Chris Kneeland

So we created the coat brand scorecard to help people self assess the coat worthiness of a coat capabilities. their company because I think one of the things that disappoints us is how many people write their category off. Like if they worked for Converse, or Rolex or the New York Yankees, they say I get it. People care about that. But I work at a gas station brand or I work at a grocery brand work in a toilet paper brand, not as sexy. People just don’t care. And there are there are absolutely categories that people don’t care about the more utilitarian and commoditized things like gasoline or electricity are very hard to create hyper levels of engagement. But the point of the scorecard is to open people’s minds that more often than not, you have written off your company or your category, and you’ve neutered yourself from the potential that you actually have because you’re using excuses. Because maybe others in your space haven’t achieved irrational levels of adoration. Therefore, you think that customers don’t want to provide irrational batteries. I would like to use the example of wah wah, are you familiar with wah wah, no, was a the most popular convenience store in Pennsylvania, that there throughout the Continental north east, but they have something like 250 stores just in Pennsylvania and they’re always voted the best cup of coffee the best hoagie sandwich, the best place to fill up a sign me up. And it’s like, Guys, this is just a gas station. Not that the product was exceptional was that they decided to make the experience exceptional. So I like to score cards, I try to encourage people, the way that we ask questions, has more to do with their courage than their category. It has more to do with their creativity than their industry. And it is designed to hopefully open some eyes and say, You know why? Why wouldn’t we want to not only be financially successful but wildly significant and culturally relevant. And it just it’s really rewarding to work within a co brand so disappointed that our people aren’t sort of aiming for the stars to become

Jeremy Weisz

Chris with the Wawa situation. What is something that they do that helped me know what what’s an experience,

Chris Kneeland

without I think a big part of it is they redefine what business they’re in writing was not in the business of getting people gas. While I was in the business of being the most as the hub of a community, they want to be there, they want to be a reason for people to come and start their day. With wah wah, they allow high school kids to water in the parking lot after school to become a Hangout where people are buying, you know, candy bars legally or vapes illegally, you know, they want to become culturally relevant. They give back to the community. One of the fascinating things about wha wha is it’s largely employee owned, so the person making that hoagie or the person filling your gas is most likely a millionaire, because of the stock or equity programs that they have. And so their, their internal engagement is off the charts. So they just had a commitment to we want to become meaningful, so therefore, we’re going to do different things.

Jeremy Weisz

Hmm, yeah. So people really they’re also just take ownership over it, because they all are owners, I guess you could say, yeah, I

Chris Kneeland

mean, a big there’s a huge correlation between companies, they voted Best Places to Work, and external adoration or advocacy. So you like even something like a chobani or Google. Now, these spaces invest heavily in their employees. And there’s this this halo effect, there’s a spillover effect of if you’re doing right by your employees. Certain enlightened customers start to give you more grace, the media starts to give report on you in a better light. And, you know, we’ve seen that work in reverse as well when brands can be exposed. I’m going Nike, which is an amazing co brand had to kind of come come to Jesus moment with their manufacturing practices in Vietnam and the sweatshop conditions and you know, I love that about the transparency of brands today’s there’s really no place to hide. Amazon is loved for its convenience and hated for its unethical treatment of warehouse workers. And if they hold Jeff Bezos accountable to that make they’re expecting the company to fix that in his last shareholders report. bazel said hey, we’re putting profits back into hazard pay for people that are working through Corona and health insurance and making sure that we’re a bit more equitable employer. So it’s it’s a big cocktail that kind of goes into that level of accomplishment

Jeremy Weisz

is early on in your career. Um, you know, you work with companies like John deere and Home Depot. What What’s something you learned from John deere?

Chris Kneeland

What’s the John deere was I graduated from Northwestern in 99. I’m not name dropping, you’re bragging you mentioned something about Northwestern. So I was reminded reminding you, it doesn’t matter. The Wildcats

Jeremy Weisz

so jumuah Peoria Peoria is John deere lo based in Peoria. Well John

Chris Kneeland

deere has three divisions, agriculture. Which is in Peoria residential, which is in Raleigh, North Carolina. And construction i think is in Moline, Illinois if I remember correctly, I worked for the residential things. So anything a homeowner would buy weed whackers, riding lawn mowers, generators, stuff like that. But the reason why I took that job is I was graduate, I wanted to work for the most iconic brand has always been kind of fascinated for what is it that makes some brands more exceptional than others? And as a as a fan of marketing, I was, you know, I was curious, was it their storytelling? Is it their origin story? Was it their promotional strategies or activations? What was it and in 99, if you can appreciate December of 99, all the lists were coming out of the of the past century. So the best of this were your best bands, the best restaurants, the best movies, and one of them was the top 10 most powerful brands of the 1900s. And Coca Cola was number one Mercedes one list, but John deere was on the list. And John deere was starting recruiting. And I said I, I considered it a second MBA to just go me go walk those halls and learn what John deere does. And you know, it exceeded all my expectations, the number of fan mail, that we would get a kid birthday parties with John deere cakes and kids bedrooms with John deere wallpaper, and John deere bedspreads, and kid clothes and toys, and they sell a billion dollars and die cast toys and shovels. And it’s just a phenomenal brand, but its origins go all the way back to the 1800s. There’s very few brands that are that relevant for over a century. But I mean, it was a remarkable product. And then they did a lot of good things during the Great Depression, which actually is very relevant for today is this is how businesses deal with recession and how businesses display empathy when their customers are unemployed. I think that John deere did a lot of things that sort of saved the American Farm back in the 30s. But now, you know, two or three generations of farmers later they don’t forget that John deere, let us keep the equipment when we couldn’t pay for it kind of thing. And that plays into their sort of American Heritage

Jeremy Weisz

when you are thanks for sharing that. Yeah. I mean, I didn’t even think of that. Right during that time. And it’s totally relevant today. What did you see walking the halls in, you know, doing work with them? What did you see? When you said you exceed your expectations? What was the worry from

Chris Kneeland

the number one thing I saw was that I mean, people talk about Harley-Davidson a lot about tattooing on your body, I would argue, there’s as many if not more, John deere tattoos, hats. You know, we did a fun thing at the time. George Clooney was doing a movie, and they asked John deere to donate a bunch of equipment. And at the end of the day, we opted out of it, but we gave him two dozen hats is thank you for considering us. And George Clooney grabbed the John deere hat and wore it as his character throughout the whole movie, the perfect storm. So it’s a free product. We didn’t give them the hundreds of thousand dollars of equipment they asked for, but we gave them a $20 hat that was in the movie for 80% of the show. But I also think there was a tremendous amount of respect. I think the people that manage the John deere brand knew that they were stewards of something very special. So there wasn’t a lot of this ego that this is something that I built I made. We can do it my way, but rather, you know, if anything, they were a bit too conservative, because there was a we can’t screw this up sort of mentality. It was also fascinating. When I was at John deere, for 120 years, they had sold through private dealers. And on my watch, they they decided to sell through mass merchants, Home Depot. And that was a gigantic thing. A home depot in one year wrote a check worthy of every riding lawnmower that they’ve ever sold through a dealer network. The past years, I mean, John deere or Home Depot, John deere kind of created this new marriage. And that was a new sort of way of bringing that brand to the mass market, as opposed to being a bit more elitist and luxury. Before that. So I wasn’t there for very long, just under three years. Because I ended up actually going to Home Depot through that relationship. I was exposed to at the time, my department of John deere was spending maybe 50 to 60 million and Home Depot was spending 900 million I mean, it’s almost like a billion dollars. So Home Depot was building two stores that day and was becoming the darling of big box retail. So it’s another great opportunity to get another education and taking your brand and making it scale. It’s amazing.

Jeremy Weisz

Yeah. You know, I was looking Christian your site, I encourage anyone to go to CultIdeas.com, but part of the philosophy is eight points to become a cult brand, right and so there’s be remarkable have a purpose, you know and there’s a bunch of others you can check it out. One i thought was interesting was pick a fight. So I thought you would maybe expand on that a little bit.

Chris Kneeland

Know that you pick the most provocative and controversial of the eight when we are consulting with clients and sort of either grading them or helping them improve their quote unquote score in one of those eight principles. We will always carve out pick a fight as this is a masterclass. This is the darker arts of CO branding, it is not for everyone, particularly our Canadian clients are way too nice to want to really do this. It’s two things it leans into mini challenger brand principle. So challenger brands are almost always more fun to work with. Burger King was just voted marketeer of the decade for 2010 2020. And just think about the freedom they have when they know they’re number two. And everybody knows who number one is. You just get to do more irreverent things. Pepsi does more irreverent stuff, and coke. Mac is more Reverend stuff. And Microsoft, Burger King does crazier stuff than McDonald’s. So there’s a lot of creativity, a lot of fun. But then you also lean into that political side of stuff, or it gets into mudslinging and where it gets into I may not be great, but at least I’m not as bad as this guy or that gal, kind of thing. So there between those two extremes, there is some principles that can be applied, applied by not just defining what you fighting for, but defining what you’re fighting against. I mean, a great example here is on my desk. This is a swell water bottle. Right? I mean, swell is a $50 art piece that I feel better about myself walking around, it’s a badge, I can get the same thing for 20 bucks at Walmart, that’s not swell branded. But swells villain isn’t a competitor swells villain is the plastic waterfall. And when you hear their CEO talk, she’s not just talking about the sales performance of the swell business. She’s talking about the elimination of the plastic bottle footprint, and the good that they’re doing the planet Patagonia would be the same way Ben and Jerry’s would be the same way. And it doesn’t always have to be saved the planet Southwest Airlines was fighting against. They wanted to democratize the skies. They call their gate agents freedom fighters, they were fighting against the family station wagon road trip. They thought it was egregious that you take two of your five vacation days just on driving to grandma’s Miss vacation. Exactly, yeah. And so you know, their villain, if you well was we wanted to make it affordable for a family of five to fly and enjoy the privilege of your travels again in the 70s. Right when they started. It’s a very powerful way to galvanize, because it’s not just people that like you. But it’s also people who also hate the thing that you’re fighting against. So creates a heightened level of emotional attachment.

Jeremy Weisz

I mean, if you think about it, because any good story book movie, if it doesn’t have a villain,

Chris Kneeland

what what you know, it’s funny you say that. So a few years ago, we honored marvel at The Gathering. The Gathering is this annual event that we do for to kind of celebrate and learn from those collect fans on planet. Marvel was awarded and I think some people today kind of roll their eyes thinking well, Marvel’s choosing them as cheating. Maybe they’re too good. It’s like they forget Marvel went bankrupt in the late 90s. Marvel is only a 20 year old success story, tie do remarkable creativity and courage to do something nobody ever done before, which is create that Marvel universe of 22 films that are all interconnected. And it was there reaping the benefits of that courage is that Yeah, everyone that launched now makes you know $500 million, but it wasn’t always that way. And when I was talking to the woman from Marvel, I said why does Marvel Why does it seem like Marvel can’t get it wrong? and DC can’t get it right? Like is Superman Batman is less popular than than Spider Man or his Iron Man that was popular Batman was actually from a character perspective. Batman and Superman have more brand equity. They sell more comic books that sell more pajamas, they sell more, you know TV shows, but what Marvel does is they tell better stories of the villains they make the bad guys more reasonable and that Disney does the same thing. There is no Lion King without scar. There is a little mermaid that Ursula and the villains get a disproportionate amount of airtime. You figure the last big endgame thing that was a fantasy movie. It was a movie about the bad guy. Not even the good guys destroying. So yeah, they really understand that if you don’t unless you’ve properly positioned the villain, then defeated that villain is not as engaging.

Jeremy Weisz

Yeah, because one of my favorite books on on on this actually I mean there’s so many good ones but Ben Settle persuasion Secrets of the world’s most charismatic, influential villains, and it’s very short read, most people have not heard of it, but it’s it’s fantastic. And he talks about this in it. Um, what’s your favorite example from the companies you’ve consulted with and helped the pick a fight? Sorry that they actually applied what you said and actually executed on it? Well,

Chris Kneeland

I think one of my favorites, I don’t know if it’s my favorite, it’s my favorite for a couple of reasons. One, it just did a lot of good for an underrepresented group. But it was also it’s from Zappos and there is a group within Zappos called Zappos adaptive. I marvel at Zappos, I don’t know how Zappos is a multi billion dollar success story, they don’t make anything that they sell everything they sell, you can buy someplace else by actually trying it on their premium price point. They never go on discount, they don’t mass advertise. It’s like how is Zappos a thing? Right? They think is any one of those areas, they’re bested by somebody else. And yet people love Zappos. Zappos asked us to help them do a project called adaptive, which is basically Zappos for special needs situations. certain disabilities and pts different handicap. So one of the big things that they actually just announced a couple weeks ago is they’ll sell single shoes. So people that maybe only have one way, or PDA people have different size feet, you know, you’re always basically having to buy a pair and throw one out. And then do other things like choose it don’t have to be laced up, etc, etc. But essentially, the villain in that case, was the mainstream, and because it’s efficient, and because it’s status quo, nobody ever stops to think about the 2%, or the 5%, that can’t button a shirt because they don’t have use of their fingers. Right. And so it was, it was a really good sort of feel good moment to say, you know, these privileged people have full use of all their limbs. Never pause to think about how difficult it is to get dressed every day. If you don’t, and Zappos adapt is now going to give a voice and give a platform and more importantly, give products that provide real solutions for that audience. And so that was a bit of a tear jerker, kind of a thing where you realize there were people who for 30 years have had to suffer in silence, because they didn’t want to, you know, they didn’t want to be the difficult one and ask somebody to, can you make that a zipper instead of a, you know, a lace? Because I don’t want to tie? I love it. Yeah.

Jeremy Weisz

So they’re serving the underserved, I guess you could say, I love that. Chris, on the the Cult Ideas front, I would love for you to talk about you mentioned Harley-Davidson. There’s a bunch of really interesting case studies. He talked about, I’d love for you to talk about Harley-Davidson a little bit.

Chris Kneeland

So Harley was our when we used to be a more traditional advertising agency in 2012. He sort of said no more of this. And what we were saying no more to was no more solving real problems with superficial window dressing. We were tired of clients asking us for ad campaigns to create relevance for their category when what they really needed was a better product, a better price point, or a better customer experience. And we were inspired in 2009 2010, which To this day, I still herald the best ad campaigns of all time, which is the Domino’s Pizza turnaround campaign. If you maybe remember a decade ago, their CEO came on TV saying hey, our pizza sucks. The focus group say that it tastes like cardboard. They’d rather have ketchup on the box and eat our sauce and this kind of stuff. And it was jarring. It was shocking that there was so much honesty, but the backstory was their sales were tanking. Their franchisees were revolting. They threw a hail mary to their ad agency. They hired the hottest ad shop in the country at the time Kristen Porter, and said save us. And Crispin Porter gave him the half of the money back and said I’m not gonna like go by Superbowl commercials and start screaming dominoes and carpet bombing the world of coupons. Go make a better product. And it was it was very it has a lot of integrity for Crispin Porter, they could have made a lot more money if they just created some funny commercials. But they they did real marketing. And I think that that’s the Lost Art today. I think too many brands advertise a lot of brands market and so that’s a long backstory. So we decided that going forward, Cult was going to be a marketing business on the advertising business. And Harley-Davidson was the first brand called us. And I think they were one part attracted to our name. Harley likes being a rebel in the wild and having a business called cold was provocative. And they were one part attracted to our point of view. At the time Harley was spending 85% of their discretionary ad dollars on existing customers think about that. I mean, that is an unbelievable statistic. Most brands 90% of brands spend 85% of their specials on acquisition, trying to get new customers. I mean, that story alone, I like to say if, if you if you agree that Harley has a cold like following you want to achieve the benefits of the Harley’s has achieved, then just simply do what they do, and redeploy your dollars away from acquisition into what I call advocacy, we like to say stop making as you start creating advocates, Harley realize that nobody’s better at selling bikes than their existing fans who get their buddies that also buy a bike so they can go riding together on a Saturday, Harley makes a ridiculous amount of money on upgrades and make a ridiculous amount of money on clothing and apparel. There’s a lifestyle around that brand that they can monetize their their Harley owners group is one of the largest best run loyalty programs. It’s not points based. It’s not they don’t follow the same pitfalls that that people like JC Penney’s or BestBuy do trying to fake loyalty, you know, hotels and airlines, etc. It’s legitimate loyalty. So they called us and it was an interesting challenge because it was Harley for generations had been the bike that you graduate into. So you get started on a little CC Honda and and maybe upgrade to a Yamaha. But you always sort of pined for when I get to that midlife crisis, I’m going to get me that Harley. And they dominated that marketplace, but they didn’t want to wait for their audiences to get to be 52. They wanted to get into more of an entry level bike. And just like that Domino’s Pizza example, we talked about, well, you can’t, you can’t just start on a $26,000 cruiser, you need a lower price point bicycle, you need a different specs and featured bikes, we came out with this thing called dark custom, which was much more entry level, much more Street and urban and millennial centric. And so we had to try to make it so that Harley was can be your first bike, not your last. And then they also paid us they helped get underrepresented groups, particularly women to become riders because Harley had a very masculine You know, I think a lot of women are intimidated, even walk into the dealership, as well as minorities because Harley has a very Western culture, Easy Rider, sort of image and Asian countries and European countries didn’t grow up with that same lore and legend. And so we had to create new stories and new reasons to take part of that American dream, if you will. So it was it was a great, we worked with them for three years. And really, I think that Harley is legitimate they have earned now they’re having some trouble. Now. They’ve always I think sort of struggled with the balance of manufacturing and the high cost of manufacturing and doing things here in the states and versus lots of things have been offshored. But I there’s no doubt they will go down in history.

Jeremy Weisz

Yeah, well, thanks for sharing that. That’s interesting. It’s when you have a company like that come to you. It’s, I guess, I don’t know if it’s humbling, but it’s like, wow, they’re already super successful. And they in those type of companies, they want to be even more successful.

Chris Kneeland

Well, it’s terrifying. I mean, Zappos was the same way. We talk about Zappos in our book, we’ve put Zappos on a pedestal we’ve honored them at The Gathering is one of the top coat brands and then when they ask you to work with them, you have to kind of check yourself and say, you know, what, are we good enough to add any value here? I would feel that way. If Nike called it feel that way if Apple called Starbucks, etc. But the reality is that we’re all just people. The reality is nobody gets to rest on your laurels. I think it’s your fault. He hoped it was one of my favorite coke brands. They did so many things right? Until they didn’t and once people start dying, if he co why not once, not twice, but three different times over their remediation process. You realize oh, there’s still work to do to win back those that we lost to to maintain and to keep our code status and there’s no shortage of brands that really hot for a decade. It’s Can you be relevant for decades. We’re looking at Yeti right now Yeti is one of our favorite coke brands. And you know, they’ve had an amazing run Airbnb as well and amazing run, but they’re both 10 years old. So it’s like, they’re gonna be just as relevant and just as attractive 20 3040 years from now, I think so I know some of the leadership in both those companies and they’re amazing individuals doing the right things for the right reasons, but you can’t get lazy you can’t rest on your laurels and Oftentimes what happens is, those amazing leaders exit like to get their pay day they go. And the next group of people that come in don’t have the same emotional attachment to the brand that the founders did. And brands start to get worse as they kind of go from CEO to CEO.

Jeremy Weisz

Chris, I’d love to hear you know, you mentioned, you know, we know the Harley-Davidsons of the world, the Zappos of the world, the Airbnb. I’m wondering, who do you see as some of the up and coming cult brands? Maybe maybe people have heard about it? Maybe they haven’t.

Chris Kneeland

Yeah, we do that every year. So The Gathering always honors eight of the biggest and most accomplished so there’s the Dallas Cowboys, Lakers, Marvel’s Porsches of the world. And then we always have what we call an emerging cold brand category near either emerging because you’re just too new, you’re only a few years old, or you’re emerging because you’re very regionalised. It just hasn’t taken and taken hold it I think like an In and Out Burger in the in the Southern California market, or Burt’s Bees lip balm in the south east of the US, right? These are amazing brands, but they just haven’t become globally pervasive yet. So we always have our eyes out for those, there’s a lot in the fashion space, like filson comes to mind. Again, they’re 100 years old. But if you’re not like an extreme, Hunter, camper, fisherman type person you don’t know about that brand. There’s one in Florida called the coast sunglasses. And you know, they’re extreme for sailors and in ocean, deep sea fishermen, you can actually kind of see through the water. They actually just got bought by the group that owns lenscrafters of exotic I’m terrified for them. I think sometimes that’s the beginning of the end of these brands, because I don’t think the exotic has the same operating principles that the private equity group did on them before that allowed them to do the things that are special, because usually once you become publicly traded, your mindset shifts away from creating advocates to create shareholder value. And I don’t think most shareholders don’t understand that the best way to have long term value is to create advocates. And so I think Wall Street destroys a lot of special cult brands. And it’s sad to see because it’s so short sighted.

Jeremy Weisz

You know, I’m Chris, who are some of the brands that you like to work with. Now. You mentioned Nike or someone,

Chris Kneeland

we just put a proposal in front of Polaris, and we didn’t get selected and it broke my heart because that recreational vehicle category First of all, it’s exploding right now, despite Corona or because of Corona. All this quarantining and social distancing, there’s a pretty social distancing that ATV or a jet ski or bill. But I love that high octane, high energy, sort of space. And I think that they’re screwing up I think the Yamaha Kawasaki, can answer the world could take a page from John deere, frankly, about not just selling machine, you know, most likely to get paid from Red Bull or GoPro, right? Maybe they need to lean into the lifestyle, become champions and celebrate those who excel at it. And they’ll do some token things like an annual event or something. But I think that should be their all in strategy is catering to the community of enthusiasts with the same discipline with which they cater to the manufacturing and selling of equipment. Right. And so they can become much more customer centric. And that was sort of our steel. And I guess they’re not ready for that yet. And it is hard it is cultural. Right? If you grew up in a company, you think about technology, we’ve honored Nintendo and PlayStation but like, you know, are you are you engineers who make better mousetraps? Or are you advocates for gamers and finding ways to amplify their lifestyles and the more you think about the products that you sell, one of our cult, truisms is people care more about what you stand for and what you sell. But that’s a leap of faith that not many marketers and C Suites have the courage to take that they want to talk about their stuff, as opposed to talking about their values, their ethos, and their

Jeremy Weisz

you know, from the community side of things, right. You have a lot of agency talent and some management platform for the agency owners out there. You mentioned the proposal what what elements that you have found that makes a good proposal when you’re presenting to a brand?

Chris Kneeland

Well, so like is the question what do we advise agencies to do to become more irresistible brands? Are you asking what can brands do to get the best work out of their agency agencies to brands that make them more irresistible? Yeah, and I think that agencies become an agency principals and and maybe an over stereotyping fashion, or wildly insecure people. they cater to just what is procurement asking me. They they they take they become order takers to what the client is asking for. In fact, I just last week I had a podcast with a guy named Frank Palmer in the Canadian marketplace from polymer is Don Draper. He is he is a 50 year veteran of the advertising space has been part of 20 different ad agencies and every notable campaign seems to have his fingerprints on it. And I asked him over your 15 year career, what do you think that agencies don’t do well enough. And he without hesitating said, they don’t push back. They just do what the client asks them to do. And a lot of that comes back to their insecurity, a lot of that comes back to what they think is their craft as I build websites or shoot TV commercials or on the billboards. I don’t tell you your product sucks, even though oftentimes, the conversation should be had. And so on the Domino’s Pizza example, he said, just make a better pizza, right? So I do think that agencies need to do a better job asking the questions that the client should have asked, not the questions that the client did ask.

Jeremy Weisz

Yeah, I was talking to a friend Joey Gilkey, and he recommended a while ago, the challenger sale, which talks about and I love that book is basically like, you think that the best salespeople are the ones that like you said, maybe just were super nice and order takers, but actually the most successful that challenged the beliefs and if they push back if they didn’t agree with the, with the client or the customer, exactly.

Chris Kneeland

Like the advice, I’ve got a I’ve got a son that I’m thinking it’s getting involved in a serious relationship. And I’m thinking to myself, you’re not going to know if this is the one until you’ve had like a horrible fight. You know, you have to create some tension, and see how you work through that tension to really assess compatibility. And when everybody’s in their best behavior, we consider the agency pitch process, like a really bad episode of The Bachelor where the agent, the clients, the one that has all these roses, and the agencies have all lined up and prettiest dresses, basically saying I’ll do whatever you want. Just Pick me Pick me kind of a thing. Sometimes just the girl who plays hard to get it appears a little bit and different. That is that catches the person’s eye. Right. And so I think that that those same human dynamics apply to business relationship.

Jeremy Weisz

Totally. I love it. So in the proposal process, and in presenting the proposal, it’s it’s not just being an order taker, but it’s really challenging, maybe some things that maybe you disagree with, or, you know, the fundamentals of what they’re, they’re doing now.

Chris Kneeland

Yeah, years ago, we got brought in, there’s a there’s a large pharmacy in Canada called London drug, and we got brought in to pitch is actually right before we launched cold. So we were still operating as a more traditional ad agency is actually one of the straw that broke the camel’s back that made us say, forget this, we’re done with this. We were at their sales were down. And they were asking us to pitch a better flyer, their their weekly flyers was their primary ad expense. And in trying to understand well, do you want us to fix your sales problem? Or do you want us to fix your flyer? Because I’m not sure that you’re bad fliers, the reason why your sales are down, maybe there’s something else going on there? No, no, just focus on the flyer. And to be honest, what we’re really interested in is the B couple of years ago, we went away from blue to green. And it seems to have correlated with our sales started to tank. So we may want to get different color blue, that’s just unclear. You get all these agencies jumping through all these hoops to see who comes back with the prettiest color blue for your flyer with you believing and if we go with that approach, your sales are going to turn on, essentially, yes. As I, as I add that, that’s so foolish to think that it’s the color of the blue is gonna make any difference in why people are opting and you don’t think it’s a competitive problem. You don’t think it’s a store experience problem? You don’t think it’s a product assortment problem like those the blue of the flyer? So, you know, in that case, we recused ourselves of that process? Because the client’s assumptions were just acid.

Jeremy Weisz

No, I mean, you bring up a good point is as far as like, not just the proposal, but you who back up who’s a good client for you, is what you’re saying. Like you don’t even want to get into the polls across if you feel like the values don’t match up?

Chris Kneeland

Well, 100%. And what’s nice is we’ve been I think, we’ve been lucky enough to work with enough brands and have done enough good stuff that when people call, they’ll sometimes ask, I’m not sure that we’re cold enough. I’m not sure that we’re capable enough. But I’m wondering if you would consider making an exception kind of a thing and it’s like, I’m not I’m not here to critique your category or company. To say, if you are a coat worthy enough, and by cope, I don’t mean coat the agency. I mean, are you capable of having a coat like following? When it comes down to the ambitions and the courage of leadership team, if you want to become more special, that’s half the battle. Right? It is the people that settle for good enough people that say, you know what, if we can grow 4%, next year, we’re happy. I don’t have a lot of time for those people, because they’re just settling for mediocrity. I want to know the person. And that’s why a lot of smaller companies too is they’re a little bit dreamy. And it’s like, they want to change the world. They want to take down the Goliath, they’re dreaming really, really big. And it’s those you know, the old Steve Jobs and just the people that are crazy to think they can change the world are the ones that actually do. Yeah, those are the best clients for us. You know, I’m not, we’re not we certainly weren’t batting 1000. But what a fun ride. I remember one of my favorite clients was the local cab company. And they say, Hey, listen, Ubers come into our market and our sales are down 30% we we can see the end of our existence if these trends continue. And I want to fight that I’m thinking what a fascinating challenge that to Ford, Uber, because Uber was a better mousetrap. And so it was like, What are you prepared to do cab company in order to make this fight a fair fight? And so there’s nothing that’s off the table. There’s no sacred cows, and you’re like getting up? Let’s go. Right? Because you have the right attitude, the right mentality of what’s it gonna take to become special.

Jeremy Weisz

I love it. what’s what’s something like that?

Chris Kneeland

I’ve got one of the biggest things that they did was they had to change the culture of the cab driver. I mean, one of the things that Uber did such a good job about was villainizing. The with the cab companies were leaning into is licensed and insured, versus the ubirr driver, not somehow creating this foe risk or maybe the real risk, but it’s an acceptable risk that if I get into driving an Uber accident, I’m not going to be insured. It wasn’t about insurance is about customer care It was about is this driver give a damn is about the quality of if they vacuumed up the back seat. Does the cab stink, is there? You know? Are they conversational? Are they dynamic? Are they engaging, right? So their products are available cars. But what Uber did a better job and Uber had some other assets in terms of their great app, would be order a cabbie have no idea. It’s almost like you inconvenience the dispatcher when you call them. Yeah, if we can get around to it. a side note, I called the we have a thing here in Canada, for when you get like a flat tire or dead battery. And the lady says to me, she goes, thanks for calling. Your driver will be there sometime between 6pm and 2am. What am I supposed to do with this information?

Jeremy Weisz

That’s an eight hour window in the dark walking is

Chris Kneeland

the worst customer experience that you could imagine. And Uber made it very clear. So this is where the driver was at. And here’s where he’s coming. So anyway, there’s a lot of driver training lessons and Little things like put racks on the back of cabs put car seats in the back of cabs, so that the different experiences for people or children or people that wanted to bring your bicycle someplace, really thinking about the experience. It’s not an ad campaign, it’s making a better product. Yeah, love it.

Jeremy Weisz

Um, Chris let’s talk about Communo, what made you start what is Communo and what made you start it?

Chris Kneeland

So when we when we stopped being an ad agency, we became a marketing advisory firm called Cult. We really just wanted to sell the strategy side and get out of the production side. But we felt after a couple of engagements that it was a bit reckless, we had filled our clients heads with big ideas, we’d given them reams of PowerPoint with cool slim strategies. But a strategy is relatively useless until you do something about it. So the really the brilliance is in the execution. We just didn’t want to be responsible for the execution, mostly because we found that if you you’re not unbiased, if you have a large web team, you’re surprised how many of your solutions evolved on your website. If you have a large video team, all of your solutions or all your commercials and your videos, so we didn’t want to we want to be more agnostic. So we decided rather than staffing, a bunch of specialists, we would outsource to them the same way the Hollywood studio model created a production company that would ingest scripts and have good directors, but they outsource press services, costume design, location scouting, you know, casting, etc. So we just started outsourcing the production elements and they just got to dozens and dozens of agencies that we fell in love with like you guys are the best at what you do. Do you know Johnny over there, and Johnny, if you met Andrea over there, and they didn’t, so there was no ecosystem for them to collaborate. We were kind of in the middle of this. So we replaced us and put in basically an app that we say if if LinkedIn and Tinder had a baby It would be, you know, where it’s this really quick way to source professional talent. And it started for agencies have been attracted as you might imagine hundreds and thousands of freelancers because they kind of like sharks in the water, they smell blood, like others work over there. Some of these guys, there’s a paying job over there, they all go there. And then just most recently, we’ve allowed brands in so it’s a whole new way for brands to source creative talent, without either hiring them or bringing onboard full time agencies

Jeremy Weisz

for brands can go in and check out the talent you have on community also.

Chris Kneeland

Exactly brands want to do corporate videos, brands, do email campaigns, they they made, they don’t want to go through the whole RFP process of bringing in a big agency, they just need a really great photographer, videographer copywriter designer, so it’s kind of ecosystem for the creative community.

Jeremy Weisz

I love it. So for Communo you know, where can people check it out? It’s Communo.com.

Chris Kneeland

Yeah, I see. Oh, mm. Oh, in. Oh, you and I have to look at my shirt. How do I stuff? It’s like a Communo. So we had a cult already. So I decided that next

Jeremy Weisz

What’s next? I’m wondering

Chris Kneeland

what’s next is a commune? Yeah, maybe a harem of some sort.

Jeremy Weisz

Um, you know, Chris, thank you. I want to point people towards a couple places. I’ve one last question. People can show CultIdeas.com. And check out the great information you have there. There’s case studies. There’s some of the stuff we talked about the different principles of a cult, you can go to Communo.com. And then I want to tell you go to CultGathering.com, the most beautiful picture I’ve seen in my life in Banff, Canada. And so check that out CultGathering.com if you look at past speakers, and you know current speakers, you know ranges from Coca Cola, the ESPN to Skittles to Spotify to garner the Harlem Globetrotters, a big fan, and many, many more so people can check that out as well. Last question, you know, Chris, I always like to ask what’s been, you know, since Inspired Insider, what’s been a low moment that you push through and then a proud moment? On the flip side? What’s been maybe a challenging moment, low moment in one of the businesses that you can talk about,

Chris Kneeland

huh? Well, I think maybe one of the low moments right now is what we’re dealing with, with The Gathering. We are in our eighth year, it was kind of billed as this conference for people who hate conferences. It’s so special, we lock ourselves into this 200 year old castle in the Canadian wilderness in this place called Banff, Alberta. And it happens in February. And we just finished it. Our emcee from the event came from China. And she had made a joke about COVID. And we all kind of laughed thinking it was funny. And I don’t think people realize that was the last time they were getting on an airplane for who knows how long. So we got it in before I think maybe the high moment is I’m so grateful. We got it in because it was amazing. Below moment is when’s it gonna happen again, we’ve already had to cancel the February event for next year. We’ve pushed it till April. I hope that’s sufficient. Maybe we should have pushed it. We do have some fallback position. April 2027.

Jeremy Weisz

Yeah, exactly.

Chris Kneeland

There’s just a we’re really going to lose something if it has to go virtual because there’s, there is no substitute for the collision in the synergy that happens when a group of smart people who aren’t only smart, but maybe they’re as humble as they are smart, they sit down and they are eager to learn to do things differently. And so I do go to bed at night worrying about our ability to execute that event. As awesomely as we have in the past. I hope that we do we’re working really hard to make it awesome. But we’re gonna get into

Jeremy Weisz

who’s been a fan favorite speaker Chris in the past

Chris Kneeland

because you know, one of my my one of my favorite quote brands of all time is Lego. And I was thrilled to get Lego to come and speak and they really disappointed me. candidly, the speaker was not that great. And there’s a little bit of a language barrier. So there’s a little bit of an excuse there because they’re from the Netherlands, but I have

Jeremy Weisz

to say they’re from Canada. No, yeah.

Chris Kneeland

The one that probably comes to mind most often is Gatorade. Gatorade, I was unaware of the fact that they nearly went out of business. I was unaware that following their height and a whole bunch of copycats like power rating like Gatorade lost its soul. And Gatorade got greedy and Gatorade went from being a high-performance drink for athletes to colored water for thirsty people. And in the track of doing that they had short term success and three years of unbelievable sales gains, which made everybody think that we did the right thing and then they fell off a cliff completely unaware of a cancer that was growing with inside their brand and within the organization of losing everything that was special about it, and the speaker was so candid, and so honest about the mistakes that they made. And then the course correction, the correction was so brilliant. But they brought in executives from Nike to say, how have you maintained a premier athletic dominance and Nike was all about well, it’s what’s on you. And we never compromise on the quality of the materials and the clothing the shoes. And Gatorade had a lightbulb moment that said, you know, what’s even more powerful than what’s on you is what’s in you, what’s actually fueling the athlete. And we got to get back to that core, they started going not just to hire MBAs, but hire MBAs who are also collegiate athletes. So we got that athletic mentality back into the brand. And they weren’t a drink company. They were performance company. So they got into nutritionals and power bars and powders and gels and all these other things that started to allow us to create an entire system that allowed performance athletes to do what they do and they clawed their way back. And so I kind of love that rags to riches to rags to riches story, and and reminding everybody that you can never take your success for granted.

Jeremy Weisz

Chris, thank you. Awesome ever check out Communo.com check out CultGathering.com CultIdeas.com and your book. Thanks. So it’s been a pleasure. Thanks, Chris evening. Take care.