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Creative Series: Tom Custer, Reztark: Show Notes & Transcript

Post | May 28, 2024

Welcome back to Marketing Smarts! From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini (that’s us) comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. We deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from our combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. We tell it how it is so whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.

In this episode, we continue our Creative Series with Tom Custer. Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast spots – follow and leave a 5-star review if you’re exercising your Marketing Smarts!

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Marketing Smarts: Creative Series: Tom Custer, Reztark

In this episode, we continue our Creative Series, focused on the issues facing creative agencies today and how they need to evolve to stay relevant. Our 8th special guest is Tom Custer, Vice President Business Development at Reztark Design Studio. He has 30 years of experience in the agency world, most of which have focused on the retail industry. Hear why there’s currently a mix of generalists and specialists, whether brands or retailers lead the charge, the skills agencies bring to the table, how the creative process has changed, and how to keep your curiosity. This episode covers everything from retailers to agencies. Here’s a small sample of what you will hear in this episode:

  • How has retail changed over the years?
  • Are there more generalists or specialists in the agency world?
  • What are the trends in retail?
  • Do the brands or retailers lead the charge?
  • How can agencies help retailers today?
  • Where is the innovation?
  • What advice does Tom have for young professionals in the creative world?
  • Quick-Fire: Where’s somewhere he’d love to travel to?

And as always, if you need help in building your Marketing Smarts, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at:

Check out the episode, show notes, and transcript below:

Show Notes

What is Marketing Smarts?

From brand-building and marketing veterans Anne Candido and April Martini comes a podcast committed to cutting through all the confusing marketing BS so you can actually understand how to take action and change your business today. They deep-dive into topics most would gloss-over, infusing real-world examples from their combined 35+ years of corporate and agency experience. They tell it how it is so whether you are just starting out or have been in business awhile, you have the Marketing Smarts to immediately impact your business.

How do I exercise my Marketing Smarts?

Thanks for listening to Marketing Smarts. Get in touch here to become a savvier marketer. 


Please note: this transcript is not 100% accurate.

Tom Custer 0:00
I think the exciting thing is how you learn from your experience and one brand or area and reapply it to others.

Anne Candido 0:13
This is Marketing Smarts – a podcast committed to helping you become a savvier marketing leader, no matter your level. In each episode, we will dive into a relevant topic or challenge that marketing leaders are currently facing. We will also give you practical tools and applications that will help you put what you learn into practice today.

April Martini 0:31
Welcome to Marketing Smarts!

Anne Candido 0:33
I am Anne Candido.

April Martini 0:34
And I am April Martini and today we’re continuing our Marketing Smarts miniseries all around the topic of the issues facing creative agencies today, and how they need to evolve to stay relevant. This series brings together folks from both agency and corporate that all have different point of views on this topic, but are all experienced practitioners and thought leaders with decades of experience. Today we welcome special guest Tom Custer. Currently the Vice President of Business Development at Reztark. Tom comes to our conversation with over 30 years of brand experience on a focus on retail design, having worked in a leadership capacity many companies including GSP, Aurora, Nelson, which was formerly FRC H. Interbrand brand image landour, and others. So to say that he is the perfect fit for this lens of our ongoing conversation is an understatement. In this episode, specifically, we started with the idea that going from generalist with lots of high level strategic experience to specialists that niche down allows for a best of both worlds approach from the agency side for all of our clients. When we got into the in store experience. Specifically, we discussed how total store redesign is less of a trend, while a category by category approach allows for inclusivity of smaller brands, not to mention retailers that want to grow their own private brands, which ultimately means category brand leaders who have historically had a giant say have less of a say in the store footprint than they did in years past, paying for the shelf space they wanted and then dictating their needs. As in all of our conversations, the tie of brand to strategic business development was discussed, as well as how testing and learning in store or overall test store experiences, allow for real time learnings, insights and optimizations. versus what we used to do, which was that whole discovery phase where there were focus groups and the leg that clients no longer honestly not the patients for retailers really want to move fast and they want to learn on the fly. And of course, my favorite, the ever present need to start with the strategy to grow the business and then aligning the creative and experience to that versus starting with the concept and having it ultimately fall flat. And with that we will get into the issues facing creative agencies today and how they need to evolve to stay relevant.

So Tom, it’s so great to have you please introduce yourself to the audience.

Tom Custer 2:51
Yeah, thank you so much, April and great to meet you as well. I’m Tom Custer, I’ve been in retail my entire career, although in different facets as both starting out as a merchandiser on the client side. And then working on the agency side with like leading global brand design firms, brand and identity development, package design, retail design, and most recently, retail marketing and promotion. Awesome. So

April Martini 3:22
Tom is another one for this series, that’s going to give us a whole range of perspective. And I believe our only retail person, so a really good filter for what we’re talking about today. So Tom, you’ve been in the business I can’t even remember I’ve lost track at this point. But just talk to us about the evolution of the industry. And you know, through the lens of retail, of course, like what have you seen change what’s most top of mind or relevant today that’s different from you know, and we just say years past, and quote, you can go back as far as little as you want. But just talk to us kind of about the history of the industry and where we’ve kind of landed when it comes to retail?

Tom Custer 4:00
Yeah, I think well, since I’ve been in the industry for, say, 30 years. I’ll go back a couple decades, if that’s ago. You know, like, when I think back to like big ad agencies, you know, they were a generalist for a lot of brands and even retailers. But I would say brands, where there were specific roles defined, you had like a creative director or an art director or a copywriter, each with like a unique experience and expertise and an area but yet they saved as like a general generalist for the brand because they got into the package design or the brand development or the identity development. So in that regard, I would call them more generalists. And I would say over the decades what I’ve seen is the evolution to more specialist because as technology expertise experience and different categories, agencies started to distinguish kind of a role in each area as a specialist, whether that’s brand identity, or package design, or like now, digital, social, etc. So I’ve seen kind of the evolution. And I would say even today, there’s a mix of generalist and specialist and I think that each kind of serve a need, you know, for different brands in the market.

Anne Candido 5:32
That’s interesting. Can you say more about? Where do you see those two playing? And where are they doing it? Well,


where are they maybe not doing so well?

Tom Custer 5:44
Yeah, I would say, you know, in today’s world, where I see one’s doing well is, you have a lot of talent out there in the marketplace. And so they see the opportunity maybe to make more of an impact with a smaller like emerging brand, and take their experience and expertise to, you know, kind of help them. And so some agencies have grabbed that talent that has expertise in a certain area. But they’re the one agency kind of the one stop shop, that can be more nimble, for a smaller or emerging brand who doesn’t have say the, the budget to work with a big agency. So that’s where I’ve kind of seen, you know, some of the evolution of both generalists and specialists.

April Martini 6:38
So when you think about then, again, specific to retail, like you’ve talked about how your roles have changed, if we go back to the industry in total, what would you say are some of the maybe trends you’re seeing or challenges you’re facing? Like, I know, you and I have connected a couple times recently to just talk about, well catch up in general, and talk about the good old days versus now maybe, but, but also just, you know, like, you know, we work together at Interbrand. And that was a very different experience versus FRCH to Nelson, to the companies you’re working with now. And just the way the everything from the environments have changed, but also the type of work that’s being done. Yeah.

Tom Custer 7:19
Well, I think like April, what you said, from a retail perspective, what I’ve seen is, you know, retailers need to move fast, the thing that I’ve seen changes, they’re more willing to get out and test different things. So like in retail design, it used to be the Store of the Future, like, let’s re invent and redesign the entire experience. But when you’re a large retailer, like Target or Walmart, or Kroger, now they break it down into a category, let’s reinvent beauty. And let’s redesign that experience for beauty. And that can affect private brands, the actual retail design of the space, the way product is merchandise to the shopper, and they’re very focused on maybe key areas that they want to grow their business. And then they look for agency partners to assist with that particular area of growth versus the entire store. Now I’m sure the entire store is also being thought, you know, and there are still store the future initiatives. But I think that’s where the different type of agencies might play. You know, other agencies might cyst with a category reinvention, versus the Store of the Future. And so that’s where I think the changes evolve, where retailers want to test and learn and evolve, versus making the whole new store a perfect experience, if you will.

Anne Candido 8:57
Well, I find this really fascinating are coming in from the P&G days and thinking about the role the customer and the retailer played in what our brand strategy was, which obviously impacted the kind of marketing we did the role of the agency. So it kind of all has this like backwards effect. In your opinion, like who’s leading the charge here? Is it still the brands do you think are leading the charge when it comes to the actual like, when a purchase the first moment of truth, we would call it a P and G like, or is it the retailer that’s really shaping the industry?

Tom Custer 9:40
Yeah, great question. And I think I’ve seen it play out different ways. I’ve worked with target, you know, in the past on category reinvention, and what I would say is there’s a shift from the retailer target leading the experience of what they want to create For the future, and how that might impact leading brands. So in this case take up p&g With on the women’s side, Ole and their line and on the men’s side, Gillette, and so forth. They still I think have a voice as leading brands and the category, but I don’t know if they’re the lead the leaders in terms of the decision of how the experience at Target retail is going to play out where in the past, I think they did, because they weren’t category leaders. They drove how the category looked, they paid for the space, they wanted to, you know, have their product and, and I think there’s a balance now of retailers wanting to grow their private brands, or other brands. So like a target as an example. What’s out today and market, the reinvention of beauty you will see in the men’s grooming category, Harry’s and their private brands, and other brands as part of the offering versus a whole aisle of like Gillette and Schick and national brands, they’re still going to be there. But it’s kind of merged into two because the retailer is wanting to drive where they want to grow the business. And the category leaders are bringing insights, trends, information to still maintain their position and placement in the category if that makes sense. Well,

Anne Candido 11:32
I think it’s fascinating be like to use that word, but I think it is. Because I mean I was in the P&G still when you got the the challengers and nobody thought like a Harry’s was going to take down Gillette until they did right or any of the other private beauty brands wouldn’t think they would even like infringe upon Olay’s, just their stature of who they were until they did. So it’s a very interesting, I think insight or observation April can correct me which one it actually is, with regards to what agency should actually be focusing on. Right? Because traditionally, the big brands have kind of been the golden ticket. But it seems like the smaller challenger brands are starting to be the ones that shape the industry. And some of these are not even coming into retail for years and years and years. And you could question whether or not they actually even should have you know, because once you in the retail, it’s a whole nother space. Which then begs another question, I’ll just put it all out there just to kind of skin a load you up since I have my moment here. Because I don’t know when April’s gonna jump back in. If you have the smaller brands and his challenger brands, is there really a role for big agencies that can’t think with that nimbleness? That same flexibility that same like test and learn mentality, these big agencies have kind of been all cultivated to suit big brands and these slow brands and they’re the sometimes they try to kind of shift the Titanic. But we all know how that ends. Right. So I just I just asked a lot, but I think to sum it up, I’m like, I’m very curious to kind of hear your thoughts on what’s the role of the smaller challenger brands and when agencies are thinking about how to continue to stay relevant? Do they stay in the mindset of how they built that structure to support these big brands? Or do they need a shift to really accommodate some of these smaller challenger brands are really shaping the whole category industry as well as the retail industry? Yeah,

Tom Custer 13:41
I think you did throw a lot there. I’d be but I mean, one observation and again, it could be an insight or not. But I think what one thing I saw was 10 years ago, using the Target beauty as an example. The retailer was starting to get the bigger brands that think differently. I think it’s hard for some of these larger CPG organizations and brands to really get out of their world, like they’re so used to seeing how their brand competitor, you know, stacks up to the leading competitor number two, three, and four. And by channel, you know, grocery versus mass versus drug, versus there’s very focus because they have so much data and insights and information about their brands. That’s just how they operated. But what retailers were saying was in beauty, I see my competitive set is Sephora and Ulta and online brands, you know, the emerging challengers. And so what I want to understand is what are those experiences? What are those brands? Dawn, how do I need those to affect my world to compete in the future, I don’t see myself and of course, Walmart, Kroger, other Walgreens, CVS are competitors. But I think retailers are getting more savvy as they create their private brands to get out of their own world. And look at where the categories go on, and try to compete in a category from a shopper consumer perspective. And I think the bigger brands are starting to do that. But 10 years ago, they weren’t doing that they weren’t leading those innovations and ideas. And so that’s where I think the shift was happening of who’s driving the bus here, are we letting the leading CPG brand drive the bus are we as a retail are going to, you know, define our future. And it’s a mix of both, you know, some retailers are not as savvy as others, and some still operate with the big brands. But that’s where I would say, up and coming agencies that have that big brand experience, but are now in a smaller agency, definitely think that way that they’re more partners to their customers. And even though they might have expertise and experience in one area. Like I said, they might act as a generalist, like we can do everything for you client, because we’ve got the talent, and we’re gonna think about your business and where you want to, you know, where you want to grow versus big agency that might be a little more siloed in their thinking? Well, and

April Martini 16:40
I mean, you’ve obviously held roles in both types of organizations, right, more of the big picture branding, like you talked about in the beginning to the more downstream and everything in between. And so when we think about because I think you bring up some good points about as you’re talking, I’m thinking about like the cross sections, right? Like, where do big brands meet the retailer, where does online meet in store, if you think about the companies you’ve worked at, like who’s uniquely positioned to partner in the right way, because that’s another lens of this conversation of being a true partner to the client, you’re working for learning their category, or their experience, or whatever, and leveraging their expertise along with yours. Based on all your experience, like who’s got it right, who’s leading the charge? Who’s doing a good job? And what are they doing to hold that position?

Tom Custer 17:29
Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, and right now I’m working in the convenience store space. You know, from my background of working with other retailers and other larger agencies, I don’t want to say they’re not as sophisticated because there are some players in that industry that are sophisticated. But in general, I would say not as sophisticated. So they aren’t working with the big agencies like, you know, you and I would know that I’ve worked with other retailers. And what I’ve seen as the ones that are getting it, right, there’s a digital agency, that is not that old, less than, I think six or seven years old, that decided to carve out a niche to do focus on that vertical convenience stores, focus on a new experience, loyalty, marketing, and be that one agency partner for everything loyalty. So we will do the strategy, we will do the identity, we will do the development, the tech development, and everything for the creation of your mobile app, and how that integrates with your other marketing efforts. But we’re a one stop shop for loyalty marketing, and I’ve seen them grow like crazy within that vertical. And you and I know there are a ton of digital agencies out there a ton. And there aren’t a lot focused on mobile app development and loyalty marketing. But this smaller agency, again, carved out a niche, which I think is very smart to work in a vertical. That wasn’t as sophisticated to was up and coming. And three, they knew they probably didn’t have the budgets to work with big digital agencies. So we can be your partner, and have really grown through hiring great talent and delivering by creating these programs within that vertical. So I’m sure there’s many more out there. But I think that’s just an example of with all the digital agencies I’ve worked with in the past, I never heard of this agency. And now that I’m in that vertical, they dominate the vertical in that world.

April Martini 19:55
And so in that instance, because this is one of the other threads that we been talking about in these conversations is like who’s leading the charge? Is it the client now? Or is it the agency? Or is a combination? Or where’s it working? Well, so in that instance, I know when you and I talked, we talked about, and you mentioned it a little bit in the big box stores already about, like, the different experiences in these spaces. Right. So in that convenience space, the experience looks very different than what we remember as gas station convenience store. Is it the convenience stores leading the charge with the trends? Is it agencies like this digital one coming in saying we can elevate the experience with x? Is it in partnership? How is all that working? Yeah, I

Tom Custer 20:37
think it’s in partnership. But I would say it’s probably agencies bringing again, that idea and innovation to the retailers. And at the same point, retailers staying, seeing the opportunity and success of some players in the industry like take Wawa and sheets that have very good food offerings. And as a shopper, consumer, you could say they’re competing with QSR. They’re competing with McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Chipotle, and they are, in fact, those brands are creating drive thru only prototype store experiences without fuel pumps. So that’s a good example where, you know, 10-15 years ago, that wouldn’t have happened. The retailer in that case, I think, is seeing the vision that maybe we want to be known for food first and fuel second. But as you know, in the industry and convenience stores, there’s many that are still no, we want to be known for fuel, tobacco beverages, like that’s our top three categories. Right? So it’s a mix, it’s a mix, I think sometimes the agency is bringing the ideas and innovation to the retailer to say, you know, we’ll help you grow your business, if you think about it differently. And some are listening and joining those partnerships. And then there’s others that are more traditional that are, you know, still playing today, like they did that 10 years ago. So it’ll be interesting what, you know how it evolves, right? Like, you know, here in Ohio, she eats Wawa, all these new C stores are moving into our space, especially in Columbus, Ohio. And so they’re moving into new markets where consumers aren’t aware of their brand. So it will be interesting, because if they position themselves as a destination for food, you know, you can continue getting your gas at Kroger, if that’s the if it’s the Fuel points that’s driving you to get gas. And they’ll grow their business, you know, through these other categories.

Anne Candido 22:59
Yeah, who would have thought we would live in the world where like, you have like a bikinis and bikinis is like, the place to stop, like, you absolutely will do your route for that. And you stop at bikinis, like, it’s the thing, right? And to your point that you’re you’re saying, that has become a brand all in itself. And I mean, there has been some really smartly done convenience store brands like 711, I would say is still one that continues to resonate with a lot of folks. And you can say when the brand has a good connotation or a bad connotation. But I think at the end of the day, when you think about like the buches has been able to do a Christmas time there was blow a bikinis all over Cincinnati, we don’t even have a Buc-ee’s like every several 100 miles, I mean, so yeah, it’s a dieter developing, you know, developing into their own brands, their own destinations, their own experiences, and it’s, it feels like that that is being constructed or really conceived or envisioned by somebody else that has that insight. And so my question for you, Tom on this is like, what are the skills now that you’ve seen agencies bring to the table? So obviously, they’re doing some fantastic work, what are the skills that they’re bringing to the table? And how are those different than maybe some of the skills that you saw before when they were being more generalist? Because now it seems like they’re definitely niching it but niching it in a productive way, but there’s definitely skill sets that are driving that. Yeah,

Tom Custer 24:26
you’re spot on. I mean, I think, you know, agencies may have gotten a bad rap as creatives, right, of course, that’s what they they’re known for, as pushing the envelope on creative but I think the skills today that are needed is really aligning with that customer and partner, especially in retail, on the strategic business development, like what’s the strategy of where you want to grow your business, and align the creative and the expense answers and touch points and so forth to align with that, because like puppies, perfect example. Like, there’s no more fuel point fuel stations than bikinis right? I think I, I stopped that the one in Kentucky and I was like 152, I’m making it up. But that was a lot. But they’ve also invested in culinary food service, right. So I mean, you can have fantastic food, and it becomes a destination for food. And that’s where, from an agency perspective, it’s not just about the identity and logo buches, right, and the creative, it’s about the business to have, if you want to be in food, and that’s where you’re growing the business. You know, this is the talent you need to hire, this is the experience in the store we need to create, there’s a look and feel with the, you know, furniture, fixtures, etc. All of that plays a part and the agency, I think the skill set is some of that strategy. You know, backbone, first and foremost, before jumping right to creative because, I mean, even in convenience store, I still see a lot of times, others jump right to creative. And then it’s just a beauty contest. I mean, April, you know, this, it’s like, when we worked for bigger firms, and they wanted us to do concepts pro bono, sometimes we would decline to participate, because it’s counter to how you as an agency thing, which is like, yeah, I could create a great concept. But I want to understand, like, where are you wanting to grow your business? With what target customers? You know, what insights do you have, and the creative aligns to that? I think in today’s world, you still have both, you still have both agencies, and you still have both clients who want to do No, just give me a great concept. And that’s where it’ll fall flat. That’s where I think it will, you know, succeed for the long haul.

April Martini 27:13
So one of the other lenses pivoting a little bit, you mentioned digital, but part of what what, you know, we’re trying to get to with, you know, the future of the creative agencies is around the whole idea of things like AI, or companies like Fiverr, being able to do like you just said, the creative concepting doing it really easy and cheap or putting Canva in the hands of every single person out there who now thinks that they can go and do the creative work, right? So in you know, through your experience, and in the retail space, like what are you seeing, are you seeing some of these clients say, like, now we got it, you know, AI can handle it? Or, you know, ChatGPT or whatever? Or is it more? You know, we still appreciate the integrity of it. Is it a mixed bag? What does it look like? Yeah,

Tom Custer 28:02
I think it’s probably more of a mixed bag, like where we are today. Meaning, you know, I think we all need to embrace that technology, it’s not going away. So it’s embrace the technology, leverage it as another input, input or resource, but not replace with, you know, a person or what you were doing before. I mean, I’m seeing that take place a lot, I was just talking to somebody who works for a small agency, in the health care side of the business. And they say, you know, they tap into tools like that for their copywriting. It’s not replacing the copywriter per se, because that that AI is not going to do the strategy. But it might be an input and to the phrasing, the wording, the whatever, as part of the messaging. So why not leverage it? You know, why not? Have it as part of another input, just like you would back in the day? Have a brainstorm session now, if you will. So that’s why I mean, I see it being a valuable tool but not replacing, you know, things in retail. I think it’s very much still test and learn, you know, larger retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot and others I know have tested AI for uncertain categories like power tools, you know, where sometimes they’re secured to a fixture, and people don’t have the experience to like, what does that tool feel like or use, so they might use AI and technology to end VR and things like that to experience the product in store when you can’t physically experience the product and store But I’ve seen mixed things about that, too. I’ve seen them tested, but then I haven’t seen them roll it out, you know, in terms of that being a success. So that’s why I think it’s a little mix of both.

Anne Candido 30:14
Yeah, I’d love to back up to something you said a little bit earlier to what you are talking about concepting. And I think this has a role for AI as well. And I am curious to hear your thoughts about how maybe the whole creative process has changed, appointed, because I remember I remember the days that’s exactly what you did when you know, anything we did from a brainstorming or a png sample was the first thing you did was develop concepts, then you go and you take your develop concepts, and you put them out in front of people, and you do your focus groups or whatever, and you get the feedback on the concepts, then you took that and then you maybe develop them into some sort of campaign or content or executional, advertising boards or whatever you’re looking to take that and it feels like if you’re thinking in general at that process, maybe that that process in that feedback loop, maybe is a little bit broken, or uninformed, because I feel like we’ve been flipping it. So we start with the insights first and getting the understanding from the who we’re talking to, then we go into those phases. I wonder when people are, are contemplating the whole AI, if they feel like AI is replacing the need to actually talk to people, because it’s actually then pulling from what they consider, quote unquote, those people since it’s basically curating from all of the content that it can it can pull from, right, but then it’s either one, so they’re either replacing that or two, they’re shortcutting, some of these things that they would normally be investing the strategy, the time, the creativity to do like concept generation, by just kind of pulling that stuff through AI. So I guess the other two parter question, if sometimes tend to be overloading these questions, is the process question, which is like, is the process changing? Do you suggest like in order to really foster the creativity to modify the process? And then do you feel like aI then is playing a role in the way that people are actually approaching that process?

Tom Custer 32:22
Yeah, I think the process is changing. And again, it’s different for every brand. And on retail to the level or the type of retailer, you are from the level of sophistication, where I would say it’s changing and retail is, there still needs to be a strategy and insights. And I think insights are brought to the table by category leaders and others and retail, they may not have the budget for primary research, you know, themselves, so they rely on others for that. But what I would say in terms of the process changing is rather than like testing concepts, they want to test the concept live, like real time. So rather than do concept testing, as we know it traditionally, both for package design and retail concept testing, you know, I’ve seen a lot of retailers have lab stores. So I was in Dallas last week, and I went to set to 7-Eleven stores, they have what’s called a lab store and an evolution store, both in Dallas and completely different market south of Dallas, north of Dallas. So that’s where they would test, you know, certain things, digital signage, you know, what’s the impact of digital signage in the window versus the print, you know, promotional signage we’ve been doing for decades, or Laredo taco company, you know, which is 7-Eleven. And it’s a connected to the store, but it serves as a QSR restaurant just like, you know, another QSR brand would, and they’ll test things there. It’s more test and learn, test and learn, like almost what is it fail forward fast or something, put it out there to learn and evolve, don’t make it perfect before we get to market with it. But instead of maybe how concept testing was done in the past through focus groups, whether it’s qualitative or quantitative. Now it’s like let’s just get it into market and test it that way. I mean, that’s one process change because you can get to market faster, and then you can start to refine, redevelop, evolve. Now put it in five stores, put it in 10 stores, roll it out to 50 and then it’s it’s Successful the fleet. So it’s more like real time testing. In terms of creative, I also have seen kind of the evolution of call it experience strategy, concept design, design, development, design, refinement, etc. I’ve seen that evolve to kind of shorten as well, not so many different phases or steps of work. So if there was five, there’s now three, it’s like concept design and market. And then you refine it, you know, from there. So I’ve seen the process change. And in terms of shorter timeframes, where at least, especially on the retail side, they want to get out and market more quickly with something and learn from it.

Anne Candido 35:52
Yeah, I

mean, we’re seeing that too, we have been, we’ve totally revamped the way that we even scope work, because I mean, just as a receiver of being on the client side for so long, it’s hard to fathom, spending 75% of your budget on development, discovery, these things that don’t even have a tangible outcome. And that was one thing that even we’ve learned with our small, medium sized business class, if on a big site at p&g, we didn’t have a lot of tolerance for it, they have like zero tolerance for loans, right? Yeah, that doesn’t mean that that work still doesn’t need to be done. And it’s not important to do, it’s just part of a deliverable that actually makes sense for the client. And so they feel like they’re getting what they need, we’re still doing the work that we feel is necessary in order to get them what they need. But it’s a rethinking of that. And so, gone are the days I think, having those huge budgets and that huge amount of time where you just get to do all the discovery. I was even getting on April, about changing the name of that when our scope I’m like, we can’t say that anymore. Everybody’s be like, What is that about why that’s all about you guys, not us, but then also in a way of getting to the results faster and quicker, so that you can test and learn. So you can iterate. So this is not just your one big shot at developing something whether whether it’s a experience or a TV advertisement, or it that is the name of the game. Now it’s that iteration. And so I think agencies that are stuck in these processes that are very linear, as we’ve talked about before, who is spending a lot of time on a discovery or development process that doesn’t have any outcome are struggling to convert clients and having a struggle of actually being able to give the clients or the customers what they want at the end of the day. Yeah, agreed.

Tom Custer 37:47
And I think in package design, structural designers, and some of our creative folks that we’ve worked with would kill me for saying this. But I have seen this where, you know, back in the day, the iconic Coca-Cola bottle, right, a unique structure has its place, no doubt. But in today’s market, I’ve worked with beverage brands, where there are so many glass, there are so many structures out there, have you really vetted, you know, what already exists and produce? And could the uniqueness come through the label or a different way? Right, that’s reducing the process of the timeframe frame. Because if you have to do a structural design, with the graphic design and everything, again, not only an investment, but from a budget perspective, but timeframe. And so I was just reading about like Red Bull as an example. You know, when that launched in the US, it is a unique can it’s a small, skinnier can right and taller, but the can existed. You didn’t you just need to look at other markets and other bottle manufacturers of what’s, what’s a stock product, and then maybe it’s the graphic element that is the point of difference, in addition to the structural element that might already exist, to get to market faster again, and to differentiate yourself from others in the category. I mean, they created the whole energy category by doing that. So you know, there’s still room for that. But my point is, you know, you can reduce the timeline by simple things like that, too.

April Martini 39:37
Yeah, I mean, I think it is such a good point. And it’s hard. It’s, you know, I was having this conversation the other day because someone brought up Fiverr as a suggestion of something we could be doing or using and I about lost my mind right because as someone who appreciates and grew up in and also is classically trained as a designer, the idea going that route, I was like, listen, we just can never, we will never do it, we will never do that. Because it just to me causes the integrity of our business to just be gone. However, your point is very well taken on the other side of that, which is being smart and staying up to date and also thinking through the lens of the experience and what really matters. Because to both of your points, not having the patience of multiple weeks, months of non actual deliverable. And your point, Tom, of why are we recreating or creating new I’m taking, you know, paraphrasing, but from scratch, just because we want to have something different when different for this category may already exist out there. And can we be smarter about it? I think those are, there’s a lot of gray area. And I think there’s a lot of instances where companies and agencies specifically are falling down because they’re not willing to change in order to think broader and bigger, like your generalist comment before. I think generalists was a really positive thing. And I still use it terminology as like what we provide to our clients. But I do think it can have a negative connotation in some cases, because it’s trying to do all the things too many things being, you know, good enough is not good enough anymore. We can’t just say we do services. And then like you and I used to do run back to the agency and say, Okay, guys, we have to figure out how to do this digital thing or whatever, right? It just doesn’t work that way anymore. And so I think the test and learn is huge. I think that being smarter about the solutions is big and getting things to market faster, and then being able to iterate and change versus thinking it has to be perfect or beautiful or artistic or whatever, on the first go. But

Tom Custer 41:42
I think you two are the perfect example of where you both have such rich experience and expertise, you know, in your careers. But you’ve created this partnership, that you know, correct me if I’m wrong, but you can be a generalist to a brand. Oh, yeah, do a lot. Even though you have the specialist experience, right? A lot of different things. And whether you don’t have it, you have the partners that you can bring that in quickly to be part of the solution. And that’s where I think that’s definitely a trend. Because brands, retailers and so forth, are asked to do more with less. And but not lose the strategy, not lose the insight, not lose, you know, what they might have gotten from bigger agencies in the past, they want all that and more. They just want to move faster and do more with less?

Anne Candido 42:44
Well, and I think to that point, and I say for ourselves, but I think also we see it in the agencies that are winning, is they asked one really important question. And that’s where is the innovation. And we throw around that word a lot about innovation and innovation needing to be a new bottle, or innovation needs to be a new tech or a new like whatever that little new shiny thing is. And that’s been kind of in our heads because it’s our been our identity for so long. I’m a package designer, or I am a tech developer, I’m a SaaS, but we whatever those things are to you. But the one thing that I think we’re agencies are starting to shift and the agencies that are winning are doing really, really well. Or they’re asking where’s the innovation, so then the innovation becomes it is the label because you don’t need to have the bottle be different. The innovation is in a positioning, change a positioning ship, you don’t have to throw away your logo and do all these other new things. You need to shift your positioning, the innovation isn’t the story retelling the innovation. So you get a different perspective and a different lens. And that shifts everything versus saying okay, this is the way we’ve done it all along. But and this is our identity, and therefore we’re not going to destroy from that identity. Because what we do so well. I mean, it’s the whole blockbuster thing, it’s the whole Kodak thing, you know, and I feel like sometimes agencies have that mentality like this is what we do well, so therefore we’re going to continue to do it and they don’t stop and just ask, well, where’s the innovation here? And how can I focus on that and then you can’t be a generalist because you’re your specialty is in that innovation piece that you’re providing and everybody else is a supporting cast their their the execute that innovation versus no, I’m going to be really good at all these different things. So I think that’s really the difference. And I think almost like a redefinition of generalist if I was going to go there and saying where it’s before it was a jack of all trades and a Master of None but now it’s really a master of trade and then the jacks are just here to support the Masters right. So I don’t know I don’t know if that that resonates but that’s kind of what was really hitting me as you were your words you were talking

Tom Custer 44:49
well what I love about the question like where’s the innovation in my I think what drives me and what makes others successful as a US was for curiosity and always been learning. So, like in retail with younger talent, who love to shop online, including my wife, and so forth, the National Retail Federation would say 85% of all sales are still done in a physical retail store. So if you’re working with a brand or a retailer, you know, get out of your world, get into the physical stores and get out of their direct competition and get into, you know, other elements of retail like to learn best in class or where the innovators are, etc, etc, to have that curiosity, right to learn, like, where is the innovation? Where could it be coming from, if you don’t know the answer to that? And that’s where you’ll be successful?

Anne Candido 45:50
Yeah, me, evasion is even on how the content was the belt, I remember, you know, 10 years ago, the big innovation was you had these influencers, go shopping, and store and creating user user generated content. Now, everybody does that. But that was the innovation at the moment. And that’s how all these challenger brands were winning, because they were doing those sorts of things and not doing traditional advertising. So I think it’s a really fantastic paradigm shift. And I hope everybody here is because I think that is going to be like the crux of what is going to translate from being successful back then. But to being successful in the future. Yeah, yeah.

April Martini 46:28
Yeah, definitely. All right. So one last one, because you brought up you know, the youngsters a moment ago, but kind of round this out, we get a lot of questions. And we have a lot of conversation about folks that are entering this field, right. So for those of us that have been in it a long time, it can be kind of difficult to think back. And remember the good old days versus where we are now and what’s to come in the future, which is part of this conversation. But what would you say to young professionals entering the career? What

would you tell them to focus on? You know, where do they need to learn? What how do they differentiate themselves? What markets are great for them to go into, like, just some final thoughts there?

Tom Custer 47:07
I think it’s an exciting field to be in, you know, what I’ve always liked is the diversity. Right? You can apply, you can learn a lot about, say, the brand strategy or insights or things of that nature. But it’s so applicable to, you know, whatever brand you work on, or even the type of experience whether it’s retail, or hospitality or food, right, it’s all applicable. And so I think the exciting thing is how you learn from your experience and one brand or area and reapply it to others because, like for me now and see stores, oh, my gosh, it’s an untapped potential, right, just because of where they are as a retailer, and where they’ve been. And there’s definitely leaders in that pack, there’s ones that are definitely doing things and positioning them for the future. But then there’s a lot of others that still need help, right, they still need a lot of help. And who would have thought in today’s age that that even existed. So I mean, I think that that’s exciting, you know, for a younger professional to just like, be a sponge, absorb as much as you can from your peers and older, you know, colleagues in the industry, but then take what you’ve learned and really have a sense for curiosity and get out of your own world to reapply it right to somebody else. I mean, I was just talking to my daughter who is majoring in chemistry. She just had her second interview yesterday. And we were talking about it isn’t exactly to be a chemist or in the lab, but um, like you will you would learn from this employer because it’s a good employer and the experience there. That’s maybe outside of what you’ve been studying for four years, though, like learn from that get your Masters and cosmetic science and reapply it, you know, to P&G, a KAO, or what have you. And so, I think younger people are very narrow, sometimes narrow, focused right, into a particular area when they don’t really have to be there’s just so much to learn and so much to reapply, but I think you have to be curious and ask a lot of good questions to learn. You know, otherwise, you will be defined in a role, right?

April Martini 49:49
Yep. We agree.

Anne Candido 49:51
I spend my life

April Martini 49:55
Alright, so before we go, we like to ask just a couple of you know, random question. Students so people get to know you a little better. They’re meant to be super quick, which I have to remind myself of favorite

sport to watch, if any.

Tom Custer 50:07
Wow, favorite sport to watch probably basketball, the college like Final Four. All

Anne Candido 50:13
right, which the date and flyers was coming there. Yes.

April Martini 50:20
dog or cat person? Dog? For sure. All right. And

if you could go anywhere right now that you haven’t been before, where would it be anywhere in the world? Oh, wow. So

Tom Custer 50:33
I’ve never been more time. I’ve traveled a ton. But actually, I’ve never been to like Paris in London. I’ve been to Europe, like Germany and so forth. But there’s something about and my wife has. So there’s something about Paris and London. That’s intriguing to me that I would love to experience. All right. So

April Martini 50:54
this has been awesome. Tom, thank you for joining us. And before we close out, can you let everybody know where to contact you or reach you if they want to continue the conversation?

Tom Custer 51:03

absolutely. Well, thank you. And thanks, April. Really appreciate it. Probably reach out to me on LinkedIn.

April Martini 51:11
This has been an exceptionally insightful conversation. And we want to thank Tom for being one of our experts in this marketing smart screed of series, the issues facing creative agencies today, and how they need to evolve to stay relevant.

We thought that coming out of this conversation all of you listeners take action on the insights we’ve discussed today to make your agency client partnerships stronger and more meaningful, as well as be honest with yourselves and clean up work clean up as needed. We can all change the industry for the better this way. Be on the lookout or listen for other episodes in this series. And if you have particular thoughts or feedback, we’d love to hear from you as always. And with that, we will say go and exercise your Marketing Smarts! Still need help in growing your Marketing Smarts? Contact us through our website:

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