Rick Bailey Serves Love on Servant Marketer Podcast

On Dec. 9, 2020, RHB principal Rick Bailey joined Jenny Petty, Director of Enrollment Marketing at the University of Wyoming (soon to be Vice President for Marketing at the University of Montana) and host of The Servant Marketer podcast. In the Season One finale, Rick and Jenny discuss falling in love with our customers, delivering the right dose of personalization and the persuasive effects of Darrin Stephens’ business lunches on Bewitched. Take a listen to Episode 17 here.

Jenny: Hi everyone, this is Jenny Petty and I’d like to welcome you to The Servant Marketer, a weekly podcast where we explore the crossroads of servant leadership and the marketing profession. Each week I welcome marketing leaders, marketers, academics, creatives and entrepreneurs to explore how marketing can harm or serve society and how we can develop better marketing leaders, and less of the bad and mediocre bosses who do more harm than they’ll ever know. I hope you’ll join me each week as we tackle how marketers can serve first. 

Hey, everybody. Welcome to the season finale of season one of The Servant Marketer. It has been such an amazing journey to put together this podcast and see this passion project and idea come to fruition. I can’t thank you enough if you’ve been along for the ride since the beginning. Thank you if this is your first episode, thank you. I can’t express my gratitude enough for what an amazing experience this has been and connecting with people like today’s guest, Rick Bailey, has been so incredibly meaningful for me and I hope they’re meaningful for you too.

Rick Bailey is principal of RHB, a leading marketing and design consultancy serving higher education and related not-for-profit organizations. He brings more than 40 years of experience in not-for-profit marketing, including work in fundraising, public relations, college recruitment and marketing communications. More than 250 institutions and organizations in education, the arts, social services, healthcare, professional services and membership associations have enlisted Rick’s counsel with the RHB team.

Rick began his career at his alma mater, Spring Arbor University where he managed college relations, communications, fundraising and recruitment. He attended Michigan State University for graduate studies in higher education administration and served as the president of an advertising agency for eight years before launching his own firm in 1991. He is a frequent conference speaker at regional and national meetings of professional marketing and educational organizations and served for 13 years on the faculty of Mendoza College of Business as an adjunct professor of Marketing at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of the award-winning book “Coherence: How Telling the Truth Can Advance Your Cause and Save the World.” Its second edition was released in 2020. And his most recent book, “Imagine Voraciously,” is targeted for release in 2020. He is married to Tamara, his partner and CEO at RHB. The Baileys have two grown children, Nick and Ashley, and two perfect grandchildren. So interestingly enough, Rick, my grandmother is a Bailey.

And so you are actually the season finale of season one of The Servant Marketer. So I’m thrilled. I’m so excited to talk to you. I’ve got “Coherence” right here. I was reading it. It’s awesome. It’s given me a name for something that we’ve talked a lot about on our campus, but we never, you know, I’ve never had vocabulary for it.

Rick: Yeah. 

Jenny: So I guess let’s start with let’s talk about “Coherence.” Let’s talk about where did this idea come from? How does your team define “coherence”?

Rick: Yeah, great. 

First of all, we came to a need to describe something for our clients who are all colleges and universities that wasn’t anathema to them as we talked about terms that come from the business world. We watched our clients freezing up about 20 years ago. They’ve softened. In a day when we used to not be able to say “marketing” on campus, we now have vice presidents for marketing. 

So, things have changed. I remember sitting in a meeting, where I used the word “brand.” And a president quickly looked in my direction and said, “We don’t use the B word.” So about 20 years ago, we were looking for a way to help our clients understand the principles that were common in business and applied to higher education, but perhaps in a different way, and so we were looking for language that might be better understood and appreciated. 

And one of the things that we found was that brand tends to tend to conjure up pictures of car salespeople or products in a way that was uncomfortable for presidents and provosts educators. So as we were looking for something that described meaningful exchange—and let me stop there a second to say one of my favorite definitions of “marketing” is Kotler’s.  [He is] from Northwestern; he simply says “marketing” is exchange—it takes at least two of us. We both have to bring something to the table that the other wants, and it has to be of equal or greater value. Trying to find a meaningful way to explain that to higher ed marketers and communicators was helping them understand that while they came to that point of exchange, with a transformational mindset, where something’s going to happen to you as a result of these processes.

In this exchange, students and their parents were coming with a transactional mindset, and that had changed. That wasn’t the way it used to be. But as consumers became empowered, they came with, “I’m writing you a check, and this is what I expect in return.” That transactional mindset and a transformational mindset weren’t connecting in terms of exchange. 

So we tried to find language that would help. Our clients understand that, and we came to this word “coherence.” We were sitting around a conference table, and Sam Waterson—who today is the president of RHB—was looking through thesaurus and saw the word “coherence.” And I said, “Oh, that that sounds about right.”  He read off the definition that talked about consistency and being understandable, and even had an element of integrity in it. I said, “Yeah, that that’s the word we’re looking for.”

The more we studied the word coherence, the more it summarized for us: what we were hoping our clients would understand that a brand promise is what you deliver, but coherence takes it a step further, and talks about delivering on what you say. It’s not just saying—it’s about delivering. And I think coherence encompasses branding. But i it’s a deeper point of exchange to say we’re going to actually do what we say we’ll do. And with that, we’ll be informed, because we’ve listened to you.

Jenny: Yeah, I was gonna ask you about the “brand promise” versus “coherence,” because that’s a very…“brand promise” is a very lingo word. It’s term that we like to throw around. 

That is the disconnect. And I think it’s a place where a lot of marketers struggle is we think we understand our brands, we think we do a good job of delivering at least the messaging, and then where we struggle is bringing the rest of the organization along with us to create that coherence. 

Rick: Yeah, right. We sometimes talk about a process of—and this is the beauty of all of this: that we get to make some choices, but our customers get to make choices too on the brand side—we don’t get to choose what our brand is; our customers decide who our brand is. Read Marty Neumeier. I love his books. In “The Brand Gap” he makes this point that it’s not up to us to decide what our brand is, our customers determine our brand. 

What we get to do is decide on our market position. We can decide who we intend to be in relationship to all the other people who deliver what we do, and how we can distinguish ourselves, differentiate ourselves; we get to decide. The task we have then is aligning everything we say and everything we do to that market position we’ve chosen and once we do that—and repeat it and repeat it and repeat it and repeat it,—that shapes brand, but it’s not the other way around.

Jenny: Sure. So as I was reading your book, I thought of an example. I’m at the University of Wyoming and something that we’ve butted up against in the last couple of years, and this has changed— but it got me thinking about the relationship between transparency and coherence and branding and all that—I started thinking about how four or five years ago, our marketing team was directed to never include snow shots in any of our admissions material. 

Rick: Yeah. 

Jenny: And so if anybody knows anything about Wyoming, we are typically one of the top-10 coldest places in the world, not even just in the United States, like Alaska. A lot of the time, typically, the only people who are ahead of us are like North Dakota, yeah, and random parts of Siberia. We’re cold. 

And then we’ve had a shift, right? We’ve had a small shift, we started getting feedback from out-of-state students that were from the South or from California who were like, “No, I want that experience.” I want to snowboard and I want to know cold and like, right, but as I was reading your book, it got me thinking about those disconnects that do happen when we kind of make the assumption of what consumers want from us.

Rick: Exactly, exactly. We try to put on this face that we we’ve decided is attractive to our customers, rather than connecting with our customers to find out what’s really attractive. I have a similar experience. We had this gorgeous photo from a Midwestern liberal arts college, where there were two students in a downpour talking under an umbrella. And it just was a random shot. But it was a cool shot. 

And I thought, this is neat that two students are standing on this sidewalk having a conversation that is important enough to stand in the rain for, and so we put it in this communication tool. And everybody [says], “I can’t put that rain shot in there, we don’t want that.” 

Look at those two, they’re having a great conversation. So we talked [the client] into putting it in. It was probably the most talked-about photo from a student perspective, because it was so genuine. It wasn’t perfect. And everybody knows it’s not always perfect. What’s funny to me is that sometimes when we set up shots, they’re the ones that are seen as real. And the ones that we actually shoot that are genuine, people think, “Oh, you set that up.” It’s very interesting how our customers view the things that we select for them on their behalf.

Jenny: Yeah. Do you think in higher ed that we try too hard to be perfect?

Rick: Well, we’re not good at showing off our wounds and our…I had a faculty member who once referred to their warts and quirks as not attractive, and I said, “No, it’s those very warts and quirks that make you who you are.” 

And we like to hide those, because we are afraid that people won’t like them. When in fact, often it’s the warts and quirks and our owies that people are drawn to. And the things that set us apart in a way that helps them differentiate to say, “Yeah, I want to be I want to be like that. I want to be there.” 

Jenny: Yeah, yeah. 

Rick: That’s part of that transparency and truth I talked about in that book, because having the courage to show off your warts is a good thing.

Jenny: So there’s been, there’s so many books about marketing. 

Rick: Yeah, yeah. 

Jenny: So many, and I’ve read a lot of them. One thing that, as I was reading “Coherence,” and I was reflecting on some of your blog posts and stuff, was that there seems to be a trend, and obviously, we’re marketers, right? So we write trendy headlines, we go after getting attention, but there’s a trend in marketing books that kind of glorifies dishonesty in their titles. 

Rick: Yeah. 

Jenny: And it’s things like, you know, “Truth, Lies and Advertising.” And by, I can’t remember his name, but I actually had that as a textbook when I was in college. Yeah, “All Marketers Are Liars” by Seth Godin, I think the world of Seth Godin, and he’s updated that title since then, it now is like “All Marketers Are Liars Storytellers.” So there’s a shift there. 

Rick: Yeah. 

Jenny: And then, like, “Trust Me, I’m Lying” by Ryan Holiday, which shows media manipulation. 

Rick: Yeah. Yeah. 

Jenny: Those were the ones that I thought, that came to mind,  and, you know, I don’t think any of those authors meant to damage the profession or the industry. But do you think when we position that way, are we perpetuating this idea of dishonesty and advertising?

Rick: Yeah. Absolutely,  and I used to use “Truth, Lies and Advertising” as a textbook, when I taught at Notre Dame, and I loved the book. I think he really gets to how to avoid lying. But that comes out of, I think, that history that we’ve had in this industry that used to be dependent on broadcast approaches. Before we had access to the internet advertising might have been even more appealing because there was a cool factor about it, that it was more about the spin, it was more about being slick, it was more about being creative, or even sometimes fun or funny. That was attractive. 

There was almost an expectation that advertising contained falsehood or stretching the truth. I think once everybody had access to information, our sense of that changed, because there wasn’t any place. I’m trying to think of the guy who wrote “Love Marks,” from Saatchi and Saatchi [Kevin Roberts]. He talks about brands not having any place to hide. Because information was so out there, customers lost their trust in that fabrication of the truth. So yeah, I think that’s an old-school model of what advertising did, and it’s carried over. I referenced earlier how much our clients in higher education resisted the language of marketing, and I think it’s that very thing—if it was about a slickness, or a manipulative approach, rather than honest exchange and information, that could be counted on. Truth telling.

Jenny: Yeah.

Rick: So I think you’re absolutely right. The industry [has] probably disadvantaged itself by perpetuating something that doesn’t seem to be accurate to the most-effective marketing and advertising practice.

Jenny: And when you think about the popularity of [media] like Madmen? 

Rick: Yeah. Yeah. 

Jenny: And how that, you know, lifted the veil in some ways for people and it became entertainment. Right. 

Rick: Right. Exactly. Yeah, completely. Yeah. There was a show 20 years ago, 30 years ago called Thirtysomething that followed this agency. And I remember at the time thinking, Well, I’m glad this show is out there. This is this pretty genuine. I was working in an agency at the time and I thought, “Oh, that happened to me today.”

Jenny: It’s funny because I do think there’s kind of a glamorization of marketing and advertising or public relations as a career path, yeah. And I take this as total anecdotal evidence of this because…there should be some shame with this. But I am a fan of some of those real cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies that come out. Yeah, it’s like brain candy. And I will watch them. I’ll watch them on Netflix. But I would say 90% of the female leads in those are either in marketing, advertising or PR, like there is a total glamorization of what public believes we do versus what we actually do on a day-to-day basis.

Rick: Okay, here’s my true confession. I got into this field because I was influenced by Darrin Stephens on the old show Bewitched. And when I was a little kid, I would watch Bewitched. And the character that I was fascinated with was Darrin Stephens and his boss, Larry Tate. But Darrin and Larry had the most amazing lunches. They always ate a great restaurant. And they always carry around a portfolio and a tripod where they put up these boards, these mock-up boards or campaign boards. And I thought, I’m doing that when I grow up if I get to eat lunch in great places. I’m doing that when I grow up.

Jenny: I love it. So I read this great article that you wrote a couple of years ago about the trust personalization matrix… 

Rick: Oh, yeah. 

Jenny: I thought it was super, super interesting and something that, I mean, we keep reading about trends on personalization. About how important it is to the work we do as marketers. But I thought you did a really nice job of framing it in a way that that personalization can actually go wrong. 

So can you help our listeners understand the trust personalization matrix?

Rick: Sure, absolutely, and I just want to give full credit to Sam Waterson who drafted that post; we always all talk about them. But Sam is the one who wrote that; it was great. He took the work of Clarence Lee at Cornell. Clarence Lee had this really nice concept of on the vertical axis putting trust and on the horizontal axis putting personalization. 

His point was that in order for us to have a good exchange, we need to achieve that balance between trust and personalization. If there’s too much personalization too soon in a relationship, it gets creepy. And if there’s not enough personalization, too late, it  gives the customer a sense that either you’re not sophisticated or you’re not paying attention. And customers know that the things they give up—their name, their email, their date of birth, their credit card number, any number of things, the fact that they love Cheetos, whatever it is they’re giving up—has to be entrusted to the marketer in a way that will get fed back to them appropriately. 

And you’ve had that experience where you’ve talked to your friend or partner about something and five minutes later, you see a digital ad for the thing you just talked about. And you have that “they’re listening” sense. And you’ve also had that experience where you’ve told somebody something in confidence. That was a real secret, but they were not able to keep it and they betrayed your confidence. That’s exactly what Clarence Lee is talking about. 

We’ve got to find that balance where I’m going to give you information that I’m going to trust you with. I want it fed back to me appropriately. If you forget that I love Cheetos and try to start selling me Tostitos, I’m gonna think, “What did you miss back there? How did you miss it, that I told you, I love Cheetos? You haven’t talked to me about Cheetos at all? What’s this Fruit Roll Up stuff?” So learning how to deliver back, or being trusted with information is critical, to that success. And it can sometimes be a fine line. But there’s an expectation that we’ll use the information we have wisely and will personalize wisely.

Jenny: I’m fascinated right now about the changing consumer expectations around what the experience of a brand is like. [It’s] just an area that I just am gobbling up anything I can find on, and that’s partially because so many companies right now are forming based on the idea of personalization. 

And I’ll give you an example. I subscribed to-…I’m a sucker for any sort of subscription boxes. Sometimes. I think I went into marketing because I am a sucker for advertising. So I signed up for like, I got some ad that was like, uh, you know, Harvard graduates create wine program or whatever, you know, so I sign up for it, and it asks you for your preferences, and it says, “Are there any wines you absolutely don’t like?”

And this is gonna make me sound far classier than I actually am—but I hate Chardonnay. Because like many young adults, that was my thing that I got super sick from. Yeah, so I detest it. So I sign up. I tell them I do not ever send me Chardonnay. My first box comes, it has two bottles of Chardonnay.

Rick: Exactly. Exactly.

Jenny: And I was like, “This is…not healthy,” but I was really mad about it. 

Rick: Yeah, yeah. And in the responses, clearly that survey that you took wasn’t intended for you to inform how you responded to me, it was just a way to capture my attention, or it was just an exercise to measure engagement. And because we’re so sophisticated in the way data comes and is managed, we all as customers have huge expectations that it will be used appropriately and when it’s not, or when it’s just ignored, you feel like, “I’m not going to trust you with any other information.”

Jenny: Yeah, and then to follow it up, it was impossible to get out of the subscription. Yeah, it was one of those things where like, they wanted you to call and talk. And I was like, I know, I don’t want to do this, and you won’t let me go.

Rick: Yeah, exactly. I was on one of those calls the other day, and I kept saying, “I want to talk to a manager, please let me talk to a manager.”

Jenny: Yeah, yeah, I think the way that we let people go is just as important as the way we engage them.

Rick: That whole experience is about coherence.

Jenny: This is something we touched on a little bit earlier, but I’m interested to get your thoughts on. You know, a lot of the time, and this has been my lived experience in organizations, is that marketing, a lot of the time, ends up becoming the scapegoat for product problems.

How do you think marketing can get more involved in product development? Or delivery? Or do we belong in that space?

Rick: Yeah, for sure. That’s a great question. Thanks for asking it. 

We did a study a few years ago with independent college presidents, and we wanted to get at their understanding of the role of marketing on their campus. What we found was that for the most part, marketing was confused with promotion, and so the products were being developed, without the assistance or voice of marketing, and then handed to marketers to get it out there to promote it, or sell it. And marketing and sales are different. But most of the audience we surveyed didn’t have that concept. 

So when we started to ask questions—at what point is marketing brought into program development—it generally was at the very end. And that’s just a huge mistake [for] marketing. The four P’s of marketing, the first one is product, and being able to inform product is critical to the success of the handoff to sales, until there’s great information coming in from customers who can shape what those programs are, who can shape how we might deliver them. This is this perfect conversation in the middle of what we’ve gone through in the last year where everybody has pivoted to some conditions that have been so disruptive. 

Unless we’re really listening to what happens, where we’re doing what we were talking about earlier, trying to deliver something we think people are interested in, or we want them to be interested in, rather than what they really need or want. So I absolutely am an advocate for marketing being brought in at the very start, and having a seat at the table about those discussions with faculty members or departments as they start to think about let’s offer a major in X. A lot of times we watch those programs get developed, because there’s a little buzz about them in the press or in The Chronicle.

And, suddenly everybody wants to have one of those things, or thinks that they will have a market, but those programs don’t fly in every market. So you really need marketing information to help shape those choices before it ever gets to a page on the website. But yeah, absolutely, absolutely, marketing needs to, and in the job of coherence is to listen to find out what will fly.

Jenny: I’ve also found that there’s a little bit of a disconnect between understanding how long it actually takes to build a marketing program. I mean, it’s not like I think a lot of people think, “oh, you just throw up you, we started a new program, he threw up some Facebook ads, we’re going to have 100 students enroll,” and there’s not a real understanding. Certainly on the budget side, there’s never an understanding that marketing costs money. But there’s also not a timeline understanding either.

Rick: You know, you’re right. We watch that a lot. We’ll hear about or be asked to help with the launch of something that: A) has been ill conceived, and B), hasn’t been conceived in time to make a difference. That’s another reason marketing needs to be brought in up front, is to help people get realistic about what it’s going to take to achieve a goal. And to establish what a reasonable goal is, rather than pulling out of the air, “This is bringing in 100 students.” Who knows? Yeah, at least not without research.

Jenny: So I have to confess something—Catholic guilt here. I get so many LinkedIn messages, I get every day dozens of LinkedIn messages. So when Rob from your company, from RHB, contacted me, he said, “Hey, I think my boss would be really great on this.” I was so skeptical, like, “I’ll be the judge of that.” Right? 

Rick: Yeah, exactly, as you should be.

Jenny: And then I read your bio, and I was, you know, I’ve been reading “Coherence” and reading your blog posts and stuff. And, you know, you’re the real deal, like you are coming at the marketing world from this Servant Leadership perspective. And I was so excited—this feeling I have that if we’re going to be servant marketers, there is a commitment to truth we make in the work that we do. I was thrilled to find out that, you know, servant leadership, you were an early adaptor. So I want to know, how did you discover it?

Rick: Yeah, sure. First of all, let me say, when you first launched your podcast, I saw word of it. And I thought, “Oh, that’s awesome.” And, before Rob connected us, I thought, “’I’ve got to know that person, because that person’s thinking in the right direction,” and applying servant leadership that servant marketing was was right up my alley, and I thought, “Oh, my gosh, this is great.” So I started investigating what you were doing. And so kudos on launching this, and kudos on the episodes you’ve had, you’ve had some great ones. I was listening to that one you did with Liz Gross a few weeks ago. 

A month ago, whenever that was, and you were talking about how your Jesuit education and experience had informed some of your thinking, and in her case, she also had some Franciscan thrown in there. I did my undergraduate work at Spring Arbor University in Michigan, and it’s a liberal arts university, affiliated with a Protestant denomination with a Wesleyan perspective. And Wesleyan perspective at its roots, has a deep appreciation for social justice and engagement in the world.

One of the former presidents of Spring Arbor, David McKenna, wrote a book in the ’70s—I’m going to give away my age—I was there in the early ’70s. But McKenna’s book was— I’m not going to get the exact title [The Jesus Model, 1977], but it was about the paradox of servant leadership. And he referenced the paradox that came from the words of Jesus in Matthew 20, and I don’t know if you’ve read Matthew 20 lately, but it was the mother of James and John who had come to Jesus to say, “Hey, I want my one of my boys to be your right and left hand.” That’s when Jesus said, “Well, if you want to be in a position of leadership, if you want to be great, you have to be a servant.”

And so he [McKenna] wrote this book about that model, and how different it was from what we normally think about leadership, or people at the top. And I thought, “Oh, man, that is really powerful.” And it influenced me at the time. But I’ve not forgotten that. I’m sure it has influenced how I approach marketing, and how I think about that relationship. I’m sure it informed how I felt about that notion of coherence and how that played into it. 

But understanding the role between the marketer and the customer is, it’s really imperative that we understand the difference between exchange and arm twisting or manipulation or forcing. I read a really great thing a few months ago, in St. Paul’s letter to his friends in Rome, and in that book, there’s a line that says, “Strength is for service, not status.” And I thought, “Wow, that is so powerful.” I printed it out, and it’s taped on my desk, as a reminder to say, you know, if we’re going to be successful, if RHB particularly is going to do what it can and achieve what our goals are, we have to be about service, not status. And we’re not doing this to be the greatest firm in the world. We’re doing this to advance a great cause. And we need to invest ourselves in that service to our clients. And if greatness comes, great.

Jenny: Well, and that’s the interesting thing, and there’s so much there’s so many layers to this to dig into. But as I’ve talked to people, and we start talking about the role of ego…well, there is definitely this idea that if you’re going to be a servant leader, you are going to commit yourself  to the fact that success is going to look a little different for you. And it might be delayed, and it might come in different ways than you had expected. 

And I had a couple of great episodes that are going to come out right before this one with Gary Mueller, who runs Serve Marketing out of Milwaukee. 

And Keith Jennings, who is one of the only other people I have found who has written about servant marketing. And they both said the same thing. I mean, Gary walked into his boss’s office, he works for a major advertising firm. The story is amazing. I hope people go back, it’s Episode 15. But, he walked in and said, “I’m going to give up 10 years of raises, I will never become partner, if you let me start this not-for-profit housed in our agency that serves causes.” 

Jenny: You know, just fascinating, and then he did, he’s like, “I did make partner. I did get a raise eventually.” 

Rick: Yeah. I love that. Yeah, I absolutely love that. It’s no question that the ego plays a huge role in the work that we do, as an owner of a brand, as a principal of a firm, whose name is on the door. 

Interesting side story about that. We have a guy that we listen to, a consultant that helps us with our business, and oh, about 10 or 15 years ago, as he was giving us some advice, we had three offices at the time. And he looked at me and he said, “Rick, besides your outrageous ego, why do you have three offices? So you apparently like to collect offices with your name on the door.” And I said, “Ouch,” and he said, “Well, why else would you do that?” And I said, “Ouch, ouch,” but there’s no question that that’s a dominant force in this line of work. 

But I love it. When we can get outside ourselves and be about the work of helping people—in our case, especially—great causes, like higher education, do what they were called to do, and help them fulfill their missions and help them achieve their goals, that’s the most important thing. If we get to achieve ours, that’s great, too. But we’re here because we’ve been called to do something important.

Jenny: You mentioned persuasion and manipulation. Yeah, and Robert Greenleaf writings, but I just read a passage this morning that rocked my world, I am stunned that I continue to find just these nuggets of wisdom in his writing. It’s just amazing. He writes a lot about persuasion versus manipulation. Persuasion is one of the 10 characteristics of being a servant leader. How do you think marketers can ensure that our work is focused on persuasion rather than manipulation?

Rick: Yeah, that’s great. And I love it that you’re into Robert Greenleaf, that’s great. And he was influenced a lot by Herman Hesse, the German artist, poet philosopher. And, in fact, I think his notion of servant leadership that Greenleaf talks about was inspired by a story that Hesse had written, but it is that subtlety of persuasion that that can be so powerful, in a way that, by comparison, manipulation feels weak, feels off purpose, off mission. 

And I think that comes back to the things we were talking about, about our listening habits and developing a sense of who we’re communicating with and knowing that perhaps a persuasive argument is far better than trying to twist truth to bring somebody to a choice. Those motivations, you know, checking our motivations for doing that. “Is my ego…? Yeah, what am I trying to achieve here? Or am I trying to do the work of a human to help you to move us both along?”

And Herman Hesse talks about this as a group on a journey, and if we can see our customers as people on the journey with us, then I think we come at that in a more humane way, a more reasonable way. To have a dialogue and conversation.

Jenny: You’re rocking my world tying “Journey to the East” to the marketing journey, because I had not made that. I mean, we read it as part of our curriculum at Gonzaga I had; I thought it was great. It was amazing. But I had not thought about the fact that in that book, and oh, my goodness, I’m going to forget … Leo, who is the servicer, right? And he is along on this journey, and they’re on this journey, and Leo is, like, he’s keeping the team together. He’s motivated, he entertains them, he serves them, right. And like, everybody’s just like, “Oh, Leo is the servant.” 

And then Leo disappears, and the group falls apart. They can’t finish the journey. They can’t. If we thought about ourselves as Leo and as marketers, instead of having to be the ones who are, like, we are the leader of the group, right? Like we thought of ourselves as on that journey with them. That’s a game changer. That’s, yeah, rockin’ my world, Rick. I’m gonna have to write about this.

Rick: No, that’s exactly it. I think that’s exactly the point is that granted, that group didn’t think of Leo as the leader till he was gone. They didn’t realize his influence, the subtlety of his care. The subtlety of his leadership was obviously so subtle that they didn’t see it until they realized how much they depended on him. And I think that’s the role of marketing, if we can be that subtle.

Jenny: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s such a matter of respect for consumers, right? We’re not, “You want.” We show respect by persuasion, not manipulation. Exactly. Like when that stinkin’ wine company wouldn’t let me cancel.

What do you think gets in the way of marketers being servant leaders?

Rick: Mmmhmm. I think the one we talked about a little bit ago about ego is probably at the top: it’s that putting others first is a tough thing to do. Loving your neighbor as yourself isn’t an easy task. I do think that our job is to love our customers, by the way. If we could get to a point where we love our customers, it might be easier. But we get enamored with our thing, with our product or our service. And that becomes more important than the customer. So then we really can’t do our job. 

The example you gave of the guy who wanted to start a not-for-profit, or a service center within the agency, was risky, because he was doing something that had bearing on the bottom line. And it could have deleterious effect on the bottom line. But the value that he was putting on causes or people or needs was greater than the value that might come from a raise or a promotion or a partnership. Until we get to that, until we can get over ourselves, I don’t know how we can get to the point of really loving our customers.

Jenny: So I was looking at poking around your website… 

Rick: Yeah. 

Jenny: And I thought, “this is something that I found that I’ve never seen before.” Why do you have an anthropologist on your team?

Rick: That’s a great question. And it’s an easy answer, really. If you if you look at our principles, or theories or practices, you find pretty quickly that people are at its core. And by people, I don’t mean only our team, but all the customers that our customers serve. And we feel it’s our responsibility, if we’re really going to understand our customers, our clients, we need to understand their customers and their behaviors so we can help them respond to their customers well. And anthropologists live for studying people and understanding people. 

We were very fortunate to attract Dr. Aimee Hosemann, to our team. And Aimee is better even than just being an anthropologist, she’s a linguistic anthropologist. So she has devoted most of her life to understanding how people communicate, what language they use, what symbols they use, what practices have meaning, deep meaning, to them in a wide variety of cultures. That insight, that depth of being able to understand customers, strengthens and deepens our ability to help our customers do what they need to do. 

And Aimee is just awesome. When we’re interviewing people, or studying people, or so much of our work is ethnographic, she’s just unbelievable and will walk back from an experience, and she’ll rattle off a half dozen insights just by observation that I completely missed. I heard what was said, but I either missed the surroundings or an expression or some body language or the room arrangement and she sees all that as an anthropologist. That’s exciting. And I love it. She’s one of the most entertaining people to talk to. I can talk to her for hours.

Jenny: My experience with an anthropologist on campus, we have a great faculty member who a couple of years ago was promoted into a leadership administration role. And the first time we met, I was talking about lead generation and inbound marketing and all of these things. And he turned to me and he said, “Jenny, I don’t know anything about marketing. I like dead people.” Nailed it, you know, like, yeah, but I think that’s amazing. I think there is so much depth there. And just understanding the human experience. 

Kudos to you guys for doing something a little different.

Rick: Yeah. Culture informs our understandings, culture informs our responses. Culture informs our buying habits. And the more we can know about the culture, the more we we get to the things that are unspoken; things that I don’t pick up if you check the chardonnay box.

Jenny: Well, we have so much so much power as marketers to shape and respond to culture. 

And I don’t think we have, not certainly, not anything in my undergrad I ever even examined. Yeah, it was the four Ps. Yep. Like learning to write all that good stuff, but never talking about the power of the work that we do. 

Rick: Mm hmm. Oh, I think you’re right. And I think there’s such joy in understanding the responsibility we have. Advertising is a powerful culture shaper. But it comes with responsibility.

Jenny: So as we’re wrapping up, I just wanted to talk really quickly. This is for all of our friends who are in higher ed right now. You wrote a blog post in 2018 about resilience and innovation. 

Rick: Yeah. 

Jenny: Now it’s 2020— the year of insanity, non-stop everything. 

Rick: Yeah. 

Jenny: What are your thoughts right now on resilience and innovation?

Rick: Man, only intensified, Jenny. Whatever I felt in 2018, it’s on steroids now. I just finished [writing] a new book called “Imagine Voraciously.” And it’s about this very thing: that taking experiences like 2020, in their full disruption, in their full, painful, difficult, challenging, turn-us-on-our-heads moments are perfect, moments are prime, prime times for us; and to see it as opportunity to rethink and to respond, not with despair, but resilience and using our imagination to create new things. 

You think about all the things that have already been changed, and all the new products that have come about because of COVID; for example, there are dozens of things on the on the market today that weren’t here in 2018. And in higher ed—any industry—can do that. But if we cling to those things that we think are sacred that really aren’t, but the things we think are sacred, and don’t seize this opportunity to challenge those things, we will have missed a glorious moment of stellar opportunity to be better and stronger, and more creative, more responsive. 

So, yeah, I think resilience and innovation should be part of our watchwords this year. And I encourage—I encourage our clients all the time, “Hang on, let’s think about how we can use this for the advantage of our customers, to show them that we’re listening to show them that we’re responsive that we hear them and that we love them. And let’s be willing to change.”

Jenny: Yeah. Well, before we get to my favorite part of the show, although this has been awesome, Rick, and I don’t really want it to end, I could talk to you all day. Where can people find you?

Rick: Okay, the quick answer is my dining room table this year, but you can find me at our rhb.com, that’s the easy answer. And there are all kinds of resources there. You’ve mentioned a few of them, but you’ll find it all there, and anybody on our team will be happy to visit with you if you’re interested in anything we’re doing.

Jenny: I end every episode by asking my guests to share what I call Servant Marketing Snacks, and these are movies, TV series…It’s expanded now to podcasts or any snacks that people have found. So what snacks do you have for us, Rick? 

Rick: Okay.

Well, recent things I, several of us at RHB have just read Patrick Lencioni, his new one called “The Motive.” It’s pretty good. It’s about the role of leaders. But one of the ideas that he brings forward is [that] somebody in leadership needs to be the chief reminding officer to help people be reminded of mission and why you do the things that you do. “The Motive” is a great book. I don’t know if you’ve read his stuff, but he always has, story tells a lot and then draws lessons from those stories, and I find his books…they feel like you’re…it’s light reading, and then you realize you’ve been stuck with an arrow somewhere. And then, you know, a little bit like Leo, you don’t realize it ‘til it’s over that it’s been powerful. So I would do that.  

There’s a, I think it’s a movie, because I did see that. Several years ago, I met a guy, and I’m not going to remember his name [Ron Hall], but he was an art dealer out in Dallas, I think. But his wife kind of tricked him into getting involved in a homeless or some kind of mission in Dallas. And he met a pretty rough character there [Denver Moore]. And he ended up writing this book with the guy that he met. And it’s called “Same Kind of Different as Me,” I think there’s a movie made about it, too. I liked the book better. That’s the difficulty recalling the movie. But it was interesting to watch, how, in the book, his process of understanding position with another human being, and where he thought he was and where he really was, and who was leading whom. And it’s a good book. It’s true. I actually heard both of them speak at a meeting I was involved in. And it was an interesting story that stuck with me. Okay, what else? Have you watched Ted Lasso yet? 

Jenny: What was it?

Rick: Have you watched Ted Lasso? Oh, it’s I think, Netflix [correction: Apple TV; also, see this column by Dr. Josh P. Armstrong on how Ted Lasso is “the Servant-Leader we need right now.”]. 

Oh, Jenny, you’ve got to watch this series. It’s about this football coach from America who has to go in and he’s going to coach a British football soccer team. And he’s a very interesting character, but he so personifies servant leadership. It’s so great, so much fun. You watch him work through challenges. And he’s got a very interesting approach. It’s just a sweet series, you know? I think you’d love it. 

Jenny: All right. I’m gonna check it out. 

Rick: Ted Lasso. Oh, yeah, that’s great. And, let’s see, what else do I snack on? This morning made me think of this. And this is a shameless plug, but I don’t know if you listen to Ken Anselment’s Admissions Leadership Podcast, but he does a great job there. It’s ALP for short, but Ken is the VP of Enrollment and Communication at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, but he also works with our team. We named him the Dan Saracino Chair of Enrollment Management at RHB. And Ken had this podcast for the last couple of years where he interviews enrollment leaders and has them tell their life journey. What I love about it, is that it’s all these people in leadership roles, who talk about how they’ve been influenced, and how their lives have been shaped. And I find it full of encouragement, just to hear somebody’s track, you know?

Jenny: I love origin stories…That storytelling part of our marketing brains. I love knowing like, yeah, yeah,

Rick: I was listening to somebody the other day that I thought, “Wow, that is just amazing that you started there, and ended up where you are.” So I think that’s pretty good. 

I hope those are good snacks.

Jenny: They’re awesome. I’m such a I’m a bookworm to begin with. So I read a lot, yeah, but I just love…there have only been, this is the 17th episode, and there has been two crossovers in those 17 episodes. So I just love how differently everybody thinks about it, yeah, and the answers they bring. And yeah, so thank you, Rick, this was a delight. It was so great getting to meet you. I’m glad that I didn’t, like, snobbishly snuff off the LinkedIn message…

Rick: Oh, me, too! 

I’m so glad to have that, too. And like I said, I was so intrigued from the beginning. And then when I got this message from Rob that says, “I think I signed you up for a podcast today,” okay. But no, I was really glad for the occasion to get acquainted, and thanks for the conversation. You’re doing important work. I envy your ability to have these kinds of conversations. 

Jenny: Well, thank you. I really appreciate that. 

Outro: Thanks for joining me today for the Service Marketer. This podcast is written hosted, produced and edited by me, Jenny Petty. Music is “The Mountains Are Our Life” by Sounds by Sanders. If you want to learn more, find past episodes or want more Servant Marketing Snacks, head over to servantmarketer.co or follow along on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram @servantmarketer. If you or someone you know has something to say about servant marketing drop me a line at hi@servantmarketer.co. I’m always looking for podcast guests. I hope today’s podcast helps you think about life and your work in a new way. And like Saint Ignatius said, “Go forth and set the world on fire.”

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Sam Waterson

Sam is President at RHB.