Entrepreneurs and marketers of South Florida got together last week (10/17) at The LAB Miami in Wynwood to join a conversation with John Santiago, CEO of Miami-based digital advertising agency M8, angel investor and founder of early-stage business incubation firm The Oven. The veteran digital marketer shared experiences and lessons learned along his successful journey in the digital advertising industry-leading teams in New York, Miami, and Argentina.
The discussion – part of the Brainfood Speaker Series, presented by Endeavor – was moderated by Andrew Quarrie, founder of the publishing platform Jurnid. Santiago spoke about embracing productive paranoia, running a business like a Jazz band, and using technology to empower citizens. He also explained why he cannot stomach the word “startup” and presented insights on challenges and opportunities faced by marketers and brands in what he coins as a consumers Connected Life and new customer journey. Check out some of the highlights of this conversation.
According to John Santiago, “the advertising industry is in the midst of enormous pressure to help brands add value rather than simply communicate with consumers” which generates some nervousness and excitement at the same time. To get started, the advent of voice-activated devices like Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Apple HomePod created a new ecosystem of sorts that requires new tactics and business models. “We have to adapt the way brands interact with consumers and make it a valuable experience for them. Interruption will not be tolerated” he affirmed.
M8’s CEO highlighted the importance of brands finding a genuine place in conversations through such devices. They are controlled by a few and powerful tech companies which recently made surprising moves to fight competition. This is the case of Walmart and Target’s alliance to fight the giant Amazon. The latter, in turn, acquired Whole Foods and joined forces with Google.
“From product discovery to ordering and the complete fulfillment cycle, all done on one device with one or two competing companies, it’s pretty scary for someone like me who relies on an opportunity for my clients to add to the conversation,” explains Santiago. “We’re a technology-focused company figuring out the algorithms, the ways to influence how that discovery process is done. That’s going to be the biggest change in advertising and marketing in the next two years.”
The CEO also reinforced that the traditional approach to communications, marked by intrusive ads and interruptions, is no longer tolerated. “I don’t want people to be pissed-off with the brands we work with. We’ve got to find better ways to do that. We have to be better.”
Considering that more than 55% of product searches in the U.S. originate in Amazon, Santiago affirmed that this is “the” platform to watch out for now. “If you already know the product you want to search for, you’re no longer going to your Google browser. You’re going directly to Amazon.com because you know you’re going to be able to purchase it directly on the platform and, with Amazon Prime, you’re going to get it delivered in 24 hours, which is an incredible user experience.”
According to Santiago, Amazon is “the last mile of a purchase” but, despite this dominance and competitive advantage, there is a real opportunity for marketers and brands to influence purchases in the giant’s ecosystem. “A very large part of advertising and marketing is influencing the additions of the shopping cart and the reviews that help people purchase. We’re getting great at how somebody purchases one item and a second recommendation comes up, influencing that second purchase that up sells the shopping cart.”
From the CEO’s perspective, the word startup carries a negative connotation because it refers to the initial stage of an enterprise. Any entrepreneur pitching The Oven should present a vision of where the proposed business is expected to go, as well as the plan and KPIs to get there. “I just believe that entrepreneurs sell themselves short by using the word startup. Any entrepreneurs that I work with, I want them to move quickly past the term startup and get to the word business.”
He compares owning a business to running a marathon. “It’s easy to start a business and everybody gets to mile 20 and then hits the wall of adversities. If you believe in what you are invested in you prepare to face adversity and the pain, persevere and push through. If you can’t, there’s nothing wrong with it. Just be surrounded by people who support you and maybe they can give you a push when you’re not feeling strong enough.”
Another advice given by Santiago was the importance of enduring failure. “I don’t mind failure at all. Failure is not the end. It’s something you practice. As an entrepreneur, be ok with the idea that your business plan or model may change. Things are going to happen and you have to be able to make changes on the fly.”