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Marketing Matters

Presented by Rick Wootten, Jerry Phul
Originally aired on 

Join Rick Wootten for a conversation with marketing leaders to understand more about marketing and the people who are shaping this discipline. What advice do they have for up-and-coming brands? How do they navigate the challenges associated with an increasingly noisy world? What's their superpower?

Learn from the experts on how to build great and enduring brands, engender trust and advocacy, and drive adoption and use of new products and technologies.


Transcript (Beta)

Welcome to Marketing Matters. This is the show where we interview and learn from some of the brightest minds of marketing.

And on today's show, I'll be interviewing Jerry Phul.

Jerry is a digital marketing executive with SEMI, a industry association representing the global electronics manufacturing design supply chain.

It's a lot of words. Prior to SEMI, Jerry's held leadership positions at Checkpoint and Dell and E2Open and Palm, where he and I work together.

He has a passion for martech and especially using technology to make what we do in marketing and demand generation just much more effective.

And I've known him for many years.

I think I've known him for two and a half decades at this point. And anyway, so glad to have him on the show.

Welcome, Jerry. It's great to have you. Thanks, Rick.

Thanks for the introduction. And so, you know, I borrowed this from my good friend, Dave, who who had this show in its first season.

And and so I'd like to continue this on.

And what he always liked to do is to start out the conversations with asking the the the person being interviewed, the interviewee, to kind of give us a backstory on them.

You know, like like as if this was a comic book, you know, story.

Every villain, every character, every hero has an interesting background.

And inevitably, the people we have on the show, they've all come from different places and had completely different experiences to how they got to where they are.

So once you share some of that with us, tell us how you got got into the field that you are and what drives you.

Sure, sure. I guess the first part would be where I started my first job.

And the irony is, you know, you just made the reference to two and a half decades or so as knowing one another.

It's the first job where we actually met one another for one day.

It was my last day and your first day in that company.

So it's been quite some time. But that's where my career actually started.

I got into doing desktop publishing originally. And one day the owner of the company came by and said, hey, Jerry, there's this new Internet slash web thing kind of going around.

And what do you think? You know, is it something we should do?

And I jumped in and kind of did some research. I remember my first session being a five, ten minute history lesson on HTML.

And from there, came back about two weeks later and told them, yeah, it's something we should do.

Starting my first web team and, you know, the sky's the limit from that point on forward.

Yeah. You know, it's funny. And I think a lot of people who were getting involved in the web at that time and, you know, for those of you keeping track, that was probably the mid 90s, early 90s.

I remember my my first one was I was in college and an internship with a local ISP came up and they were looking for a graphic designer.

And at the time, that's what I was studying in college. So my roommate sent it over to me and I went down, had the interview and got the job on the spot is very exciting.

And they said, we'd like you to start Monday. This is a Friday.

And then we'd like you to start Monday. Here's a book on how to do Internet.

And it was HTML in a week, I think, is what it was called. It's a big, giant, thick book.

And I basically poured over that all weekend long trying to understand, even though I was a graphic designer back then, the graphic designer did everything he had to do, the coding he had to do, you know, everything.

And so so that's how I learned, too.

It was just like, you know, hey, go figure it out. Here's a book, you know, see if you can do it.

Exactly. And I'm a fortunate uncle. I've got like eight or nine nieces and nephews.

And the learning that I had in my earlier career is something that I pushed on to them as well.

It's, you know, in those days, as you make that reference, I remember those books as well.

I remember learn JavaScript in a week, learn Perl in a week.

That's right. Java in a week. Right.

That's right. Learn Java in a week. But in any case, there were a lot of those books around at that time.

And along with those books came that hard rigor we used to put in.

I recall in that first job, I worked there for about six years from 98 to 96.

And I remember, you know, pretty much getting three hours of sleep under my table there at the office and doing that for three weeks straight.

As we were working on these big projects, the whole dot com era was big.

Everyone's hoping that they're going to go IPO labor laws.

No one cared about them. We were just putting in the hours.

Right. Right. And we didn't care. We just had these big dreams of rags to riches, if you will.

But what's interesting out of that whole experience was, as you said, though you were a graphic designer, you're learning, you know, these other skills on top of it.

And that's kind of how my career started. I started out in desktop publishing, quickly moved over to front end design, front end coding.

Then I resonated much more with the back end. So I got into databases. I got into doing Perl scripting.

And then I didn't want to stop there. It was it was interesting to want to learn more.

So I moved over into IT, became a sysadmin, got into, you know, setting up servers and setting up, you know, switches and firewalls.

So it was kind of a combination. Those days, those webmasters, that awesome phrase did a lot of cool stuff where today we're a little bit more limited and focused in what we do.

And so that advice, as I was bringing up to my nieces and nephews is, you know, don't learn that core skill.

If you're looking to grow in your career and you really want to get somewhere, you're looking for that additional success, climb the corporate ladder and really know what you're doing.

And you're passionate about it.

You know, you learn the left and right above and below and the diagonals beyond what you do.

And that skill set becomes extremely invaluable.

Yeah, you know, I think that's the benefit of, you know, you and I, we both came up through startups.

And, you know, after we met a year later, maybe a year and a half later, we were working together at Online Focus.

And I remember, you know, doing some of those big projects, you know, FedEx or whatever.

And, you know, we would work around the clock.

And I mean, literally working 20 hours a day for, you know, weeks on end and, you know, crashing under the desk was not an uncommon thing.

And fortunately, I think we generally have better balance in life these days.

I don't think as many people have to do that. But I bet you it's not far from that with some of the startups today.

And the great thing is that gives you an opportunity because inevitably, especially with a startup, it's like, oh, you did that?

Well, do you think you can help us with this other thing that has absolutely nothing to do with that?

And, you know, so then all of a sudden, you're learning one area, then another area, then another area.

And you end up getting a great deal of experience, which I think is one of the cool things.

Like you're talking about, you know, you started in desktop publishing, you started, you know, working on front end development.

You then went back in. I know you've done e-commerce.

I know, you know, you've done marketing automation. Like you've had a pretty cool opportunity to get involved in a bunch of different aspects.

I've been very fortunate in that respect. As I said, I did start out in software engineering is where I really resonated to begin with.

And I'd say somewhere in the mid 2000s or so, so not mid 2000, like early 2000s, so 2005, six or somewhere around there, I decided to leave the engineering IT world and migrate over to the marketing umbrella.

It was obvious to me that more and more tech was moving to marketing and that, you know, the CTOs won't be handling as much data as perhaps the CMOs would be.

And so that, and as just as well, the demands that marketing's got, we need to be agile.

We need to be able to switch. We need to be able to make changes quick.

And in IT and engineering, there's a, you know, a project plan and we'll get it next quarter.

You gotta be in the, you know, in the list of getting things done.

And we can't afford that under the marketing umbrella.

So bringing that over to marketing, being able to talk like marketers and not be, you know, a little bit more casual in the discussions around what we need to build out, not so technical, that unique skill to have that background, but understand what marketing needs.

That was a nice switch for me, I think.

And so moving into marketing automation, I think in 2006 or so, learning out, going on, then also doing sales operations.

That's just been a fun, exciting career.

Again, if you're passionate about it, you're into all those things.

As we've worked on a lot of those things, as I know some of the stuff you've done as well, we just share that similarity and passion for what we do.

So there's always, and I agree with everything you just said, there's always like, you know, cool things that come along and are game changers.

And, you know, I think in your career, you've been able to see a few of those.

Like when you think back to, you know, different pieces of technology that have come out, whatever, interactive web, marketing automation, what have you, what's a big thing that you feel like you've seen completely transform the industry?

And what do you think is up next?

Like, what do you think you've seen and what do you think is coming up?

Yeah, I think that's an interesting question because it's kind of like when the computer revolution happened, there were more and more powerful computers coming out there that can do a lot more.

The amount of power that was available to our desktop was just phenomenal with what we can do.

The challenge was we, as people, hadn't caught up with the things that we can do on that computer.

And I think we're kind of in that similar phase with, there's a lot of platforms and tools out there that we can be using, whether it's for doing, you know, targeted marketing for account-based marketing, whether it's doing social kind of marketing, whatever, pick an angle, right?

There's so much out there and great tools out there.

But I think the challenge we as an industry has faced has been integrating that together.

And often I feel that companies feel the integration is a problem of the platform.

And I often feel that that needs to be elevated up. I mean, if we look back, if I look back over my career, I find that some of the places that I've enjoyed the most was because the team that we had around it, we had built human processes.

We had built great alignment between multiple teams and we had these hard meetings, but they were always positive and directional.

And that gave out a spec or an integration that we could then take the human process and build.

And I think a lot of people tend to believe, let's build this platform and somehow everything above it will get fixed.

And I'll go back to the old adage, a computer is only as smart as its operator, right?

And so in that sense, I think we have a long way to go as a game changer.

I think we can do a lot with all this data.

And if we align the human processes and interactions, translate that to the platform, I think the ability to automate, send a lot better targeted messaging, knowing in advance if we've hit the right persona and profile of a person using the AI to do that.

And AI is no more than the types of information we can feed to the system.

So if we don't have good information and patterns and content that we're bringing in, and that AI model is not gonna be very solid on top of it.

And I think that's one of our challenges.

And I think Facebook has probably been one of the better ones out there in the sense that if you look at how they advertise, they have so much information on each individual and Twitter.

And I'd say, I don't mean to just single out Facebook, but I think a lot of these social platforms have so much information on us, on the type of social posts we do, what our content is, the type of ads we look at, the type of information we're getting, the links we do.

And they can put that together, build a psychological profile and give us content that's pertinent and relevant as we've seen through elections or other psychological experiments that some of these platforms have done.

It's pretty amazing.

And those are game changers, right? And I think we're headed in that direction.

It's just not, we don't have the power of those large companies. And I think that's coming down as we build more and more of these platforms.

Yeah, I agree with you.

And if I kind of summarize what you're saying, in a way it's the things that we call marketing automation or marketing technology that's really kind of made a step function because it gave us the ability to not only more precisely control what we're doing, but also measure.

And if I flash back to, I don't know, 20 years ago, 15 years ago, the amount that we could measure was both isolated, like we can do web and we can look at how many click-throughs like the amount of measurement we had was very limited.

Now it's extremely robust. Even with basic tools, you can get a fair amount of measure.

And then the ability to customize and trigger based on responses, both implicit and explicit.

I think those are the things that to me have been really exciting.

And I think there's been a lot of enabling technology along the way.

I mean, who would have thought 20 years ago, we'd have the idea of contact and account scoring and the ability to trigger specific things based on a history of interactions.

And so to your point, the power is there and we're seeing, you mentioned AI.

AI is becoming more and more prevalent in a lot of things we do.

We kind of take for granted now that we have AI derived chatbots on people's websites and I think it's Einstein, I think is the one that Facebook, or not Facebook, the Salesforce uses.

They've got their own AI built into it that will help people do forecast and determine who's a good fit and who's not a good fit.

It's pretty amazing at how pervasive that has come and then thinking about where it's gonna go next and how it can impact us in the near future.

Yeah, the challenge that I think is coming up for us and I believe that challenge will create new technologies for us is gonna be dealing with privacy issues.

Privacy is huge, right? It's one of the largest challenges. You constantly hear about how companies are hacked, our information is taken, how many times we've had to reset our credit cards or working with our credit bureaus, right?

And so privacy has become a large issue beyond just PCI compliance, beyond those things.

Or beyond GDPR or CanSpam or those guys.

I think there's gonna be a larger privacy ask in the future.

And as that happens, what does that mean to marketing and sales as we try to collect this data and really understand our target audience?

And I think we will still have ways, new tools will be developed.

There's where there's a will, there's a way and we will develop new tools to acquire that information.

And I think that's gonna be that next journey that we're gonna be looking for.

Yeah, I agree with that.

I think we'll also continue to see the lines between sales and marketing blurred.

And today we talk about field marketing or account-based marketing.

And as we move up the pyramid, at the bottom, you got the one to many and then one to few, then one to one.

I think more and more of marketing will happen towards the top, even at scale when you're looking at tens of thousands of contacts or accounts.

I think that in the past, the technology and the data that you need to accomplish that was insurmountable.

But now, as space gets cheap and processing gets cheap, that all of a sudden it becomes viable.

I mean, holding up my iPhone, when you think about what's powering this and the AI chips that are in it, and all of that versus what we had available to us five years ago as a marketing automation tool is night and day.

And a lot of that's going to become more and more pervasive for us.

100% agree. So one of the questions I like to ask is how do you talk about what you do to your friends and your family and stuff like that?

Because on one hand, some people really appreciate marketing and they think about the amazing Super Bowl ads or that last thing they saw that made them laugh.

And then some of them are very skeptical of marketing and think that we're selling snake oil and trying to be that next used car salesman.

How do you tell your friends and family when you're getting around pre-COVID, when you go around for Thanksgiving dinner or 4th of July, what do you tell them?

How do you explain to them what you do?

Yeah, it is funny. And you hit the nail on the head because I've heard it all from marketing just makes up stuff and your job is to put a spin on stuff and make it sell, right?

And then there's other folks who will say, rarely heard, but I do hear from some family members or friends that, yeah, that's cool.

That's pretty honest and that kind of thing and what have you, right? So yeah, there is that persona or thought out there.

But at the end of the day, I think either of those pros and cons can be attributed to any job that's out there.

I don't think it's just a marketing specific one.

It could be sales, it can be accounting, it can be taxes, it can be lawyers.

I think that that exists across the board.

At the end of the day, what I end up thinking back is and telling people is, it's all about who you are as an individual and your own principles and moral and ethics as corny as that might sound.

But at the end of the day, I really do believe that.

And I think if you are passionate about what you do, which is what I mentioned earlier on, I really love what I'm doing.

I have no problem putting in the hours and it's more very rare does one have a hobby as their job.

I consider this my hobby, right?

And if you have the solid principles behind you and you bring that to the workforce, if you're behind the products and services your company's selling, you're gonna have no issues with coming up with content or a marketing strategy that talks to those positive points.

So in my case, it's always been critical that wherever I'm working, I'm behind the product line that I truly believe in what I'm gonna be working for because then that'll naturally develop out all these campaigns.

And so in that sense, I'm able to give out stuff that I want and then that thought process and those principles are reflected across your team that you manage as well.

And then that becomes a lot easier. And so I think at the end of the day, I think if you're passionate around what you like, I don't think you have to worry about the other end.

And that's the challenge I think that's out there.

Yeah, well, and I'll validate you there. I mean, you're one of the few people I know that are passionate enough about what you do that you take it home.

And by that, I mean, I remember many a days where you had clusters of servers hidden in a closet or up on a shelf, trying the latest web application stacks and CMSs and what have you.

I mean, you definitely took it to the next level where you had such a passion for it.

You wanted to understand every aspect of it. And I think that says a lot, maybe not about work-life balance, but it says a lot about your passion for what you do.

I still get photography and biking. And so there's a decent work-life balance in my latter years.

Yeah, well, and that is interesting because now, if I remember correctly, you did the 100-mile ride around Lake Tahoe, right?

What was that for? Team and training for a leukemia and lymph node society.

So fundraising for them. And yeah, 100 miles around Lake Tahoe, which was quite the challenge.

Yeah, yeah. But worth it, but worth it. And then I know you're an avid photographer.

I've seen some of the stuff you've posted over the years, particularly some of the comments and the asteroids and stuff like that.

But how do you think those passions help you kind of round you out with your interest in technology and everything else?

Yeah, I'm a firm believer in kind of being a well-rounded person from going through school.

It was either I found that you were strong either in the STEM type of stuff or either in the liberal arts.

And growing up, I had some great mentors who kind of helped me understand the balance between both.

And so earlier on, I was very focused in the STEM world. That's just what I loved.

And realized that to succeed and understand life better and get into things, it was important to kind of embrace all of that, right?

And so getting away from technology, turning it off, stepping away, getting in a nice bike ride, appreciating nature, challenging yourself to do something.

You heard the hours earlier on, how many hours we put in front of a desk.

Imagine trying to do 100 miles if you've been doing that for years, you're not ready for it.

So it's a whole different challenge.

Photography, to find the right image to capture that in that right shot.

There's just something cool, there's something zen about that. And it distracts you away from all the hard thought processes you're putting in in your regular job just to break from that.

So in that sense, for me, it's the right break.

It's the right appreciation for the sciences and the liberal arts. Yeah, I've always had a bias, I suppose is probably the best way to put it, towards hiring people who have both a creative side and a technical side who have that left and right brain thinking.

And I can think of a few people over the years that have been strong in the technology side, but then maybe they have a band that they have on the side, which is their creative outlet or like you talked about with photography and things like that.

I find that it really helps to create a more round view of things as opposed to just coming at it from a single point of view.

And it helps with empathy.

And if you can understand, there's a designer that we both know, I just won't mention his last name, but John.

And he did this comedy sports thing and he was a designer, but he was a designer who would actually go and build the pages, which was uncommon at that time.

And it provided him with such a different perspective of being able to say, design this and I understand how it would be implemented.

So I've taken those limitations into account. So I'm not providing something that can't be done.

I'm providing something that's well thought through.

But anyways, I always like indexing towards hiring people with that kind of left and right brain thinking.

It just seems to really help with problem solving and empathy and working across teams.

Do you find any characteristics like that that you index for when you're hiring?

Agreed. I think we're both in alignment on that as well.

And they're also the same type of people I like to work for.

So I think when I look for a career, I make sure that the management team that I'm working for has those types of qualities and things that I'm gonna pick up from them as well.

Because as I said, I started out in the sciences area very strong and over the years moved over towards marketing and picking up people's strategies, the way they articulate things, how they present, how they think about solving problems, understanding that.

And then my side of over the years getting out biking, enjoying nature hikes and photography.

You bring that all together, as you said, that creates a creative side of you.

And so in order to climb the corporate world, I think having both of those angles, understanding the technical know-how, being able to articulate or conceptualize or convey those complex ideas in a very simple manner goes a long way.

And I think that comes from the ability to kind of embrace all of that as opposed to just throw out all these great words and confuse folks.

And I have seen a lot of struggles with people who are very, very smart in what they do, but their ability to climb the corporate ladder has been challenged because they don't have a strength in the other side.

Yeah, early in my career, like I said, I started on the design side, but I worked back towards more of the technology side kind of have spanned across the two of them over the years.

But I remember when I was still at Palm, I came to a point, I realized that I didn't have a business background or a business degree and that that was challenging me, that I was having a hard time connecting with the people I worked for at the time.

And so I went back and got my master's degree specifically because of that because I wanted that perspective and I think when you have somebody who at least strives, whether they have it or not, if they strive to have that perspective on both sides, it provides a huge benefit and it really helps to drive things forward because you can do the exception handling ahead of time and you can understand what motivations are and how to position something so that it's helpful to everybody.

Yeah, yeah, 100% agree. So you've had a chance to work on some cool projects over the years, different companies and stuff like that.

Any of them that stand out for you that you think are really cool?

Yeah, so let's see here. If I look back, there's probably three projects that stem across three companies that did very specific things.

So the three companies are SonicWall, Checkpoint and 24 -7 AI.

What I liked about SonicWall was the integrations that we had. So we were using Eloqua.

The integrations that we did with all of our partner sites, we had data coming in from every angle possible and it was clean, it was workable and this was back in the early 2000 when marketing ops and automation were just starting and so to have that profile of an individual, that clean of a data, our ability to segment and partition and see what people were doing, what products they had, when they were expiring, all that stuff was amazing and I really liked how that integration was there at Checkpoint.

I found that we had built all these nurtures that were just solid so it didn't matter if you were a new lead, an existing customer or a customer who hasn't done something with us in a while or a particular product interest.

We had pretty much every nurture covered so that this evergreen content can easily put a person through that lifecycle process and get them information they need that was relevant and timely and then finally, the last we had built on reporting and our ability to understand marketing spend against sales close and understand cost per lead and all the forecasting pipeline and spend that we did across campaigns allowed us to understand the ability to quickly pivot, change and understand what our pipeline looked like so I think between those three locations, just exceedingly well done and the Holy Grail is, of course, bringing that all together in one company.

Yeah, exactly, exactly. And I'm not sure if I've experienced that yet across one company yet because we are always working at it, right?

Yeah, any quick ones of projects you've worked on that went horribly wrong you could share and people could learn from?

Horribly wrong, my goodness.

I don't know, I'm being dramatic. Something laughably wrong. I think, I'd say personal traits was a challenge.

So early in my career, I was very fixed on how a solution was built.

This is our template. This is what you must work within and any changes that meant that it was going to be a project change so that required, you know, you had to go through it like my engineering hat was on, if you will.

But over the years, I've come to think that, no, a good solution is flexible, agile, can be turned.

Yes, those templates and processes are extremely important, but there are times when you need to be able to flex and bend and you got to build that into your solution.

So it took me a while to get there, but, you know, I think that was probably the learning experience.

Yeah, I think that's good advice.

I think, you know, for all of us that are very passionate about what we do, it's very easy for us to slip into a model where, you know, there's only one right way and it's our way.

But, you know, the flexibility, the empathy that we talked about earlier, kind of the way to help resolve for that.

But can you blame any department, right? And I don't just mean ours for marketing.

I'm sure this echoes across all of them. I'm sure a lot of teams often get stuff at the last minute.

Sure. And that stuff coming to them usually doesn't adhere to the model that you have.

And so the common answer typically is it's not following the template.

Right. And I get that. I definitely get that.

So I empathize and sympathize as well. Awesome. Cool. And we're clear.

Actually, that was really good. I think we went just a second or two over.