What's Working in Marketing™: Consumer-Centric Brand Positioning with Jamie Michaels, Head of Brand Strategy at Twitter Canada

Twitter
May 2, 2022
News & Media

What's Working in Marketing™ is a podcast where we uncover what’s working across the digital landscape by tapping into the world’s best data-backed research and through candid conversations with industry experts. Join us if you're ready to learn what's working when it comes to your marketing efforts.

On this episode we spoke with Jamie Michaels, Head of Brand Strategy at Twitter Canada. Jamie helps us understand customer-centricity in today's world of marketing, and more specifically, social media. Jamie shares countless examples of brands that are doing a great job on Twitter, and what brands should be thinking about if they want to stand out or differentiate themselves. Data is showing that more and more brands are sounding the same, so we look at how crafting the right message for an audience, with the right tone, can very much leave a lasting impression for years to come.

You can listen to What's Working in Marketing™ – A Podcast by RightMetric wherever you get your podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Tune In, iHeartRadio, and Pocket Casts.

Here's a full transcript of our conversation with Jamie:

Charlie Grinnell: Welcome to What's Working in Marketing, a podcast for marketers that uncovers what's working across the digital landscape by tapping into the world's best data backed research and through candid conversations with industry experts. I'm your host, Charlie Grinnell. On this episode, I'm joined by Jamie Michaels, head of brand strategy at Twitter, Canada. Jamie, thanks so much for joining me today.

Jamie Michaels: Thanks so much for having me. I'm really excited.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, likewise. I usually open these episodes by going back to the beginning. And so I think for everyone listening out there, let's start with how your career got started and then the progression of the journey to now you landing at Twitter.

Jamie Michaels: Yeah, for sure. I'd be happy to talk about that. I will start by saying, as I always do, that my career was not a straight line and continues to not be a straight line, like a lot of people. I think that's more common now than ever before. But certainly when I was coming up out of school, there were more people I knew that were on this path, they knew exactly what they wanted to do and they went for it. I was not one of those people.

Jamie Michaels: So I would argue that everything that I'm involved with now with media and advertising and marketing and tech, it all just sort of found me based on a bunch of passions and paths that I nudged myself on out of a curious mind and trying to merge the things I am really excited about as a person with what you can get paid for and what keeps it interesting.

Jamie Michaels: So I would say that I was always attracted to media and marketing because one of the things I did study was communications. And like most Canadian communications students, you read The Medium is the Message. And that was the first book in post-secondary school that hit me in a way like nothing else did, where it was this whole notion of wait a minute, so when I'm watching TV, I'm in a different mindset that I'm listening to radio. And then I start thinking about, why am I seeing that ad specifically? And on the radio, why is ... And that's really where this whole journey started for me. It looks like that resonated with you as well.

Charlie Grinnell: Totally. I think one of those things every marketer I talk to will say, "I had a weird career path," and I'm like, "Yep, that's becoming more common." I think, thinking back to when I was, I don't know, coming out of high school and, disclosure, I went to university for a month and then dropped out and never went back and I got into video and that was my progression into the world of digital and marketing.

Charlie Grinnell: But yeah, as a kid, I was like, "Ah, marketing's really interesting," but I didn't necessarily know what the path would be like. And yeah, I could have gone to business school. I could have gone through comms or commerce or whatever it was, but it definitely was this weird, meandering road. And then once you're here and you look back, you're like, "Yeah, that was not the route I thought we were going to take to get here."

Jamie Michaels: Yeah. And when I was in high school, business was one course in your final year kind of thing and advertising was like a sliver. It's more about finance and traditional business. So I graduated high school, I didn't think about advertising or marketing as a job really, which is really a shame because now I've got kids who are entering high school and stuff and I'm starting to see assignments related to it. And I think it's great because it's a key part of the digital economy, and if we're not teaching it, you're not going to have people coming into it.

Charlie Grinnell: Totally.

Jamie Michaels: So going back to your question, I happenstanced my way into my first niche marketing job. So I always found these more obscure areas of marketing where I wasn't candidly going up against the straight line people of like, I graduated and I'm going to be a brand manager at P&G on the most high, whatever intensity product. So I ended up in the licensing group of Viacom-

Charlie Grinnell: Oh, interesting.

Jamie Michaels: ... who was the big international. I believe I started as a contractor. Somebody introduced me. I didn't even really know what licensing was, I just knew that, oh, this is an entertainment juggernaut at that time who had Nickelodeon and MTV, brands that are now I would say retro, but at the time they were massive.

Charlie Grinnell: Totally.

Jamie Michaels: I was like, "I want to work at a company like that." That got me so excited. And then I started almost at the bottom end of marketing. And it's the consumer product licensing where we've already done the show, we've already built the brand, we've done the movie, and now let's make cereal and let's do all this other partnership stuff and try and generate royalties from key chains. So that was my first job in marketing was finding vendors to buy into our various properties. Fun fact, I once had to almost sub in for Steve, from Blue's Clues.

Charlie Grinnell: No way.

Jamie Michaels: Yeah. We did an event at Toys"R"Us, when that show was just coming on to YTV in Canada. Steve got delayed on a plane and we had like hundreds of kids.

Charlie Grinnell: Sitting there.

Jamie Michaels: We were trying to sell this whole merch line that we secured like a hundred licensees for. And they're like, "I think you look enough like him, you may have to do it."

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Yeah, I was just about to say.

Jamie Michaels: But he did show up. But that was like the first event I ever did. That was pretty funny. So how things evolved from there, so it was really interesting. It's just a very small, really niche area of marketing and particularly in Canada, they typically run with one or two people, so there's not much of a career path.

Jamie Michaels: I actually went back, I did a post grad at Seneca to get more focused. So I did marketing management. And that was my one year way of getting a little more focused on marketing principles and getting me to the next level without stopping my entire life for two years or whatever. From there ... Sorry, I missed one. Actually, Science Center was technically my first job, but that was more of just a figuring out what I can do with my life. But I did do science experiments.

Charlie Grinnell: Okay.

Jamie Michaels: I had no science background, but that's where I discovered I am a decent presenter and I could convince people that I knew how to make paper or what the star system is supposed to be, and all the planets and stuff. Anyway. But fast forward, I ended up at CBC. Oh God, I'm getting my timeline wrong. Sorry about this.

Charlie Grinnell: No worries.

Jamie Michaels: After that, I graduated. One of the interesting moves that I did was take a leap of faith and work on Toronto's 2008 Olympic bid.

Charlie Grinnell: Oh, wow.

Jamie Michaels: So this is when Toronto was bidding for the 2008 games up against China who, spoiler alert, they got the Olympics. But I had a friend who was pretty early into the bid and he said, "We need somebody on the marketing team. It's a contract thing. There's no guarantee." So a lot of the really high level marketing people weren't going to leave a job for that.

Charlie Grinnell: For sure.

Jamie Michaels: But I'm like, "I'll take it." So John Bitove who founded the Raptors and lots of other amazing things was leading it. I thought, okay, this is great, I'm going to dive into it. And that was probably my first drinking from a fire hose moment of like, oh, wow, there's a lot to do. We need to convince people in Toronto, Ontario, and Canada that we should bid for the games and we should win the games. We have to work on international branding. How do we convince the IOC to vote for us? And I only had a couple years experience. I was like, "Wow."

Jamie Michaels: But what I really learned there was, I took a risk, it definitely paid off because I built a network to this day that is super valuable. I learned a ton because it was candidly a job not a lot of people would raise their hand to do because of the risk and chance that you lose employment at the end of it. But it was also at a period where digital was just starting to become reborn. And I was in charge of building the website for TO-2008.com. And-

Charlie Grinnell: What a URL, by the way.

Jamie Michaels: Yes, it was sweet. I had no idea how to do this. So I partnered with Organic who was one of the hot digital agencies at the time to help me do that. And it was just fascinating to me. I also did the merch. For my licensing days, I did a deal with Roots. So we did TO '08 gear, that crew. That was super fun. And I did outdoor banners and stuff, but then building the website to me is where I got really excited.

Jamie Michaels: And it was one of the first Flash installs in Canada. We had a countdown clock to the vote. At that time it was like, whoa but the cool thing was you got all these analytics. So from the banners on the highways, I believed it helped raise brand awareness, but from the website I knew visits, time spent, where the visits were from, yada, yada. That was really what got me on this digital path and it was really my main, I'll call it a client side gig.

Jamie Michaels: From there, that's when I went to CBC. So we lost the games, went to Canada's national broadcaster because they were the broadcaster for the games that I lost. So I always say I got a consolation prize. We didn't win the games-

Charlie Grinnell: True.

Jamie Michaels: ... but I got to play a role on the other side of it. So the deal there was, I was focused originally on Olympics marketing, which marketing in the media world is typically advertising and sponsorship marketing sales. So that was my first foray into a pure media side gig. And I worked with all the big Olympic sponsors, like Bell, RBC, many of them are still to this day still sponsors, to bring their activations to life on the CBC broadcast.

Jamie Michaels: Also at that time, very revolutionary, on sponsorships of websites with banners. I still remember we had one digital ad salesperson who I would work with and he knew a little bit how to code. Petro-Canada bought a banner ad campaign from us. I remember we had to code it and I was like, "Oh my God, what am I doing?" But it was three frames, we figured it out. And that's how early on that I was in this digital world.

Jamie Michaels: But as much as I love Brian Williams and Ron MacLean talking about Bell and CBC still makes the best content when it comes to Olympics in my mind. I think that their quality of production is just incredible. So we had really good branded sponsored content, but I gravitated towards the small, weird stuff. And then it grew from there. I took over all of the digital and TV branded content stuff and turned it into, not alone, but a pretty big team, turned it into a pretty good business.

Jamie Michaels: But I knew that for me, I didn't want to be in the public sector for too long. And a lot of where I was seeing the winds blowing in terms of content and sports, because let's face it for CBC hockey and Olympics, they're driving a lot of the audience, audience equals advertising revenue. I sensed that things were going to change and that the NHL was probably going to put it out there.

Jamie Michaels: And before all that happened, I looked at a few folks who had moved over to Rogers and were doing some really interesting things over there. One thing I knew about Rogers is they had a ton of platforms, including a baseball team, radio stations and all the magazines.

Jamie Michaels: But it seemed to me like there was a real cool opportunity where no one was really figuring out, okay, how do we bring all these things together. And it turned out that a client of mine, Dale Hooper, who used to run PepsiCo marketing, ended up at Rogers to be the chief brand officer, yada, yada, yada. Anyway. It's all a small world once you're in.

Charlie Grinnell: In it.

Jamie Michaels: But I was basically hired to be the integrated marketing solutions person for Sportsnet, when we shifted to Sportsnet's just a brand, it's not a radio station. And that was great, I had so much fun. I was the only employee for a hot minute who worked across all the units.

Charlie Grinnell: Wow.

Jamie Michaels: So I had to go to the radio producers, the publishers of the Sportsnet magazine, TV producers, Blue Jays, et cetera, and basically grab inventory and content from each one of them to bundle it into something that a brand would want to associate and make it really easy for them across all the different platforms. So that was a big change, and also just culturally it's very different. That's sort of my traditional legacy media part of my life. That's where I went to media school is what I tell people.

Jamie Michaels: I guess from there, I actually did a little bit of work with Twitter while I was at Sportsnet and it was sort of this spidey sense thing. And a couple things that I guess are consistent is I always kind of have a decent sense of what's next and my spidey sense was going off. We had secured the NHL, the big NHL deal for like 10 years, a bazillion dollars, all that stuff.

Jamie Michaels: So there was a great path, but I saw and heard just from advertisers, they were really loving what the big tech platforms could bring to the table in addition to traditional media. So for mass brand awareness, I mean, I'm still all about TV ads in front of a big audience, that works, but what I was seeing was where the leads were coming from and the data and the targeting was from, at that time, Facebook, Google, and the new player on the block was Twitter.

Jamie Michaels: So I started to notice this. So we did what we call an amplify deal where Sportsnet would run Twitter content on Twitter, there's a rev share, blah, blah, blah. Long story short, Kirstine Stewart who ran CBC, went over to run Twitter. I knew her from the CBC days and you know how all this kind of works.

Charlie Grinnell: Yep.

Jamie Michaels: So I ended up there. I am now at Twitter, which I believe is pretty much my longest tenure. I was something like the 18th employee in Canada.

Charlie Grinnell: Wow.

Jamie Michaels: We are now in the hundreds. It's been a ride. It's definitely been the best job I've ever had. I wouldn't say if I didn't feel that way. It also is the culmination of all these things, of some of the people I worked with, my curiosity and going to places that are not quite ... They're challenger brands, like SportsNet, when I joined was not the number one sports media brand, TSN dominated. But I took chances and I took some risks and I think a lot of it paid off and certainly from the Twitter perspective, it's been just the best ride.

Charlie Grinnell: Absolutely. Well, I mean, I just think back like, wow, what a storied career of just starting out in science into licensing, into the media side of things, and now at Twitter.

Charlie Grinnell: Switching gears here a little bit, diving into the topic of the episode, talking about brand positioning and this phrase, "consumer centricity," I'm using air quotes here is I want to talk about first and foremost, how do you see this word brand, brand strategy, brand positioning, how do you see that today.

Charlie Grinnell: I think that word brand, in my opinion gets thrown around a lot and this idea of customer centricity or consumer centricity gets thrown around a lot. How do you think about that? What does that mean to you? And anything that you hear where you're like, ah yeah, that's not quite right, here's how we think about it?

Jamie Michaels: I'd say in the old days people defined brand more like a product, a cereal or whatever, brand is Honda. That's still true I guess when you look at a line item or when you look at the most valuable brands in the world. I mean, it still technically is an asset, but I think that's a really traditional way of looking at it and it's maybe one way.

Jamie Michaels: The way I look at it from the world that I live in and more of the modern way is it's an emotional connection with something and the something is either a product or a service. And the way that emotional connection is built these days is primarily through social media and digital, and to a degree still TV storytelling and all that. But to me, it's like what I think and feel about a particular product or service. That's how I look at a brand. The other nuance is, it's also like what other people think about a brand and that's a really new layer. So that's my take on the brand piece.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. I guess a follow up question I had to that and I wanted to talk specifically about Twitter is I feel like Twitter as a platform is kind of like the first mass personification of brands on a platform, right? I think about Wendy's on Twitter. You think about these brands that have done stuff. Or even, I don't know, what's the Super Bowl, Oreo, dunk in the dark?

Jamie Michaels: Exactly, yeah.

Charlie Grinnell: That tweet goes big, right? So a large portion of brands have started to, air quote, "speak like humans here."

Jamie Michaels: Exactly.

Charlie Grinnell: And this seemed to start on Twitter and has now just transcended platforms, whether it's Instagram, TikTok, whatever. A, when did you notice that happening? And B, has your research that you've done around brands and trends revealed that this is the way forward?

Jamie Michaels: Yeah. Oh, these are great questions. And I still haven't talked about what human-centric is.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.

Jamie Michaels: But on that, so plus one, I really do believe that is for brands of Twitter, a superpower. It is really a fantastic place to define what your brand voice is. And the reason why, it goes back to how Twitter was started as a tech space service. A lot of people forget that the 140 characters was a limitation of text messages, which was technically one-

Charlie Grinnell: Ah.

Jamie Michaels: It's been a while since I've practiced this routine, but you had like 20 characters or whatever for your name. So that's kind of like, we were text first for many, many years. In fact, I mean, I didn't join Twitter that long ago, but we still had TwitPic and we didn't have video.

Charlie Grinnell: I remember.

Jamie Michaels: So we were text first and the interesting thing is when you're a brand with a community manager behind it and you're putting messages out in text, I feel like that is ... Because people are reading it, you're really getting a feel for what this person is like, very much like when you're texting with your friends, you get a feel for their style, like do they use all caps? Do they use emojis, short forms? Do they throw in GIFs and stuff?

Jamie Michaels: And that started to build and what we saw to your point, I mean, Wendy's is definitely the superhero and first to market to like, hey ... If you actually think about it, pre Wendy's Twitter, when you thought about Wendy's as a brand, what did you think about? It's actually a question.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. So two things, the redheaded girl in the commercials, and then I guess alongside that would be Dave, what's his face. I forget that guy. Or the other thing would be her saying the word Baconator and putting her hands up to her mouth being like, "And a Baconator." And the juxtaposition of like this skinny, good looking woman holding this big greasy burger and just being like, "A Baconator." Those are the two things that come to mind for me.

Jamie Michaels: It's so funny. I mean -

Charlie Grinnell: Dave Thomas is the guy's name.

Jamie Michaels: Right. Yeah.

Charlie Grinnell: Yes.

Jamie Michaels: Is he Wendy's dad? I never remember the story there, but ... Uncle-

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, I think he's the founder. I don't know. We should know this.

Jamie Michaels: So was Wendy is his daughter?

Charlie Grinnell: I'm sorry Wendy's if you're listening.

Jamie Michaels: Yeah. Please trip me on Twitter with that. I should know this. Really prior to that, I mean, I would've had a similar answer minus Baconator. It's still a fantastic sandwich. But I would just think of the red logo. I mean, I wouldn't have had an opinion as to whether the brand was funny or emotional. It would just be like yeah, it's Wendy's, the red. So I'll ask you another question. Now when you think of Wendy's, what do you associate that brand with?

Charlie Grinnell: Twitter and Twitter roasting.

Jamie Michaels: Right. So they are a sassy, hilarious, edgy personality that now when I walk into Wendy's, that's what I associate with the brand and it's amazing. And it's why I say any brand can do this. Wendy's didn't start with this. They created it and they tweeted in a certain fashion. And then it really, there was a bit of a lag. Twitter for a long time was a lot of corporate retweets, PR releases with awful long URLs in the tweet copy, Instagram posts on Twitter didn't expand. Now they do, by the way. But that was Twitter for a while.

Jamie Michaels: So we basically figured out a little bit of a formula for doing great brand voice on the platform. We looked at best practices from around the world and we built some workshops around it and we worked with a number of brands. A good example in Canada would be @nonamebrands. So they were one of the first that we work-shopped this with.

Jamie Michaels: And it honestly was like, I would say, if I look back on the career of what our team's done, that's one of the milestones because that brand didn't even have a Twitter handle. They didn't exist. We looked at mentions of this brand, hashtags, et cetera, it was surprisingly big and the tone of it was very funny and ironic and kind of like this national treasure that people wanted to share with the world.

Jamie Michaels: So we said, "That's got to be your brand voice," because again, same thing, if you walked into a No Frills and you saw No Name, you would just think value, good product, value. But now it's just that whole making fun of the basicness of it is the brand because that's ... In their first tweet, I remember we wrote it with them, no caps, I am a brand, follow me. That to me was how it all started and to this day that's how they tweet. And then it bleeds into now their TV advertising and their out of home. It has this brand voice that goes from text to video, to image, et cetera.

Charlie Grinnell: I'm literally just on it right now and I'm like, "It's so good." I'm scrolling through looking at a bag of avocados. I'm looking at tomato soup, soup for bowl, and like-

Jamie Michaels: Exactly.

Charlie Grinnell: It's a good follow, @nonamebrands.

Jamie Michaels: It's entertaining, right? And that's to me when brands really nail it, they become interesting for everybody, whether I buy the product or not. It's not easy to do. To build on it a little bit, and it goes into some of the research that we've just done with our RealTalk report, one of the challenges that we're entering into is that so many brands have developed a quote-unquote, "social media persona," that our research is saying, and we actually tested this in eight markets, that a lot of these brands are starting to sound the same.

Jamie Michaels: So two words came up in all eight countries when we asked people who use Twitter in those eight countries to describe brands on our platform with just a word, playful and funny were the two that came across in all eight markets. And that is a good thing because if you're really good at it, being playful, cheeky, cute, fun, it really works, but when everyone's in that space, it starts to sound the same and it's harder and harder to stand out, especially for brands who are entering today. So the guidance we're giving now is that being playful and funny can be one aspect of your tone, but it shouldn't be the only aspect of your tone. So that's the evolution of it.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, interesting. I also feel like obviously politics has been a hot topic on Twitter specifically, but as the language of marketing becomes more politically or socially aware, have you run into maybe it's common for brands to push back on that? And if so, what's the approach to that? I feel like there's a lot of handholding that probably needs to happen where it's like, hey, your brand has to stand for something, whether people buy your product or not.

Charlie Grinnell: And that's something that I always talk about with some of our clients is I'm like, "Okay, brand X, if you couldn't sell your product, if you literally couldn't say anything that's related to your product, what would you talk about as a brand?" That's a question where I always pose and I think that's an interesting one.

Charlie Grinnell: And then the further down the funnel piece there is really about, what do you stand for? And I feel like that's been a really sticky off topic for brands over the last five years. How do you approach that as a platform? You get to work with all these amazing brands day in, day out, what are some of those conversations like?

Jamie Michaels: Well, it's a great question. I'm going to ask you about your clients after as this has now become a really big part of my job, whereas when I started it was like zero part of my job. And I'll give Nike a lot of credit for, I think being the first to do this really well. There's probably others that I'm missing, but with the whole Colin Kaepernick thing, they were the first big brand that said, "Okay, you know what? We're going to take a stand. We know we're going to alienate some people." And you probably remember the-

Charlie Grinnell: Of course.

Jamie Michaels: ... burning Nikes, which for me, I'm a sneaker guy-

Charlie Grinnell: Same.

Jamie Michaels: ... that is really hard to watch on many levels not to mention politically that's tough. But they also knew and they took a risk that it might pay off, and it sure did because-

Charlie Grinnell: Of course.

Jamie Michaels: ... I don't remember all the stats, but I remember stock price up, sales up. And that was the moment where I think people really started to go like, "Oh, okay. You know what? I'm actually going to start caring what side brands are on and I'm going to start buying from those brands." This goes back to brand voice, I'm friends with them on Facebook and I follow them on Twitter, I know them, so my friend better have similar views to me if I'm going to buy their product or whatever.

Jamie Michaels: Going back, I want to say that I think, and now in my head I'm thinking who did I miss, but Patagonia, Ben & Jerry's, there's a bunch of others that definitely had social activism way before that. But to me, in the age of social media, being at Twitter during that time, I remember that was in all our decks of a defining moment.

Jamie Michaels: But then to go back to your question, there's just been like 50 or more different moments since then and I would say post Nike, it wasn't like you saw every brand find their thing and talk about it.

Charlie Grinnell: For sure.

Jamie Michaels: There was a bit of a gap there. I mean, definitely there are examples of the obvious we're proud to support this charity or whatever, not overtly saying we're with this person. But then Black Lives Matter happened and that was to me where it went mass. That was the first time where there was the call-out culture. That's really where it started of like, so brand, what are you going to do? And we actually have a great example from the UK, it's Yorkshire Tea, they're the big tea brand there.

Charlie Grinnell: Okay.

Jamie Michaels: At the start of that movement, they were called out by one of their customers on Twitter saying something to the lines of like, thank God my favorite tea brand isn't coming out with a BLM support message. I'm so pleased, basically. I'm paraphrasing. And that Yorkshire Tea responded to that person and said, "Thanks for your tweet. Please don't ever buy our tea again." And that again started a thing to me and actually did in the UK. She responded actually and said, "Great, I'll buy," the big competitor.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. A big competitor brand of tea.

Jamie Michaels: PG Tips. They're called PG Tips, which is the number two tea brand in the UK, just basically troll was like, "Okay, I'll go buy the PG Tips. Screw you." PG Tips said, "You know what? We're with Yorkshire Tea."

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, we don't want you either.

Jamie Michaels: We don't want you either. They created #solidaritea, like T-E-A.

Charlie Grinnell: Ah, okay.

Jamie Michaels: Then every major UK tea brand was like, "Nope, we all stand for Black Lives Matter. And don't buy our tea if you don't agree with that."

Jamie Michaels: Now what's interesting is that, was that reactive or proactive? I don't have the inside baseball, but that to me, moments like that, I think brought to life this notion for so many other brands that I've got to be prepared because someone's going to call me out on it. And in general, we're just seeing this trend of brands who are culturally relevant are becoming favored. And I can actually give you two cool stats and then I want to hear how you handle it.

Jamie Michaels: In our RealTalk research in Canada, so it's 61% of Canadian Twitter users that we surveyed notice when brands are talking or taking a stand for something. So that's a big chunk. 48% were like, let's say 50%, notice when brands are not. So to your very first point when brands just say like, "Oh, this is not in my lane, I'm going to do the head in sand thing," we're seeing now that, that's getting noticed. So now I'm noticing when you're saying something and then I'm noticing when you're not saying something. And then they're like, "Hey, @BrandX, what's your point of view on Y?" We're in a real interesting time. Has this come up for you as well?

Charlie Grinnell: I think for us, a lot of the work we're doing is around research for brands and understanding how different audiences are responding to things or what are the topics of conversation, whether that's through different forms of research, one or another. I think a lot of it comes back to, this is almost more of a consulting thing. It isn't necessarily our core business to advise from a communications standpoint how to approach this.

Charlie Grinnell: I think the thing that we often surface to our customers is, hey, here's some hot topics and here's some types of content that are being consumed by large audiences. And yeah, that might not have anything to do with you right now, but what's your plan if that shifts? The analogy that I use is when the earthquake happens, are you going to have a go bag with that sort of thing? Because it's not a matter of if, it's when. Any brand can be a target or pulled into something, whether they like it or not.

Charlie Grinnell: And as someone who worked on the brand side for many, many years, you're going along, you're trying to execute against your marketing calendar, do things that are timely and relevant, and then all of a sudden something comes out of left field and it could just derail all of that. And if you're caught with your pants down, so to speak, when the tide goes out, it sucks.

Jamie Michaels: It does. And especially for brands that don't already have core things that they lean into. So that's usually what I coach people or brands on is that, this is actually not about Twitter at all, it's about you. And you said it, it's like, what do you stand for?

Jamie Michaels: The interesting thing in today's world, the other thing that came out of the research are micro communities and that whatever community you're looking at, like LGBTQ+ or whatever, it's not monolithic. There are so many subgroup ... It's honestly impossible. You can't know everything about everybody and stand for everything and everybody.

Jamie Michaels: So really figure out what you're all about, where are your values, what do you want to lean into and do it. And don't just do a tweet on Pride Day. That's great, but what are you doing internally? What are you doing on platforms like Twitter all year long? And where is your money going to support? So that's what we coach people on.

Jamie Michaels: Yeah, there's going to be times where I just politically can't get involved in whatever the topic is for whatever reason. I mean, I understand that, but at least you're leaning into things you can, and I think that's a really good start.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Well, I want to switch gears a little bit here. Let's talk about Twitter Next. I think candidly, I don't know much about this, so let's start with, what is it, why does it exist? Just really quickly, what is the pitch on it? And then I have some more questions about it.

Jamie Michaels: Okay, sure. Yeah, so the Twitter Next team is got a very ambitious mission, which we actually still haven't answered the second part of the question, which is to create human-centric ideas we're talking about.

Charlie Grinnell: Okay.

Jamie Michaels: That's a lot of hyperbole in one sentence, but effectively our job is to work with Twitter's biggest advertisers. And again, zooming out, Twitter the platform, our money comes from advertising. We work with both small to the biggest brands in the world, to startups, et cetera. Our job is to really, I would say close the gap between what a day to day relationship with Twitter would look like on the sales side of like, you know we're launching a new car, we want to get some promoted tweets out, et cetera, et cetera. There's a lot of hard work that goes into just brand building and performance advertising.

Jamie Michaels: Our job is to come in, we want to stand out, we want to be the brand that gets talked about in a good way, which is the worth talking about part. But we also want to understand the conversations on the Twitter platform, where my brand fits in and where it shouldn't fit in and should fit in. And that's the human-centric part.

Jamie Michaels: So our team spends almost as much time on insights and data, as we do brainstorming ideas, coming up with creative ways to launch campaigns. We have a team called the Lab, which we partner with, which is all about technology, developers, data science, design, et cetera, to support the way we pitch and conceive these things and also execute them on the platform.

Jamie Michaels: We're not an agency, we're not consultants, we're not sales people, but we're in the middle of all those things. And we usually come in on a specific task, so like, so and so wants to change their brand voice, could we workshop that? So and so is launching a new sports betting thing, can we share a little bit about what the conversation's like on Twitter with sports betting? Where do we see like natural ways a brand could jump in? So that's really where our team comes in.

Charlie Grinnell: Interesting. I think about just how useful that would be, because candidly, in the roles that I've been in, on the brand side in the past, Twitter has been a secondary element of our marketing mix and I think that's probably just the nature of the industry that I was in. That wasn't really where the audience is for who we were trying to reach.

Charlie Grinnell: That said, at a high level, how should marketers be thinking about incorporating Twitter into that marketing mix? I think Twitter Next sounds like ... I'm just thinking back, oh my gosh, I wish that existed five years ago when I was sitting in there. But how should they be thinking about it today?

Jamie Michaels: Well, I think it goes back to the very first thing we talked about is Twitter is the best place to define a brand voice. I will stand by this. Even if I ever go anywhere else, I really believe it. And getting really nuanced, your Twitter bio should say everything about your brand, your brand's personality in those, whatever the amount of characters we can include these days, it's changed a little bit. That is really your storefront for your brand, in my opinion.

Jamie Michaels: So I always tell people, do that first, figure that out, take out your legal jargon. If you can drop it in a subtweet or something and really focus on what are you going to say here. And then that's the first step. And then you start tweeting like that. And really what, I guess I'm answering your question is like, build an audience on Twitter that is unique to that brand voice. Don't share the same content across every single platform. I know it's easier said than done, but you can build community. I mean, there's a million examples of this, Wendy's being one. Why would I follow a fast food restaurant if I'm not obsessed with Wendy's?

Charlie Grinnell: It's got to be interesting.

Jamie Michaels: Right. So build your brand, create content and people will follow. But I would say that's on the push side of things. But on the pull, that's where you really need to dig into conversations. And it goes back to what we talked about just a minute ago, which is I am this brand and I want to stand for these things and I want to be all about this community or I want to be about, I don't know, friendship or whatever the topic is.

Jamie Michaels: Dig into the conversation on Twitter and you might be surprised because one of the interesting things about our platform goes back to the human-centric thing, most people have public accounts and the whole point of the thing is to be the conversation layer of the internet and it's public. So it's basically, I always go, free insights, free data. It's there and people are putting it out there. It's not on a private Instagram account, you know what I mean? So I do encourage people to mine Twitter because so much of it is there.

Jamie Michaels: And then for the brands that do partner with our team, we'll work with our research team and we have a number of proprietary tools that we'll use around various topics and we'll do the word cloud thing of like, okay, you're interested in this, well, real interesting angle into it might be this because ... I always, when I know the idea or the gateway is good is when I go, "I had no idea this was a thing." And then you throw in that hashtag into a tool and you see the chart go up and like, "Oh my God, there's so many tweets about this and I've never even heard about it." That's when I know we're onto something good.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Well, I think about even with that, some of the research that we've done over the years is looking at Twitter conversation to see things. Back in the day we were using Crimson Hexagon as the main tool to do that, and now that's become Brandwatch. But I thought something that we've always thought about was if Twitter's where that conversation is happening, there's a good chance that those people also have other accounts on Facebook, on an Instagram, on Pinterest, on other things and this concept of transferring.

Charlie Grinnell: And so, hey, we're seeing a topic of conversation on Twitter and as a marketer, it's like, hey, you should be there, number one. But also, if that conversation is happening there, that means people are interested in talking about that, so you can use that to fuel other pieces of content or experiences, whether that's on other social platforms as part of your mix or even your own site or whatever.

Jamie Michaels: Platforms are not islands.

Charlie Grinnell: Yes.

Jamie Michaels: I guess it's easier for me to say being at Twitter because we're very comfortable with that.

Charlie Grinnell: For sure.

Jamie Michaels: A lot of our power users, Twitter's the main, what they use, but you have to be realistic. People go across platforms and they use them differently. I'm obsessed with knowing things immediately, so Twitter's very perfect for me, but I understand people might only check it once a week, where I'm on it like a million times a day.

Jamie Michaels: But the point is that it's ebbs and flows and a lot of stuff, BLM and Me Too, and a lot of those big movements and candidly, a lot of stuff that's going on in Ukraine and Russia, a lot of it is happening here. And then you flip on, if you still watch TV, you'll see tweets on TV. And conversely, because I'm not on TikTok as often, I'll see TikToks on Twitter and it'll drive me to TikTok, et cetera, et cetera.

Jamie Michaels: So I believe it ebbs and flows and certain things can start on other platforms, but I do believe brands that jump in first do get a benefit and I've seen some research to back it up. I actually believe in the tea example, Yorkshire Tea got the most brand lift out of it because they were the first.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. So I have an immediate follow up question to that. Who are your favorite brands to follow on Twitter? We've already talked about No Name Brand and Wendy's and this sort of thing. But I, as a marketer, I'm always looking at who other marketers follow for inspiration when it comes to brands on Twitter. And then I have a second follow up question of brands not on Twitter that you enjoy following.

Jamie Michaels: Yeah. So a few that I really like, so I've listed already, like No Name Brands is a great one. I really like Shopify. I think from a Canadian global tech perspective, they're very early on in killing it on their Twitter. So their whole thing is they're a sassy SaaS company, which I think they changed their Twitter bio. They were like one of the first to rehab this interesting sassy personality on Twitter. And they also really nail what they do translates to social media. And they'll do things around the Black Lives Matter movement. They were like, "Hey, if you're a Black-owned business, drop your URL, we'll give you some free advice right here on Twitter." And it just goes back to what they do, but they used it as I'm your friend, I'm going to help you out and stuff. So I love them.

Jamie Michaels: I do work with both McDonald's and Tim Hortons and I love the way those two brands have evolved on the platform. They're obviously super competitive. They've moved to this personality based approach where I laugh. I feel like I know the community managers. Well, I do, but if I didn't, I would feel like yeah, these are people, when I open my Twitter in the morning, like oh yeah, I know their brand. So I really love them both.

Jamie Michaels: I love R/GA the creative agency, just from a learning and a little bit funny about the industry. And then oh, a couple, Delta Air Lines.

Charlie Grinnell: Interesting.

Jamie Michaels: So sometimes brands will come to me and say, or an agency will say, "Look, my brand is not that exciting. We could never be exciting." The Vancouver Airport's actually really funny. So there's a few accounts that again, they poke fun at themselves, they have fun or they have a different purpose. And so I like those and a few random ones. I love Adweak, the parody account.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, W-E-A-K.

Jamie Michaels: Anyone who's into marketing-

Charlie Grinnell: So good. So good.

Jamie Michaels: Sometimes I like it and go, "Ooh, I shouldn't like this, but it's so on point."

Charlie Grinnell: I feel so seen sometimes.

Jamie Michaels: Yeah.

Charlie Grinnell: I'm like, "Oh my gosh. I have literally been in that room."

Jamie Michaels: It's like the ones where they're like, "We have a brief, the budget's unlimited and we want to win all these awards and we need ideas by tomorrow." That stuff just hits.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.

Jamie Michaels: So I love when people get you and they tweet in that language. I think that that's a good start. I also love, because I'm a child of the era, Super 70s Sports is hilarious.

Charlie Grinnell: Okay.

Jamie Michaels: I don't know if you follow that, but-

Charlie Grinnell: No, I'll have to check that out.

Jamie Michaels: It's just, I mean, it's not business really. I mean, although they're really smart. They sell related content, but their tweets are always ... If you're into seventies, eighties, nostalgia, that's really good.

Charlie Grinnell: Oh, interesting.

Jamie Michaels: And a new one that I just followed and then I'll stop listing is Bizarre Buildings, @BizarreBuildings. And it's just tweets of bizarre buildings from around the world and it's really cool.

Charlie Grinnell: Huh, I'm actually just looking at it right now. Whoa, that's really interesting because I would think of this as an Instagram account.

Jamie Michaels: Exactly.

Charlie Grinnell: Interesting.

Jamie Michaels: So we made a little change to how images are now pre-expanded. This is into how the sausage is made stuff, but I actually believe that for photography on Twitter, it's opened up. So things used to be collapsed on Twitter and you had to tap to pre-expand. And a lot of brands hacked that and did click to reveal things.

Charlie Grinnell: For sure.

Jamie Michaels: And there was a whole brand Twitter conversation around you killed our trick kind of thing. But what I think this pre-expanded image thing did was open up the door for accounts like this because now you've got these beautiful long vertical images that make a lot of sense on Twitter. So I agree with you, you would think this is Instagram. It probably is Instagram and I would love it on Instagram too, but it's cool in the timeline.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, super interesting. Okay, as we start to wind down the episode here, this is a question that I ask every single guest and the reason is I dropped out of university. So I never graduated. I did a lot of reading and that's been a thing for me, reading and consuming and stocking and obsessing over different pieces of information. So how do you stay up to date on business marketing, brand strategy? What are you reading? Who are you listening to? Who are you following?

Jamie Michaels: Sure. Yeah. I mean, that's a great question. I wish I had more time to read. I know everyone's used that as a total excuse, but the pie is only so big and I'm actually going ... I'm on holiday next week. It's March break. So I'm going to chill with my kid. Another exciting, not ready to vacation outside of Toronto yet. And on my list is Made to Stick. So I'm actually going to open the book. I don't think it's new, but it's the idea of why some ideas survive and others die. Have you read it?

Charlie Grinnell: No, but you're reminding me of another book, which I'll talk about in a sec.

Jamie Michaels: I think this book is supposed to build off of Gladwell's Tipping Point of how do you get these ideas to resonate? So I'm interested in that. Also, another one on my list is Power of Regret, which is by Daniel Pink as well. So that, because I'm a big regret person. But it's looking at regret in a different way as almost insights and history can predict the future, and looking back with regret isn't necessarily a bad thing. So I'm intrigued by that. But probably my favorite book for what I do was the Contagious: Why Things Catch On. I know it's probably the basic one, but definitely recommend that

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.

Jamie Michaels: But you also remind me of another book though, because I need more books on this.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. So the book that I read that you just reminded me of, it's called Hit Makers by Derek Thompson.

Jamie Michaels: Okay.

Charlie Grinnell: So Hit Makers, how to succeed in an age of distraction. And he's a writer, editor at The Atlantic and basically it's the science of popularity, why things go big. And he basically looks back over the last 80 to 100 years of why certain things went big.

Jamie Michaels: Yeah, I love that.

Charlie Grinnell: And what are the themes that consistently happen. And so yeah, there's some really interesting ones around music, around film just to see why things caught on and get so big. So yeah, I've just written down the two that you did-

Jamie Michaels: Love it. We've traded some.

Charlie Grinnell: ... because I'm always looking to expand the old reading list. But Hit Makers is a really good one.

Jamie Michaels: Okay, it's on my list. I do a lot of pod. Now that I work from home, it's like podcasts and music all day. So I find I've probably learned the most candidly from podcasts and Twitter Spaces. So the podcasts are more planned. So I do like Business Wars, or How I Built This. And then I get into this whole algorithm thing of like, I don't even know which one I'm listening to, but they're usually something to do with marketing, media or business.

Jamie Michaels: Broken Record, Rick Rubin. I'm a very big music person. I know a lot. That's not a hidden secret, but I just think when I look across all my genres of music or my favorite albums in multi genres, you look at who produced it, it's always Rick Rubin.

Charlie Grinnell: Of course.

Jamie Michaels: And he's just a genius. He's awesome on Twitter, by the way. He does a very unique thing where-

Charlie Grinnell: What?

Jamie Michaels: I know, right?

Charlie Grinnell: I need to go see-

Jamie Michaels: He tweets an image of a thought and then he deletes it and then he only has one tweet ever. So it's really, really cool. And his tweets are always like, fuck, that's so smart. Definitely anything Rick Rubin.

Jamie Michaels: And the last thing that just from a how you can use Twitter and LinkedIn obviously is good for this as well, Twitter Topics. A lot of people don't know about this, but you can follow topics on Twitter. And some of those topics, if you go under the options will be media, advertising, marketing, and it basically prepopulates with thought leaders. And I've discovered a lot of people through following topics that I would never know who they are, but now I've come to really appreciate them in my timeline and I end up following them. So that's a pro tip.

Charlie Grinnell: Cool. Well, Jamie, I want to thank you very much for taking the time. It was so good to chat with you. I learned a bunch. I have a bunch of new things for my reading list. I have a bunch of new follows on Twitter. So yeah, really appreciate you taking the time and great conversation.

Jamie Michaels: Same. Yeah, I feel like this could have gone on even longer. So that's always a good sign of a great host and a really cool platform that you've created. And you're on my algorithm podcast that I listen to. And yeah, so thanks for having me and really appreciate the time and loved the conversation.

Charlie Grinnell: For show notes, other episodes and more content check out rightmetric.co. If you enjoyed the show, please subscribe and leave a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thanks for listening.

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