Scott Lewis is the CEO and founder of KickFactory, a social engagement platform built on Artificial Intelligence that helps give companies a competitive edge by reaching customers before they start to shop. KickFactory launched in 2013 out of Chicago and serves a wide variety of companies from startups to Fortune 500 brands including Domino’s, Sears, and Sprint.
Previously, Scott worked as a Co-Founder and Director of Operations at Uloop, a news and classifieds website for college students. He also worked in Product Development at AnchorFree, an internet privacy platform.
Here are some of the topics discussed in this episode.
Acknowledge Your Customer’s Emotions
Even though this is likely an integral part of all of our marketing campaigns, it’s likely that we might sometimes forget to place the emotional response of our target users before the logical and data driven solution we have to offer them that solves their pain points.
“We always want to acknowledge the emotion that they’re expressing first before we ask them to do anything…That has caused a dramatic shift for us in terms of click-through rates and conversion rates, but it’s also had a big shift in terms of brand endearment and the way people are perceiving a brand. That’s been a lot of fun to watch. Brands that we’re working with are learning about themselves and learning about the way they can interact with people.”
The first reaction consumers have to a problem that needs a solution is emotional. Acknowledging and empathizing with them at their moment of need has the potential to dramatically improve the perception they have of your brand.
Consumers Love Social Media
It sounds a bit obvious, but it’s true. Social media is and likely always will be a tremendous source of ready-to-buy future customers.
“I’m constantly surprised by how much information people are sharing and at various points in time. Personally, I’m not a big person that posts a lot on social media. However, I’m from Chicago. When the Cubs win the World Series, I want to celebrate with 250,000 friends in Chicago that are posting about that same thing, you know?”
Even if you are personally not an active participant on every major social network, a vast segment of highly engaged individuals are.
Artificial Intelligence Will Revolutionize Marketing
Despite the infancy of Artificial Intelligence, it is likely that this new technology will become an increasingly more powerful tool for us as marketers.
“I think AI will dominate the marketing landscape over the next 10 years because the segmentation is going to be much higher. The predictability at which people will do something will be much higher and the costs are going to be far cheaper because you’re only paying for what you use. That’s a marketer’s dream in the end.
Among the largest benefits of AI will be the increased segmentation and personalization that we’ll be able to accomplish in our advertising and marketing. It’s just one component of the journey towards advanced advertising personalization.
Note: this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ander: So, it’s always a pleasure discovering new companies whenever I do these podcasts, and just recently, I discovered a company called KickFactory. Today I am talking to their founder today, Scott Lewis.
Scott: Yeah, thanks for having me on the show, Ander. I appreciate it.
Ander: Scott, thank you so much for joining us today—real pleasure to have you. And thank you for calling in all the way from Chicago.
I think the best way to get started is to hear what KickFactory is in your own words. I explained it a little bit in the introduction, but it should probably come from the founder itself.
Scott: Yeah. For sure.
KickFactory is a way for brands to reach current customers, future customers, and even competitors’ customers right as that customer is having a moment of need. Think about us like a personal engagement platform. We’re a managed service, we leverage our own AI that we’ve built, and we employ community managers to help reach out to those customers as they’re having this moment of need in life. We do that with speed, with precision, and at scale for them.
Ander: And can you give me an example of what that actually looks like?
Scott: Yeah, so a very simple example is we work for a very large automotive company here in the Midwest, and they are in the business of helping people replace their car tires. So, we see tweets, and we see messages all day long on Instagram where someone woke up, they’re getting ready to go to work, and they go out to their car, and they find a flat tire, and they tweet that. “Oh my goodness, my life stinks today. I woke up; I have a flat tire—this sucks.
What we’re able to do is, on behalf of that brand, reach out to people and say, “Hey Scott, I’m sorry to hear that you’re having a rough morning. I hate to see that you woke up to a flat tire, but what we’d love to do is we’d love to help you fix that flat for free, or we’d love to help you replace that tire. Please use this coupon—it’s 20% off.” And we bring that person into the store, and they’re able to make their life a little bit better but also get that need met in life.
We do that through both Twitter and Instagram.
Ander: Wow, that’s really awesome. So what’s the story behind the beginning of KickFactory?
Scott: Yeah, funny story. So, back in 2013, in the summer of 2013, I had a buddy here in Chicago that opened a barbecue restaurant. I’m a huge barbecue fanatic myself.
So, he opens this restaurant, and he says, “Hey man, do you think you could help me find people that also enjoy barbecue and could bring them into my restaurant to give them a taste of what I’m doing here?”
We said, “Yeah, sure, maybe. Let’s kind of poke around and take a look,” You know, we were just kind of goofing around. We had a friend who had a need, and we thought maybe we could help.
So, we went out on Twitter, we went out on Facebook, and we were looking for people who were checking in at barbecue-like restaurants. We were looking for people who were talking about dishes at other restaurants that were barbecue-inspired. Or my favorite was the guy who said, “I wish I had barbecue in my belly right now.”
Ander: Don’t we all? Haha.
Scott: Yeah. So, we presented this to our friend, and we were like, “Hey man, there are some local people here who we think you could connect with, so have fun!
And he said, “Well, it only works for me if you make the engagement and you actually give them a coupon. It’s not enough to listen. You have to both listen and engage.”
So, we said, “Oh, all right. That sounds like an opportunity.” So, we actually built a little sandbox platform that allowed us to listen for those people and then put a coupon in their hand, and he had a little bit of a success on his hands of just new coupons coming in to the store and people trying his restaurant. He has a phenomenal restaurant, and he would have done fine on his own, but it was really neat to see people bringing in and redeeming our coupons at his locations.
Ander: Yeah, I totally understand that. To summarize what you’re doing, it’s really about matching in moment of need—is that correct?
Scott: That’s correct. We are looking for people that are expressing needs and desires and reaching to them right as it’s happening.
Ander: That is really awesome. In fact, in the first episode of this podcast when we interviewed the founder and CEO of Instapage, Tyson Quick, about that and how that’s going to become the future of marketing. It’s really cool to see you guys taking this step
Ander: When you started KickFactory—when you had this conversation with your barbecue friend—what was your marketing philosophy at that time, and how has that changed since you’ve been at KickFactory?
Scott: Yeah, so I would say our philosophy at the time was “Huh, I wonder if this will work.” Really, what it’s changed to is seeing a shift in social media right now—a shift on the internet, really—where people are sharing their lives. Social media is providing this outlet for sharing a stream of consciousness about myself and what we like to call “micro-events” that are happening in life.
Our philosophy today is really marketing is done right when a brand is able to provide value add to a consumer, not just carpet bomb them with a message that is, “Hey, come and buy our product.” But really where it’s: “I understand that you like barbecue,” or “I understand that you’ve had a flat tire, and you just want your life put back together. We want to help you fix that.” So, we believe good marketing is best when it’s personalized, when it’s timely in its reply, when it’s contextually relevant and, quite frankly, when it’s ROI-positive for the business.
Ander: Totally right.
Every consumer knows a business is in business to make money. When all of those things line
up, it’s a good marketing practice, so that’s what we strive for with our customers.
Ander: And how has your marketing philosophy really changed since you’ve been at KickFactory? What are some of the things that you’ve realized that you really weren’t aware of when you started this project?
Scott: Yeah, so Twitter, for example—we did not know how much of these micro-moments people are sharing about themselves, things that we all make fun of and say, “Oh, it’s the food porn, and it’s the things that people are sharing that way,” but it’s really the mundane things of life, of: “I don’t know what to choose for lunch;” “I had this flat tire on my car;” “It’s time for me to update my phone—which one should I choose?” It’s created this gap where brands need to be stepping in and reaching those people.
What we’ve learned is that really it’s emotion that is causing a person to post on social media. Again, it’s a micro-moment in life, and it’s always an emotion first, facts second. You always know when it’s a news article because the facts come first. But it’s these emotions that people are expressing that brands are able to connect with people through.
The technique that we’ve learned that has been a huge shift for us is we use a technique called “mirroring” when we create a reply to a consumer. We always want to acknowledge the emotion that they’re expressing first before we ask them to do anything. So, take the flat tire example—we always want to sympathize with Scott, who had a flat tire this morning, before we tell him, “Hey man, we can help fix your flat tire over here at Company A.”
That has caused a dramatic shift for us in terms of click-through rates and conversion rates, but it’s also had a big shift in terms of brand endearment and the way people are perceiving a brand. That’s been a lot of fun to watch. Brands that we’re working with are learning about themselves and learning about the way they can interact with people.
Probably the last piece I would share that we’ve learned. This might sound somewhat like “Of course that’s true!” People don’t like to marketing-heavy language. When I say, “I need to replace my car tires,” and you reply with “Oh, it’s buy 3, get 1 free through Sunday!”—just run an ad. Don’t bother to do a social engagement. Just run an ad. You know that the ad is not going to get you anywhere close to what the social engagement is going to get you. That’s something we really coach the brands that we’re working with on, to be very engaging in their content but always acknowledging and always sympathizing and always seeking the human element because that will endear that person to the brand.
Ander: Some people look at advertising as directly paying for a paid media placement or running campaigns on Adwords, whatever it is…
Ander: But I almost see what you guys are doing as a form of highly targeted timely advertising—is that something you would agree with?
Scott: That is. I mean, that’s why we call it an “engagement platform.” We don’t call it a “customer acquisition platform” or whatever because there’s value that extends far beyond just the transaction that you’re about to have here.
Ander: So for me personally, I’m probably not going to take a picture of my flat tire when I get up in the morning, and I’m ready to get to work or whatever, but obviously, a lot of people do! That’s why you guys are in business. Is there a certain demo or a certain type of person that you’ve noticed does engage with this type of behavior that allows brands to leverage that timeliness?
Scott: I would say no. I’m constantly surprised by how much information people are sharing and at various points in time. Personally, I’m not a big person that posts a lot on social media. However, I’m from Chicago. When the Cubs win the World Series, I want to celebrate with 250,000 friends in Chicago that are posting about that same thing, you know?
Ander: No kidding. I don’t blame you.
Scott: It’s really about what is happening to me right now, in this moment. That determines whether or not I’m going to share things. What we’ve learned through KickFactory is a very fascinating study of people.
Ander: Now, let’s actually shift gears a bit and talk about how you grew KickFactory, how you made it what it is today. What was the growth story behind growing it to the point that you’ve made it a successful business.
Scott: Yeah, I mean, the simple answer to that is it’s been a hell of a lot of hustle!
Ander: Of course! So, what did that hustle consist of?
Scott: That hustle consisted of smiling and dialing and talking to a lot of different brands. It consisted of working the network and talking to people. But it also was some simple things, like listening to the social media networks and listening for “What are the needs that people are expressing every day that are just native to them?” and then matching products and services backwards to that.
For example, one of the customers that we work with is Eve Sleep. We’ve learned that the #1 thing people want on Twitter is more and better sleep, so we’re able to work with the Eve Sleep team to match mattresses and sleeping products with people who are looking for more and better sleep.
Ander: Have you guys used your own product to market your own product?
Scott: We do. We reach out to guys like yourself. We reach out to people that are
posting all kinds of articles related to social media listening, social media activation, people looking for ROI on social media. We’re constantly engaging in conversation there, and we really take the same approach of “I’m going to go out, and I’m going to make sure that I understood what you’re posting, and I’m going to make sure I understood why you’re posting it, and then I’m going to put a personalized, engaging message that says, ‘Hey Ander, we would love for you to come and check out what we’re doing over here as well,'” and we’ve generated a lot of inbound leads from things like that.
Ander: Now, you’ve worked, obviously, at a few other companies. You were one of the co-founders of YouLoop, and you also worked at a company called AnchorFree. I’ve also worked at quite a few other companies both as full-time and as a consultant. Something I’ve noticed is that there’s actually a very unique quality to creating a product and selling a product and marketing a product that is used for marketing. I mean, the way I explain my job is “Well, I’m a marketer that markets marketing products to other marketers.”
Ander: How has shifting into this role, into a company like that—how has that changed your philosophy on marketing compared to the roles you previously held at other companies?
Scott: When I worked at AnchorFree, I was the head of Desktop Applications, so I was responsible for both creating and marketing that product. That was a product that I pushed out into market. YouLoop was a very similar way. We had products and services that we were pushing out to market.
KickFactory is a very inbound-based marketing product, where people have needs that they’re
expressing. Those needs are at the business level, and those needs are at the individual consumer level, and we’re able to identify those needs, and we’re able to fill those needs as they’re happening.
I’ve never had a product that worked like that before. The closest thing that I’ve seen to that is search engine marketing, where you have someone who is going to Google and is punching in “I’m looking for car insurance,” or “I’m looking for…” whatever the case may be, where they’re telling you the intent of what they’re looking for.
We’re able to deduce the intent of what you’re looking for here, so that’s been a really interesting shift in the way that we see the top of the sales funnel.
Ander: Do you think that there’s a way to deduce that intent in other channels for marketing beyond social, beyond paid marketing, beyond what KickFactory specifically does? Is there a way to do that?
Scott: We have a lot of people that talk to us about reputation management. That’s a very common thing that we have. I could envision a day where KickFactory is working with companies like TripAdvisor or working with companies like Yelp, where we’re understanding what the needs are of the people who are posting comments there and actually being able to make replies back and engage in a conversation the same way you would if they were posting that on Twitter or if they’re posting that on Instagram. I see that as a very clear path to success here.
Ander: What about something like email marketing—or even something like cold
calling if someone has a cold calling organization? Is there a way that you can envision that people might be able to deduce that intent you’re referring to?
Scott: We’ve worked with a couple of companies in the past where we have been able to take our data sets and work with their data sets and say, “Let’s talk about people that are looking for a vacation and travel.” They’ve said, “I have this list of 1,000 people—can you tell me how many of those people in the last 90 days are in market for a vacation?” because they’re going to market to them differently.
Certainly, that’s already happening. You then get the multichannel approach to marketing, where you can set up a KickFactory message. They can begin to, in their own systems, text and email, or whatever channels they’re using internally.
But you get that very tight list of people that have expressed needs over a given amount of time, and then, because one of the major components to KickFactory that is an asset to us is we know the end-to-end market of a consumer, we know the best way to reach out to them because our AI has been able to see interactions like these before.
That’s certainly an opportunity, and I would imagine that more and more companies that we work with are going to get savvier and want to integrate us into their own marketing because it will just sharpen their own internal marketing channels.
Ander: Speaking of artificial intelligence, how have you seen AI come into marketing? What are some of your observations about how it’s making its way into more marketing technologies?
Scott: Yeah, so everything in marketing—at least everything that I’m reading in marketing—is about personalization.
Scott: And there is… You know, let’s take Twitter, for example. There’s so much
information there that you could get drowned in the information, and AI is—at least in our world—what’s allowing us to really take the 10 million tweets that we might look at today and sift those down to the right tens of thousands of tweets that are worthy of engaging on behalf of the brands we’re working with. But to be able to do that, again, in that personalized manner that’s contextually appropriate, that’s conversationally appropriate, and that allows you to do it in a timely manner, that makes it relevant for the person who is receiving it to where it’s going to feel like it’s a conversation being started and not just a blast marketing that got my name right in the first line of the email.
Ander: To what degree do you think that companies and other marketers are
underutilizing artificial intelligence? Is there a gap in the amount of people who are using it to the power they could be?
And I’m wondering this across all channels whether it’s something that is more lead-generation focused or something that might be even focused on retention or something like that.
Scott: Right. So, I think that there aren’t enough tool sets today that are allowing people to kind of stretch their legs in terms of AI. I think that KickFactory has kind of a niche portion of AI, where we’ve learned that AI enables us to find the right people to talk to and to determine the best way to talk to them and to determine the best landing experience to send them to. That’s a sliver of what AI can bring to the marketing world. I think once you start to get into the broader uses of it, I think it’s an eyedropper in the ocean at this point.
I think AI will dominate the marketing landscape over the next 10 years because the segmentation is going to be much higher. The predictability at which people will do something will be much higher and the costs are going to be far cheaper because you’re only paying for what you use. That’s a marketer’s dream in the end.
Ander: Yeah, lowering your cost of customer acquisition, absolutely.
Ander: When you step back from KickFactory, when you step back from the specific way that you’re utilizing artificial intelligence with your product and helping your customers, where do you think marketing is headed? Where do you think is the future of marketing?
Scott: Yeah, that’s a great question and a very broad question.
The obvious things that we’re seeing are that people are becoming more and more connected online. They’re living their lives in front of their screen, and they’re looking for ways to make that more and more seamless, to be able to share more information into the cloud, while having to do less to make that happen.
We think that the brands that are going to excel in this next generation of marketing are going to be the ones that understand the shift and move towards this personalized engagement approach. You watch Dancing with the Stars, and that’s a show that has a massive audience. But when you think about what’s happening, as every time Dancing with the Stars goes to commercial break, everybody picks up their phone and is immediately engaging on social media about what’s happening on Dancing with the Stars.
The brands that are going to be the ones that are the winners here are going to be the ones that understand that they need to deliver content in a lot of different formats and also engage those people who are engaging online because that’s where they’re congregating. You have to go to where the people are at, and that is on social media today, and it’s going to be on a lot of different forms of social media.
But I think really, in the end, the shift has got to be local. It’s got to be personalized. It’s got to be contextually relevant, and it has to happen now, and you can’t have the messaging goof-ups that we’re seeing today with AI because it’s still so new. It’s in the baby steps of the world right now. As those technologies get honed over time, I think we’re going to see better and better engagement opportunities—whether you want to call those “conversation starters” or whether you want to call those “lead opportunities.”
But it’s not going to be just that. You’re going to be seeing news outlets where their writers are engaging people around stories that would be relevant to them to make sure people are discovering the content around the net that they should be seeing. I think there are some massive, massive opportunities there for all kinds of brands to reach people in what’s becoming a new marketing world.
Ander: Awesome, and I totally agree. A lot of that syncs up with a lot of the content that I create here at Instapage. A lot of the conversations we feature in this podcast, our webinars, and our blog is that marketing personalization is getting increasingly more important, and I certainly think that artificial intelligence is going to play a role there.
Scott, it has been a pleasure talking today. I love what you’re working on. I love your philosophies and what KickFactory is doing.
Thank you once again for taking the time to come on our show here.
Scott: Yeah, thank you. I really appreciate you having me on the program, Ander.