CMA Connect Podcast: Performance Marketing vs Brand Building with RightMetric's CEO, Charlie Grinnell

Brand & Positioning Strategy
December 16, 2021

The CMA Connect podcast is the voice of Canada's marketing community. The Canadian Marketing Association has empowering discussions with industry leaders about the rapidly changing world of marketing, and asks the questions no one else is asking.

Our CEO Charlie Grinnell was a recent guest on this episode, and in part 1 they discuss how to overcome digital growth challenges in today's climate and beyond. Together with guest-host Jeff Greenspoon, they dig deep into our obsession with data-driven marketing and define the difference between the good and the great.

You can listen to the CMA Connect podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Below, find a full transcript of the episode.

Charlie Grinnell: I think with what we've seen with COVID, this acceleration of digital, which means more people are spending more time online, which means more businesses are showing up online to try and go fishing for that attention, and which has created this perfect storm of the most competitive area of digital that we've ever seen, or competitive era of digital, I guess I should say.

Jeff Greenspoon: Welcome to CMA Connect, the voice of the Canadian marketing community. Join us as we have frank discussions with industry leaders about the rapidly changing world of marketing, and ask the questions that no one else is asking. I'm Jeff Greenspoon, president of Global Solutions, and the CEO of Canada at Dentsu International, and a member of the board of directors here at the CMA. Today, I'm proud to be your guest host for our episode, and I'm joined by our guest, Charlie Grinnell, CEO at RightMetric. And we're going to be discussing how to overcome digital growth challenges in today's climate and beyond. So Charlie, thank you for joining me today - excited for our conversation. How are you doing?

Charlie Grinnell: I'm doing great, likewise, excited to chat with you today. Thank you very much for having me.

Jeff Greenspoon: Yeah, it's an interesting time to be in digital. I think that is something that we can very easily say. We're seeing across the board, new platforms, new channels, new experiences, new opportunities, and really the importance of understanding the digital landscape more than ever. Tell us, just a little bit, about your past, where you've come from, and how you got to where you are today in navigating and understanding the digital landscape.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. So, I'll go back to the very, very beginning here, and I'll try and keep this short. I actually got my start in video production way back in the day. So, I started making videos in the action sports world, mountain bike, skiing, snowboarding, and as I started to produce more and more videos, instead of them going to DVD or movies, they were ending up on the internet and I thought, "I need to learn about this internet thing". And so, following that passion, that led me to an agency here in Vancouver called Invoke. That's where Hootsuite came from, founded by Ryan Holmes, Dario Meli, and David Tedman. After a short stint there, I ended up moving over to the brand side. I worked in marketing for Red Bull Canada, based in Toronto, leading digital there for almost three years. After three years there, I ended up moving over to Salzburg, Austria, to the global headquarters with Red Bull as global head of social for all sports. Did that. Was one of the coolest jobs in the world.

Charlie Grinnell: Red Bull is obviously involved in so, so much, and I think it's really shaped me into the marketer I am today. And then following my time at Red Bull, I moved back to Vancouver. That's where I'm born and raised from originally, and I was head of social media at Aritzia. Now, I know what you're thinking, women's fashion. I know you can't see me, but I'm a large bearded man, so pretty funny to see me working in women's fashion, but I met so many great people there and it's such an incredible brand and they've obviously seen a lot of growth through the pandemic, and it was really interesting just to be involved in an industry and a business that I didn't really know a ton about because I didn't grow up wearing the clothes or that sort of thing. And then yeah, after Aritzia, I co-founded RightMetric, which is what we're working on building right now, which is a marketing research and insights company that helps brands and agencies build strategies.

Jeff Greenspoon: Yeah, that's amazing, and for those of you that don't know Charlie, he has also been awarded 30 under 30 by BC magazine in 2019, so an amazing marketer, and Charlie, what I think is fascinating about your journey is you've gone from extreme sports and risk-taking all the way through to high fashion. And the buying decisions and the consumer behaviours of people in those categories are so different, but the platforms that they tend to use and the channels that they tend to spend their time in are so similar. And one of the things that I think we're hearing from a lot of brands right now is the digital space is becoming, A, more important to their business, but B, more competitive and more complex. And so, are there things that you've seen along your journey or along the way that start to separate what's good from what's great? What is a nice-to-have versus the things that really make an impact on business today?

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, really good question. So, I think if you had asked me four years ago when I was making the jump or five years ago, when I was making the jump from Red Bull to Aritzia, I would've been like, "oh yeah, no problem, I got this". And I think what was interesting about that jump is, yeah, to your point, they are using similar channels, but the way they use those channels are completely different. And so, I think with what we've seen with COVID, this acceleration of digital, which means more people are spending more time online, which means more businesses are showing up online to try and go fishing for that attention, and which has created this perfect storm of the most competitive area of digital that we've ever seen, or competitive era of digital, I guess, I should say.

Charlie Grinnell: So yeah, I think we're seeing this perfect storm right now, playing out before us. If you've worked in marketing at various different brands, you have certain assumptions like, "oh, this is what we did at this brand, so this is what I think worked". I was actually just on the phone with someone right before this, and I always get asked, "what have you learned in going through this and working for different businesses and that sort of thing?" What I've learned is that I don't know as much as I thought I did, and I think that's a very humbling thing to say. And what I mean by that is, oftentimes, just because something works in one area, doesn't mean it's going to work in another area, and looking at data and insights is something that has been incredibly humbling.

Charlie Grinnell: And I think there's actually a couple of books that I've read that really highlight this, and one that I can share, I think, with the viewers is called, Everybody Lies. It's a fantastic book. It's by this former Google data scientist named Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, and basically, it's talking about what we can learn from big data from the internet around how people view the world and how they interact with the world, and I think it challenges some of our societal biases. And so I think as a marketer...How I relate that back to me as a marketer is, when I was at Arc'teryx, and Red Bull, and Aritzia, and the brands that I worked at previously, I thought I had a good idea, but what I've learned is that just because you know what works today, doesn't mean it's going to work tomorrow, and definitely doesn't mean it's going to work in a different industry.

Jeff Greenspoon: So, let's actually talk about data and big data, and starting to glean insights. Over Charlie's left shoulder is a big sign that says, "insights power strategies", and so I want to dive into that a little bit because I think data-driven marketing has become a bit of a buzzword, as we all know. Are there areas, specifically, that you believe deep data, and deep insights and analytics can help marketers inform? Because often, we talk about the reality and the plethora of data that's available to us, but not exactly what we can do with it. Are there any areas that you specifically see the great marketers, the frontier marketers as I like to call them, really leaning into to use those data sets, use the insights to make better decisions?

Charlie Grinnell: So, I think there's an important distinction to make there, and I think you just hit the nail on the head, maybe without even realizing it, there's been this obsession with data-driven marketing. That word data in the world of marketing has become a buzzword and it's just thrown around. There's this quote that I heard recently, and it's "if data is oil, insights are petroleum", and petroleum is where the true value is. That's the thing. Petroleum, that actionable insight. Yes, you need oil to make petroleum, but I think a lot of marketers have focused on the value of data, and less on the value of data-backed insight, petroleum, and so that's something that I think needs to be top of mind for all marketers. Data is part of the equation, but it's to get you to that actionable insight or recommendation that makes sense through the lens of a business objective or that sort of thing.

Charlie Grinnell: So, in terms of how that applies to the business world moving forward, I think just understanding that's the true value in this, and I think data analytics, insights, those can all be used as buzzwords, but really it's, how are we using that data to quantify human behaviour and then be able to turn that into an actionable recommendation or thing that we should do. And then taking that through the lens of marketing is like, "how does that action relate back to what we're trying to accomplish from a business perspective?" And so, that's the first piece of it. The second piece of it would be, "okay, what are we seeing in terms of separating good from great?" I think good is looking inside your own four walls.

Charlie Grinnell: Having your own house organized, so to speak. So, getting really clear on looking at your own data, understanding what you can learn from your existing customers, and understanding what actions you can plan to try and drive more and more successful outcomes for your business. Whether that's increasing your acquisition, or increasing your retention, increasing conversion, whatever that is. I think that would be good. In terms of how I would see great, is where we're starting to see businesses leverage that internal capability of looking at their own data and analytics with looking outside of their four walls, and that's what we do. So, I think that there is a lot of value that can be learned from looking at leaders and looking at competitors in a space, and so I think over the next 5 to 10 years, we're going to see this convergence of internal and external data coming together to give marketers a more holistic picture of what's actually going on, which is going to arm them to make the right decision for their business.

Jeff Greenspoon: I love the internal and external coming together. Is there an example, maybe of a category, or a client, or something that you've worked on recently, where you were able to give a bit of an aha moment to a client, or to someone that you've been speaking to, or working with, where if they would have looked only within their four walls, they might have thought X, but because they were able to broaden their approach and broaden their purview, they might have been able to realize something different about their customer or how they engage in digital?

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, totally. So, I can give an example of a situation. Unfortunately, I can't say the brand name.

Jeff Greenspoon: Of course.

Charlie Grinnell: Large consumer brand, working in the health and wellness space. And so, they came to us and they... Successful business. Most people in Canada and the US would know who they are, and they were tasked with driving some significant growth. And it was interesting, there was a couple of pieces. Number one, their board was actually comparing them to a big US brand. "Why can't we be more like this brand?" And then internally, they were going, "yeah. We have a good idea, but we're trying to drive growth, and I feel like we've done everything we can do with our internal analytics." And so, we went away and did some research, tore some stuff down. Looking at where are they spending on channels.

Charlie Grinnell: How much are they spending? Where are they allocating their resources? How is their team structured? All that stuff. A complete overhaul teardown. And what was really interesting, was that board member who kept comparing them to that large American company, we were able to show, "Hey, just so you know, that large American company is spending 10 times monthly on advertising versus what you are." And so, that gave the chief digital officer the ammo to say, "Hey, you know what, I'm fine if you compare us there, but are you willing to walk the talk now, and unlock budget for us to go and compete with that." And so, that would be one example of how this stuff could be used. The other thing would just be around, "Hey, they're focusing on different areas of digital and seeing success that weren't even on our radar."

Charlie Grinnell: We typically thought, going back to our previous point, talking about what works in one industry might not work in another. They were so focused on the core things that were related to their industry, but one of their competitors was out in left field, killing it with display advertising. They had never even thought about display advertising, but we were able to show them, "Hey, did you know that they're spending a ton out here? And by the way, it's driving a ton of traffic for them." There's no one else out there. So, if you start competing with them there, that could be an opportunity with you to drive in new user acquisition, drive incremental revenue, that sort of thing.

Jeff Greenspoon: I think it also reminds marketers that sometimes your competitors are not those in your category, and the experiences that a consumer has, or the expectations, I should say, the consumer might have is based on the experiences that they have with all brands, not necessarily you versus your competitive set. So, I think looking outside, and seeing what's working for others, but then seeing how you can apply that to your business, is fascinating. Now, one of the other things that I've heard a lot recently, as we become so obsessed with data in trying to inform, not only insights but how we say target on media as a great example, is that we might be coming into a world where we're over targeting. Where we're getting too micro into the way that we're talking to consumers. Do you have a perspective on where the market is going, in terms of building really small micro audiences, versus looking at, like you said, the broader, bigger picture, by looking at total customer sets, internal and external, to a business?

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think what we're seeing right now with iOS 14.5 updates, cookies going away. The rules are being rewritten right now, and what I do know, is that whatever data set is available for marketers to look at and pull meaning from, the best marketers will use, and the caveat there is assuming it's legal. And so, there's nothing new here. Yeah, we're losing some visibility into things, but I think losing some visibility into that, yeah, some people would say, this is going to be tough for us, but at the same time, marketers are going to continue to adapt I believe, and are going to continue to look at this stuff and pull meaning from what they can. So, I think that's the first piece of that.

Charlie Grinnell: The second thing I would say around looking into niche communities and that sort of thing. I think that, yeah, as we're seeing... There's this one quote that I heard from a conference a few years ago that I went to, where it was like, "instead of marketing to everyone, market to everyone." Every. One. And so, how can you have that personal one-to-one interaction, and go really, really niche, but still do it at scale.

Charlie Grinnell: And I think that a lot of traditional marketing would've been like, "Hey, find the biggest subset of people, and blast them with that same message, and cross your fingers and hope for the best."Now, I think what we have the luxury with, marketing in 2021 and beyond in the digital landscape, we can start to dive in and learn more about these niche communities, and be more thoughtful, and more tailored, and more strategic in what we're doing. Learn more about how they're behaving, and that, as marketers, arms us with information to go away and create experiences that we can layer our brand in a way that actually makes sense for us as a business, as well as provides a good experience to the customer.

Jeff Greenspoon: Yeah. I think that tailoring for every one consumer, which I love, is an amazing thought. Also, allows a brand to start thinking about brand building and performance marketing to the same person. And this has been a world where the age-old debate, if you will, on how much you put into brand building, how much do you put into commerce and performance. But what we're seeing is the interconnection between brand and commerce keep coming closer, and closer, and closer together. Especially with the purveyance of digital commerce, and click to buy on social media, as a perfect example. How do you start to think about guiding brands today into making the decisions to either focus on brand building or performance marketing, or are they one and the same now, and there is no difference between the two?

Charlie Grinnell: So, the short answer, I think, is I'm with you, and that I don't think there is a difference between the two. I think they need to be interlinked together, and I think the best marketing is art for the sake of commerce. Commerce is the keyword, and taking that art and science and melding it together. That's when we see the best marketing campaigns. I'll give an example. One that comes to mind is Spotify year in review. Everyone loves that when that comes out. It's taking the science side of marketing, data, but then merging art into it, and every year it blows up, and everyone's like, "look at my Spotify year in review." I think that's brilliant, and they’re probably dozens of other campaigns that we could look at over the years, that have merged those two together.

Charlie Grinnell: So, yeah, I think the short answer is they need to be together. The more detailed, long answer from my perspective, and I'd actually be curious to get your take on this as well Jeff. I've viewed it as a pendulum of brand and performance, right? And oftentimes it's... When pre-COVID, the getting was good, the stock market's going up, everybody's buying, all this sort of thing, and they're spending a ton on brand. And then, as soon as stores closed and the pandemic hit, they were like, "no, no, no, we need money because some money tabs have been turned off."

Charlie Grinnell: So, it swung back really hard to performance, and so I've seen it as a pendulum, but I also feel like, now that we've gone through two years of this pandemic, you are starting to see a lot of organizations sit back and go, "okay, if this is our new normal, it's important to have both of these things, and we need to be thinking more long term with customer lifetime value and that sort of thing. And it needs to be merged together. I don't know, I'd be curious to get your take on that because you probably have visibility into stuff that I don't.

Jeff Greenspoon: Yeah. There's a few ways to think about it. The first is, I think brand drives performance, and performance drives brands. So, not only are they one and the same, but they're dependent on each other. And sometimes we, I don't want to say forget, but don't consider, is that the consumer, the buyer, the person on the other side of the screen, is not thinking, "oh, this is a retail ad versus a brand ad." They're just thinking, I'm seeing, insert brand X here, and how we use brand building activities to drive the next best experience that we believe will give the customer the most exciting, contextual, connected, and personalized response to their action, and prove that we know them and are listening to them, not in a creepy way, but in a way that understands them, because maybe they're logging into their account or they've purchased from us before, starts to build more brand preference.

Jeff Greenspoon: And so, the more we can create connected experiences that are, yes, in theory, data-driven, connected, performance, experiences, they're going to start to build the brand over time to the point where every experience, every interaction you have with a brand, from a performance perspective is actually helping to drive brand preference. It actually helps to drive loyalty, and that's what matters most. We're living in a time right now, where the decisions that you make, the thing that you purchase today, are likely going to stick with you for the next little while. Especially as we see a number of industries being disrupted by supply chain shortages, as an example in chip shortages coming from overseas. Decisions that folks make today, because they're able to buy, or because there's inventory in stock, they're going to then have a preference, and that's going to keep them in a cycle for the next two, three, four years.

Jeff Greenspoon: So, as the connection between brand and commerce come closer together, we need to remember that the best experiences will fuel the best brand loyalty. So, I think that's the front end of it. The back end is the silos within organizations are starting to fall. Where we're seeing CMOs, not only responsible for marketing, but they're also becoming the growth engines of the company. You're seeing a lot more chief commercial officers that have marketing and sales together. You're seeing a deeper connectivity between marketing, sales, and technology than was ever before, because when you end up making a marketing decision or a brand building decision, that strategy needs to be carried through to all channels, and gone are the days, or gone need to be the days for some companies where the team managing the website is a different team that's managing social, is a different team that's managing paid media, because you're trying to deliver a consistent experience.

Jeff Greenspoon: And so, when you look at, going back to what you said before about good versus great, the great marketers are dropping the silos, are finding ways to interact in new and different ways, and are remembering that marketing, even if you're just building brand, is there to drive growth as an investment. It's not an expense anymore. And so, we have to look at the front end and the back end. Tactically, that means connecting systems. Tactically, that means making sure that we're testing creative in new and different ways. Now, I want to talk a little bit about creative and production with you in a second, but to the consumer, we just have to remember that every experience they have is a brand experience, whether it's there to build preference, there to build salience or, there to build a commerce interaction and make a sale.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Bang on. I think the one thing that comes to mind for me from what you just said at the end there, is breaking down those silos. And even thinking about this, I can speak to, when I was working at Aritzia, I was leading social, but I was joined at the hip with our head of e-commerce marketing. Because she was overseeing email on the site. And so, previously, that wasn't a thing. And then when I got there, I was like, "I want to know everything about the behaviour on our emails and the behaviour on our site", because chances are, it's the same person who's on Instagram with us, or on Pinterest, or on Twitter. And to your point, taking those insights and deploying them across, and having that more holistic look is critical ammunition for marketers to be able to plan activities that are going to give their brand a chance to be successful in whatever they're trying to accomplish.

Jeff Greenspoon: Well, thanks for tuning into CMA Connect. Looking for more ways to stay connected with the CMA? Visit us at, and sign up for a myCMA account to get all the latest marketing news and trends.

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