Chris Baccus on Marketing's Past, Present, and Future
I first spoke with Chris Baccus when I was working with GDI Infotech on blog content for a series of stories called, 25 Stories for 25 Years. I immediately was drawn to his story, as he has had a successful career in both marketing and IT that has spanned over decades. In fact, Chris has seen digital marketing transition from banner ads to Instagram ads. Chris Baccus is now the Sr. VP of Marketing at Caruso, mostly known for The Grove, a premier shopping center in Los Angeles, CA. In this interview, he shares how he made the transition from IT to marketing, how the industry has changed, and what we can expect in the future. Enjoy!
S. Mitchell Marketing: Explain what you do in 30 seconds or less.
Chris Baccus: I'm the Sr. VP at Caruso and I promote and market our tenants, events, and properties that we have. I focus on anything that is digital and communications, such as mobile, website, paid media, email marketing, social marketing. We also do some traditional media, too, such as print advertising.
SMM: You first started off as a consultant in IT and now you’re a Senior VP of Marketing. How did you make that jump?
CB: I was an Application Developer. My first role in marketing was at a company that handled all of Chrysler and their marketing back in the late 80s and it was basically one technical job to the next and my job in marketing was very technical as I was leading development and technical project management for our marketing clients and team. So I kind of walked into the back door in technology, more than I did as an expert in marketing.
SMM: How did you know that marketing was a field that you wanted to get into? Did you always have an interest in it?
CB: I think, like mostly everyone else, marketing was more of an irritation than an interest of mine (laughs). It’s more disruptive and it’s not always seen as meaningful but digital was really starting to take off in a big way. When I started, banner ads were a big thing, blogs were a new thing, and social media hadn’t really started yet. There was a lot to learn and it was a very creative space. Digital marketing was a blank canvas that nobody had ever done before.
Even though I came into it from a technical standpoint, I started to grow a love for marketing as a way of not being annoying in marketing but finding a way that we could use all of these creative platforms and technologies to deliver the right message at the right time to the right person but also make it entertaining and fun. The early days of social media and social marketing was a lot of that and you were able to create things for the very first time in some cases, especially when I worked for Ford Motor Company where we were very innovative in what we were doing- with YouTubers back in 2008, doing road rallies with social media clubs that had just started, and live Twitter chats before Twitter was taken over by our President. You had a very clean slate and you had a creative slate where you could go ahead and kind of shape how marketing was done on those platforms.
It’s more difficult now because a lot of what is out there has been done before and I see some things now and I go, “Oh, I remember when we did that in 2010.” Now, it’s the same toolbox that you see over and over again and the challenge now is making it creative and unique. I think that’s what keeps it interesting is how you keep it creative in this day and age.
SMM: So you were an early adopter and sort of had an edge up on everyone when it came to digital marketing because of your tech background.
CB: Yes, very true. Having a tech background and understanding usability, and design, even coding to a certain extent was very important because you understand how data works, how systems work, and how people engage with software. At the end of the day, all social media platforms are software platforms. The important thing is, how do you make that user experience positive and then how do you as a brand or product use it in a way that is more native rather than disruptive.
"Get to know your customer- what they think, what they like, and why they chose you over your competitors."
SMM: Speaking of data, what are some metrics that are typically important to you when tracking the success of marketing campaigns? I know it varies from campaign to campaign but what metrics do you more commonly pay attention to?
CB: First, you need to determine what is important before you even launch the campaign. I’ve seen so many times where bosses or other team members try to reshape the metrics after or in the middle of the campaign, because like you said, the metrics will vary from campaign to campaign.
The most important metric, though, is you want the hard conversion metric. What’s great about digital marketing is that we can see what people do and what actions they take.
It could be driving them out of your social media platforms to send them over to your website. You need really good goal-tracking, so whether that’s e-mail sign-ups, purchases, RSVPs to events. For us, as a shopping company, we also pay attention to soft metrics, which could be directions or parking information, which means that there is an intent to come and visit the property. Sometimes, the leading indicator isn’t the hard financial indicators, but you need a mix of both the financial metrics and soft metrics.
However, you do need to set one primary metric as a goal and then set sub-metrics so that you can understand people’s behavior.
SMM: That is great advice. With any of the clients that I work with, I always emphasize that if you don’t take the time to carve out the direction, you’ll be wasting time tracking too much data that doesn’t even matter to the primary goal.
CB: You also need the systems to track it. There’s a lot of talk about “engagement.” Engagement is nice- it means that someone has taken an action to what you put out there but if that action is a passive action where I don’t know what the user’s intent is, then it’s not really meaningful. Let’s say you run an ad… you need to drive them somewhere else so that they know more, can learn more, or take a more meaningful action rather than just having that social engagement or watching a video. Passive engagements are really great sub-metrics and KPIs but you really need something that drives the user to something that’s more meaningful to your business’s goals.
SMM: Obviously, marketing constantly changes. It’s one of those industries where you have to learn, adapt, and grow. You always have to sharpen your skills. There’s blog posts that come out, even on my blog, where marketers predict the trends for the next year. In the next few years, how do you think marketing will change?
CB: Social media advertising and working with influencers like YouTubers and Instagrammers is very hot right now and working very well because it’s one of those areas where people are paying attention to marketing because it’s interrupting their natural experience with those platforms but they’re finding value through content in an interesting way. When that content is done right, it doesn’t feel like an ad, per se. Because the platforms are going to be more regulated and people more clearly understand what’s a sponsored advertisement and what’s not an advertisement, which has been a problem since 2009 when the FCC had to develop and enforce rules for bloggers. It’s extended beyond that even now when people like Kim Kardashian have to put #ad on her posts. Though we’ve seen the evolution of that, I don’t think it’s been fully solved but clarification of when something is an ad is going to evolve so that might change the effectiveness of those ads. Advertising effectiveness is going to change as ads have to become more exposed. Advertising and companies will have to figure out a way how to respond to it so that they can still derive value.
We’re also getting into what fewer successful areas. I recently read a book called The End of Advertising by Andrew Essex and he basically got it down to three areas: 1) Social advertising, is still effective because it’s where people are at and where they’re engaged. 2) SuperBowl advertising has a lot of success and I would say that live TV does, too, such as heavily watched live TV. And 3) Event Marketing, which is more experience-oriented, where you have Citibank buying bicycles for people to ride through the city of New York or you have Cheetohs creating a Cheetos restaurant pop-up, or we have Samsung installation at our Americana site property, where they’re doing a lot of hands-on initiatives with their products there so you have to get people more interested and keep them interested.
The old way of what we used to do doesn’t work anymore- I can’t remember the last time I watched a TV show that wasn’t on Netflix (ok, maybe the Rams game) but radio and TV? Forget about it. I haven’t thought about that in 5 years so we’ve lost so many chances for advertising to be effective so that’s what people need to figure out what works.
SMM: I must say, I’m always impressed with people, like yourself, who have been in the marketing industry for a while but still keep their skills sharp. What are some resources that you turn to to stay on top of how marketing is evolving?
CB: I listen to podcasts like The BeanCast, I’m active within marketing groups on Facebook. I also am a part of local groups like Social Media Club - Los Angeles. I utilize my network of industry professionals and they share things with me, as well. I read AdAge pretty religiously and AdWeek. If you curate your feeds you can get marketing information pretty easily so hopefully you’re following people who share relevant and useful things.
SMM: How do you find inspiration and prevent work burnout? That’s something that even I struggle with as an entrepreneur, being consumed with content all the time, and always being plugged in. So how do you prevent that or pull yourself out from it?
CB: That’s a tough one! I like cooking and I play bass guitar pretty terribly. I just try to do other things and not always be focused on work but I’ll be honest with you- even when I’m doing those things I’m always focused on work. It’s tough to disengage but I try to grab a book- and not always a book about the industry. I just keep in mind that there’s more to life than work and I just find my breaks in those activities. But as an admitted workaholic it’s tough to find those breaks and disengage.
SMM: What’s a typical day like for you?
CB: I’m one of those people who immediately picks up the phone and checks my email and social accounts while I’m walking my dog in the morning. During the commute into work, I listen to podcasts, whether it’s BeanCast or Mark Marin. That helps warm up my brain. Then it’s a typical day of work from 9am-6pm or 7pm, just working through whatever we have going on. We have a lot of properties and events happening, so at any time there’s a product launch, website launch, or advertising campaign to work on. It varies every single day.
Then when I come home, I make dinner if it’s not too busy during the day. I like to wine down after work so I try not to stay at work too late. I like to catch up on Stranger Things or whatever else I’m binge-watching.
SMM: What’s some advice that you would give to small business owners who want to grow their business through marketing?
CB: Get to know your customer- what they think, what they like, and why they chose you over your competitors. Once you know your customer, you can target them more effectively through advertising. Start a social channel and get some organic content. You may not get a strong impact from that since most social channels now want you to rely heavily on paid advertisement but you can at least engage with people by liking and commenting on things, you can see which customers are talking about your product or have bought it, and you can show your appreciation to them on social and that increases the advocacy and increases your retention with them.
But you need to advertise. Before, you used to need an agency but now it’s more cost-effective. Maybe you need to hire a consultant but you can now figure it out pretty easily on your own and create an ad with $10 or $50. Facebook is great for advertising because it partners with Instagram and now has a feature where it shows your ad on other websites, not just Facebook. I think Facebook has more data on us than anyone ever has. You can get really creative and specific with who you want to reach even with a small budget.
SMM: What career advice would you give for up-and-coming marketing professionals?
CB: Keep fresh, get a network going, join marketing groups. Your network can help introduce you to more people and opportunities. 70-80% of the people I’ve hired I met through those groups and events. And learn from other marketers- I hired someone who asked me to lunch to learn about what I do and she grew in her career from there. Have lunch or coffee with people that you want to learn from in the industry.