Surprising consumers is Emmanuel Cohen’s goal in marketing, because he shares the fact that people are tired of classic models. He showed the wisdom of this approach with an employer branding video for Walnut.io, where he is head of marketing, that has gone viral in recent months. Cohen says it was scary posting the ad he wrote in an hour and finished in a week, but taking risks is important, especially in marketing. He says social media marketers need to see platforms as playgrounds where they can try things out and learn as they go. Cohen shares that marketing is so dynamic that you have to learn all the time, but that’s also the beauty of it. He also says that marketers need to understand the rules very well and gain trust within their company before they try to break those rules to surprise viewers.
I saw the recent Walnut viral video you star in. Tell me a bit about this video and how it influences your thinking about marketing.
Many factors made the success of the video. First, it was the timing. We had to act quickly because we jumped on many TV trends. The show has just ended.
I wrote it in an hour, showed it to others in the office and they laughed. I phoned a director. Two days later, we were shooting. A few days later, it was on the air. It is beauty. It wasn’t overly prepared. It was very intuitive.
I think consumers are very tired of traditional marketing. The goal is always to surprise them and break the rules. All those employer branding campaigns last year in Israeli high-tech was madness. What I tried to do was break the rules, sell the business without actually selling it.
How do you strategically create a culture or process in the company that allows for this type of work?
I’m lucky the CEO is a marketer. He very easily recognizes what good marketing is. I think we are building a very strong brand. Part of it is understanding that even a B2B consumer, VP of sales, or CRO at a large company, is still a human being. We have a B2B approach which is very similar to B2C: talking to people directly, being a little funny about what we do. If you look at our social media, it’s all a bit cynical. We understand that you understand what we do, so let’s make it fun.
I believe you create an emotional connection with the audience through messaging and storytelling. If you come up with a different angle, a more approachable style, a bit of humor, a bit of self-mockery, and a bit of charm, that’s how I try to market the business. So far it’s going well.
When the sales team makes a call, customers say, “Oh, I love what you do.” They already feel connected to the brand, and it makes it much easier for the sales team to sell.
How do you set KPIs when trying to break the rules?
There are many ways to measure. This specific video was in Hebrew; it is very specific to the Israeli market. There you will measure the number of followers, the number of resume connections that added me on LinkedIn. On the same day, I had 5,000 new connections on LinkedIn.
Recently with our round-B, you can see the number of followers jump, website visits jump. You have many metrics that you can combine to measure the success of a specific item.
Take me back to when you’re writing this script. Is it just a morning when you say, “Today I’m going to try something”? Or is it a methodology that you have?
I think there are both. First, you need to know the rules. You can’t break the rules if you don’t know them. The first thing I do when creating a campaign is to see what other companies have done. I see the patterns. Then I start writing, trying to find the right model and figure out where the flaws in more conventional employer branding are. Then I jump on them and modify them. I’ve understood social for a long time and I know what people really instinctively react to. The goal at the end of the day is to keep the observer watching throughout.
You have the basics that I learned working with the other companies. Then there are the emotional triggers, and then I make a joke of it about myself. Then I keep moving. Every 10 seconds you have something else. Even if you’re not a fan of the show, you’ll understand some of the jokes. If you work in high tech, you’ll understand pattern breaking. No matter what angle you look at it, there’s something for you.
How long did it take from when you had the idea to when it was released?
It took 10 days, maybe. The reason it took 10 days is because the TV show told me, “You can only post it after the show ends.” But it was ready after a week.
How do you balance perfectionism and speed of execution here?
One of the biggest problems for traders is not taking risks. If you expect something to be perfect, you never will. Marketing is dynamic. You post, you try, you learn all the time. The goal is to be as close to perfection as possible, without expecting perfection.
We had three versions of the ad. We went back and forth with the director, and we got to a point where we said, “That’s good enough.” I’m not going to lie to you, when I hit the publish button, I was scared because it’s an ad I wrote, in which I star. I am not an actor. But if you don’t take risks, you don’t do anything.
This is something I love about WIX. They had a poster saying, “It costs more to avoid mistakes than to make them. You must be prepared to make mistakes. You have to be prepared for people to criticize you, but otherwise you don’t learn anything. You have to learn all the time. That’s the beauty of marketing.
How did you realize your passion was marketing and technology?
I have always been fascinated by marketing. Ever since I was a kid, TV commercials have always been something I’ve found ridiculous, yet exciting. Then I started working at WIX and you see that just posting can get crazy and a campaign the whole company worked on is a flop.
I tried, I studied. I featured in social media at the time; I analyzed the reaction. It’s fascinating to understand what people react to and why. It’s all marketing. It’s about emotion; it’s about getting people to react.
What advice do you have for social media marketers?
The most important tip is that social media is a playground. It’s not a threat. When you post something on social media, after that you have another element. If you fail, nothing happens. You have to be willing to take risks, try things out, and understand how people react to each item.
If you’re trying to make things perfect, you’ll post one post a week, and it probably won’t succeed because you’ve worked too hard on it. Social media is really the most interesting laboratory to learn more about your users. It’s very dynamic.
This willingness to try and fail, and nothing happens: do others in the organization see it that way? Obviously, people don’t unfollow a page because of a post that doesn’t go viral. But could failure also stem from being measured by people in the organization who don’t realize it’s okay to try and fail?
In business and outside of business, it’s the same game. You have to be smart enough to show that you know what you’re doing, even if you fail. When your subscribers like you enough and company members trust you enough based on your past results, the more you can grow. You don’t just try stuff. You know the rules, you learn the game, and then you can start playing with what’s limit and play with a little creativity. You can’t just go far at first. You have to know what you are doing to break the rules.
Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is the author of Age is Only an Int: Lessons I Learned as a Young Entrepreneur. He studies artificial intelligence at Stanford University, is a venture capital partner at J-Ventures and was an engineer at Hippo Insurance. Matias was previously an officer in Unit 8200. 20MinuteLeaders is a series of tech entrepreneurship interviews featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators and thought leaders sharing their journeys and experiences.
Contributing Editors: Michael Matias, Megan Ryan