In Conversation With | Saul Colt - Director of Non Traditional Marketing at Hubba
Saul Colt is the Director of Non-Traditional Marketing at Hubba. In his career he has been named as one of the iMEDIA 25: Internet Marketing Leaders & Innovators as well as been called one of Canada’s best community builders/experiential marketers.
NYT Best selling author and Internet Pioneer Chris Brogan once referred to Saul as “exactly who you want representing your company” and that message has been echoed by media properties ranging from Inc to Forbes Magazine.
In a previous life, Saul was the first international employee of Zipcar and the person responsible for launching Zipcar into the Canadian marketplace.
He played a key role in the growth of FreshBooks.com (The #1 Cloud Accounting service for Small Business Owners) and even knows what it is like to work for a large corporation from his time in a leadership role at Rogers Communications and Xero.com.
Tell us more about what you do at Hubba
I am the Director of Non Traditional Marketing at Hubba. I do a lot of things but the thing that I am most proud of is that I speak to as many customers as I can.I am one of the conduits between customers and Hubba as a company. I like to say that I shower all of our customers with physical and non physical affection. Obviously I can’t touch everybody at once but I try to connect with as many people as possible.I spend time with customers looking for really interesting stories and sharing them with the rest of the world. I do that through creating podcasts, videos and features on our blog as well as my media contacts - if our customers get coverage they feel better about Hubba and tell our story in a way we never could.
What does Non Traditional Marketing mean and did you suggest the title for yourself?
I have worked in a non traditional way throughout my career. I think very differently than a lot of people - I observe, listen and latch onto things differently than others.
Non traditional marketing is the best way to describe what I do because I don’t do pay per click, or things along those lines that are considered the “mainstays”. I focus on marketing as a philosophy - not as individual tools but the how and the why.
A lot of people think of marketing as email, pay per click, digital banners and all those things. People don’t think of a promotional item as marketing - it definitely is but people rate that really low on their lists and it is considered non traditional.
If you tell people you are doing Direct Mail they may look at you like you are crazy but in reality this is exactly the right time to be doing it because people are so tired of email and spam and with all the email laws it is even harder to do it impactfully.
I use the term non traditional because it’s what I do but also because it stands out more.
Tell us more about Hubba
Hubba is a product discovery platform.
Think of LinkedIn - you put all of your information there and everyday recruiters from all walks of life are looking for people to hire, so they search by keywords and look at job titles. If they find something, they will reach out and connect with someone they think would be the right fit.
Hubba is very similar except instead of you putting your career information up, brands of all sizes - brands that are 1 or 2 people big to 10,000 people strong, put up their brand and product information.Every product has its own profile - product information, pictures, videos, hero shots, romance copy and everything else you need.We have 3 types of core users - brands, influencers and retailers.
Everyday, thousands of retailers, brands and influencers search for products the same way they will search for a job. Retailers are looking for products to carry in their online or brick and mortar stores. Influencers are looking for retailers and brands to possibly connect with to land an endorsement opportunity. Brands are looking for retailers to carry their products, influencers to work with and they are also looking for other brands to collaborate with.
Hubba is THE place where all those connections are taking place.People share information, they are connecting, they are making opportunities and they are creating experiences.
What was your path to marketing and where you are today?
Starting at 13 I grew up working on a family business. I tell people all the time that I went to the hardest business school in the world, which was working next to my father.
I love my father and he taught me everything, but I went on a blood, sweat and tears path to get where I am.
After leaving the family business, I started my own publishing company and worked on it for about a decade. My main competition were giant publishing conglomerates - DC and Marvel Comics. Because of this I had to figure out ways to get attention with very little budget. When you have that sort of a challenge, you come up with different things, especially when it is your own company. You know this is your means of survival, so you take chances that other people won’t necessarily take and get creative.If there is a word for whatever the opposite of risk averse is, that would be how you can describe me. I’ll go to great lengths to see cool things happen.
I have always been in positions where I have had very little budget and enormous goals and targets to hit and that has made me more creative. I believe that you can solve any problem through creativity.I have always taken non traditional paths to get results and have been very results oriented all throughout my career, and thankfully I have always been on the right side of history without any major setbacks because the risks I take are always calculated.
My career has gone from family business, my own company to being the first international employee for Zipcar. Anybody reading this who enjoys Zipcar, you have me to thank, you are welcome! [laughs].
From Zipcar, I went on to being employee number 9 at Freshbooks, working with Rogers Communications in a senior strategy role and consulting with a bunch of places. I also worked at Xero, which is a global accounting platform and now I am at Hubba.
What do you find most rewarding about your role?
I get an immense pleasure in solving problems, working with customers and elevating their profile. I have been very fortunate in my career and have had some prominence. I am probably more infamous than famous but people know who I am.
I have been featured in 4 different New York Times best selling books. Featured in Inc, FastCompany, WIRED and all sorts of places. All that is really cool and amazing, don’t get me wrong, but I get such pleasure out of working with smaller brands and businesses and helping them get to where they want to go. I love growing brands.
What do you find most challenging about your role?
Because I approach things in a very different way - I want everything to be memorable and I want to create experiences, I get pushback all the time from people who can’t connect the dots or are just afraid to take a leap of faith. My ideas will always get you from A to B but I might do a loop in between to make it more interesting.A lot of people just want to get from A to B the fastest way possible and don’t care about the art, but it is the art that creates the story and the loyalty.
Earning trust to get people to just let me do my thing has been a challenge in every role I have had. You have to take chances and you have to do different things but not everyone is willing to do so.
Some of my ideas are ridiculous and I know that there is a line of good taste. I tend to cross it but I believe that crossing that line is where experiences are made. You have to cross it by 2 baby steps, you don’t have to cross it by 20 feet!
There is no reason to play safe ever because safe just means that nobody is noticing or remembering you.When you present ideas that aren’t safe, it makes people really uncomfortable and what happens is that they are going to keep saying no to you and then they are going to throw you out - which has happened to me. Luckily I do good work and I have always been able to land on my feet elsewhere.
I never want to play it safe and that has really haunted my whole career because everyone loves you until they don’t - that is just something that I have build a thick skin on.
What does your team look like at Hubba?
It is really just me.
I have resources I can pull in as needed but I am kind of like a one person creative agency. I have my projects and goals and work towards over delivering on them.
What do you look for in someone who wants to work with you?
I look for somebody with great work ethic and passion because I can teach everything else.Ideas are really easy to come up with - it is the execution of ideas that is actually the hard part. Everybody can come up with 10 great ideas a day, they don’t actually have to be a genius.I just want someone who is willing to work really hard and likes what they are doing. Most importantly you have to be someone I want to hang out with - I spend more time working than I do seeing my friends. If I am going to spend 10 hours a day with you we better like each other.
How has the definition of marketing transformed in recent years?
Everyone thinks that digital and email is the only way to market now but you know why TV costs so much? Because it still works!
We are all so entrenched in startups and tech and things like that. People think that digital is the only way to get to people.“Oh you are not on Product Hunt? You are doing it wrong.”
Actually one of the best ways to stand out is not to do what everyone else is doing. I love marketing books from the 70s and 80s because all the rules are exactly the same. The books only focus on the rules - the theories and the philosophies. They are not talking about Tweet Deck or other tools because they are interchangeable.
How many tools did we have 5 years ago that are gone right now? What you are putting in to the tools never changes and that’s what I think people get really lost on.
When people say ‘oh I am a CRM expert or I am an email marketing expert.’ I think that is wonderful that you know how to use the tools but if you don’t know how to write an email that is compelling for people to open it and you don’t understand the basic principles of making an offer then it is of little use.Marketing isn’t just running a pay per click campaign because you can just hire an agency for that. Marketing is the allure or the myth around the company and I feel that is being lost, which is a shame.
I consider myself to be someone who builds a myth around a company and I know exactly how to do it and I can do it for anybody but myths are becoming less important.
If you have a million email addresses in your CRM and nobody cares about your company then you will be out of business very soon. I think everybody should measure the success of their business by how many people they can get to come out to a live event because if nobody will come out for you on a Tuesday night, they really don’t care about your company.
There are two ways to measure - how many people will come out to a live event and if your product went down for a week will anyone notice? I don’t think people think about that stuff as much anymore.
How do you stay up to date with trends in marketing?
I read a crazy amount.
I actually don’t worry too much about trends. I like to know what is going on but I never blindly follow anything. I think trends are wonderful but I also think that some people use them as a crutch.I think every situation should be entirely customised.
I get a lot of grief every time I mention it but I don’t believe there is any such thing as best practices. If something worked for you at RIGHTSLEEVE it may not work for me - because your market, opportunity and the people you are talking to are different.
I recently drove across North America to meet Hubba’s customers and what I learned from that is that everyone is very different just based on geography. If you want to do really great marketing, you can’t have a national message. You have to pick and choose what people care about in different places and speak to them the way they want to be spoken to and you can’t do that with best practices and you can’t do that by blindly following trends.
So a lot of trends, especially in the startup world, really are just speaking to 6 cities across North America.I come up with marketing strategies that will work in Los Angeles, Florida, Iowa and North Dakota because that is how you really succeed.
What are your best sources for reading about marketing?
I am reading a book right now called The Hustler’s Handbook - it is about Bill Veeck. The book was written probably 50 years ago.
Bill Veeck is a former Major League baseball owner and he actually invented promotion day - bat day, hat day and other stuff like that. One of his most famous stunts was the time he hired a midget to play as a Major League baseball player to draw a walk at a key part of a world series.He was a very different kind of thinker. There are thousands of marketing lessons you can learn from this book, that you should read and latch onto and not let go.
Apart from this, two of my favourite books that I tell everyone to read, especially if they want to work with me, are Days Gone Mad, which is a book about William Gaines, the founder of MAD Magazine. You wouldn’t think it is a business book but it is one of the best business books ever written. Again, about a non traditional thinker.
This is the guy who wouldn’t allow computers in their office till the late 80s and everyone was still working with paper and typewriters because he felt that it made them more of a unit.
The best book that I can recommend is called Chasing Cool,which is the story about Barney’s New York, the clothing store. It is a story of how they went from being a value based brand, to one of the best luxury brands in the world.
Those are the best marketing books I can recommend. As for the more current topical stuff I have an RSS feed, which I know may not be cool or sexy anymore, but I add stuff to it constantly and have done so for a decade.
I certainly don’t read everything but if you grab me with an interesting headline, I will take the time to read it. I take about 45 minutes every day to read my feed.I also subscribe to a lot of newsletters. It is not the where but more about the routine. Get in a routine of reading every day and find something.
What is the greatest piece of marketing advice you have ever received?
I don’t think anyone has ever given me any advice but the advice that I always give people is:
when it comes to building a myth for your brand, the secret is to never confirm and never deny
I always leave blank spaces when I tell stories because what other people are going to fill up those blank spaces with is going to be far more interesting. I am not telling them a lie but what they are doing is creating the stories for themselves and because they’ve romanticized it themselves - they are going to believe it more because they have personalized the brand.
What are your top applications and tools?
Evernote - I live and die by Evernote. It is really great. I am always scribbling down ideas and look at them a week later, realize that some of them are not great, categorize them and delete them.
Phone - I can’t live without my phone because my entire world is in there.
Best Time Saving Skill?
I am old school and still use pen and paper to make lists. When I sit down I know exactly what I need to do.I put my headphones on and work on my list. I plough through my tasks that way.
How do you define value of a product and how do you deliver or communicate that value?
To define the value of the product, ask yourself - would somebody pay for it?The best way you can find out the answer is by talking to people, asking for feedback and having conversations. You should obviously be iterating your product at all times but the process of launching a product is customer identification, design, development and marketing.
Everyone just wants to jump to development and marketing but you need to identify your customers first so you actually know who you are designing for. How do you know your product has a value? When your customers tell you it is and they will if you ask.
Also, don’t go to friends and family because they will never tell you the truth.
How do you suggest that others find their way through the field of marketing?
You gotta just do it.Figure out if you want to be a generalist or a specialist. Once you figure that out, you have got to just keep doing it.Bobcat Goldthwait, the standup comedian, said this at a commencement speech at his daughter’s university - “Keep quitting until you find something that feels right.”
That goes against everything you are always told. You are told to eat crap for as long as you can, do whatever it takes. There is something pretty magical to keep quitting until you find something you find that fits.I don’t think you should keep quitting jobs but don’t be afraid to quit. You have to find something that is going to make you happy, sane or at least reasonably happy.
You have to be willing to make changes and take risks.