In this interview, Benton shares his journey from a self-described “data geek” working at the US Census Bureau to creating some of the most creative and successful viral video advertising of all time.
He explains the formula used to craft narratives at Harmon Brothers, how they use data and analytics in conjunction with great storytelling, and what many marketers get wrong about A/B testing.
Benton’s Journey from Data Geek to Viral Marketing Guru - (01:05) - Benton started his career as a statistician at the U.S. Census Bureau, and also did some work for the intelligence community.
- He was looking for a change: something fun, fast-paced, and creative. So when his cousin called and asked if he’d be interested in helping him do marketing for Poo-Pourri, he jumped at the opportunity.
- “Looking at Harmon Brothers from the outside in ... People see it's one creative hit after the next. They just keep doing it over and over and over again. But, what they don't realize is that half of our team is focused on the data and the analytics and understanding the market. That's a huge part of our success and our ability to learn and adapt and keep changing as the marketplace changes.” - Benton Crane
- Benton joined the “hypothesis lab,” where Harmon Brothers do extensive scientific testing of new marketing trends.
- “The point is to be remarkable, the point is for people to share with their friends, for people to have it be memorable and interesting and a discussion point.” - Ian Faison
How to Craft a Viral Video - (08:30) - Traditionally, marketers have rarely mixed traditional branding with direct-response marketing or infomercials. But that is exactly what they do at Harmon Brothers.
- “We take the best of both of those worlds. It's this concept that I can do a direct sale and get a direct ROI on the ad dollars that I'm spending, but I can also build my brand at the same time. I can use character and story to create a world where that character lives and I can build trust.” - Benton Crane
- Harmon Brothers use story because “stories are what stick out in our memories.”
- Character is what truly differentiates a story. Without character, most ads could be swapped with a competitor's logo and no one would know the difference.
- Mentioned by Benton: Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller. - “If you're doing it right, your brand character is only a guide on the hero's journey. Your customer is on their own journey and they want to be their own hero. It's your job to show them how to be their own hero and how to give them the tools to be their own hero.” - Benton Crane
- According to Benton, the real first step is putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and figuring out the problem they are facing and how you can help them overcome it.
- It’s even better if you can empathize with them and emotionally understand their pain points.
- “You have to get into your customers’ heads and hearts before you just go in and start telling them why your company is awesome.” - Lauren Vaccarello
Finding the Right Channel & A/B Testing - (18:35) - “Make it so good that it doesn’t have to be viral.” - Benton Crane
- Harmon Brothers focuses on creating great content that generates an ROI. Virality cannot be predicted.
- As an example, their Squatty Potty ad went truly viral. Benton thinks that if they had just let the video run its course, it would have received 10-20 million views. But because they put a smart multi-channel distribution strategy behind the ad, it generated more than 300 million views.
- There is no magical channel or mix of channels that Harmon Brothers use to have such enormous success. The mix of channels depends on the budget and the company’s goals.
- Too many companies have one successful campaign, and they then focus on it to the exclusion of all else. It’s important to look to the future and anticipate the next thing.
A/B Testing & Humor - (28:15) - Harmon Brothers does tons of A/B testing to find channels, messages, and strategies that work.
- “Stop A/B testing across channels. Only A/B test within channels. Each channel needs its own focus, its own strategy, and its own budget. Each is important, and it takes a multi-channel approach to have long-term success.” - Benton Crane
- Humor isn’t essential, but it is the most sharable type of content on the internet.
Lightning Round - (33:30) - Most fun app: Chess - Favorite vacation spot: Moab, Utah - Ad campaign most envious of: Dodge Dart Superbowl Ad - What Benton is most excited for about the future of marketing: “I am so excited to get to pioneer and shape how the worlds of entertainment and advertising melt together. I feel like our advertising already took a step in that direction, and I'm excited to see how we can take that a step further to build content whose number one purpose is entertainment and engagement, but also integrates brand partnerships in creative new ways that viewers are actually excited about.”
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