Josh Arnold Transcript      Listen Here

Mark: Welcome to Family First: The Wild World of Marketing to Parents. My name is Mark Giovino CEO and founder at the Allionce Group.

I’d like to welcome Josh Arnold to this episode of Family First. Josh is a former client during his time at General Mills, where he led experiential marketing in a role that sat across all General Mills brands.  Prior to General Mills, Josh spent more than 11 years in experiential and retail marketing at Best Buy.

Over the last few years, he’s had stops at Amazon, Weber as in Weber grills and now Veeam software, a backup disaster, data recovery, and data protection company. Josh is a well regarded marketer and sought after speaker. And I first met Josh in person, in San Francisco back, in I think it was 2018, at the Event Marketing Summit. Josh, thanks so much for joining.

Josh: Oh, thanks for having me, Mark. I’m excited to be here.

Mark: Let’s start with family first. Can you share a little bit more about your family?

Josh: Yeah, for sure. My family is made up of,  I call them a cast of characters. They are a blend of actual family and chosen family as people call them. I live here in Chicago with a one eyed, adopted English bulldog named Buddy.  Him and I spend a lot of time in New York and Minnesota when I’m not traveling. That’s where a lot of my family roots are. So I’m fortunate enough to have family on the East Coast, Midwest and West Coast. So I’m oftentimes spending holidays and long weekends with them and getting into various adventures.

Mark: You’ve had an incredible run moving from one iconic brand to the next with the common thread really in most of these roles being leading experiential marketing. Can you take a minute Josh and describe through the lens of your experiences how you define experiential marketing?

Josh:  You’re right. Experiential marketing is pretty much the backbone of my career, regardless of the brand I have been at and for me, experiential marketing is so impactful because it’s one of the few ways that brands are able to directly connect with consumers. Whether that be B to C or B to B consumers and really, inform them and persuade them and in most cases entertain them in order to really land a brand message and do what other marketing vehicles are unable to do.  So that’s why I’ve always really enjoyed experiential marketing and it’s something that I can see myself doing, for the remainder of my career.

“I find some of the most impactful ones I have are museums…, it’s music venues that have family entertainment, it’s zoos, it’s aquariums.”

Mark: What makes a successful experiential campaign, and are there any foundational elements or core pieces that are the most important to build from, would you say?

Josh: I think that answer would be different depending on who you ask. For me, what makes a successful experiential marketing campaign are a couple of factors. One is you need to be able to win over your internal audience. And when I say that, I mean, like the people you work with from a day to day point of view, your stakeholders, your executive, committee people that, write your paychecks.

You need to be able to one win them over and help share. And amplify the value of experiential marketing to them when you’re working in partnership with them. Aside from, the internal audience, you also need to win over consumers. And I use consumers as a blanket term because consumers can mean anything from direct consumers who are actually end users of your product, buying your product.

It could be consumers who are aware of your product and have purchasing influence, in the cycle. It could even be media and influencers and analysts who have opinions that matter when it comes to the success of your products. So it’s really winning over both sides of the fence. It’s your internal audience and your external audience.

Mark: Any successes you can point to or campaigns you’re most proud of? Whether, I guess, the internal sell, as you describe, or the external with the consumers.

Josh: Yeah. Oftentimes I think when people, and I’ll say internal people, hear about experiential marketing, they assume it comes with a large price tag. And when I look back at the successes that I’m most proud of, I think a lot of times I’m most proud of programs and activations and experiences that I’ve been able to create and execute that may not have had a huge price tag but have gotten results that have gotten people excited from an internal and external point of view.

So yeah, it’s a lot of fun when you’re able to create and execute a program that has a hefty budget. But, it’s to me more of a challenge and brings me more pride when I’m able to stretch the dollar further and do more with less.

And I kind of cringe when I say that because it definitely is harder a lot of times to make the dollar go further. But I do find that the reward tends to be better from a personal point of view. One of those examples is when I worked at General Mills.  One of the brands I worked on was Nature Valley. Nature Valley really wanted to start to be considered a go to snack for hikers and what they found out, through their brand, you know, diving into the brand and kind of finding out more about the traditional consumers is that a lot of those consumers were coming from inside of core large cities.

Traveling 30 to 60 minutes to go outside of the city to find nature. And I thought there was a unique thing about that, because I thought that, you know, we have the right to kind of play with those urban dwellers as they look for nature. And one of the programs we did was partner with an urban park community that on one day they did a parking space takeover in core cities around the country and they built parks within a parking space.

“… one thing you need to do as an experiential marketer is really be an advocate for marketing, and you have to be able to take those ideas … and put them through a brand lens.”

And it was a lot of fun to see these cities get involved and they had all these interesting art installations that would take over these parking spaces and they would bring parks into a city on a special day. It’s still an ongoing program. It’s something that I was proud of because we were able to use local artists and really connect with those urban city dwellers and get the product in front of them and drive brand impact in a really fun local way.

Mark: What does the ideation process look like for a campaign like that and how do you balance? The internal creative based on what I’m sure are some brand insights and leveraging and working with external partners to develop some ideas. Can you tell us more about the process and maybe specifically for the campaign you just described?

Josh: So the ideation process is different,  depending on what company you’re at. However, with that being said, I’ve noticed one thing that is a common thread to them all, and that is, a lot of opinions tend to come in during the ideation sessions. And when I say opinions, I mean, they come from everywhere.

So you get them from people directly on the marketing team or people from the brand or the product side, you get them from the executive teams, you get them from the social teams. You get them from the cafeteria workers, you get them from like, they just, you know, come to the surface. And that’s one of the things I like most about ideation sessions is just getting so many different points of view to the table.

Now, when I say that, that’s also a double edged sword that with all those opinions, you also get a lot of personalities and a lot of  sometimes conflicting thoughts. And so I think regardless of the brand you’re at, or the organization you’re at, one thing you need to do as an experiential marketer, or even a marketer in general, is really be an advocate for marketing and you have to be able to take those ideas and those opinions in and kind of put them through  a brand lens and take what you find is most valuable and kind of leave the rest. But I always tell the teams that I work on, make sure you’re keeping an open mind and an open ear because there truly are no dumb ideas when they’re starting to flood in.

You can definitely get some laughs out of some of them, but I don’t consider anything a dumb idea because you never know when that nugget of truth will pop back up and say, yeah, that’s actually a great idea of how to connect the brand to a specific consumer.

Mark: What’s so interesting, your perspective, embracing so many different opinions. I think marketing is such an interesting discipline and unique in the sense that all of the work that’s done is so public facing and everyone has an opinion and fancies themselves a marketer because they see marketing in their everyday life.

Josh: I was gonna say that a lot of armchair quarterbacks float to the top. You’re right. It is very public. It is very high exposure. I think that is probably one of the toughest things with modern marketing is that you oftentimes have to deal with opinions and feedback. Sometimes it’s in real time.

And so it’s part of being a modern marketer is finding out how you can deal with those and use what is useful and leave the rest on the table.

Mark: What’s been your experience when we think about more traditional partnership or sponsorship spaces like sports, music and gaming type partnerships?  What have you seen, how have you seen that space evolve over the years? And are there any memorable partnerships through the lens of those more traditional spaces that come to mind?

Josh: Yeah, absolutely. I really enjoy working with sports, music and entertainment partnerships, and part of the reason I enjoy that and I see the huge value that carries is those industries or those entities have created a great connection with the consumers that use them.

And so oftentimes you can really find success with your brand by partnering with those sports teams that connect with the consumer you’re trying to reach or you can partner with a specific artist or even like a local radio station that has the type of music that the core audience that you’re trying to get to listens to and they have that authentic connection to the consumers that very few  and that’s why I enjoy working with sports and entertainment, music, video games so much.

I do find that oftentimes sometimes it can be come with a hefty price tag.  So you have to be aware of that and know what you’re getting into. But what I would tell that any marketer is that when you enter a partnership with, let’s just say an entertainment agency or an entertainment avenue, is really keep the consumer front of mind and find a pain point that they may encounter either at a concert or at a sports game and try to find a way that your brand can help address and hopefully solve one of those pain points.

“… even if your core sales time is not Summer months it is still a great time to get your brand out there in front of families and start to see that brand awareness or consideration.”

Not only will you break through and reach the consumer that way, but you will also help the entertainment agency really add value to their partner. Let’s say it’s a baseball team, the Twins. They can add value to the Twins that then is passed on to the attendee to their park and everybody’s winning at that point.

It’s when those stars align and everybody comes out a winner that I have found that the brands are able to break through the most and really make the best connections. When I was with Best Buy,  it’s a company that’s world headquarters is in Minneapolis, and we did a lot with Minnesota based sports, so Vikings, Twins, the Timberwolves, and I really enjoyed working with the Minnesota Twins because they had a great connection that not only was with their park attendees during the season, but that love for the Minnesota Twins extended outside of the season as well.

So you were able to really partner with the Twins and drive home great experiences that happened during the baseball season, but they had the hearts and minds of their teams, fans outside of the season as well. So you were able to create a calendar of ideas and events and experiences outside of just the typical baseball season.

Mark: I love how you talk about essentially enhancing or adding value to the experience. I think it’s interesting marketers over the years, there’s been this discussion around getting people’s attention and it feels like too often times, whether it’s a 30 second or whatever the channel might be, it’s hijacking or try to steal attention, which feels very different than what you’re referencing, you know, finding the pain points and the consumer pain points and identifying where you truly can add value to the experience from a brand perspective.

Josh: Yeah, and I tell people don’t overengineer the solution. Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes that you’re trying to reach and find out where their average day is and what pain points they encounter through their day. And by finding those pain points, that’s where, for me, the real work starts. It’s how can you address them and insert your brand into the solution.

I think a lot of times when you do that effectively, you will find very unique ways that you can have your brand shine through a solution that you may have thought, God, a Nature Valley granola bar would, you would think would never have a right to play in that field, but they do because you’re addressing a pain point and creating a solution.

Mark: When you think about family-friendly entertainment partnerships, what are some things that come to mind, other spaces, places, or perhaps some campaigns you’ve led in the past?

Josh: For me, family friendly entertainment, especially in this day and age is, a tricky one. And the reason why I say it’s a tricky one is because as any marketer knows,  people have access to kids at a greater capacity that I believe ever before through mobile, through social, through just about every avenue.

Kids are a lot more reachable. And because of that, I think parents and understandably so, are more apprehensive about who they trust who they want to let into their front door in terms of entertainment or ways they spend with their family. And because of that, it’s so important to find an authentic avenue that has an established, relationship with families if you really want your brand to shine.

And the reason I say that is because if you find the right partner, they will ensure that what you’re recommending or trying to do resonates with their core consumer, their follower, their listener, their attendee, whoever it is, in a very safe and impactful way.  So I oftentimes look for organizations or entities that have authentic relationships with families, and I find some of the most impactful ones I have are museums, especially from a core community area. It is museums, it’s music venues that have family entertainment, it’s zoos, it’s aquariums. It tends to be places that I feel offer some sort of educational aspect to their offering because oftentimes I find that’s like a sweet spot when it comes to families.

Mark: Well, the safety you mentioned is so important, especially if we think about the legal concerns around COPPA compliance or FTC compliance for not marketing to children under 13. I think that’s an important point to underscore. And just in discussions with brands, I know there’s a lot of sensitivity as there should be, of really focusing perhaps in all of those spaces you just mentioned. And reaching the whole family when they’re together with reaching and engaging with parents and kids at the same time and skewing the promotional efforts to the parents where the child just happens to be kind of in those shared moments.

Let’s toggle back for a minute to what you started the conversation with in terms of winning over the internal audience. We’ve been talking a lot about the external the consumer facing audience. Can you share more about process and how you found success in the past for winning over that internal audience sell if you will?

Josh: Yeah, it’s for me, it always starts with not interviewing them, but it’s meeting with your internal partners and finding out what their goals are and what they’re trying to do. And for me, I find that most valuable because once I do that, I’m able to see where I can insert their teams and piggyback on their goals to help us drive together to a common goal.

So once again, it comes back to winning. So everybody is winning at that point. I know they may be going for impression numbers. And so I can say, Hey, I’m partnering with the Minnesota Twins and we’re interested in doing this social play. which would involve our social handle. Are you interested in that?

And oftentimes I know that will gain them exposure to the Minnesota Twins followers and vice versa. And so it tends to meet both of their objectives and in the end, what I’m doing with them helps drive awareness to the program that I’m creating. So it’s, again, it’s bringing the right partners to the table that can, have some some skin in the game and can get a win under the belt and raising up those opportunities.

Mark: Let’s talk for a minute about measurement. It’s a great segue and I think a really important discussion. I’m curious to know, what does that look like as a part of that internal dialogue? How often, your CMO or other senior decision makers who hold the purse strings and the budgets, how often do they ask you, well, how are we going to measure this program as compared to, well, how does this level up to this internal matrix, if you will, and here are all the things we need to measure? What does that dialogue and discussion look like internally for how to define success of a program and measure accordingly?

Josh: My time at Amazon really drove home the importance of measuring anything you do.  One of their sayings there was anything worth doing is worth measuring. And it really landed with me.

And what I tell my teams now is, our goal is to not have any of our internal partners ask, how are you going to measure that? We know they’re thinking it all along. So we need to address it head on and answer that question for them before they even ask. Part of that is knowing what is most top of mind for them in terms of what they’re trying to get for a win and what is most important for them to share out with their stakeholders.

Cause everybody has a stakeholder, no matter who you are.  So it’s writing the complete story for them and saying, this is how we’re going to gauge success. This is how we’re going to measure to see if we’re succeeding. And then these are the plans we have in order to adjust along the way. If we need to make some adjustments in real time to get us to that success level that we want.

It’s creating that whole story and being able to really paint the picture for them, regardless of what level they are to be able to say, this is what I’ve heard from you. That’s important. This is how we can address that. And this is what we will achieve. Once we know we’ve reached that level.

Mark: And how much do you look to your external partners, whether it’s the Minnesota Twins, any other sports franchise, music, or some of the family friendly entertainment properties you mentioned, how much do you look to external partners to either support that story or more specifically help with arming with numbers and data to tell that story?

Josh: I’m a firm believer that regardless of your role within a project, measurement is your responsibility, so I don’t care what you do. Measurement will be part of your responsibility, and it’s mine as a leader. I need to provide ways that we can measure what we’re doing for every level of a program. So, whether that be you’re distributing a sample somewhere, or if you’re speaking with the ticket taker who works for, let’s just say a zoo, I need to create ways that they can then report back and say what was successful and what wasn’t. So, if you’re involved in a program of mine, measurement will be part of your responsibilities. What I have found is being very clear with your partners.

And so that would be, let’s say the museum you’re partnering with being very clear along the way of this is what success looks like to us. And these are some benchmarks that we’re using to measure success. They will then be able to come back to you. They may not be able to do it right on the spot, which is totally fine. But maybe a week or two or three weeks later, they can come back to you and say, here are some ideas that we have on how we can measure to so you can know whether or not what you’re doing is impactful.

So regardless, if you’re the social team, or if you’re a brand ambassador on site, you really will be able to contribute to that and have skin in the game in order for us to be able to measure and be able to at the end, say, this is why we were successful.

Mark:  Is it fair to suggest that type of a discussion should be co-authored or agreed upon at the beginning of the program, or prior to it even starting? So, everyone involved internally, but even more so externally. Know exactly what success would look like and , how to measure. Cause it seems as though there are too often times where that discussion either doesn’t happen or you don’t agree on exactly what that process looks like.  Is that fair to suggest that’s a critical step in the evolution of a partnership?

Josh: 100%. And what I have found is that those discussions can sometimes be uncomfortable and why they can be uncomfortable is because not necessarily every time anybody has the answer. And so what I think people have to understand is that we’re all in it together and we all want to see success here. So if we don’t know what success looks like, let’s try to figure that out.

And just by having people nod their head and having them feel safe, they can better help kind of story again about what it’s like. And you can build it flying it together. But it’s best to have those discussions so when it’s time to finalize this is how the rubber it’s not the first time you’re ripping off that band aid, and everybody’s aware that discussion is happening and coming.

And so they feel more comfortable and they don’t put up their defenses as much. And it’s more about how can we win as a team versus, you know, that’s too hard. I can’t be responsible for that. So I just find wins. If you’re very open and honest along the way and talk about, Okay, what you believe winning could look like and what your objectives are, and you can tweak those along the way, and sometimes I’ve found you tweak them during the program, so you may be at the museum or at the zoo or at the amusement park, and you know, you’re activating right now, and based on what’s happening in reality, sometimes you have to make tweaks along the way, and that’s fine, because your end goal is your objective, and you know what you’re trying to get to, and you know that you need to make small tweaks in order to reach that goal.

Mark: Well, that’s refreshing to hear. And especially your point about, look, sometimes it can be uncomfortable conversations, but pushing through that leads to better outcomes and that’s not to suggest that every program is going to be a success cause we all know they’re not all successful, but being able to identify which ones are, and which ones aren’t, lead to longer term. Whether it’s brand equity growth, or whatever the specific KPIs are in the long term.

Josh: Yeah, and you know, it’s funny, because I oftentimes will hear from various organizations is, don’t be afraid to fail, but like, people are still terrified to fail. And what I always tell my teams is, failure is okay, and it’s all right, and a lot of times it can be good if you learn from it, but what I find is that you need to be able to teach out what you’ve learned from those failures to your internal partners, so hopefully they don’t make the same mistakes down the road, and it’s so important to keep a good log of what you’ve learned.  Learnings from the various programs, because then you can your team and your partners can resort back to that and say, like, they tried something similar, and they encounter this, so let’s make sure that we’re addressing that going into planning, so if it does happen when we do it, we can at least try to have a solve, we can pull from.

If you’re seeing in those type of moments within the activation of a partnership in real time, being able to adjust, because it feels as though years and years ago in the recap, well, this, this part didn’t work and this part didn’t work. So year two or year three, we can adjust, but where data is so ubiquitous and information, And partnerships have become much more sophisticated.

Mark: Have you seen that evolution and partners being able to adjust in real time within a program to maximize the efficiency of it?

Josh: 100%. And I think what you’re seeing now is that data is available. Nearly instantaneously for a lot of tactics that you do. And because of that, you have asked most of the time you have access to that data. And when I say data, I mean, it could be anything from an engagement rate from a post to the amount of people turning up for an event. And so you can assess that data and say. Oh, crap. We need to go plan B. Something’s not working or oh, this is working. Do more of this. You can take that data. Look at it, reassess what you should or shouldn’t do and make those steps now. I feel like in real time more than you’ve ever been able to do before. When I go back to the planning, I need to say, this is how we’re going to address certain things if we encounter them and these are the steps we’re going to take.

You should definitely plan, have a plan B, C, D, and E and so forth.  Sometimes you will need to activate on those, sometimes you won’t, but at least it’s having them readily available to pull on if you need to, if you encounter something.

Mark: We’ve talked so much about experiential and branded experiences and especially as we approach the summer here, are there any experiences you personally enjoy and what are you looking forward to most this summer, Josh?

Josh: Being in Chicago, I’m most excited for it not to snow. So I am all about the outdoors during the summer. I love anytime I can get to a beach. I’m a big fan of the ocean. So I like to get to any coast I can.

What I have found is when we go back to the pain points that we talked about earlier, is that especially when it comes to families is that any parent I think can understand that Summer can be a very painful time, especially for parents. They have their kids at home out of school and they need to fill their days.  If you’re fortunate to have summer camp or sports or something like, that is great, but it only fills your kids time so much. And as a marketer, I think that’s when a lot of brands have time to shine, especially when it comes to the CPG world.  And so what I tell my teams is that even if your core sales time is not Summer months, it still is a great time to get your brand out there in front of families and start to see that brand awareness or consideration.

So when it comes your core drive time for purchasing, they hopefully will call back on that time they saw your product or experience your product at XYZ and it will make that connection for them easier.  So I always tell people that Summer is a prime time for marketers and they need to be on their game regardless of when their buying cycle is.

Mark: It’s such an important point, and it feels counterintuitive everything you just described. It’s even more chaos. And what am I going to do with my children and their home full time? And they’re no longer at school. So I think, a brand playing a role there, is really interesting and a powerful time seasonality wise to, to play for sure.

Well, Josh, I really appreciate the conversation. I, thank you for your time and your perspective and hope you enjoy the Summer and get some time to spend at the coast and at the beach.

Josh: Oh, for sure. Well, thank you so much for chatting today. I always enjoy shooting it with you.

Mark: And thank you for listening in to  this episode of Family First, the wild world of marketing to parents.



If you have an interest in exploring what a partnership could look like for your brand, let’s connect.

Contact Us