You could say humans are pretty irrational creatures, especially when it comes to how we behave as consumers. Intrigued? So were we! As it so happens, Alex Conde is here to explain the psyche behind consumer behaviour, and how marketing can cure the perplexities that come with it. From data, design, and technology, to storytelling, active listening and learning: Alex covers it all with us in today’s community spotlight interview! Alex has been working in financial services and FinTech for over a decade, with the goal of educating people about their finances. As the Director of Content at RateHub, he now helps Canadians search smarter and save money by developing engaging and insightful content. He is also a longstanding member of our Beta Committee and has continuously contributed valuable insight, so naturally, we’re delighted to share his advice with you!
Ratehub.ca is an online comparison platform for mortgage rates, credit cards, deposits, and insurance offered by Canada’s major banks, neighbourhood credit unions and brokers. More than 800,000 Canadians visit ratehub.ca every month to compare thousands of rates from hundreds of providers with just a few easy clicks. Ratehub.ca was recently named to the Deloitte Fast 50 and is a winner of the Startup Canada awards.
For starters, what inspired you to pursue a career in marketing? Why is it so popular?
Well, in a way, I originally stumbled into marketing. I started by working in customer service, and marketing was a really good extension of that, and as I really grew into the industry and learned more, I realized I loved it. It’s a mix of all of these different disciplines like psychology, data, design, writing, graphics, video; there’s a little bit of everything in there! And I really think that’s why marketing is so popular because it becomes a meeting point for a number of different disciplines. You can bring people from almost any field and have something very unique to offer. So everyone can feel like they have a constructive impact.
In your opinion, what’s the easiest & hardest part about being a marketer?
Ooh that’s actually a tough one. I’d say the easiest part is getting a seat at the table, because there’s a lot of new opportunities to get into marketing. So the hardest part becomes continuously being relevant. A lot of the best marketing campaigns hit a snag where, maybe someone just stopped checking in with the customer, or they drifted a bit on their message but they stopped being relevant to a huge number of people as they once were.
This begs the question: In your opinion, which company or organization uses marketing effectively?
I always remember Westjet’s Holiday Campaign – They have continuously shown themselves to be relevant year after year for what was just a small national airline.
For those who aren’t familiar with the advert, what did Westjet do to remain relevant?
I actually recommend people watch it. It was always based along the idea of pleasant holiday surprise. They managed to adopt a community feel by talking to real people, actual customers, including those who were devastated by fire in Northern Alberta. Year after year they continuously reinvent themselves while remaining true to that same feeling of tugging at the heartstrings of our nation, making it memorable, while representing the reputation we have here in Canada. All very simple ideas but executed very effectively.
You’ve already touched upon how some businesses fail to establish the relevance of their product or service for the customer. How can content marketing help with this?
People don’t always see the reason why a product or service can fit their life. There’s a quote attributed to Henry Ford: “If I ask people what they would have wanted, they would have said faster horses”. So people didn’t really know that cars as a concept existed. Even before the smartphone, there was a trend in technology for the smallest cell phone possible and now, we want bigger and bigger devices because we’ve been shown how amazing it is to have a full computer in your back pocket. Content marketing helps build that bridge because not all services and products have an immediately evident value proposition to the audience. There’s a lot of things competing for their attention. A great example might also be smart speakers like Google Echo or Amazon Alexa; it’s not immediately evident how relevant that product is to your life if someone just hands it to you. So content marketing helps build that bridge with the early adopters, so once that product becomes a bigger part of popular culture, it is already something people can see the relevance of.
In trying to define relevance, there’s often two sets of user research carried out: qualitative & quantitative. Is one more important than the other for product development? For example, listening to your target audience versus what their data tells us.
I actually don’t even think you can separate them very much because, at the heart of it, that quantitative data tells you what people are doing, but it can’t tell you what people are unable to do; like what a user was unable to click, because it wasn’t available on that webpage. One of the best authors for this topic is Dan Ariely, and he wrote a book called “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions”. He uncovers why we should refute that consumers behave in rationale ways. What people say they want isn’t actually what they want. The reason why consumers want something might have nothing to do with what they originally stated as their reasoning. Bearing that in mind, when you combine the opinion of the users with the statistical data, you’ll get that full picture.
So the emphasis we see on ‘data-driven organizations’ isn’t necessarily disregarding listening to its audience?
I’d say so. Often products teams are evangelists of the products that they are using. That means can no longer be dispassionate testers for what goes out into the market. When you’ve poured your heart and soul into a product for years, you no longer have a fresh pair of eyes. That’s why adopting both sets of research into product development becomes crucial, you have to listen to your potential customers.
What are 3 things you do outside of your work that you think contribute to your career?
I consume a lot of media – and I’m talking about all sorts of genres because I think marketers at the heart of it are good storytellers – and it doesn’t matter whether these stories are numbers, pictures, videos or any other element, we create stories that connect with our target audience. Seeing the other stories people make helps me create better stories myself.
Secondly, I participate in a lot of live events where I actually get to connect with people and hear discussions from different industries. It’s amazing to see the level of cross pollination between different disciplines. For me, learning from others becomes a venue for personal and professional growth. I think, too often we get blinders to specific industries or disciplines, and those exact industries might have already solved a problem you’re working on in your own separate field. Its up to us to connect those dots and help generate a fresh perspective.
Lastly, I get outside my comfort zone. I think this has been the single most effective tool for me. Marketing is about thinking differently – If you get into a rut and only stay in your comfort zone, you’re pretty much doomed. Whether it be bungee jumping, trying new cuisines, whatever helps you get a fresh perspective: embrace that.
So would you say it’s about taking more risks?
I think so! But educated risks – the best marketers I’ve seen are the ones who are willing to take risks but they’re also the ones who aren’t afraid to say when they fail, because it’s part of that learning process. I think the inability to take risks puts a box around your ability to grow in the marketing sphere.
Speaking of growing: What helps build audiences? What helps retain them?
For me it’s simple – Providing value. There’s a lot of different things I’ve heard being mentioned, lots of different tools shared to help spark lucrative ideas. But at the heart of it, if I provide value to your people, then they will become a part of your audience. And the real key is to continuously deliver that value. The moment when I stop providing value is the moment they’ll move onto someone else who’s addressing their individual pain points better than I am. People want something relatable, something that resonates with them. So keep delivering those messages.
How can organisations/companies tell a fresh story to attract new audiences while remaining true to their brand?
I think a lot of that comes down to understanding your audience – One of the best examples I’ve seen of this is the American fast food chain Wendy’s. They released an incredibly adversarial brand over social media where they pretty much dissed or insulted people who questioned the taste of their food! This strategy did a couple of great things: It got rid of their detractors, while at the same time, energizing their promoters, and drawing greater visibility to the brand. They found a space that encompassed what their core existing audience actually wanted and leveraged their strategic options from there. Normally, you’d think no company is going to make jokes about their food or question their brand, but Wendy’s flipped that on its head. So those marketing professionals were all very energized, because they had a brand that was doing something funny and worth talking about; it even made the news! It was a well calculated risk. They’ve been bold but not too offensive.
Social media is definitely a fantastic way to deliver those marketing campaigns. But we also live in a digital age where misinformation can spread like wildfire. Do you think, as digital marketers, we can help in some way?
Marketers more so than the general public are media literate, so we can do a good job of recognising when misinformation is being spread. So it’s our job to raise the level of media literacy for the general public. That would help people to understand why a piece of news circulating twitter might not be correct, or even why misinformation can spread that quickly.
What advice do you have for startups when it comes to content marketing?
If I had one piece of advice it would be: Talk to other startups.
In a way startups are like newborns, each one is an individual, but collectively, they all face the same challenges. It’s fascinating how one startup’s solution can speak to our challenges and vice versa! So take the opportunity if it comes your way.
You’ve already recommended a great book without us even asking! Before we let you go, are there any other books, or resources, that you’d highly recommend our community should read?
Yes! As mentioned, Dan Ariely’s books are particularly good. The one other resource I’ll mention are Tedtalks in general! But specifically for marketing, look towards Rory Sutherland. He’s a marketing executive from England with a real knack for storytelling and he draws on compelling examples!
Don’t let the end of this interview stop you from learning more about Alex! Connect with him on social channels and hear what he has to say:
About the Author
Maryam Zaidi is a user experience/ digital strategist currently working in healthcare. As a graduate from the University of Toronto in the Master of Information Program, her interests lie at the intersection of human-computer interaction and empathetic design. In her spare time, she loves to read, run, and occasionally code! You can find her on Twitter as @MaryZai