Advertisements can extend the reach of your business as far as you want it to. But there is a particular art of advertising you need to be familiar with if you’re going to make it work. Jesse Cole’s guest today is Daniel Harmon, the Co-founder and Creative Visionary of Harmon Brothers. From the humble beginnings of being an Idaho potato salesman to manning an ad agency whose videos have been seen over 1.4 billion times, driving over $400 Million in sales, Daniel is well-versed in launching brands into household names and multimillion-dollar businesses through video marketing. Do you want to grab a crap-ton of eyeballs for your products and turn them into loyal customers? Tune in and learn tips on Daniel’s creative process and how he brings a whole creative team together to produce eyeball-catching videos. If Daniel can do it, you can, too!
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Launching Brands Into Household Names Through Video Marketing With Daniel Harmon
Our guest is one of the brilliant men who turned poop to gold. He is Daniel Harmon from the Harmon Brothers, who are known as some of the best marketers of our time. They’ve helped to launch Squatty Potty, Poo-Pourri, Purple, Camp Chef and many more into multimillion–dollar businesses and household names. Their clients’ ads have been seen over 1.4 billion times and have driven over $400 million in sales. As the Harmon Brothers website says, “That’s a crap ton of eyeballs.” He’s here on the show to share with us how they’ve done it. Daniel, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me, Jesse. I’m super excited to be here.
I’m fired up. We connected a few months prior. I‘ve been following you guys for years, obviously some hits. We have to set up a little bit of context because we both started as unpaid interns at one point in our career. Can you give a little bit of context on how you started to where you guys are now?
As you said, I went through ad school but I think it goes back further than that. Our experience in marketing or the approach that we have to marketing and advertising goes back to door–to–door sales. My brothers and I grew up in Idaho. We worked on Idaho potato farms, and we ended up selling potatoes door–to–door. We would gather up these 50–pound boxes of potatoes from my uncle’s farm. We would drive them across the border down to Utah, knock on the doors of big families and sell potatoes. We didn’t know much of anything about sales principles other than, “I‘m selling this box of potatoes.” Our pitch was essentially, “I‘m earning money either for college or to pay for a mission that I‘m going to go on for my church. Do you eat potatoes?” People would either say yes or, “No, we eat rice.” We heard that a few times.
We would sell these 50–pound boxes for $20 apiece. We look at our cost of goods of what it took to pay for the gas to come down, our time to buy the potatoes and all that, and then add up the money. We were making more than we would have been at the time at a minimum wage job. We were making somewhere around $12 an hour, which was great. That was our first jump into sales. Later on in college, I sold alarm systems door–to–door for an ADT authorized dealer. I learned a lot more about a structure of a sale of how to grab people’s attention, how to relate to a problem or spill out a problem for them and then provide a solution with the product that you’re selling.Focus and solve the problem; put yourself in that mindset to get done what needs to get done within your timeframe. Click To Tweet
My brother Jeffrey and I were two of the top salesmen in the company there in our first year. I ended up doing it a couple of years in a row. I learned that I did not like it as a career doing cold calling door–to–door. Much of that selling experience informs how we approach video marketing. It was later on in college, I studied Advertising. Getting back to the point where you were at where you’re talking about my first job out of college was an unpaid job. It was as an unpaid intern for a big agency in Chicago called DDB, but I was working on accounts like McDonald’s and the Chicago International Film Festival, those kinds of things.
From there, my brothers became co-founders of a company called Orabrush. They sell a tongue cleaner that helps cure bad breath. Ninety percent of your bad breath comes from stuff that collects on your tongue and it cleans that off well. They were using YouTube as an avenue for getting the word out about the Orabrush. The video campaign that they created and I consulted on was the first video campaign to ever be used on YouTube where you would spend $1 and you knew you’re getting more than $1 back. This was when YouTube had barely started running ads on the platform. They had been bought by Google and Google started experimenting with trying to monetize these free and cheap viral video platforms. Now, they’re introducing ads to it. Orabrush was buying up all kinds of ads but that led to distribution within Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and companies all over the world, and eventually Orabrush being bought by DenTek.
The experience there got us some noticed by a little company in Texas called Poo-Pourri. She reached out to my brother, Jeffrey, and said, “You guys have got to be the ones to do this. I know specifically, you’re the guy that I need for being able to pull out this campaign.” We were all at Orabrush at that time. Jeffrey and my brother Neil were co-founders. I had been brought in as an art director there. We didn’t see eye–to–eye with where the company was going at that point. We resigned from it to do the Poo-Pourri campaign.
That was an all-in moment for you guys because you’re leaving what brought you success in doing something you’ve never completely fully done.
There were some things we were replicating in the same campaign. We were going to YouTube and we were going to do this direct–to–consumer approach. Poo-Pourri had had a lot of success with boutiques and being able to sell their product in that way, but it never reached any large distribution. I‘m trying to remember if they were in Bed Bath & Beyond before the campaign or after, but at any rate, I know that the sales went crazy. We did this little campaign for them. We were thinking we will end up joining that company. We needed a place to put the money to create the campaign that Poo-Pourri was going to pay us. It’s a middle of the night decision. My brothers were like, “Let’s call it Harmon Brothers and then we’ll change it later if we have to.”
When the campaign launched and started getting picked up by Huffington Post, Adweek and advertising agent, all these different publications, they were citing ‘Creative Agency, Harmon Brothers.’ We were sitting around my brother’s kitchen table going, “Creative agency?” We’ve technically done this campaign for hire from a client even though we thought we were going to be part of that company. That makes us an agency. The name stuck from there. That’s where Harmon Brothers started. It’s transitioning out of Orabrush. Our first campaign was Poo-Pourri, and it blew up all over the place. That got us the name recognition and that got Pou-Pourri sold out. I can’t remember how long it was but Pou-Pourri continues to build off of that brand and that persona that we created there.
First of all, I think that’s brilliant creativity with the name of your agency. The Harmon Brothers, you nailed it. It’s so funny because what goes into the name? Savannah Bananas was huge for us. That name put us on the map, but Harmon Brothers, you produce great work. One of my favorite bands is Dave Matthews band. One of their most well-known songs is called #41 because it was the 41st song that they wrote. They didn’t know what to call it. It’s funny as a creative director, you named it Harmon Brothers then you move on. I do want to dive into the creative process but maybe first with Poo-Pourri because that was the first where you start to frame it. I‘m sure it’s changed a lot. You said even as an Idaho potato salesman, there are a few people out there as Idaho potato salesman, you had the mindset of sales first and then what I’ve heard you say is art second. You’ve taken that mindset. Tell a little bit about how that came into starting Poo-Pourri and moving from there?
At the end of the day, we knew that if the campaign that we did for them did not move their top–line revenue, it was going to be a failure no matter how sexy it looked and funny it was. None of that was going to matter unless it sold first and foremost. That’s how we approached it. That sale had to come through very clearly. I‘m a branding guy, so I‘ve always wanted the brand to be a part of that but I don’t lose sight of what ultimately the purpose of advertising is to sell something, especially when you’re an early–stage company like that. You need to dependably put in $1 and get more than $1 back. You can’t play the game of the giant multinational corporations where they’re spreading advertising out all over the place.
That is an approach that works to have a portfolio, be on all these different platforms and be constantly having eyeballs in all these different areas, then eventually it comes back to you. That does work at that stage but not at a stage for a company like Poo-Pourri. It has to be able to sell. That was the approach. As far as the creative process goes, my brother, Jeffrey, had this idea for being able to talk about a taboo subject like your stinky poo with an eloquent British woman. We felt like that would soften the whole thing, allow people and us to say things that we can never get away with if I was saying it for example. That was the original concept. It was, “Let’s get a British woman to talk about some stuff that a lot of people would consider either taboo or crass.”
The other aspect of it was to have her go from place–to–place on a toilet the whole time. Places where people would normally feel embarrassed because if they needed to go to the bathroom, they would be so worried about stinking the place up or whatever it was. You would want to use Poo-Pourri in the office, at your boyfriend’s apartment or whatever those different circumstances were. That was the core concept of it. We brought in another writer, Joel Ackerman, who ended up was the lead writer on it. He brought in a whole bunch of jokes and creativity that you see in it. It was a very collaborative process.
One of the things that we maintained to this day that started with Poo-Pourri was writing retreat. It’s where different writers will come together and collaborate in the same space over the course of anywhere from 1 to 2 days. Usually, it’s two days for this scale of videos and where you problem solve there with the client. They’re a participant with you so that everyone is bought in. It’s not us selling something in, but they’re helping us problem solve and recognizing stuff that we can’t and vice versa. Where they’re saying, “We can’t say that because that’s a legal thing. We’d get ourselves into trouble. We know that offends our customers, so we’ll avoid that.” At the same time, we’re saying to the client and they’re like, “We want to talk about this.” We’re like, “That’s a fun little feature for some people but not the feature that you need to focus on where they get a little bit close to things, we can have a step back from that, and be able to talk more objective. We have fresher eyes for things.”
It’s a very collaborative process. We check our phones into a basket and there’s a raffle where if you have to use your phone, you can do that, it just costs you $20. You have to put $20 into a pot. That’s raffled out off at the end for anybody that doesn’t use their phone. The idea is to focus and solve the problem. Put yourself in that mindset to get done what needs to get done in that timeframe. When you put boundaries around yourself with your creativity, things become a lot more creative, ironically. Creativity thrives within restraint. That’s a lot of the way we approach our writing retreats.
We have the mindset too of constraints bring out creativity, so you put no boundaries in the constraints. Dan, you talked about obviously the first Poo-Pourri. You have this British, beautiful, elegant woman talking about poop. One of the concepts that we’ve learned is whatever is normal, do the exact opposite. When you ever say this, you go this way. That’s why the first thing our baseball players do is they do choreograph dances every game. Baseball players aren’t supposed to dance. That’s why we sell Dolce and Banana underwear in our games. It’s those polar that it seems like a lot of your humor. A unicorn that poops sugar ice cream, that’s not normal. That’s the opposite approach. Has that been a lot of the humor that you guys come into the creative process?
Yes. It’s some of both. The number one principle for comedy is surprise. What you’re getting at right now is taking an opposite approach. One of the tenets that we live by here at Harmon Brothers is that you want to be one step ahead of your audience, not necessarily two steps. What I mean by one step is enough to surprise them but not so far that you’re like, “You lost me.” That’s what happened with the unicorn. The unicorn was a step ahead because no one had ever seen anything quite like that, but it wasn’t two steps ahead because it was still based in some reality in that colorful soft–serve ice cream is something everybody would want to enjoy. The internet was already talking about unicorns in magical ways and making all sorts of memes and jokes about them being these creatures that can do all sorts of these things.
It was a little bit founded in that reality. We added in the element of the prince as the spokesperson to get grounded in the fantasy world. It’s something that people are a little bit familiar with. That would make sense rather than it being like some used car salesman or something along those lines. That makes more sense if it’s coming from a prince where you’ve got a unicorn living. When you are two steps ahead, you lose people or you confuse them. I always say a confused customer never buys. You lose them as soon as they start to double think about stuff. It’s a hard enough decision whether or not to part with their money, but you don’t want to add in ambiguity and a lack of clarity to that. That’s the approach that we have. We try to have elements of surprise but then keep it grounded in something familiar so that we’re not too far ahead of their thinking.Launching Brands Into Household Names Through Video Marketing With Daniel Harmon | Ep. 18 Click To Tweet
If you think about now with TikTok and all the trends, it’s the songs that are familiar. They’re seeing this familiar moment and you take it to another level. It’s the familiarity but then the surprise. You brought up a great point. Donald Miller, I‘m sure you’re familiar with the StoryBrand, he brought his whole team to a Bananas game and we worked with him before. You confuse, you lose. We try to be so spectacular sometimes with, “What are you guys even talking about?” I think that’s key. I‘m thinking of someone an entrepreneur right now like myself. People look at us. We’ve done hundreds of videos but we still have two fundamental challenges. Number one is to continue to bring in quite creative people like the writers. You don’t think of a baseball team having writers. Number two, setting up a process for it. You start with the people. You talk about this in From Poop to Gold. Share how you do that, how you bring in the right people and then we can get into the process.
If you are trying to make your advertising funny, if that’s the direction you’re going with the brand, then we look for funny people. Funny people are by trade comedians. They’re either sketch comedians, improv comedians, standup comedians or carving out a niche for themselves in being comedic actors. Usually, they have a background in some standup, improvisation or sketch comedy. A lot of times, they’ll have formal training. Comedy is a developed skill. There are people that are funnier than others by nature, but everyone can take their comedy to another level to practice in the same way that there are people that are more gifted sitting down to a musical instrument and playing something like the piano. Applying the right level of practice changes everything. I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book, Peak.
Is it by Chip Conley?
I think so. There are several books that are called Peak but this is the one about the science of expertise. There’s another one called The Talent Code that deals with some of the same things. He talks in there about the belief that exists out there that perfect pitch is something people are born with. Being able to recognize that note but then there was a guy that wanted to break the bullet and experiment and see. If you took kids from an early age and work with them in a very specific program, could they develop the perfect pitch? I forget how many kids he did it with. It was between 40 or 70. I can’t remember. It was a big enough sample size. Every single one of the kids came out. When learning was applied at the right time and in the right way, they came out with perfect pitch. That’s something that you’re born with.
Comedians developed this skill. Trying to make yourself funny when you’re not funny is not the best avenue to go for. Instead hire someone that is talented in that skill and then teach them marketing because marketing is much more about systems. There are things that apply in the same way that it does to comedy. You can test certain messages on your audience and you see how that works out. It is easier to teach marketing to a comedian than it is to teach comedy to a marketer. That’s how we approached that.
The starting point is let’s say someone like me, an entrepreneur, will say, “We’re looking for comedy writers for promo pieces throughout the year.” What you’ve said is you’ve tested a lot of these people. You said most of our creative teams started as interns. You also test them with projects. You say, “I‘m looking for a sub–contractor to do a few pieces.” Is that how you do it?
That is 100% how we do it. I do not think I am a great interviewer. I do not think resumes hold much value. I’m only concerned with what work have you produced and then how do we work together? I don’t care about your degree, pedigree and background, none of that stuff. For me, it’s all about what work you have done, how you are to collaborate with and what shared values do we have.
Let’s say I have a project, “We’re doing this promo for our game in kilts. We’re playing in kilts. We need to do a promo. We’re looking for one person to work on this.” You send it out, three people do it and you pay them for their work, “Which one do we like the best?” How’s that collaboration?
We’re always trying out new writers. Some work out better than others. It can be a little sink or swim with us. We’ve also got to a point where we give people a few more chances at bat if we see that they’re hardworking, they’re trying to contribute even if it doesn’t click for them the very first time. We work with them to develop and help mentor. That’s very much how we approach it. The interview is more of, “Let’s work together.” After we’ve done a few contract projects together, then it’s going to make more sense to move into a more full-time type of relationship.
The process and system in the book said, “Successful culture is not just the people but also the systems. Harmon Brothers’ systems maximize productivity and the humanity of imperfect people.” There is a lot there. Putting processes on creativity, I‘m a creator, you’re a creator. We talked about the boundaries and constraints. Can you share a little bit of the process? We bring in this person. What’s the process to produce the best creative action steps moving forward?
There’s a very simple formula for coming up with great ideas. It’s come up with a lot of ideas and then find the ones that are good. You’re going to come up with a lot of cracks while you’re trying to come up with a good idea. You have to not think of those as bad ideas but more as fertilizer for your good ideas. All those “bad ideas” are fertilizers. They’re good ideas in disguise that are helping nurture those good ideas coming up. What you do is you take these writers that have developed this skillset and then you put them through a process of reviews and brain trust. It’s getting feedback from people that have fresh eyes to the project.
Every one of us, as a writer and a creative, we get too close to the things that we come up with. We care about them too much. We have to go through the process of getting feedback. Any entrepreneur and innovator has to do this with their product or service or whatever they’re coming up with. You want to get real feedback from the market. Comedians are used to doing that. They go and they do open mic nights where they’ll stand up and they’ll do test 2 or 3 minutes of new material, then they’ll see what bombs and they’ll keep the jokes that work. It might be only two that night.
It talks about this a lot in the book, Creativity, Inc. They use brain trust. We were using this before. We had an official name for them. That’s where we learned the name for it in Creativity, Inc. which is about Pixar’s process. At key points in the project, after the script is “finished,” you want to have that reviewed by people that are as close to it and give feedback. See what jokes are working. Is the message coming through clearly? Is the sale compelling? Is it making me feel anything emotionally? It’s the same process when you get to your first edit and when you add your graphics in. At every stage of it, you have people that are less familiar with the project, they come in and view it. Hopefully, they’re even within your target demographic. If not, it’s good to pull people in that are in your target demographic and get real candid feedback. You’re asking to get your feelings hurt. You’re asking to be embarrassed. It’s better to be embarrassed in front of a handful of people than in front of millions on the internet.
What I’ve heard from you before is that you’ll have a few in the writers. The first key is you get out of your normal element of work like where that is. They say, “I know what the status but most creative ideas do not come from work which is where you need the most creative ideas.” Talking about the process here. You guys have a few different people come up with a script. They all write a script independently, they read it out loud and you get feedback there. I‘ve told our team, “If we have a script that we read out loud and we’re not laughing, it’s not going to be that much better on video.”
We were selling the Dolce and Banana underwear and everything we do is free shipping. We took inspiration from the Kmart commercial way back in the day. It’s like, “When I shipped my underwear, you’re shipping what?” We were laughing. Bananas underwear is worth the ship. We kept doing it. We’re playing a lot with this poop name thing. We read it out loud and we were laughing so hard, we knew that it would work. In this brain trust, you have people bring it in. They read the scripts around other people with fresh eyes and then say, “What are the best parts?” Then you put together a script and then you go to the next phase. Is that correct?
Yes. We’ll take one of those scripts and use that as our backbone. What we feel is the best concept for the best sales structure starting point to build off of. We’ll start the concept phase and run different concepts by people. It’s like a paragraph to give people the idea and hone in on one of those. All the writers take their own approach on that concept. You want to have higher efficiency. You get everybody grouped up on the same concept and have them write in their own way to that. That makes it meld together better at that point for the writing retreat.
The testing is everything. I want to get a little bit further. You test it there but then you also test the videos and then you test the videos on the platforms to see what it’s responding to. It sounds like everything is test.
When you dive into the nuts and bolts of great creativity, it’s somewhat uninteresting because it’s a long series of trials and failures. It’s not any brilliant person that’s come up with this Eureka idea. That might be an element of it but it’s more so dedicated, hardworking people willing to try a lot of stuff along the way and own something. I don’t want to compare any of my work to Michelangelo. That statue of David there in Italy, I haven’t even been there but I’ve seen it on the internet, but the quote from him is he chipped away everything that didn’t look like David. That’s a little bit of what happens with this stuff. As you go through it, you’re putting so much stuff out there and bit–by–bit, you’re learning what is not working. It’s a lot of being willing to embarrass yourself until you come up with something that doesn’t anymore.
We’re going to get into that embrace embarrassment. I could tell numerous stories on that. You quoted me once on LinkedIn, so I‘m going to quote you here, “Great creativity is work. It’s iteration, it’s experimentation, it’s messy. In order to get to the great stuff, you’ve got to get through a lot of the bad stuff in the process.” That’s it. Your ads now are so much more thought through. You hit gold at the beginning with the first few. You learn the process and now it’s a framework that you can use. Does success hold you back at all if you know the framework from creativity?
Can you further define that question? What do you mean?
If you learn, this is the way you’ve done it and this is the way you do it, does that hold you back from getting even more creative and try new things?
It can for sure. If you get complacent and you never try to do anything different, it can become formulaic. If you read Donald Miller’s book, Building A StoryBrand, he talks there about how all the major blockbusters are following the same story format. We don’t get tired of that storytelling format if there’s always something fresh applied to it. If it becomes too much of the same thing and some people have had this criticism from time–to–time of the Marvel cinematic universe. The Marvel movies are becoming too predictable but I‘m still enjoying myself. I‘m still liking this even though I can see what’s coming in some cases. They’re keeping enough things fresh that I‘m still into it. When they stop adding enough fresh things and if it becomes too predictable, again the element of surprise doesn’t apply to a company, it applies to storytelling in general, then it can get you to trouble.
We’re always trying to innovate on ways to use the same principles to tell different stories. You can get stuff. We’ve had our own ads. It felt like we got a little too formulaic there. There’s a time and a place for that. Sometimes, that works. If you go to the grocery store, there’s a whole bunch of different brands of bread because bread still works, whether it’s going to gluten-free or it got some fancy oatmeal flakes on the top, or it’s 100% whole wheat, white or whatever it is. There are all sorts of different ways to do bread and bread still works. There are not many variations on it because it’s still working. This style of advertising that we do still very much works. If you look at traditional TV 30-second ads, there are also a lot of formulas that are applied there but it’s all about how you’re being creative within those guardrails so that it feels fresh. It feels like something new, so there’s an element of surprise.
Find the familiarity so people can connect with it. Following a story arc, you win when you tell stories. Our underdog story from sleeping on an air bed selling only two tickets to having every game sold out, we have to tell that every time. We have to be like, “This is what we’re doing.” We understand that. It’s like a band has to play their hits. They can’t go into their venue and not play some of their hits. People are like, “What are you doing?” I want to dive here, idea generation. We’ve talked about how you bring in the writers. They bring all these different things. We have Idea Paloozas, which are monthly which are the most fun we’ve ever had. They’re were amazing. You do a thing about Hypo Lab. Can you explain how that’s different than a writer’s retreat? How are you guys generating your ideas?
We get together with the ad buyers and we formulate ideas based on a different hypothesis of, “How would it work if we took this piece of content and we changed the beginning? We use this part from the center and move that forward to the beginning. How would that test? What type of headlines are we working on? What type of visuals is working for the thumbnails?” It’s a collaborative process where we’re trying to get more inspiration across teams of different insights of people that are watching the numbers day–to–day within things like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. It’s because they can provide insights that we can’t otherwise when we’re out making videos, doing the writing and doing all that stuff.
That is very much a collaborative brainstorming type process around what we can do to make our campaigns perform, “How do we need to evolve?” The platforms are always going to be evolving. They’re always going to be favoring different types of content. Facebook’s algorithm, in particular, gets more money if they’re able to have more ad placements. In order to have more ad placements, they need shorter ads. They favor shorter ads over longer form. The longer form still works, but if you don’t have shorter form mixed into it and maybe even heavily so, then you’re going to have crickets. You have to be thinking in terms of not a single video but a whole portfolio of content that you have to be approaching.Be willing to embarrass yourself until there's nothing left to be embarrassed with anymore. Click To Tweet
I love how in Hypo Lab, how it starts with a question. It’s a question like, “What if we do this? What if we do that?” We’ve got Idea Paloozas where we come up with promotion ideas but then we start changing it to questions. We said, “What would it take to make fans want to stay to the end of the game?” In baseball, that never happens, Daniel, so we asked certain questions and it helped us come up with a brand new game called Banana Ball, which is two hours long. It’s nonstop action. It’s because you asked the right question. If you want to get better ideas, ask better questions a lot of the time. Are you ready for some games, Daniel?
This is bringing up some games. The first one is truth and dare. Which one do you want first?
Is it truth and dare, or truth or dare?
Truth and dare. It’s Business Done Differently, we don’t do things normally. Which one do you want first?
I’ll go for truth.
What’s the hardest lesson that you’ve learned in the business?
The hardest lesson I’ve learned is that failure is part of the process. I still don’t like to fail. I still don’t like embarrassment but you have to embrace embarrassment and failure as part of the process to do anything great.
We will talk about embrace embarrassment. A lot of people are afraid of that. Daniel, are you ready for the dare?
Yes, let’s go for the dare.
This is a game we do at the stadium. It’s called the sing–off. We have 2,000 people in one part of the stadium versus 2,000 in the other part of the stadium, the grandstand versus the middle bleachers. We play a song, and when the song stops, you have to finish those song lyrics. Are you mentally prepared?
No, but I’ll do it anyway.
We’ll do it to dare. We talked about embracing embarrassment, so this is very fitting. The song does fit a little bit of what you guys do.
“A little bit close into something.” Can you remember the lyrics to the song?
That was close. “Roses really smell like poo-poo-ooh.” It’s from OutKast. I was going back like, “Are there any songs that say poo–poo?” because it goes to everything you’re doing. I thought we fit in.
I should know that one.
You were going with it. I‘ll give you 1/2 point for that. Let’s finish with a little rapid–fire. In the future of marketing, what’s changing? For instance, long-form videos start with YouTube and you started dominating Facebook. For us, TikTok has been the game–changer. We have more followers than every Major League baseball team in the country, which is crazy. It’s a short form. How are you guys evolving? Where do you see the future of marketing and creating new customers and fans?
I wouldn’t even begin to guess which platform is going to be after TikTok that‘s going to take away. The future of marketing is privacy. That means less ability to target who you want to target at least the way we’re familiar with doing it now. It means that more branding is going to be needed at earlier stages with companies because you have to put a lot of stuff out there and wait for some of it to come back. Not all of it is going to be as directly trackable as it once was.
You believe in sales first, art second. Now, it may be pivoting to get the brand out there to build trust because people want to buy, they don’t want to be sold.
There’s a little bit of that. People crave authenticity more than almost anything else right now, but what I‘m referring to is the platform’s systems and their ability to allow you to target very granularly. It seems to be going away more as people crave more privacy.
I‘ve been grilling you a little bit. This is now called Flip The Script. You’re the host of the show, you can ask me one question.
What’s the hardest job you’ve ever worked?
My mind doesn’t go there.
Let me rephrase it. What’s the least favorite job you ever had?
I started as an unpaid intern at 22. I became a general manager at 23 because the team I was taken over was the worst team in the entire country. There was only $268 in the bank account. I became a managing partner. I bought the team and another team. I was sleeping on an airbed because I couldn’t sell tickets. This has been my life. This has been my job. I would say it’s the least favorite. The hardest is when you have to sacrifice everything for your team. It happened years ago, we had to sell our house and empty our savings account. Even in 2020, we didn’t let anyone go. We kept everyone’s salary and we had to sacrifice to make sure everyone was taken care of on our team. Now, we’ve hired three more full–time in the middle of a pandemic. The hardest is when you have to realize to put other people before you and that in the short-term, it’s going to be tough but long-term, it pays. You guys taught to prioritize quality over profit. You’ve done so many things in your business that you guys have done the same as well.
We did the same thing. We had a meeting as partners and we decided we were not going to fire anybody when everything turns out. Honestly, we weren’t going to take profits for a while to make sure that happened. The same thing, we made it through all in 2020 and did not have to lay anybody off.
It’s question time. If you want better answers in business, you’ve got to ask better questions. What are some of the questions you’re asking these days?
The main question I‘m asking, especially of my employees is, “What are you doing to innovate? Are we sitting around and doing the same old, same old? What are we doing as innovators individually? Are we innovating on our systems? Are we innovating on our approaches to satisfy the need of our clients? Are we innovating on the platforms that we’re trying out, the formats? Are we innovating on the type of stories that we’re telling?” It’s all about what we are doing to innovate.
That’s a question right there, everyone. Write that down. How are you innovating individually right now and challenge your team? We judge our team by the experiments they do per quarter. It’s not by sales, it’s not by revenue, it’s by experiments. How are you innovating? What experiments are you doing now?
The experiments are a great way to judge it because rather than judging it by the successes that come through, those will come through if you have enough experiments. It’s a number of at-bats.
You’re speaking my language. The Major League player that had the most at-bats in history also had the most hits. Pete Rose, 14,000 at-bats. Of course, he got 4,000 hits. He had 14,000 at-bats. That’s so good and important to talk about. Jeff Bezos said, “Our success is a direct function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day.” What’s your one creative habit? Everyone asks, “I‘m not creative. We’re all creative.” Maybe you’re not thinking creatively, but what’s a creative habit to bring up better creativity?
Give yourself time for white noise. What I mean by that is you have to have a space where your brain is allowed to wander, whether that’s in the bathroom, in the shower or on the toilet. It means getting rid of your cell phone or if it’s out while walking your dog or gardening. You need to have something mundane and boring in your life that you do with such repetition and habit that your brain can do something else while it works on that. That is when some of the best stuff comes. It’s when some of the subconscious is able to do more of the work rather than consciously trying to hit your head against a brick wall and solve things. It’s all about having that moment of quiet and peace. That brings more creativity than almost anything else.
It’s such a good point too because we think about our kids. I know you have six kids and I have a very young kid. We’re foster parents. We’re getting into that as well, we got licensed. When you look at the kids, they always have toys. They always have things to play with. What I hear with my father, he was like, “We used to go outside for eight hours.” How often do we have to go outside and not bring our phone or talk to someone? I have to feel it. We’re missing those creative moments. That’s a great idea. How can you get some noise and embrace boredom? I‘m going to go be bored for 30 minutes and enjoy it. Last few here, the name of our company is Fans First Entertainment. Everything we believe is in fans and how to create fans first moments. Do you have a fans first moment that stick out for you either that’s happened at Harmon Brothers, something you guys have done for a client, or someone’s done for you or your team?
When we go into our campaigns, we approach everything from the mindset of a customer. The starting point for us is to use the product or service ourselves, and put ourselves in those shoes, find out what we love about it. Find out what the a–ha moment of like, “I totally get this. This is why this is so cool.” When you get away from becoming the customer itself from that starting point, then that’s when things go off the rails. There’s a book called The User Method. It talks about how things like Facebook or some of the great innovations in the world were started by entrepreneurs that were solving a problem ultimately for themselves more than they were even trying to solve it for anybody else. They weren’t looking at an opportunity out there and being like, “We could make so much money if we did this thing.” They were more saying to themselves, “This problem exists in my life. I‘m going to fix this.” All of a sudden, you have a prototype for this new thing. When you solve the problem and understand it for yourself as a customer, that gives you so much more insight than trying to approach it from the outside.
I think about what we do. We talked about embracing boredom, but I get bored at our games. At a regular baseball game, the games are too long and slow. I‘m trying to solve to make it where I never have to want to do something else. I am glued to the experience of the game. I‘m solving my own problem.
Jesse, to your point there, what’s so amazing about that is you have embraced and fully understand that baseball is an entertainment medium. People can say all day long there’s a sacredness to the sport and all these different things. Yes, but the sport only survives in as much as it solves a problem for people of being entertaining. That’s why a lot of people moved away from it because they found like, “This isn’t entertaining for me as these other things.” I love that you’re taking this approach of like, “We’re an entertainment medium, so let’s embrace that.”
That’s what business we’re in. We say, “We’re a circus and a baseball game may break out.” That’s who we are. What does Go Bananas mean to you?
Go Bananas means try everything.
That says it all. What I’ve thought with you guys and I‘ve been following for a long time, you create unforgettable ads. You’re creating unforgettable experiences for your teams. I love the word unforgettable. Too many companies are unremarkable. How do you go from unremarkable to unforgettable? My question to you is what makes someone unforgettable?
What value do they add to other people’s lives? If someone is outward–focused and you know that about them, they serve others, they want to help others and they’re not out for themselves, that makes a person unforgettable. If they are selfish, all about them and it’s not about anything outside of themselves, it becomes a much more forgettable person.
It’s so good. On the back of our Fans First playbook it says, “Be patient in what you want for yourself but be impatient in how much you give to others.” That is what you guys have been doing. Daniel, this was a lot of fun. I need to go back and try to get more creative ideas. I don’t need to go embrace some boredom, embrace some embarrassment, then go to a Hypo Lab and make all this happen. Seriously, thank you so much. You’re still offering courses to teach how you guys do it, correct?
Yeah. We have our entire internal playbook. This is our own training that we do with our own writers, producers and editors, all of it. It’s HarmonBrothersUniversity.com. There’s a whole bunch of different courses there that allow you to get started at pretty much whatever level you’re at. We don’t hold anything back. It’s all our secret stuff out there. You can go and take that and enjoy it.
Thank you, guys, for sharing better stories and bringing out more creativity to the world. We need it and you’re doing it.
Thank you so much, Jesse.
- Harmon Brothers
- From Poop to Gold
- The Talent Code
- Creativity, Inc
- Building A StoryBrand
- The User Method
About Daniel Harmon
I use storytelling, humor, and structure to create social videos that sell products. As co-founder and creative visionary at Harmon Brothers, the Provo, Utah-based ad agency behind some of the most viral ads in Internet history, I’ve had the opportunity to create groundbreaking ads that have collectively driven more than 1.4 billion views, over $350 million in sales, and revolutionized the way products are marketed. We have created Internet advertising blockbusters including Squatty Potty, Purple, Chatbooks, FiberFix, Lume, Camp Chef, and Poo~Pourri.
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