody to know about your business is from a happy customer, or somebody else tried it, right? So baking word of mouth, or what we call advocacy into the experience, too many people are content, just delivering the service thinking that if I have a happy customer, I’m going to somehow be successful. That’s not good enough, particularly in America, and Canada, like North America, where we have so much commoditization, and there’s so much parody, just being pretty good is a pretty good recipe for bankruptcy. Right? You need to be remarkable. And remarkable is not synonymous with exceptional, remarkable is synonymous with buzzworthy. What do people remark about and when they finish, when they finished with your pest control, or your pool cleaning service or your dog walking service, if they’re not talking about something that just happened, then you haven’t properly serviced the customer, you have to give them something to remark about. So go back to the pest control. I knew of a pest control company that when they would leave, they would leave a tiny little, it looked like it’s small posted No, but it was better designed than that. But it was an eviction notice to the cockroaches or to the ants. And they would leave it just under the lip of the refrigerator to be playfully discovered by their customers when they were going to get a drink or something out of the fridge. And it was so clever, and so funny that they would take a picture of it and Instagram it. And then when their Facebook group for the neighborhood said, Hey, I’m having a rodent problem. Does anybody know a pest control company? you’d like? Yeah, I actually used the company. Not only were they good, not only did they get rid of the bugs. So they did this really funny thing, and they let this little eviction notice. And it was something that they did that nobody else had a story about. And so it doesn’t take money. It takes creativity and courage to be able to do something that is actually remarkable enough to grow your business.
Yeah. No, I like it. You know, and I own a few companies that we’ve got a few years under our belts. And so we’re more in a position where we can spend some time focusing, I think a lot of it’s the focus, right, an early entrepreneur. And their number one job is to, you know, keep the lights on and then scale their business. And how does somebody do that early on, when they don’t have any customers? Like I love the post it note, I think that’s clever, and I own several pest control companies. I’ve never thought of doing anything like that. And 95% of our services are done on the exterior of homes. But there’s other things you can do for sure. But somebody that’s just getting started, what percent do they are you saying they shouldn’t do paid media?
No, no, I’m just what I’m discouraged about is that we are seeing dramatic increases year over year in the amount of paid media and promotional note about hundreds of billions of dollars at a time when consumers have never been more disinterested and disloyal with their brands. So clearly we’re applying the wrong prescription to fix what the problem is and that we think it And I talked to a lot of particularly small business owners that are romanticizing some future date, when they can start to compete or advertise similar to the way that the category leaders do. And I’m like, why is that anywhere in your ecosystem have a goal, like, that’s just as the wrong thing to pine for if he had a different role model, you might behave actually differently. And you might, you might, you might realize that in addition to some form of monetary success, there’s a level of significance that your brand can play in the lives of your employees or in the communities with which you serve. A lot of the corporations that we’ve been studying have a more noble purpose than just being successful, and particularly a small entrepreneur, if he’s just starting a job, because he’s unemployable or he can’t work someplace else, or he has to make his ends meet, he’s gonna have a shitty job, and he’s gonna have a lousy company, versus I’m starting a company, because I’m trying to write you know, I have some sort of righteous indignation, which, with which the way you know, the world is, is going down the wrong path, and you’re there to fix it, then it doesn’t have a it doesn’t even feel like a job, it feels like you’re fulfilling your calling, and you’re part of a movement, you’re going to attract a tribe of people who believe those same things that you believe, who will become so much more valuable to you than just transactional relationships. Yeah,
that reminds me a little bit of, you know, the Golden Circle by Simon Sinek. Right. Where are you familiar with that?
Yeah, I mean, listen, if I had known that, all I needed to do is draw three circles on a whiteboard, I would have made millions of dollars. I mean, Simon took one of the eight Koch brand principles, which is be purpose, and he’s done a brilliant job, you know, marketing it and helping people understand what is truly the why, and I don’t think enough entrepreneurs have a very noble, why I think that the less noble your y is, the less valuable your business is going to be. And you’re going to be stuck on this rat race of just having a bunch of mediocre relationships with customers, versus the more ennobling or inspiring your y is, the more you have a chance to really rally people around you and root for you and work for you and invest in you and, and buy your products and services. So it but that’s just one of eight. I mean, imagine just how powerful that one principle is, then you start cooking with gas with the other seven corporate and principles, and all of a sudden, you’re loving your job and your company is, is prospering not just being profitable.
Yeah. And I, I coach, a lot of startups, and what I’ve found, at least with those, those folks that I work with, is that sometimes it’s the process isn’t, they need to change their why or purpose, they need to uncover it. A lot of times, people are like, Well, I started a business because you know, I wanted freedom or I wanted, I wanted to make more money. Well, money is always I don’t care who you are, money is always a means to an end. That is not your y, that you that you may think that your why, but money is a vehicle to get you somewhere else now, what is it about the money? What is it about the freedom that that you enjoy? And and that’s a, you know, that’s a process trying to help people. And I think, you know, when I go through this process of, you know, helping people establish goals, and some core values, or some principles that their companies are based on, I make sure that they know that they have to do it early, as early as possible, even though you know, there are all these fires in their business. And it seems like it’s those things are very connected to this, this brand, right? And this reputation. And so, and I would actually say that, regardless of what our focus is, early on, in our companies, we are establishing a reputation, whether we’re proactive about it or not, oh, it’s amazing. It goes back
to high school, right? I mean, you’re gonna have a reputation. I don’t care whether you’re, you know, on the football team, or in the drama club or in the band, you’re going to be associated with people that are like minds, and people are going to be talking about you whether you’re engaging in the conversation or not. So everybody has a brand. The question is just are you maximizing it, use the word exploiting it, but in a positive way you explain that brand for your advantage? Or are you almost like a victim of your brand because you’re kind of asleep at the wheel and you’re just completely turned it over to others to to others who may not have as many good intentions or as many nice things to say about it.
So I read this book by Donald Miller. I’m sure you’ve heard about it, building a story brand or something like that. And he talks about how the greatest brands actually hold the customers or their clients out to be kind of the hero They’re just the, you know, the helper, right or the assistant? Is that something you agree with is that something that’s important to a brand is helping the customer kind of putting the customer in the shoes of the one that, you know, that’s the focus, not the company because I see a lot of companies that are talking about us, us, us, us. And he’s saying, we need to be talking about you, you, you, you, you the customer.
Yeah, it’s one of the things that drives me crazy. As businesses get bigger, and they start staffing, I can tell you right from the beginning, how successful they’re going to be almost by their org chart, because as companies grow, and they start staffing, channel managers, okay, you’re gonna be my web guy, you’re gonna be my social girl, you’re gonna be my email person, you’re going to be my, you know, my advertising agency, whatever, they start managing channels, which is just the wrong thing to do. They shouldn’t be managing customer segments. So okay, you’re gonna be my, I go about one of my favorite emerging coal brands is Yeti, right? I mean, Yeti started with the, the opinion that we’re here to serve as the hard core outdoor enthusiast. And it started with anglers like something’s gonna go fishing. And they need to be able to catch a fish and keep it cold for five days. So that person is going to spend $400 for a cooler, because they want to be able to reap the benefit of that bounty that they pulled from the river, right? You got all sorts of posers, like Yeti does not get to a billion dollars servicing that angler, but they were so pure, and so good about understanding what that diehard outdoor enthusiast ones that everybody who aspires to be like that, no different than I don’t shoot a ball like Michael Jordan. But if I spent $300 on some sneakers, I see all the shoes behind you. All of a sudden, I’m gonna feel like I’m more athletic, just like Harley Davidson. Most people, the bright Harley Davidson look like me. But I don’t want to be me on the weekend. I want to be a badass with tattoos and leather chaps and not a wife and a mortgage. And so I spend the extra money, not because the bike is worth it, but because of where it teleports me to. In my mind Lululemon, most women that were lose, don’t go to the gym, just by wearing the pants, they feel more physically fit, they feel more sexy. And so great brands have tapped into not even just a particular customer group, but an aspirational customer group that may be real or imaginary. There was no Betty Crocker, Betty Crocker never existed. But it was like the quintessential homemaker of the time. So every mom that felt bad about giving their kids you know, pb&j or mac and cheese for dinner, if they did a Betty Crocker dinner, then all of a sudden, they felt like a better mom as a result. That’s the psychology that I just don’t think enough. To your point. early stage entrepreneurs are so much more focused on the blocking and tackling of product and supply chain and distribution that they kind of forget, well, who’s gonna buy this, like, create the market first. And then you know, Yeti is gotten into dog bowls and camping chairs and a bunch of products they never even dreamed of when they started because they said we’re just going to serve as this audience so well, they’ll tell us what else they need. And probably the best brand of the world of that is is Apple, right? And then the whole the most iconic Apple maybe 1984 is the most iconic Apple ad. But the second most iconic ad is that Here’s to the crazy ones, right? It didn’t even show a product. It didn’t say a buy this for 1599. It was like, if you’re this kind of person, if you’re a crazy one, then you got to work for us. Like you would never buy a Mac or you’d never buy a Microsoft product or an IBM product. They’re not crazy. We’re crazy. We celebrate the crazy. Yeah, I
mean, the branding of Apple just over the years as you brought them up, I started thinking of all their different commercials, they’re, you know, think different commercial there. You know, the commercial with the kind of middle aged, frumpy, yeah, I have a Mac PC. Exactly. Yeah. And, you know, and I think, correct me if I’m wrong, then maybe I’m making excuses for my pest control companies. But I’m in an industry that’s not sexy. My job is best done. When my customers aren’t thinking about me. I’m not selling beautiful high heeled shoes or food or you know, I’m not retailing anything or selling this, you know, the latest technology. I’m doing a service plumbers H Mac guys like those types of home services. Like what do we sell?
Well, that’s the whole point. I mean, you’re selling like for my wife never stumbling upon a spider again, right? You’re selling peace of mind. If you’re a plumber, you’re selling the you know, never gonna have a flooded basement you’re selling always going to have reliable hot water. In the morning. I remember we worked with a utility company, but it doesn’t get any more less sexy than people that sell electricity. Right? And we stopped selling electricity and we just sold 70 degrees. Everybody just wants 70 degrees. And if I could just, if I can promise you, perpetual 70 degrees would you pay a subscription? Would you Pay some sort of monthly thing that’s inclusive of the maintenance and the filter training outs and the kilowatt per hour. Like, I don’t want to, I don’t want to think about any of that. I just want 70 degrees, and I’ll write a check for that. I just want a house. If I’m building a house right now, we just had a pest control guy come through, and he put a ridiculous amount of bait traps around the yard. And we’re like, wow, this is excessive. He goes, if there’s ever a rodent in your house, I have failed you. My job is to make sure that there is a permanent barrier where nature stays outside. And you and the kids and the pets are safe inside. And I like That’s great. What does that cost? Like, and I don’t need to get into cost per bait. I don’t have to get into number of service visits. I just want to have I just want to know that I’m paying for pest free life.
Yeah, no, I, I like it a lot. You know, you you really in some companies, you you have to make sure that you really understand what you’re offering. Like, hey, I’m not I’m not selling pest control, I’m selling peace of mind. And it’s a lot of entrepreneurs can’t get over the cheesiness of that. Right and, and need to kind of get get their wrap their heads around it.
Well, there’s a couple of good books on they can Google but where I really became a convert was when I realized nobody makes rational decisions. That’s not true. That’s not hyperbole. Most of the time, most of the people are making emotional decisions. And then they’re rationalizing it after the fact. And the best way to see that on display is to watch some guy try to convince his wife why he just bought a Porsche. Like there is no rational reason, look at your collectible sneakers, there’s no reason why somebody should pay a couple $100 for a shoe, particularly if they’re not wearing it, right. We’re not rational creatures. And yet marketing gets into all these rational arguments on price and value. And it’s like, yeah, just, I just want the things that I want. And I want somebody that’s gonna give me not gonna make me feel bad about that. So if the only reason why you want a Porsche is because you want one or it makes you feel sexy. Here it makes, you know, younger, that’s don’t don’t excuse that behavior. That’s perfectly good reason to do what you’re going to go and do. And I think entrepreneurs are, they just don’t understand the psychology that goes in particularly, like I said, particularly in North America, you got to imagine, in North America, we don’t need anything. Shame on any entrepreneur for starting a new business. Technically, because there’s no missing element. There’s 17 ranch dressing options at my grocery store, right? There’s 16 burger joints within a walk from my house. If you’re going to come out with an 18th ranch dressing, or the 15th burger joint, you better have a reason for being that’s beyond the practical delivery of a burger, because I don’t need another burger joint. Right? So you have to give me something else. And in America, all we’re doing is placating emotional desire, because all of our functional needs are so well cared for.
Yeah. I mean, going back to the golden circles, Simon Sinek talks about that. He’s like, a lot of companies talk about the what, then there’s some that talk about the how, but the the most successful companies with the biggest brands, and he talked a lot about Apple and his TED talk. He said they talk about the why. And, and I lived in Chile in South America for several years. And there’s so much that we have that they don’t. And I thought when I first moved down there that I was going to notice this, you know, this recognizable difference in happiness. And I think there was a difference in happiness. But it wasn’t the way that I had thought it was. I think they’re happier down there with less.
Yeah, there’s there’s a real problem with just, there’s a great book called The Paradox of Choice, which is, again, marketers get it wrong. marketers think that more choice is better. We don’t want more choice. We want more confidence, and more pleasure from the choices that we have that we make. And when you have too many choices, all you’re doing is you’re stuck wondering, did I choose the right one? I go, did I go to the right movie? Or should I have picked that one? Did I pick the right pair of jeans? Or should I have done that one? So less is more? And also what so great. That’s why the cool pram principles don’t work as well in economies of scarcity. It’s when when there’s only one bag of flour at the store that doesn’t need to be branded, it just needs a package that says flour on it. Right once there becomes six bags of flour. Now you have to start to say well, why this flour versus that one? A great case study on that comes from png with all peanut butter is essentially the same. It’s all made with peanuts. It all looks the same. It all basically comes in the same jar. So and there’s all basically at the same stores as the you know, there’s a few private labeling exceptions but if you want like if you’re one of the big three Skippy, Peter Pan or GIF, you’re everywhere. And so it starts to beg the question well, why pick yours right and unsophisticated business leaders will start saying let’s make ours cheaper. Let’s give them $1 coupon let’s do buy to get the third free. Jiffy is a sophisticated peanut butter Jiffy has disproportionate market share. It’s the category leader in its space. And it doesn’t talk about what it sells. Right? It talks about what it stands for choosy moms choose JIFF and it talks more about the the mom and the things that are going on. When you go to the JIFF website, it’s not about the ingredients surprise, it’s peanuts. It’s about easy to cook recipes. It’s a mom support group. One of the things that moms don’t need in their life is more guilt about not being a very good mom. So if you’re going to send your kid off to school with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, let’s celebrate that. Let’s not think that that was mom failing for kid that’s No Mom, you’re being a good mom today for sending in so that you know, you could say I could argue with peanut butter can can claim category dominance, then most businesses can and I don’t really like when when people excuse themselves saying well, no, I’m in the business copy machine, you know, business or I’m in the water, you know, replenishment business, I don’t care. Most businesses could become far more special than they currently are. They just think differently about what their business is even trying to achieve.
Love it. We’ve got just a couple of minutes left here, Chris, why don’t you tell us kind of a you know, high level view what what you guys are doing at cold? And for people that are interested, where they can reach out to you to learn more?
Oh, that’s great. So you know, we’re an advisory firm, we go into businesses and help them learn a few things. One, what to their customers actually, what are they actually thinking feeling doing? If you don’t really know what your customer is all about, then you’re gonna have a really hard time servicing them. We help them optimize their what we call their marketing mix. I’m not that interested in their media mix. Most of the time, we take money out of paid media channels and put it into customer experience things that matter more. And then we also are really in the inspiration business. We’re just trying to help people dream bigger, think bigger. So we do an event every year. It happens in April, it’s in Banff, Alberta, it’s in a 200 year old castle nestled in the Rocky Mountains about 1000 people are able to be there in person a few more 1000 Join virtually but I’d love your listeners to check out cult gathering.com Because what we’ve learned is that goes like this idea of role models. If you don’t really know what good looks like, then you’re probably just gonna chase mediocre. But when you see what Barbie or Airbnb or we will image or the Dallas Cowboys, when they talk about what they’re doing, you can be like, damn, I could do that. Because it does. It’s not budget based. It’s about creativity and courage. And they’re just doing things that are I think, well, they’re exceptional. And so we spend a lot of time trying to shine a spotlight on what these cult brands are doing so that others can follow in their footsteps.
Love it. Well, I mean, you clearly know your stuff. I encourage my listeners to check Chris out, check out Colt and all the things that they’re accomplishing. It’s been a real pleasure having you on here today, Chris. Best of luck in the future.
Yeah, really appreciate it. Take care.
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Transcribed by https://otter.ai