In this series of articles we go backstage with a marketing rock star. We sit at their feet while they share with us what made them rockstars, what excites them and what we might learn on our journey to marketing rockstardom.

Vice President of Marketing and Analytics at content creation app Photofy, Casey Petersen has been a leader in digital marketing for over 15 years. Ian Truscott caught up with him to discuss the power of employee empowerment, throwing all assumptions out the window, and why marketing is ultimately about understanding human motivation.

What would be top of your rider for your next marketing gig?

Oh that’s easy – a massive budget and unfettered access to a dedicated developer team who can try every idea I have, no matter how unrealistic, in just a few days. In reality – when I’m ready for my next challenge, I want a team very similar to my current one – people who are as passionate about the brand as me, who will argue, sometimes loudly, about what the best course of action is, and who simply never say “no”. The right attitude can overcome budget constraints, tech issues, and sometimes even simply not knowing what you’re doing!

What or who are your marketing influencers?

I have a few things that really shaped the way I approach marketing:

  1. I have had two managers that were simply the best in their industries. They encouraged me to try anything. They pushed me well beyond my comfort zone. And when I simply couldn’t find an answer at times, they believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I still need and seek their advice, and simply would not be the marketer or person I am today without them.
  2. Clay Shirkey’s book Cognitive Surplus. This isn’t a marketing book, but at the same time, it’s the best marketing book. To understand how to market, we have to understand human motivation. The better student we become of why we humans behave, interact, connect, and live the way we do, the better we can speak to those fundamental characteristics.
  3. On that point, my greatest inspiration is in watching my wife and children interact with our products, technology, and retail at large. When we work in this industry, we can become increasingly detached from what “normals” actually want. Both how my wife shops and my teen uses tech inform me as much as anything else on how to build products and marketing processes.

If I was Spotify, what would I play for you first thing Monday morning to get you going?

The newest podcast in my playlist. I have to get my brain thinking in the mornings to truly get going – and being exposed to new ideas and perspectives is the way I do that.

The curtain pulls back, you step out on the stage of your new marketing gig – what do you open with?

I’m connecting with the people. Perhaps there are people out there that are smart enough to look at data, see all the problems, devise a strategy, and single-handedly steer the ship. I’m not that person. Employees working in the trenches of executing marketing plans every day know exactly what is and isn’t working. So I lead with listening, and learn what makes my team tick. Then we throw all our old assumptions out the window and set them free to build our next big thing together.

The audience is dancing in the aisles, it loves that track. What keeps the house jumping?

Just like playing to a live audience, your audience constantly gives you feedback on what is and isn’t working for them. Your customers consistently give back data that allows you to see what does and doesn’t work for them. Testing, observing, and listening to the data will keep you on top of your game.

You’re playing a huge stadium; how do you know the audience can hear your tune?

It’s easy to say money – and that’s clearly true. However, anyone can make a big financial hit once. Sustained growth in revenue is the thing that truly matters, and shows that the customers are clearly enjoying what you’re putting out.

If there was a billboard chart for marketing trends, what would be your Number 1?

A friend of mine has a term called ‘return on relationship’.  The number one trend in the near term is going to be employees who are truly empowered to become the voice of the brand. We will see more companies like Walmart allows employees to have their phones on the job for sharing and finding information. More companies will encourage employees to help sell and share products online with their own social groups.

What would you throw from your hotel window into the Rockstar CMO pool?

Marketing AI. There is no Marketing AI – and I get really irritated the more we hear about it.  Just because you made some complex ‘if-then’ rules and added automation, doesn’t mean you have an artificially intelligent marketing platform. Please stop.

What’s got you rocking today?

I believe that the trend of employee empowerment, especially for marketing, is going to become the biggest new thing over the next few years. I’m so excited to be at Photofy where we are already addressing that need with forward-thinking companies who are taking the risk of putting their brands in the hands of their front-line workers. (Newsflash: It was always in their hands.) We’re a small team building amazing products, and I love the challenges and excitement that start-up life brings.

If there was a marketing hall of fame, who would you induct?

Hank Heithaus – former president of Murphy USA, the gas chain at Walmart Supercenters, and a former employer.  Late in his career, he transitioned from an oil company to retail marketing and built a brand under the shadow of Walmart. He read several books a week, and was an amazing thought leader in the future of mobile and social media, even though he was at an age where he didn’t find it useful himself. He led a scrappy chain to be the first in mobile payments. The first in geo-location marketing. The first convenience store with real-time pricing in their app.

Any final words before you drop the mic?

If you keep the actual humans in mind on the other end of your marketing plans, you can never go wrong. Be real. Be present. Be a human being. Make your brand human. You’ll always win.

Ready to rock?

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