I can’t say enough about diversity and inclusion — especially in marketing. People with different backgrounds, life experiences and cultural contexts push each other to greatness. They are the first to see the unnoticed opportunities and the unintended consequences. And any team that is all the same clearly did not pull from the entirety of the talent pool. Every team I lead we have an open forum called Creative Review where we all get a final look at everything before consumers see it. We’ve caught some pretty major miscues — so there is no story here. That’s the point of doing it!
As a part of our series about how to create a trusted and believable brand, I had the distinct pleasure to interview MasterClass CMO, David Schriber. Founding a skate/snowboard retailer while in college at UMass Amherst, David first learned to attract and serve consumers while earning degrees in Computer Science and English. Marketing for him has always been about building on these three educational experiences: serving personally, connecting digitally, and communicating through storytelling. This led him on a journey of leading brands and companies that enable consumers to realize their potential. David Graduated UMass Amherst, with a BA in English in 1992. After college, David left retail to start at Burton Snowboards, as a marketing coordinator. Eventually he worked way up to President, along the way winning the first Clio ever in interactive media, managing a team of world champions and olympic medalists, and continued to build the brand’s leadership. David started at Nike in 2004 to lead global concepts including NikeID customization, digital products like the NikeFuel band, and the development and launch of Nike’s biggest category, Nike Sportswear. David led as VP Brand, North America through Nike’s biggest growth years, and becoming the number one brand in awareness and affinity. After that, David led Nike’s marketing functions globally through their shift to digitally-led, direct-to-consumer marketing. David joining MasterClass as a CMO in May 2019. He is a father of two, and lives in SF with his partner Nikki, two dogs, and a cat. In addition to all of his duties, David is an avid snowboarder, mountain biker, beekeeper, and writer.
Thank you so much for joining us David! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
To pay for college I ran summer skateboard camps. I’d hire pro skaters to teach the more advanced campers, but it was left to me to teach the beginners. I taught dozens of kids how to do their first ollie. It was their reactions to doing something that, at first, seemed impossible that helped me discover my passion for inspiring others to greatness. I eventually parlayed that into a marketing role with Burton Snowboards. Five years later, I was CMO. Then ultimately, president of the company. I went on to spend 14 years at Nike, most recently heading up brand creative and marketing functions globally. Throughout my mix of work experiences, the one thing that connects them all, is that I always strive to lead teams and create work that allows people to discover the best within themselves — which is how I landed at MasterClass.
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?
When I started at Burton Snowboards, I led the launch of a new product that offered a lot of adjustability. Just how much was a math problem that I posed in our catalog, promising a prize — a little wood medallion on a string with the Burton logo. Five right answers eventually came in the mail, and I dutifully hand-sawed and decorated the medallions and mailed them out. The next day there were 10 more right answers. The next there were 40. I worked into the nights making them, but the backlog grew to several hundred. Jake Burton (the company founder and owner) saw me in the parking lot one night sawing these little logs. When I told him the story, he laughed, took me out back into our snowboard factory, showed me how to use the power tools and set up a little production line. He’d started the company hand-making the snowboards himself, so he knew the routine. As he left me that night, alone to make a thousand of these damn things, he said, “You don’t always have to do everything yourself, you know. Oh, and let that be a lesson to you not to underestimate a bunch of snowboarders.”
What do you think makes Masterclass stand out? Can you share a story?
MasterClass stood out to me because of the amazing people who were teaching these classes, each beautiful filmed and produced. At first I suspected there was some giant entertainment company behind it all, but when I took my first class, the vibe was so earnest and genuine, I knew real people who cared about learning made it. I didn’t set out to be a marketer; I set out to teach people — how to ollie, why snowboarding is so amazing, what’s possible in sports or even in life. Marketing and education are indistinguishable if you believe in what you’re communicating, and the story is worthy. MasterClass fully embodied this for me.
Who are the most interesting people who have taught a masterclass with you so far?
I haven’t been at MasterClass long, so I haven’t had a lot of exposure to our instructors. Anna Wintour has fascinated me for a long time. To work on her class — to earn her creative approval — was an honor, and her class is wonderful. As I am now leading the process of class and instructor selection, I am extremely excited about who we have coming into the platform next. Soon, we might even be able to teach you how to ollie.
I see that you are working on a “How to be a boss” campaign. In your opinion, how do you think this will help people?
Anna and her message transcends a broad audience. She’s not just teaching how to lead a creative team or process, she’s teaching us all how to show up, confidently, in work and life. In a way, that’s the message of all 65 of our instructors on the platform, but she tackles the subject head-on. I think everyone could use a little coaching on how to be a better team player, how to cultivate and lead great ideas, how to assert your point of view and allow others to do the same, how to be a boss. I’ve had the privilege of leading big teams and mentoring many up-and-comers; there are so many times I’ve urged people to have and express an opinion, to lead. Anna’s going to help countless more like them.
Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
My favorite emoji is the Hmm face. To me it says, I’m questioning the whole idea. I give a Hmm face to the term “brand marketing” as I think it too often gets used, in a diminishing way, for storytelling marketing that has no clearly-attributable ROI. It’s sometimes the label for the emotional, gut-driven marketers off to the side of the more rational, data-driven, product and performance marketing folks.
I think a brand is defined by how a company delivers against its values in every consumer engagement, whether you see their ad on Instagram, see a commercial on TV, DM with customer service, or hear about how they treat their employees. The brand management team establishes the brand’s vision and holds the company — and themselves — accountable to deliver it.
Every marketing discipline and function, in my view, is orchestrated through brand management to deliver the story and the business results. Marketing a specific product or service is one means to a stronger brand. Reminding people as they scroll through their feed about the brand is another. Telling a powerful story in film is a third. When they all work together, I find it magical. And it will all add up to the brand.
This is more important now that ever. With so many ways for consumers to see and connect with ideas, your brand is a composite of an incredibly haphazard string of details accumulated over days and months of exposure. It will add up to something meaningful, if every piece of the puzzle is contributing to one big picture.
MasterClass, like the other brands I have had the privilege of serving, has an amazing product, such that we marketers have to work hard to faithfully and effectively tell its story on every level: what it is, what it can do for you, who is behind it all making sure it delivers.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
Brands exist in the minds of consumers. They are what Yuval Hariri refers to, in his book Sapiens, as “imagined realities.” We in marketing aren’t in the business of trying to guess or test what people think; we are in the business of changing what people think — to build on those imagined realities. If you remember our brand, love our brand, seek out our brand, we’re doing our job. If you know a little about what the brand stands for — and believe in it — and perhaps are confident you can hold the brand accountable to delivering as promised, you’re holding a perception. That’s a brand.
Sure, it matters if you see our brand first when you Google a generic term for our product. But a month or a year or 10 years from now, that Google search isn’t going to be on your mind. If anything is memorable, it’s going to be what the brand did for you, how it made you feel, or the unforgettable story it told. That’s brand equity, and an enormous advantage over any other brand who, without it, is trying to pay to get your next click.
Can you share 5 strategies that a small company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or an example for each.
1. Build and always be building your dream team, and also, make sure your best performers go on to do greater things. The best way to get a line around the block to join your team is the reputation that people who get on your team go places. Thus, you will always be hiring, but likely, you will have great people to choose from. If you play “where are they now?” with the kids who were on my skate shop team, or the young marketers who were on my teams at Burton, they are all over the world doing amazing, big things.
2. Know who you are and what you stand for. It may sound like obvious advice, but you’d be astounded by how often leadership teams can’t immediately say who they are, who is the consumer, what they are doing for them, and why they are doing it. Even when you get a consensus on the ideas, word-smithing might take weeks. But it’s worth the effort to be clear and articulate at every level of a small company, a big company, or especially, a new division. When I worked on the Nike FuelBand fitness tracker, a product no one had seen or knew to want, we really sweated this thinking. When we got to “we make the invisible, visible” and “life is a sport, make it count,” only then could we lead the company, and consumers, to get behind it.
3. Remember the consumer decides. Brands don’t dictate, they serve. They exist so consumers know who to hold accountable — they don’t exist so you get credit or control. Your core users can tell you who you are, and help you find what’s next. Don’t ever alienate them or you will be back to square one. Jake Burton would say, the riders (snowboarders) lead — either they are right about where things are going because they do it more than any of us, or if they are wrong, they will make it the right direction by doing it more than any of us!
4. Be the protagonist of your industry, the champion of your consumer, the longest-term investor in your brand. We’re wired to spot inconsistencies and walk away from people, situations, brands, that don’t add up. At Nike we would say, we amplify the voice of the athlete. Taking a stand on a big issue or solving a little problem for an athlete in need, that’s real. That’s worthy of trust.
5. I can’t say enough about diversity and inclusion — especially in marketing. People with different backgrounds, life experiences and cultural contexts push each other to greatness. They are the first to see the unnoticed opportunities and the unintended consequences. And any team that is all the same clearly did not pull from the entirety of the talent pool. Every team I lead we have an open forum called Creative Review where we all get a final look at everything before consumers see it. We’ve caught some pretty major miscues — so there is no story here. That’s the point of doing it!
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
How can I not cite Nike? Nike serves athletes, and as their co-founder said, “If you have a body, you’re an athlete.” A world with more sports and activity is surely better than one with less. Nike’s relentless dedication to this is impressive. I think anyone can replicate this dedication to a mission; the question is will you believe in it enough to see it through every challenge and temptation that will come your way?
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
I love this question because it speaks directly to the mission of MasterClass. Stay curious and always be learning. Inspiration can come from unexpected places. If you’re a writer, take a poker class. If you’re a finance director, take a film class. Everyone take a cooking class and by all means have Anna Wintour show you how to be a boss. Burnout is the absence of learning.
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. 🙂
I think I am in the movement right now: to enable a lifestyle of learning. We think about what we eat, we think about our level of activity, and yeah we sometimes think about exercising our brains. But this is more than a diet, a regimen, or sudoku. This is about learning to be better at things, every day. That benefits us each and all.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I had the opportunity to lead Nike’s marketing efforts around their launch of their NFL uniforms. One team, the Seattle Seahawks, not only went all in with us on the apparel technology, but also with the storytelling visual designs. We executed an ambitious yet very successful reveal, and pursued a 2-year marketing plan that would culminate with the Super Bowl in NYC/NJ. Not that I was ever betting against them, but the Seahawks went all the way. There we were at the end of this incredible journey, four years in the making, in America’s biggest game and biggest city, with the team that had most committed to our design and innovation. My partner in all this, the GM of Nike Football, turned to me and said, “Oh man, can’t wait to see what you have planned!” I was like, um, yeah. He yelled over the crowd, “Schriber! You have to always PLAN FOR SUCCESS!!”
Those words, “plan for success” never left me. When you do marketing, you try to think of every outcome and plan every move in advance, so you always have the means to take advantage of an opportunity or course correct a miss. But you do really have to challenge yourself to ask, “What if everything works as well as it possibly could? What then?” If you plan for it, maybe not only will you get there, but you will know what to do when you arrive.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I had a chance to see Michelle Obama speak at a Nike event in Chicago. She was addressing a room full of hundreds of middle school kids — kids who were learning that, because they have a body, they are an athlete. She spoke about the one power we all have in being able to make decisions, choices, even when the options may be limited. It really stuck with me. Michelle, I am at The Grove on Fillmore in SF if you are ever in town.
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