Surround yourself with great people. It’s definitely one of the key ingredients in achieving success in any business.
As a part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with my fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Jonathan Silver.
Jonathan Silver is Founder and CEO of Affinity Solutions. Jonathan’s vision for Affinity is to transform data insights into experiences that improve people’s lives. He is a life-long entrepreneur and graduate of Wharton and University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting and what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started, I created a membership program for new moms. The idea was to create a community for mothers that would help them connect with other parents and ease their sense of isolation while providing them access to products and services they needed. I quickly realized it was a mistake to try to sign up members one at a time. We just didn’t have the capital to get to the scale of membership required to create a viable business model. This led me to the realization that we could take the same bundle of benefits, services, and offers to target families and sell them to banks on a white label basis to give away to their customers. It became immediately apparent that a B2B2C model was a much better approach. The idea of aligning benefits, offers and other experiences with people’s affinities (their life stage, lifestyle, and interests) has come full circle in our business today, as we work with leading banks, retailers and a range of other consumer brands to use technology to map the right marketing treatments to consumers at the right time and place through a life stage and lifestyle lens. Consumers today expect much better personalization and relevance than companies are able to deliver today with their current tools and insights.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
Starting a business is a laboratory for addressing your own weaknesses and gaps. A tipping point for me was the realization of how important it is to create mutually beneficial business relationships and win-win for all parties. Things aren’t sustainable, in any context, if they are one-sided. Another tipping point for me was understanding how important a company vision is to success. The clarity we achieved when I was able to articulate a vision around using data to improve people’s lives was a critical point for me which has proven invaluable to our business and future.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are?
Strong mentors have been very important to me throughout my career. When I first started, I was introduced to Jerry Pickholz, the former chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Direct Worldwide, the number one direct marketing agency in the world, and chairman of the Direct Marketing Association. Jerry taught me the importance of mutually beneficial business relationships and a lot about direct marketing and database marketing.
I was also influenced by another mentor, George Tunick, who after experiencing great success in the textile industry, became chairman of the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE), an organization very similar to the membership program for new mothers that I started. He agreed to invest in that venture under the condition that he would work side by side with me and help me run the business. It was a great opportunity to get real-time feedback from an experienced executive early in my career.
Lastly, I feel lucky to be surrounded by a strong executive team at Affinity, whom I learn from every day. Getting the right team of people with complementary skill sets aligned to a common mission is a vital ingredient to our company’s success.
Consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. Where do you see the future of marketing headed?
We see the future of marketing and commerce focused on hyper-personalization; much less about sales and much more about creating the right emotional connection with consumers. There will be a renaissance of consumer applications that will use data to improve their lives, personalizing their buying experiences (in physical stores and online), as well in other domains, like education, health, entertainment, and social.
Personal data will be the raw material that fuels these applications. It will be like a next-generation app store, delivering experiences ranging from the personalization of physical spaces (working with emerging / evolving technologies like VR, AR, MR, IoT, and chatbots), to helping people with limited budgets fill their needs, to personalized education and health. Those experiences will be available where and when the consumer demands them.
This vision of the consumer being center stage is about more than just provisioning their data. It imagines a personal operating system that combines personal data with AI/machine learning, privacy tools, and the ability to integrate with other technologies. Third-party app developers will build a range of marketing applications on this personal operating system in the near future.
To achieve these outcomes, marketers will need to build trust with their customers so they want to opt-in and share their data. This will fundamentally change the way we live, work, and play while creating a dramatic shift where data surpasses technology as the great equalizer.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Surround yourself with great people. It’s definitely one of the key ingredients in achieving success in any business. You also have to build trust and I think you do that through something I touched on earlier, which is ensuring there is always a mutual benefit to any business or personal relationship you have. You can’t scale a business unless you can hand over the reins on key initiatives to good people and let go of some of the control. Lastly, you really have to find a way to get the right work/life balance, since it’s often the time away from the business that gives you the perspective needed to take things to the next level.
What 5 things do you wish someone told you before you started?
- You have to learn from experience and fail first before really succeeding. 70% or more of learning is from experience. I saw first-hand with the membership organization for mothers that I started. The direct to consumer model we started with didn’t work, and you have to face those realities and learn from them, so you can refine the model and move to something that will work. For us, this was taking the same product, customizing it, and turning it into a B2B2C model.
- You must establish clarity of vision and understand sometimes less is more. One of the most important things I learned was aligning your team around a common vision is a major force multiplier. At Affinity, it’s about using data to improve people’s lives, as well as providing tools to companies to help them build deeper relationships with consumers. You have to create a simple vision and mission statement that everyone can rally around. Once you get that right, great things follow.
- Focus on being able to do one or two things better than anyone else. That’s the Steve Jobs model and it works. Nobody wants a jack of all trades, master of none. The one mistake I’ve made many times is trying to do too many things at once.
- Always act with a larger purpose that goes above and beyond the bottom-line. It sounds corny, but the larger purpose grounds everyone towards a common aim. In addition to creating enterprise value, our larger purpose is creating something meaningful for the communities we serve (around the vision of using data to improve people’s lives) and providing a great place to work where our teams can learn and grow.
- You must understand that mutuality, whether it’s with employees, clients, investors, or the communities you serve, is a necessary ingredient for success. I’ve learned over many years, in the relationships I’ve developed with business partners, investors, clients, and team members. When I commit myself to ensure the other person in a relationship is successful, good things usually follow.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
I try to read articles and books on product development and management. I’m not driven by a specific title or author. I’m drawn to where I can find the best content that aligns with my interests. Businesses that are product-centric tend to scale faster, but there are very specific skill sets and competencies needed to run a product-centric company. Content that helps me flex this muscle is what I’m drawn to. It’s a lot easier to market a great product than a not-so-great product, so the first step in successful marketing is making sure we’ve built something customers want.