Chris Penn | Machines Take Over the World of Marketing 

Technology that was on the horizon just a few years ago is now fully part of the marketing and business landscape, says digital marketing expert and BrainTrust Insights Co-Founder Chris Penn.

It can be effective for every industry – not just tech. And for companies large and small.

Embrace these methods, says Chris, or you’ll struggle to remain relevant. And with the quickening pace of innovation, you’ll just fall farther and farther behind if you don’t take action now.

Chris shares some ways you can integrate data mining, AI, and the rest in your current marketing efforts – it’s easier than you might think.

We also cover…

  • Where marketing automation is headed next
  • How to leverage data you already have that can change your business
  • A source for free expert training in analytics
  • Forecasting tools for a more efficient, more profitable business
  • And more


Mike Delany and Chris Penn Interview Transcript:

Announcer: This is the Hub of Success, the Boston Business Podcast, with your hosts David Elmasian and Michael Delany.

Mike Delany: Hey guys, this is Mike Delany with the Hub of Success podcast. Our guest today is Chris Penn. Chris is an authority on analytics, digital marketing, and marketing technology, and is also the co-founder and chief innovator at BrainTrust Insights, a Boston-based startup. Chris is also an IBM champion in IBM business analytics, co-founder of the PodCamp Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast.

He’s also the author of over two dozen books on marketing including best-sellers such as AI for Marketers, Marketing Blue Belt, and Leading Innovation. So without further delay, I bring you Chris Penn.

Chris Penn: Good morning, or good evening, depending on when you’re listening to this.

Mike Delany: Well, thanks for doing this, man. I really appreciate it. This is my first podcast so I’ll try to make it as painless on you as possible.

Chris Penn: Sounds good.

Mike Delany: So we have a mutual friend in common, Tim Barton from ThriveHive, that connected us. So how do you guys know each other?

Chris Penn: Tim and I worked at a tech start up a number of years ago, a company called Blue Sky Factory that was started by Greg Cangialosi. Tim was one of the original investors and I believe at the time was Chief Operating Officer. We worked together until, that was a successful exit, and I’ve kept in touch over the years. But it was really our … When you talk about marketing technology, Blue Sky Factory was really ahead of the curve at the time.

Mike Delany: What sort of things were they doing back then?

Chris Penn: Back then it was all email marketing. Blue Sky Factory was known as an email service provider, much like the MailChimps of the world today. It was at the time sort of an enterprise ESP and then after the acquisition and stuff, all of the visionaries like Greg and Tim went on to other very successful careers and the acquiring company never really caught on the pivot when email marketing became marketing automation.

Mike Delany: We’ll get into that, but marketing certainly has come a long way just from email. There are so many other avenues that you can contact people these days. We recently had the CTO of ThriveHive on, Max, with my co-host David. If you guys haven’t heard that episode, it’s pretty amazing. Check it out. He basically describes how they grew the company in six years. I think they went from something like five to 300 employees. So it’s a pretty cool podcast.

I want to kind of go into your personal background and then how you got to be the co-founder of BrainTrust.

Chris Penn: Well, I think the most relevant stuff is that my original background is actually I IT. So I was in IT for a number of years. My Master’s Degree is in Information Services. It was not until I started to work at a start up in the early 2000s, a company called the Student Loan Network, where I was the CIO, the CTO, and the guy who cleaned the restroom on Fridays because it was a three person company – good old start up life. At that point I was hired on as the Director of IT. And what started out as, “Hey, can you patch and upgrade the web server? Hey, can you patch send mail? Hey, can you fix this?” evolved into, “Hey, while you’re there can you update this webpage? Hey, while you’re there can you send this week’s email campaign?” Cause it’s start up life. Everyone has to wear a dozen hats.

And I found that I liked marketing as much as I liked technology. And it’s a good thing that I did because so much of the IT space now is all cloud and decentralized. On premise IT is not as much of a thing as it used to be 15 years ago. And so over that period of time … 2004 is when I first started podcasting. I created a show actually called the Financial Aid Podcast. And we did a 15-minute every day podcast. Did 935 episodes of it.

Mike Delany: Geez. That’s ambitious.

Chris Penn: It was quite a process, but it was also groundbreaking for the time. We got covered in US News & World Report and invited to a bunch of financial aid conferences and stuff and submitted testimony to Congress about financial aid, because we were embracing something new. After that, right around 2008 was when there was a major presidential election and President Obama had changed the lending program at the time, bringing federal student loans back solely under the purview of the Department of Education, which were about 70% of the revenue of this company. So things went a little sideways, and in 2010 I moved into Blue Sky Factory with Tim and Greg. After that company successfully exited I moved on to its successor for a while. They successfully exited and I went to a public relations agency called Shift Communications, here also in the Boston area, and spent five years there. They got acquired and they successfully exited and stuff.

And after four successful exits, I’m like, “You know, I’m pretty sure I could do this myself.” And so I and one of my colleagues at Shift, Katie Robbert, decided “Let’s try and make a go of this.” Especially since I’ve had a few pivots over my career. I started in IT. I pivoted to marketing and then I pivoted into podcasting and new media. And as that caught on I pivoted into analytics and all the stuff that goes with analytics. And now, the last couple of years the most recent pivot is into data science and machine learning because that’s where things are going.

So my journey, as it were, has always been trying to see where’s stuff going? And then how do I remain relevant and employable so that I can continue to create and provide value for the companies I work with?

Mike Delany: Right. Well you’re definitely on the cutting edge if you’re talking about AI and machine learning. We’ll get to that. I want to ask you some questions related to that. But I’m curious, too. You said you started off in technology. Were you just a regular IT guy like me? How did you make that move?

Chris Penn: Yeah. So my specialty was SMB infrastructure. At the time I had an MSD in membership and Microsoft Office back office small business server was out product specialization. So it had that gigantic 10 pound box that Microsoft shipped you and like 40 CDs, exchange server and all that stuff, Microsoft ISA server, which was both a blessing and a pain in the butt. And after a while, you can only install exchanger server so many times before you’re like, “You know what, this isn’t really fun anymore.”

Mike Delany: Now like you mentioned, it’s all going online with the SaaS models and everything. There’s no more installing but there’s still some of the same headaches. But it has improved for sure.

Chris Penn: Yep. And even that. When you think about it, robotic process automation and machine learning are even eating into that market because it can be so much that is repetitive in IT that you can easily train a machine to do it.

Mike Delany: It’s something that I worry about as far as job security. I’m thinking about what you just said as far as staying on the cutting edge of what’s out there. It’s something that all technology providers have to think about, I think, in the next 10, 20 years.

Chris Penn: Oh, sooner. Much sooner than that. Robotic process automation alone has evolved so much in the last five years. If you’re familiar with it, it’s creating what they call software robots where the machine watches what you do on screen and then replicates it. So if you click here, then you click here, then you type this in, it learns it and then it does it.

Mike Delany: So it finds patterns in whatever you do on the screen and it just replicates that over and over.

Chris Penn: Exactly. It’s like Automator.

Mike Delany: Well, I’ll be obsolete pretty soon. So I’ll be coming to you looking for a job probably.

Okay. So how would you describe what it is that you do now?

Chris Penn: What I and my company, BrainTrust Insights, do is we help companies make more money with their data. So many companies are sitting … and you know this as an IT guy. So many companies are sitting on so much data and they’re just not using it. They’re not tapping into it. They’re not turning it either into opportunity costs or fighting off competitors. A real good example: I was doing some work recently for a food and beverage company. And they have – no joke – 29 years of customer conversations, call transcripts in their call center, stored in their CRM. The number of those conversations they’ve actually read, about like one tenth of one percent. So using machine learning, specifically a technology called natural language processing, start digging in. Say, “Okay, what are the things customers keep talking about? What are the things that customers are asking about? Did you know this was a thing? Did you know this was a thing? Do you have a go to market plan for this category that customers have started asking about in the last year?”

It’s that kind of mining and looking for the needles in the haystack that, “Okay, this is a thing.” We did another case study recently for a credit bureau looking at the outcomes. People were complaining, and these were customer complaints, about things that had gone wrong with their experiences with the credit bureau. So pulled this massive CRM data base. And what’s nice about this one data base we were working with – I can’t name which company it’s for. But it had a resolution column, it said, Resolved. Resolved. In arbitration. Resolved in arbitration with financial settlement, which is the worst [inaudible 00:10:15] case, where the company lost money because they had to pay consumers back, either through lawsuit or something like that.

And using, again, text mining and modeling, we found that the higher the emotional valence in the complaint the more likely it was that they end up losing money in the upselling. So the solution was, “Hey, you need to deploy this technology on ever complaint as it comes in. Score it for emotionality on the way in and immediately send the hot stuff to the swat team so they can take care of it and hopefully keep the customer happy so that it doesn’t go to arbitration, it doesn’t go to lawsuit.” So that’s one thing.

And the second thing we do a lot of is predictive analytics, either figuring out what drives an outcome. You’ll hear things about marketing attribution analysis. What combination of marketing efforts leads to the outcome we want, like lead generation for example. And tying to use forecast, when in the next week, month, year, is say a search term about cloud SaaS applications, when is that term going to peak? And then once someone has that information they can build editorial calendars, advertising calendars, budgets, planning, staffing. You name it. You can forecast any time series data. You can forecast revenue, customer service complaints, all those things. And then plan your operations much more intelligently around them.

Mike Delany: So what does the business landscape look like when every company is using these predictive analytics and all the timing is exactly the way it should be? What type of opportunity are there at that point if everyone is using the same thing? I guess it keeps getting better and better. But I’m just trying to picture what that would be like.

Chris Penn: It looks a lot like big tech now actually. So you have Amazon which is eating retail. You have Google which is eating Cloud. You have SalesForce which is eating, ate CRM as a category. Right? What is happening is that in each industry and in each vertical, the first movers and the folks who are the best executors end up with an advantage that is almost insurmountable. The only way that Facebook blows up, the only way the Facebook loses to a competitor is by Facebook shooting itself in the foot, right? It’s got the lock on 2 billion users. The only thing that brings them down is something from the inside.

The same is true of the Google. The same is true of Amazon. There’s not enough opportunity for disruption in the market once someone has a strong first mover advantage with technology. So no matter what your vertical is, what your industry is, you have to build that first mover advantage as quickly as possible so that you make it so hard for your competitors to compete. They simply can’t get enough advantage.

One of the reasons for this is that because machine learning and artificial intelligence rely on data, good data to train the software on. Because it’s the opposite of traditional software. Traditional software, we write the code and the code spits out data. In machine learning we feel data to the machine, the machine writes its own code. Well, the sooner you get started the more data you have. The more data you have the better your models. So everybody who comes in later and later and later had less data to work with and your models are getting better by the day.

So it’s like a race where the front runner keeps getting faster and like, yeah, you’re not going to catch them.

Mike Delany: So the only way that new competitors can really compete is if they made sort of leap NAI or machine learning to out maneuver these companies like Facebook or Google or Amazon?

Chris Penn: Exactly. And the hope there for the entrepreneur is that, if you’re going the software route, is that you either create something that is so different that it is not competitive in category. Or you make something that is so outstanding that Google says, “Oh, we’re just going to buy you.”

Mike Delany: That’s more likely the case. That just seems to be their MO, all of them.

Chris Penn: It’s smart and they’re sitting on a mountain of cash.

Mike Delany: So, there’s not a way Facebook is going to go the way of MySpace. It’s just not going to happen, where people just all jump ship.

Chris Penn: If they do, they will do to themselves. Twitter or Snapchat or any of those folks, they’re not going to bring them down.

Mike Delany: Interesting. Well, let’s get into it. You mentioned BrainTrust. I really would like to focus on that a little bit because it is apropos to the show as far as focusing on Boston-based startups. So just tell me. You mentioned what you guys do and how you got started.

Chris Penn: So how we got started really is all about seeing the opportunities. In the company I was with previously, it was an excellent PR firm, filled with some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. But they’re a public relations firm. Public relations firms are not known for their data science capabilities. And so I personally wanted to move my own career in a different direction. I wanted to dig into data and analytics and machine learning hard core, make it 100% of my time and focus. And that was never going to happen inside of a PR firm because it’s a different line of business.

So I was like, “Okay, I want to do this.” But I also know I’m terrible at things like operations and managing a team. My co-founder and I joke, “Never, ever let me manage people.” I’m just horrible at human beings. I’m great with machines. And finance. And attention to detail in the sense of like, “Okay, let’s make sure that payroll goes out.” So all those things that you need to run a company, to scale, to grow. I joke and it’s only half joking. I’m really still just 12 years old and playing with toys. It’s just the toys are different these days and the market actually values the toys I play with today.

And so I needed a co-founder, someone who could run and build and grow and scale a company. And one of the people I was working with, we’d worked together and taken a one million dollar team to about a three million dollar team in 18 months. I’m like, “Let’s do that. Let’s just do it our way.” And so that was how the company got started was, we know there’s no shortage of data. There’s no shortage of companies collecting data. There’s no shortage of companies misusing or not using their data. So let’s build a business on that because at the end of the day pretty much every business to business company has to solve one of four problems if not all four.

So to the person who’s buying our services, we have to save them money. We have to same them time. We have to make them money. Or we have to help them keep from getting fired. Right? Those are really the four business needs. And so a company focused on data and analytics is a company that can do all four things. Hey, we can keep you from getting fired by proving the value of what you’re doing. And we can save you some time and sanity. We can save you some money because you’re probably overspending on 20 vendors that you only need five. And if you use the data right, we can make you some money. So let’s do that. And that’s really the genesis of the company.

Mike Delany: Okay. And your role is chief innovator, which I have not seen but I like. Did you come up with that? What does that entail?

Chris Penn: I did. So if you think about the company dealing with clients and sales and all the things that you see in the industry, just on consulting firms. The one thing consulting firms they now have to a much greater degree than they used to but not as much, is tech. So I am the guy who writes the code and makes the charts, and talks to the client somewhat. And is sort of the public face of the company, and is trying to find new ways – as one of my teachers used to say – I’d rather explore new questions than defend old answers. And so that’s sort of what my role is. Whereas my co-founder and CEO is, I’m going to build, grow, and scale this company to be a massive, massive powerhouse in whatever we end up choosing to do.

Mike Delany: Okay. So what is a typical day like for you? I’m trying to put myself in your shoes, running a startup. It seems like you’re a pretty busy guy from what I found online. I’m not sure when you sleep. So what are you up to on a daily basis?

Chris Penn: The cliché in the startup world is the typical day is there is no typical day.

Mike Delany: Just one long day?

Chris Penn: That said. My day can get started around 6:30. I spend about an hour reading and researching myself, just learning, reading through articles, seeing what’s new. And then from 7:30 to 8:15 or so I publish a daily video blogpost. So I’ve gotten the process down where I can create video and then using the technologies we talk about, rip the audio from that boom, now you’ve got a daily podcast. Take the audio from that, send it over to a transcription service, an AI powered transcription service, like Watson Natural Language Understanding from IBM. Boom. Now you’ve got the text for a blogpost. Put all these pieces together, publish them. And then by 8:15 I’ve sort of done my personal content marketing for the day.

And then we jump into planning our daily stand up because we’re a tech company as much as we are a consulting firm. We have a daily stand up, sort of an agile scrum methodology. And then it’s client work. It’s marketing the company. It is sales and new business and doing stuff. We’re either working in the business or working on the business. We’re a bit of both almost every day. And then usually break for family time and meals around four o’clock, and then right around seven o’clock get right back in and work till about ten.

Mike Delany: Wow. That is a full day.

Chris Penn: It’s a full day but you know, no TV. No hanging out at the bar and stuff like that. If the entrepreneur in your life calls to you there’s a tremendous amount of free time in every day without sacrificing family time. Without sacrificing being with your loved ones and things like that.

Mike Delany: You must have to really love what it is that you’re doing. And I can tell that you do. It just comes across when you’re describing the stuff. You wouldn’t be doing anything else it sounds like.

Chris Penn: Exactly. Exactly. I jokingly post on Facebook, “Saturday night party.” Like last Saturday night I was working on ternary plots, which is where you plot a chart with three axes instead of two, but it’s still a two-dimensional graphic and you have to use this mathematical formula to dimensionally reduce three variables down to two and then plot it so that they make sense. That’s my idea of fun. I will do this stuff anyway. And even in my old job, I was doing this stuff anyway. It’s just that the company I was working for had very little use for it. So now at a company that I run we can find a use for it. We can make it valuable to customers. But I would do this no matter what.

Mike Delany: So what are the goals for the company? Where do you see it? Obviously you were saying you want to grow the company. But where do you see it in the next five years? What’s the next thing on the horizon?

Chris Penn: I don’t know where anything is going to be in five years. It’s so funny, because in 2016 someone wrote a paper saying that deep learning architecture, which is a type of machine learning, is good but it is going to be a long time – maybe 20 to 30 years – before deep learning gets to be abstract in thought enough to be able to do something like say win a game of Go, the Asian game of Go. And, of course, what happens? Nine months later, Google’s DeepMind beats Go. Beats the world champion, [inaudible 00:22:01]. So that 20, 30 year prediction you just had is out the window in nine months. So someone’s saying, “Where’s things going in five years?” Who knows?

I have seen some stuff recently. I saw that IBM Think this past March on quantum computing that is just head shredding. You look at it and go, “That’s a completely different model of computing. That’s a completely different way of running things.” Quantum itself once it stabilizes in the next couple of years, is going to be a total game changer for computing because it works like we do. The organic matter in our brains is not zeroes and ones. It is scalar because it’s chemically based, neuro transmitters are chemical in nature. Quantum is the same thing but literally sub particle physics, where a circuit can be anywhere in a state between zero and one, and also, strangely, between zero and negative one. And it can occupy multiple states at the same time which is like … I was at a session of IBM Think and this PhD was giving this talk about how this thing works. And he starts off saying, “If you flip a coin it lands heads or tails. And that’s conventional computing.” And by the end of the session he was talking about coins floating in the air. Half of them are imaginary. Different colors. And we’re like, “What the hell is going on?”

But the computational power is going to be something that opens the possibility for true general purpose AI, for machines that are sentient. Because there’s no way right now with current standard silicone architecture that we can get to it. But there is a clear pathway with quantum. One of the explanations they’re saying is, “You’re doing prime factoring. Now a 256 bit factor equation today takes the world’s fastest computer about 7.7 seconds. A 512 bit factoring problem takes the world’s fastest computer six and a half days. But a 1024 bit factoring problem would take 7.7 billion years for a computer to solve, the fastest computer today.

A Quantum computer with 100 cubits, which is not far off. We’re at, I think, 60 or 70 cubits that are staple right now, can solve that same 7.7 billion year computation in 11 hours. That’s how much faster it is.

Mike Delany: Yeah. I think that’s something that people don’t really understand. Is that how fast, once AI gets to a certain point, things are going to move. Right now they think that we’re living in a fast moving world, but once that happens you’re talking about fractions of fractions. It’ll be interesting to see what exactly happens.

Chris Penn: It really will be. So when somebody asks you, “Where is my company going to be in five years?” I mean, the vision is, still in business. The vision is hopefully not Sky Net. But somewhat jokingly, and yet somewhat not, one of the things I say in my keynote speeches on AI is, “In the future there’s going to be two kinds of jobs. There will be, you manage the machines, or the machines manage you. And there’s not much middle ground in between them.” And people will nervously laugh and say, “What does that look like?” I say, “We’re here already.”

Mike Delany: Oh, I’m here already. The machines definitely manage my life, not the other way around.

Chris Penn: Exactly. You’re smart. [crosstalk 00:25:23] managing you.

Mike Delany: For sure.

Chris Penn: I was at a Stop and Shop, which if you’re not from the New England region you may not know. It’s a grocery store. And I was watching this guy pushing this cleaning supplies cart down the aisle and he had one of the little zappers that you use for self-checkout. Like, why has the cleaning guy got a zapper. I watched him. He got to the end of the aisle. He reached up to the top of the aisle and zapped. I looked. There’s a little bar code on the top of the aisle. He zapped that. He goes down the aisle, sweeps up the stuff, gets to the other end of the aisle, and zaps it again. And I go, “A machine is tracking him.” A machine is tracking him through the store and he has to check in at the beginning and end of every aisle to prove that he actually walked that aisle. And I would between you behind the scenes a machine is measuring. If he goes by too fast, he didn’t clean the aisle. If he goes by too slow, he’s an inefficient worker. So there’s probably a middle ground. So he is 100% being managed by a machine today.

Mike Delany: And when they start using the facial recognition with that no more scanning, they can just see exactly what’s going on, the guys facial expression and …

Chris Penn: Exactly. And facial recognition already. There’s some great examples. Microsoft has a phenomenal facial API. One of the applications is having a video camera … You know the video cameras that look out at the store parking lot anyway because they have to. But being able to recognize, not only the face, but the emotion on the face, and then by the time you get to the greeter at the front of the store, the machine has notified the greeter, A: who you are, B: if you’re a high value customer, and C: the mood you’re in so that you can be told, “Oh, hi Michael, it’s great to see you. You look like something is bothering you. Do you want me to get someone from customer service right away for you?”

Mike Delany: Okay. So I want to go back. You were talking about IBM. I saw in your bio that you’re an IBM Champion in IBM business analytics. I’m assuming that’s Watson. What is that, and how do you get considered for that?

Chris Penn: So IBM Champions are people outside of IBM, so none of us are IBM employees. We are nominated by one or more IBM employees for our contributions in the promotion of IBM products and services to our community, evangelism for it. So I work with the IBM business analytics team and, yes, Watson analytics in particular. Watson studio are sort of the areas that I focus in on. But there are I think 600 champions planet-wide, of which I think 200 in analytics and then 300 are in systems and 100 are in security, or thereabouts.

And so we’re all folks who are avid practitioners. And occasionally we are honest critics. We’ll say to our folks at IBM, “Look, this thing, this thing does not work particularly well. Can you please improve it?” Or, “It would be great if this product did this.” A lot of the work that I do is promotion, unpaid promotion of IBM. I talk about it, obviously here on the podcast, for example. But in keynote talks and things.

Mike Delany: There’s been a lot of interesting news stories about Watson being used, different applications, in the medical space to make recommendations for doctors. Such an interesting innovation. At what point … Do you think doctors will ever be replaced? [crosstalk 00:28:48]

Chris Penn: Doctors will never be replaced. And the reason for that is that we as humans still want to be talking to and be touched by another human. I can’t think of a scenario in the foreseeable future where a machine does all the poking and prodding completely unattended. I don’t see other human beings being comfortable with that. Now, the doctor, at some point, the doctor may require either less training or may permanently have a little eye piece on or something, and the machine tells them what to say. But that human interface I don’t see going away. Unless technology changes so much where you have effectively really, really good androids. And even then I still think there’s a fair number of people who would still feel comfortable having that human to talk to.

Mike Delany: Well, if you couldn’t tell it was an android then you might not care either way.

Chris Penn: Exactly. But we’re not to Blade Runner yet.

Mike Delany: Yes. Not till 2049. That’s the new iteration. Great movie.

Let’s turn to just talking about marketing in general because I deal with a lot of small businesses and I know this is one of the areas we talk about a lot, they struggle with. What are some just generic sort of advice you can give these small business owners with regard to marketing?

Chris Penn: When it comes to marketing the most important thing is understanding your goals and being able to measure your goals. And I see so many businesses that do a less than great job of getting the basics down, especially when it comes to the field of marketing technology. Something as simple is Google Analytics, is something that every single company should be using. It is completely free of charge, and the training for it is free of charge. And if you’re using it well it can tell you, Here’s what’s going on with your company. Here’s what you can do with the information. Hey, you should fix these things. Hey, you should do these things instead. And I don’t see companies doing that.

I was on a call a little while ago with a multi, multi-billion dollar company and they’re like, “Oh, we’re still trying to figure out like the whole goals and our analytics thing.” And I’m like “How do you guys stay in business?” Now, they obviously have more than one line of products and multiple channels, but they are 100% leaving money on the table because they’re not leveraging that data that they have. And so for any business, from the sole entrepreneur all the way to the Fortune 1, you need to use data. You need to use your data intelligently. You need to know where your data is. And there’s a hierarchy of analytics that [Gartner 00:31:35] originally came up with and we made some improvements on, which is, you have your descriptive analytics, which is what happened. Most people are stuck there. Most people are stuck in, “I don’t know what happened.”

Well, you should. And there are tools and systems and, of course, consulting firms like Brain Trust Insights that are happy to help you figure out what happened. Then there’s diagnostic analytics. Why did those things happen? This is where judgment, where experience, where people with more gray hair rather than less play a role. Focus groups. Customer surveys. Things like that. Mining that data from your customer inbox, from your complaints that you get, or the praise that you get.

And the third layer is predictive analytics. What’s going to happen? Can you forecast forward from the data you can explain? After that is prescriptive analytics, where using machine learning, say these are the likely recommendations. Kind of like what you were talking about earlier with IBM and its oncology practices, making recommendations. The same technology can be applied to marketing data to make recommendations.

And the Holy Grail is proactive analytics, where things like robotic process, automation, deep learning. The machines will do it for us, like the machine’s like, “I’m pretty sure I can do a better job of this than you.” We’re starting to see hints of that in Google ads. For example for small business owners, Google has a whole new machine learning offering they announced about a month ago at the Google marketing platform event. Where they very kindly and civilly and gently told business owners, “You guys are a bunch of idiots. You can’t even put up a landing page. So, guess what, AdWords is going to do it for you.”

Mike Delany: Just give us your credit card and we’ll take care of everything.

Chris Penn: Exactly. But it’s true. There are businesses like window washing services and painting services. They may not even have websites but they are still legitimate businesses. And so AdWords is saying, Google’s machine learning technology is saying, “Look, A. [inaudible 00:33:26] do you want to spend money on Google Ads. In order to get to spend money on Google Ads you’ve got to have a website. You’re not going to make a website so we’re going to make it for you so that you can spend money with us.”

Mike Delany: Yeah. They do a good job of that. I think a lot of businesses, they just need to see the return on investment. And I think a lot of them get so focused on product and delivering and market that they forget about the marketing aspect of running a business. It’s almost like, “Okay, yeah. We’ll get to that down the road.” But it’s so important, even at the beginning.

Chris Penn: Exactly. They forget about it, then they never get to it.

Mike Delany: All right. Let’s go to … You say you have your own podcast, which I checked out. It’s called Marketing Over Coffee. And I saw a picture of you and your cohost sitting at a table in Dunkees with a recorder and headphone. I thought that was pretty cool. I’m hoping we can get to that point in our podcast. But what would be some tips, I guess, for people that are going to start their own podcast?

Chris Penn: Again. You’ve got to have a goal. If you don’t have a goal, and a measurable goal, and assuming you’re doing it for business purposes. If you’re doing it just for fun, just to talk to your friends, cool. Have fun. Don’t worry about business strategy and stuff like that. Just do fun. But if you’re doing it for business purposes, have a goal, have a measurable goal, and have a way to track that goal to make sure you’re making progress towards it.

Things like, how many downloads of episodes did we get, is a diagnostic indicator. It is not the goal. The goal is presumably to put money in your pocket somehow. If someone is listening to this podcast, they should be like, “Oh, I want to talk to these folks. I want to hire these folks.” And that’s something that you would want to capitalize on as a business podcaster. So figure out your goals and your strategy. Remember that a podcast is fundamentally … It’s a marketing channel, but it is a product in its own right. It’s an information product. You are giving it away for free and for lead generation. It’s a loss leader, but you still have to treat it like a product. You have to manage it like a product. So you have to build it. You have to market it. You have to measure it. And, again, a lot of folks who are getting into podcasting assume, “I’m just going to turn on the microphone and say stuff. And then the people will beat down the doors.” Well, now with everybody and their cousin making podcasts, it’s a lot harder to just build it and they will come. It doesn’t really work anymore.

And so treating like its own business unit. Treating it like its own product line is super, super important. And the last thing I would say is, Yes, gear, having a halfway decent microphone is a good thing. It’s a good thing to have. But focusing much more on the content and the value of the content. It matters rather than the technology or the sound, stuff like that. You’ll get there eventually and if you start getting sponsors and things then that takes care of itself. But focus on the value that you’re providing first because without that the enterprise will die.

Mike Delany: So what is the value that your podcast is providing? Is it just free marketing advice to people that are interested? Or is there something else?

Chris Penn: Yes, that’s exactly it. It’s marketing advice. It’s marketing commentary. My co-host and I just recorded an episode about an hour and a half ago where we’re talking about Facebook’s new creator studio. They’re starting to roll this out to page managers who manage content for multiple pages, giving them to ability to orchestrate it, similar to the way that you do with YouTube creator studio. Another thing that came up was Facebook’s trustworthiness score that they’ve started deploying, that the Washington Post got wind of, explaining what it is, how it works.

And so the goal, content wise, for each of our shows, we want to offer at least one thing that you can take away and go, “Oh, I should go do something with that.” If we do that then we know we’ve provided value.

Mike Delany: Well, it’s good advice. I’m listening closely because I am part of that everyone and their cousin doing a podcast these days. Okay, well, I saw also, I was looking at your Twitter profile and the last word, you just have “Ninja”. And I’m like, “Okay, well people put Ninja in their profiles and people say they’re a Ninja.” But you actually are a Ninja. You’re a 5th degree black belt in jiu-jitsu?

Chris Penn: Yes, that’s right.

Mike Delany: So, I’m in martial arts myself. I do Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I’m not a 5th degree black belt. I’m only a blue belt. But I’m curious how that discipline translates to your business career.

Chris Penn: Ninjutsu is an art that developed out of necessity. It’s built from about nine different family lineages. Probably the most prominent and well-known was the Togakure family. And the Ninja historically were samurai who were thinkers. They were part of their clans army or whatever, and they lost the head of the clan, took the army out, and they lost the battle. And instead of committing ritual suicide, which is what you’re supposed to do if you lost. They’re like, “That’s stupid. Why would I do that? Just because the boss is an idiot doesn’t mean I have to kill myself.” So they would take their families and flee into the mountains and developed essentially sort of a counterculture. And the techniques and all the assorted stories and ideas all evolved to being, How do you win when you absolutely have to win? And when the world does not want you to win?

And that is very, very, very much where the average entrepreneur finds themselves. How do you win when you have to win? Because you’ve got to feed your family. You’ve got to pay your mortgage. And the established business interests really don’t want you to win because you’re competition. You’re competing for a share of wallet. And so a lot of the strategies and things that we look at in Ninjutsu also apply to business.

A real simple one is, for example, I’m recording an episode of this podcast with you. Why would I do this? Because I’m saying instead of me opposing another podcast in the marketplace if we can work together somehow maybe we both benefit. When I’m doing content marketing, if I’m creating value for somebody, giving value first instead of asking for value I am setting up a relationship where you create a weak social debt that over time strengthens until somebody says, “Gosh, you just know so much about this thing. I’ve got to hire your company.”

And so it’s learning how the world works, learning how systems work. And then figuring out how do you hack the system in a legitimate way, how do you make the system’s rules work to your advantage. And ultimately, kind of like what we were talking about with data and with BrainTrust Insights, how do you craft your products and services in such a way that the world wants you to win. Instead of the world saying, “Nope. We don’t need another competitor. We don’t need another company that does this.” The world is saying, “We need this. We need this. Here’s the money. Please do this for us.”

That’s one of the reasons why when we were talking earlier about those four fundamental business needs, if you’re a B to B marketer and you’re not saving time, saving money, making money or helping someone not get fired. If you’re not addressing those needs in your service, nobody wants your product. But on the other hand if your product or service does all four of those things, everybody wants that. Everyone is like, “You’re going to help me win more, so I want you to win. Because you’re going to help me win more.”

Mike Delany: Well, that’s fascinating. I had not thought about looking at business as a battle, in those types of terms. And a lot of that actually resonates with me. So I want to kind of wrap it up. It’s been really fun, man. I really appreciate you doing this. Was there anything that I missed that you wanted to plug?

Chris Penn: No. Not at all. If you are interested, obviously there will be links and stuff in the show notes and things. I encourage everybody to subscribe to this podcast and if you’re so interested, go check out Marketing Over Coffee as well. But stay tuned. If folks have questions, please reach out. I love answering questions. My daily video blogpost series is called You Ask, I Answer because I don’t want to tell people, like “This is the thing.” I’d rather answer question like, “Hey, how do you do this?” “Oh, here’s a way to do it.” I just made a training video on how to do a weekly SEO checkup because that was a question I got. I’d rather answer that question.

So I would encourage everyone, when you’re marketing your business or when you’re running a business, listen to the customer. Answer their questions and fix their problems. The customer will want you to win, and the customer will pay you money to help you win.

Mike Delany: So how do people submit questions for your Q&A?

Chris Penn: Leave a comment on the existing video. App me on social. All those things.

Mike Delany: Okay. What is your Twitter handle?

Chris Penn: So you can find … the company handle @trustinsights and my personal handle is @cspenn. You can also go to and leave a note on the contact form there as well.

Mike Delany: All right, Chris. We’ll have to leave it there. Until next time.

Chris Penn: Thank you very much.

Mike Delany: Thanks for coming on the show.

Chris Penn: Take care.

Mike Delany: Thanks for listening everyone. This has been the Hub of Success with Mike Delany.

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