#58: Talking Brand With Mike Troiano

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This is a podcast episode titled, #58: Talking Brand With Mike Troiano. The summary for this episode is: If you liked this episode, we bet that you’ll love our blog content. blog.drift.com/#subscribe Subscribe to never miss a post & join the 20,000+ other pros committed to getting better every day. --- David calls Mike "The Godfather of Branding." And we've been talking a lot about brand lately, so we thought it would be fun to have Mike in the office at Drift and record a podcast. Mike's the CMO at Actifio, a venture capital "unicorn" (billion dollar valuation) and he spent his early career at top New York ad agencies on brands including Coca-Cola, AT&T, and Taco Bell. We also talked about reading, some of Mike's favorite books, the power of a good sales kickoff, and the role of marketing today (hint: it's to feed sales). PS. Here’s how you can support Seeking Wisdom if you’re a fan of the show: 1. Subscribe. 2. Leave us a five-star review. Here's how: bit.ly/5-Stars-Only. 3. Follow David (twitter.com/dcancel) and Dave (twitter.com/davegerhardt) on Twitter. 4. Learn more about Drift at Drift.com.

David Cancel: Whoo! We're back.

Speaker 2: Yes, and we have a guest.

David Cancel: I'm super excited this week because we have a legend here with us today. We have a legend here, a brand god, the best guy in brand in the world that I know of. Yeah, definitely the best guy in Boston for sure, but he goes across coast. And he's someone that I've known for years now, very prominent person here in the Boston community. Mike Troiano, thank you for joining us.

Mike Troiano: Wow. Holy. You're overselling me, bro.

David Cancel: Yeah. No, he is. This is a brand legend.

Mike Troiano: I appreciate it though. That's incredibly kind.

Speaker 2: You guys have unfair advantage though. You guys just did Mike's podcast, so you're already warmed up. I'm coming into this room cold. I don't know what you guys have said in the last hour. I don't know where we're going.

David Cancel: Mike, what's your podcast name?

Mike Troiano: It's called How Hard Can It Be?

David Cancel: See, subscribe.

Mike Troiano: Available on iTunes. Be sure to leave a review, I learned that from DG.

Speaker 2: Yeah.

David Cancel: See, so subscribe to Mike's podcast now. Five star reviews only for Mike.

Mike Troiano: How Hard Can It Be?

David Cancel: Yeah, he's the godfather of brand.

Speaker 2: How do you know him? How do you guys know each other? You go back or?

David Cancel: I met Mike when I left Compete in 2007- 2008.

Mike Troiano: The first time I met you actually, I came to you because I was looking for a guy to lead product that matched mine.

David Cancel: That's right.

Mike Troiano: And someone said, " Oh, you got to talk to David Cancel." And so I went. I made my journey over to, it was like the crosstalk we had at lunch or whatever, and I was like, "Oh, this guy is a fucking rockstar." But he gave me the Heisman, and we've been friends ever since.

David Cancel: Yeah, so long time now. Mike has an amazing background, which I'll let him go into, a legendary background. First person in your family to go to college?

Mike Troiano: Yeah, that's right.

David Cancel: And a storied career. And so I've been lucky to get to know Mike over the years and learn from him, especially on his knowledge on brand which started way back in Ogilvy. We talk about Ogilvy all the time here.

Speaker 2: All the time.

David Cancel: But Mike actually worked at Ogilvy. And Mike, how did you get to Ogilvy? What's your story?

Mike Troiano: Oh, boy.

David Cancel: Where does it begin?

Mike Troiano: Yeah, I guess my story relative to advertising probably starts at Cornell. I was the first in my family to go to college, and did very well in high school and ended up going to Cornell, and was really way over my head. And had a girlfriend, played football, I didn't quite take it... It was a little harder than the public high school I went to, and I almost failed out. And so I had a meeting with the dean, and he said, " Mike, you're a bright guy, but you're not doing well here. And I notice you're failing the classes in your major," which was economics. And he said, " Do you like economics?" and I said, " No."

David Cancel: You're like, " What's economics?"

Mike Troiano: And he said, " Why are you an economics major?" and I said, " Well, my dad... This is costing us a fortune, and my dad was like, 'Well, you should do something that you can make money on the back of.'" Not unlike yourself, economics was the accounting of my family. And so this dean said, " Well, I want you and your dad to be in my office on Thursday, and we're going to have a little chat." So my dad drives to, makes the pilgrimage to Ithaca.

David Cancel: From where?

Mike Troiano: From Rhode Island.

David Cancel: That must have been a happy drive.

Mike Troiano: It was not a happy drive. But we sit down with this guy and he says, " Mr. Troiano, I think Mike can excel here if he's doing something that he wants to do. And if he wants to do that at Cornell, we're happy to have him. If he wants to continue to be an economics major, he's going to need to do so at some other university." So we left that meeting and my dad was like, " Well, I don't know what to do. I can't really help you. You got to figure it out, but you'll figure it out." So I sort of reflected on what it was I wanted to do, and I thought about what was I good at, what did I enjoy, what was I sort of passionate about. I wasn't the most creative person that I knew, and so I didn't... I thought I would be a lousy, a mediocre artist. But I wasn't the most strategic or the most analytical person, so I wouldn't be a great engineer. But it just struck me that among the people who were more strategic, few were as creative. And among the people who were more creative, few were as strategic, so something in the intersection, and I was thinking about what is that. And for some reason, I think because I'm bewitched or something, I was like, " Well, maybe advertising." That's really where it begins. And I left Cornell, I was a bouncer and a bartender trying to find a job in New York, and eventually did so. And rose through the ranks, ended up at McCann Erickson. I worked on Coke and AT& T. And then out to San Francisco at Foote, Cone& Belding to work on Taco Bell. I went to a business school back here in Boston. And after business school was approached by a guy named Martin Sorrell, who bought one of your companies.

David Cancel: Yeah, WP. Sir Martin.

Mike Troiano: Sir Martin Sorrell. Yes. And Martin said, " Why don't you come work for me and you be kind of a troubleshooter?" I went to different locations and solved problems for Martin, most often related to a problem with staff cost to revenue ratio, which is a basic one metric you use to run an agency, and one of those problems was inside Ogilvy. And it was at the same time you were in New York down in Soho, and we were over on the West side. And I showed up and they had this project with American Express called ExpressNet that was running on AOL, and American Express was using it to build relationships with customers. And I just saw this thing and I was like blown away by it. Brand building up to then had really been about on a pure emotional plane, but this was taking the customer service ethos of American Express and turning it into a real thing you could use to plan your travel and get information, and I just, I loved it. And one day I said to Martin, " I really think this could be something and I'd like to stick around and run it," and he said, " Sure."

David Cancel: That's amazing.

Mike Troiano: Yeah. So I was the founding CEO of Ogilvy Interactive and sort of rode that wave through the dotcom bubble.

David Cancel: That must have been an incredible time to do that.

Mike Troiano: It was. As we discussed, it was a time of incredible opportunity and it was a really exciting time to be in New York. And I left there when I realized what I had created for Martin was worth a lot and I own 0% of it, rounding up to a zero.

David Cancel: Zero.

Mike Troiano: And so I said, " Well, I want to do my own thing," and I started a company called BrandScape with two good friends of mine, one more creative and one more technical. And we had some success with that company and eventually sold it to a systems integrator in Boston, and that's a whole nother story. And eventually I became the president of that company and-

David Cancel: Was that part of the deal, to move up?

Mike Troiano: ...Yeah, they wanted me to come up so I... We had done a deal to... We had sold to, at the time, Data General, which became EMC, to create their first online storefront where customers could come on and buy consumables through the website. We had no business selling this thing because we could not deliver it. But I sold it and then we needed a systems integrator behind us. So we found these guys, these contractor up in Boston called Primaxin. And the project went well and the CEO came to me and he said, " We can't sell these. You can't even deliver it and you sold it." He was like, " We should join forces. You guys have the strategic stuff and the creative stuff, and we have the technical stuff and maybe we can make something happen." I think that initially there was concern that it would be like organ transplant rejection if I started to drive the company in that way. Initially they brought me up to run a division that did this strategic internet services, is what we called it back then. And over time, that division became increasingly the place where people wanted to work, we did all the sexy stuff. And then eventually he asked me to be president, and I did.

David Cancel: That's amazing. You touched on one topic there which was incredibly insightful because it's taken me like 20 years to figure out, which is that the power is like when you're thinking about like, especially when you were going through that young transition, trying to figure out what to do, the power is in the intersection, and so many people want to be the best at, let's say, design or the best at this. And really, the most powerful thing is when you intersect the two, and that's where you could be unique, right? Because the chances of you being the best designer or the best marketer are pretty, pretty slim, but probably the best technical marketer if you intersect technology and marketing, probably you have a chance of doing that.

Speaker 2: We talked about that recently, it's like there's two ways to be great at something. You can either be the top 1% at the one thing that you do, or you could take on like... You could be really good at one thing and then also really good at another. You might be pretty good at two things, there's not a lot of people who can do that. That's kind of the intersection thing. But I think a lot of the advice that is given is like... I mean, I'm a marketing person now and so this is the piece of advice that drove me insane, I didn't know this. But I'm 29, so I'm not later in my career, but the early on advice people would give me was like, " Go be a specialist. Go really deep on something." And now I'm looking back and be like, " That is complete bullshit advice." You don't have to be that. There has to be some-

David Cancel: You don't have to.

Speaker 2: ...intersection.

David Cancel: We're in a different world, right, in a world that's seven plus billion people. You being in the top 1% at any given niche, kind of hard.

Mike Troiano: Yeah, it's not the shot, it's the cocktail.

David Cancel: Yeah.

Mike Troiano: I think if you're-

David Cancel: This is why he's a brand legend.

Speaker 2: Trademark.

David Cancel: Yeah.

Mike Troiano: ...You have to figure out what is it in the blending of those two things. It's one of the reasons I love the job's biography, because it talked about what made him special was at the intersection of technology and liberal arts. And that resonated so well with me, and it absolutely was what made him special. There are very few people I know and respect and admire that are just drill bits in one isolated thing. I mean, those people, no disrespect, but they're almost very specialized tools. You know what I mean? crosstalk Unitaskers. Whereas the folks that I think are most effective in the world are people that are good at a couple of things, and they find a way to activate, develop and monetize that ability that makes them special. And I was fortunate to hit on that by random chance to avoid getting my ass thrown out of Cornell.

David Cancel: Yeah.

Speaker 2: All right, so you're the first person to go to college out of your family. Outside of going to school, did you love reading books and learning or was it just like you did your work, or what was your personality?

Mike Troiano: I was sort of an odd duck in a lot of ways. In my high school, there was like smart kids and the football players, and so I didn't really fit in either group.

David Cancel: You were in both?

Mike Troiano: I was kind of a loner. I look at the friends of my lifetime are the guys that I played ball with in college as opposed to necessarily the folks in high school. Although I still have dear friends there, I never really kind of found my tribe. You know what I'm saying?

David Cancel: Yeah.

Mike Troiano: Both of my parents worked. My mother was a hairdresser, my dad was a sales guy. And I kept myself occupied looking at the world through on Channel 38. I'm still a huge Star Trek fan. But that was my sort of ethical... When I think about a leader, my views of leadership and management are still to this day shaped by my perception of Kirk and the way he thought about that kind of selfless form of leadership. And later on it was movies and Star Wars, and all those things affected me. I started to read when I was a kid. I think the first thing I read and really read for pleasure was The Hobbit. And it really kind of blew me away, and I started to become a little bit more of a voracious reader. It was later, I think, in life that I started to read history. And the thing that I read most often, the thing that I really enjoy reading is stuff that's about a given time, like all the David McCullough stuff, the Grand Bridge and-

Speaker 2: I saw you write... I don't know if you tweeted this or you wrote it, but you said how... Oh, there you go. Yeah. I don't know if you read this, if you wrote it, tweeted it, whatever, they're the same thing. But you said how too many people get caught up in only learning business lessons from business books, right? But you said you've been able to find a ton of lessons if you just think outside. And DC, you talk about it all the time, like idea sex, right? This whole pulling inspiration from other sources.

Mike Troiano: ...Yeah. Those business books, some of them are interesting. I know you're a huge, you're a voracious consumer of that stuff. And there's always one or two good ideas there-

Speaker 2: But that's about it, yeah.

Mike Troiano: ...but that's really all you're going to take away. There are the odd exceptions, good to great and things that are really important. But for me, to hear the story of someone's life, like... You can learn so much from the Wright Brothers biography about life and business and innovation. I'm powering through the grant biography that just came out, there's a book called His Excellency: George Washington. It's one of the greatest books on leadership I think that's ever been written. I just, for me, I am a natural storyteller, it's kind of what I do, and so I tend to absorb information more fully and internalize it through stories. And there's no more interesting story than the story of another human being's life, particularly an extraordinary human being. And I feel like it's a golden age of history in that respect, and there's so much to be taken from that. And it's not only books, like one of the things that I'm fond of saying is that everything you need to know about social media and influence, you can learn in the first five minutes of The Godfather. Where he's at his daughter's wedding, and the guy comes in and he asks, " Godfather, I need..." And then Brando allegedly agrees to do it and the guy says, " What can I do for you?" and Brando says, " For now, nothing, but in the future, I will call upon you to do a service." That idea of helping people and quid pro quo and whatever, it's so fundamental to success in every sphere of life. And that's a very Italian sensibility, so obviously it resonates with me, but I think there's so much to be gleaned from art and from that kind of writing.

David Cancel: Absolutely. I brought back The Godfather II, I saw it on a plane recently. And I sent the clip around here, when a Fredo is out in the boathouse. I said, " Watch this, this is loyalty. Watch. This is the price of loyalty."

Mike Troiano: Amazing.

David Cancel: Right?

Mike Troiano: That's right. So much from that. Don't even get me started with... We do a whole separate podcast on-

David Cancel: Let's do a podcast on The Godfather.

Mike Troiano: ...The Godfather. Life lessons from the Godfather.

Speaker 2: Just one and two though. After that, I'm okay.

David Cancel: Yeah, I was at Mike's office... We're going to jump Segway. We're going to jump all around here. But I was at Mike's office last week, so Mike's CMO of a company called Actifio, which he can tell you more about. But it's amazing rocket ship in Boston. And Mike showed me some things that he had just done, a credible brand guy, but he was doing some stuff around sales kickoff around sales enablement, and I'm telling you, I saw stuff that I had never seen before taken to a level that I didn't think possible. And so it's one thing I would just want to ask Mike about, how did he get from Ogilvy to here? How does he do something like that? How do you be remarkable in something like that? Why do you think it's important? Because I think so many people skip over all the work and thought and process that you had put around frameworks, around kickoffs, around training, around all of that kind of go- to- market energy, which no one... This is the stuff no one ever talks about or writes about.

Mike Troiano: Well, thanks. I mean, I think the most important thing marketing does, at the end of the day, the business case for marketing is to enhance the productivity of the field sales organization. And I'll start with the qualifier that our business has unique set of attributes. We are a high average order value business, low frequency. We're not a high velocity sort of try before you buy. We have a very particular set of requirements. What Actifio does, just very quickly for those who don't know, so we are an enterprise data as a service company. Today, people are used to consuming software as a service and increasingly consume infrastructure as a service. Well, what lives on the infrastructure and what services the software is the data. And so we enable companies to access their data the same way they do their software and their infrastructure, which is as a service available instantly anywhere.

Speaker 2: Okay.

Mike Troiano: Okay? So-

Speaker 2: Can I ask you how they explain that before you got there?

Mike Troiano: ...It took a while.

David Cancel: It took a while.

Mike Troiano: It took a while. I mean, but I think this is ... To answer your question, a good friend of mine from business school is a guy named Jamie Goldstein at North Bridge.

Speaker 2: Great guy.

Mike Troiano: And Jamie approached me after a meeting, and I was like, " How are you doing?" and he's like, " Good. I got this company, and these guys are brilliant and I fucking love what they do, but nobody understands me. Could you go-"

David Cancel: That sounds like Jamie.

Mike Troiano: ... "Could you gotalk to this guy Ash Ashutosh and just sort of see if you could figure this thing out?" So I go meet with Ash and so-

David Cancel: Amazing guy.

Mike Troiano: ...Oh, amazing. Amazing human being in so many ways. But I said, " All right, what is this thing?" And he talked and he went to the whiteboard. He talked for about, I don't know, 15 minutes, and then he stopped and he said, " So?" and I said, " I have no idea what you just said."

David Cancel: After 15 minutes, I just hit my head on the wall.

Mike Troiano: No idea.

David Cancel: Yeah.

Mike Troiano: So he's like, "Oh, okay. Well, how about this?" And he tried it a different way. And then by the third way, he sort of started to explain this idea of copy data. And the idea is basically like these companies were creating multiple copies of these databases. And I'll give it to you the way that I sort of internalized it, so I said, " When you take a picture on your phone, that picture, let's say it's a one meg photo, and your Apple products will automatically send that to your laptop and your iPad. So now your one meg photo is occupying three meg of storage. And if you send it to Instagram and bounce it to Facebook and Twitter, now your one meg photo is six megs of storage across multiple infrastructures across hardware in the cloud." The same thing happens in a business, but it's not a one meg photo, it's a 22 terabyte Oracle database. And around the world, that's a$ 50 billion problem, and only Actifio solves it. That was version 1.0 of the way to tell the story.

David Cancel: You're the master.

Mike Troiano: And so we iterate it, we tried a bunch of different ways with a customer, and that way was the door in. And we basically beat that drum for five years. Now, over the course of that five- year period, the world changed, the marginal cost of a terabyte of storage is approaching zero, gigabyte anyway. On places like Azure, there's no marginal costs. I think the reduction of data footprint story that was central to the narrative we built in 2010 is less and less relevant to the customer. What customers are using it for today is really liberating data from the data center. So that the idea of a data layer, of a platform that is agnostic with respect to where the data originates that can move it from the data center to AWS, to Azure, to Oracle Cloud, to Google Cloud, and give you the freedom to access that data instantly.

David Cancel: Basically delivering on the promise of the cloud, right, which is like, " I shouldn't care where it is. I don't care where it is."

Mike Troiano: Yeah, that's exactly right. And that's true of everything except the data today. If you think about it, right, data has gravity and-

David Cancel: Hard to move.

Mike Troiano: ...That's right. It's hard to move. It tends to stick around wherever it's created and it tends to draw in a bunch of shit around it. So we liberate data from that gravity, in the process, we free our customers from the tyranny of a 20th century data management model.

David Cancel: Woo. Look at that.

Speaker 2: All right. You saw this whole sales kickoff happen firsthand in what?

David Cancel: Not the sales kickoff, I saw the aftermath.

Mike Troiano: Yeah, the sales playbook.

David Cancel: The sales playbook.

Mike Troiano: Yeah. I think that, as I said, the business case for marketing, particularly inside an enterprise technology companies to enhance the productivity of the field sales organization. And there's no more direct way to do that than to empower these guys with the tools that they need to solve customer problems. And so the way we do that is I view that our role there is to really help the sales guy understand our technology in the context of what the customer does. We're both big fans of Simon Sinek, and this idea of lead with why has, I think, always been fundamental to the way I approach marketing and communication. But with a sales person, what that's about is giving them the tools to understand, " Okay. What are the challenges that our customer is dealing with?" And give them a set of discovery questions that enable them to surface those challenges. Help to walk the customer through the negative consequences of those technical challenges and paint a picture for them of positive business outcomes that would come from a better way. Then you sort of define, " Okay. What are the technical requirements required to realize that rosy picture?" And then you can set, help the customer understand how only Actifio meets those technical requirements, where we've done so in the past, how we do so better than everybody else and where we can do so for them. That journey, which we internally call the mantra, that helping each and every sales guy have the same set of information to be able to walk a customer through that journey. It's not about just storytelling the Actifio way, it's about helping them... The real world is messy, right? And every customer, there's patterns in the dots, but every customer is a snowflake when you do what we do. Giving them the tools to engage and be informed and confident, that's really the core of our enablement program, and that comes to its made manifest each year in the form of the sales playbook, which is the document that you got a look at.

David Cancel: Yeah, that I took a look at. I was super impressed by it, as I mentioned. But one thing that kind of stood out to me was that this kind of framework that you have around kind of discovery and storytelling, and kind of putting the customer in your case, the sales rep, in each other's shoes to understand the pains that they would have, the cost that it would take from a technology standpoint. That whole thing was amazing to me, because I think even though Actifio delivers that through a field sales organization, that framework applies to anything in any way that you sell, whether it's through humans, through inside or field sales, or if you were totally touchless. You would have to go through the same journey of understanding, in the customer terms, how does your solution fit, what would it replace, what are the costs to do it, and what is the rosy picture, as you said? What is the benefit that you'd get out of if you went through this journey with us?

Mike Troiano: Yeah, that's exactly right. Great companies are built on the back of great products, and great products, as we've discussed many times, are built from the customer back. They're built from an understanding of a business consequence that can be rectified, and you have to really kind of marinate in that external reality and bring that infuse your whole sales process with that understanding. And if you talk to customers, they don't like salespeople because for two reasons, salespeople don't understand their problem and they don't fucking listen.

Speaker 2: All right. I pulled this up because I... This is a Dale Carnegie, which was probably 1920, 1930 saying the same thing. It's almost a hundred years later, we're still having the same conversation about the role of sales. He said, " Thousands of salespeople are pounding the pavements today, tired and discouraged and underpaid. Why? Because they're always thinking about what they want. They don't realize that neither you or I want to buy anything. If we did, we'd go out and buy it. Both of us are interested in solving our own problems." And this is like a repetitive story in history. You read any book about advertising, copywriting, marketing branding, right? It's the same thing. But very few people actually can take that from a book or just even internalize it and say, " How does this play out in a sales process?"

Mike Troiano: Yeah. Well, it's because there's a problem in the cocktail, right? That if you think about what are the two skills required to effectively sell, one is the ability to subordinate the self, to have empathy for the problem of another human being and really look at the world through their lens. The other is to be sufficiently selfish to get out there and-

David Cancel: And get it.

Mike Troiano: ...and ignore all the... If someone doesn't want to talk to you, whatever. And so I think that you see this play out every day in the best salespeople is the constant tension between those two qualities; empathy and persistence. And so I think it's very hard. I have tremendous respect for people that can go out there and just day in and day out balance those two conflicting forces in a way that gets results.

David Cancel: Yeah. Years ago I saw this video of yours from Michael Skok, where you were doing basically a brand kind of present branding for startups, right?

Mike Troiano: Yeah, how to tell your story.

David Cancel: How to tell your story. How do you teach some of the stuff that we're talking about to startups that-

Mike Troiano: Well, I think it starts with an understanding of how important that is. I'm a Techstars mentor and I just see so many entrepreneurs come in, and I love the guy, but do what Ash did, which is talk for 15 minutes and you have no clue what the hell it is or why it matters. And so I just try to help them strip away whatever their view of it. Because in some ways, the entrepreneur is so close to it, they're the least qualified to objectively express the value proposition of what they do. And I've come up with this sort of framework over the years that will help them do that. It's six questions and you kind of fill in the blanks and you lay it out. And now I've given that... Mike or David asked me to give that talk for the matrix portfolio companies, and I did it, and he recorded it. And then I did the same thing actually ironically with Michael over at i- lab. But it's become a thing now, and it's something that I think is a useful tool.

Speaker 2: But Mike, why is it six questions? Why isn't it five questions or why isn't it seven questions? Have you A/ B tested how that framework works? Why is it six?

Mike Troiano: Yeah. It's interesting that it comes back to where we started, it comes back to Ogilvy. Ogilvy has a document called a Brand Print, and McCann has an equivalent intellectual technology, but it's about positioning. And really what I did was I took the classical positioning model, which is a very customer- centric and emotional value prop- driven kind of way of looking at the world, and I just translated it. I made some changes at the margins to use it as an instrument to really surface what is the customer value. And I think that, that connection seemed obvious to me, and no one else knows it, I guess.

David Cancel: I think everyone, like we talked about a little bit earlier, everyone's rediscovering this. When Dave, one of the things when Dave joined the team early was, actually was suggesting all of these books, Ogilvy, some of the books from the-

Mike Troiano: Ogilvy on Advertising?

David Cancel: ...Yeah, Ogilvy on Advertising.

Speaker 2: Ogilvy on Advertising, Claude Hopkins Scientific Advertising, Gary Halbert Boron Letters.

David Cancel: A bunch of these books.

Speaker 2: crosstalk

David Cancel: But basically, Ogilvy was the pinnacle, but then there were other books that were really focused around the early days of copywriting, copywriting back in the print ad world. And all of these things about resonating with a customer, and what is the value and causing an action, and what is the emotional trigger that you... It all goes back to that. And it's so funny because having built so many things in marketing software, I speak to a lot of marketers, and I ask questions around those very basic, I think, building blocks, and many marketers today do not know anything about any of that.

Mike Troiano: Yeah. No, it's a shame. I actually met David.

David Cancel: Oh, wow. That's amazing. A legend.

Mike Troiano: That's an interesting story. A legendary guy and I was overwhelmed. And it was late in life and he was very crabby, but it was still incredible. But, no, I think you're absolutely right. I think that I'm sort of horrified by the way that marketing has been quantized and quantified. And I'm a fan of you guys' podcast too, as you know, and one of the reasons that got me hooked on it in the beginning, I think, was you guys were really the first to start to explore that idea of moving away from the sub- metrics of MQL-

David Cancel: Oh, crazy.

Mike Troiano: ...and start to think about the human dimension of it. And I think that there's a whole generation of marketers that think marketing happens in Excel, and it doesn't. It happens in PowerPoint, and I wish the world were not so. Increasingly, maybe it happens in podcasts, but it's some form of communication that reaches out to the person. The quote at the top of my Twitter page, which I think is the greatest quote about both leadership and marketing that I've ever seen, is this quote from a... You're going to have to edit this out, but I forgot... I can't believe I'm spacing on the name, but it basically is if you want to build a ship, don't send people out to find lumber, and don't tell them to get nails and don't bring them around, but teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. That idea is lost on people. The good news is... Exupery, that's his name. The good news is that if you understand that and you can bring that to bear, it's like a fucking superpower.

Speaker 2: Superpower today. Because if you're just coming out of the digital marketing spreadsheet kind of way of you know how to like... Basically back in the day, that was just direct marketing, right? So if you're a direct marketing school and you're all about facts and figures and numbers and quantification, all that stuff, and then you can layer on and you can expand your mind to think about marketing at its root about storytelling, about connection, about human connection. If you can bring those two together, man, you'd be like Iron Man.

Mike Troiano: Yeah. No, I think, something else I say all the time to my people, " If you want to change what someone does, you got to change what they feel and not just what they think." And I think so much of marketing is happening at the think level, and it sort of skims the surface of what you need to do to change someone's behavior. It's hard to change your behavior.

Speaker 2: It's super hard.

Mike Troiano: I say this to ... We're a couple of recovering fat guys. And so it's changing your behavior-

Speaker 2: Super hard.

Mike Troiano: ... changing your behavioris like it's so hard and you... Rational thought is necessary, but not sufficient. There's got to be an emotional driver, and that's true of whether you're trying to get someone to stop eating donuts or to go buy something that they've never bought.

Speaker 2: Totally, all the big changes that you need to make are all emotionally- driven, right? And it's not logical, right? Because it's logic is easy. You want to be not fat, stop eating. There you go. You don't have to buy a book about that, that's really easy. But it's overcoming the biases and tendencies, and habits and all the things that we have. And change is hard because it's uncomfortable. But it's truly amazing to me that people, and we want everyone who listens to podcasts, go back to the beginning, what Mike is talking about, and really learn about how to connect. At the end of the day, we're connecting human to human, right? We're not selling bot to bot, right? And so how do we cause someone to make a change? How do we cause them to reconsider what they're doing and maybe consider an alternative? It comes back to storytelling and emotional connection.

Mike Troiano: Absolutely.

David Cancel: All right. Do you have more stuff? Or I have some wrap up thoughts if you-

Speaker 2: Go for it.

David Cancel: ...Well, I was going to say, while we're talking about this topic of books and reading, do you have maybe one or two... What are one or two books that you have... I'm stealing this Tim Ferriss question for our podcast, but most gifted books that you've given to people or-

Speaker 2: Or to your team.

David Cancel: ...people on your team. Like, you bring on a new marketing person, do you have like one or two books that you'd recommend to them or salespeople listening?

Mike Troiano: I guess one of them is Ogilvy on Advertising, because I think it's not only the greatest book about marketing ever written, but it is a great book about marketing because it's really a book about sales. The Ogilvy, I was on the board of Ogilvy Direct, and Ogilvy Direct's motto is, " We sell or else."

David Cancel: I live that.

Mike Troiano: And I love that.

David Cancel: I'm going to steal that line now.

Mike Troiano: That's what it's about.

David Cancel: It's a juicy motto. We sell or else.

Speaker 2: It's true.

Mike Troiano: We sell or else. And so it really makes it real.

Speaker 2: I have that book on my desk for that reason, to remind me.

Mike Troiano: I love that aspect, and I was such a disciple of David's as I was learning what it meant to try to be Darren Stevens. For me, that book is sort of is absolutely central fundamental to the way people think about it. I'll tell you the other thing that I send to people quite frequently is Simon Sinek's talk on lead with why.

Speaker 2: So good.

Mike Troiano: Because particularly in tech marketing, so many people want to lead with what or even how, which is like... Before they've really covered off on why, I think it's like a disease and it's why so much, quote unquote, " B2B marketing is just shit."

David Cancel: Shit.

Mike Troiano: I think that, that TED Talk is something that I share quite often. And I'll tell you the book that I finished that I also find has had a profound impact in connecting the dots on a couple of ideas is a book called Sapiens.

David Cancel: Yeah, good book.

Mike Troiano: The subtitle is A Brief History of Humankind. And what I loved about the book is it really connected the dots on a few things, and one of it was the centrality of stories to what makes us human. It turns out that there are many species who can communicate. It is not our ability to communicate that makes us unique.

David Cancel: Special. Yeah.

Mike Troiano: Because groups of monkeys can say, " Look, a lion." Lots of species can say, " Look, a lion," but only humans can say, " The lion is the spirit animal of our tribe." Okay? So that's an idea, it's a story, it's conceptual, and we are unique in our ability to do that. And what that enables is for us to take collective action on a scale that no other species can undertake. A group of monkeys, they can coordinate up to about 15, 16, maybe 22 monkeys can get together and do something together. But if you think about this, a country is an idea. Money is an idea. Okay? Religion, an idea. And so those things, they're conceptual, but they enable us to coordinate our actions on a scale in the millions, and that's why we have come to dominate the planet. And so that book and that idea, and expressed in that way, and it goes all the way up to the present, for me is just it's a must read, I think, for people who are trying to understand what makes people tick.

David Cancel: Wow.

Speaker 2: All right, so tactically people-

David Cancel: Yeah, I totally agree. I mean, when you were describing that, sorry to interrupt, but all I was thinking about, like that thing is an idea, right? Basically that's the difference between us and all these other species that communicate, we can basically communicate an idea, something that has... You can't touch, you can't... You've never seen before. You cannot validate. You cannot make real. Shaping and communicating that idea is what we do in marketing.

Mike Troiano: Yeah. And another word for that idea is a story. It's a story. There's a story at the core of every great company, every great product, every great entrepreneur. And understanding those stories and the ability to tell them effectively, I think, is incredibly important and I think broadly undervalued.

Speaker 2: ...We-

David Cancel: You hit on... Oh, sorry.

Speaker 2: ...Yeah. And I was going to say, we keep saying the word marketing, but I think the thing that people get wrong is like, " Oh, that's a marketing person's job." If you can think about the things that Mike is saying, right, that's going to make you... You're going to be a better product manager, you're going to build better products, you're going to be a better sales person. These aren't tactical marketing things, these are all about if you want to run a business and grow a business, you have to understand this core fundamental thing.

Mike Troiano: Yeah, it's about being effective. There are a very few things in business that make you effective that don't affect influencing the behavior of other people, if you think about it. And I think a good marketing person, certainly every great marketing person I've ever known has been a student of human response. And I think that's true of great product people too, that you talk about that so frequently is this idea that a product is a response to a customer need, and you have to be connected to that. And I think there are people that, that's the valid, that's the cookie, that's what we want. We don't want to just build a product and feel great about it because it's beautiful and it's hand burnished, whatever, we want the response, that they love it, that they move, that they change, that it affects them. And I think that's the overhang when it comes to leadership, product marketing, as you say, Dave. All those different spheres of business, that's what unites them, is at the end of the day their impact is measured in the response of other people.

David Cancel: And that's what we talk about, that's the central thing that we talk about on Seeking Wisdom all the time is around communication, whether it's one to many, right, in terms of marketing that we're talking about or selling that we talk about today, or it's one-on- one with someone on your team or one- on- one from an investor standpoint or small groups of teams, it all comes down to this ability of communicating. I think I've gone as from an engineer to a product person, and to whatever I am now, I've gone through this progression of like-

Mike Troiano: But who is he now?

David Cancel: ...I don't know. Something.

Speaker 2: I have my finger on it. Yeah.

Mike Troiano: It's very meta.

David Cancel: Meta. Yeah. Gone to a place now where it's all about the people, it's all about the communication. That's all that it is. And like the bits and the burnishing, and the hand polishing, and the design, and I love it all and I geek out on it all, and I get it, but that's not the point.

Mike Troiano: It's a means to an end. All that stuff is a means to an end.

David Cancel: That's it.

Speaker 2: One thing I just was thinking about, basically it's like you've been, the thing you both have been talking about over is something like the Gary V thing we talk about all the time, like give, give, give, give, give, ask. Right? One of the most effective things that we've done from a marketing perspective is we have all these people on our email lists and we don't ever sell to them, we just give them stuff. And I was like, "Well, you know what, one thing that we haven't done, we've never asked these people to go sign up for Drift, right?" And we did that. And the email was literally like, " Hey, I never ask you this, but since you've been here for a while, I thought you might want to check this thing out." And the response to that was like the single best thing that we've done. And so many people replied to that email and were like, " You know what, you've earned the right. I'm gladly signing up." And that, to me, was just like an eye- opening thing, as like we built up all this equity and I finally cashed in on it for a minute.

Mike Troiano: Yeah. No, I think that the idea of social currency, the subtle pressure we have to reciprocate a kindness or an exchange of value is the engine of all these media. And I think if you can put that at the center of what you're doing, people... It's like when you go to someone's house, you want to bring something. And the worst thing you can say, if I'm coming to your house and I say, " What can I bring?" you say, " Nothing," that fucking pisses me off.

David Cancel: Me too. Yeah.

Mike Troiano: Tell me, I'll bring a lasagna. What can I bring? And it's like people want that. So you're doing this nice thing for me, let me do something for you.

David Cancel: It makes you feel comfortable.

Mike Troiano: Yeah. I think in some ways it's that same sensibility, it's that, " I get a lot of value out of this thing, I listen," whatever. And it is amazing when you ask for something. I had an experience like that, that you forget, you drift from these ideas. But I sent out to Twitter followers, " If you've gotten anything of value from me in the last year, please go to my daughter." She had done this cancer walk in our town. And I sent this out with very little expectation that anything would happen, and she was number one in the whole thing.

David Cancel: Oh, that's amazing.

Mike Troiano: But I think it was just that. And they felt good about it and I felt good about it, and I'm like, " That's how it's supposed to be. That's what it is." Yeah.

David Cancel: Yeah. Familia. Back to The Godfather. La familia.

Mike Troiano: That's it.

David Cancel: That's awesome. Well, I want to thank Mike for joining us today.

Mike Troiano: It's been a pleasure guys. I mean this, I am a fan of the podcast. I listen to all of them. I appreciate what you're doing, and keep on trucking here.

David Cancel: Can you believe that? The king of branding listens to Seeking Wisdom. crosstalk

Speaker 2: Throw him a five- star review while you're at it.

Mike Troiano: How Hard Can It Be?

David Cancel: How Hard Can It Be?

Mike Troiano: Go get it.

David Cancel: It's available in iTunes, everywhere that you want a podcast.

Speaker 2: I heard you were going to be on it. You're going to be on it.

David Cancel: I'm going to be on it. I'm a guest on his podcast.

Speaker 2: Okay. What did you guys talk about?

Mike Troiano: He's on it. We talked about a lot of stuff.

David Cancel: People have to subscribe.

Mike Troiano: Stuff I don't know if he wants getting out, you better listen to it.

David Cancel: Yeah.

Speaker 2: I just saw it. It's 58 minutes of gold.

David Cancel: All right.

Speaker 2: Yeah.

David Cancel: So subscribe, five star review for Mike's podcast, How Hard Can It Be? Fantastic podcast. I've listened to every episode. It's amazing. There's legends under our noses right here in New England that I did not know about or had not connected with personally. And Mike is an amazing storyteller, no surprise, and brings you through their journey. So an honor to be on your podcast.

Mike Troiano: Thanks guys.

David Cancel: Thank you.

Speaker 2: Peace.

David Cancel: Thanks.


If you liked this episode, we bet that you’ll love our blog content. blog.drift.com/#subscribe Subscribe to never miss a post & join the 20,000+ other pros committed to getting better every day. --- David calls Mike "The Godfather of Branding." And we've been talking a lot about brand lately, so we thought it would be fun to have Mike in the office at Drift and record a podcast. Mike's the CMO at Actifio, a venture capital "unicorn" (billion dollar valuation) and he spent his early career at top New York ad agencies on brands including Coca-Cola, AT&T, and Taco Bell. We also talked about reading, some of Mike's favorite books, the power of a good sales kickoff, and the role of marketing today (hint: it's to feed sales). PS. Here’s how you can support Seeking Wisdom if you’re a fan of the show: 1. Subscribe. 2. Leave us a five-star review. Here's how: bit.ly/5-Stars-Only. 3. Follow David (twitter.com/dcancel) and Dave (twitter.com/davegerhardt) on Twitter. 4. Learn more about Drift at Drift.com.