Welcome back to the Microsoft Partner Network Podcast Series! In our latest episode, we sat down with author and Microsoft communications designer Geoff Colon to talk about the evolution of communication and how the discipline of marketing is heading in a new and exciting direction.

What is Different About Disruptive Marketing?

Geoff’s new book, Disruptive Marketing, is all about throwing tired marketing strategies out the window to make room for more impactful and unexpected ways for businesses to connect with customers. We are entering a new age of creative economy that is pushing boundaries with cloud computing, mobility, and big data. Businesses need to think creatively about how they are going to use the new information and tools available today to get the most from this moment in time. Geoff mentioned in our conversation with him that Microsoft is on the leading edge of embracing a more human approach to marketing. He is passionate about marketers finding the balance between the art and the science, the analytical and the creative. That balance is what will reach out and connect businesses with customers, especially in our age of over-saturated marketing content.

How do we make marketing about people again?

In our conversation, Geoff noted that some of the best marketers come from backgrounds in the social sciences. That’s because marketing is at heart about understanding people – how they think, how they act, and why they partner with businesses. Marketing is most effective when it is connecting people. It is becoming very clear to marketers that customers suffer from digital overload. They ignore and even resent unwelcome advertising. In person conversations and word of mouth are still the most powerful forms of marketing today. According to Geoff, that’s because humans crave that personal attention, and an overall sense of belonging.

“Marketing is about a human connection. We have marketing tools and programs that help us track what works, but at their most basic those tools help us understand how people behave.”
-Geoff Colon, author of Disruptive Marketing

How do we balance data and creative?

Geoff said one of the most impactful things businesses can do today to connect with customers is to balance the data and the creative elements of their marketing. Big data is powerful, but it’s not all-powerful. Businesses need to use data creatively when building their marketing strategy. Here are 4 tips he recommended to help partners do just that:

  • Learn by doing. Disruptive marketing is a lot like riding a bike. You try something and if it doesn’t work, you try something else.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, failing fast is one of the best things you can do for your business. Just make note of what led to the failure and pivot accordingly.
  • Take chances. Create your own website, start a podcast, start a twitter account, do something new to get your brand and your message out in front of your customers.
  • Think beyond the utilitarian. Keep the customer journey in mind. Rethink your user experience, ramp up your personalization efforts, and keep in mind that your customers are social animals. They make choices based on the people they want to work with.

Listen and Subscribe

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For a full transcript of today’s podcast, please see below.


Rachel Braunstein: Welcome to the Microsoft Partner Network Podcast. Every week, we bring in industry leaders and Microsoft partners to talk about the big ideas shaping business and technology today.

In today’s episode, we’re talking with author and Microsoft communications designer, Geoff Colon about marketing strategies, disruptive marketing strategies. Hi, Geoff. Welcome. We’re really excited to have you here.

Geoff Colon: Hey, Rachel, thanks for having me.

Braunstein: So, tell me a little bit about yourself. Your profile is very vast. I mean, we’re talking influencer strategies, Fortune 500 brand lead designer, there’s too many things. Plu,s you brought me a book, Disruptive Marketing, in this fantastic yellow and green. You have a really broad experience here. How did you get to Microsoft with everything you’ve done?

Colon: Yeah, good question, a lot of people ask me. I think, you know, instead of what’s in my background, my attitude in life is probably more important, which is try everything once because what do you have to lose? If you don’t like it, you’ll just go on and find other things that you can enjoy. And I had the opportunity a couple of years ago through a recruiter to come and work at Microsoft and took that same attitude, you know, try everything once and if you don’t like it, I can always go and work somewhere else. I was in New York City at the time working in the agency world and just decided, hey, I’m going to pick up and move 3,000+ miles to the Pacific Northwest and work at the mothership. And almost four years later, I’m still here and I really enjoy working at the company because I think it is one of those companies you write your own job description. You figure out what is necessary and you just sort of go out and do it. I think that is the future of work and so I’ve really enjoyed my time here and how I got here which is basically taking a chance or taking a risk.

Braunstein: So, what does that mean with what you’re doing with search advertising and Bing ads?

Colon: Yeah, I mean, the thing there is there’s a lot of risk and challenge there. You know, we have a very good robust advertising business here at Microsoft. But we’re not the lead. We are not a legacy brand in that space whatsoever. Google is sort of the big power company in that space. Facebook has a lot of power in that space. But we also have a monstrosity that’s just across the lake from us in Amazon that is creating a large advertising business. So, that means that we have to take a path that is very different from maybe how we’ve built the business in the past 40 years here at Microsoft and other areas and that means a lot of risk, a lot of growth hacking, a lot of trying things to see if it works. And a lot of product development that differentiates ourselves from others. But I think also in the marketing world, how we approach things in a more human manner is how we stick out from our competitors. People like to do business with Microsoft because we have a vision that might be different from other companies. We have an ethical point of view on technology that’s different from other companies. And this is very important in the modern world because this is how people are actually deciding who they want to work with rather than just utilitarian factors of hey, they make the most money. We know that and we’ve all been in this situation before. You can take a job that pays you the most; it’s not necessarily going to be the best experience. I think what we try to do here is really provide a good experience with all of the customers and clients that we work for. We have to do that. We are in a situation where we have to go above and beyond because we don’t necessarily have the largest market share. We don’t have necessarily all of the ad products that the competitors have. But it’s a great place to be. And if you have a mindset, a good mindset of wanting to do more, I think it’s a good environment to be in.

Braunstein: So, you talked about taking risk and growth hacking, and the name of your book—Disruptive Marketing, What Growth Hackers, Data Punks, and other hybrid thinkers can teach us about navigating the new normal.

Colon: That’s a mouthful.

Braunstein: So, what does that mean?

Colon: Yeah, you know, what it really means is we live in a world where being more left brain or right brain isn’t going to necessarily help us navigate what’s around us. Now it’s really best to almost approach the world like a hybrid—a little bit of left and right brain. And the interesting thing here is no one is really 100% left brained or 100% right brained. I think there was somewhere where that tall tale or urban legend got out there, but scientifically we use both parts of our brain. Otherwise, we wouldn’t function. But what I am getting at in the book is how do you tap into sides of your thinking that you might not be strong at so you have more balance? And we see this in a variety of different cultures. You have the yin and yang of the world. You always have this—we are always trying to get to this place, I think, where we want balance. That is where we’re at our best. I think that’s the same in marketing. It’s not just so much about doing something but almost living and breathing in a certain way and that comes through balance. And we have a tendency of being too analytical in marketing or too creative. Now we really have the best of both worlds and a lot of that is through technology we can be more analytical and track things. At the same time, if you have something that’s not very creative, it doesn’t matter what you track because it’s still going to be not interesting. So, we want—you know, I really want to people to think more creatively in this new era which is why I titled the book and wrote the book. And this new era really is this creative way. We’ve moved really from the agricultural era to the industrial era to a knowledge era and now we live in this sort of creative era. What do you do with all this information? Just having it doesn’t make us better. We have to creatively use it in ways to make the world a lot more interesting.

Braunstein: Where do you even start with that because I would say our partners struggle with marketing; it is a muscle that still needs to be worked out. I mean, building websites, how do you do social media? I get asked this all the time. When do you use social media? How do you do a blog? Where do you start? Forget even being disruptive to just do marketing?

Colon: You know, a lot of it I think is how did you learn how to ride a bike? You got on it, you tried to ride it. You probably failed. You probably fell off it several times but then eventually you learned. I think that’s what we have to approach in marketing again. You know, there was a time when it took a lot of technical people to build a website. But now you can do that on your own. So, I actually encourage people—hey, even if you’re not going to do it for work, get a square space account or a Wicks account or something and just learn how to put a website together, code a little bit, figure out how it visually will operate, what it will look like on a mobile phone, how someone will experience that. Open up a Twitter account. Tweet. Make some mistakes. Get some people angry at you. That’s how you learn how to communicate, I think, in the modern era. I don’t have a background in video editing but I learned how to do it because I just said this is something that is going to change how we communicate with each other so I’m going to learn this. I have a podcast that I started in 2012 in my basement back in Maplewood, New Jersey. I had no recording background but there was a garage band and there was a Blue Yeti microphone and I plugged it in and just created a minimum viable product. I think what we have to do now is just take more chances. We are always looking for a templatized version of if you do A you’ll get B and that’s not necessarily the world that we live in. There’s a lot of things that I think partners can do that might be left of center that actually draw them attention. I think the most important thing is how do you differentiate yourself from everybody else out there and what they offer. That’s a big part of marketing even though people don’t think it is because it falls into branding and branding is a form of marketing. And I think we have to think beyond utilitarian factors. Yes, you offer these services but how do you offer them? Do you customize those? Are they personalized? At the end of the day, we’re social animals, Rachel, and I think that’s why people gravitate towards others and why they continue to want to work with people. I mean, you probably experience this yourself; I have in my own career. I don’t take a job because it’s a job. I take a job because you get to work with people you enjoy working with and I think that’s the big thing partners probably understand but also we want them to learn and continue to learn which is how you interact with people is a form of marketing now since the entire economy is really based on communications and word of mouth.

Braunstein: Are there any standout examples or anything that could paint a picture? Not even standout example, just what a modern, like a successful modern marketing or whatever we call that.

Colon: Yeah, I mean, I think the big thing now is to think about human experience. We have a tendency of thinking about how people will move through a customer journey but that funnel has been obliterated because it’s a linear funnel and it’s not how we behave. I mean, humans are irrational. I think one of the things that’s interesting is the Chicago School of Thought and Economics has really been disrupted by people like Richard Thaler who have come along and said actually economics is behavioral. There is another professor at Yale who said actually, economics is tied back to a narrative. My late father was an economics professor and I always loved how he said oh, that company is not going to do very well, I think. I think the share price will fall. And I would say what are you talking about, Dad? They’re trading at $100 a share. And he would say but people don’t believe in the company. So, at the end of the day, marketing is still a human connection even though we have technology to do all of these things. We have search marketing. We have social media marketing. We have analytics. We have different things we can track. However, all those things are set up so we can actually try to figure out how humans interact with us. So, we can go back to thinking about how people behave and how they behave both irrationally as well as rationally. I think those are the best marketers. I think people who have backgrounds in sociology and human behavior mixed with people who also have technical skills are really what a modern marketer is.

Braunstein: It’s funny because what you’re saying is oh, the customer has changed. They’re changed. What you’re saying is they’re humans. Actually, we’re still the same. We’re just doing things a little bit differently.

Colon: What’s the old saying, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And also what goes around comes around. I mean, we’re almost going full circle now where because of a digital overload in everything that we do, because we’re on devices 75% of our time now, we love this human connection like you and I have in a studio where we’re sitting next to each other and we’re talking. People enjoy that. I think many of the events that I go to with partners, the best thing is just having a conversation with them. They get to shake your hand. They get to ask you questions. They get to pick your brain. And you show them attention. And that is really something that is human. Humans crave attention. We have a sense of belonging and I think that’s an important part of marketing that we miss when we try to set everything up so that it basically is hey, how are we tracking on ROI or how are we tracking on direct marketing? Those are tactics. At the end of the day, we’re trying to reach people and get them to feel something.

Braunstein: Yeah. You talk about people, something I think our partners are very curious about—everybody is. How do you reach millennial audience and now the millennial audience is now the biggest part of the workforce, officially. Yeah, their managers are not millennials. That’s a huge gap. Most likely somebody who’s listening today is going to hire a millennial but doesn’t understand what they’re about. They’re a unique audience. I’m a millennial. What do you say to that? How do you speak? How do you market in some sense to them?

Colon: Well, I think the big thing there is what’s your emotional intelligence? Do you have empathy for other people? You know, in the book I use the topic of try to understand what a women in Lagos, Nigeria goes through on a daily basis. That’s very different from what you and I go through living here in the Pacific Northwest. But that builds empathy. We understand what technology they use, what areas that are important for them in terms of what they would like to—what they want to learn. Also, what blockades that they face, what obstruction they face in life. That’s important because when we market now, we have to have context for who people are. And as you said, Rachel, you have to understand who this whole sector of the population is. And I’ve actually found that older millennials are different than younger millennials. So, you have a very large population but the older portion is different from the younger portion and that’s something that people have to understand and I think they pick that up through emotional intelligence and empathy. The best thing though is to actually shadow someone and look at what they do day to day. I mean, one of the best things ever was a couple of years ago, I worked in the agency world in New York City and I would sit in the open air office space that we had and I would watch and observe what people would do who were very young compared to myself. And they always had headphones on. And even if I could go up and talk to them, they would rather have me electronically communicate with them. And they liked texting over email. And there were a number of different things. Even in this day and age, I work with a lot of younger people here at Microsoft, they will ask me, hey, is it okay if I text you? Because I have that bond with them, but they also don’t want my inbox clogged with everything, especially if it’s simple chatter. Hey, are you going to bring this to the event that we have? There’s no need for an email because it’s more real-time communication. So, I think one of the things that we have to understand is how do different portions of the population, depending on where they live in the world geographically as well as their age, how do they communicate? Because how they communicate isn’t wrong, it’s just different. It’s almost like if you go to a doctor’s office, they will still have a fax machine and there is nothing wrong with that because they still have to use faxes to send orders in for pharmaceutical drugs. Yet, when you go and if you went in and talked with them and said, hey, I have the latest social software, they would look at you like you have two heads because you are not able to empathize with their situation, what they have to go through, how they have to communicate. I’m sure they would love to communicate using SMS or Snapchat, but they have to communicate a certain way because they might be in a regulatory industry. And younger people, when we watch or observe how they communicate—and someone just wrote an editorial about this I think for the Washington Post—they said, oh, Snapchat’s ridiculous. Why would anyone want to use it? Of course, this is a 50 year old guy who doesn’t understand that it is a form of communication. You’re not taking videos just to take videos. It is basically the modern equivalent of how we text. You’re showing snippets of what you’re doing because that’s how you communicate. And if we look at how communication has worked and how it have evolved, you can’t look back on ancient civilizations who used fire to communicate or who used wall paintings to communicate and say oh, that’s the most ridiculous thing ever. It was a different place and a different time and that’s where we are right now. And I think the more we can understand people and understand one another, the more civil society will be and the more we’ll be able to actually get things done in our business world which is ultimately what we all want to do.

Braunstein: So, empathy. A lot of empathy and understanding. That’s really what marketing is.

Colon: Totally.

Braunstein: I don’t think enough people understand that. That’s why I love marketing because it’s about the person and if that’s what you love—that’s why I’ve always loved it.

Colon: Yeah, I mean, you love people. I think that’s the interesting thing is we’re not marketing to robots although that is in the cards in the future. But we are still trying to reach people and we want to know what motivates them. And I think if you just make everything so that it’s just sort of cold and calculated and 100% analytical, at the end of the day you’re not really going to connect with anyone and then you’re going to wonder why hey, how come our marketing isn’t working? Well, because it isn’t motivated by anything that’s really what drives us as humans. So, I think those are things that we have to think about a little bit more.

Braunstein: So, you kind of alluded to marketing to robots. So, the future. What do you think the future of marketing holds?

Colon: It is going to be a combination of marketing to robots and marketing to people. And what I mean by that is we are moving into a world now where we have a number of conversation bots taking over the web. We are moving into a whole new world of computing where the app ecosystem, even though it’s strong right now as we speak in 2017, by 2020, that might not be as strong or it will operate very different. It will operate in the sense that let’s say you wake up that morning and you need to go to a flywheel class, and I’m saying that because I enjoy flywheel, and you go to book flywheel. Now you have to go to a site or an app and do all of that through manual labor. You have to put all the information in. A bot will be able to scrape the information that you already have and do that work for you. It will then also put that information into your calendar and it may even give you a verbal sort of notification. Geoffrey, don’t forget, you have a flywheel class at 9:30 in Bellevue.

Braunstein: It will sound like that?

Colon: Yeah, I’m trying to do my best Cortana voice but I don’t think I did it very well. And then you’ll know, okay, hey, I have to actually go to that. And of course, if you need to cancel, a bot will help you do that. There are a lot of things that are going to change in the next couple of years where the web is based on actions and a bots will actually help us perform those actions. But that changes marketing because you have to market not just to people to take those actions but you have to market so that the bot is programmed to help that person’s experience. And when we talk about experience, and this is a very big part of marketing now, we have to think about what do people do in their day to day and this is where personalization really comes in to the playing field because what you do, Rachel, is very different from what I do. The apps you have different from my apps. The bots that will program your calendar different from the bots that will program my calendar. And, of course, this is only learned through systems if we help it learn by speaking to it or giving it prompts. This is why we have a number of verbal cues with things like Cortana, Siri, Amazon Echo. We’re giving it a prompt no different than how you would put ://start. Now you say Cortana, find a flight for me to New York City on March 11th. So, that is going to change a lot of how we actually operate, but it’s still human. The more human you can make that experience, the better marketer you will be. The more utilitarian and with a sort of technological functionality, the more people will just sort of say yeah, this works, but it’s pretty cold feeling. And that’s why I think it’s very important for marketers to still think about how do you actually reach people in a way where they feel emotionally connected and they feel that they’re part of something bigger. I mean, I think that’s just part of the 21st century purpose driven economy, at least in the western world. In other parts of the world, very different, and we know that. And, of course, I have to state that because that is empathy right there. I know that they use different technology in different countries and that what you have to do day to day is very different from how we may act here. But I think ultimately those are things that may envelope the entire world in the next 4 years.

Braunstein: So, if you had to give a few key pieces of advice or action to take or resources to use to start disrupting, what would you say, Geoff?

Colon: I think the most important thing is how do you use disruptive innovation with creative destruction? And what I mean by this is many of us don’t have a lot of money for marketing. But that shouldn’t prevent us from doing things that are the basics or help connect with others. So, how do you do things that are low cost yet also creative, very different? They grab the attention of the people that you’re actually trying to reach? I think there’s a tendency of people to think that they have to build these elaborate systems in order to market but there’s a variety of tools that we can tap into that exist out there for us. It’s how we use those tools, how we manipulate those tools, how we hack those tools that’s really the most important. So, you know, that goes back to how are you going to use social advertising for your business and not make it look really boring in someone’s news feed? How are you using search marketing for your business so that you’re actually reaching people that are maybe typing that left of center keyword that your competitors aren’t thinking of so you can own that space. How are you thinking about the physical world? We have a tendency of forgetting this, Rachel. The physical world, we still live in it at least a majority of the time. Very different when we put on a VR or an AR headset. But we still live in the physical world and I think we have to remember that marketing takes place in the physical world and I don’t mean by signage. I mean literally by hey, did you hear about this company? Did you hear what this company is doing? Did you hear what this technology is doing? Most things are still word of mouth, hand to hand discussion. So, the thing that I think that people have to think about in order to be truly disruptive is how do you actually persuade and influence people so that they’re talking about you, not all the time, but at those moments in time that are really the most important for you to gain relevance. And I think relevance is the huge barometer or huge indicator that we don’t think about as marketers. We ask questions like if I put X amount of dollars will I get X amount of dollars back? But a lot of the tactics and techniques that I talk about are low cost and they’re done so that you actually stay relevant because relevance is so important in what—in the times we’re living in. We’re living in an attention economy right now and if you don’t have any relevance, ultimately, you’re just not going to have a business and you’re going to fade away.

Braunstein: Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s perfect advice, Geoff. Thank you so much for coming in.

Colon: Thank you.

Braunstein: We really appreciate it. Check out his book. We’ll put it in the descriptions. Thanks, Geoff.

Colon: Thanks, Rachel.

Braunstein: Thanks for listening today and check out the podcast description for show notes. Be sure to subscribe and keep in touch with us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter at MS Partner.