Talking with Karl Isaac former Head of Brand at Adobe and eBay

February 10, 2021
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Speaker 1 (00:00):

Welcome to the DNA and experience podcast from cloud app,where we discuss how and why creating an experience is so important and thepsychology behind what makes an experience. So great. Thanks for joining us.

Speaker 2 (00:19):

Hey everyone. I am so excited to have Karl Isaac with me.Um, Carl and I worked together at Adobe. He's been head of brand at eBay,Adobe, Microsoft, and now is running his own agency and studio. I'm reallyexcited to have him on, to talk about brand creativity and different angles, tohow to create a good customer experience for people. Uh, Carl, if you don'tmind kind of giving a background on yourself and talk about what you're up tonow and kind of your past, and then we can kind of dive into some of that

Speaker 3 (00:52):

For sure, Joe. Hey, thanks for having me on. It's awesome.I've loved your podcasts and I feel like I'm in great company with all theother amazing people you've had on. So thank you. Um, yeah, just a little bitabout me had a 20 year career in tech, um, had, you know, just an unbelievablejourney, uh, an unexpected journey, if you will, uh, have had opportunities to workat Apple, Microsoft for eight and a half years, some agencies like Razorfishand Landour, which are global, a Lander is a global brand consultancyRazorfish, I would say is a really great, uh, digital shop and agency. Uh, andthen had the good fortune of working with you, Joe, at Adobe during a time oflike just unbelievable change, where we launched creative cloud marketing,cloud document cloud, and really replatformed the company for, uh, you know,for a new generation and, uh, was moved over to eBay, uh, where I was VP ofglobal brand there ran strategy, creative research, a brand and a patient lab,and really like replatform that brand.

Speaker 3 (02:01):

Um, you know, we just separate from PayPal. So we set anew global brand strategy, global creative framework. Um, new global agencylanded work that was both brand and thematic, but also hardworking retail. Andthen less than just under two years ago, uh, launched my own shop with a greatpartner. Someone I had worked with a lot. So, and then just a few other thingsabout me. I have two kids. They're awesome. They're both in college, so I'm aempty nester, but um, miss them tremendously. I'm down in LA and I've lived inMexico is rural New York, Seattle Durham, North Carolina, like all over allover the world.

Speaker 2 (02:47):

Awesome. Uh, yeah, you've you, I'm in the heat of the kid,the kid moment. If we touch on that, I've got the three, three under eight. Soyou, you made it, I'm kind of in the heat of it though. Well,

Speaker 3 (03:00):

Lucky you, I guess I'll just, yeah, these are goldenyears, right? Exactly.

Speaker 2 (03:06):

I'd love to kind of get your take on, uh, you know, whatdoes it get the DNA of a good customer experience? How does, how does brandkind of fit into that? Um, and you know, creativity and just the power ofconnecting and creating a loyal, a loyal brand that people really want to be apart of.

Speaker 3 (03:26):

Yeah. Like, you know, it's, it's an interesting moment intime right now here we are 2020, we have so much information about people. Wehave so much data. Um, and so I think part of what's driving meaningful brand,um, development, part of what's driving meaningful experiences is to kind oftread that fine line appropriately of not becoming too creepy, right? Likepeople use the word personalized, but I don't know, like, do people really wanteverything, um, targeted at them when you're sitting at home in front of acomputer all day in this virtual world? Like how do we, uh, use like truth andunderstanding of people and real moments to really help define powerful andmeaningful experiences? Because I think a lot of people are feeling likethey're being targeted, but they're not really being understood.

Speaker 3 (04:24):

And that brand DNA is something that can really help guidelike their brands. Like I dunno, Airbnb with belong anywhere who I think justfiled to go public. Um, you know, they use that brand DNA to really expand intonew categories, um, into creating meaningful experiences. And so one of theexciting things is that like the brand DNA isn't defined by the marketinggroup, right. In many organizations, brands, it's marketing, not totally surewhy like, Hey, I've worked in marketing almost my whole career. Uh, loved it, abig fan and believer in it. And that's one important lever to pull, but likethe brand DNA, when it infuses the culture of an organization, when it infusesthe decisions and organization makes, um, that's really powerful. And when it'snot just like words but actions, right. I think it was Enron that hadintegrity, etched racial to their door, uh, office buildings. Right. And solike the words don't matter as much as the actions.

Speaker 2 (05:31):

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. So like, uh, let's uh,one thing I've loved is like, uh, the actions of like a brand like REI who hasthe opt outside and they closed their doors on black Friday, which as abusiness person, business-minded, you know, revenue driven. That seems totallyopposite of what you would want to do. I mean, it's called black Friday becausethat's when you make it into the black, right. You've been red all year and youneed that revenue. Yeah. How does something like that? You kind of sparked thatin my mind with your actions, comment. Yeah. How does something like that really,uh, you know, bring someone back into you and, and, you know, hopefully makethem spend more money with you or, you know, really share your values. Yeah.

Speaker 3 (06:25):

Well look, REO is a great example and one of my favoritebrands, not just because I lived in Seattle for so many years, um, you know,the eats back to w we were talking a little bit about like the humanconnection, right. And being real and understanding people, part ofunderstanding, people's like, does everybody want to work, uh, the Friday afterThanksgiving and an organization. Right. And so, um, we're also not in a worldtoday where, um, or the physical footprint is, is as important, right? So youhave online shopping. And honestly, we're in an era where you could have blackFriday, many Fridays, it doesn't have to be reserved for this one seasonalmoment. And so like when we were at eBay, I really tried to push us into thatkind of a mindset, right. Where you can always get a great deal if you have theright understanding of your target audience and what they want and meet themwhere they are.

Speaker 3 (07:18):

And like, what's beautiful about REI is not just theaction of opt outside. Like they're a cooperative, that's different. You canreturn items. If you're not happy with them, that's not smart business, uh,mindset, right? It's like, Oh, you can buy this thing, use it for a year andbring it back. If you weren't fully satisfied there, they're putting theirmoney where their mouth is. And I think we're in an era where people vote withtheir wallets, they are looking for brands that are purpose led and representlike real people and they're real human interests. And so, uh, after outside'sgreat had to go India, similarly, you know, it was really powerful voice anddoes a lot of tremendous actions as well

Speaker 2 (08:02):

In a remote world without we're men. And you kind oftouched on this a little bit, but how can you connect with the customerdifferently? And as you've been helping brands this year, put on your Adobe,Microsoft E-bay Apple hat, how would you rank connect with your customers as abrand understanding that there's a lot of chaos and you need to kind of treadlightly in certain areas, but you want to also be bold. Um, you know, how wouldyou kind of, or how have you gone about that this year?

Speaker 3 (08:39):

Yeah. Well, first of all, what a year, right? I mean, Idon't know what's next. I heard there was like a media or that might be hittingearth or coming close within a thousand miles or something. Um, so this year isunprecedented. And I think one of the things that's interesting in terms oflike, how do you connect with people differently? Um, in addition to, ofcourse, all the, like truly being empathetic, truly understanding where peopleare at right now, truly understanding that they don't want to be surrounded bylike marketing BS and advertising BS. Like these are real moments. People arestruggling going through a really hard time. Um, one of the things that's inaddition to all that, cause that's happened at different areas in, in society.Um, one of the things that's different is like, you know, we can targeteverything. Like you're telegraphing everything right now, right?

Speaker 3 (09:31):

Like you're, for those that are on this side of thedigital divide and have the good fortune of being able to work remotely anduse, you know, video conferencing and things like what we're doing right now.Um, we have so much information about people, but I think what's interesting isthat as a marketer and as a brand builder, um, and as a company, like don'tassume that you actually know your audience just because they're telegraphingeverything, don't assume, you know, them because you know what browser they'reon and you know, what operating system they're on and, you know, whetherthey're mobile or not, or, you know, where they last shopped, um, like we, it'sa big presumption to make that you actually understand people. And, uh, thatnotion that human insight is so powerful and so important in so many differentcategories right now. And so when you're, um, working with companies, when wework with companies, like one of the first things we do is look at what'sreally going on in culture, right.

Speaker 3 (10:35):

Because a former colleague of mine used to say, uh, when,you know, brands ignore culture, culture, ignores brands, right. And so let'sbe keenly aware of what's going on. Um, beats just did a beautiful, beautifulspot, uh, talking about like what's going on and in, you know, black cultureand like, do you really get me? And do you really love me and want me, andlike, you know, um, really, really powerful work. And that's important to havea really strong point of view and to introduce a reality check into what'sgoing on in the world today. Like, things are not fabulous and they might bereally good for some, um, companies like Amazon are thriving, but they'rereally hard for a lot of,

Speaker 2 (11:22):

Right. Yeah. I like that. And, uh, you know, uh, cloud appis obviously a product that you can create screenshots, screen recordings, lotsof visual elements to it, to connect people remotely as a, as a brand. And, youknow, this is obviously a big piece of what you've done over your entirecareer. How can visuals video really enhance that connection, um, and reallydrive who you are as a brand?

Speaker 3 (11:56):

Well, I mean, for one, we have accurate so much, you know,the power of technology, the power of content development is tremendous, right?Like, wait, what you have on your phone these days, it's an entire studio inthe making and the computing power greater than what it took to like put peopleon the moon. Right. So you can do so much now and yet just because you candoesn't mean you should. Right. And so we're in an era of like content Palooza.Uh, if you think about the shelf life of the content that you create, um, we'rejust, that's, it's like disposable content. And, and so I think what'simportant, especially with, you know, um, companies like cloud app and othercontent creation companies is to really help people understand, like, why arethey doing it in the first place? What's the value being created?

Speaker 3 (12:51):

Are you better off doing just tons of content or one ortwo really big, powerful beats? Do you have a media strategy that supports whatyou're trying to do? And so, you know, there's a lot of brands that are puttinga lot of content out there. Um, but it doesn't necessarily drive longtermbusiness results. And so using your tools in a way that aligns with your brandpurpose, that aligns with the fundamental question of like, what's the value we'recreating for people right now, right here. And I'll give you an example, likePatagonia does amazing work. They, they, they put their money where their mouthis. They are protecting the environment. They create all sorts of not justpowerful content, but like strong actions, right? Like they sued the usgovernment to protect, you know, um, national parks and lands. They've, they'vedone, um, so much.

Speaker 3 (13:47):

So, uh, the content means that they're in many ways,they're top of mind for me. And I love them and say like, I could check many ofthe boxes. Also. I haven't bought a Patagonia thing in a long time. So, youknow, like, is the content really contributing to the growth of the business?And I think what's cool about Patagonia is they'd say, yeah, because weactually prefer you to get more out of what you already have because we're inthe business of protecting the environment, not just in the business of likeoutdoor apparel. And so, um, let's try and use the kind of services and toolsyou have, the things that Adobe has created, the things that, you know, many,many companies have developed to align to our bigger purpose and a bigger humanneed. Um, otherwise you just, if you're like NASCAR, ING, Twitter feeds withlots of content that people just scroll right through,

Speaker 2 (14:40):

Right? Yeah. There's no real engagement there. There's noreal connection. You could really say that the brand experience really helpsconnect the dots. Yeah. Um, okay. Pat, we're, we're on this Patagonia kick, butI actually wrote this blog post for Qualtrics maybe like a year ago. And it'sabout experience I had with Patagonia and Israeli kind of like my firstexperience with them, at least direct to consumer, like from their websiteversus buying it REI or somewhere else. Yeah. Um, I had this gift card and Ibought it a couple of shirts, uh, with the gift card and they came and one ofthem was white and I washed it before I just normal wash. Like, it wasn'tanything crazy. I just washed it before and it made the ink a blur. Like it, itruined the shirt basically. And I was like, Oh great.

Speaker 2 (15:38):

You know, I'm gonna have to, like, I, I just lost a shirtor whatever, or I'm gonna sit on customer support for an hour and figure thisout. I w I called customer support. I was connected with an agent within acouple of minutes. And before I even explained what happened, she's like, okay,there's a new shirt on the way. awesome. Um, and I was like, well, you know,this is what happened. And she's like, yeah, that that's, uh, you know,shouldn't happen like that. So you should have it. And they expedited it too.So she's like, you'll have it in two to three days. Um,

Speaker 3 (16:14):

I'm really powerful also about the human connection,right. And like we're in this era of technology and everyone's chatting and, youknow, contacting customer support in all sorts of ways. Uh, it's reallygratifying to be able to speak to a person for a moment. And a lot of peoplelook at that as a cost, right. Instead of as a, uh, so they'll spend whatever$30 million on an ad campaign, but be nervous about spending some money ontheir customer support team. Uh, and that's a brand touchpoint, like, so, but,so what, uh, so you got the shirt.

Speaker 2 (16:46):

Yeah. And I wrote a blog post about it, and now this isprobably like the third podcast. I've talked about it on as a guest and as ahost and I've posted on social media. And I, like I said, I'd never purchasedanything from Patagonia and suddenly I'm like a loyal customer all from this,you know, support channel, um, the last line of defense basically. Right.

Speaker 3 (17:10):

Yeah. And those were, I mean, that's such a great likeopportunity to prove your brand in action. Right. People use terms like brandexperience, um, that you just did. And, you know, I think like I often wonder,and like, I'm a brand builder. I spent my whole career doing it, but I oftenwonder like, should the word brand even be there, it's just an experience.Right. And that experience is the brand. And that's the cool thing about likethe world we're in right now until like I similarly had a great, uh,experience, not too long ago that really created that same sense of loyalty.And it was with Airbnb who is a company I worked, you know, or used, um, as acustomer for, since like 2011 or 2012, when they first, you know, the first gettinggoing. And one of the cool things like with their whole focus on belonganywhere.

Speaker 3 (18:05):

And what that means is that it's allowed them to enterinto new categories. And so for me, we were in Joshua tree, uh, uh, uh, mygirlfriend and I went hiking and we did this thing where, uh, we work, we didan Airbnb experience. It may have even been called trips at the time, but Ithink it's just an Airbnb experience now. And we went on a, a goat hike. Wewent with a goat herder who goats in the, in the desert, in Joshua tree for twomiles every day. And so we were like, this seems really interesting and anunusual experience. Why don't we go do that? And being able to like, thinkabout like, not only did we love it, but it's an experience like we'll rememberforever. And so, you know, that makes me more loyal even to Airbnb. And so whenyou're thinking about experiences, think about opening yourself up to thecommunity and think about opening yourself up to support a host of otherbusinesses and services.

Speaker 3 (19:02):

Like that's one of the things that Joe, like we worked ontogether at Adobe was like the power of the community. Yep. You know, back tothe notion of actions like companies can say things like, Oh, we're dedicatedto the community or communities at the heart of our brand and which was true atAdobe. But w what the big difference was like, we proved it. We actually, like,we launched the Adobe remix project. We invited artists in to, to make thebrand there's hack tinker. And, um, re-interpret like the Adobe logo and the,and the Mark. And so, you know, when you think about, um, creating experiences,think about fostering an ecosystem, think about growing your community, thinkabout letting them create the brand so that it's not your brand, it's theirbrand, and that you get a huge multiplier.

Speaker 2 (19:51):

Yeah. And you bring up, you bring up Airbnb. Um, you know,it's been in the news obviously with their IPO and I, I've had a lot of friendsthat are hosts, um, and got the email for this directed post-program wherethey've reserved, uh, shares of their IPO for their hosts, which is exactlylike you said, like what a cool way to bring people in. Like, Hey, you know, wedepend on you to provide a good experience for our people who use our platform.And so we want to reward you by, you know, being one of the first to be able tobuy our stock, uh, which, you know, has had

Speaker 3 (20:36):

It's smart because it's part of the, the economics oftheir business. Right. They wouldn't have a business without the hosts. And soyou're creating that long-term loyalty and, you know, a of people use customerservices, examples of loyalty, because often that's when, you know, you're atrisk of losing a customer, but what's also nice is doing it at every touchpoint. Right. And so thinking about loyalty, um, when you're trying to bring innew customers thinking about loyalty, when it's like the first 30 days, or thefirst 30 minutes, or the first 30 seconds of new app and an experience, how doyou foster that? And, and what Airbnb is doing there. And the example you gaveis really smart that creates, you know, enduring value for the brand and forthe hosts.

Speaker 2 (21:23):

Yeah. It's like a business one Oh one is it's, it's cheaperto retain a customer and then get a new one, but it's certainly easier to getsucked into acquisition focus.

Speaker 3 (21:35):

Well, the, you know, I think there's a lot of metrics outthere that focus on growth, and there's a lot of roles out there whose titlesare growth. And I always found that a little perplexing because like, that'ssort of everyone's job and it's, it's good to have like no disrespect, likegreat to have people that are like keenly focused on that. But, you know,sometimes you have to balance the short and the longterm in brand building. Andso like, yeah, I don't know if you remember Lyft, uh, when they were gettingstarted, had those like pink fuzzy mustaches on the hood of the car. And likethat gave them a lot of short-term growth. Right. And they had full thing.You'd fist bump, a driver you'd get into a car. Every car was encouraged to belike its own personal expression of the driver.

Speaker 3 (22:23):

And, and so in the short term that gave them a lot ofgrowth. However, in the longterm, uh, issues around trust safety and privacywould come up as they were trying to scale the business. And, you know, and sothere's a delicate balance. And they had to like reinvent. They came up withthat really smart, uh, sorta dashboard light that they have that glows. And sothat, that sort of replaced the pink fuzzy mustache and that created utilityfor the drivers and the passengers. But it was, uh, it was, they created a, intheir short term growth, created a perception they had to overcome that happenstime and time again. And so how do you, how do you think about growth for thelong haul? How do you recognize that growth isn't someone's role it's it'severyone's role, but also responsible growth, right? It's not growth at allcosts.

Speaker 3 (23:15):

The early days of Uber were growth at all costs, you know,we've all heard crazy stories about, you know, what, what they would do and,you know, how do you grow responsibly? How do you make sound decisions that arein line with your values that are in line with what you're trying to do as abrand, but not the words, the words don't really matter what the actions are,what matters. And so, you know, don't say you're purpose driven brand, youknow, because you have a brand statement written, uh, in the deck, like, proveit, prove that the last time you gave up revenue for doing the right thing foryour brand,

Speaker 2 (23:59):

This has been a really great conversation on action. Ithink that's kind of the theme that's been coming up. I'd love for you to, tokind of look into your crystal ball and tell us, you know, what, what does thefuture of experience business? What do you see the future of brand connectionor, or just experience like you, like you had brought up earlier?

Speaker 3 (24:19):

Yeah. Um, I think, uh, a, like, no one really has crystalballs. Like no one would have, you know, predicted like the environment we'rein other than some like important scientists who we should trust and believein. Uh, but, um, you know, I think things like creating safety, privacy andtrust are fundamental and foundational to the growth of the experience economythat we're in. If you don't have those tenants, you're not going to try that Dto C brand that, you know, targeted you on Instagram, or you're not going touse them more than once. And so that's important. I think being distributedwill be really critical, uh, in the future where brands can play. When one ofour colleagues, Joe, at, at Adobe he's, he went back there as chief productofficer Scott Belsky was talking about like the interface layer, like brands arebecoming interface, layers for different actions.

Speaker 3 (25:19):

Google maps is an interface layer for, for travelessentially. And so how can your brand, um, use that platform of safety,privacy, and trust to foster a distributed experience for, for an ecosystem,um, as an interface layer, meaning bringing it together and Sonos was doingthat. I don't know quite what they're up to now with their like new Sonosradio, but they were trying to foster an ecosystem of different experiences andbecome the interface layer for music. Um, open table was trying to do that withdining back when we used to go out to restaurants. And so how do you thinkabout your brand and your experience in a distributed way to foster and grow acommunity? Uh, and you're a hub for that I think becomes really powerful and,you know, for cloud app to how do you get your content that people create toflow into an overall ecosystem that they, you know, can, you can be used toreally like amplify your brand?

Speaker 3 (26:25):

Um, Slack has done a really nice job of that, right. Andusing the product experience as the brand. So I think those things, safetyfoundation trust a distributed ecosystem and thinking of your brand as aninterface layer are kind of core tenants for brand building and going forward.Wow. That's really, that's really great. Those are some great nuggets. Uh,Carl, you're a legend. I appreciate your time today. Thank you. And lookforward to staying in touch. Thank you for doing these. Um, I really, I thinkit's great and you have great group of people on and look forward to seeingwhat you do in the future. Absolutely. Thanks my friend. Thank you. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (27:07):

Thanks for joining the DNA of an experience podcast. Wehope you learned something that will help improve your collaboration andenhance the experience you create for your customer. Join the collaboration 2.0movement today by getting cloud app, the instant business communication toolused to create instantly shareable videos, screenshots, and gifts. Perfect. Forboth internal and external communication. Get started Thank you. We look forward to seeing you next time.