Apr 16, 2020
Caren Carrasco is Senior Partner at Benjamin David Group, a 4-year-old marketing consultancy that excels at digital marketing – in particular, website creation, branding, content strategy, social media, email marketing, and paid media. Benjamin David group works with a wide range of clients, from startups focused on getting their Series A, others with their first infusion of venture capital, to larger, more mature corporations like Cirque du Soleil. The objective? To help their clients get fast, profitable growth.
Many clients are B2B. Benjamin David Group provides strategy, with a focus on figuring out how to get traction fast, and supplies the team to make it happen – either by handing off the strategic plan to the client’s team or by facilitating the hiring of an appropriate team. “It doesn’t make sense to pay a consultant to execute,” Caren says, except maybe at the very beginning when the marketing structure is not yet established. To maintain close contact, at least one member of Caren’s agency will work in-office at the client’s site.
Except COVID-19 has changed things up. Caren explains how BDG is handling the imposed transition to virtual, the continued importance of weekly contact with their clients, the impact of an established and clear cut workflow, and why detailed meeting documentation is especially critical at this time.
Caren started her career in loyalty and email marketing, and worked in a variety of industries. At Luxury Retreats, a villa rental company headquartered in Montreal, she drove customer journeys, learned “fast and agile” marketing, and worked closely with Salesforce. Salesforce invited her and her Luxury Retreat co-worker, Benjamin David, to speak at Connections 2014 on building effective client life-cycle programs, engagement strategies, and campaign automation. Realizing the depth of their knowledge, Ben and Caren decided to form a marketing consultancy, and set up their first office . . . in a local Starbucks.
(This year, Salesforce Connections 2020, originally scheduled in Chicago for May 4 through May 6, will be a virtual experience.)
In this interview, Caren introduces a powerful market targeting tool, RFM database segmentation. RFM identifies different buyer groups so that marketers can apply group-specific strategies and optimize repeat business. RFM is an acronym for recency, frequency, and monetary – where recency is how recently the buyer made a purchase; frequency is the number of times the buyer has purchased; and monetary is the dollar value of the purchase. Each category of buyer type needs to be approached in a way congruent with their buying history.
Caren admits that BDG does not provide all the services a client might need. Instead, they work with a network of trusted partners, many of them curated through networking at industry events. Over the past 4 years, the agency has actually invested in 8 of its clients, through either sweat equity or capital investment. This type of partnering is something BDG would like to further explore since a client’s success then becomes BDG’s success.
Caren and Ben can be reached on the company website at: www.benjamin-david.com or on LinkedIn.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I am joined today by Caren Carrasco, Senior Partner at Benjamin David Group based in Montreal, Canada. Welcome to the podcast, Caren.
CAREN: Thank you, Rob.
ROB: Fantastic to have you here. Why don’t you kick us off by telling us about Benjamin David Group and where your firm excels?
CAREN: Sure. Benjamin David Group, we’re a marketing consultancy based in Montreal. We do everything that has to do with digital marketing, from website creation, branding, content strategy, social media, email marketing, paid media. We excel at those verticals.
Our clientele can go from bigger corporations like Cirque du Soleil, which is a very well-known brand, or we also work with startups. The startup scene in Montreal and Toronto is very big right now, so we find a niche to work with funded startups – startups that are either chasing a Series A or that just got funded and they need a marketing arm to execute and start having traction. So, we help them with their marketing efforts.
We have been in business for about 4 years now, and we’re a team of marketing consultants. Our main goal is to help our clients with fast, profitable growth – not only to help them grow, but do it as fast as we can. That’s a little bit of the nature of the startup clients that we have. They need to show results fast.
ROB: Now more than ever, startups are asked to actually prove that their economics are good, and it sounds like you have this sweet spot where you’re coming in in that in-between time where there is something there, there is something worth marketing and something to prove, still. They’re not at the point maybe past a Series B, C, D, E, whatever, where they would bring in a CMO and a bigtime team.
When they’re looking to get to that Series A, what are some of the key metrics that you’re driving and some of the key channels that are working for them to get there?
CAREN: We work with quite a few B2B clients. What we focus on at the very beginning is to really set up a model where we can track what is the recipe to start growing. The recipe will have a mix between paid media, of course content will be present everywhere, but our first approach is to try to understand the formula to start driving traction, either through account-based marketing or gaining leads through gated content on different platforms. We actually act as their de facto CMO. We not only bring the strategy, but we also bring the muscle, the team to execute.
Once we find that formula, we have two approaches. Either we hand the strategy to our client so that they can execute with their team, or we can take the executive with us and help them through the hiring process so that at some point, once they have their marketing team, we can hand that execution to them because it doesn’t make sense to pay a consultant to execute. It makes sense at the very beginning when you’re creating the pillars and having the foundation of your marketing practice, but after that, our goal is to really make our client autonomous, and they can use us for direction and strategy. That’s a little bit of our approach.
ROB: You mentioned the CMO. Probably not typically a full-time CMO, but probably a lot of times actually a fractional marketing team. So, I’d imagine there’s a point where you are incrementally replacing yourselves, and sometimes you’re able probably to bring – do you have one super marketer that’s assigned to a client? Or are you giving them a thin slice of a full-on marketing team? Maybe two, three, five people, where they couldn’t imagine having five full-timers on staff, but with you, they get a piece of five different expertises that they wouldn’t have.
CAREN: Exactly. We have a few clients on that model, and it’s very effective for them because, to your point, they’re not getting only one person. They’re getting a fraction of our team.
Another thing that we do with our clients is that we have an office presence with them. We make sure that we have a seat in their office so that we can be with them, and it’s not a remote collaboration; we’re actually there to be part of the key decisions, to also train their future team if they’re at the point of hiring. It’s a very, very effective model, and it helps fast-track things and make sure that we’re aligned with our business objectives.
ROB: The in-person model is definitely a differentiator, and I think it probably distinguishes you from people who might even outsource a lot of their execution to maybe somewhere far away. It’s often so beneficial to have someone who understands intrinsically the context of the company, the context of the location, and relationships with the team.
Originally, you and I were scheduled to meet up in Austin, Texas for South by Southwest, and as everyone is probably well aware by now, that was cancelled. That in-person conversation for us was cancelled. I’d imagine some of your in-person conversations – perhaps all of them – have also been cancelled and that seat at the office is empty along with the rest of them.
How have you thought about adapting that personal integration into the team operating in this coronavirus, social distancing, remote working environment?
CAREN: Specifically, for South by Southwest – and this is a small collaboration that I did with another company through a webinar – there’s still so many things that we can do even if events have been cancelled. We still have access to the attendee list for, for example, South by Southwest or any event. So, I think companies can still try to make those meetings happen, just not personally, but virtually. So that’s one way you can still get the advantage of the whole event.
With our clients, we’re keeping the communications fluid through the tools that we have. We’re making sure that every week, we’re in touch with them. Because it’s a situation that is not only on our side, but on their side as well, it has been very positive, the transition of not being in office, but making sure that we are online and available through different platforms and making sure that we have touchpoints with them.
Actually, one of the things that we have at BDG is that we work with Jira and Confluence and we make sure that every single thing that happens for an internal meeting/external meeting, it’s documented in meeting notes. That way, even if you’re not physically there or if there’s a meeting that was held between certain people, we make sure everyone is in the loop by giving access to those meeting notes. So far, with this whole crisis, I think we have managed well with our clients.
ROB: That’s really interesting. Jira and Confluence are pretty sophisticated and capable tools. Kind of a Basecamp on steroids sometimes.
CAREN: Yeah. Thanks to us being very diligent on having our setup with those tools, it’s actually how and why we are well-positioned to work remotely with our clients because we have a very clear workflow and process and methodology. So, I’m happy that we put that in place so that now we can actually work efficiently remotely.
ROB: Excellent. You mentioned that you started BDG around 4 years ago. Tell me about that origin story. How did you come to start a business that you’ve now been glad to grow and work with some really excellent clients?
CAREN: My expertise as a marketer was with loyalty and email marketing specifically. I worked in different industries, from luxury travel to loyalty. I worked at Aeroplan, which is the loyalty program of Air Canada. Here in Montreal, I worked at Luxury Retreats, which is a villa rental company that got acquired by Airbnb a couple of years ago.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work at a startup at Luxury Retreats and go through what it means to work fast and agile and where speed is everything. That’s where I met my co-founder, Benjamin.
We were very knowledgeable in everything that has to do with the customer journey and lifecycle. We worked closely with Salesforce. At the time it was ExactTarget. The people at Salesforce were very impressed with the way we were driving customer lifecycles with Luxury Retreats, to the point that they invited us to Connections and to give speaking sessions in Indianapolis and to basically speak to their clients about everything that they can do from a marketing automation standpoint.
At that point, I think it was the very beginning of thinking that we could actually have a practice out of consulting, because we were very knowledgeable in everything that has to do with customer journeys. At that point, Ben had been at Luxury Retreats for 16 years, and I was working by that time at Aeroplan. At some point we got together and he was the one approaching me to say, “Caren, let’s create a consultancy on marketing. We’re very knowledgeable.” At the time I was like, “How are we going to find clients? How do we grow this?”
So, we started together. I quit my job. We started working at a Starbucks, no office. Fast forward 4 years, we’re a team of 20 consultants and we have big clients such as Cirque du Soleil and a very healthy pipeline. It was an interesting decision, but it was very rewarding to see how based on the knowledge you have and the expertise, you can actually build a business out of it and grow it.
ROB: Congratulations on all of that. It seems like a lot of your success is rooted in some very – I see with Jira and Confluence, and then also with ExactTarget, there’s this deep technical competency that seems to resonate throughout and elevates the work to a level of consultancy and not just some sort of lightweight content shop.
Now, what I’d like to dig into that goes even deeper to that technical capability is you have prepared presentations on something called RFM segmentation. Tell us what RFM segmentation is, what we need to know, and how we should be deploying it.
CAREN: When we worked at Luxury Retreats and the reason why Salesforce was very impressed about what we were doing in marketing automation and lifecycle journeys was the segmentation that we put behind it. Basically, RFM segmentation is a way for you to segment your database and monetize it and get the most out of repeat business.
This is a model that is very easy to implement for businesses for retail and travel. Basically, what you’re trying to do is have a very specific strategy for people that have purchased with you one time or more than one time and have a different approach for each one, because you shouldn’t be targeting in the same way a first-time buyer as a three-time buyer. That will help you with your incentive strategy, how you give up promotions, how you incentivize your database to keep buying more.
RFM stands for recency, frequency, and monetary – recency, how recently the purchase was; frequency, how many times the buyer has purchased; and monetary, the value. In a nutshell, you assign scores from let’s say 1 to 5 to one of those dimensions, and you will have different clusters of segments that you can target differently.
Think about having a big grid of different segments where you are going to have your VIPs, which are the 5-5-5s. Let’s say someone that made a purchase yesterday over $1,000 and they have purchased more than three times. The way you target a 5-5-5 is very different than the way you target a 1-1-1, someone that maybe had purchased over a year ago for a very low amount of money and they just purchased once.
This really helps you focus your efforts and understand how you should be moving your low-engaged segments through your high-engaged segments. It’s a very, very strategic and detailed approach, and it’s a methodology that we have put in practice with different clients, as I was saying, in the retail and travel industry with very good results in terms of repeat business.
ROB: I think that makes sense, and it makes even more sense with your background in loyalty because as I think about you talking about a 5-5-5, I think about the different airline status programs, even some credit card programs. It seems like there are entire programs, your Delta Platinums and Diamonds and I don’t know how high it goes, that are all about capturing the brain of a 5-5-5.
CAREN: Exactly. Also, because you don’t have infinite budget to give incentives to everyone, that’s why the RFM segmentation helps to put exactly where you should be putting your efforts. And at the same time, not everything is going to be a monetary incentive.
Sometimes recency, like the time where you’re targeting someone, is the variable that will make you move the needle. Through analysis, you can understand when is the right time to send a communication – for example, an email – to a customer that just made a purchase for the first time so that you can convince them at the right time to make the second purchase. It’s not about maybe the incentive, but to understand that, for example, on Day 72, that’s where your database is the perfect timing to trigger a second purchase.
ROB: Very interesting. Does this have any applications then into something like a Cirque du Soleil or even into some of the startups that you work with?
CAREN: Yeah, absolutely. We implement it on different clients. Any type of business that has a repeat behavior that it’s a product or a service that you can buy over and over again can use RFM segmentation.
ROB: So if you’re in something like Cirque du Soleil, you might know that someone’s going to buy every time you come to town or they’re going to buy – I don’t even know if there are higher packages available that you can get them into. But you could actually design marketing around the knowledge that someone’s definitely going to go and what they’re going to buy, versus they might come let’s say every couple of years.
CAREN: Exactly. It’s the same thing as in travel, for the travel industry. Depending on your niche, you know when is the right time for someone to start thinking of their next travel. Because you know that information, which is your recency factor, you know exactly the right time to push for the next trip.
At the same time, for most of the businesses that I have been working with, there is a truth in the data, which is once you convert a first-time buyer into a second-time buyer, you basically have them for life. If you make sure that you convert a one-time to a two-time, to get them to repeat to three times, four times, depending on your industry, is not that difficult.
The big step that you have to focus on at the beginning of the program is how you make a first-time buyer buy a second time. After that, if you give good service and the product is good, they’re going to be happy and they’re going to keep buying from you. So that’s what I usually recommend to our clients and where we usually focus at the beginning, to transform the first-time buyers into second-time buyers.
ROB: Suppose you’ve solved the initial part of getting somebody to be a repeat buyer. Are there industries where you can actually impact the recency, frequency, or monetization of the customers? It seems like in some cases, particularly in travel, moving someone up from a one, a two, to three, to four, to five on the monetization scale, for instance, would be a real game-changer for a business.
CAREN: Exactly. For example, if you master the recency and frequency and now you are close in the window for them to book faster and you’re making them book with you multiple times, then you're viable to start to tackle monetary, how you can get them to spend more money with you. And there’s different marketing strategies that you can do around that.
ROB: What’s an example of a way you might be able to move somebody up the monetization or frequency scale, for that matter?
CAREN: We did a very interesting promotion once at Luxury Retreats. We were giving free flights to anyone that would be booking for a certain period of time for certain locations. It was a very interesting way to move people, first of all from first-time buyers to repeat buyers, and also to increase their monetary value because we needed to lock them for a certain number of nights.
That promotion turned out to be one of the most successful promotions in this particular niche. This is luxury travel. So, you’re getting a free flight, and the gain for the company is right away because you’re not putting money upfront. You’re only giving away the incentive once they book with you. That’s a promotion that is still alive, and it was very, very successful from an RFM perspective because we were tackling the three variables at a time.
ROB: That’s fascinating. It seems like in the case of luxury travel, in particular, one of the things you may be able to do is actually change someone’s concept of themselves as being the sort of person who does this sort of travel. If you can get them to think of themselves that way, it probably becomes something that feeds itself a little bit.
CAREN: Yeah. In particular with luxury travel, incentives have a different take because those are brands that don’t get discounted. It’s a luxury item, so you don’t offer discounts. Everything that you’re offering them, either to book faster or to increase the basket size, is actually on giving them a better experience, to upgrade their experience, to give them something more. So it’s a different way to see the incentive and how you can make them increase their monetary value.
ROB: Fantastic. Caren, when you think about your 4-year journey so far building Benjamin David Group, what are some things that you might do differently if you were starting over? Some lessons learned, if you will.
CAREN: I think as we positioned ourselves as a growth partner of our clients, one of the things that we have been doing – it’s not something that I would do differently, but I think it’s knowledge that I wish I’d had since Day 1: to build a network of trusted partners that I can always go to, to enhance the service that I provide to my clients.
Just to give you an example, we don’t provide PR services. We’re very focused on digital marketing. But we have a lot of clients that at some point, because of the different marketing strategies that we have with them, there’s a right time for them, for example, to engage with a PR agency. Sometimes we don’t have the right partner to send to our clients.
So I think to have a very strong network of different service providers that don’t necessarily have to do with my core business, but that I can always give to my clients so that they can continue with that execution is something that I would like to have curated faster during this journey.
ROB: What have you found to be some of the keys to establishing those connections? It sounds like you have a lot of that in place now.
CAREN: A lot of these connections and partnerships that we have developed right now have been based off networking, to be honest. In every event and every opportunity that we attend, there are other players attending there.
Just to give you an example, at South by Southwest, there are multiple agencies going there. Myself, I was booked pretty much the whole week with other agencies where my services are complementary to them or where they actually complement my services. So the best way we have curated those relationships has been through networking.
ROB: I think another question that comes into play with that sort of partnership is: how do you think about, when you’re working with a client, whether that relationship is an introduction and a referral or whether it’s a white label service or just generally provided under the scope of BDG?
CAREN: The way that we have managed, it depends on the needs of the client. Also, it depends on our direction on the overall service. Sometimes we just connect the client with the service provider and they can work with them directly and do whatever they need to do. But there are other instances where it makes sense for us to be involved, just to give direction to this third party, and then they will be working with us behind the scenes and we will be assisting them with the direction and getting all the information from the client, and then we’re able to brief the third party.
So it really depends on the mandate and also where the client sits, where they want to move forward. But both angles have worked with us.
ROB: I can imagine some startup where you are the entire marketing arm of the organization, they probably just want you there to solve any marketing problem possible and to bring solutions to the table. Is that part of the mix?
CAREN: Exactly, and that’s a big difference. For example, I’m just thinking from a startup. That’s the difference between hiring for example five different freelancers – let’s say that a startup goes, "I'm going to hire someone for social media, someone for SEO, someone for email marketing,” and so on; the client will still have to have someone to manage those five professionals and make sure that people are not working in silos and bring them all together with the direction.
The difference with us is that we are that connection. We have the team and we have the specialists. The client just needs to make individual connections with the specialist because everything is centralized through our service. I think that’s a big advantage for us to work in that way, mostly with our startup clients.
ROB: Caren, what do you think is coming up next for BDG that we should be looking forward to, or maybe some lines of service that you're doing where you see some trends emerging?
CAREN: Other things I would do at BDG – we do digital marketing, but we also have a small venture arm. Whenever it makes sense for us, we do invest in some of our clients in a mix between sweat equity and capital. That’s something that we would like to explore even more. We have made eight investments during these past 4 years.
Moving forward in 2020-2021, we really want to keep developing that ability to invest in companies where we provide the marketing services, but because we're also investors of the company, the dots are aligned, so our clients’ success will be also our success. We want to keep exploring and get deeper into our investment arm.
ROB: Very good. Any of those companies that we should be looking out for that you'd like to plug while we're chatting?
CAREN: Absolutely. One of the companies that we're very, very proud of how they have success – it’s a marketplace. They’re called GoMaterials. Basically it's a marketplace between landscapers and vendors. We have been helping them since Day 1. It’s a very, very interesting concept. They are disrupting an industry that is very old-fashioned, where everything is done through paper, and they’re bringing technology to the industry, which is where they are succeeding in the space. So that’s one of our investments that we’re very, very proud of.
ROB: Very, very interesting. That is probably a hot one right now, at least where we are in Atlanta. Landscaping is considered one of those necessary services where business is going to keep on humming except for maybe some people would pull back. But at the same time, probably having an online service to handle some of the logistics is better than going in person for a lot of people.
CAREN: Absolutely. They have a platform where everything is centralized, so it's going to be a big, big change for the industry. The way that we provide and we support them is we have very good experience with marketplaces. Back at Luxury Retreats, it was basically a marketplace between the hosts and the guests. They're basically doing the same thing, but for landscapers.
All industries that have been managed in an old-fashioned way, whoever can disrupt that and bring technology and make that marketplace unified has a winning angle to gain that market, and that’s what they’re doing.
ROB: Fantastic. Caren, when people want to find you and want to find Benjamin David Group, where should they look?
CAREN: Our website, www.benjamin-david.com. Also, we're very, very active on LinkedIn. I would say that our main focus in terms of content is through LinkedIn. So either our website or our LinkedIn page. That’s where they can find us.
ROB: Fantastic. Caren, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, and best wishes to you and BDG, and hopefully we can connect up in person at your first South by Southwest in 2021. Hopefully we can make that happen.
CAREN: Absolutely. Thank you, Rob, for the invite.
ROB: Thank you so much.
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