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Our host Katie catches up with Cliff Lewis & Scott Trobaugh from the Godfrey agency, right after their popular presentation at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum Marketing Conference.
The name of their talk was Deep and Simple: How Mr. Rogers Makes Us Better at B2B.
Sure, he was one of the greatest communicators of the 20th century. But we’ll bet you didn’t know that Fred Rogers is also the most significant role model for B2B communicators in particular.
Katie & the guys talk about how:
- Rogers is the most significant role model for B2B communicators.
- How, for many of us, the factory tours on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood were our first introduction to the B2B industrial world.
- You can cultivate a deep sense of awe and wonder in your industry.
- They stumbled into this concept during creative brainstorming sessions inside their agency.
- Cliff & Scott both believe that Fred Rogers is the patron saint of B2B marketing.
Mr. Rogers B2B insights:
- Simplifying the complex. Communicate with simplicity, clarity and honesty. If Mr. Rogers can explain death to a four-year-old, we can explain our industry to adults.
- He was a brilliant communicator.
- In everything Mr. Rogers did, he had a deep and abiding respect for his audience.
- Build trust by illuminating people with knowledge.
- Always humanize your content. Help people understand the people behind the business.
Cliff & Scott share some letters that Mr. Rogers wrote to his audience.
The anti-Mr. Rogers is any marketer who insists on communicating a shallow message with unnecessary complexity. Every audience deserves a clear and honest connection.
Listen to the show
Katie Martel: Hello, everyone and welcome to another episode of Explicit Content. I'm Katie Martel, and you're listening to truth, lies, and digital marketing. I'm coming to you live from San Francisco at the MarketingProfs B2B forum where I am joined by two amazing presenters who had a packed house today at their session. Cliff Lewis and Scott Trobaugh are from Godfrey. Guys, welcome and thank you so much for being our guests today.
Scott Trobaugh: Thank you. It’s great to be here and I'll add that it’s terrific to be on a podcast with such a scandalous sounding title.
Cliff Lewis: Yeah, and I just want to say I'm a really big fan of podcasts, so I'm just so happy to be here.
Katie Martel: We are really happy to make that connection for you. We are talking about something a bit odd today, but it works which I think is just a really difficult thing to crack.
Katie Martel: So, I attended these guys' session about an hour and a half ago right now and it was very much a process of walking into a room, opening a door and being bombarded with about 50 people who could not find seats because they were just so intrigued by your topic, your abstract, your sessions. So, congratulations, first and foremost, for somehow cracking that code. Standing room only in the session, and I want to talk about what you guys brought to the event this week and the name of the abstract was "Deep and Simple, How Mr. Rogers Makes Us Better at B2B." I've got to ask… So, tell me about why Mr. Rogers is, in your words, the most significant role model for B2B communicators?
Scott Trobaugh: We serve clients in complex industries and so, as a result of that, we end up on a lot of factory tours to learn about our clients, to learn about what they do, and to learn about the positive impact that they have on the world and we took our fascination from that and got to talking about how it felt like an episode of Mr. Rogers. We both had that feeling because that was our first introduction to the industry.
Cliff Lewis: Yeah, I mean, that was like the first time that for most people, for anyone that grew up during the run of that show, that would have been for many of us our first exposure to the manufacturing space. And like Scott said, we work with clients in complex industries, but more specifically almost all of our agency’s clients are companies that make stuff; they are manufacturers. So, it might be that they make heavy machinery or construction machinery or maybe they make chemistries, or ...
Scott Trobaugh: We have one client that actually made renewable biofuels out of algae and that was absolutely fascinating to go and learn about that process, but to also see how they were actually making a positive impact in the world.
Cliff Lewis: Right. So, whatever it is, our clients make stuff and they have manufacturing spaces, so we would go in there and we'd be reminded of our first exposure to that world which was sitting on the rug as a kid watching episodes of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood where he would go into the places where everyday objects were made. So, we were like, "This reminds me of Mr. Rogers." And we talked about it and talked about it and especially in some of our brainstorming sessions that we often do when we are developing a campaign or a brand, we'll block off 90 minutes of discussion time and save the first 30 minutes for the very important work of goofing off. And we talked about all sorts of ridiculous stuff in those sessions, like inventing fast food chains that serve nothing but chicken and waffle sandwiches, deciding, empirically trying to determine which Steven Spielberg movie is the best one.
Scott Trobaugh: Which we can't do, because we can't agree.
Cliff Lewis: Yeah, we can't. That's a difficult one, because I'm an E.T. guy myself, but we're not all E.T. guys.
Scott Trobaugh: I have to go with Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Cliff Lewis: Fair enough, but one of the things we talked about the most was this idea that Fred Rogers is not only reminiscent of B2B, but we think of him as the patron saint of B2B marketers.
Katie Martel: That's a pretty bold statement.
Cliff Lewis: Yeah.
Katie Martel: Why is that the case?
Cliff Lewis: I'll die on that though.
Scott Trobaugh: Well, part of it is, and we go over this a bit in the talk, there is a patron saint for almost anything because we were using it as this sort of causal term, kind of like, “Mr. Rogers is the poster child for B2B.” “Patron saint,” though, sounds more like there is this benevolent oversight, right? Which is very much in keeping with his character—and he was an ordained minister—but as we did some research, we learned that saints all have lived a life of heroic virtue. They all have to have verified miracle to their credit which is a case that we make, but also there is a patron saint for almost everything. We dug some stuff up. We found patron saints for pig farmers and people who are bad at math, and patron saints for special forces and pastry chefs. That guy is actually the same one.
Cliff Lewis: That's the same patron saint.
Scott Trobaugh: Yeah. So, why not one for B2B marketers and understanding the inspiration we had taken from Fred Rogers? It was a no-brainer.
Cliff Lewis: Yeah, and the connection between Fred Rogers and the B2B space, especially the manufacturing space, but you could argue this for all of B2B. A few of the big points that we make is, for one thing, he could simplify the complex and it’s hard to convey the intricacies of one's industry in a layperson’s terms. Sometimes it’s hard to talk about the complexities of our industry, even to people who inhabit that space, but we have to communicate with simplicity and Fred Rogers did that like no one else ever could, because he was able to explain things as complicated as death and disease and tragedy to four-year-olds who have never had to flush their goldfish down the toilet or anything. And he would be the first one to explain this stuff to them and he could do it so elegantly and with such precision.
Cliff Lewis: So, he could simplify the complex, he perfected the factory tour through so many episodes of his show, and also he was just a master communicator, a master persuader, and there are so many examples of how he was able to do that, but he was truly a brilliant communicator. And for me, Scott and I both, when we work as executive creator directors at our agency, we are kind of like the art and copy team. That's how we started working together as an art director and a copywriter working together and I'm from the copy side of that, so for me, as I started to watch episodes of Mr. Rogers and get more interested, it was like a rabbit hole that had no bottom to it because I was just learning so much about communication and copyrighting, and brevity. Even when you are dealing with something really complex and deep, you could just do it like nobody else.
Scott Trobaugh: And Cliff and I both have young kids and so we're seeing the way that Fred Rogers would communicate with his audience. We are seeing it first hand, and we're seeing how they would, in turn, respond to that and how they were affected by it. And I think the thing that I keep coming back to is that in everything that Mr. Rogers did, he had a deep and abiding respect and honesty for his audience. He fought for them, he respected them in a way that a lot of his competition, in terms of Saturday morning cartoons and stuff like that. I mean, they saw the children as people to sell to and he saw them as human beings that needed to know that people cared for them. And so when he would go into a factory tour, especially for something that a child uses everyday, we use the example of the crayon tour ...
Cliff Lewis: That's probably the most famous one.
Scott Trobaugh: Yeah, it probably is. But when he would illuminate their understanding of the world around them that way, that builds trust, because he's showing them honestly, "This thing you use every day, people made that. People made that for you." And they have jobs and they have passions and excitement about doing the work that they do and so when you explain that to a child and you take them and you show them something like that, and then you have to talk to them about death or talk to them about the fact that they’re not going to go down the bathtub drain when the water goes out, they are going to believe you because you have built that trust. And so, take that and add 40 years to it. That's our audience, right? They have more complex issues and concerns, but you want to respect them and you want to build that credibility by being extremely honest.
Katie Martel: I really love that and I think trust right now, I'm noticing a theme with this show, it was a theme in my own session about how most buyers don't trust, don't know which companies to trust. I think this is incredibly important leading into 2019, especially. It’s the charter for all marketers. I think this is brilliant. You guys have hit on something really profound and yet pretty universal. I think that the industries that Godfrey and you guys work with are highly specialized. They're very niche, they're kind of the underpinnings of our world. So, they are massive organizations that noone knows about and so in your session, you mentioned seeing the wonder of your industry and I wanted to ask. It’s kind of lovely. How do you do that in a dry or a highly technical field?
Cliff Lewis: So, there are two things that I think of. On one hand, you need to recognize the humanity that holds up the entire enterprise. This is something we see from Mr. Rogers a lot because he would go on these factory tours and he would ask, when he would go conduct an interview, there is this one question he would ask almost every single time. Whether it was an engineer or a floor tech, or it was an interview when he toured the factory, he'd be talking to somebody and he would always ask them a question that always kind of probed into their earliest childhood memories that relate to that product or service or space. So, if Mr, Rogers was going through a tour of like a film processing plant, he would ask, "Did you like taking pictures when you were a little boy?" Or he would go to maybe like a place where heavy machinery was being fabricated and he would say, "Did you like to play with toy trucks or toy tractors when you were a little girl?" Or you know whatever it might be, he would ask questions that went into their childhood and try to pull the humanity out, even in this technical space.
Cliff Lewis: So, we always do that. And customer insight, qualitative research, is huge at our agency. We value that a lot, but the other side, apart from the humanity, is there's a lot of fascination to just be taken in observing the technologies themselves and how important they are to upholding modern life. One of the points that Scott makes in our presentation is that if you are sitting inside of any kind of indoor space, even right now listening to this podcast, if you look around yourself there isn't almost anything around you that hasn't been made by somebody. And the people who make it are people who hail from the world of B2B and create these products. So, there's a human dimension, but there's also just this sense of awe to say that I am literally sitting in a manufactured space right now and I am surrounded by layers and layers, and layers between me and the air outside. Layers of what B2B has done. And so that's one of the things that gets us really jazzed.
Scott Trobaugh: Yeah and one thing that's really common that I can use as an example. So, look at the chair that you’re sitting in and it is more than just a single slab with four legs under it. There are contours to it, there are materials that were chosen for the way that the chair is going to be liftable and moveable and sturdy and comfortable, and somebody, actually a team of people, had to design that. You could be sitting on somebody's crowning career achievement, the thing that they are most proud of in their professional life. And so it helps you treat the world around you with a little bit more reverence, but also with that level of fascination. To understand that there's magic in this and that there's dozens if not hundreds of people on the other side of anything that you use.
Katie Martel: I really love that. I think it’s a wonderful way to approach not only the world, but when you have a client in B2B or you are a B2B marketer, how to make that more human. That's a wonderful way to approach life, honestly. Recognizing what's around you. I really love that.
Scott Trobaugh: And that's core to the message of it, that this isn't really about being more successful, I mean that can be a byproduct, it’s really just about being happier and finding that meaning in the world around you and in the job that you do.
Katie Martel: There was a study that marketing press released this week about marketer’s happiness and I think that's a real topic of concern as everything changes around us in marketing so quickly. Many feel, I think, the stat was like 40 something, one in two marketers, let’s say half, feel that everyone around them knows something more than they do, the sense of like imposter syndrome, fear and that we're not quite good enough to compete in the world of marketing anymore. What I love about your talk and what you're sharing today, this is universal stuff, you can be a great marketer without having to necessarily be in the cutting edge of XYZ tech. You're bringing it back to what it’s about and I do love that.
Scott Trobaugh: Well, because all of that technology, all of the ways that we connect on social, all of the ways that we can tell a story, they're all really our tools. They are means to an end and any of those items, any of those tools, or technologies that you are using right now. Two years from now it’s going to be completely different, but the thing that's going to stay the same is that messaging and that understanding of that importance of the work we are doing, the people that we serve and the people that we are communicating to on their behalf, they are doing important work to make the world better. Everything else is sort of putting chassis on it so it can move, but we're going to continue to see those things evolve.
Cliff Lewis: Good job. That was a great B2B analogy you just did. The chassis.
Katie Martel: Chassis is a very B2B thing. I love that.
Scott Trobaugh: I try to work the word chassis into every podcast I'm on.
Katie Martel: It just sounds so profound. Well, speaking, though, of the people that you're serving and the connection that you're building with them, you brought along some letters and I wondered if you could just tell us what and why and what they're about. I think they're letters that people have sent Mr. Rogers.
Cliff Lewis: Yeah so this was, this was one of the things that really fascinated me as a writer, was Fred Rogers during the height of his popularity. He would receive upwards of 4,000 fan letters every single year and so that was like 15 letters per business day, give or take, and he and his wife at his side would sit down, sometimes at the kitchen table and just read every single one of them and they'd actually write back to a lot of them. So, they were getting hilarious letters like this one from Collin, age four, where he just says, "When I talk to you, you don't listen. Also, I wanted to know, are you real in real life?" Or like we also got stuff, you can also see letters where kids are writing to Mr. Rogers with these really Stephen Hawking-level deep questions, like, "I want to know how the world started. I think a star exploded and it got all the pieces of the star and made the world. Sometimes I see shapes like a circle around us and it makes me think that stars exploded because there looks like there is a circle around us and when you look at stars they look like circles, too." That's Benjamin, age 4. [crosstalk 00: 15: 39]
Scott Trobaugh: I want to know where these children are because they're adults by now. If you guys are listening, please get in touch.
Cliff Lewis: Benjamin, we want to hire you.
Scott Trobaugh: The challenge is how do you answer a kid like Benjamin when you don't have a solid answer for him and you've built your entire mission on being super honest? How do you engage that? And he did it so artfully.
Cliff Lewis: Yeah, so this is Fred's response to Benjamin with that crazy question about quantum physics, basically, and the way that Fred answers this, like, I've come from the copy side of the marketing and communications world, so I'm just blown away by this in terms of sentence structure, simplicity, brevity, and everything. So, he says, "Dear Benjamin, many things in this world are hard to understand, even for scientists. Since no one was living on the Earth when the world started, people have tried for a long time to imagine what that was like. They try to look and listen carefully to the earth for clues about how thing began, but they also imagine. Imagination isn't just something children need for pretending. It’s part of the work of grown people like scientists, too. Different people have different ideas about how the world started. I'm glad to know yours. It’s good that you're trying to figure it out for yourself. That's a healthy way to keep growing all your life."
Katie Martel: Man, I just got chills.
Cliff Lewis: Yeah. [crosstalk 00: 16: 58] Profound.
Scott Trobaugh: And he doesn't have to do this, right? He doesn't have to do this in his spare time, this is before social media, right? And so he's engaging with his fan base at that point, which is great, but that would just be the cold promotional angle. The other thing that was happening here is he was doing that qualitative that Cliff mentioned. I'm sure that letters like that helped to change the direction of his program over the years as children grew and changed, as our society went through changes from the 60s through the 90s and on into the newer century. As things changed and evolved, I'm sure it helped him stay very much in tune with his audience. The voice of the customer, if you will, and tailor everything he did to their specific needs and curiosities.
Cliff Lewis: Right and Katie, you just said a lot of what we're saying is making you think about how there's always something new. There's always a flavor of the month that we're trying to keep up with. We all have this inferiority complex about our grasp of marketing technology. Obviously, we have to keep running that rat race to some extent, but we do have these opportunities to keep cultivating our embrace of the first principles and the things that matter the most in marketing communication, but also just human communication. So, we look at examples like these letters and we think about how analytics and big data are incredibly important and there's no reason to ever remove them from your marketing plan, but qualitative research and real conversations, face-to-face conversations with your audience, will yield insights that you just can't mine out of an Excel spreadsheet.
Scott Trobaugh: I think that they help you interpolate that data in a human way. [crosstalk 00: 18: 58] So, if you’re too light on either side, there is going to be an imbalance and I think that that's sort of the key point that we make in the talk in that stage.
Katie Martel: I think it’s so helpful. I think it’s so relevant. I think it’s a real wake-up call to remind people in the rat race what's going on. I want to ask you something that's hopefully not a curveball, but brands operate in dimensions: for something, against something, good, bad, right, wrong, and you guys presented a vision of the future, or at least a vision of a proposed better future for marketers if they were to be like Mr. Rogers. If Mr. Rogers had an enemy, who would it be, what would it be, what is the opposite of Mr. Rogers in B2B?
Scott Trobaugh: Well, the title of the talk is “Deep and Simple,” and that's actually a reference to a quote. Mr. Rogers had spent some time with a producer named Ben Wagner and we tell that story briefly in the talk. Ben was at a crossroads in his career and he was in media and Mr. Rogers told him that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex, and so there you have kind of the two sides of that coin.
Cliff Lewis: Yeah, I mean so the arch-nemesis would definitely be a very smarmy, probably B2C marketer who is very committed to bells and whistles, but no true, honest connection to one’s audience at all. One of the things that we talk about in our presentation is that when Fred was a young adult, he never intended to go into any form of communications work at all. He wanted to be a musician and he was about to go to seminary and he'd finished up his undergrad in music and he went home and visited his parents and they'd brought home a television set and it was brand new and he had never seen one before and the first thing he ever saw in a TV set was a show that featured people throwing cream pies in each other's faces and it was watching that that really caused this sea change and made him realize that he needed to pursue a career in communications because he realized that this mass media communications opportunity could be, and should be, so much more for people. So, we are trying to avoid those pitfalls of shallowness and unnecessary complexity in our work.
Katie Martel: I think this idea of “could be and should be so much more” is a wonderful way of looking at B2B marketing, especially today. I think we are in a remarkably exciting time, but it could and should be so much better. Our buyers deserve it, our clients deserve it. Thank you, guys, for bringing this new perspective not only to the MarketingProfs show, but now the listeners of this podcast. The last question is where can people find out more about each of you and is there anything Godfrey is up to that you'd like to let us know about?
Scott Trobaugh: Yeah, Godfrey, we just celebrated our 70th anniversary last year so we have been around for a while. We've been all B2B for about 40 years. B2B-focused. I like to say we've been B2B as long as there's been such a thing as Star Wars because it all comes down to pop culture references with the two of us, but that sort of helps people get a benchmark for it. We did just launch a new website. We've got a blog with a lot of content that is coming out so this talk actually started a couple of months ago as a blog post originally. Cliff was responsible for capturing all of our thoughts in writing and I put together some illustrations for it. Yeah, but that's probably the best place to interact. Godfrey.com.
Cliff Lewis: Yeah, absolutely. Godfrey.com. If you want to look there, the post itself I believe is called "Why Mr. Rogers is the Patron Saint of B2B Marketers."
Katie Martel: We'll link to it from the show notes today.
Cliff Lewis: Yes, okay. Great, yeah, and if anybody wants to follow us on social media, I'm on twitter I'm @cliff_lewis.
Scott Trobaugh: And I'm on twitter and Instagram under the same handle, @capnskot. Its cap’n —like Cap’n Crunch, like C-A-P-N and then S-K-O-T which is not how I spell my name, but it is on social.
Katie Martel: Honestly, guys, this has been a ton of fun. I want to thank you so much for bringing this. Seriously, Cliff, Scott, thank you. Thank you all for listening to today's episode of Explicit Content. I'm Katie Martel. Have a wonderful rest of your day.
ECP Host: Thank you for listening to the Explicit Content Podcast. For more information, check out enterprisemarketer.com.
associated links: Godfrey - Mr. Rogers Article