Crisis Communications & Audience Segmentation | Part 2

Outdrive Episode 62 Crisis Communications & Audience Segmentation with Mark Thomas

OUTdrive Episode 62 with Mark Thomas

During season one of OUTdrive, we had Mark Thomas on the show to discuss crisis communications and audience segmentation. The episode aired during the early stages of the COVID pandemic, and the discussion was very insightful and well-received by audience members. For this episode, we invited Mark back on the show to discuss how he sees things changing as COVID evolves.

Listen along or read the transcription as Mark shares his thoughts on crisis communications and the impacts of COVID. We also discuss marketing trends, understanding customers, the rural lifestyle and more.

Show/Hide Transcript

Cliff Callis 00:25
Hey folks, welcome to OUTdrive. I’m Cliff Callis, and today we’re gonna do something we haven’t done on the podcast yet. I’ve invited back on the show Mark Thomas, an old friend of mine, former client and one of the most experienced marketers I know. Last year as the pandemic was ramping up, businesses were shutting down and people had gone home to work. And that’s when I visited with Mark about crisis communications, a topic in which he has a lot of experience. Folks, it has turned out to be our number one downloaded show in our first season, meaning that it’s the most popular podcast we did. And with the COVID numbers starting to climb back up again and hospitals filling up and discussions being held about what to do in business in schools, I thought this might be a great time to have Mark back on the show to talk about what his organization is doing to prepare, and to get his thoughts about some of the short term and long term effects of the pandemic as well as what he sees happening in marketing today. Mark’s always been one of those guys that’s on the forefront of marketing trends and technology, so should make for a pretty good discussion. Mark is now the Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Simplicity Engineering in Westfield, Massachusetts. And prior to joining Simplicity in 2020, Mark was the Director of Marketing and Communication for ACES in North Haven, Connecticut. He has also held marketing leadership positions at Continental Airlines, Invisible fence, Thermacell, Walther Arms and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. In addition to working on the client side of the business, he was also an accomplished account pro on the agency side working on a variety of national brands. Welcome to OUTdrive Mark.

Mark Thomas 02:12
I’m looking around the room Cliff, you’re embarrassing me. I’m looking for somebody else to be in the room.

Cliff Callis 02:15
Well, what can you say, man, you’ve got quite the reputation.

Mark Thomas 02:16
I’ve been very blessed to be able to do a lot of different things. And guys like you have taught me and your guys at the agency, and, you know, I’ve had a lot of great mentors and and extremely lucky. And so anytime I get to do something like this, hopefully, somebody will get something out of this. It’ll be worthwhile and I feel like I’m paying it back just a little bit.

Cliff Callis 02:36
Well, we appreciate you doing it. And I think the timing is really good. I think it was a combination last year of you and your reputation, with your marketing expertise, the topic and the timing, but the podcast has really performed well. And, you know, as I said in the introduction, out here in the Midwest, the numbers are creeping up. They’re not anywhere near the level they were before things started opening back up in the spring, but they are rising and they’re rising quickly and you know, I know a lot of people are sort of sitting, watching, trying to decide whether or not to do something about it. And so I thought it’d be a good idea to get you back on the show and talk a little bit about your perspective on crisis communications.

Mark Thomas 03:26
Well, it’s funny because of all things, the pandemic for everybody would be a crisis, and all of us who think we’re experts, we failed miserably. I don’t think anybody really did a great job. We started learning pretty quickly to leave the politics out of it. There was a lot of mixed messages from the scientific community because they were learning just like, like we were. It’s amazing, though. I mean, when things get to toughness, humans seem to be at their best. And I think when you think about not only one or two vaccines, but several come up that, you know, within a year, year and a half, at the most to get all that done, to do the right testing, to do the safety. It is miraculous, but on crisis communications – when we think about it, or what I think we were all prepared were, things in business. Like if you were, you know, the head of a city, how you were going to deal with that. If you’re in an organization, did you have a product failure? Or did you find one of your chief executives doing things they shouldn’t have done? And that’s what I always thought about. All of a sudden we’re talking about some none of this generation and the generations before it ever seen anything like that. And without the information, not knowing it was global, then the chaos by the policymakers. It was scary and I you know that just the sheer fact that you still people think that you know it wasn’t that serious or it was a hoax is a little naive to me, but but how do you attack that when something is going to change every day, and when you think about it, I’m up in the northeast in Connecticut, where one of the hotspots was New York City, and I had friends down there in the emergency, you know, resource part of that. And, and a lot of those people, and I don’t think people are really going to understand the toll it’s taken on the medical community, the first responder community, is because they had it every day, 24 hours a day, and there was a shortage of people, there was a shortage of equipment. There’s a lot of things you can’t do. And so we’ve survived it. I don’t think I have a unique feeling that I think COVID is here to stay for a long time. It’s just going to be like flu vaccinations, I think it’s something that you’re going to have to do. I’ve been incredibly surprised, to be honest, that I thought the transition was going to be terrible. You could turn on the news almost every week and see an altercation on a plane by people who didn’t want to wear a mask, those over the top who thinks it should have been all that and, and that and I really thought the first time I went out and I didn’t wear the mask, because I got vaccinated way back in March, that there was going to be shouting matches and it was going to be you know, real issues. Everybody’s done a good job up here and from what I can tell you don’t see that kind of stuff anymore. So I’m encouraged with that but I think anybody I mean, we haven’t solved the cold, we haven’t caught, you know, solved HIV, we’ve been able to control it and understand it, and I think that’s the way COVID is going to be. I remember with Continental and I was flying around, through their Asians, the Far Eastern people were wearing masks 10 years ago. That was a common thing for them. And we will look at it and say, you know, how bad is that? What that could be? But they’ve been through so many times, this was just the next one. And it was a big surprise and a big change for us. So crisis communication, I mean, it kind of goes back to, the premise was there, we just didn’t know the magnitude. Being transparent, being open, admit when you don’t know. If you would get into an issue, that you would you would fall back on just being honest. And if you didn’t know, you didn’t know, you’d get somebody an update. And that really the burden felt on the states and cities, frankly. And so with us, like I was just chatting with you before we started, I worked all the way through the pandemic. And I did a lot, if not most of it at home like a lot of people. And so I think there was some good things that came about. I bet you money 18 months ago, if you ask most people on the street, “What is Zoom?”, they couldn’t tell you. We were having Zoom calls with my brother, my aunt and other people that you know of our age probably wouldn’t know that it was so simple. I think maybe not as much in the Midwest, maybe in the larger cities, Minneapolis, Kansas City, St. Louis, but I think you’re going to see a lot of people understand that people work probably harder, longer at home, and maybe don’t need the office building. And so what we’re seeing up here because of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, you know, Baltimore, pick your change. A lot of commercial offices are now going to suffer because I think CEOs found out, you know, this can work from home because we have responsible employees, and we may not need that. So as soon as you saw something, you make it harder for somebody else. So property owners may have a little bit difficult going forward.

Cliff Callis 08:40
Yeah, there’s going to be change. And we’ve already seen a lot of it, good and bad. How are things progressing in the Northeast? Are numbers rising back up? Or things have kind of stabilized? Where are you at up there?

Mark Thomas 08:56
Right now? I think we’re better than the Midwest. I think that we were pushed into it. Our governor has done a great job, frankly, in keeping, our numbers were always low. But I remember, signs went up on, on stores that they would not let you in without a mask. And I think that helps to control. The variant is obviously you know, is kind of cyclical, and it’s going from one to the other. But we’re nothing like we were, where we were this time last year. I mean, it was nothing more than a parade of death. And people were scared and the most horrific things about, you know, your mom, your dad, your grandfather, your nephew, whoever it might be, to think about them being all alone in a room not being able to say goodbye, or touch them or or give them your sentiments. I can’t imagine that. I was lucky enough that I didn’t have anybody in my family that had to experience that. But I do remember talking to a lot of people that you know are 35 or 45, that they were having funerals at drive ins, because you couldn’t get close, so everybody was in a car and separated. And I just, I just sit there and think, my gosh, how cruel is that. So we’ve gotten around that. But the Northeast, actually, you know, it’s risen a little bit. But it’s almost back to normal. I can’t tell you the last time somebody asked me to put on a mask, which I would do, and I still have it in the car, but you just don’t see a lot of it except the respectful workers of like food. You still see the waitresses do it, the cooks are doing it. Some people that are not comfortable are still doing that. But you’re gradually at least seeing up here, it’s pretty normal as normal can be, because I think we’re always going to see people in mass now. Unless some miracle happens, you know, God, you can’t say it can happen. But I think they’re erring on the side of caution. And I don’t think anybody has a problem.

Cliff Callis 10:59
No, I think you’re right. And if you think about it, you know, we’ve seen people traveling, you know, like on airplanes wearing a mask for, you know, personal health reasons I would assume. And, you know, did they stand out? Yes. Did you think anything about it? No. And I think today, it is more about personal responsibility. And there are some environments where a mask is going to be pretty advantageous, I think.

Mark Thomas 11:24
You know, there’s no downside. There really isn’t because if that makes them feel better, and I think sciences has proved that the mask at least helps the spread of germs. I mean, I think we were on what a 40 year low on cases of the flu. I mean, it’s hard to argue with that kind of thing. But you see somebody in a mask now you don’t think anything about, you know, at least up in the Northeast. I haven’t traveled unfortunately, that and mine is so minor, the only real inconvenience I had is I hadn’t been back to Missouri since my father died in 2015. And I was gonna come back to see my family on Thanksgiving last year. And I got a call and especially your town of Sedalia was one of the hotspots in the state of Missouri at that time. And they just said, “Please stay at home.” And I’m going to, I’m going to mark that up to COVID and not that they didn’t want to see me. But I thought we were in pretty good shape and I am going to come back this Thanksgiving. So again, I think it’s a long battle, we’re not done. I do believe strongly we’re well over the hump. But I don’t think this is going to go away. I just don’t think this is going to go away.

Cliff Callis 12:36
No, I think everybody’s just gonna have to get used to it and I think they’re ready to do that. You know, one of the big trends that we’ve seen in our business, and other agency owners that I know are experiencing this, but I think it’s happening in other industries as well is this shift of talent. And people are kind of chalking it up to the pandemic. And maybe there, maybe it should be chalked up to, you know, sort of the feeling of, well, I’m gonna stay here for now, because I already have all this other change in my life. But, you know, people for a variety of reasons are taking the opportunity to change jobs. And there’s a lot of open jobs out there. What from your perspective is driving some of that?

Mark Thomas 13:26
Well, I think a lot of people, when you’re cooped up with just two or three of your loved ones or maybe sometimes by yourself, you do a lot of soul searching. I know a lot of people that were just content. They were going along, they were doing the clock, they may not have been challenged, and this was a wake up call. And you have a lot of time to contemplate and you see things. The other thing is what we were talking about, I think there is a lot more openness at all levels and small mom and pop all the way up to, you know, large corporations that you can work remote now. So you know what, I may work for, you know, somebody that’s in Connecticut or whatever, but it’s not a big deal to live in Phoenix. You can go, you can do a Zoom call, you can do a conference call, you can do it on the phone, the technology is so impeccable a lot of times you really don’t need to be there. And so that cuts costs. So I think there’s a lot more. And I think you’re right, there’s a ton of jobs out there, where you where you see remote. And it’s like United States and remote. So when somebody can say, you know, I really want to change, I’ve gone through this change, things are settling down. And if I don’t have to move and be somewhere else to make my living, I think again, I think that’s one of the good things. And so especially in your business, because you have a lot of freelancers that are unbelievable and they don’t want to be in the agency environment, that they kind of want to control their destiny. Well, you know, you can send files 100 different ways that were so big, you could never do it in rmail, Dropbox or, or whatever your technology. But I think a lot of parents who want to be with their kids more. So if I could just go down the hall, get in my office, shut that for four or five hours, get the same thing done and still be with my kids, that saves me money and gives me more time with them. And so I think the pandemic has a lot of repercussions. And a lot of them are good. Some of them aren’t obviously but as far as the job market, I mean, I’ve still I just reached out to a freelance project for Simplicity Engineering that I worked with on SeaDoo when I was in the agency business. Now he’s retired, but he came out of retirement just to you know, make a little extra money. But I mean, the quality work I got for what I paid was unbelievable, because he’s in that kind of situation. And I don’t think he’s alone.

Cliff Callis 15:53
You mentioned the repercussions of all this and, you know, when I talk to different people, you know, maybe a physician or an educator, business person, you know, they’re all seeing the sociological effects of the pandemic. And what kind of short term impact are you seeing there?

Mark Thomas 16:16
In our business, everything’s done outside. And so it was not as traumatic. And it was also a lot of young people who, for whatever reason, either knew they gave a social distancing, or they disregarded. I mean, there was a lot of those type people. I think the toll is going to be in two or three years, and I think we’re starting to see it, but it is the early responders that just saw heartbreaking things, day in day out hour by hour. And I don’t know as a human being, especially if you made your life in helping people. I can’t imagine that feeling to feel so helpless, and feel so close to those people, because you’re with them all the time, and you just watch them die. I just, I think you’re going to see a lot more people that are going to go to professional help. And they should. They need to talk about that, they got to get it out. And I just think that in those sectors, it’s going to be that. I also think too, with the restaurant business, small businesses especially, no matter where it is, in the turn of an instance, in two or three weeks, last January or February, they did not have an income and they didn’t have any way of saving anything. And so I think a lot of them were very good. If you are a restaurant, you became takeout because you couldn’t do it inside. And so you saw the flexibility, you saw entrepreneurs at their very best about pivoting when they needed to pivot. And in typical American way, all of a sudden, people were making their own masks, and then they were making more masks, and then they were putting logos on them. And all of a sudden this business comes about and with the, it’s not the antiseptic the the cleansing washes that you put on your hand sanitizer. I mean, I think people, you know, did that. So I don’t think you’ll see those antiseptic and and, you know, cleansing dispensers go away. They’re permanent in Walmart. I went in one yesterday and you can tell that’s not going anywhere. And that’s terrific, because there’s a lot of people that don’t want to touch those carts just for good, you know, if this had never happened. So like I said, there’s some good, and there’s some bad. What I do feel sorry about, I have several friends that went into small business for themselves. Were absolutely, you know, kicking ass and taking names of how good it was going. And then it just all got shut down and they didn’t survive. I know that there’s a there’s a ton of restaurants in the northeast because of the culture, and that you just had people that had been in business a long time that could not recover. And so you see the lease signs up and you know what happened. And it’s coming back and it’s going to take some time to come back. They’re all not going to come back. But I think those are the long term effects that, it changed lives. It changed a lot of lives in a lot of ways.

Cliff Callis 19:24
It’s probably not over.

Mark Thomas 19:27
Not to a degree, I think we now have a knowledge base and we’ve got science and you know, we’re still struggling in certain areas and ethnic groups about getting vaccinated or at least keeping safe. You know, vaccination, you don’t want to do that. I get that. I think that’s fine. But the truth is, we’re all in this together. And sometimes you just got to say, “We’ll do this.” Like I said, the masks – there’s no harm in it. But it seems such an emotional thing because I think they’re being tldo do it. But you know, if you’re not hurting anybody else, and you’re erring on the side of caution, you should move on.

Cliff Callis 20:07
Yeah. It’s a shame it got politicized. Yeah.

Mark Thomas 20:10
That’s not ever gonna go away, you know?

Cliff Callis 20:15
No. So you made a job change in 2020. Tell us what you’re doing now.

Mark Thomas 20:19
I did. I’m the head of marketing for Simplicity Engineering, which is kind of a misnomer. And we’re actually in the middle of changing our name right now. But Simplicity Engineering, I hate to say this Cliff, because it doesn’t seem that far ago. But, you know, in the early 90s, now we’re talking 30 years ago, I can remember plans, ads you and I did together, those types of things. But this company is built on its business to business. And what we do is we’re a dealership. But we deal in huge machines. So there’s shredders that would make up mulch that do compost. We do screeners to recycle waste, so you can use it again. We have a bunch of material handling equipment of separators. So our customers are landfill operations, compost operations, mulch operations. And in the Northeast, it’s really bad that landfills are no longer issuing, you know, licenses. So at some point, all those landfills are going to be filled. So our job is to turn that into usable products, so they have more space. And that’s a critical issue up here, probably here more than anywhere else, for a lot of different reasons. So what our equipment does is grinds waste, turns it into something you can use, and then put it back into the ground. We also sell accessories for that. So people who are grinding out stone to make, you know, rocks, or tiles, or gravel or sand and we have accessories for those types of things. It’s a little bit different in what I do in the fact that these machines average about $750,000 a year. And so it’s a capital expenditure and you’re and you’re talking to people in the ages from 28 to 29, all the way up to mid 60s and into their 70s. So it’s a great challenge. The sale process is a long time. So you would think many times when I say Simplicity Engineer, they think it’s oh, you’re in some kind of office building where you all are doing CAD drawings and, and doing all of that. We’re really out in the field, selling that type of thing. But, goes to show marketing has come up, and we decided to change the name to Simplicity Equipment and Service, because that’s a lot of what we do. When you put it into anything digital, which we’re very heavy into digital, you worry about search engine optimization. So equipment would come up, service would come up, engineering would go to a completely different place. So it’s kind of where one of the few times that marketing really is taken in effect. And we’ll have to see how we do.

Cliff Callis 23:08
It’s all very exciting. Talk to us a little bit about some of the other marketing initiatives that you guys are doing that you’re finding successful.

Mark Thomas 23:17
I think and you know this, I think people forget about email marketing. It’s still one of the most effective that you can do. It’s extremely targeted, which for us is huge. And we’re lucky enough that we work for a lot of municipalities. So a lot of those email addresses are public and there’s also a lot of RFPs. So I think email marketing has gotten more sophisticated, but we have found out we find the right list, you still have to do a great headline. It’s got to be a worthwhile proposition. Just like old direct mail was, your list is everything, so your email is everything. But then to get to people not too much, not too less, which is always the balance. We’re doing a ton of digital work with organic social media. So with us Facebook shoots, Instagram is huge. LinkedIn is very big, Twitter. I like Twitter because you can use it to get people to go somewhere else. A lot of people don’t. In our building, we’ve got a lot of mixed feelings on that. But we actually know exactly what’s working then. So we do about 50% Google AdWords and Search. We’ll do 25% display and then 25% either Instagram which is a big producer for us, and we’re using video. It’s funny how things come full circle. My undergraduate degree was in broadcasting. I used to be on the air and I used to direct video. I’m now with the technology, I have two drones and I have several cameras. I go out there and I’m doing four to five videos a week that are 90 seconds to two minutes, and you wouldn’t know they weren’t professionally done. And it’s funny, I’ve come full circle where I didn’t do any of that, except in the 80s. And now I’m back, you know, doing all that I can. And it means so much when you’re talking about social media and digital ads.

Cliff Callis 25:14
Yeah, it does. Video is so powerful right now, and is just exploding in terms of the number of new videos that are going on every day and the number of views on YouTube and other platforms. You know, you mentioned email marketing, and we see that too. I agree wholeheartedly. Across almost every industry, email marketer, for ROI, is the number one performer, because you can send it to who you want, when you want. And there’s relatively little cost involved. But I’m still surprised at the number of organizations that have not built up that first-party data. You know, they haven’t developed those email lists and managed those lists, just like you have to do any list. And going forward, you know, with the fragility of social media, that, you know, people need to have those lists, they need to be able to get ahold of their customers and, and it needs to be a priority for everybody.

Mark Thomas 26:15
It is and, and the thing is, there’s so many technological gates to get through now, because of spam filters and, you know, I had a conversation with our owner who’s a little bit frustrated, because we are not, I mean, I started their social media. And so we’re talking about just a little bit over nine or 10 months ago. And he’s, he’s comparing us to places that have been around 20 years that had an Instagram account six years ago, Facebook 10 years ago. And I told him, I said, “I understand, and, and that’s a slow go. And I’ll tell you why”. I mean, not that long ago, five or six years ago, everybody was signing up for a newsletter, everybody was, “Yeah, I’m gonna like this.” Well, now they don’t want their feeds, you know, full of things that they really don’t want to see. So once you get somebody to follow you and do that, it’s yours. Because they trust you, they know it’s a worthwhile, you know, outlet. I started using a theory which they call ‘4-1-1’ on social media, at least for the organic. And it just makes a lot of sense. I didn’t come up with this, but I’ve watched it and put my twist on it. But the premise is, is that out of every six social media posts, forget the channel, just whatever it is, that four those are strictly informational. It could be how your product is used, without ever naming that. It could be just, you know, things that are happening. And then that number one is kind of a soft sell. So your company has won an award, you did a charity walk, you did that type of thing. And then the hard sell is that last number one, and that is log on, call me, do something. But what that has done, and what I see is, you’re not having that used car salesman, where oh my gosh, here’s another post of him wanting to buy a shredder or separator. You know, it really has meaning. And then all of a sudden, you know, you slip the stuff in there and you’re saying, “Well, here’s how we can solve those problems.” People automatically say, “You know what, I’m going to that.” And I’m sure if everybody thinks about it, they’ve got five or six social media places they go that they rely upon. Whether that be if you’re in a reading group, or you want to get into woodworking or more business like that, I really need to know, you know what the mulch industry is doing, you’ve got those ones that you can count on that, you know, it’s not going to be, “Oh my gosh, here we go. I’m trying to be sold again.” And it works. We’ve gone up huge numbers as far as percentages, and we’re just trying to build that. But I think those are the kind of techniques that you need to do, and you add video in there, and then you have random times that you post. It really is kind of a science.

Cliff Callis 29:04
Yeah, absolutely. Well, you’ve got a very diverse program going. Integrated marketing is effective, we know that. I love the 411 example. You know, we’re using a theory in our thought leadership program called ‘Be interesting until they’re interested.’ And I think that’s exactly what you described with the 411. Put information out there that you think or know they’re going to be interested in, build that relationship and then drop, drop a little subtle, “Hey, here we are” kind of idea in front of them. And if they’re interested, then they’re going to contact you.

Mark Thomas 29:45
Well, what I love too, is it doesn’t matter what it is. If I’m a John Deere dealership, you know, in Iowa, it still applies there. If I’m selling steel screws, you know, down in Arkansas, it’s the same thing, you just have to tailor make that content and make it interesting. But you hit on the key that’s never ever going to change. If your database is no good, it’s not going to matter how good your ad is, or when you post or if you use 411, you really kind of have to understand the targeting of that audience that you’re trying to go to, hit them in different ways at different times. And there used to be, and I still believe this wholeheartedly, that we didn’t have a customer in retail till we touched them four or five times. I did a lot of work for a casino down in Shreveport. Well, I can’t think of almost anything that is more generic than a table game, a slot machine, a restaurant, so we didn’t feel like we had a customer until they came into our casino four times. Then we knew we didn’t, you know, get them away. They had a good experience or they wouldn’t come back. So then you have to keep them and enhance that. It’s the same, true no matter what you’re doing. If you’re selling boats, which you know Missouri’s the number two boat manufacturer in the world. You know, it really doesn’t matter what it is, you still got to have a good database and then know your audience enough and how to do it. And what we have you and I didn’t have back in the 80s is we have so much metrics, we can tell instantly what’s working, what isn’t, where we should put our money, and get feedback on early problems. I know with Invisible Fence, we had a product that didn’t go so well. We found out instantly that people were telling us out on social media, and we did have a problem. We went in and fixed it, and we got this flood of, “You actually listen, you knew what we were doing, you knew our problems, you didn’t hide from it, and you made a better product.” And how you handle a problem is sometimes better than you know not handling it at all.

Cliff Callis 31:51
Well, getting the opportunity to handle that, that problem. It’s like overcoming an objection, you know, people give you an objection, because they want you to, they want you to overcome it. But you’re absolutely right, how you handle a problem is the most important thing. And you can turn an awkward situation or you know, a situation where there’s conflict into one of long term positive relationships.

Mark Thomas 32:19
Yeah. And social media, it gets a bad rap. You do have to know how to use it, and when to use it and be pretty skilled. Frankly, if you get into a conflict, because you don’t want that online.

Cliff Callis 32:30
Hey, you referenced, you know, some Midwest states a little bit ago and I know you’re one of those guys that always followed your dreams. And you’ve traveled a lot, and you’ve lived all over the United States. But I know you have a soft spot for us out here in rural America. Let’s talk a little bit about the difference between life in rural America and life in the city.

Mark Thomas 32:55
Oh, my gosh, you’re trying to kill me. Well, I am so biased because I can’t think of a better scenario for me or my brother than where we grew up. I mean, you and I are still lifelong friends and we went to high school. And so I think there it’s, it’s, it’s very much, I’m not going to go, I’m just going to give generalities, which is never a good idea. It’s extremely more liberal and a different culture in the northeast, than it is in the Midwest than it is in the Southwest or the West. The difference is things are very much more closed in here. We have traffic issues beyond belief. When you get outside of, for instance, today, Missouri, all of a sudden, it’s nothing but wheat fields, cornfields, milo. And there’s nothing better than that. And then all of a sudden Kansas City or St. Louis pops up. It’s the same. If you were sitting in Grinnell, Iowa, you do the same thing and all of a sudden, there’s Des Moines. You know, Minneapolis the same way. I like being outside. I love being outdoors. The pace is a little bit slower and I think people actually care so much about themselves and their neighbors. I remember, my wife had never been to Missouri and we went back and everybody says, “Hey,” and she goes, “God, everybody knows you.” I said, “I don’t know any of them.” That’s just the way it is, and I don’t see that changing. I haven’t been out to the Midwest. Thank God I’m coming in Thanksgiving this year. But I don’t think a lot has changed. You just, I still come across a lot of people from the Midwest and I know it instantly. And it’s just a feeling, it’s a smile. And that’s not saying good or bad. I think there’s people that would not live anywhere else but New York City or Boston. But it is faster. And they’re all unique. I mean, the Midwest isn’t perfect. There’s a lot of things and I hear the jokes up here, trust me. They hear my accent immediately, and they can’t figure out where it’s from. But they certainly know it’s not Boston. And they certainly know it’s not New York. And so we’re like everybody, you get those stereotypes up. But to me, there’s no better place than the Midwest, because there’s so many things you can do or not do. And that’s the part of life a lot of people forget, I think, is what you don’t have to.

Cliff Callis 35:29
Yeah. Well, I appreciate you saying those kind words about our homeland. Certainly, you know, it’s not for everybody, just like New York is not for everybody, but it’s a great place for a lot. And every place has its, you know, its pros and cons. And, you know, one of the things that we’re just frankly, trying to do on our podcast is just to help people better understand what rural America is all about. Because you mentioned cornfields, and wheat fields, and there’s cattle, you know, and yes, that’s all here. But we also have beautiful lakes and small cities and small towns, and we have innovation and technology and, and a quality of life that I find hard, hard to match.

Mark Thomas 36:20
And you make a great point in the fact that I’ll tell you what, I’ve lived in 12 states. I’ve been to all 50 and I’ve been to 18 countries. I will tell you, one of the most beautiful towns in the world is Kansas City. And you just can’t beat Kansas City. I could say almost the same thing for Minnesota and Minneapolis. I’ve been up there all over the place. And just, there’s culture, there’s anything that you want to do. There’s art appreciation, I mean, you think about in Kansas City the Nelson Art Gallery. You know, Chicago, there’s just so many different things. And I think that’s, that’s the dichotomy up here, that that you have in the Midwest that you don’t have up here. It is sprawling, I literally, I laugh because I do a lot of driving going to where we do these demonstrations and videos. In one day, I can go through six states. It would take me more than a day to go through Illinois andMissouri. You know, and people are not used to that don’t understand that. But it’s just I kind of laugh, you know. Here, I could hit another town with a three iron. You know, I wouldn’t even be able to play all day and get to Kansas City or up into Minnesota and Iowa.

Cliff Callis 37:37
Yeah, there’s so many great things.

Mark Thomas 37:38
And the thing you’re talking about, Cliff, is that it’s bringing it back to a marketing sense. You have to know those audiences. So talking to a farmer, talking to a marina owner, talking to somebody who is a small time dealer for whatever it is, you have to understand what motivates them, what do they want to hear, what they don’t want to hear? And that’s the challenge of marketing, because I’ve changed all of my stuff because our customers are up here. When I did nationally, we did regional programs. And it’s a good study.

Cliff Callis 38:10
Yeah. You know, you’ve always been pretty much at the forefront of marketing and marketing technology. I’ve always been impressed with your passion for wanting to try new things, wanting to be current. And in doing that, and I know you’re Hootsuite Certified. Talk a little bit about some of the cool things you can do with Hootsuite that maybe our audience might not recognize.

Mark Thomas 38:35
Hootsuite, I’ve been in small departments and like now I’m doing everything myself. And I’ve been in it where there’s only one or two people and marketing is 24/7. And what I have found with Hootsuite, and there are several other just as good things out there, I just have had great success with Hootsuite, is that it is allowing you to do a lot of content with just one person. And you make posts and you’re able to go across channels, and schedule those and use different videos. What I found from a marketing perspective is, is my tone of voice is always consistent, my message is always consistent. And then I can manipulate that to have a little bit of a twist on a LinkedIn, versus what I would do on a Twitter, versus what I would do on Instagram. So literally, I don’t know how many pages I run these days. But for, for simplicity, I’ve got four different main pages. So that’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn. I can program an entire week’s worth of social media. It costs me nothing. That’s a big thing, except my time, but I can do a whole week’s worth of posts maybe in an hour and a half, maybe two, to where I’m covered for the entire week and then I can monitor that, change it or add to it if I need to. But I think it’s the consistency and the ease of use, certainly the cost. It’s just something I would encourage anybody to go out there and look at Hootsuite. And then, you know, Google Hootsuite competitors and do that. I’ve seen some other ones that I thought were good. I’m so comfortable with Hootsuite that I’ve upgraded so the cost is not there. But I just find it an extremely powerful tool that anybody can use and especially like small businesses, because they’re not going to have marketing departments like I ran at Continental with 29 people. You know, that’s a luxury. Even at Invisible Fence I only had four people, and that was significant. But in my career for the last 10 years, it’s been me and another person or me alone.

Cliff Callis 40:38
Yeah, Hootsuite is a great tool and if you look at the numbers, and I don’t, I’m just guessing here, I don’t really know. But there’s probably more one man marketing departments than the big ones.

Mark Thomas 40:51
I guarantee you that’s the case now after the pandemic. I know that there still is that out there, but you have so many startups, that’s the other thing with a pandemic is, people who are finally taking risks on what they wanted to do or their dreams. And, you know, for simplicity, we’re 30 years old, but it the previous owner did nothing. So this ownership has only had Simplicity for two years. Well they were in damage control after buying it away from the other owner. And then when they added me they said, “Okay, now we got to go to the next level.” But they’re never going to have, in my lifetime, more than one person. I wouldn’t even no matter how good any of us did. And that’s probably more common than not.

Cliff Callis 41:35
Yeah, I think you’re right. I think you’re right. Well, Mark, I’ve always, always enjoyed visiting with you. I love talking marketing with you, because you’re I mean, you’re just so savvy. What else would you like to share with our audience today that you think they might find interesting or beneficial?

Mark Thomas 41:52
Take a chance. Failure, you know, I could give you 1,800 inspirational quotes. But I would say, you learn more out of the failure. And if you’ve got a good plan, and monitor it as you go, you’ll be able to get the most out of your money and be more effective. But just because your competitor didn’t do it, just because nobody’s ever done it, go shoot, go at it, go for it, go for the par five. You know, it’s one of those things that “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” And when you think about the digital cost these days, it doesn’t take much to see if it’s going to work or not. And so, to me, that’s just, just go for it. Do something that nobody’s ever heard of. I own two patents in my life. One of those, and it’s going to sound really stupid now, but I was the first one that came up with a computer press kit. And this was back in the 80s, where reporters were mainly just writing everything down. And some of them were into computers. And we came up with a press kit that had everything on there so literally writers could cut and paste. They could do all of this. It made the St. Louis Globe Democrat, I remember. But that seems so common and probably past saying that. I’m sure everybody just puts it online now, you don’t even do it. But that disk was something and in itself, we got a lot of coverage. But who knew. I could have been really stupid and they would have gone, “Are you kidding?” And so go for it. Just always go for it.

Cliff Callis 43:23
Love it. Love it. Mark, thanks for being with us today.

Mark Thomas 43:26
Cliff, always good talking to you. Tell the gang at Callis I said hello.

Cliff Callis 43:30
I’ll do it. Folks, thanks for listening to OUTdrive. I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s visit with one of our old friends Mark Thomas, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Simplicity Engineering. Come back again next week and I’ll take you down the roads of rural America, where it’s heaven on earth.

Thanks for taking a ride with us on our drive. This episode is complete. So head on over to for show notes and more insights you can apply to help drive your business growth and be sure to sign up for our free monthly eletter OUTthink for even more helpful content about marketing to rural America. Have a great day and keep on driving.

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