How to Balance Art and Science in Your Marketing Campaigns with Digital Marketing Maven Swan Sit
Tricia Gellman: Hey everyone. I'm Tricia Gellman and I'm the CMO at Drift. Thank you for listening to CMO Conversations. In this episode, we feature one of our keynote speakers from a virtual summit called Rev Growth, Personalization At Scale. The event airs live on August 26th, and you could register still since it's in a couple of weeks by clicking in the link in our show notes. Today's guest is Swan Sit known as The Queen of Clubhouse and a digital marketing maven. Before Clubhouse, Swan led digital marketing programs at Nike, Revlon, and Estee Lauder. She's been the brand innovators 40 under 40 list, and she's been listed as marketing woman to watch. In this episode, we cover how Swan balances, art and science, how does scale customer feedback, and the biggest lessons she's learned over her career. There's a lot to take in and you'll be surprised in the end that she's willing to actually connect to you one- on- one. So, let's get right into it. Swan, thank you so much for joining me on my show, CMO Conversations. As I was telling you, we are talking to various people in the marketing industry about the future of marketing and how things have changed. So I want to start by highlighting something that's very unique for you. You're known as The Queen of Clubhouse, and I don't even really know what that means, but I'm curious, like how did you get this title, and what does that mean?
Swan Sit: Well, it stems back from actually the journey from corporate to creator. I spent my entire career in the corporate world and marketing and digital. And as I left the corporate world and I was trying to figure out my next step, a pandemic hit. And Clubhouse this little social audio app launched in May, or, sorry, March of last year, I joined in May and it was such a great way to connect with people. So it started out, I mean, now there's millions of users, but it was 30 people on a night, and you got to reconnect with old friends and make new friends. And I just started wanting to help people. So based on my e- com experience with digital, with brands, there's so many entrepreneurs because it started in the VC and entrepreneur and tech community. I just gave people advice. I always say that if I can't be a good example, let me be a horrible warning. So, I either gave them examples of what worked, give them examples of what didn't; and I think I built a following based on just wanting to help people that turned into doing office hours once a week, where I would mentor at scale, there'd be a few hundred people in the room and I'd be giving advice to a handful of people who came, and raised their hands to come up on stage to ask a question, but hundreds or thousands might hear the answer. So, as that scale, and my following scale, then all of a sudden I went from the corporate world to creator. And I guess that's where The Queen of Clubhouse moniker came from. It's a little overwhelming, but really fun.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah, that's really good. And so now you're still really active in Clubhouse?
Swan Sit: I am. It's a different type of room now. I mean, back then you used to go and it was 30 people, then it was a few hundred. Now it's thousands. And it's a little bit more programmed. The fact that they've built tools for creators, there's titles of rooms. It's more broadcasted than it used to be, but there's still social rooms where people hang out. So, I use it in a different way. I mean, now this is my career. So, I partner with brands, media agencies, and VIP's to amplify their stories and their voices, but I don't hang out as much as I used to. There's still social rooms where you can do that because I think that's where you really get intimate, and get to know people. But for me, it's like an interactive podcast meets the world's biggest, most diverse conference.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. I mean, it's a really interesting platform. And as a CMO, I mean, I saw it blow up and thought," Wow, we're a B2B brand. And even though it's maybe not exactly B2B, let's try it out, let's get going." We kind of, because it didn't seem to have been involved as much as other platforms in terms of targeting and things like that. I think, it's kind of gone up and then it's kind of calmed down a little bit for B2B, but what's your perspective on the audience and sort of who's leveraging Clubhouse effectively today?
Swan Sit: Well, the audience has definitely changed over time. What was smart about it is, a referral only network in the beginning. So you invited your friends. Now that might have not let lead to diversification as quickly as it might have, but it also was super powerful because you felt vested and it was a tribe that you identified with. Now it's on Android and it is out of beta. So it's open to every single person around the world. No invites, no waitlist. And there were, I think, like 7 million on the waitlist or something crazy like that. So, now it has scaled. There's half a million rooms every single day on every possible topic, or language or country you can imagine. So I think it's different. The rooms are bigger, which is great for reach, but I would argue that maybe engagement is a little bit harder because there's so many more options to choose from. Listen time has gone down, et cetera. So what I found is that for somebody building a brand, whether it's corporate and product or personal, it's great for broadcast, but for B2B, I actually think the room size and the reach shouldn't be the metric. It should be engagement. B2B, I've seen incredible people, whether it's financial advisors, whether it's service providers in e- com, hold smaller rooms, but get really deep into the conversation, get one- on- one about solution solving. So sort of like my office hours where you bring someone up, explain how to solve the problem, explain how your technology fixes that need. And I've seen so much more conversion. So I think this is such, it's a platform. It's not a solution. It's a platform for however you want to use it. So I've seen people build individual followings and brands. I've seen companies come in and do broadcast information. For example, Timberland was a client of mine and we talked about regenerative agriculture. So, we had rooms called things like, what do boots and hot dogs have in common, right? In the future, if you work with a rancher, every part of the cow gets used, whether it's leather for Timberland and their shoes or meat for the hotdogs, right? So we host conversations like that on a broadcast level, but I've also helped companies have more intimate conversations. So, if you're a checkout experience, how do you actually deep with the massive community of entrepreneurs and startups and teach them how to use it? So even though it's not necessarily a conversion platform, it can lead to that because it's the start of the conversation. So I think the world's everyone's oyster. It's how they want to use it. It is scaling very quickly and they're still building features to make sure that we supplement the ability for it to scale to the size it wants, but also tools for creators to your point of identifying an audience, targeting the right people, none of that really exists yet. So I think there's still some ways to go, but it's still a fun, new toy everyone's playing with. I think audio, social, in general, whether it's Spotify, Greenroom, or Twitter spaces, that's here to stay.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. I mean, I think you hit on a really key point, which is conversations. Like we're really all about conversations. And I think in the pandemic, what we've seen is people now that we're getting back together and things like that, but for the past year and a half, people are craving to have conversations. They're craving to be connected, not just through text and Slack and things like that, but like real live hearing voices connecting to the audio
Swan Sit: Well, what's ironic, and then you're a CMO, so you've seen this, if we think about like product strategy as we got to more emotion, more filters, more color, more sound, you would think the next step is AR VR, immersive new realities. But we went backwards and went to analog audio. And it's because there's something intimate about storytelling. It's like being around a campfire and marketing, it's art and science, right? We've got the technology of targeting and distribution, but the art is the storytelling. And we've gone back to the roots of that. And that's what these audio platforms do. So, for me, it was just a way to help people, to democratize information, access, and opportunity and meet new friends. And now I get to do that for a living.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. So talk to me more about this art and science. This is something we talk a lot about at Drift because it's important. I think people really want that personalized experience, which is very much today at scale about the science, right? I mean, how do you actually do that? How do you get the data to do it, to target the right people, but it falls really flat if you don't also put together the art of it. And so what's your perspective and how have you really managed that throughout your career?
Swan Sit: You have to have both pieces. And I would argue even the data's not easy, right? Because you have to collect the right data and know what to do with it, and then have the right tools to productize are automate it, and that's table stakes. And we're still trying to figure it out. And there's some really cool technologies out there like yours that helps us do that. But once you know something about the consumer, what do you do with it? So, for example, when you sign up for a Nike plus loyalty account, it lists all these sports and then asks you check the box of the sports you like. Basketball, soccer, volleyball, et cetera. If you check basketball, I actually have no idea if you play basketball in which I'd serve you content on the next season's best shoe, the ankle support and how it increases your jump shot vertical. If you're a fan of basketball and you'll never shoot a free- throw, that's completely lost on you. I want to know about the all- star game. I want to be sold the newest jerseys. There's overlap, but they're very different audiences, right? So, that's what I mean by the art. It's really understanding the story that engages people, because marketing is about the aha moment. We always think downstream to what the logo or the slogan or the ad looks like, but it's about understanding people at its core and solving a need or a desire. So if we do the job of collecting the info, then we have to do the job of saying, what are all the permutations of conversation? So one of the things I do is a content strategy map. It's almost like a placemat, right? And for every product or every story I want to tell, I lay out what's the channel? What's the format of content? Long form, still short form, et cetera, then the topic, right? So for example, I own an energy drink company with a bunch of TikTokers, Josh Richards, and Bryce Hall called Annie Energy, right? It is a really cool product. It's not as much caffeine as Monster, because those will kill you. It's not as little as Diet Coke. It's about the same as a cup of coffee. So this great tasting sparkling energy drink is a coffee level of caffeine, which is very sustainable and smooth. So we have to get the message out, but not everyone cares about that. So when I lay out the content, after I lay out the channel, the format, et cetera, what's the theme? Is it nutrition? Where people care that it's, non- GMO, it's vegan, it's low cal, low sugar. Is it lifestyle where people are following Josh and Bryce, these TikTokers with 60 million fans between the two of them. Is it taste where you don't care about either of those, it just tastes good. Is it about the energy bump that you get from it? So all of those themes of content, and on, and on, and on. So you almost have this matrix that you have to then put that on, and say," This week, we're going to test this format with all these themes of content and see what resonates, et cetera." So it is an art of storytelling. You still need that amazing creative director or founder to tell the story, but then you need to layer on all the derivations. Because imagine you're not telling the story you want to tell, you're chairing telling the story the consumer wants to relate to. And that's the aha moment of it. The same product can mean completely different things to different people. And it's our job to make sure we connect with them in the way.
Tricia Gellman: How have you... You've spoken in other podcasts and other speaking engagements about this feedback loop, I think this is, what you're saying about the relevance of the message and really connecting, not to what you want to say in broadcasting, but to the audience is so, so key, especially today. How have you helped companies or like what's your perspective on how companies can actually get that feedback to understand what their audience wants to hear?
Swan Sit: You have to listen, you have to engage. So, I was moderating a panel last night with Erin and Sarah Foster. They have a new company called Favorite Daughter and they're in growth mode. So it's manageable, but they answer the DMS from their customers about products, which size should I get? Which one looks good for my body type, right? You have to do that work. Now, there's technologies that help you do it at scale, there's bots, there's AI, et cetera. But you have to engage with the customer. If you're lucky enough that they raise their hand to say, I'm going to communicate with you. You can't ignore it. So you start building tools where 80, 20, right, 80%, the messages are 20% of the same questions. How do you productize that with bots, et cetera. Then for the rest of it, you have to engage. Whether it's a community management team, engaging with the community, whether it's going to a Clubhouse and popping a room open and saying, give me feedback on this product, right? I've actually done feedback loops in Clubhouse in product development said," Guys, I have this idea. This is what it looks like. This is what it's doing. Tell me what you think." And it's like, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Right? There's three lifelines. The one that's the most accurate is polling the audience. It's not call a friend. It's not removed 50% of the answers, polling the audience, right? Numbers don't lie. So if you have a... Build a little community on Clubhouse, not only are you getting the best possible answer, because it's regression to the mean, but you're building a community of people who feel like insiders. They're special. They got a say in the product. So that's just one example. There's so many ways to build that feedback loop, but you have to ingest the data and know what to do with it. Even something as a simple audit of reviews on your sites and on your retailer sites about your product. Once a month, poll the reviews, use AI to search what the common themes are. And sometimes we realize that a product might have a low review number, like two stars, but it's not because it's a bad product. It's just, it's for really oily skin. And it's not moisturizing enough for the average consumer, but for the really oily skin users, that's a five- star product, right? So we have to build those mechanisms. And then the easiest way to do that is put yourself in the shoes of the consumer. Take off the brand hat, take off the silos of how much we have to spend on technology and be like," What do I want? What's the last really frustrating experience I had with a brand or a retailer and how do we fix it?"
Tricia Gellman: That's excellent. So you, I mean, we're really grateful at Drift that you are participating in our virtual conference, Rev Growth, and your session in that is really about leveraging data and AI to get personal with your customers. So I think what you're talking about here in terms of the feedback loops using AI, being personal, I'm really just wanting to like make a plug for people to listen to your session because we're running out of time here. And so we won't talk about your session, but I think this is amazing. It's a great hook is even better that we have this hook in for people to come and listen to your session, which is at the end of the month. And you can actually see in our notes for the podcast, you can see the link to your session, which is excellent. We're running out of time and there's so much we could talk about. I mean, I would love to just spend an afternoon. I know you're running off to lunch. I wish I was going to be there, but I crosstalk.
Swan Sit: We'll find each other.
Tricia Gellman: I always close my podcasts with one question. So I want to make sure that I get that one question out to you, which is what is the number one most important marketing lesson that you believe you've learned in your career?
Swan Sit: Marketing is about them. Not about you. We started from legacy companies being about us as the brand. We have a great brand. We have a great product. You should want it. That was the broadcast world. We still have to do the work of inspiring people, but no one wants a salesman who comes in and pushes what they think the best product is. They want somebody who listens and says, what do I need? That's what you expect from our friend. What you expect from your doctor. That's what you expend from human connection. But somehow along the way, as we've productized marketing, we got overly reliant on glossy ads, right? We forget that we're solving a human need. We're inspiring people. We're making them feel connected as part of a tribe, right? One of our best posts when I was redoing the entire social strategy for Elizabeth Arden, it's a hundred year old brand it's a legacy, and while it's high awareness, because everyone's heard of it and they know it's luxury, it's your grandmother's luxury. So, high awareness but low relevance. And we said, we've got to get away from these monochromatic images where every brand has a product on the bathroom counter that's marble, and it's all glossy and pretty, or these overly airbrushed women that look impossibly beautiful and thin that don't look like any of us. So we said, let's start talking to her like we get her, because we do. We're just so corporate that we don't let ourselves shake our hair loose. So one of the best performing posts that we ever had was so silly. It was a piece of paper and somebody was playing around with a new mascara that we had and took the lawn and drew some little eyebrows, and then in a Sharpie wrote" It's Monday morning, but my eyebrows are on fleek", now by saying I'm fleek, you know it's an old example. This is from 2015, but at no product, right? We didn't even say drawn with X mascara. Had no brand, aside from it's on our social account, but it said," We got you." We know that eyebrows are the new thing. Everyone wants full eyebrows, they're hard to do, but when you nail it and your eyebrows look great that they, no, not identical, because they're not twins, but our eyebrows are supposed to look like sisters. We get you. We know how empowering it is to have that feature of your face, stand out and you can battle Monday and the rest of the week, one of our best performing posts, and like it's against every original brand guideline. So I talk about aha moments in marketing, strip away the P's, and C's, it's about understanding people from the very beginning. And when you not only identify with the consumer on the same values and the same feelings, but you focus on the spaces between the purchases. It's not just buy, buy, buy it's I want to move along the journey through life with you, right? So, if you are a beauty company, what happens when a woman hits 30, right? There's certain things that whether it's physical change or societal change telling them that they should feel differently, those are big moments. Or after you have your first baby, those don't have to be about the sale. It's about life moments. And when you understand a consumer, you can personalize the different types of conversations you're having with different types of consumers in their life moments and their moods and different life stages. That's when you get lifetime value, it's not about the calculation of every purchase. It's about the journey that you ride together on a lifetime.
Tricia Gellman: That's awesome. And do you think, I mean, you've also done a great job of balancing between these aha moments and sort of, you're always on, do you think on this context of this journey, that the aha moments are sort of those like milestones within the journey and then you kind of have your sustained brand message and what's going on in always on?
Swan Sit: Absolutely. That's actually an example of even art and science, right? Where's the balance? Because we know that for customer recall, it's 12 to 17 touch points to remember a brand now. So you can't have all 17 of those moments be aha moments, because it just seems gimmicky and a little bit too salesy, but I think there are certain things that stand for brand, for product that are always on that are those moments in between and to your point, exactly, those big milestones, which make me look. But if I've looked once over the next week, if I've seen a few other posts that might not be as extravagant or as provocative, but they're solid, they're educational, they're expanding my awareness. That's how you piece together that journey. But I always still stress that. It's not just about the sale. It's the moments between the sale. That's the future of personalization.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. I love that idea. I love that idea of the art and science. I mean, I think our whole conversation is kind of centered around that in a way. And if we think about like how the role of a marketer has changed, I mean, this is one of the big parts and you touched on it, right? We used to broadcast, but now we have the art, we have the science, we have the data, we have this expectation to use technology to kind of bring it all together.
Swan Sit: Well that makes the modern CMO more important than ever, because there's not another role who can pull this together. Your CTO is not doing it. Your chief of sales, isn't doing it. The marketer and a CPG company is the general manager of the P&L. And I think as we go into tech or other industries that gets a little diluted. But if you think about a manager of the business that puts the consumer at the center, who's going to pull together the content from the creative department, the media buy from the sales department, the technology from the digital team, the data from the data analytics team, influencers, I mean PR? Who pulls that together? So in some ways the modern CMO, not the traditional, but the modern CMO. I mean, I don't even think it's digital marketing at this point. It's just marketing. It's not, e- comm, it's one of the channels we sell and the faster we can get our head around that new mentality, the better and the new modern CMO, if they're able to be art and science, if they're able to be creative and somewhat technical, or maybe analytical is the better word, that's the modern CMO. And they're actually the linchpin of how this product gets to market and gets into the consumer's hands the way consumers want.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. I mean, and I think that translates really well to B2B as well as the same thing. It's just what you're pulling together. The thing about the CMO role that I love and that I also think is the most strategic is that we touch everything. You touch the employees in your company, who are your brand, you touch the product organization, you touch the sales team. I mean, other than the CFO, I think the CMOs is the only other role in a company that can bring everybody together to center around the customer, which I think is a requirement in today's day and age B2B or B2C. I like to talk about it as B to human.
Swan Sit: Oh, my God. I love that it's B to human. And evidence that this is changing as there was one role before I decided to become independent, that was offered to me that was CMOs slash CDO, chief marketing and chief digital. And I said, it's because chief digital shouldn't exist in three years, but we only need it now because we need to push change, right? But digital is just a part of marketing. And if you're doing the right work and collaborating with your other counterparts, it all plugs together. What's odd is there's another role that was a CMO, COO hybrid marketing and ops. So if that's any indication of how marketing is now, truly plugged in, we're not measuring in ad reach, we're measuring revenues, right. By doing that social media rebrand and putting the consumer at the center, Elizabeth Arden came out of a turnaround to 10 quarters of growth to being bought by Revlon. Financial results. So I think the new way that we can use the art and science, right, we have the art now we've got the science for the first time ever marketers can measure impact. And they're at the table. It used to be the CFO and the COO because they control the numbers, a marketer who can output numbers. And results. That's going to be the future of a business.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. Well, and I think that's one of my big messages and I'm glad you brought it up because it's a requirement. If you're a CMO, and you're just broadcasting, and you're just looking at leads or you're just looking at visitors, but you're not tying it down to the bottom line, you're making yourself irrelevant. But if you do do that, you can be in the boardroom every single day. You could be sitting hand in hand with the CFO, and the CEO, and it can be the most strategic role within a company, which is so exciting.
Swan Sit: Well, what's even more interesting Tricia. It's not even just at the C level, which I fully agree with you. I am well before my time. And I'm on the boards of two publicly traded companies, which is traditionally people who've retired, who've done CEO, CFO or COO roles because not all of these companies need digital. There's no one who's retired who grew up in digital. They inherently have to reach a little bit more junior to get that skill level. But if you are a marketer who can deliver results, you're sitting on boards of publicly traded companies, whereas the average age is 63 years old. So I think it's super important for marketers to get smart. Even if you're somebody who grew up in the traditional way of marketing, go, learn it. Go get a reverse mentee of someone junior in the company to teach you because you don't need to know how to buy the ad. You need to know how to strategize around mobilizing your team to deliver those results, right? And I think CMOs that are willing to learn that or build a really strong team under them that they defer to, to do that, that's the future. But it's hard because I think one of the biggest challenges is if you ask any CMO or ask somebody, hiring a CMO, what kind of CMO they want, they have no idea. Do you want content? Do you want distribution? Do you want technology, et cetera. And it's all of them. So I think a great service we could do is try to figure that out as a collective and bring that to the table, to our CEOs, and to our boards because they don't understand it. So we as CMO's should define it.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah, I agree. And I think it's one of the hardest roles for that reason that you said as well, it's so broad and there's so many different things that you need to sort of like pull the triggers, like any day that it's a very challenging role, but I know that you have to go, it's been great to have this conversation with you. And I just want to thank our listeners for participating in CMO Conversations. If people wanted to sort of maybe create a dialogue with you. I know you have so many followers, you're probably not having one- to- one conversations with people, but is the best place for them to start, especially now that it's available to everyone, jump into Clubhouse, and try to participate in a listening session there, or how do you recommend that people connect to you?
Swan Sit: Well, Clubhouse is great. My handle's just Swan, S- W-A-N, but it's ephemeral, because if you happen to be there, when I'm hosting a room, you've got me, but if I'm not online, I'm just dark. So that's one easy way to do it. But I also post all the rooms I do on Instagram and Twitter. So give me a follow I'm SwanSit, all one word on Instagram or Twitter. And I often post stories of what rooms are coming up. So, for example, yesterday, we did Fortune's Nifty 50, and NFTS have been a big craze this year, and Fortune dropped the 50 most influential people on the list. We had six of the honorees in the room talking about making the way that the list, Gary Vaynerchuk, Paris Hilton People Pleaser, we had the Fortune editors, what an amazing room. You would never get all those people in one place, right? So the dialogue and the serendipity and discovery of that was really fun. So I post all those rooms on social. So find me there and actually, Tricia, even though I'm up way too late and always on my phone, I do eventually respond to every DM. So give me time, I always get there. So maybe I need some sort of scalability or AI bot to help me with that at some point, but right now it's, so... Somebody, again, raise their hand to come talk to me. So I'm going to respond to them. It just might take a few days, but I do. So thank you for giving me the opportunity for that.
Tricia Gellman: That's amazing. It's amazing to know that people can do that. So, I mean, that's a call out to anybody listening that wants to connect with you, be patient, but all of the channels, follow what you're posting. And I think there's going to be great content down the line. So I hope people will take your advice and do that. Thank you again. And for all of our listeners, if you enjoyed this session, please give us a six star review and make sure that you recommend CMO Conversations to other CMOs and to other marketers. Thank you so much, Swan.
Swan Sit: Thank you for having me. I'll talk to you soon.
How do you know what your customers want?
It’s not a guessing game, and Swan Sit knows this best.
Building out digital marketing programs at companies like Estee Lauder, Revlon, and Nike, now known as the “Queen of Clubhouse” and as an independent board director, Swan is no stranger to feedback.
In this exclusive interview that we’re airing before her keynote goes live at Drift’s virtual event, RevGrowth: Personalization at Scale, Tricia and Swan talk about how Swan balances both anecdotal and data-driven feedback and transforms it into powerful stories that resonate with her audience.
To hear Swan’s full keynote, register for Drift’s virtual event summit, RevGrowth: Personalization at Scale: https://www.drift.com/events/revgrowth-personalization/
Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the pod with your friends. You can connect with Tricia and Swan on Twitter: @triciagellman @swansit @DriftPodcasts