Tell us about your role and journey into technology. How did you start at MuteSix?
I was born and raised in New Jersey by a single mother who actually bought the first computer for my sister and me when I was 14. It was out of my sheer web addiction that I started tinkering around with programs such as Photoshop and Unix while building websites and running websites. But I never considered a career in tech. Back in college, I actually uncovered a passion for stand-up comedy. It wasn’t until a personal family tragedy after Hurricane Sandy when I decided to drop it all and shifted to Los Angeles without a job or a place to stay. Sometimes you have to go all-in. At one point, I ended up joining a local 24-hour Fitness just to use their showers.
In LA, I quickly learned how ridiculously hard it was to get folks out to the comedy clubs. I’d spend hours ripping apart a topic for jokes and must have gotten kicked out of at least 8 different clubs as I honestly couldn’t get the guests to fork over fistfuls of cash like other guys. One night, the idea hit me — a majority of the regular club goers were on Facebook. So, were my friends. It wasn’t a novel idea, but a simple one. So, I started running Facebook ads for my upcoming comedy sets, which were targeted to my friends and comedy lovers. And, it worked. I started to see repeat “fans” often who told me they found out about me on Facebook. This was actually the very first Facebook ad campaign I ever ran.
After a tumultuous year of hustling “bringer” shows, I got burnt out and decided to look back to tech and leverage my ad skills. I took on advertising for an e-commerce brand, helped scale its sales to six figures, and earned the largest commission I had seen to date. From there, I began working at an old office building that was acting like a router for the growing tech scene in Santa Monica. This was long before the idea of co-working spaces. It was here where I met Daniel Rutberg. He had just broken off an SEO-agency partnership. So, I took it upon myself to pick him up on the rebound. We went to dinner and realized we both needed to survive. We decided to start an agency with killer Facebook targeting with one top-level goal in mind: Don’t be the cog. Be the machine.
The early MuteSix days were pretty scrappy—Dan and I ran the agency from a client’s office who offered to give us free desks for our use. In 2014, we started off with four employees, remained lean, and won high-caliber deals off our back-room reputation. Five years later, I’ll say it’s been one hell of a ride. We’re now managing $300 million in ad spend and have grown to a team of 130 friends and family. The payoff is that if you work with the right set of folks, anything can happen fast.
From the time you joined MuteSix, how much has Advertising Technology evolved?
The velocity of innovation in ad tech is phenomenal, to say the least. Facebook has literally built the ad tech industry thanks to its agility and ability to scale when it comes to paid media. The breadth and depth of this industry-wide consolidation (thinking of Instagram) will offer more streamlined business opportunities in ad tech for brands no matter what stage of business they’re at. In essence, the best thing to come out of the ad tech evolution is how marketers have changed the art and science of advertising due to the massive amounts of data available and opportunity to use it for finding and targeting specific online consumers. The most valuable skill today — requiring marketers (not AI) to interpret data. In the end, this is always going to be about humans selling products to humans.
As an Ad Technology CEO, how would you identify the biggest advantages of leading online ad sales operations with automation and analytics?
Some of the biggest advantages of leading with on-demand analytics and actionable information is knowing that the data delivers. We experience supercharged performances and reshaped media landscapes for our partners. Clients look to us for sharing our expertise on how to enable faster and larger-scale evidence-based decision making, insight generation, and process optimization to help their business objectives. More often than not, that objective is centered on high growth. Research shows that companies with advanced digital capabilities across operations, and analytics grow revenue and market share faster than peers. They improve profit margins three times more rapidly than average and, more often than not, have been the fastest innovators and the disruptors in their vertical through increased throughput, higher quality, and decreased risks.
Tell us more about your campaign with Khloe Kardashian and the limited edition BURST Oral Care Sonic Toothbrush.
Burst Oral Care Toothbrush partnered up with Khloe Kardashian to run a ‘Corn Test,’ which was highly trending at that time. The idea was that Khloe would test toothbrushes on a cob of corn to show how deep they can get. The challenge was how to get this video out and uncover a new audience to drive customer acquisition. The massive thought-bomb was that by combining demographic, contextual and psychographic information in a simple, easily executable fashion, we could turn this into a paid ad that will resonate easily with Khloe’s fans. We also found that if we match back the brand’s personality to the influencer’s personality, we could expect to see a lift in engagement and in overall ROI by creating truly authentic native content at a much lower price turning the campaign into yet another Kardashian viral phenomenon. And, it worked as we were able to target nearly 7 million consumers in a record amount of time.
What valuable lessons did you learn from 2018’s massive mergers and acquisitions in the Ad Sales and Automation areas?
Facebook and Google are the only two dominant players when it comes to both driving “discovery-” and “intent-” driven marketing campaigns. There isn’t a dominant player after them.
Tell us about your go-to strategies to support rapid growth and the lessons learned through periods of massive shift and transition in social media advertising.
The biggest takeaway for 2019 is that video is the most powerful medium for marketing today. Specifically, mobile video content is gaining hard, fast traction and popularity across mobile devices. By 2019, global consumer Internet video traffic will account for 80% of all consumer internet traffic.
Video provides marketers with a myriad of new opportunities to push their brand. Digital video also runs on a clean ecosystem and is, therefore, a more impactful format. By creating strong, engaging video content, you can tap into more mobile device users who will spend more time on your content earning increased share and greater exposure for your brand. A majority of social media users do their sharing, commenting, and newsfeed-scrolling from their smartphones. In July 2018, Facebook grew to 168 million active mobile users in the US — this is roughly 50% of Americans. Translation: mobile video will fuel sales.
We want to further enhance the dialog behind the evolution and momentum of mobile because it’s a big focus of discussion right now with nearly every single client. Some of our strategies this year include focusing on targeted consumer needs with advanced analytics, tipping-point trendy and brave creative, growing vis-a-vie first-to-scale vs. first-to-market, and watching for emerging consumer acceptance and new behaviors. The growth game has changed and it’s our job to stay on top of those changes.
How do you mentor your Product Marketing and B2B Commerce teams at MuteSix?
This year, I am walking into our 5th year with the company and it has grown stronger, more dedicated to ad tech, and more aware of skillsets. We’ve literally grown from four employees to 130+ friends and family today. Everything changes when you’ve hired around 100+ people. Then your job is no longer finding customers, creating a product or designing solutions — your job is also to hire and keep great teams and surround yourself with skillful folks.
As we scale, it’s important for me to set aside four hours of mentoring time each week to the marketing and sales teams. For some of us. it was a difficult ride to get to where we are at now, so I want to make sure we collectively pave the road when inviting others onto the MuteSix journey.
There are still a lot of challenges every day. Things can really go sideways from 0 to 60 minutes. And, when that happens, we all feel like we have to weigh in. So, I ask the teams to come to meetings with something to talk about. A lot of folks want to establish relationships and the first thing they ask you is ‘tell me your story.’ I find that that question can be less intimidating than coming with a specific question on how to help oneself. I start my meetings asking our teams a little bit about their background on where they’re at today and follow by ‘how can I help you?’ The sharper they are in their raw answers and their asks, the better the answer and insight they can receive from me. The best thing I’ve learned through this process is just how open people are to change when you just ask.
What do you think about the recent listing of Amazon as a Facebook advertising report?
Amazon is largely pay-to-play and as such has become the third largest advertising platform behind Facebook and Google. We are seeing first-hand how they’re evolving their products and are earning traction from a budget-growth perspective. It’s actually their highest growth channel, for the time being, so we’re definitely not underestimating their potential. And, we know it’s encroaching on Google’s space, which is going to rattle some G-nerves. We expect to build solutions for new customer acquisition and accelerate awareness building for clients of all sizes.
What is the state of advertising duopoly? How do you deal with it?
The reality is Facebook and Google offer the best converting ads and volume today. There’s no question about this data-rich duo operating as the ‘power center’ of ad tech. We are working hard to uncover efficiencies on other platforms (think: Amazon, Snapchat, Pinterest). But, we’re not seeing clients pull back on their spend as the marketing dollars invested are delivering to receptive audiences. When it comes particularly to Facebook, they are so far ahead of other platforms with their arsenal of tools and in their specificity that they are still performing at optimal levels. In general, I see the idea of a triopoly as a hugely positive move for all. In the end, having more competition is always good for the consumer and advertiser.
What does your technology community look like? Who do you meet at events and conferences to discuss technology?
One of the draws of working the agency life is the sense of community, which is largely made up of folks who live to learn from people who are solving the next ad tech problem(s). It’s always great meeting fellow marketers who share the desire for variety and creativity in their work and actually want more skin-in-the-game. You quickly realize that you’re not a lone wolf in this industry as everyone has the same end goal — scale.
Which Marketing and Sales Automation tools and technologies do you currently use?
HubSpot for sales; our proprietary ad stack for all else.
What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in Marketing and Sales Technology for 2019-2020?
Artificial Intelligence is going to be the sweeping topic when it comes to data disruption and how multiple marketing channels will communicate and exchange information between each other to personalize the marketing experience to a more connected and discerning digital customer. Accelerating the process of data aggregation will help make the product even better and hopefully create a pretty defensible and durable sales model. AI — through chatbots, Robotic Process Automation, or Machine Learning — will ultimately create value across all touchpoints and through all marketing offerings at the right price, with the right message, and to the right target. Surviving in the face of AI and its rising tide means learning how to let evolution happen.
What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?
Voice, audio, the move away from linear TV to connected TV, and to all things video are super exciting at the moment. It’s clear these are going to drive the future for consumer interactions and branding. Entertainment Data Oracle (founded by actor Edward Norton) is one startup that piques my interest. I’m looking to see how the company will roll out new technology gradually over time, can scale its products (new data sets to establish consumer intent across live and non-live TV ads), what types of creative executions will resonate with TV audiences.
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?
Education from the front lines. You can foster a ‘wait-and-see attitude’ or play an active role in the change happening now. Leaders of all industries need to be educated to comprehend where AI can provide value. And, where it cannot. Yet. I’ll say this — it’ll be impossible to try and sidestep AI integration no matter what you do.
How do you inspire your people to work with technology?
For our scope, it’s helpful to demonstrate the power of data and how it relates to inspiration. In data, lies beauty. What is the problem and how can you solve it? People need to be taught that relying on immense silos of data in a data lake isn’t what drives creativity and inspiration. Volume is irrelevant. The key to data lies in the objective of its use. Solve problems through a feedback loop using insights, ideas, and innovation as inspiration can and will strike through this agile matrix. Something old can become something new when examined differently.
One word that best describes how you work.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?
I’m old school and write everything I want to accomplish for the day. I literally walk around with a ballpoint and notebook jotting down ideas and thoughts in abstract form as you never know where inspiration can and will strike. I find this helps me filter through important insights. Do you know that note-taking has been found to be as cognitively demanding as playing a round of chess is for an expert! I once read how the process activates parts of the brain that lead to better understanding and focus. And, I’m for more empathy and focus.
What are you currently reading?
Currently reading Tom Brady’s book, “The TB 12 Method” on my Kindle. It shouldn’t always be about work.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Empathy matters more than we think. We need to develop this trait to become agents of change.
Something you do better than others — the secret of your success?
Eight hours of sleep. No matter where I am in the world. No excuses. My personal research proves this is how to drive productivity and stay engaged, happy, and healthy.
Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
Thank you, Steve! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
Steve is the Founder and CEO of MuteSix, a data-led, full funnel digital and creative studio founded in 2014. He is responsible for the overall vision, strategic leadership, service delivery, culture, and growth of the creative agency leading to a billion in trackable revenue for clients.
Under Steve’s direction, MuteSix has earned the distinction as most awarded Facebook social advertising agency with more Facebook & Instagram marketing case studies than any other agency. MuteSix has grown into a comprehensive and integrated global marketing agency with prominent clients across all major industry B2B/B2C sectors, including leading brands in retail, e-commerce, luxury, non-profit, technology, sports, publishing, and financial services. Steve is a frequent speaker at industry events and is regularly quoted in business and tech publications.
MuteSix is a data-led, full funnel digital and creative studio providing intelligent ad solutions to help grow next-gen growth brands and enterprise market leaders. With a billion dollars in trackable revenue, we help our clients design for the future while evolving their existing businesses with our agency’s winning combination of digital capabilities, technology and talent. We help deliver scalable marketing and technology solutions for clients across a broad spectrum of startups, turnarounds, established blue chips, and challenger brands across various B2B/B2C industries, including retail, e-commerce, luxury, non-profit, technology, sports, publishing, and financial services.
Headquartered in Los Angeles, CA, we have a performance-obsessed team of 100+ employees, all with industry recognized qualifications, who combine a rich, deep understanding of online user journeys and branding. Driven by an insight-led strategy, we offer a full range of “Consult to Operate’” strategy development and breakthrough creative across all consumer touchpoints creating end-to-end, seamless customer experiences, which are both agile and empathic to the client’s needs.
Recent accolades include MuteSix being named as one of Inc. magazine’s Best Workplaces, ranked #263 on the 2018 Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing private companies, and is recognized more Facebook Success Stories than any other agency.
The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.