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Supporting image for How to Tell Your Story Across Platforms – @gregcangialosi
How to Tell Your Story Across Platforms – @gregcangialosi
The Agents of Change

How do you engage a diverse consumer market, in an increasingly distracted world? The concept of engagement has taken center stage, as marketers struggle to stay center stage with consumers who are searching multiple platforms on various different screens at any given time.

Greg Cangialosi shares his ideas on how marketers can better engage their audiences, and successfully capture that crucial contact information, that will allow them to build the relationships they need with them to translate into future sales.

Rich: Greg Cangialosi is an entrepreneur based in Baltimore, Maryland. He serves as Chairman and Co-Founder of Betamore, Co-Chair of the Baltimore Angels, and is an active advisor and investor to several companies in the mid-Atlantic region. In 2001, Greg started and scaled – with no outside capital – Blue Sky Factory, a leading email marketing service provider, that was acquired by the private equity firm, Riverside Company in July of 2011.

Greg serves on the board of the Baltimore Development Corporation and recently completed a two year term on the NACI (National Advisory Council on Innovation & Entrepreneurship), for the US Department of Commerce. He holds a BA in English from UMBC and is a passionate speaker and consultant on the topics of entrepreneurship, marketing, innovation and economic development. He’s the lead author of The Business Podcasting Book, a primer on new media for marketers.

Greg lives in Baltimore with his wife Theresa, and daughter Gabriella, and enjoys traveling, every type of board sport there is, is a dedicated yoga student, and loved to read, write and see lots of live music. Speaking of which, he’s going to see Thievery Corporation, and I just saw them last night, as we discovered in the pre-show. Greg, welcome to the show.

Greg: What’s happening Rich, thanks for having me.

Rich: This is great, I’m looking forward to it.

Greg: Yes. And I am going to see Thievery Corporation on Friday, and I’m glad you saw them last night in the lovely town of Portland. I should say, “city”.

Rich: All of Maine is just a town, so it’s ok.

Greg: I’ve only been to Bar Harbor on a cruise once, so I really do need to do it proper.

Rich: You do have to come up here and see again Amanda O’Brien, from my office, who of course is the person that first tipped me off about you. So you’ve had a long road and a lot of accolades, but how did you first get into digital marketing?

Greg: So when I was in college at UMBC (University of Maryland Baltimore County), I fell in love with music at that stage in my life, particularly live music. So when I graduated, I was always on the student events board and putting on most of the events – particularly music related – on campus. And when I graduated, my first entre into entrepreneurship was becoming a concert promoter, because that’s what I was really passionate about.

So I learned how to hustle at an early age coming out of school from the marketing standpoint. Because I quickly realized that if folks were going to go to the shows that I put on, I needed to be the one to market the shows and get people to buy the tickets. So that’s where I started really early on learning the value of email – which was to be used in more of a marketing sense building the mail lists and doing the flyering.

After I got through that business and realized the music industry is a lot harder than you actually think it is, I moved more into the digital realm, because I really enjoyed the marketing side of it.

So it was really [inaudible] music – going back to a theme here – that got me sort of in the marketing mind. And of course as I began to understand the power of digital properties and email and digital marketing, that’s what ultimately led me to starting Blue Sky Factory in 2001.

Rich: So a lot of people think that email marketing is not sexy, and social is. What do you say to those people?

Greg: Well it’s a great question and a great opinion out there, because it shocks me today in 2016 – quickly going into 2017 – but when I was running Blue Sky circa 2007/2008, not too long ago but certainly enough distance between this idea that email is dead and social is on the rise. Specifically when tools and networks and platforms like Twitter came out – and obviously the advent of Facebook and whatnot – we were running this ESP (email service provider) called Blue Sky Factory, we were doing very well, and then all of a sudden this whole advent and rise of social became this mantra that was “email is dead, social is going to kill email”.

So what was really interesting was, from a company perspective and a marketing position perspective, we obviously didn’t agree. But we took the idea that when you think about it, email really is the digital glue of my marketing, and we sort of use that as a pillar to base our messaging around not only our services but just making you a better marketer in general. Email really is key.

We had Chris Patton – who I’m sure you know – who I had the pleasure of working with as our VP of strategy at Blue Sky during this time, I remember he was the one specifically in the early days that said, Imagine if you spent all this time building up a Twitter or Snapchat or Facebook following and one of those platforms changes their Terms of Service or happens to go away, what are you left with, pretty much nothing. But if you have that email address, you can still communicate with your base. And then we started formulating ideas and concepts and strategies around if you have a huge email list and you want to start to activate your social channels, what’s the best way to start. Obviously it’s with your email addresses.

The whole cross-pollination of converting subscribers into social engagers, and the same goes for the other side. So as an example, I still see today people who are trying to build their email list but have huge social followings do things like tweet or put out messages on social that include links to sign up to their email newsletter.

So long story short, I say to those people that I still think today in December 2016 that email still is the digital glue of my marketing, and is still one of the most precious and valuable assets that a marketer can have in terms of his connection to his subscriber or consumer. I actually think that email and social sort of feed each other and they coexist and actually work well together. So that’s what I’m saying today, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Rich: I would definitely just jump on there and completely agree, especially in terms of I’ve often said that getting access to somebody’s inbox is like getting access to the most valuable piece of real estate on the internet It’s so important because getting in that inbox – even while they’re away – they’ll miss Facebook updates and tweets for sure, but they won’t miss that email. Even if they hit ‘delete’, at least you’ve got some branding in there. 

Greg: Another Chris Patton statement that always runs through me, at the end of the day all we’re trying to do as marketers is lobbying for people’s attention. And really, it can be broken down that simply. So when you can get a set of eyeballs on your message – in this case, your subject like or the body of your email or the image that you’re trying to get across – bless you. That’s very hard to do.

Rich: Absolutely. One other thing that you probably didn’t have a chance to do much of, but certainly something I see all the time now, is then taking the email list that you’ve developed and then turn it into its own advertising platform by way of uploading that list to sites like Facebook or Twitter, to be able to advertise to your email list when you don’t want to actually be emailing them all the time.

Greg: Absolutely. I think we’ve been proliferating as marketers in this multi-challenging world, and a lot of these new platforms that have gained massive scale and direction are getting innovative, and it makes sense to be able to take your email database and cross pollinate it with your Facebook audience. And what you’re talking about is doing this hash where you can create a custom Facebook audience and be able to retarget.

I know we’re going to talk about this shortly, but working with one of my consulting clients he had a very small email database, but millions and millions on the social side. And we were looking at ESPs – I sold Blue Sky Factory about 5 years ago – so I’ve kept on the periphery but just recently went deep dive back into it. It’s been awesome to see this integration of all these digital channels where you can actually send an email but have a custom audience built on Facebook and be able to target somebody who’s on your list for your brand via email. And then based on what they do or do not do in the email, retarget them on Facebook in their newsfeed, either a reinforcing message or something alternative. And then be able to collect data on what works and what not. That is amazing multichannel integrated marketing on the digital side. Using email though, is the common denominator. 

Rich: Right. And can we mention the name of this organization that you worked with on some of this stuff?

Greg: Oh sure. I’m working with the Baltimore Ravens, NFL.

Rich: I was not going to bring up last night’s game, which was the Monday night game, which is a very hard fought battle between two excellent teams. They always seem to have hard fought battles, some of which I’m on the losing end of, sometimes – like last night – I’m on the winning end. 

But let’s talk about the Ravens and the work you did for them. In this whole idea about being able to leverage one platform to build up another, I think this is a great story, so can you kind of go into a little more detail?

Greg: Sure, there’s nothing really extremely confidential. Basically what was going on here was the Ravens – who are obviously my team – saw me speak at one of the marketing summits that I was involved in over the last year. And I never thought about this, but I never got an email from the Ravens, never. And I just never realized I had the opportunity to sign up for something to receive emails from the Ravens.

So they contacted me and asked if I’d be open to advising them through the process. They had the issue of not a lot of people in their database; we’re talking sub 100,000 subscribers for a NFL team of massive stature, Super Bowl Champions. We all could agree that we know the addressable audience for the Baltimore Ravens is well beyond 100,000 people. There’s 75,000 seats in the stadium, so you can figure out some of the math there.

So what we discovered very quickly was – and this is no knock on any particular vendor – but we have Ticketmaster as a company that obviously has great scale and contacts with a lot of the facilities, one of the offerings of their service is they have what they call “TM Messenger”. This is an email marketing product that was developed in conjunction with Target, or something like that. I think they either give it to their teams or it’s bundled into some service or offered at a very low price.

So that said – and what we discovered – was that in order to get on the marketing list for the Baltimore Ravens, you had to actually have a Ticketmaster account, which has about 10 fields of required data, and also just had the cache of having to sign up for a Ticketmaster account when all you want to do is just get the email marketing messages from the Ravens.   

Rich: You use the word “cache”, I might have used the word “taint”. But anyways, I digress.

Greg: Yes, exactly. So obviously there’s no mystery there why their list was small. If anybody knows anything about marketing in relation to email, that’s a friction full as you’re going to get.

Rich: Exactly.

Greg: In terms of getting somebody to opt in. So long story short, we embarked upon this journey of we know technology is out there and there’s a lot of good vendors, and we asked them what their strong attributers are in regards to reach and engagement across this massive rabid fan base for an NFL football team. And it obviously comes in the form of social, Facebook, millions and millions, a lot of engagement on a lot of these channels. Clearly an addressable audience and very small on the email side.

So what we did was we wound up going to Pronto – who you may have heard of and have been around a while – who built an amazing company. Actually we wound up hiring DJ Waldow back in the day from those guys and he ran the community. So they really just nailed it. One of the things I’ve always liked about Pronto, even just going back to the days when we were competing with them, was they were always engineer heavy. They clearly got the fact that this multichannel world were moving into – and have been moving into in the last decade or so – especially on the digital front, needs to talk to each other and needs to have the right set of data and analytics and tracking around the campaigns that marketers are doing.

So in the case of the Ravens, massive social reach but very small email reach. I’d like to be able to recite data to you, but I can’t at this point because we’re still in process. But we went from the process I told you, creating a Ticketmaster account and filling out 15 fields of data just to get on the list, to having a complete and total – in fact if you go to baltimoreravens.com/ravenscall – you’ll see that’s one of the things we launched, the Raven’s Call is an email that went out once a week to the very small audience that they had at the time, we integrated an RSS to email that goes out to the website and pulls all the RSS feeds of the latest news and presents it in a very clean, easy to read format. We’re collecting basic information if you get on the list now; last name, first name, email address. Of course we’ll collect your birthday and your zip code and your gender, if you want to give it to us, and cross pollinate all the other email products that the Ravens have, making it very easy.

And then taking that and going over to the platform like Pronto – which allows through a tool they have called Socialite – to manage most of the social interactions through the platform as well, allows the Ravens to then cross pollinate and do things like just push out to their social and tell them they’ve redone their email program so check it out and sign up, but also do stuff like create Facebook custom audiences and being able to trigger specific messages to their consumers on things like Instagram and Facebook, based on email activity and engagement, or lack of engagement.

Pretty sophisticated stuff here and it’s just getting going. We launched it literally at the beginning of the season, so working out all the kinks. They’ve been great to work with, and if you ask me now if I get email from the Ravens, I get an email everyday form the Ravens, I know exactly what’s going on. And that’s the way we did a lot of our early research, I talked to so many Ravens fans asking them if they got emails from them, and 90% response rate was, “no”, because there just never was a way. And there are only so many season ticket holders or TSM holders out there. At 70,000+ stadium seats – between tweets and all that kind of stuff – only so many people are going to be really promoting their email program.

But it’s a lot of fun, I have to check in with them, this call is reminding me to find out where we’re at with subscribers. But nonetheless, we only have “up” to go. 

Rich: Absolutely. And obviously an NFL franchise is a fun brand to play around with, we don’t all have that opportunity to play on that scale. I know that you have recently helped with the launch of a very small business. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that and some of the marketing behind that, as well.

Greg: Sure. And that, again, is also a work in progress. So we’re talking about SoBotanical, and basically it is apothecary and aromatherapy natural body products. Essentially a company that’s been around for quite a long time – and full disclosure, it’s my wife’s business, I’ve been with her for 16 years – so I’ve seen all the dynamics of space all the way from people just looking at essential oils, or body products, or incense, or whatever she was selling in her retail stores kind of being viewed as alternative stuff, to all the way today 16+ years later having University of Maryland Shock Trauma bringing her in to help consult with some of their trauma patients, as well as brands like Bissell Farms (based in Nashville) hiring her to reformulate all of their products which are now in 450 Whole Foods stores. And really, a lot of the science and the stuff around natural body products and the healing power of plants has gone a long way over the last 15 years, and still has a long way to go in terms of validity and recognition from most of the general healthcare community.

That said, the ultimate mission…what were you going to say?

Rich: Well I was going to ask, so this is a retail space, correct? Alright, so I was hoping you could touch on some of those strategies that you can tie the physical location with a digital presence – and also – if any sort of mobile marketing is involved?   

Greg: Yeah, so where I was going with that was the ultimate goal though – I wanted to give you a background of where she came from, what she’s done – of really where she’s going is, the bran is really positioned to be one of the first “natural pharmacies”, that’s really where she wants to go. So again, from a marketing perspective, we never really had the brand down, or the packaging down, or the messaging down. We’re getting all that, even though the website isn’t launched yet, but we can go through the mix.

Obviously we’ve got a physical location that’s about 800sf of retail space and that’s it, that’s where the experience gets made. Downstairs below we have the manufacturing, upstairs is the offices. A lot of education in this space, Rich, a lot of education. People don’t know the healing benefits or why lavender might be something to put on if I accidentally burn or scrape myself, it stitches the skin together so quickly.

So there’s just a lot of interaction and education that is required to putting a consumer in front of the right product for whatever their need is. So obviously we’ve got several things going on in the marketing mix. We’ve got digital, which will include our email, our list have been growing, If you go to our website right now, it’s basically a quick opt in, we have our email, we have our social presence on Instagram, we have an intensive Pinterest with many things around aromatherapy categories which gets a lot of engagement. I never thought about that myself, it’s not one of the channels I focused a lot on, but I see it now in the visual perspective, especially as it relates to plants and products and whatnot. And then Snapchat as well, because that is the ultimate in terms of mobile, location, physical presence, being able to put in these filters and create immersive, engaging, experiences around a brand.

I’ll give you an example of one of the things that I’m sort of toying around with right now in an augmented reality versus a reality company. I think I may have mentioned this to you in our pre-discussion. So one of my wife’s products is called Head Ease, and it’s commonly used by people who suffer from migraines, any kind of head trauma or any kind of just head soothing, and it’s one of her most popular products. So there’s a Snapchat filter that I’m trying to tie together where you can create these promotions and experiences for people while they’re in store to “snap out” different versions of what Head Ease means to them, and we’re kind of going through the creative process there.

The other thing that we’re doing to tie mobile and digital into physical is we are going back to that education piece. One of the ways we’re trying to pull people into the store is by promoting this immersive, augmented reality, retail experience. So basically what you’ll do is you’ll come into the store – lots of products, lots of education, only so many people and only so much time – so we’re promoting all the products  have an augmented reality on the label, so when a consumer comes in they can open their phone and either download a quick reader – and iOS or Android update in the future where every camera captures augmented reality technology – and consumers can walk around the store and look at different products and see, mainly texts, because we thought about the idea of audio and video, but we don’t want a bunch of people walking around the store playing videos and making a scene. So I’m making it a place where you can read and absorb information around the healing powers of Eucalyptus, and also be able to share those things through your mobile device while you’re in store, out to your networks as well.

So that’s one example. Obviously we’re going to be doing your standard email. We’re using Square for our POS system – which has come a long way since their average card swiper/reader on your mobile phone came out – and so we’re looking at their marketing mix as well based on the consumer data that we have collected already. And again, we just opened on Friday, but over time we’re capturing everybody who comes in the door, everybody who purchases something. In some cases, even if they don’t purchase, we’re going to give them a reason to either give us their email address or opt in to our messaging.

And across all the towns that you can imagine, we’re going to do multi-telemarketing, but not going to tell that same story over and over again across all the same channels. We’re going to optimize for each channel, email will be email, and we all know relevance, timing, and messaging. And then we’re going to look at Instagram and optimize there, obviously now they have stories, they have video they’re going to be putting in. Facebook kind of speaks for itself. Pinterest seems to be going in some interesting places, I’m blown away by how many pin books that my wife has generated in this particular category.

So a lot of this content we have will be repurposed, but in general, it will be very channel specific. I just don’t think that if you take a picture or snap a video and put it out on all your channels that’s really doing you any good. That’s kind of saying I hope everybody out there isn’t just spraying everything against the walls, that’s there’s something really unique about Snapchat, and there’s something unique about Instagram, I think email is its own thing, and I think Facebook is its own thing, and I think Twitter is completely its own thing. So thinking about ways to not just spray something against the wall, but think about Twitter – for example – as a way to listen to a conversation, you can go in and see what people are thinking about in a dialog or a particular topic, engage with people, and then a way to distribute content. And those three things have always been what I viewed as the best assets that Twitter brings to the table, in terms of platform. Monitoring, engaging, distributing.

 Rich: It sounds like what I’m hearing is that there may be one thing that you’re sharing – like the story of Eucalyptus and all the things it might be good for – but if I’m going to go out and share that information, you have to be very cognitive of what platform you’re sharing on because each has its own language and its own nuance, And if you go in there and tone deaf, everyone is going to go in and just tune you out.

Greg: You got it, I could not have said it better. You basically took everything I said and blabbed on about and said it. It was very good. And again, the same thing, you also have to keep in mind that we are living in a very fast-paced ever changing environment, especially in the digital landscape. So a lot of these platforms that we’re talking about are changing and evolving and launching new features. I just read that Instagram is going to be launching the live feed feature for everybody –not just their beta – so everybody in the U.S. now can actually do live webcasting just like they can on Facebook.

The mobile that you mentioned is really the big game changer. And then I think as digital marketers, we’re very much seeing a generation of people who are growing up with technology. So the mobile device is evolving, and the technologies around those devices is happening so fast that you have to be on top of these changes and what the implications could be form the marketing perspective.

Rich: Absolutely. And what I liked about the two stories you shared with us today is, one is obviously a multi-million dollar – if not billion dollar – franchise, and all the stuff that they’re doing and how they’re using these different platforms. And on the other side of the scale is your wife launching this thing right now and very small, and at the same time, leveraging these same tools to make an impact on the world around them. It’s very cool stuff.

Hey, so I know that there are people that are going to want to learn more about you, and I would love to be able to share your URL’s with them, so where can we send them? 

Greg: Thank you so much. So my personal URL is cangialosi.net, or gregcangialosi.com. My wife’s business is sobotanical.com, check that out that will be a really good evolution what we just talked about, eventually leading to one of the first aromatherapy bars. Betamore.com, which is where I’m doing this interview now is my incubator nonprofit, we’re doing all kinds of great stuff. And Baltimore Angels is another one of my endeavors, baltimoreangels.com, we’re early stage investors and we’re always looking for people with interesting ideas looking to do interesting things. And Mission Tix is another company that I’m involved in, missiontix.com. And if I could, pixilated.com is another company, and that’s one actually that ties extremely well in terms of using a marketing technology company that uses a photo booth as a way to capture and engage consumers at physical events, which is what we’re talking about here. How we bridge physical to the digital, and the digital to the physical.   

Rich: Good stuff. And we’ll have all of those links in the show notes. Greg, thank you so much for coming, I really appreciate you sharing your stories with us.

Greg: Anytime Rich, thanks for having me. Best to you, and say “hi” to Amanda for me. And seriously, Portland is on my list to get up to, I just keep hearing great things about what you guys are doing up there in terms of the community, and hope to see you one day soon. 

Rich: Awesome, thanks Greg.

Show Notes:

  • With a lot of irons in the fire, Greg is everywhere online these days! Make sure to check him out on his personal website, his nonprofit, his angel investing endeavors and on Twitter.
  • Rich Brooks is not only the host of this podcast, he is the President of flyte new media, as well as the founder and brains behind the Agents Of Change Digital Marketing Conference. And coming soon, he can add “author” to his resume with his new book “The Lead Machine” coming out in early 2017.