As a part of our series about “Marketing Strategies From The Top” I had the pleasure of interviewing David Azar. David Azar is the founder and CEO of Outsmart Labs, a boutique digital marketing firm named a Top Rising Agency by Google. He’s known for his work with luxury brands such as LVMH (Louis Vuitton and other houses across the five major sectors of the luxury market) as well as other world-class clients. Born in France, David now calls Miami home and combines his digital marketing expertise with a cross-cultural understanding to offer his clients the world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Digital marketing is all about connecting. It’s about being there even when you can’t physically be there. It’s powerful. A personal experience made that very real for me. I grew up in France but always dreamed of living in the US. When I was accepted to the University of Miami that dream began to unfold, but as I prepared to leave for the US, the one thing I knew I would miss almost as much as my family was Paris basketball. My father, a long time basketball player, owned Tony Parker’s first team, a storied organization that throughout its history has included players like Joakim Noah and Michael “Sugar” Ray Richardson.
I was an avid fan, but it was far more than that. It was a big passion in my house — we never missed a game. I was deeply connected to the team in so many ways. My dreams were being realized as I made plans to head for the US, but I couldn’t overcome the thought of missing Paris basketball. “How am I supposed to follow the team?” I asked my dad. “The website is terrible.” At that time, the internet wasn’t what it is now, and people had not yet embraced what websites could mean for a brand. I saw this as a personal problem, but I think my dad saw a more significant opportunity. His solution was very straightforward. “Fix it.” He believed in me enough to trust me. I learned a lot from that — not just about website design, but about work and life. The person who is motivated to make a difference will deliver the best results. I was hungry for a way to stay connected to Paris basketball.
I worked with web development professionals, but it was my quest that informed our process. I realized the importance of sponsors’ interests — we had great sponsors, including Nike, Opodo (the “Kayak” of Europe) and SEAT — and worked to increase visibility for them. I am so proud of what we achieved. The new site had dazzle and that wow factor. We designed the best pro sports site of that time and were the first to incorporate affiliate marketing. The sponsors were so happy! I achieved my goal. I was able to stay connected with Paris basketball from the US. But I discovered a new passion along the way that launched my path into digital marketing and ultimately led to the founding of Outsmart Labs, a boutique agency of talented individuals who are passionate and hungry for results.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Digital marketing is constantly evolving. That’s why people come to us. Enterprise-level CEOs don’t have time to do their jobs and stay up-to-speed on digital opportunities and how they work. Business leaders have often heard of trending opportunities, but they typically don’t understand the nuances of how digital works. That’s our role, too — providing the client with the level of detail they want or need, so they understand the work we’re doing for them and why it matters. A humorous mishap drove this point home for me. We launched an excellent campaign for a new client and it was performing exceptionally well. An email from the CEO that copied everyone hit my inbox. I was expecting it to be praise for the whole team. Instead, it was a scathing email directed to me and it included a screenshot of a racy ad next to the video my agency had placed for him. “How did you allow the vulgar ad into our campaign!” That was a trying afternoon. I had to explain to the client how YouTube serves ads based on the user’s historical data. I was able to reassure him that the ad had not been seen by others, but had to explain that he saw it because of what he was previously viewing. The lesson I learned is that we are counselors as well as conversion deliverers. It’s our job to assess our clients’ level of understanding and proactively educate them. Our job as experts is not only to deliver results. Our job is answering questions ahead of time that our clients may not even know to ask. In this situation, it could’ve saved my client from embarrassment. More often, giving clients a baseline understanding of what we’re doing for them gives them a greater appreciation for the expertise and effort we’re leveraging to reach their desired results.
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?
The tipping point for my career and Outsmart Labs was signing our first top-tier client — LVMH. LVMH is the world leader in luxury products across various sectors and home to distinguished brands such as Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Dior, Moët & Chandon, and the list goes on. When I landed the chance to talk face-to-face with one of the top executives at LVMH, he said, “You have five minutes to convince me why I should work with you.” Just five minutes. The success of my career and the trajectory of my business may have been forever determined by less time than it takes me to shower in the morning. Shortly after that call, we signed LVMH’s newest shopping destination, the Miami Design District. Today, our work for the Miami Design District has resulted in exponential growth month over month. That gave our Miami-based agency a chance to shine locally and internationally, and the results we delivered opened the door for us to work with more and more high tier brands.
Five minutes can change your career and your business’s trajectory forever, and I can share key takeaways from my experience:
- Be ready. The reason I was able to make a compelling case for why LVMH should work with Outsmart Labs was because of the time invested before the opportunity presented itself. I was a student of LVMH. I understood their pain points. And I was able to speak to Outsmart Labs’ differentiators and why we were the best option for addressing their needs.
- Hire hunger. Trust people with passion rather than people with past accolades. When the world’s largest luxury brand trusted my small boutique agency over the Ogilvys and Edelmans of the world, there was nothing that I would allow to make me fail them. They made a wise decision. To a vast agency, their work would’ve been just another project. To my young digital agency and me — it was the biggest opportunity in the world. Their success was guaranteed. It was a huge break for us and we were determined to build our success on it. I keep that in mind as I hire talent. I’ve hired superstars and I’ve hired people for whom the work they did for me could be their tipping point. My experience has been best hiring people with innate talent and expertise who are on the cusp of making it. They’re more motivated. They’re not resting on their laurels. They won’t stop until they deliver.
- Go for it. Conventional wisdom says to start small, but sometimes that’s not best. If you know you’re capable of delivering results for a large, well-known brand, go for it. More prominent clients often have bigger budgets and you may be able to make a more significant impact for them. You have to pave the way for your agency’s success. Be brave enough to go big, if it’s best for your agency.
- Nurture it. When someone trusts you, over-deliver. We were so grateful to land our first LVMH project because we knew we would do a stellar job and it would open the door to more work with world-class brands and disruptors. We just needed to give it everything we had. That’s precisely what we’ve done. The time and effort invested, the late nights and early mornings, they’ve all paid off. We gained their confidence by delivering results and it organically attracted new exciting prospects.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The people on my team are awesome. I give all the credit to them. Clients come to us because we’re experts and innovators. In the end, it all comes down to our talent. I look for people who are hungry to take their career to the next level, who don’t rest on the success they’ve demonstrated because they’re passionate about doing more. I look for collaborative people with deep expertise in their specialty and a readiness to be nimble and tackle the next new thing. I also look for adventurers — people who are comfortable going first. Of course, we incorporate best practices, but we’re often the people out front, venturing where others haven’t yet gone and distilled the best practices.
After creating the world’s first professional sports website to use affiliate marketing at 16 years old, I learned that first is an excellent place to be. Facebook started when I was in college, and anyone with a college email could join. I launched an event company and was one of the first to leverage the power of Facebook Events. We had lines out the door every night. After college, I landed a job with the world’s number one ticketing company and got to create the brand’s social media profiles and social strategy. Now everyone has a social strategy, but it was a new concept then. My next endeavor was launching a cashback savings app when that was a new thing. It was named a “Top Savings Tool” by CNET. I love innovation and I’m not afraid to test new ideas. That’s a trait I also look for in team members.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! And it’s a great example of a newly evolving opportunity where Outsmart Labs is leading the way. We’re onboarding brands to one of the hottest social networks, TikTok. TikTok, a video app, was originally used primarily by middle schoolers to share choreographed dancing. Once COVID-19 started taking over the world, so did TikTok, growing to 65 million users in the US in Q1 of 2020. And as TikTok’s popularity grew, so did its average user age. In a brief time, the platform began being used by a sizable, mainstream audience, becoming a powerful fresh digital marketing opportunity for brands. There aren’t many TikTok experts because it’s so new. My team had begun digging into TikTok while it was only popular with Gen Z because we saw its powerful potential. That’s the thing with digital; if you want to be at the forefront, you need to recognize the opportunity before anyone else.
Since we identified TikTok’s huge potential as a social network early on, we’ve been able to rapidly roll out TikTok campaigns for clients as the app is gaining more momentum. We’re using our expertise for multiple clients, helping them build a ground-floor presence on TikTok.
That door has closed with Instagram and Facebook. It’s getting harder to stand out without investing in advertising because there you’re one of many vying for attention. TikTok is not crowded yet. It’s a golden opportunity for the right brands.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
- Do something you love. Pursue something you’re passionate about. Then it will never feel like work.
- Surround yourself with people who uplift you. People who inspire and energize you. People who talk about solutions instead of problems. They will refresh you and help you hold on to your positivity.
- Prioritize. Now that I’m a dad, I approach work differently. There’s no time to waste. If it’s not benefiting the business or my personal growth, I’d rather spend that time with my family.
- Reserve weekends, or at least a part of them, as sacred. This is difficult in the 24/7 world of digital marketing, but give it your best.
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? Can you share a story about that?
I was blessed to be born into a loving, supportive, encouraging family and I don’t take that for granted. I credit my dad, in particular, with helping me achieve success. He is a brilliant businessman who has earned his fair share of success and has an obsession with “making things work.” He always has grand ideas and brings them to life. He’s a huge inspiration for me. He is never afraid to be the first, a true entrepreneur. That’s an itch I clearly got from him. Throughout all of my entrepreneurial ventures, he has always been very involved, but he’s never pushed his opinions or tried to steer me in a certain direction, though I’m sure it has been hard for him to bite his tongue. In hindsight, I know that his allowing me to “fail” is the reason I learned how to succeed.
He is a gifted team builder. I hope I’ve learned that from him. His employees love him. He models passion, a work ethic that’s rare and commitment. He challenges me and he’s passionate about my work as well as his. He’s my number one fan.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There are hundreds of memorable marketing campaigns that have become part of the lexicon of our culture. What is your favorite marketing or branding campaign from history? Can you explain why you like that so much?
The NBA “Where Amazing Happens” commercials are part of what is hands down the most memorable campaign to me, and that’s a personal as well as professional opinion. I already mentioned my passion for basketball, and it began early. Rewind to 1996. I was just seven years old and my parents brought me to the US to go to my first NBA game. It was my good fortune to watch the Chicago Bulls play their first home game after clinching the most wins during a season in NBA history. I watched the magic of Jordan, Pippin and Rodman on the court. Coming from France as a young boy, that was the real American dream for me. From that day forward, it became my goal to live in the US. Fast forward a little more than ten years and the “Where Amazing Happens” campaign launched. Every time I saw it, I thought, “In the US, you can do anything.” According to Nielsen.com, though, I wasn’t the only one inspired. They attribute the surge in popularity of the NBA during that time in part to the success of the campaign. The reason the “Where Amazing Happens” campaign stands out to me is because it was personal. It spoke directly to me. That’s what I love about digital marketing. It begins with the consumer. Brands win when they meet the consumer on their journey and form a lasting connection.
If you could break down a very successful campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.
- Understand the business.
It’s important to understand the specifics of a business and how it operates. Each industry has its own particularities and understanding that is what separates a great agency from a mediocre one. For example, one of our clients is in the mental health industry and understanding the unique challenges of its customers is critical for the success of a campaign. Individuals who are seeking mental health help are likely to be up late at night, so we target campaigns during these hours. Individuals may be sensitive, so we’re careful to use wording that is compassionate and supportive. To construct a successful campaign, this is the absolute foundation.
- Analyze competitors and similar businesses.
Digital marketing tools allow you to know exactly what your competitors are doing, how they are doing it, and when they are doing it. You’ll also want to track related businesses where purchasing behaviors may be similar. Identify all the potential touchpoints with your customer and find where you can gain an edge.
- Prioritize objectives based on the results of your research.
Understand the business objectives and expectations of the client and prioritize what will lead them to their end goal.
- Offer what others can’t.
As a boutique agency, we’re able to be responsive and agile. If a client wants to talk for an hour and a half, we make it happen. They appreciate that experts are at work on their behalf, not interns. Clients also appreciate the cutting-edge opportunities we offer them. We consider it our job to know what’s new, what’s next, and how it can work to drive results for their campaigns.
- Provide 360 solutions.
We shape and manage the whole strategy for our clients with a collaborative team of experts who lead each aspect with an understanding of how it impacts overall success. Clients love the seamless ease of it. We love the efficiency it offers and the way it limits risk. There is less chance of something slipping through the cracks when you manage the entire solution.
Companies like Google and Facebook have totally disrupted how companies market over the past 15 years. At the same time, consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?
- Storytelling. Stories engage us. They make us care. They move us to act. Part of the joy of digital marketing is telling stories in new ways. How we tell stories will continue to evolve and it will be up to us to continually unearth the most effective opportunities for our clients.
- Marketing for good. Think TOMS shoes. When your brand is setting an example, investing in a cause that resonates, people want to make a difference and support you by purchasing your product. We see this being the norm rather than the exception in the future.
- Micro-influencer marketing. We already see influencer marketing be extremely effective today, but I think we’ll see more of it in the future, especially with rising influencers who have smaller audiences. People don’t want to be “sold” a product. They don’t want to be “marketed” to. But they do want guidance and they want to get their information from someone they can relate to and trust. I think the future of marketing is going to become more and more niche. Micro-influencers share messages in authentic ways and their followers are loyal. This type of marketing is also experiential and educational because the product is demonstrated and followers see the results.
Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? Can you please share a story or example for each.
- You can’t know everything. Digital marketing is broad and deep, and one person can’t know everything. The solution is an expert team, where individuals have in-depth knowledge in the area they’re passionate about and collaborate freely with team members for the holistic good of the client.
- Talent has a price. When I was building my first startup, I thought pinching pennies was smart. I outsourced work to a less expensive development team, saving more than half the costs. But in the end, it cost me more since it took an additional six months to get to market because the team was not as experienced. This gave me a clear understanding that time is money.
- Put your team first. When you lead a business, your team members are the priority. It can be a struggle to guide your team and juggle your own work, but to grow, you have to strike a balance that works. For my business to move forward, I need to be accessible to my team. I now allocate time to address their needs first so agency projects can move forward in a timely fashion, and I reserve time to work on my plans later in the day. I can’t do everything myself. I need them. And they need me.
- Make the numbers work for everyone. Be super organized about accounting. You have to know how you’re spending your money and you have to make sure you’re charging enough to cover your expenses and make a profit. This is basic, but it’s easy to focus on client work at the expense of accounting. And let’s face it, for creative types, it can be a chore. You have to understand your numbers.
- Choose the right clients. You can’t go anywhere that your clients aren’t willing to follow you. If you’re going to follow your passion and do the work you’re excited about, you have to pitch clients who want to go in the same direction.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
As marketers, we have to have a full breadth of knowledge, which means staying on top of everything happening in our field, pop culture and world, national and local media. I follow a lot of thought leaders. Two of my favorites are SEO expert Brian Dean and his blog, Backlinko,
and online marketing expert Neal Patel. But for sharpening our marketing skills, there’s one resource I think we often overlook: our connections. It may be surprising, but as a digital expert, I think it’s essential to prioritize face-to-face interaction and listen to real-life experiences from people in your field — and others — to understand problems and find new solutions. In the last few months, I have worked on establishing Miami as the sixth US city to become a La French Tech city. La French Tech is a program backed by the French Government (inside Station F) and local tech businesses in Miami. Its aim is connecting French technology companies with local businesses and capitalizing on Miami’s strategic location as the entry point to both the US and South America. Throughout discussions about this with top executives from various sectors, I’ve been privileged to listen, share, and learn by discussing real-life experiences and receiving firsthand feedback that allows me to challenge myself more. There are many great opportunities out there, and if you investigate, you’ll find a group that’s the perfect fit for donating your time and growing your expertise.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My dad is my true hero, and we’ve already talked about his impact on my life, so I’ll tell you about my back-up hero, Michael Jordan. I’ve always looked up to him for his passion. He focuses on the present. That inspires me, not only at work but also as a father and husband. I try to live in the moment and give everything I’ve got to the person who is in front of me.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.