Carl Fremont, CEO at Quigley-Simpson (Los Angeles, CA and New York, NY)
Carl Fremont is CEO at Quigley-Simpson, a direct marketing/direct to consumer marketing agency with its roots in longform television infomercials. The agency has pivoted numerous times from informercials to shorter form direct response TV to full-service media with a focus on digital marketing.
With an almost 40-year career in direct marketing, Carl joined Quigley-Simpson. Six months later, Covid sent the company virtual.
In this interview, Carl reflects on the history of direct marketing. Twenty years ago, the required tasks included setting up call centers, and providing fulfillment, pricing, and promotion strategies for a variety of products. In today’s digital world, the agency helps clients determine how to sell their products in different digital marketplaces and the mix of creative and messaging content that will be most effective. Carl explains that over the 18 years this agency has been around, it is well grounded in “in driving sales and building relationships with our clients’ customers.”
While the pandemic has increased many clients’ focus on direct sales and short-term revenues because they are trying to “catch up,” Carl says that a business will eventually fail if it doesn’t also invest in building its brand image and association.
What is the right investment balance for building brand awareness, association, consideration, guiding the purchase journey, driving revenue, and developing customer relationships? Carl says brand marketing is an end-to-end process. A careful analysis of data is the only way to determine the right investment balance to optimize the consumer journey and build a brand for the future. It takes a lot more investment and effort (and even bravery) to invest in a brand’s image than to go straight for sales.
The balance of long-view brand building and quick sales requires a corresponding strategic balance of creative and messaging content and presentation. Every brand is unique . . . and the balance may change over time. Carl believes that brands need to be flexible – to have the ability and willingness to adapt and adopt new ways of working and thinking – if they are to survive and thrive. “Every year is a new opportunity and a new way to accelerate growth,” Chad says.
Today’s brand-building is not just about touting a product’s features and benefits. Winning the business is now “deeper” than “What will this product do for me?” Customers are asking such questions as, “What is the purposeful meaning behind the brand?” “What does the brand mean from a social side?” How is it giving back?” “What does the brand stand for?”
Chad can be reached on his agency’s website at Quigleysimpson.com or through LinkedIn at Carl Fremont.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I am joined today by Carl Fremont, CEO at Quigley-Simpson with offices in both Los Angeles, California and New York, New York. Welcome to the podcast, Carl.
CARL: Thank you, Rob. I’m thrilled to be joining you.
ROB: It’s excellent to have you here. Why don’t you start off by telling us about Quigley-Simpson and where the firm specializes?
CARL: Sure, that would be great. Quigley-Simpson was founded 18 years ago by two entrepreneurs, and the co-founders, Renee Hill Young and Gerald Bagg, are still involved with the company. Its roots are similar to mine. It’s in direct marketing. Today we say direct to consumer. I don’t know when direct marketing got out of fashion and turned to direct to consumer, but we were really one of the first direct marketing/direct to consumer agencies.
Our heritage, believe it or not, is in infomercials, in longform television. We pivoted. We pivoted many, many times and continue to do so, from longform infomercials to shorter form direct response TV to full-service media, in particular focused on digital marketing. So, our roots are very much grounded in driving sales and building relationships with our clients’ customers.
But we’ve evolved as the industry evolved because we needed to. Today, we’ve taken that heritage from direct to consumer, direct marketing, and applied it in a digital world. Twenty years ago, that meant arranging for call centers. That meant product fulfillment, price, promotion of different products. We’re still doing the same thing, but in a digital world. What that means today, to correlate, it’s how you sell your products on different digital marketplaces, like on Amazon or Walmart or Kroger, and using a plethora of different channels to market, including the creative and the messaging.
The one thing that distinguishes us is that we’re not only focused on the revenue creation, but on the brand as well, which is why we say our value proposition and what we stand for is both brand and demand: building the brand’s image and awareness as well as driving performance, driving revenue. It’s the balance of those two, between building the brand’s awareness, building the consideration, all the way through the purchase journey through to driving revenue and customer relationship marketing. So, it’s really an end-to-end way that you look at brand marketing today.
ROB: It’s really fascinating. Much as you’re saying that direct marketing made its transition into direct to consumer, I think at some point B2B marketing stole the show from consumer marketing when it comes to the customer or buyer journey. It seems like consumer products have been the original home of the buyer’s journey.
How do you think about that journey when you’re really talking about – you’re probably involved in making sure product ranks well, lists well, looks great on Amazon, but you have to start with that awareness. How do you think about connecting the dots where you’re going to make somebody aware of something that eventually they’re going to see on Amazon and buy? What are the approaches?
CARL: That’s a great question. Today, as we know, especially with COVID and the pandemic and what’s happened the last year, it’s hastened the way in which we’re marketing brands today. There’s even a greater focus on the short-term revenue to make up for where we were. Many brands right away focus on that marketplace, on creating the direct sales without thinking about how they build the brand. At some point, Rob, you will hit a proverbial wall. You will reach a point of diminishing return on sales if you haven’t built the brand and the brand association.
So, the question, and what we help our clients determine, is what’s the right balance for building that brand’s awareness, association, consideration, and the demand side? As we all know, it takes a lot more investment and effort to build and sustain a brand’s image and awareness than it is in a direct sales capacity. In the short-term world which we are faced with today about driving revenue, it takes brands greater investment and bravery, actually, to build that brand’s image.
What we do is help through data and analytics to determine what that right balance is between investing and building that brand’s image or awareness to driving demand. How do you do that? It’s both in the investment in media as well as the creative, the messaging and creating the right balance. There’s no magic formula. Not one brand is like any other brand. Each one has its own unique situation for determining that right balance between the brand and the demand side.
But using a number of data sources – looking at sales, looking at the marketplace, competitive insights and intelligence, consumer insights – all of that, bringing that all together, plus in many cases some primary research that’s done, helps us with determining that right balance, the correct investment level between the brand and demand side.
And as we know, Rob, nothing today is static. Everything is very dynamic. We may determine up front the balance between investing in the brand and the demand side, but that balance may change over time. It means also that because you have a message and efforts that are focused on sales and driving sales, it doesn’t mean that the brand’s image should not be well represented in that as well. So, it’s not only looking at an investment; it’s incorporating a brand’s messaging and image even when you’re doing more direct sales.
ROB: Perhaps we can get a little bit more practical here, Carl. I recognize that every brand’s a little bit different. Is there a brand you have worked with that you can speak about that might be an interesting example of this combination of the market research, establishing the brand, and not overharvesting the low-hanging fruit, but really building towards a good robust, long-term pipeline of demand?
CARL: Sure. I’ll talk about it from a category side because I don’t want to talk about a specific client per se. But from a category side, there’s a category I’ve been personally involved with for decades, which is in the consumer credit card industry. As we know, it’s a highly, highly competitive marketplace. There are a plethora of cards and choices and opportunities.
Building the brand’s image and building the association that “that piece of plastic is right for me” is really critical in building that audience base – but not only getting the share of mind, but then the share of wallet. That’s a very highly competitive category. In many cases, the brand features and benefits are very similar. All you really have to stand out and build that long-term value proposition is your image. It’s what you stand for. It’s how you relate to a consumer.
And that’s where there’s a lot of research and insight that goes in. How do I connect someone to the right card, the right consumer experience that is right for them? If you go at it in the credit card by just the offer, you’re not going to get that share of wallet. You may not win over their long-term hearts. You’re just going to acquire them, but they’re not going to have the longer-term value to you. It’s creating that association that that card not only has the right features and benefits, but I associate to its image, I associate to the values that are behind it.
And I think today, brands need to go beyond just their features and benefits of building a brand’s image. Today that also includes building purposeful meaning behind the brand and thinking about what the brand means from a social side. How is it giving back? It’s not just about creating that image and awareness and association. It’s purposeful marketing. What does the brand stand for, for me? I think today with so many different social issues that we’re encountering, especially in the past year, having a brand stand for something is very important for consumers.
ROB: That’s a really interesting conversation there. I’m in Atlanta; some folks here – I think an investor, and I think also Killer Mike – were involved in standing up Greenwood Bank. When you think about financial products, there aren’t really very many products that can differentiate themselves by saying they’re going to serve an underserved community and actually show it and mean it.
Something I want to pull on that’s interesting – maybe this trend is real, maybe it’s not – it seems to me that the marketing world is moving in your favor, is what I would say. It seems like we’re moving more and more away from considered purchases and more into habits. That’s kind of what you’re alluding to with the credit card. But our phones have switched more from a considered purchase to a habit of what phone I’m going to acquire with regularity. Or I even think in a completely different market about the cloud computing market. Amazon Web Services and Google, they’re advertising, but they’re really advertising for a share of your habit, a percent of where you’re going to spend your money on your IT infrastructure.
Have you seen more and more things shifting? Even with television, televisions are more of a habit than a considered purchase, I would say, now.
CARL: Oh yeah. You mean the actual television set?
ROB: Yeah, it’s $200 and now $1500.
CARL: I just bought one in a big box place – I’m not going to say which one – that was shockingly $100 for a 24-inch television. Who would ever think you can buy that? All of these consumer electronics – and we just had CES, so it’s a good time to talk about it – they’re utilities. They’re part of our connected lives. Just as you talked about the phone, we know for years now that the phone is part of our connected life. It’s not obviously just about making and receiving calls. It is connected to our life and how we shop, of course how we communicate, importantly how we receive news and information, how we socialize with our friends and colleagues. It has become a utility.
The television is the same way. Now that we can stream, it’s certainly a big entertainment, but with streaming opportunities, we can narrowcast, and that’s what’s happening. It’s mimicking in some ways cable, but it’s all on demand where we’re narrowcasting even further information that is important to us.
So, there’s a blending of all of these utilities, too, all these devices. Over time – we’ve been talking about the Internet of Things for many years now, but it very much so will become part of our everyday lives.
Now, the question is, getting back to marketing, how do brands participate in it? What is the brand role? Is brand’s role this traditional just pushing messages out on all these devices? Does it contribute any value in any of the content that gets streamed? How do brands enter into this in a way that doesn’t seem obtrusive, but seems complementary to what we’re doing – the habits, as you said, that we have?
As consumer electronics, consumer behavior and the way we’re engaging with content has vastly changed. It’s been doing that for years; it’s just been accelerated because of the pandemic. With the way we shop also, that behavior has been changing for years but now is being accelerated. All of this is coming together. The devices, the way we connect, whether that’s through brick and mortar or through digital, through the way we receive entertainment and news and information to the way we shop – all of that is merging together. It’s all coming together, and in some ways, Rob, it is a little “back to the future” for us. When we started doing infomercials, they were entertaining and you were able to shop through them. So, there’s a little bit of lessons learned from the past as well.
But all of this is coming together and merging together. What brands are now faced with more than ever is, what’s their role in all this? How do they play within all of this? Because the models have been turned upside down.
ROB: It’s really blinding, and it’s interesting – YouTube is the new infomercial in a lot of cases, which is such an interesting shift.
I want to pull on something else that you mentioned. You mentioned the firm itself is 18 years old. How long have you been with the firm? Were you the first transition away from being founder-led? Or what did that look like for you?
CARL: That’s a great question. I joined a year and a half ago, and I had no idea, like everybody else, what was ahead. After 6 months of being in LA and mostly focused in our Los Angeles office, everything turned upside down. I literally believed, Rob, that we would be back together in 2-3 weeks. None of us had experienced in our lifetime a pandemic, so there was no rulebook. I really thought we’d all be back. We were, like everybody else, improvising as we went. We had no rules. We didn’t see it coming, so we didn’t plan for it. It just sort of evolved and happened for us.
So, I joined a year and a half ago, and certainly the last almost year now, being it was March that we had our work-from-home policy that went into effect and have been following pretty much ever since – never really thought that.
But for me, Quigley-Simpson was a big comfort zone because my roots and heritage or where I’ve spent a vast majority of my almost-40 year career (September I mark my 40th year) has been in direct marketing and direct to consumer marketing. Very much so it’s my comfort zone. It’s where I’ve always been.
I came on, thankfully, by our two co-founders to help evolve the company further. Again, the company was evolving and had many pivots long before I came, but now we have to make another big pivot. We have to continue our heritage of being nimble and flexible and adopting to the times as we always have been. And as we just talked about, the acceleration of how consumers are engaging with and watching television and other entertainment sources, how they are connecting their lives through multiple devices, their shopping behavior all have been accelerated. It has caused us to reflect on the future and look at what lessons we’ve had in the past and how we apply them moving forward.
We’re at a vantage point versus other agencies that we’ve always practiced this direct-to-consumer mindset with a heavy focus on brand and brand building. So, for us, this next pivot isn’t that remarkable because we’ve always done it. Now the question is, again, how do we take our clients along with us on that ride? Because everyone is looking at how that acceleration, that often-used and overused word of “transformation,” how do we now accelerate it even faster to catch up with consumer behavior – your behavior, my behavior, everyone’s behavior?
ROB: It’s quite a transition. People often say society to some extent has a reverence for the founders of different things, whether it’s your Edelmans or your Steve Jobs or anything like that. But beneath that, within any company, quite often the culture of both the team as well as the client relationships, there’s a magnetism. They’re working there because they like and respect the people in charge.
What do you think are some keys to making an effective transition there so that clients are not jarred and the team is not jarred by such a consequential change of leadership?
CARL: I’m nodding my head. You can’t see it because we’re on a podcast. [laughs] I’m nodding in agreement with what you said. We’re all in this together. We’re all on the same path forward. For me and for us at Quigley-Simpson, it’s about really partnering. It’s not you against them; we’re all in this together. We all are heading in the same path on that transformation acceleration.
Really doing it together and being one team and having that trust with each other that we’re going to go through it together and have a concerted roadmap is important. Now, what that entails, as I said before, is a commitment to each other and a commitment to trust and a commitment to open up on all sides – on the agency side, on the client side – information and data that’s going to allow us together to assess the market, assess customers – which is where you always begin: with the customer. We’re putting consumers in the center and building a roadmap for it.
That roadmap and acceleration of the roadmap really depends on many factors. It depends on where you are, where any marketer is in that journey. What have you done before to bring together your whole database of your consumers? Is it all together? Is it in disparate databases? What have you done to put measures in place to protect your consumer privacy? What have you done to assess through all that data who your audiences are? And what have you tested and learned along the way? What roadmaps have you put in place along the way?
That’s what a lot of this is. It’s putting together that roadmap, doing it together, and accelerating at the pace that is most comfortable for the marketer in terms of where they are. There is no one size fits all in terms of building a roadmap and accelerating. A lot of it – you used the word “culture” – depends on the culture of the organization. It depends on how fast they want to move.
Today, everything’s moving so fast and so accelerated that you really need to get together and have that roadmap established. But I believe that it first comes with a true, true partnership with everyone aligned on what the objectives are, what’s going to be measured, how it’s going to be measured, and it’s always on. We’re in a world of always on. We have been, but it is constantly dynamic testing and learning and then optimizing from there. Now more than ever, we have to be testing many different factors of the consumer experience along the consumer journey.
ROB: Carl, if you look over your LinkedIn, you’ve been on quite a journey in some agencies of different magnitudes and size. What are some key lessons you yourself have learned along the way that you might revisit if you were starting over?
CARL: That’s a great question and a good thought. For almost four decades I’ve been in this. Adaptability is always key. You have to be adaptable to the times. That also requires a great amount of curiosity. You’ve got to be looking always at every year as a new year. The brands and marketers I’ve worked with and had the most success with never look at one year as the same. Every year is a new opportunity and a new way to accelerate growth. There’s never a repeat. It’s always, what are we doing now? What’s new? It’s a constant evolution. You’re never done. You’re always evolving.
I remember saying to people who I’ve mentored and who’ve worked for me in the past, “This is the best time we’ve ever been in marketing and advertising.” Honestly, I’ve been saying that for 40 years because every year, it’s constantly evolving.
So adoptability and adaptability to the times that we’re in and being curious about what is next, being curious around data and technology and what that enables, is really how you progress forward. If you are not someone who is adaptable and adopting new ways of working and thinking and don’t have a curious mind, then you’re not going to succeed and this business is probably not for you. You need to be able to constantly be changing and reinventing every year. And frankly, Rob, that’s the exciting part of what we do.
ROB: There are a lot of things on a lot of people’s minds right now in January 2021, and I think there are some people who are holding on and hoping they can just get back to normal. I think that’s never really true. Maybe it’s just emphasized a little bit, or maybe it’s – I think this is probably a little crazier than it’s usually been. I’ll just concede that. But if it’s changing a little more slowly, you still can’t hang on. I think the folks who have tried to hang on and come out of this past year and go back to what they were doing – I don’t think that’s going to go well.
CARL: No, exactly. Now that I’ve just said things keep changing, there are some things that do stay the same, and that is great brands that tell great stories. That was definitely an art. We’ve been practicing at Quigley-Simpson, since early days of longform advertising, great storytelling for brands, and that art is on the present and will continue. It is being adapted into new forms based on technology and access to data.
But the notion of building great brands through great storytelling will be going on in infinite times. We always need to be focused on that and take that great storytelling and adapt it to new formats, new ways of consumer engagement, new technology, and making sure that we are always connecting it to the consumer experience based on information and data that we know about someone.
ROB: It’s such a great point. I’m glad you’re here to elevate the appreciation of the infomercial as an art – and I mean that, and I mean that in this way. People talk now about StoryBrand, they talk about that being rooted in the Joseph Campbell Hero’s Journey, that Star Wars story structure. But it seems to me that that’s kind of the story of infomercial as well: how do you make the person who will buy this product the hero?
ROB: And the product is the guide. The product is the tool. That is their lightsaber.
CARL: If you think about it, in this short amount of time from where we’ve been, in that period for the informercials, you were both telling that brand’s story and getting somebody to respond and to connect. Now, if we can take that same notion today about building a great brand through storytelling, through a value proposition, a unique selling proposition, and marry it to what matters to consumers, what’s purposeful, and connect it to sales, to driving an action – that’s what it’s about. Adapting those principles that will always be to new forms of technology, new forms of media.
ROB: That’s very wise, and I appreciate it. I’m glad you’re here to bring the perspective. Carl, when people want to connect with you and with Quigley-Simpson, where should they go to find you?
CARL: Quigleysimpson.com is the best place, or through my LinkedIn, Carl Fremont, is probably the best place. I’m passionate about building brands, so the opportunity to talk to anybody about brand and demand – I can do that all day long.
ROB: That’s wonderful. Glad you have kept an openness while you also stay curious. Thank you so much for putting that out there. Carl, it’s a pleasure to talk to you and learn from you. Thank you for coming on the podcast.
CARL: It’s been fabulous. Really appreciate it. Have a great day.
ROB: You too. Be well. Thanks.
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