Sky CassidyTitle: Chief executive and podcast hostCompany: MountainTop Data, ‘If You Market’ podcastEducation: Sonoma State UniversityInfluential figures: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Elon Musk, Walter PaytonHobbies: Board games, philosophy, photography, construction, natureSky Cassidy, chief executive of Canoga Park-based MountainTop Data, has worked in the marketing intelligence business for more than 15 years. MountainTop Data provides data sets for business-to-business marketing and produces the ‘If You Market’ podcast, hosted by Cassidy, exploring B2B marketing ideas and tactics with industry experts. The company focuses on helping B2B marketers connect with their target audience in an open marketplace or in channels the companies own. Cassidy spoke with the Business Journal about “purpose-driven” marketing and the reputation of the B2B online marketing industry.Question: What is “purpose driven” marketing?Answer: Purpose marketing, or cause marketing, is the idea that your company must have a “higher purpose,” not just doing business or solving a problem for your customer. And it’s tricky because the number one purpose any company should have is that there’s a problem that you’re solving for your clients. That’s your purpose, right? What can go wrong with this kind of marketing?Honestly, I hate most purpose marketing. It isn’t really super new, but it has been starting to get wider acceptance – very large companies have been using it for a while. But it’s starting to get to the point where three-person startups, part of their initial marketing launch is finding out what their purpose will be as they’re launching something like a discount cologne. So they’ll say “Well, we couldn’t find a good cologne at a low price,” and then they make up an origin story to attach to this purpose, like, “for every bottle of cologne you buy, a percentage of the profits go to saving the whales, because our cologne is not made out of whale blubber.” What bothers you?They’ve said a lot of really important things there. They said a percentage – they’re not going to tell you it’s 0.001 percent. And they said of the profits, not of the gross (revenue). But guess what? They don’t plan on being profitable for quite a while. So what they mean is “we’re going to be giving zero to this cause, but we want you to think we’re good people.” And that’s what purpose marketing usually is.
How do brands make “purpose marketing” work for them?Companies naturally want to make a profit out of it. They don’t want to lose money on purpose marketing, so if they have to give away $1 million, they got to make that up somewhere. And they usually don’t want to wait around to see the purpose marketing actually take effect and see that it’s going to work long term when they invest in the community. They want (return on investment) today and cut corners and don’t actually do what they say they’re going to do. But if they can make it up purely in their marketing, not by cutting corners, and they say, “Look, by doing this, it distinguishes us and we’re going to make more money eventually,” great. Now they’re doing good. And they’re getting more back than they put in because of the cause. … It’s not causing harm anywhere, it’s just they’re getting money that their competitors would have gotten because the consumer wants to use their product.What should business buyers keep in mind when they see purpose marketing?Be more skeptical. I get very suspicious when I hear about a company that does a Superbowl commercial saying “We’re not going to talk about our product.” OK, well, you may have paid $3 million for this commercial, but you just got $4 million worth of free advertising for the company that doesn’t talk about their product? We know that’s a gimmick. If you really wanted to help the charity, you would have taken that $3 million and given it to them. But they know on every news station, this is going to be a story. They’re planning on making money off this again, when if all you really cared about was the charity, you’d give the money directly to them, right? You don’t need to have a Superbowl ad bragging about it.Do you consider it dishonest?It doesn’t automatically mean that there was manipulation going on there, but I’m always suspicious when I see any sort of ad that talks about anything other than here’s the problem we’re going to solve for you. Why do I care about a car commercial with a bunch of puppies unless you’re saying, “Hey, this car is great for puppies”? Look, this car has space in the back, you can load your dog into it. OK, then show me a dog. But I don’t need to see a bunch of puppies playing when I’m looking to buy a motor scooter. It has nothing to do with purpose, right? Show me what the product actually is and how you’re going to solve my problem.What are some of the misconceptions about B2B data marketing? Most of the time, when people talk about data, they’re talking about personally identifiable information like what social media companies have on you in order to target ads within their platform to you. When my company talks about data, we’re talking about direct marketing data – names, phone numbers, email addresses, which are all open market information.How has the public perception of B2B and data marketing changed over the years?I’ve been in this business since about 2005, the business of data, which is a very kind of dark and mistrusted business. It wasn’t when we started out; it wasn’t seen as the problem it is today because email marketing wasn’t really a thing at the time, so marketers hadn’t ruined data yet. But it became a quick buck thing where it was like, “Oh, everybody wants to email market,” and then there’s tons of spam. And then there are companies that just have a spreadsheet of garbage, that want to rip you off. That became the reputation for the industry. … It’s just become an industry that’s not trusted very much. And that’s where the purpose driven marketing, I think, kind of plays into that.What did the early online B2B marketing landscape look like compared to today? The early data marketing companies were not really data companies. They were sales companies and what they sold was data. They didn’t know much about the data; they didn’t maintain the information. They got spreadsheets of information, typically from trade publications and those kinds of sources, and they would have people who would sign up for their weekly publications get the free subscription. The whole point in that free subscription was now they have a list of all the people who are interested in this specific business niche. And those became specific business lists and they leased that data. They didn’t sell it outright.
How about today?Now, when somebody comes to us, they tell us what they want and we have the data in house. Back in the big list days, they would have lists of just industries and they’d just mail this generic postcard and the receptionist would get it or the mailroom would get it. And now we’re able to say “I want to target specific people,” and we sell that information for smaller, more targeted campaigns.