Why the brands who stand out win - a conversation with Saul Colt


In the post-pandemic era, marketing faces challenges such as declining efficacy and escalating costs.

Brands must take calculated risks and create spectacles to capture attention. Differentiation and establishing an identity are crucial, as is prioritizing customer needs.

For this episode of the StartWell Podcast, we sat down with Saul Colt of the Idea Integration Company - and discussed the challenges of creating a distinct brand personality in the digital age, navigating tensions between identity and expression.

You'll hear shared insights on leading a creative agency, including the importance of hiring trustworthy employees and striking a balance between creative and strategic expertise. There are also nuggets of wisdom offered on the challenges of managing client scope and the significance of thorough planning and preparation in content creation.

Read the full interview transcript

Marketing strategies during the pandemic and beyond. 

Saul Colt 0:00
One of the projects we did just before the pandemic, was we created a newspaper. What we did was we created the cover back cover inside cover, inside back cover of The New York Times of Baghdad. And we had the front page story was a client of ours, and we wrote it. And we created an exact copy. And we bought 500 copies of The New York Times, and we put our, our cover over the real cover. And we had we have t shirts made the said complimentary New York Times when I handed them to people walking on the subway of The New York Times and when people were on the subway, reading the paper, we went and God sneaky pictures of like 25 different newspapers, all with our clients like front page story, and all stuff like that. So how do you get on the front page of The New York Times, which is printing around?

Qasim Virjee 0:58
Founded in 2017, start well, is Toronto's independent hub for innovators to collaborate, our podcasts relate perspectives from the world's most diverse urban population to reflect unique insights into global business, media, and culture?

Qasim Virjee 1:20
So we can just start chatting saw the man with his face on everything he owns, right? Why don't we start with you introducing yourself,

Saul Colt 1:29
I guess I'm so cold. I'm the founder of the idea integration company, I have been running a word of mouth, experiential marketing and advertising agency. We just celebrated our 15th anniversary this past November, people in Canada may know me from my time and at FreshBooks. But I've I've worked with Nike, eBay, Twitter, HP, hundreds of Canadian startups. Rogers, you know, the list goes on and on and on. And, you know, I like to say I'm the guy you come to, if you're a brave brand, or a brand that wants to be brave, because I like to take calculated risks, and, you know, take take chances to build brands, I think that, you know, we can get into it or not get into it, but I think it's such a, it's such a noisy time right now, I

Qasim Virjee 2:22
love that let's go straight into the goods man,

Saul Colt 2:24
I think any brand that isn't trying to stand out, you know, in the crowd or, or trying to take chances or do things that are not irresponsible, but definitely, you know, a little different. They're the brands that win. And the brands that don't take chances are, you know, they're going to either plateau, they're gonna go to business, or they're just going to be like zombie companies where, you know, they may have a business and, and everything, but they're never going to be like a tier one brand or a brand that really takes off. So you just just look at x and I refuse to call it Twitter anymore. Yeah, so the what Twitter was, was was a beautiful thing. And now it's something different, but you look at Acts. And if you don't pay the $15 a month to get a blue checkmark, they they actually throttle your reach. So I have 20,000 followers, not a super high number, but whatever. And I looked at my analytics, I don't really spend that much time on X anymore. And I put 100 people see my posts now. You know, 100 people based on 20,000 followers is crazy. So like, you either have to do something really amazing to catch people's eyes, or just flood a ton of like, you know, money into creating awareness. And, you know, I don't like paying for awareness. Well, I think you pay for awareness. But instead of giving it to a platform, I'd rather do a spectacle, do something really crazy, get 10,000 people talking about something, and let them start the conversation on social and then you know, the brand can pour gas on him.

Qasim Virjee 4:05
So I think this is interesting, actually, it's very interesting. fascinating to me, is this idea that like the account used to be or the branded account used to be the channel that people purchase conduit to audience, right, like, on the on these advertising platforms that we call social networks. But yeah, now there's absolutely no guarantee that your access to that audience that you develop is owned for one, authentic for two, and interested for three because they're blitzed with information all day long on and off, ad platform, social network. So it is really interesting that like I think, developing or I guess extending your brand into other space online is really, really important and putting the power into the user, you know, on the potential customer to be able to articulate Get your

Saul Colt 5:00
land offline. I think, you know, events large and small, really, you know, now's the time to bring them back. We had a conversation before I hit record, we won't say who we're talking about, but you said that this person didn't leave their house, during the pandemic, I think we're at a point now, where people are really looking, at least I believe people are really looking to try to get back to that pre pandemic, lifestyle, you know, it's been a couple of years. So there's no reason, you know, conventions, conferences, things are back, maybe not in full force, but they're, they're coming back, you know, there's no better way to show love for a client or a customer, than take them for dinner, take them golfing, do all these things. And brands are still so hesitant to put budget towards that, that the brands that do will when it all comes back to you get rewarded for doing extra. And I think the pandemic, really, you know, scared a lot of people, myself included, and it changed everything we thought of about how, you know, everyone's like, Oh, digital grew 10 years and one, one, it grew 10 years, and in 10 months are all that stuff, but now we're seeing that it's all course correcting, you know, and all that stuff. So do we go back as if the pandemic never started? Probably not? Do we eliminate all the E commerce and things that that we built in that time? Absolutely not. But man, if there's one thing that dropped off the table was showing affection for your customers, and actually, you know, trying to win them through, you know, surprise and delight, and all sorts of things. And if there's anything that should come back, it's spectacles and marketing stunts, and, and really like showing your customers that they, they made the right choice, you know, dealing with your brand. And that's something that we've been doing forever. And it's crazy to me that I go in and pitch this to brands, and you know, brands, just the one they don't think it's worth the money anymore. And to you know, they're so afraid of their own jobs, nobody wants to do anything, you know, even a little bit edgy or different or anything anymore. Which like, man, if that's the case, like we're in, we're in trouble, like, you know, just handover businesses to AI because they're going to be soulless, they're going to be not fun, they're not going to be interesting. And you know, everything's going to become utility. And that should never be the case. So

Marketing strategies in a post-pandemic economy with limited budgets.

Qasim Virjee 7:43
I like this. I like both of those points. First one, let's dig into the lack of budget. Okay. Definitely, we've seen it across the board here at start well, right, no matter what we're selling to customer, and we're a b2b business, right. So it's all companies that are our customers, not end users, or their employees. But, but in 2020 21, things seemed like obviously, everyone was looking after their families, and they were at home. And that was cool. People started coming back to kind of like gather a little bit in 2022 2023 CFOs, office owned all procurement decisions, suddenly, q1. And that was a weird year, last year where like, a lot of organizations, small or large, put into place a lot of these controls, financial controls, quite possibly as a kind of a definitely not as a proactive, certainly as a reactive effect to like, I think starting to kind of accept the reality that those two years that were lost in the pandemic, no one earned anything. And like orig shuffled their paper around to say, Oh, well, you know, the books look clean. But there's no cash in the bank, you know, and we don't know who our customers are anymore. So I think they all freaked out last year. And, and certainly in the time when, when reach is more important than anything and new customer discovery and development is more important than everything for a lot of companies. I think they also, and it might be reason number two, that's kind of contributed to this. But there seems to be this confusion within organizations across the economy, definitely in Canada, that, you know, we don't know necessarily how to de risk outreach, we don't know how to de risk our act access to market. And so I've seen this definitely, we've talked to a few of our customers who are in sitting on the programmatic side, right on the kind of Google Ads side. That spend is going up, depending on industry segment in Google ads, but efficacy is going down and the exponential cost of advertising is ridiculous. Where customer acquisition costs is unrealistic for most industries now. Three through Google specifically. Now, again, it comes back to this social network algorithm problem of like, if your ads don't function as a product, like the advertising mechanism is not a product anymore. It's just like a amorphous thing. You can't trust it. So what can you trust? You could trust human connection? Someone else?

Saul Colt 10:24
I agree. 100%? I don't know if this story is going to answer your question. But I think it's going to get us to an interesting place. I spent a year working with the online accounting platform zero. And, you know, at the time, the CMO and the president, were at two gentlemen named Andrew, lark, and rest Fujioka. And both of them had worked together for like, 15 years together. One was the global CMO of Dell computers, and the other was the VP of Marketing at Dell computers. So they had a history together, they came over and sort of took over zero and, and I really, to this day, and love and respect both of these people. You know, they, they, they taught me a great deal about a lot of things. And Russ, I consider still a close friend. Here, I was really worried when when Russ was hired, I was there before Russ by I predated him by a month or two. And you know, like, this is a guy who I just thought wasn't gonna understand what I do. And he's gonna throw me out the door instantly. He's a, he's a numbers guy. He's a metrics guy. He's a KPI, guy, all that stuff. And, and we sat down when he when he started, and he said, I don't understand what you do. But everyone keeps telling me it's working. So this what we're gonna do, you have zero budget, you have a net zero budget, if you want to do anything, you have to earn it, write me a business case, and tell me why you should do it. It could be the most crazy thing you've ever thought of, but just at least put, you know, two or three paragraphs down on a piece of paper explaining to me who this is for what we think we can get out of it, why we should be doing it and why we should be doing it now. Right? And, and at the time, I was just like hotshot, you know, fly by the seat of my pants. And just that small, little, you know, four paragraph exercise is something I still do to this day. Because ideas are easy. Yeah. Like, it's like, let's throw someone off a roof, you know, and they'll die and we'll get all this attention. Everyone will look at it, they'll be wearing a t shirt with that logo and all that stuff. But they let me be skywriting, they let me disrupt a competitors, you know, $20 million user conference, they let me get away with really crazy things, because I can actually verbalize or articulate why this is important to the brand. Why this we should be doing it, why now is the right time. And, you know, having like no budget was actually interesting, because I ended up spending a lot of money and it returned the investment return. And as I earn trust with these people, you know, they let me ask for more money and do bigger things and stuff like that. And I've taken that even with some customers that are, you know, clients I work with now, who people who say they have no budget? And I say, well guess what, if you don't do anything, this is probably what's going to happen. But if you do a few things. So here's three things I'd like to do with your brand. Let's do the small one first see that it didn't break anybody. It didn't hurt anybody. Nobody got harmed the brand is still think people are talking about you. Yeah, let's do phase two, then let's do phase three. So instead of me going into somebody and and saying, you know, give me, you know, $200,000, I'm gonna do all this stuff. I usually go in and say, like, I'd like to spend about half a million dollars with you over the next 12 months. But let's start by spending 10. Let's start by spending 30. And actually build up the trust with these people. Because everyone is just so afraid of losing their job. Like I had a phone call this morning with somebody who I share these stories. I never say who I'm talking to us. It's not fair to out these people. But someone who's very, very well known in the Toronto startup community, someone who's had success after success after success. And he basically says he feels like he's unemployable. You know, he's he's in his late 40s and can't get interviews can't get anything. So, like, we're trying to find ways to work together and stuff like that. But it's crazy to me, like how different the world is. Yeah. Or even just the community is right now. For people and I don't believe in the age and ageism conversation. Yeah, I don't. It's not like Good people do good, good work gets gets paid for and stuff like that

Entrepreneurship, risk-taking, and creativity in the tech industry.

Qasim Virjee 15:04
also, I mean, this is a very ageism does play into it in some ways, ageism does and so does the corruption, at least I will say it like this of pyramid scheme economics, you know, technology in the tech sector in a sector of the economy that has not only by politicians, by average Joe Public been allotted for so long, if that's the right word as the the seat of innovation in our economy and the promise for the future economy, you see a lot of dogmatism, you know, and a lot of bias, and a lot of tainted thinking in that in the sector, fueled by the promise of return on investment for investors. And it's a really interesting thing, because for decade plus, in Canada, like who really has funded venture capital in this country, it's not necessarily driven by independently wealthy LPs, you know, who have a vision to support the next best thing that will take Canada out to the moon and have our brand on, you know, the back of peacekeepers backpacks, you know, supporting the world's goodness, it's instead, you know, half of its the government through the BDC. And the other half is anonymous funding sources that see it as like, you know, a little experimental sector to invest in perhaps, and yet, the people placing capital, not everybody, and for our friends who are VCs, who are watching this and listening, I'm not calling you out here. But there are so many employees, placing funds acting like their bosses, and anyone in private equity around the world, like looks at VC and laughs at these people think we're in

Saul Colt 16:51
a lot of trouble. Yeah, you know, it's like, so, again, gonna go into a story. And hopefully at the end, it'll, it'll make some sense. But when the pandemic hit, I went eight months without any revenue, all our customers sort of panicked, we were doing a lot of in real world activities and events and things like that. And it was, it was really scary when I like, we burned through all our cash reserves, and I made sure all my employees were still paid, I wasn't getting paid, but everyone else was paid the, you know, I don't think I'm a really great business person, I think I'm a really good, creative. But the thing I'm proud of is, you know, like, we never, we didn't lay anybody off, everyone got paid and stuff like that, that stuff I'm proud of. But, you know, like, it was, it was a really, really difficult time. And, and I as a person, as I think most people changed a little bit, and I started playing safe. And as someone who's never played it safe my whole career, it took me about a year to realize that I was playing it safe. And it really, like, hurt my own feelings. Like the work was still good and stuff like that. But like, I wasn't, I wasn't going around, you know, being, you know, inappropriate with people. I wasn't being myself. I wasn't wearing my, my chains. So it wasn't, you know, as as, I don't think I wore jeans for a year, I was basically just bred. Yes, I've given up on myself. And, you know, like, I'd say it's only about six or eight months ago, that I like, was just like, I don't know, if I can swear on this, where we don't just like Fuck, man, like, I gotta get back to being myself. And one of the things about getting back to being myself was I built a list of 150 companies that I wanted to work with. And I pitched all of them. We closed a small handful of them. But the funny thing was, when I looked at this list of companies, there wasn't a lot of tech on it. And I built my career working with tech. But you know, there was a lot of like, regional soda companies, and candy companies, and streetwear brands, and stuff like that. And it wasn't that I wanted to stretch my wings. I tell people, I can make any company better. Because it's not about the company. It's about my process. But but, you know, none of these brands at the top of my list were were tech companies like I think that I burned out on on tech companies like I, I worked for, you know, I've worked for a couple billionaires. And the last, you know, big tech company I worked for was a small tech company with a big fancy founder. And we worked six months on building a really cool brand and product for this guy. And he just got bored and And shelve the whole thing before we ever went to market. So there was never even proof that what we came up with worked or didn't work, right, he was just like, hey, I'm gonna go on vacation for a year. And then I look around at that. And I'm just like, I don't want to be in these positions anymore. So, you know, like, and I just find working with people. And I'll still work with tech. And I have a tech client that I work with right now that I'm very proud of, and I like them very much. But there's something about working with people that are a little out of the bubble, maybe a little bit more grateful, a little more appreciative, and are willing to take some chances, we did a project that's coming out. I think in two weeks right now, it's one of the funniest things I think we've ever done. It's for a regional soda company. And every time I meet a new client, I sit down with them for an hour, I asked them every question, I've got, like these 30 questions. And I try to really understand them as people their brand, what's working, what isn't working. And they said that. They said, we've got the best root beer in the world, but nobody knows about us. And that really stuck with me. So we created a whole campaign. With it's all animated. It's not real people. But it's a man or woman sitting in a chair across from each other, just like you and me. And the woman says to the man, you know, we're the probably the only two people in the world that know about Frost stop root beer. And the guy pulls a gun out of his pocket, he shoots the woman he goes, now there's only one. And it's just like this bizarre thing, where we're going to build a whole brand about how nobody knows about them.

Personal branding, fear, and authenticity in the workplace.

Qasim Virjee 21:36
Right? But it's so sensational. Yeah, great.

Saul Colt 21:39
But like, I don't think you could get away with stuff like that, with like, you know, with

Qasim Virjee 21:44
a tech company that has everything riding on it, and like, oh, we can't get the next funding round, because they're actually out there. And it's all about it's true. It's very interesting, this idea that you're reflecting on on playing it safe, you know, and the hesitancy, I think born out of the fire, I don't know, I don't really think definitely looking at Toronto, and looking at Canada and looking at the branding of the pandemic, you know, through it, at least from the government's messaging and education, you know, responsibility through it, the fear mongering around it, and then the lack of kind of, there was no makeup sex, you know. And I think that because of that, you know, Canadians are feeling this, like, you know, this guilt inside of them, but also this kind of grief. And it's like all these emotions inside about, like those last couple of years of their life that they haven't, you know, been able to verbalize and socialize and get past. Yeah, companies definitely are like that. And it's not just the tech sector, there's so many companies that are fearful, and aren't also staffed with people who are enabled maybe to take ownership of their brand. Right. And I think part of that has been also this, like building tension for at least a decade of the over promise of programmatic advertising. And so there's this question of like, okay, well, how can we both be authentic, you know, with our customers and with the people that we want to be our customers, if we are just employees who have a foot out the door, either, because we're afraid of getting shanked and fired, or because we don't want to be here. And we're just getting a paycheck for now. So it's very sure I've talked to people at some airlines, very big airlines, that are in very, you would think roles that, you know, you could never, you know, pilots or hospitality stuff or whatever you want to call them. Flight attendants, that were shocked that they got let go during the pandemic and then shocked that they got rehired and shocked that they got fired again, and then shocked that they got rehired again, and it was like, my whole life is this identity that I have, because I thought I was specialized labor in some way. But I'm not I'm expendable.

Saul Colt 23:56
Everybody is replaceable. Even like myself, even yourself. And that's like, you know, I've, I've always been driven by like, this, this balance of fear in spite. Like,

Qasim Virjee 24:13
listen more about spiked. I,

Saul Colt 24:15
I've always been told, you know, you can't do that. And I want to like, show people they're wrong. And then tell them they were wrong and then remind them a year later they were wrong. Face so it's like I I've always you know, I've I've had wonderful opportunities. I've been in the right place at the right time, probably twice. Okay, I haven't profited financially off it. But I've profited. You know, infamously if that's even the right, termed us in this stuff, but, you know, like, I wouldn't have a career if it wasn't at the beginning of social media. I wouldn't have a career. The career I have if I didn't have the free I'm going to add a fresh books, who wouldn't have a career if I haven't, you know, if I, I didn't decide early, that, you know, I was going to use every social media platform as just my resume, and just keep beating people over the head with liquid I did and piss people off, because I think it's gross. But it's like, I have to do it. Because no one else is going to, like, promote myself or anything like that. And, you know, it's an I've, I've had to have, I've had to have sex with a lot of women to get where I am today, just, you know, continuously boosting by my own brand, and my the myth of Sol and everything that I've done, because, and I wouldn't have changed it anything that I have done. But at the same time, I've rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. I do I do a boot camp workshop, whatever you want to call it about personal branding, right? I reverse engineer my own brand. And I tell people that my own brand has been the best and worst thing I've ever created for myself, because it's opened 100 doors for really cool opportunities, but it's closed 1000 doors. Yeah, like, nobody's gonna hire me as a VP of a bank. No one's gonna hire me, the thing is, I whatever I like to, you know, I like to make penis jokes and stuff like that. I didn't during the pandemic that was safe. So that was a thing. But um, I'm back.

Qasim Virjee 26:32
Yeah, here first.

Brand expression, identity, and loyalty in the digital age. 

Saul Colt 26:34
But, um, but you know, like, I, I have something coming up for one of my clients that when people look at it, they're gonna be like, like, you know, you can't do that. And it's like, well, why can't you? I did I just did it? Yeah, so don't tell me I can't deal we literally just did it. So it's like, I and I think that, you know, I'm such a proud Canadian, but I think I have a little bit more of an American, you know, American flag bikini, ak 47, you know, poster kind of mentality where it's like, I, you know, I live what I, I preach when I talk about, you know, standing out from the crowd and not being quiet. And all these things. I'm very opinionated. And I, I let my opinions live out there in the world. And, you know, if you don't want to work with me, because I believe a women, a woman should have the right to abortion to work with me, if you don't want to work with me for any of my other, you know, crazy beliefs don't work with me, like, you're missing out on some great work.

Qasim Virjee 27:46
But at the same time, I mean, look, I think there's a couple of things here. One is about freedom of expression, and also the ability to be able to express yourself freely and be able to carry your identity in public, right, which is at odds with the kind of Protestant Ethic and, you know, nine to five, factory mentality of our office sector in Canada. The other thing is, if you're an early internet adopter, and it meant everything to you, when you got online in the 90s, like that, that millio was about freedom of expression with the ability to maintain monikers, right, like it was hip hop, the way I look at it look, really internet was hip hop. And the new schoolers might not get this that you could be yourself and be someone else at the same time. And it was something we all co celebrated. There was a kind of a fun theatricality to it. So I feel like, yeah, in the last decade that's been lost with this, like, you know, kind of doomed from the start quest for truth in this, like, news versus social media debate. And the question of like, is your profile your real self? Well, not if you've been brainwashed by the advertising medium that you grew up with? Right? That's very different than if you know who you are. And you expect everyone who looks at you to know who they are, to be able to interact? I think this is the quandary we're in now, where if people didn't experience that, or the internet, or the world before the internet, this you know, the idea of, of branding, especially using, you know, digital identities has changed. Hmm. What can you say about that, that you might have garnered as insight from from client work on this kind of like, the willingness for brands to be expressive.

Saul Colt 29:43
I tell all the brands I work with that they have to be expressive. You know, people want to love the brands they use, like I can tell you, I might be a little different, but I think All the clothing I wear comes from, you know, less than 10 brands, you know, like, it's just like I'm, you know, it's like I, when I find something I like and by like, I mean the whole, like the whole brand, not just the clothing, not just the Fit shirt, I want to know what they're about, I want to know, like, you know, Nike is one of my favorite brands in the world. And, you know, when I see Nike, you know, stand up for Tiger Woods, after you know, he, he, you know, has an affair with all these people or, or with, you know, Kaepernick and all that stuff. And

Qasim Virjee 30:38
that was the standing sitting.

Brand identity, marketing, and sales strategies.

Saul Colt 30:40
Like, they're kneeling, kneeling, and the the anthem, you know, it's like, we're with you for a reason. You know, it's like, I really like roots. And and I don't know if they stand for the same things they used to, but I was always sort of fascinated by the roots, boys. I know, they're not part of the company anymore. But like, that was interesting to me a couple, couple, you know, Americans that came to Canada sort of show us how to do it and stuff like that. I like that. There's brands like I like brands that don't cower at the littlest bit of adversity, and things like that. And, like, I don't wish it I don't think adversity is makes brands stronger, or anything, but I do really appreciate brands that, you know, sort of tough out hard times, and, and stuff like that. And, like, everybody is going to have an issue, everybody is going to come up with something that's uncomfortable. You know, even in my career, I've had, you know, people like attack me, you know, for, for things that I didn't even do and stuff like that. And I was just fortunate enough, that, you know, through all my bravado and whatever, really, really good to people. So a lot of people came to my defense and, and told this person they were wrong. But, you know, it's like, I, I think brands

Qasim Virjee 32:01
won't Sorry, what was that situation? What happened?

Saul Colt 32:03
So I just had a long, long time ago, we, when I was working at FreshBooks, I've told this story, I was working at FreshBooks, we were doing an event in Toronto. And one of the speakers on the panel was a guy who was charged with like, some sexual deviant stuff. And I was the first person who knew he was charged because I had a Google alert for all the speakers. Okay, I told him he couldn't speak at the event. Like the minute I heard about it. And just because of my, you know, my making stupid jokes, like I've slept with many women to get to where I am today, it was a shock value statement, they assumed that I was part of his like, DVD thing. And like, I, you know, like I've, I've, I've had went and I, I've had women work for me, every every evolution of my, my career and, and my current company, and everyone's stood up, and they're like, it's a joke, right? Get over. Like, I've been in hotel rooms with him 100 times. And he sits at the other end and says, Don't come anywhere near. But, uh, but you know, it's like, brands need a personality, because there's so many brands doing the exact same thing.

Qasim Virjee 33:17
Right? Okay, so this is getting into the maybe the differentiation, or identification of brand versus marketing. It's a very, very different. So break it down for the people that that are watching or listening that don't, that don't know, your lens on this identification.

Saul Colt 33:35
Also, if you think of brand marketing and sales a brand is, is how you brand is really how you feel about the company. It's not your logo, it's not your anything, it's literally how you feel about the company. Yeah, marketing is a element or a layer above that, to create desire. And sales is a element or layer above that to get you actually apart with your money. But but the brand itself is like, you know, why do you exist? Why is this important? Why should people care? Right? You know, it's not the colors you choose, like all those things. Like I'm, I had a big call this morning. And, and the guy goes, How come you you're not suggesting we change our logo? I got because I don't think logos actually make people buy anything. Like you look, it's fine. Like, we've got more, we have way more important stuff to fix your brand, then your visual identity and stuff like that. But, you know, when you think of brands, you know, like, think of you know, think of Apple versus Microsoft. Yeah, you may not be able to describe each of their brands intimately. But you know, how Apple makes you feel versus Microsoft, right? You know, like, and Microsoft is a great company. They've made a bunch of people really rich, but nobody's lining up like a Yorkdale to the Microsoft Store, you know, six in the morning to get anything that they're buying, but at the Apple store every September when they were least new iPhone, it's all about it because people identify with the brand I hate using Apple as an example. Well, I just think that Apple is is a once in a, in a not even a generation, it's a once in a lifetime brand that nobody can ever replicate. There's never going to be another apple like, you know, the type of lightning striking, like lightning struck this brand like four times. Yeah. So there's nothing you could learn from Apple, and take to your company and do it. But you know, it, you know, think of the difference between, you know, like Porsche and Volvo, ocean Ford,

Marketing and branding strategies for new and established companies

Qasim Virjee 35:39
there is something in this though, because this is about like challenge or brand in some way to and brands establishing an identity amongst the people that would have an emotional reaction to them in market, amongst their competitors. And in relation to their competitors. Often cases, I think, in the last few years with digital marketing, a lot of brands that are new upstarts trying to establish they try and I should say a lot of companies that are new upstarts try to sidestep the brand, to be able to focus on functional aspects of their product or service, to push marketing on people. And then if you're in a race for the fastest chip, you know, that's what you're in a race for your race for, like, the most lovable, easily holdable device. And those are very different things, right. So the Challenger brands are interesting, because they have this kind of identification of saying, we need to be out there, we need to be known. And what we're known for is going to evoke emotion

Saul Colt 36:43
in challenger brands, they're the brands I love working with, you know, you find me a brand that's fourth in their category, and want to be like three or two, those are the people that are willing to take some chances willing to do some cool stuff, and really embrace, you know, like, a different thought process. You know, like, you're not going to go from four to two, by just buying more Instagram ads, yeah, you're not gonna go for to to buy, you know, changing your labeling, and packaging and stuff like that, it, you have to actually do things and those things could be, there's 100 different things you could do. There's not one, like single thing. And that's why when any brand comes to us, we don't sell packages, we don't sell anything we sit down. And you know, we listen to the client, and we hear what they want. But in fact, what we do is we run them through our process, then we tell them what they need. So it's not even a case of like, you telling me I want, you know, PR, and I'm going to tell you how we're going to do PR for you, right? Yeah. It's really like, I'm going to tell you, you think you want PR what you really want is this, this and this. And maybe you don't work with us, because you're just so dead set on, all you want to PR or whatever. But that's always been our process. And it's worked, really for us and against us. Because some people are just like, well, you're not listening to me, this is what I want. I'm like, but like, our reputation is at stake here too. And if we just do what you say, you're not gonna get the results you want. And then you're gonna shit talk us, you know, behind our backs, like worthy, you came to us, because we're subject matter experts in this, and you either want to ride with us or not. And that's why we lose probably, you know, 10% 20% of all our proposals, just based on the fact that people think that we missed, you know, we missed the misunderstood their ask. That's

Qasim Virjee 38:46
pretty good batting average, though. Oh, no, I think nine out of 10

Saul Colt 38:50
You know if we can get in a room with somebody, we're at about a 70 75% close rate. It's it's getting in the room. It's like, really difficult. Let's

Qasim Virjee 39:03
talk about that game. Yeah. So firstly, let's talk about the Wii, who's the Wii. So

Saul Colt 39:08
got a team of a bunch of people are our senior leadership. It's myself. gentleman named Bill Morrison, who worked 20 years at the Simpsons. He was the last editor in chief of Mad Magazine before Warner Brothers disbanded. So he's our creative team lead and he's, we brought over with Bill, a big chunk of people who worked at Mad Magazine and The Simpsons. So when when it comes to creative side of the business, there's like, there's nobody better than us. We've got a historical creative team. And it's really interesting. These guys aren't bogged down by working in tech for 20 years. They you know, their their whole careers have been putting a mirror up to society. ad and finding those nuggets of truth, which is what advertising is all about. And marketing is all about. So it's really interesting that we found a bunch of guys who've been making fake advertisements for 40 years, and now they make real advertisements for real brands. On the other side, you know, we've got people from from Facebook, we got people from former Instagram, former Wall Street Journal. So what were we worried about 29 people, we're down to the 26 right now, but you know, it's, it's, that's why you know, and I'm, I'm honest with everybody, like, I don't know, if I'm the best person to run this business, I'm really good at BD, I'm really good at at the creative side of stuff. But, you know, it's like, I'm filed our taxes for this year, which were a couple months behind, so, gotta get on that tomorrow. And, and things like that. So it's like, if, if I could find somebody to run the business that I trusted and, and understood, you know, what I was looking for, I'd love to just go back and work in client work all the time. But somebody needs to run a business and somebody needs to be, you know, staying up all night thinking about where we go next. And who we talk to, and, you know, building the list of 150 clients and, and stuff like that, and finding new people and, and all that stuff. So it's like I am, it's funny, bringing bill in was a homerun and the slam dunk, and he's made the company so much better and, and he's a huge asset to everything we do. But other than Bill, I've, I don't trust myself to hire senior people anymore. Because I brought in a chief. You suppose the head like BD asked for chief revenue officer was the title he asked for? I don't care about titles, you can call yourself and

Qasim Virjee 41:58
it's a red flag. I feel I always feel like it's a red flag when people ask for titles, especially if those titles are like standardized titles, titles that make them that are easy to put on a resume. If they come in, they say like monkey whisperer. I'm like, Yeah, great. Okay, cool. You're a monkey whisperer.

Saul Colt 42:14
So this guy came in, cost me a lot of money. And I close more deals than he did. In the same like, sort of six month pilot thing I hired other people to, to be, you know, like, head of strategy head of everything. And, like, I'm really good with creative people, because I understand creative people, but I don't trust myself to hire like, like a finance person or anything like that. I think like, I've got like, sucker tattooed on my face somewhere, that you need a certain set of glasses to see or something so. So those are things that i i Now, basically, like I, I have people that I trust a great deal. And I just let you do the whole hiring process for me, because there's like, the person is gonna give me a sob story or something, you're gonna want to help them. And then it's gonna, like, I'm gonna, like, burn through more cash and see nothing for him.

Qasim Virjee 43:15
So it sounds like you have a creative superpower team, like, all stars. The work is Do you are you I guess, how do you limit the scope of your work for clients?

Saul Colt 43:29
Well, we usually set the scope, you know, and that that's through, like, our process that I created, where we, we we pitch what we think the claim needs, as opposed to what they're telling us they want. And in there, it's, it's pretty clear. You know, there's always scope creep, and we try to be really fair about it. And, you know, we only build, you know, after a certain point and, and stuff like that

Limiting scope of work for clients through a defined process and strategic partnerships.

Qasim Virjee 43:57
number, what I mean is like, you're not when a client has a, you're solving a need for a client, you're not answering it in the proposal every time with okay, you really need an animated magazine, or an animated TV show. Like I mean, stepping outside of what the kind of like core identities of those people are and offering tangible assets or strategies to people like, what does your company take on and also work with others to accessorize for like, activations and campaigns? So I would say

Saul Colt 44:37
anything illustrative, animated anything, you know, you know, anything like that we do in house. All of our design work is done in house all of our strategy is done in house the things that we farm out is less than you would think, but video per day. Action, we've got teams that we work with, that we really like, and, and seeing what you guys have here, and we're going to be talking nice afterwards. And you're gonna see a lot of me, hopefully in the future. But video production is something that we have, you know, favorite vendors that we work with swag and stuff, we have favorite vendors and, and things like that. But a lot of a lot of stuff is, is done in house like one of the projects we did. Just before the pandemic was we created a newspaper, what we did was we created the cover back cover inside cover inside back cover of The New York Times of that day. And we had the, the front page story was of a client of ours, and we wrote it, and we created an exact copy. And we bought 500 copies of The New York Times, and we put our, our cover over the real cover. And we had we had T shirts made the set complimentary New York Times, and we handed them to people walking on the subway of The New York Times. And when people were on the subway, reading the paper, we went and got sneaky pictures of like 25 different newspapers, all with our clients like front page story and, and all stuff like that. So other than the printing everything with that was done in house, we wrote the stories, we you know, typeset it and everything. And we just we found someone that prints like broadsheet newspaper, and we, you know, the paper didn't match the color of 100%. Yeah, nobody noticed. And, and I don't even think people realize that they were part of like a stunt or praying. They just thought it's like, oh, look, a financial company is doing really well. They're on the cover of The New York Times and, and stuff like that. So

Qasim Virjee 46:53
and then how was how are those assets distributed? Like, did that go out through own channels of the advertiser? Or did you get PR like a coverage?

Saul Colt 47:03
Oh, we got PR covered, like once. So the papers were distributed by hand, all the video and photos we collected, we saved we didn't push it out the same day, because we want to pitch it to media first. And then the pitch was, you know, brand does something really crazy. It's business unusual. How do you get on the front page of The New York Times you just print your own. And then once the it was we got media coverage, then it all went through social, we had the actual media coverage push through social, then we did a couple of behind the scenes stuff for another week or so.

Brand ownership and empowerment through creative marketing strategies.

Qasim Virjee 47:41
Nice. But that's it. So this is a great expression of or good case study of this kind of thinking outside of the box. Taking things into your own hand and being able to like deal with the consequences.

Saul Colt 47:53
Oh yeah, I've been I've been we once created for it was for 01 day, we just decided you know, like every day, every calendar day is like a stupid like, today's you know, chocolate chip day or whatever. So we created today is and it was small business accounting Awareness Day. And we went to the state capitol in Sacramento. And on the lawn of the State Capitol building, we got a food truck, and we were giving free sandwiches to everybody. We had 100 accountants there. And we were trying to get the delegates the lawmakers whatever to come out and talk to thing and we had all this signage and balloon arches and like had a guy for no reason whatsoever. Dressed as a California bear. There's just been like a really bad bear costume taking pictures with people. And we got politicians to come out and talk to people and we shot video and photographs. But we didn't have permission to to assemble on the lawn of things. So I was detained in the capitol jail for about two hours or so. We're only planning on being there for the lunch hour anyways. So it was resolved by me promising that we would just leave Yeah, well, we were gonna leave anyways. So it was no big deal. I'm looking at my watch and like you have lunch is over. We only booked the truck for 90 minutes. It's like absolutely, I will make everybody like leave as soon as you let me go. And they let me go but that was a little scary. But i i You know, I do a lot of guerilla stuff without permission. We do all sorts of things. And if there's one thing I've gotten really good at speaking with police and and stuff like that and getting yourself out of pickles getting myself out of pickles is right. But um, but like I said, you know at the beginning, like brands need to do this stuff. It's what resonates with people Paul, that's what stands out.

Qasim Virjee 50:01
How can brands themselves? How can companies take ownership of their brand to be able to not be cavalier, but to be confident, let's say with their brand? There's this whole thing of like outsourcing, right? And North America and Canada, like, hired this company. They're experts like, how are you guys? Of course, you're experts in what you do. But there's also this thing of, well, how do you also learn from the experts to educate ourselves to be able to empower our staff to talk to customers, also,

Saul Colt 50:31
we do a lot of like, create a boot camps where we'll come into a company, and actually come up with the idea with them. And, you know, whether they want to do it themselves or do with us afterwards. But, you know, it's not that different from when I was talking about pitching clients, where I say, you know, I want this big chunk of money from you. But let's start small first branch should start a little small, realize, no one's gonna get hurt, it's not gonna, like harm them. Yeah. And then keep building and maybe, you know, they do one themselves, they bring in someone like us to do another and, and keep going up, like the ladder and stuff, but it's like, you know, you look at, you know, all you know, I've been to South by Southwest, and in a few years, Facebook

Qasim Virjee 51:16
told me 10 years, and I looked at Facebook, that was last time I logged in, probably that a lot.

Marketing stunts and their execution.

Saul Colt 51:23
So I haven't been to South Carolina in a handful of years. But I did go for seven years straight at a time. And, you know, now I look at it, and it's hard to tell because I'm not there, you know, feet on the ground or anything, but it looks like the activations have, like taken over. And one, every brand has its own restaurant, every brand has, you know, they're taking all the retail storefronts, and making them whatever and stuff like that. That's not where you start. Yeah, you know, like, you've got to make sure that you've got, you know, the people to really understand. So I always tell brands, it actually like I'm, and this is another reason we lose projects, I'm not trying to press you, as the person who's writing the check to, for me to work with them, trying to impress your customer. So I do all the research on the customer, not the VP of marketing. And a lot of people just go in and you know, blow the smoke up the the VP of marketing's wherever, and try to close the deal or anything. A lot of times, like I've been on calls where I know more about their customers than they do, of course, and like your customers will love this. This is but he's like, I don't like it. Right? And I go, but it's not for you. You probably don't even use your own products, or are you getting free? Like my mission is to keep the lights on in my own business and, and the business of all my clients. So it's like, it's it's funny to see people who are afraid to do what I do. Because they don't like it or they don't get it. Not because they don't think it's good or not. Yeah, it's it goes back to Ross telling me I don't understand what you do. But people tell me it works. You know, there, there has to be a little bit of trust, but also a little bit of like, like freedom to do STEM. And, you know, I tell all the people people say, Oh, well, do you execute your own things? Or do you just, you know, write up ideas. I said I had 99% of the time, I'd like to execute my own work. Because there's so much nuance in a marketing stunt, or, or really anything. And like if you're doing something grill and nothing ever goes right, right? So you have to like have plan B plan C Plan D like one of my favorite stories. I've got my my bag here. The one of my favorite brands is a guy named John why John why.com. Jalen? Why web.com He makes leather belts, leather wallets, guitar straps, all sorts of stuff. He's created this cool way of basically tattooing on leather. So they're really colorful, really vibrant and stuff like that. Who always saw that bag. Yeah, so we did. I never thought I'd be like a sling guy. And I still don't know if I really am. Like he sent it to me and I love him. So I wear it. But I don't know if it's really me, but I like supporting him. He's my friend. But we did a stunt for him. Where we went through our process we pitched him a bunch of ideas. And you know, he sells belts and belts like we we netted out the belts are like the forgotten or the unseen fashion accessory. Oh, yeah. So we did a guerrilla fashion show at a shopping mall. We didn't have permission to do it. The models were all naked except for one of his belts, breasts, vaginas penises, the whole deal. Oh my god. We filmed the whole thing. So if you picture this. It was a little, little low production value. But we had GoPro cameras on the second story. Yeah, of all the things we had people with their phones and other cameras like right where we were. And right in the middle of the food court, the busiest part of the mall busiest part of the day. A guy literally just unrolls this giant red carpet for models to male to female, drop their, like trench coats, completely make it except for these belts guy with a ghetto blaster. And they do two laps on the red carpet. And wow. And when we planned it out, we thought like, we thought mall security was going to be there and like or like 10 seconds. So we had planned to escape routes. As soon as you see something, you're gonna run that way we're gonna we we did all planned out we had like the we drew pictures of the model and where all the exits were, and everything. And the mall security came over and they were just watching these people. So they're walking up and down during this whole thing. And the models are looking at me like what are we supposed to do? Like, we didn't think we were gonna last this long. So at the end of it,

Qasim Virjee 56:16
we just put our coats back.

Saul Colt 56:19
Well, that's what they did. They literally just put their their clothes back on, we worked out very calmly and civilly. We headed out the putting the clothes back. In editing, we made it look like it was much more dramatic that actually was but you never know how things when you don't have permission. You never know how things are going to like end up. So you have to be there. And you have to be ready for anything and plan for the worst and all sorts of things. So, you know, I've had people, like, take my idea paid or not paid, tried to do without me. And it's just been a complete an absolute nightmare. Because I didn't plan for the worst

Qasim Virjee 56:57
oh man, the execution is everything. And it's worth paying double for.

Saul Colt 57:00
I always tell people like you plan, you pay me to worry, right? I worry about everything. And my worrying is actually future proofing the whole thing. Because I will like literally lie in bed sleepless thinking of every major thing that could go wrong. And then we plug the hole. Yep. But if you're not worrying about anything, and you're just like, Oh, we're gonna do this, it's gonna be fun. Like, you see me at an execution of a stunt or anything. I'm never smiling. I'm literally I'm like, Jason Bourne. I'm looking for somebody with a rifle or something to shut this whole thing down. Cuz but that's what it takes to do this stuff properly and professionally.

Qasim Virjee 57:44
Totally. That's why we have integrated studios that are built out. I said before we were rolling camera I was telling you like, I don't like setup and teardown. It's not that it's all the variables. The variables can just drive you mad you know so even for us for production. It has to be a system has to be studio this is

Saul Colt 58:04
like what you have here so impressive. Thank you. This is like Charlie Rose without the like, the the nudity with the interns and stuff.

Qasim Virjee 58:14
Was he one of them? Oh, right girls

Saul Colt 58:17
into his home. And he answered the door with like an open robe and stuff. Oh,

Qasim Virjee 58:21
Charlie Rose. Thank you. So it was a pleasure having you on the show. This was very cool. Thank

Saul Colt 58:29
you very much, man. It was fun.

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