Talking with Karl Isaac, Former Head of Brand at Adobe and eBay

Kendall Pennington


Having led brand strategy at places like eBay, Adobe, and Microsoft, Karl knows a thing or two about customer loyalty and fostering a unique brand experience. In this episode, Karl sits down with Joe to discuss his journey through tech, his latest takes on CX, and the power of connection.


Karl’s Background

Karl’s career spans over twenty years at some of the world’s most recognizable names in tech.

From working client-side at Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, and eBay and then also agency-side at Razorfish and Landor, Karl has gained a strong understanding of consumer experience from all perspectives.

Karl and Joe’s experiences at Adobe overlapped during a particularly dynamic time in product rollouts at the company, including the launch of Adobe Creative and Marketing Clouds.

He then went on to eBay and led global strategy and brand innovation in the time of transition after the company parted ways with PayPal. 

Now, he’s happy to have started his “own thing”, an advertising shop he founded two years ago, Hi It’s Us.


Brand and the Power of Connection

With so much data currently available to brands about their customers, Karl thinks there’s an important line to tread between tailoring ads and having customizable everything, and “not being creepy.” 

“How do we use truth and understanding of people to define a meaningful experience? People right now feel targeted, but not understood.”

Karl perceives a brand’s DNA as being outside the scope of marketing. “The brand DNA infuses the very culture of an organization, the decisions it makes, and it's really powerful.”

One of the main keys of advice that Karl gives to brands is to “not assume you know your customer...it’s a big presumption to make that you understand someone.” 

Based on the amount of data many brands now have about their target consumers, this can be tempting. 

Karl says for him it’s a lot more about truly paying attention to the culture and what’s actually going on, and then utilizing your tools in a way that aligns with your brand and makes sense for you. For some companies, this may mean putting out a consistent stream of content all of the time, and for others, it might make more sense to have one or two large spots per year. 

Kyle brings up Patagonia as a brand that he thinks is especially killing it when it comes to content strategy, as they’re a company that only has a very clear picture of its customers but also “puts their money where their mouth is” when it comes to action, and they do a profound job of conveying that they walk the walk to consumers. 

These actions are displayed from everything from their generous return policy, which is a win for both the customer and the environment, to their more outspoken political values.

Joe replied with a story about a recent single customer experience he had with Patagonia which was so phenomenal it converted him from a passive buyer into a long-term loyal customer. 


Brand Building 101

Most of us know that it’s usually much more cost-effective to retain a customer than to acquire a new one, yet it still can be so easy to fall into the trap of being hyper-growth obsessed at the expense of the customers you already have.

Karl thinks that “growth” should be a part of everyone’s job, and that more employees should allocate more time to focusing on that long-term value for the customer. “Brand building” is all about walking the balance between the short and the long game.

“At the end of the day, words matter,” A.K.A. don’t claim to be a purpose-driven company just because it’s a line in a deck somewhere. If you’re not going to follow up with action you’re probably better off not saying anything at all.


Karl’s Crystal Ball

Based on current consumer trends after this wild year, “Creating safety, privacy, and trust” will be absolutely essential in the days to come.” Companies that can authentically convey these tenants (and in a distributed way) will be successful.


Listen to the episode here.

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