How do you craft a message that not only resonates with your audience but actually leads them to take action?
Josh Braaten, CEO of Brandish Insights, shares the lessons he learned in persuading people to get off social media and make a difference during his campaign to save net neutrality.
Today we’re talking with Josh Braaten, a marketing consultant and founder of Brandish Insights, about the lessons he learned when he formed his own Super PAC (Political Action Committee) to take on the US government and fight for net neutrality.
He shares the backstory of what led him to create a Super PAC in the first place, and then deep-dives into the practical insights he gained while crafting a message to resonate with his target audience, such as:
Josh was a pleasure to speak with and someone I look forward to staying in touch with outside of the podcast, so I hope you find some value here as well.
[00:00:05] David: Welcome to The Human Strike Back by Hotjar, the weekly podcast designed to help you succeed by putting people first. I’m David Peralta. Today, you’ll be hearing from Josh Braaten, marketing consultant and founder of Brandish Insights. Josh is an incredibly smart and action-oriented marketer.
Today, we’re going to be talking about the insights he learned when he decided to form his own super PAC to take on the US government and fight for net neutrality. Along the way, Josh picked up some incredibly practical lessons on how to effectively resonate with his target audience. Such as, how to focus on how helping people with the issues they’re facing without needing to sensationalize, how leading with common principles can actually open the door for people to listen to your message, and how to start taking action in the face of an overwhelming amount of things to do.
Josh was a pleasure to speak with and someone I look forward to staying in touch with outside of this podcast. I hope you find some value here as well. Enjoy.
First, I want to welcome you on the show, Josh. Thanks so much for taking the time in being here.
[00:01:07] Josh: Thanks for having me.
[00:01:09] David: Now you came to us through a very interesting angle. I think you knew somebody who had been a guest on my co-host Louis’ other podcast Everyone Hates Marketers, and when we were looking for guests, somehow you came into our network and introduced yourself. It turns out that you had a pretty fascinating story of how you decided to take action and make a difference, in the face of overwhelming odds, in a realm outside of your typical expertise. Where I’d like to start actually, is can you tell us a little bit about who you are? What you do on a day-to-day basis before we dive into that story?
[00:01:52] Josh: Yeah, absolutely. I’m just like most of your listeners. I work in marketing. I work in tech. I’ve worked for SaaS startups. I’ve worked for agencies. I’m a marketer. Right now, I am a consultant, and I also have a startup that I’m working on called Brandish Insights, we’re a brand measurement platform. That is what I do, I would say, during the day when I’m not being a political advocate.
[00:02:19] David: You’ve also worked with some notable companies. I think Leadpages was one of them.
[00:02:23] Josh: Yup, yup. Leadpages and then I worked for some online colleges and some B2B distributors before that, nobody’s heard of them though, so that doesn’t matter.
[00:02:34] David: But still, I think maybe at least some portion of our audience would have heard of Leadpages, especially the marketers.
[00:02:39] Josh: Yeah, totally.
[00:02:41] David: You just mentioned that you’re a marketer by day but by night, I don’t know, we might call them an alter-ego, a superhero or something.
[00:02:52] Josh: Yes, I guess so.
[00:02:53] David: A little bit of an exaggeration but you focused yourself on making a difference in a field that’s completely outside of your day-to-day realm. Can you tell us a little bit about what that field is? How you decided to get involved and what you did to make a difference?
[00:03:09] Josh: Sure. I am a stark supporter of net neutrality. I was really disappointed last year when the repeal of net neutrality went through in December. It was interesting because I was so upset at the time that I actually went out and hosted the first protest that I’ve ever hosted. I’ve attended some protests and participated, but I’ve never actually hosted one. There we were, sitting outside of the Verizon store and I had to get a permit and get signs made–it was very exciting. After the repeal, I said, “This can’t be it, this can’t be the only thing. How do I keep going?” Looking online, most people were just complaining about things on Facebook, myself included. I thought to myself, “Well, how do you actually get involved? What do you actually do to move things in the political system?” One thing led to another, and we found ourselves creating a super PAC.
[00:04:11] David: What do you mean, one thing led to another?
[00:04:16] Josh: Right now, technically, I am also the chair and co-founder of americasinternet.org. It is a super PAC that’s fighting for a better Internet and the online rights of everyone. We decided to form the super PAC once we decided how easy it actually was. Here we are in December and I’m really upset about…
[00:04:38] David: Who’s we, by the way?
[00:04:40] Josh: We, my colleagues, are my wife, she happens to be the PAC Administrator and then a friend of mine, Aaron, he is our PAC Treasurer—the three of us are really all there is to this organization. We’re just three citizens.
[00:04:59] David: Before we go too deep into what you did and how organized this, can you give our listeners a background on what super PACs are?
[00:05:05] Josh: Yeah, absolutely. I think, what was it, 2010 I believe, 2010 or 2012, I think 2010. Citizens United, a Supreme Court case, basically said that “Corporations are basically people too, and if they want to form organizations to throw unlimited amounts of money into politics then they can do that.” Now, in the last decade, we’ve seen all these ads where it’s like, “Paid for by people who support such and such.” These are the ads that we see in politics all the time that may support certain candidates or another. These are groups that are, essentially, just in politics that will receive money from large corporations or people and then just spend them to lobby or get whatever political outcomes that they’re dedicated to support.
[00:05:56] David: The difference before was that there was a limit to how much an individual could contribute, is that correct? There was a cap, and then Citizens United just opened floodgates for corporations with millions and billions of dollars, and private individuals who are independently wealthy, to invest as much as they wanted to achieve their political aims. Is that a pretty good description?
[00:06:16] Josh: Yeah, that’s right. Before, the current individual level of contribution cap is $5000 and basically, super PACs, it’s unlimited amounts of money you can receive and spend them on unlimited things as long as you’re not coordinating specifically with a candidate which is a very, very blurry line, and not many people, I guess, step out on the other side of it.
[00:06:40] David: Okay. Now, what I think is relevant here for our listeners is once this happened, super PACs immediately started to seem like the realm of the super-rich, and something that only people who are extremely wealthy could form. Again, it created in me, for example, a sense of powerlessness where I felt like, “Okay. Well, now, there’s just another thing that people with a ton of money can go out and push their personal interest with and me as an individual citizen, this is just out of my realm. I have nothing to do with super PACs. It must be super complicated. I probably need to have hundreds of thousands of dollars to even start a super PAC before I even try to do something.” But you figured out and discovered that this is not the case.
[00:07:25] Josh: That’s true. I was sitting there, like I said, upset in December of last year, and I was just online at night, winding down for the evening, and one click led to another, and I found myself on the Federal Elections Commissions website fec.gov. They have, potentially, one of the best public data sets out there. I’m searching and searching, I’m looking at it, and I’m finding all these super PACs. I’m looking at not only can I see their entire balance sheet essentially but I’m also seeing every receipt they’ve taken, and every disbursement they’ve made. Every dime in and dime out is in a ledger in these reports. I’m looking at it, and I’m like, “Oh goodness, they’re paying for a website? It looks like they’re going to dinner. Wow. That’s $175,000 consulting fee that a guy that created the super PAC. What?”
Line item by line item, I’m piecing together that these organizations, you literally can take any amount of money from anyone, and you can spend it on anything you want as long as it’s all done above the board, so to speak, and filed with the FEC either monthly or quarterly according to their submission guidelines. I’m like, “Wow. That’s fascinating. How do you do this?” and found out there was basically three steps. We went to the IRS, and we needed an Employee Identification Number.
Typically, when you do that, they’ll take you down a path. It’s like, “What’s your business? Who are the partners?” and all these different things. It’s a political organization, and it takes you down these other paths. It’s like, “Cool. what’s its name?” Then it says, “Here’s your EIN.” You take that then to the bank, and you say, “I need a bank account.” step two. They say, “Great. Where are your articles of incorporation? Who is on the board?” that type of stuff. You just like, “No, no. We are a political organization.” They’re like, “Oh okay, cool. Do you have an EIN?” I’m like, “Yup. Here you go.” They’re like, “Great. Here’s your bank account.” Now, we’ve got a bank account, now we take our bank account, and our EIN, we take that to the FEC…
[00:09:30] David: That’s the Employee Identification Number you mentioned, right?
[00:09:33] Josh: Yup, that’s right. Which is basically a social security number for the organization itself. We’ve got our little identification number, we’ve got out bank account, and we go to the FEC, and we essentially say, “We’re a super PAC.” That consisted of filling out a few details like, who the chair was, who’s the treasurer, and these are basically, people that are responsible for the organization. Then there’s a note field where literally, you say, “In accordance with Citizens United, I declare we are the super PAC.” then you get a note via email saying, “Okay, great. You’re super PAC.”
Next thing you know, you’re on the FEC database, you look online and there you are, it’s got everything. We’ve been in place since the beginning of the year and are just getting ready to be filing our second quarterly filings with the FEC in terms of our finances and stuff. We’re still getting the hang of it, we’re totally legit, and we’re a super PAC.
[00:10:32] David: What's amazing here is, like I said, super PAC seems something that would totally obscure, and it seemed like you must have a team of lawyers before you even needed to start one but actually, when you looked into it, it turns out that the process was incredibly easy, and it actually allowed you to jump over the bureaucratic hoops of what most other organizations would need to do. You just bypassed what the Internal Revenue Service requires you to do, you just bypassed what the banks required you to do just by simply saying that you are a super PAC, a political organization, and you checked a box, and suddenly, you, your wife, and your friend are now a super PAC.
[00:11:10] Josh: It’s essentially like that. We did a lot of research. We consulted some people to be like, “Really? Really?” There were a few extra steps in there that were [...], but ultimately, that’s about as easy as it was. Actually, I think that’s the interesting part is that’s the only part that we didn’t know how to do. We knew how to build a website. We knew how to write copy that converts. We know how to email people. We know how to write Facebook ads and drive them to landing pages and generate leads or advocates.
Really, all of the other things involved in running a super PAC, those were first nature to us because we’re marketers but it was like that other 10% that we had no idea what to do that I think blocks everybody from making progress in most of their daily life.
[00:12:02] David: This is actually a great point because basically, what you’re saying is, you know you have the capacity to do something, but there was this potential obstacle in doing it because you didn’t know how to do it, you didn’t know what it actually entailed to create a super PAC, and this is the kind of challenge or the ceiling that a lot of people run into. They know they have a specific goal that they want to achieve in their job or with their marketing or for their company, but there’s some unknown aspect that they don’t know how to do, and that prevents them from taking further action, but in your case, in just uncovering what it actually took to do that that was enough to help you realize that, “Oh, that’s actually the easiest part.”
[00:12:40] Josh: Yeah, absolutely. I think it probably took about an hour or two in terms of total time sitting at the bank filling out two forms on the IRS and the FEC website. Those were the easiest steps to actually execute. Conceptually, they were really difficult to understand, and I had to go down a couple of trails to figure out what those steps actually were. But again, that is what I think stops most people from achieving the majority of the things they want to accomplish in life is, just figuring, “Well, what are the steps actually to getting what we want or what I want or what the customer wants?"
[00:13:18] David: This is something that I want to come back to later. But sticking with the story, why was it that you decided that forming a super PAC was the way to go in order for you to make a difference in this fight for net neutrality?
[00:13:30] Josh: I think for me, I’ve been a big follower of how the Internet was first used for good. It seemed like at the turn of the century, it was all about grassroots social media, lifting up some great candidates that we would have maybe otherwise not have found and then it seemed to turn when companies got involved when money got involved. Seeing some of the things that allegedly happened last year with companies like Cambridge Analytica and others, I thought to myself, “They’re just targeting people with Facebook ads. They’re just sharing ideas thru Facebook. That’s not that hard. I could do that.”
If only people could hear about things like net neutrality put in a way that would make a normal consumer understand, and make a normal person relate to the issue or issues that are associated with a better Internet for everybody, then maybe we could fight back like one of the Rocky movies where, we’ve been knocked down but now we’ve been training, and maybe we can beat the Russians or whoever.
[00:14:49] David: What did that look like practically once you had formed your super PAC? What did you start to do?
[00:14:54] Josh: One of the first things that I wanted to make sure that people understood was that we weren’t going to be one of those bad super PACs. We have created bylaws. We have essentially, the way that we’re run so that we’re run like a charity, there are rules that charities can only take, for example, 80% of everything they raised, it has to be spent on affecting the cause that they’re supposed to be advocating for. We set up our bylaws to do that. We made it very clear what we’re supporting. The people that run the organization are, very clearly, pictured as citizens of this country and people who just use the Internet. We’re not big cable. We’re not any of these backroom politicians. We’re people that use the Internet, and actually, work on the Internet and depend on the Internet. We’re positioning ourselves as people who can, I guess, help lead that charge from a consumer, from a citizen perspective.
[00:15:58] David: Or even from a human perspective.
[00:16:00] Josh: Yeah, from a human perspective. I think a lot of these issues that we’re seeing these days, is not so much left or right but it’s people versus money. We think this is one of those issues where we’re just like, “If people saw it like that, they would choose people every day.” That’s where we’ve set about to try and make our branding support that, our name, America’s Internet, it’s all of ours. We talk very much about how when we got to the 20th Century, we saw a lot of people coming in to the city, and you saw a lot of monopolies at that time, and then there’s a lot of regulation that was similar to the types of regulation that we’d like to see with net neutrality.
We’re trying to draw parallels of, “This isn’t a government take over. This is actually, protecting consumers from corporations because we’ve had to do that a few times in this country, and it’s worked out great for everyone. Look at the roads we drive on, look at the gas that runs to our house, look at the water, in most parts of our country, thankfully.” We’re trying to figure out how to position these issues and then put it into a website and then hook up things like donor box to receive donations, using Drip to email people, and Leadpages to generate advocates, things like that.
[00:17:20] David: You also started to run ads on Facebook, and that’s where you started to see the impact that you were having, and you started to realize some things about what it took to run a successful campaign. Can you share a little bit about that with us?
[00:17:34] Josh: Totally. I think unlike most of what we sell everyday where people are already in the mood to buy something that we’re selling to them typically, because we’re targeting them and such, we’re targeting people who don’t want to buy what we have. We’re actually trying to change opinions. I think where the sale actually gets really, really tough, we found there’s three important things that we’ve learned so far and we’re still learning everyday. The first thing is not to conflate issues and so…
[00:18:03] David: Hold on a second, before you get into that, I just want to emphasize this point because you just said something really important which is that, you’re not trying to sell something, you’re trying to shift people’s opinions. Which is actually, in many ways, is more difficult but it’s also potentially more powerful when you finally do have that impact and make that shift.
[00:18:23] Josh: Totally. It’s a much harder sell, but it’s a much more valuable sell. I think about it as trying to do an enterprise software deal. It’s going to be a long sales cycle, it’s information-rich, there are multiple people in the person’s life that affect their opinion, and their willingness to buy, and ultimately if they do buy, it’s a huge commitment. It is a lot different than just buying a $9.99 ebook or something like that.
[00:18:51] David: What were the three things that you realized are essential to helping shift opinion?
[00:18:55] Josh: Sure. The first is not to conflate issues. We had some ads that featured President Trump, and we had some ads that did not feature President Trump. We found that the ones that did not feature President Trump, we were able to have a much more concise, and I guess, logical and rational conversations with people about just issues like net neutrality. When we pictured President Trump or even some of the different senators that we’ve been advertising in certain states, people will inflect their hate or love for people or other issues, and it will blur their ability to think rationally and thoughtfully about the thing that you’re trying to do. We decided to remove all of the noise and just focus solely on things like the Internet and not try and involve other issues or try to create noise.
[00:19:49] David: Just to dive into that one a little bit more because basically what you’re saying is that when you were showing something that created strong emotions in people—I think you had mentioned to me privately—that actually got more views or more shares than the other ones but the quality of the conversations in the ones where you didn’t show these things that generated these strong emotions allowed you to have a deeper conversation, that moved more in the direction of shifting the opinion of the people that you were engaging with.
[00:20:27] Josh: That’s a great point. For example, we had three pages that did not feature the President and they converted at 45% and 52% respectively. The ones that did not feature him converted at 20% but we got a much higher click-through rate to the pages, and so we had a lot higher engagement when we had these emotional, sensationalized type of things, clickbaity type headlines, and that type of thing. But the commitment and the conversion of actually becoming an advocate for the issues, that went way down. We decreased it by more than half, from 45% to 20%.
[00:21:02] David: How would you translate this into a day-to-day marketers world, something outside of the political realm?
[00:21:11] Josh: I think this is something that marketers need to think about a little bit more in terms of sales. Oftentimes we try to tell everybody all the reasons why they want to buy our product, or we insist that our unique value proposition for the whole product is the first thing we lead with all the time. Instead though, when we’re thinking more of the sales capacity, “What’s that one use case that a human is struggling with today?” “Boy, I wish I really understood what people on this page felt about us right now.” “Cool, that is a use case for a poll in Hotjar.”
Being able to collect real-time feedback from your consumers on your website right now, that may not be the unique value proposition for Hotjar as a whole, but in that moment, it’s perfect to sell somebody else on polls who is struggling with that use case. I think that is the parallel to take away here—don’t conflate what people care about right in the second with the greater issue or anything broader or other related things. It’s really focusing on trying to address people with that one use case that they have and how you can help them.
[00:22:23] David: What would be a good example? Driving more leads is something that everyone is concerned about, that’s something that is essential to the business, and so there’s a lot of emotion tied to, “You’ve got to drive more leads. You’ve got to generate demand.” and this kind of thing. But what’s the day-to-day issue that you might be facing that’s more personal and more pressing to you at the moment that will allow you to achieve that greater issue later, but might be more relevant to you and might get you more involved in some content or something that might beat you? It’s not just you click-through, and you get this hype about demand generation and lead generation, but it’s something much more relevant to, like you said, the need to create microcopy that converts more effectively. Is that an effective example or can you think of something better?
[00:23:11] Josh: That’s a great example. I think another one is, when we were at Drip, we had all sorts of conversations about what that unique value proposition was at the top-level. But we knew, a lot of people actually just wanted a library for the liquid markup language because they could do all sorts of cool things in their accounts, in their workflows, their campaigns, that type of thing, if they understood how to use liquid, so we put together a liquid guide.
That thing, since leaving the company, I’ve use it for my own purposes, and I reference that thing all the time, and that’s exactly that very specific use case. It’s the one that will let you use liquid the way that you want to. Don’t put that on the home page but somebody’s going to get sold on that thing alone because they love liquid, or that’s the way they’ve learned it, or they want to do it that way.
[00:23:58] David: That’s a great example. So then the second thing you realized about running these campaigns?
[00:24:03] Josh: Don’t sensationalize claims that you can’t back up when you’re trying to change somebody’s opinion. We found out that we didn’t know as much as we do about the Internet when we first started. We make all these claims about, “Oh, we got to support net neutrality because…” They’d say, “Why?” and we’d say, “Because it’s the law.” and then they’re like, “Well, no. Actually, it’s not the law. It’s actually been in the realm of the Executive Branch for quite some time through the FCC, and they have basically been making the rules the whole time since essentially 1996, since the Telecommunications Act of 1996.”
Basically, we had to learn about the President, the history and then really watch the claims that we we making because if we overstep a little bit, you would have a very well-educated people that had some very good concerns or points about, “Why do we need this regulation?” Unless, you are very logical, fact-based, and willing to back things up, people aren’t going to shift their opinions. That may be logical, but I think oftentimes, we get away from that in politics these days.
[00:25:19] David: Not just politics. Also in marketing.
[00:25:21] Josh: Yeah, right.
[00:25:22] David: Because I think sensationalism is something that’s easier to do than to actually come up with a smaller claim that has a deeper background to it that might potentially influence people more because it’s easier to go for the bigger, louder claim.
[00:25:37] Josh: Oh totally. I think you’re seeing a wave of churn hit SaaS right now.
[00:25:42] David: That’s a really good point.
[00:25:44] Josh: That’s exactly what that comes from. If you can’t back up the experience, if you can’t back up the claim, if you can’t back up the value of the product, you’re going to see churn, you’re going to see no land and expand as the board needs to see, you’ll see a lot of land and leave and that’s unfortunately, been how a lot of companies startups have burned through a lot of EC capital, right?
[00:26:07] David: Yeah. This is something that SaaS companies face across the board, and this is something that even we at Hotjar are struggling with, that we wanted to position Hotjar as all-in-one user analytics, and feedback but then it turns out that’s not exactly how our users are using Hotjar. About one-third of our users come in with a certain expectation, and then within a month, they’re gone because of what we claimed did not match their experience or their expectation of what we were going to be able to provide.
That’s causing us to have to go back and really think about, “What is it that we offer? How can we present this in a way that’s much more relevant and resonant with the needs and challenges that our users are actually using Hotjar for, instead of making this a much broader claim of all-in-one user analytics and feedback?” Obviously, on the product side, we have to make sure that the product is up-to-par with those promises that we’re making and making sure that it’s delivering on that.
There are plenty of people that are very happy with Hotjar, but we recognize that retention is a major issue and that we have to do something to make sure that we’re matching these claims that we’re making with the experience. All of that ties together to where our customers are actually at and what their needs are.
[00:27:29] Josh: I can totally empathize with your story there. I’m one of the folks that think Hotjar is on the right track. I’ve been a fan of your roadmap for a while, so if you say so.
[00:27:41] David: I mean, retention is a major issue. This is something that just eats up startups because of exactly what you said. You make a certain claim, people land there, and they feel like, “Okay, this is not exactly the right fit for me,” and then they leave. Instead of the people that come with the right expectation and be like, “This is what I’ve been looking for for so long." We do have plenty of users like that. I don’t want to give the wrong impressions. We have plenty of users who come and feel like, “My god, this is what we’ve been waiting for.” This is how I felt about Hotjar when I first started using it. Anyways, I don’t want to turn this into a commercial for Hotjar but the point is…
[00:28:16] Josh: Don’t sensationalize.
[00:28:17] David: Don’t sensationalize and even we need to do a better job with our messaging is basically the point that I’m making.
[00:28:24] Josh: I totally agree with that. I do think the voice of the customer is so important too because a lot of these startups, they will go down believing that they are truly doing everything they can to think outside the building, give voice to the customer, figure out what the market really wants. In reality, the truth is really painful, because a lot of companies suck or their products have rough edges that people really hate, and that can be hard, and the board does not want to hear that. We can’t tell them that next week because they’ll be mad at us. But I think you have to bite that bullet because ultimately, if you don’t figure out what those issues are and really own up to them, then you’ll get churn, and in the case of a super PAC, you get people that might say, “Yeah, I can kind of buy it,” but then they’ll vote the other way.
[00:29:17] David: What’s the third insight that you discovered?
[00:29:21] Josh: The third thing is starting with common principles. This is something I think we can all think about more both at work, and in politics, and anything else. You’re never going to win if you start off by saying you’re wrong with anything. Starting off by saying, “You know what, I too agree that we all deserve this or that. I too agree that everybody deserves a fair shake. I agree with you that these principles are important.” from that point, I think you can chuckle sometimes even with people you disagree with at how from that same common principles so you can arrive at different conclusions, and be using different logic.
That’s where you can say, “This is the logic that I’m using. Did you know this fact? Did you know that since 1996 we’ve paid $5000 per household to have fiber to the premise for everybody? Basically, a gigabyte plus Internet connection. We’ve all paid for it, and about half a billion dollars we’ve paid for it, and yet 25% of the country is wired up with fiber right now. If we all had fiber, no one cared about net neutrality because there’d be no capacity issues, no nothing. We’d all be getting super fast Internet, lightspeed, that type of stuff.”
Starting with those common principles of, “I too think that too much regulation is a bad thing but I think accountability is important whether it’s in government or holding corporations who have received millions of dollars in tax abatements, and incentives and merger and acquisition promises—that types of stuff. Shouldn’t they be held accountable like we’re trying to hold our government accountable with how they regulate us?” It’s flipping it a little bit. I think whether you’re doing something in politics or you’re at work trying to get somebody in a different department to agree with you—starting with that common principle is key.
[00:31:19] David: Did you discover this by starting on the opposite end of that spectrum?
[00:31:23] Josh: Yeah, absolutely. I think whenever we would post something on Facebook the comments would light up. My goal was to try and say something and word it in a way that the troll can’t come in and say, “Obamacare for the Internet.” or something else that would derail a logical, rational conversation or something close to it. We really try to start with those principles.
Everytime that we got unprincipled and we start to get hyperbolic, or we start to conflate things to we start to tie these issues to things that aren’t necessarily related that’s when the trolls would come out, and normal people too but the trolls are always the litmus test. They’re the ones who derail everything and the common people are like, “Yeah, what that guy said.” I think, just trying to realize how to have these conversations in the most logical rational way without conflating or sensationalizing and having a principles-based conversation. Really, I think we’re describing how to effectively communicate in really difficult and tense situations when you’re trying to overcome entrenched opinions.
[00:32:38] David: Bringing that back to the day-to-day life of a marketer, founder, CEO, this last point about having a principles-based discussion, what would that potentially look like?
[00:32:48] Josh: Principles in a business setting is data-based, revenue-based, voice of customer-based. First, it’s revenue, “Here’s our financial situation either at a macro or a micro level." Either we’re talking about CAC and LTV at the macro level, or we’re talking about conversion rates and CPA at a micro level.
Starting with those types of things and then trying to get as much voice of the customer, “Alright. While these things are happening, and we did five user tests, and we found these anecdotes maybe that explains some of it. Or having a poll like Hotjar app and then saying, “Well, 75% of people said they can’t complete their task on this page.” That type of stuff. It’s rooted in this.
If somebody says, “Well, I think this is the way things are.” We can say, “Let’s focus back on, does that jive with our reality here or actually is that not true?” If somebody says, “We’re the most customer-focused,” blah, blah, blah, and you have an NPS score that’s negative, that’s not. That’s the truth, and you need to address that. The best companies are going to fix that and plug their churn hole and start getting net negative revenue growth and everything else that people want, unicorns.
[00:34:13] David: In other words, you need to be grounded in reality.
[00:34:16] Josh: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:34:18] David: And not just in some fantasy land whether it’s a political discussion. You’re not just going out there and shouting what you think or from your emotions. You’re grounding yourself in reality and saying, “This is the case, and this is why based on these facts why we think net neutrality will actually be beneficial for everybody." Instead of just going out there and shouting, "Giant corporations shouldn’t have the right to pour billions of dollars into the government and get what they want." for example.
[00:34:46] Josh: Sure.
[00:34:49] David: One of the things that’s impressing me the most about this conversation and this approach that you’ve taken is your ability to look at a very large problem. Net neutrality is something that’s affecting the entire country here in the US, and you’re just three people, and yet you still decided to take action in the face of this overwhelming odds. If you could break it down one more time for us into your mindset of, what was it that allowed you to look at this larger problem and still not only get overwhelmed and not feel like this was too much or above your capacity? What was it about your mindset that allowed you to break it down into something that you realized that you can do this and that you can take the steps you need to make a difference?
[00:35:41] Josh: I wasn’t always a marketer, before that, I started off as a process consultant, and I was a project manager too. I think as a process consultant you’re looking at what are we trying to accomplish? Where are we right now? What is either the structural procedure? Like the assembly line of things that need to happen to make a widget whatever that widget is whether it’s a physical one, or a process, or a super PAC.
Number one, it’s just figuring all those things out, and as a project manager it’s like, “Okay, this one has to happen here and then this happens next, and this can’t start until this does.” It’s just organizing those things out, and it’s really getting to unit level economics about how things are going to be done.
I was listening to a book recently. I’m not going to remember the author so I won’t cite who said it but they’re talking about this idea of definite optimists versus indefinite optimists. They say that the generation around World War II, and the 1950s, they were all definite optimists saying, “The country’s going to get better, and in order to do so we need to make a very concrete plan. We need to build roads. We need to build schools. We need to build all these things.” The indefinite optimists are the ones that are really a lot of people are saying that’s largely a baby boomer thing where they’ll say, “Things are going to get better. We’re not quite sure how but they’re going to get better.”
I think the author’s recommendation is we needed more definite optimists where if things are to get better then you need to actually create a structured plan to do so. You need to put together a business plan. You need to put together a roadmap. You need to put together a project plan even if you don’t know the exact things. You just have to figure out what those steps are, put them in, and figure it out as you go sometimes.
My wife and I built a house together. We didn’t know how to build a house, but that’s just a project plan, and we figured out what that project looked like, and we ended up doing it. I won’t recommend it but there are some projects we’re better at than others but we live in a house that we built now, and we built a super PAC. I think a lot of people, if they think to themselves, “What am I trying to do?” work backwards—well, there are so many steps—and then just work those steps then they can build pretty much anything they want.
[00:38:00] David: I think that’s something that a lot of people struggle with. I think I would consider myself somebody who move from being an indefinite optimist to a definite optimist. I can definitely relate to this journey of feeling so positive about knowing that things can get better and knowing that there is this potential out there and feeling what that potential is, but not really knowing how to reach that potential to becoming somebody who recognized that, “Okay, in order for me to get there,” like you said, “I need to start with the end goal, I need to think backwards. I need to figure out as much as I can. I need to fill in the holes between where I am now and where I’d like to be. Then once I figure out what those milestones are then, I need to break those milestones down into the steps that it’s going to take to achieve every single one of those milestones, and then suddenly, I have a roadmap that’s going to take me from where I am to where I need to go,” keeping in mind that it’s not perfect.
As I go, I’m going to get new information that’s going to fill some of those holes, show where some other holes are that I didn’t recognize, but then I just repeat the step. “Okay, if this obstacle came up, what am I going to need to do to overcome it so that I can get past it, and focus back on that original milestone that I had my mind set on and then step by step by step, this is all going to lead to achieving that goal.”
[00:39:22] Josh: All the while telling yourself that, “Don’t worry you don’t know what you’re doing, nobody else does either. You’ll probably get there either.”
[00:39:31] David: I have to say, what was pivotal in my ability to get there was working with a team and working with other people because whenever I was on my own it was really difficult for me to see all those holes and it was so easy for me to get overwhelmed. But the moment that I had a partner, and this has especially happened in Hotjar, the moment I had Louis working with me, the co-host of the show, we were able to spot holes where the other one wasn’t able to, and we were able to together combine our knowledge, and combine our abilities to create a much richer plan which suddenly was a much clearer roadmap to where we needed to get.
I think either one of us could’ve created something but nowhere near as powerful as what we were able to create together. I think that just speaks to the power of collaboration and having somebody who you can share that vision with, and can support you along the way to make that optimism much more definite and much concrete, and much more achievable instead of just something unachievable.
Also, I feel that this is something that a lot of millennials struggle with because I think a lot of millennials have a very optimistic view of the world and have a desire to make a change but either feel overwhelmed by what it would take to make that change or don’t know how to break that down into the steps that they need to make that change. That’s why I’m so impressed by your story because you saw something, you saw that you wanted to make a change and rather than just sit and continue to bitch on Facebook, you decided you’re going to do something about it, and you took that and you broke it down into the steps of what it was going to take, and you researched it, and you made the effort, and suddenly, it took so much less than you thought it would to actually make that happen, and you're actually now on the frontlines helping a cause that a lot of us believe in.
[00:41:17] Josh: When I was working in higher education, we always just used to say that the competitor going back to school is the couch. It’s not the college down the street it was the couch. I think in our minds, we always had these blocks that we’ve put into place about, “Well, what could we actually do? I could never do that. I’ve never done that so I can’t.” I would say, ask yourself, “How high is up?” that’s not original to me, that’s what got me thinking this way originally.
I was working as a solo SEO practitioner at a company, and we’ve got a new boss, and he didn’t know anything about digital, and he said, “Well, how high is up?” I said, “I think I could take you from 8% of sales, SEO to 25% of all of our business.” and he said, “Put the plan together.” and I did, and they gave me all of the resources I asked for in the plan and we grew to 25% of sales.
It wasn’t until I leaned on him to say, “What do you mean how high is up?” and then he coached me through how to put together a business plan, a profit and loss statement, or just back-of-the-napkin map on how things might work in the future if we’re able to do these things; put the background together, put the proposal, put why it’s going to work, put how it’s going to work, put what it’s going to cost, put what we think it’s going to do, put what you need and when, and at the end leave a section that says, “We’re asking today for your approval. Sign here.”—type thing. It wasn’t until I leaned on him to help me take all these grand ideas that I had for our digital marketing program and put it into this more structured business format that I was able to take action.
[00:42:56] David: I’m guessing a lot of those things that you had to put into that plan were things you didn’t know how to do when it came time to do them and a part of that process was simply learning about them and then acting on that.
[00:43:05] Josh: Oh, totally. Ask anybody to project what they think their organic traffic growth over the next three years is going to be like and they will be terrified. Every SEO with result has been told, “Don’t promise results or project winds or whatever because you’ll be wrong. We already get enough of a bad rap in our industry for selling snake oil.” Ooh, boy, projecting things? Well, you have to. You might be right, you might be wrong, but the reality is in order to create a concrete, definite, optimistic plan for the future, you need to put in on paper. You got hedge and don’t say you’re going to the moon but model.
[00:43:47] David: I think what’s really important here is it’s also really important to recognize that you don’t know everything in order to get somewhere because the process of discovery, how you need to get there is going to be what enables you to get there. The reason I say it is because a lot of people feel un-empowered to reach their goals because they don’t know, for example, how to create a business plan or a profit and loss statement. But you don’t need to know that at the start. You just need to know that you need to know how to do that and that’s enough to get you to the point of where you can learn and how to do and the moment you’ve learned how to do that you’ve got that tool, then learn how to do the next step, and learn as you go, and that’s how you figure out your way.
[00:44:29] Josh: Yeah, absolutely. I think it was, Richard Branson, I think he said like, “If somebody asks if you can do something say yes and then figure it out along the way.” If you look in business, if you look in politics, you will see a lot of people who said yes and continue to say yes. They have no clue how to do the things that they’re saying yes to, but then they do them, and they get the fame and the glory and the money afterwards because they figured it all out along the way. I think, actually, it comes down to the courage and taking risks. I’ve seen a lot of millennials who have that courage and are willing to take risks. If they have a little bit of concrete direction, they’re unstoppable. I’m really inspired by this next generation of business people on what they’re doing so far.
[00:45:16] David: I’d say the same thing. One thing that I ask all of our guests is, if there was a resource that you could recommend to help others succeed by putting people first, by taking a more human approach to business and life, what would that be? It can be anything.
[00:45:34] Josh: Sure. I think two resources come to mind that was really formative for me. One was, Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. It’s a fantastic book. It’s a primer on usability. I think it’s been mentioned on your show before, but I do think it’s a fantastic book. It’s a really unapologetic look at how creating poor experiences for consumers should be looked upon at businesses. It also shows a really constructive way for highlighting those worst voice of customer moments and elevating them within your organization in a way that doesn’t make you the stinky kid or the towel tail. It makes you a positive force versus a negative one. That’s a really great book.
I also think Occam's Razor which is Avinash Kaushik’s blog, has always been instrumental for me. It really talks about data analytics, KPIs, in a way that helps humanize them, and evangelize what you’re seeing internally in organizations so that, again, you really can’t ignore the voice of the customer and you are, therefore, forced to have much more human marketing and much more effective results too.
[00:46:36] David: Those sound like two phenomenal resources. I’m definitely going to be looking into both of them. They’ll be there on the show notes at hotjar.com/humans when you click through on Josh’s episode. Do you have any final comments or anything you’d like to add or share with our listeners?
[00:46:50] Josh: Take action, whether it be at work or in your communities or just making your home a better place—just take action.
[00:46:58] David:Where can people go to learn more about you and the work that you’re doing?
[00:47:02] Josh: To find out more about our super PAC, you can go to americasinternet.org. To find me during the day, you can see us at brandishinsights.com.
[00:47:10] David: Josh, thank you so much for taking the time. This was really an enlightening discussion.
[00:47:14] Josh: Appreciate it, David.
[00:47:23] Louis: Thanks for listening, my fellow human. We know how fast paced life is. If you're listening to this on your daily commute, while running, or even cooking, you can always go to Hotjar.com/humans and look for today's episode. That's where you'll find access to all the resources and humans we talked about, the full transcript of the conversation, and even links to really see the episodes.
[00:47:46] David: If you like today's episode, please help us out by leaving your honest rating and review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast. The more honest feedback we get, the more we can improve the show for you, and the more this podcast will be discovered by other humans. It's a win-win situation. Until next time, take care and be human.
'The Humans Strike Back' is hosted by Louis Grenier (Content Lead) from Hotjar.
Hotjar is a powerful way to analyse people's behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience. Based in Malta, Hotjar launched in 2015 and grew from €0 to €10M using a people-first approach and no outside funding.
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