Unlocking Employee Optimism
In 2017, Jeff Perkins was champing at the bit to get started as CMO of ParkMobile, a parking assistance app based out of Atlanta. He saw the 7.5 million users, the hundreds of thousands of new users each month, and the awesome product driving everything. However, when he got going, he began to notice his enthusiasm wasn’t exactly the norm. Jeff joined the team following some significant board changes, executive changes, and turnover. As a result, the company morale was experiencing a sort of slump, despite the app’s early success, and the leadership decided to step up.
Jeff was quick to spot that this relative malaise could be remedied with a clearer articulation of the company’s vision in a clear set of core values. Following that, an emphasis on employee engagement would help that mission—and a new positive spirit—spread through the company. Listen in to this episode to hear more about how ParkMobile built a thriving culture around core values and an engaged internal team, and how that culture has helped the company grow to 17.5 million users.
Full Transcription: Drew Neisser in conversation with Jeff Perkins
Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers. I’m excited to talk to you today with a new friend, Jeff Perkins, who is the CMO of ParkMobile. If you don’t know ParkMobile, you’re missing out. There are 17 million users of this parking app that does many, many cool things. But what’s most interesting about this is we’re going to end up talking a lot about internal marketing in this episode. So, Jeff, welcome to the show.
Jeff Perkins: Thanks for having me, Drew. This is great.
Drew Neisser: I’m excited to talk to you because, you know, as we were talking in the preamble, a lot of times we could look at the growth of the organization from the time you got there, which was 7.5 million to now, two years later and you’ve got 17 million. That is awesome. But when I asked you what you were most proud of, you said “looking inward.” And I want to start at the beginning, when you arrived at the organization and decided to focus on employees first, what was your rationale and how did you get started and get agreement from your CEO that this was the right place to start?
Jeff Perkins: Right. When I joined the company over 2 years ago, it had been through a lot. We had some significant board changes, executive changes, and a lot of turnover, so you could feel within the employees and the culture that there had been a little bit of whiplash. People just didn’t know where the company was going. They felt like they were just grinding every day to do a really good job, that there wasn’t this hope that you’d want to have in organizations and there wasn’t any excitement.
When I looked at the business before joining the company, I thought, “Wow, this is a really exciting company.” They’re in these huge cities where they have tens of thousands of people using the app every day to park. They acquire hundreds of thousands of customers on a monthly basis. People really like the app. They had like a 4.9 out of 5-star review with hundreds of thousands of reviews in the app store, so there was a lot of really good stuff going on but when you walked the halls, you wouldn’t feel it. You kind of felt like everyone was waiting for the next shoe to drop and, to me, we had to change that mindset.
We had to realize that, yes, we had problems as a business, yes, there were challenges that we were facing at the time, but they were the best kind of challenges, they were the best kind of problems. I remember one day when we had some technical challenges with the app. This was two years ago, and the app went down for a certain period of time and that’s horrible, right? When you’re a consumer app that’s used by thousands of people, you don’t want the app to go down, ever. It happened because we had so many people using the app and we didn’t have an infrastructure at the time that scaled for our user base.
People were really upset, and people were down, and I remember saying in the room, I was like, “Guys, this is the best problem you can have. How awesome is this? We have so many people who want to use the app that they’re crashing the app.” Now, it’s not good to have an app that crashes, but I’d rather have an app that crashes because too many people are banging on it than have a really stable app that nobody is using.
Drew Neisser: Right. So, you come in as a clear force of optimism. You looked at this situation and obviously you didn’t have an acquisition problem, as my guess at that moment. It wasn’t about that, but you had a morale issue that could have a long-term impact on the business. I mean, we talk about that here, at Renegade employees are number one, because if they’re not on board with a new branding effort, you’re really in trouble because the customers aren’t going to believe it and certainly the prospects aren’t.
So, we go, and we say, “All right, we have an employee problem.” How did you assess the nature of the problem? Did you look at it like this is a strategic communications problem and we’ve got to solve it? And what was your process?
Jeff Perkins: It wasn’t that hard to figure out. Whenever I join a company, I’m like a doctor, I have a checklist of things. Does the company have a vision, a mission? Do we have these things in place? One thing I noticed that we didn’t have at the time was that we didn’t have a clear vision for the business and we didn’t have clearly defined core values that we all lived by that determined our hiring, our firing, who gets promoted, who gets bonuses. What I found at past companies is that if you don’t have that foundation, you’re not going to be successful within your company because you’re going to be rudderless.
People don’t know where you’re going, people don’t understand what you’re about and what you’re for, so one of the first things that I did, and this was at the first executive offsite I attended, was lead a core value workshop for the executive team. We spent about a full day talking about our vision and core values and we came out of the offsite with a very good draft of what we wanted our core values to be. We refined them over the next couple of weeks and then we had them, and we published them, we put them on the walls, and we made videos about them. We established what we call the “Core Value Awards” every year so we recognize the people who embody our core values and, I can’t tell you, people have core values committed to memory at this company. There’s only six of them and people know all six.
Drew Neisser: Did you create an acronym or something to make it easy for them to remember?
Jeff Perkins: We did not. Unfortunately, a lot of our core values have multiple words in them, so an acronym wasn’t going to really work. I’ll tell you what they are: a healthy obsession with customer experience, act with integrity, sweat the small stuff, play well with others, rise and fall together, and support our people, support our community. Six fairly simple, easy to understand core values and we do everything through the lens of those core values. If someone is not sweating the small stuff in this company, maybe they shouldn’t be in this company.
When we’re hiring, we ask people about how they act with integrity. We ask them to tell us about how they work with others because playing well with others is a core value of the company. If they don’t pass the test, we will not hire that employee. But I have to tell you, I wish there was a quantitative way to really assess this, but once you had the core values in place, I think it made a huge difference in the organization. We put the core values on the walls, our CEO enforces the core values constantly, it just makes a difference because companies that are great have great people and great cultures. It all starts with what your core values are and making sure that the organization understands that and every day are living those core values every day.
Drew Neisser: By the way, I do think there’s a way of measuring this. And it’s funny, in our process, and not trying to toot our horn, but you do essentially an employee satisfaction study on an annual basis, if not quarterly, and you do it before you change them and then you do it afterward, and you see certain things. You can ask, “Hey, you know what the values are?” but you can ask other questions that would say, you know, “How likely are you to recommend this is a great place to work to a best friend?” “Is this a company that you really believe in?”
You can create those things and you can see the lift. And when you add those, I mean, those are really easy, basic measures for doing that. In fact, we’ve standardized about seven of them that we do for all our clients because you get some interesting normative data. But where it really starts to show up is in customer satisfaction. Where you see it, it’s like in the call center, right? Suddenly the ratings of the customers go up because employees feel better about the brand that they’re working for.
The other part of it is, we’ve seen this although though it takes time, your recruiting cycles are shorter because your yield is higher. The number of offers that you give vs. The number of people who accept goes up as the culture builds around it. So, I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m curious, because one of the things that’s really tricky with values is, I’ve always believed if you talk about them too much, it’s like, Richard Nixon’s “I’m not a crook.” You know, just by merely saying them, it’s not believable. You have to live them and show them. The awards were a good example. I’m curious if there were other things that you did to help instill these values and make sure they really became real as opposed to, again, a poster on a wall.
Jeff Perkins: Yeah. We’ve done a lot of things in this area. We actually have a great video that’s on our website where we talk to employees about what the core values mean to them. It’s really interesting when you ask people that are in the company, “What’s your favorite core value, or what core value do you identify with most?” They bring back some really compelling answers oftentimes. You can see that it’s very emotional for them and it connects them to the company in a way that they probably weren’t connected before.
One thing that I love when we’re interviewing candidates—it’s like my favorite thing if anyone ever comes and interviews with me and listens to your podcast, hopefully, they do this—I love when candidates come into an interview and tell me that they really identify with ParkMobile’s core values. I think, as an interviewee, it’s the smartest thing you can do. Not every candidate does it, most candidates don’t, but when a candidate sits across from me and says, “I spent some time on your website, I really like your core values as an organization. I see myself being a good fit for this reason or for that reason,” it shows me that that’s the kind of person we want within the company because they’re not just looking at, “Oh, this looks like a cool company” or “Oh, they have snacks and foosball” and all this stuff. They’re saying, “The values of your company align with my values and I want to be a part of your organization.” That is everything for us.
I think the other part of your question is, how do you get people to really live it? That’s the hardest thing in a company because it’s a frequency game. It’s about frequency and reinforcement. In every company I’ve ever worked at, when you do employee surveys, the number one issue is usually around communication. “I don’t know what’s going on. My boss doesn’t tell me anything. Someone in another department made a decision that impacts me, and I wasn’t involved. I don’t have visibility into this, I don’t have visibility into that.” It’s hard, especially for a company like us that has been growing pretty rapidly. We’ve doubled our employee base over the last 18 months. It’s really hard to keep everybody in the loop on everything going on, so one thing that we instituted, because in employee surveys we were getting feedback that communication was an issue, people felt out of the loop.
Even if you are engaged in the core values, if you don’t feel like you’re in the loop on what’s happening in the organization, you may become disenchanted to some extent or feel like you’re disconnected from the overall company that you work with, so we started doing a weekly internal newsletter to all employees. Now, we’re a small company. We don’t have a big internal comms team. But this newsletter, when we started it, was written by me. I did it in Mailchimp and I tried to make some funny jokes in it, but every week I would go through things happening across the company that everybody should be excited about. I recognized employees who were living our core values. We talked about news, product releases. The idea was, we were going to give you more information than you probably needed but we didn’t want anyone to feel out of the loop. We didn’t want to get bad scores on employee surveys around communication.
The philosophy here is that we’re going to over-communicate. I think me doing the newsletter for a long time was really helpful because I had more of an executive view of the company and I see across the organization, so I could put together the right content for the company. A lot of times the junior comms person gets assigned to do those internal newsletters, and they have a very narrow view so everything in the newsletter is about what the communications team is doing. This was really an enterprise-wide newsletter that talked about the things that were impacting the business. Now, it’s not an easy thing to do, writing a newsletter every week is very taxing.
Drew Neisser: Yeah. I want to stop for a second. One, we need to take a break, and two, I have so many observations that I want to get to. We’re going to take a break and we’ll be right back.
Drew Neisser: We’re back and the first point I want to make was the fact that you did it with the executive team. Huge. Really huge. You have to get executive buy-in on, obviously, things like mission and values. That was number one. Number two, you have to communicate it to employees. Then we started talking about how you personally were writing the newsletter. How many months did you do that?
Jeff Perkins: I probably did it for the first 18 months and never missed a week.
Drew Neisser: So what that says to the organization is, if the Chief Marketing Officer is spending inevitably probably an hour, if not more on this—I mean, I know what it takes to write a newsletter since I write one every week and it’s time-consuming to put good quality together—it says you’re personally invested in it, you’re living the values of it, and this is the most important thing on your list right now. If you’re going to go down this road and you’re really going to embrace it, this is a hard thing to delegate.
The next thing that I thought was really interesting is you talked about the growth and this is so interesting for smaller companies. How many employees did you go from when you arrived, to where you are now?
Jeff Perkins: We went from about 70, 75 to about 175.
Drew Neisser: Right. And all still in the same location?
Jeff Perkins: Yes.
Drew Neisser: Right. Okay, so at least you have that advantage, but typically, the family feel of a startup starts to break down, believe it or not, at about 40 and then 100 is a big threshold. Those people who were there when the company was 70 vs. when you passed 100, suddenly there is this issue where I don’t know everybody here anymore. I don’t know what’s going on. They feel that and while it’s very exciting, there is that pain, and if you’re at the top of this, you don’t often think about it, so the fact that you, again, were communicating all of this, I think it really says a lot. It certainly says a lot about how important employees were to the process.
I’m curious, if you look back at the last two years and in terms of the employee programs, what do you think really worked well? Let’s just start there.
Jeff Perkins: I would probably say the things that worked well were the activities that brought the company together more. In the past, we had a culture that I would say was more focused on getting the work done and getting out of here and wasn’t spending a ton of time together. And that’s okay. In a fast-moving startup where you have limited resources, you really just have to go, and sometimes you sacrifice some of the personal things. But we brought in a VP of HR about a year ago, and I think she’s done a great job in actually operationalizing our core values in a way that we probably didn’t have the time and energy to do.
Now, every other week we have an all-hands lunch where different teams share things, we have lunch and learns, and every Thursday we do an all company happy hour that’s hosted by a different department. My department, when we did it, did a Las Vegas theme and brought in blackjack tables. I think that the act of bringing people together in a company, especially a company like ours where we’re moving very fast, you have a lot of developers who are working on stuff, and marketers who are working on things, and finance people, people who generally don’t all understand what other people do. Helping people connects and understand what everyone does, where we’re going. I think those kinds of activities have helped the culture become much more cohesive and turn this from a place where people felt like they had to work into a place where people really feel like this is a place they like to work. They want to work, and that’s everything.
The job market is super tight. It’s hard to get great people. You’re competing with every other company in your city. Atlanta is a really tight market for developers and marketing people, so to have a great culture in your company where people are just geeked up to be there is everything. People want to not just join a company, they want to join some organization that is about something, where they walk in and the place is buzzing, and people are excited. I’ve been to my fair share of job interviews in the past. There’s nothing worse when you walk into the drab office where everyone’s inside their offices, nobody’s talking to each other. You come here and people are sitting in the common area chatting, everyone’s got their laptops out, people are whiteboarding everywhere. It’s a real thing to see.
I think when we ask our employees, “What’s the one word you use to describe ParkMobile?” usually the most common word is “fun.” It’s a fun place to work, and not fun in the sense that it’s all fun and games, it’s fun in the sense that we’re getting stuff done. We’re growing the business and we’re driving revenue and we’re acquiring customers and we’re having a blast while we’re doing it. At the end of the day, that’s where you hit that nirvana point, as an executive you’re like, “Wow, we’re crushing our business and we’re having fun at the same time.”
Drew Neisser: So that head of HR is Jenna?
Jeff Perkins: Yes. Jenna Brown.
Drew Neisser: Yes. Funny story for the listeners, Jenna is the daughter of a longtime client and friend, Gene Kelsey, who is it really just a great marketer and a great guy. So, hey, Gene, I know you’ll be listening. Shout out. What’s interesting to me about that, and I actually brought that up for a reason, is increasingly I see that CMOs who are successful have two big partners. One is HR for the internal communications and someone who really believes and shares the values that you’re talking about. And the other is, of course, the CFO. We can talk about that in a little bit but I think that’s really so important. I’m imagining that you were part of the hiring process for Jenna.
Jeff Perkins: Yes. Yes.
Drew Neisser: Right. So, when I see trouble, it happens in this way, the CMO is gung-ho, they’ve got the big brand idea, they know how to communicate this internally with what this brand is about, with the values of the organization, and the HR person says, “I got this right.” When you hear “I got this” from a fellow department head, you know they don’t. They’re basically saying, whatever you think you’re doing doesn’t affect me. “I got this.” So, that, I think, is a tremendous advantage. You were able to bring in someone who understood and shared those values and so for those of you who have inherited an HR person, figure out how you can help them.
Jeff Perkins: You’re exactly right. We do that across a lot of our teams here. Sometimes I’m involved in hiring for our product team, not always an executive, sometimes a mid-manager. We’re just bringing on a new COO in the near term and that person met with all the executives extensively. I think a good practice is generally to not just have someone come in and meet with their direct report or their direct boss, but really do a circuit. I remember I was interviewing a bunch of software testers that they were bringing in, but it was great because I don’t have the technical knowledge, but I do understand the culture and the company and the type of person who will be successful here and I think that feedback was valued by the technology team.
Drew Neisser: One of the things that you mentioned about bringing people together, I mean, you do have an advantage. Everybody’s in the same building, in the same city. So many of the companies, software developer companies in particular, they’ve got a group that’s in development perhaps overseas, they’ve got marketing in New York, and it’s a lot harder for those organizations to actually bring people together. But the notion of it, you do virtual town halls, you find ways to try to actually connect.
I thought was particularly interesting, your idea of having different departments host it, because, you know, we do know that the developer folks tend to be a different type of individual. I mean, they just are vs., say, marketing. I mean, it’s a cliché to say extrovert, introvert, but they’re just different and they don’t always appreciate each other in an organization so it’s nice if you give each of them a chance to be in the spotlight. The marketing person goes, “Oh, that makes sense. That’s kind of cool what that developer’s doing,” or the developer could say, “Oh, marketing, I get that. That’s kind of cool.”
Jeff Perkins: We’re doing something this week, actually, we just kicked it off. We’ve done it several times and we call it “Innovation Week.” It started in development but then we realized that other people in the company wanted to do it. We give our teams a week to go work on stuff they’re interested in. It has to relate to the company, obviously, but we have people all over the company today who are huddling up in conference rooms and people from different departments, and they’re teaming up to come up with really cool ideas for the business.
Next week, we have our Shark Tank judging panel coming in where these teams are going to pitch their ideas and they’ll get awards based on who has the best idea, who has the most innovative idea, who has the idea that is feasible that we could execute right now. It’s a really cool event that the entire company has rallied behind as a way to continually push innovation and ideas and give teams that are grinding through challenging issues day in and day out a little breathing room to go and explore and experiment and do some new things. Try out some new toys, try out some new tech tools. It’s really cool.
As an executive team, it’s challenging because we have a roadmap and we have deliverables but, at the same time, we see it as necessary. You can’t just grind people to death. If our developer talent or our marketing talent or our product talent feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel and there’s no way for them to get their great idea to the surface, they’ll eventually leave or burn out whereas this gives them that outlet. It also helps the company from a cultural standpoint to rally around this and bring together different people from different departments to work on complex issues. It’s really become a signature part of who we are as a company and how we operate these Innovation Weeks.
Drew Neisser: That’s very cool. All right. We’re going to take a break and we’re going to come back and talk to and dissect that a little bit more as well. Stay with us.
Drew Neisser: Okay, we’re back and we’ve been talking about a really interesting idea. I mean, I know Google gives people some amount of time per month to do it, but to take everybody, if you will, offline. Do they have an entire week to do nothing but this? Or is it half of their time? How do you manage that so business keeps moving forward?
Jeff Perkins: They really have an entire week. Now, the idea is, you get your work done before the week. It’s like going on vacation. You finish your work before you go on vacation, you take a week off. This is similar. You finish your deliverables and that gives you that free week to go work on something really cool and interesting that you want to work on and that you think is going to help the company.
Drew Neisser: I love this idea. We’re talking about building a culture of innovation and people talk about that, but, again, it’s something that you have to make real and committing an organization to say, “Hey, all of you are on the innovation team. We’re going to dedicate a week to this.” Questions that I’m thinking that CMOs might ask you are, well, one you’ve already answered is that everybody has to get their work done beforehand. That’s tricky, but how do you assemble? Do people self-assemble? It would be ideal in like a sprint team, you’d want a developer, you’d want to a marketer, you’d want a data person. How did you organize this?
Jeff Perkins: We’ve done this a few times now, so it’s been a lot of trial and error, but teams figure out what they want to work on and they go find other people that are interested in that. Sometimes people will throw out there, “I’m going to do this new advanced analytics algorithm thing and I’m looking for three people to help me out.” People are really interested. Some people are not as interested in coming up with the idea and they just want to contribute and help. There are some people who say, “Hey, I’m not technical, but I could help you present and make a really good PowerPoint deck that people are going to get excited about. It’s interesting to see these teams develop and it’s a lot of people who end up complimenting each other. Usually, there is one person that has the big idea for the project and others go all in with that person on it.
The smallest team is three, sometimes the biggest team could be up to ten people working on these things. It’s really fun. The highlight for me is seeing what they come back with because they come back sometimes with real, working prototypes. Last time, one of our developers came up with this widget that actually worked, and our sales guy was like, “Hey, I could sell that tomorrow. Can I bring that to a client? I’ve got a client meeting tomorrow.” We were like, “Slow down, dude, slow down.” That’s really what makes it fun for the employees, makes it fun for the executive team to see our employees bringing these big ideas and really having pride and ownership of them. At the end of the day, when you’re working at a company that gives you that opportunity, hopefully, that’s going to make you very satisfied as an employee.
Drew Neisser: I’ve got a bunch of CMOs listening and they’re thinking, “Oh my god, we’re going to commit a whole week to innovation.” What were some of the key things that you did to get executive buy-in? For example, I can imagine piloting something like this would be one way. But tell me, what are some mistakes maybe that you made early on, that you think you could help some CMOs not make.
Jeff Perkins: Yeah. I want to give full credit to Matt Ball, our CTO. This is his baby, but I’m so proud of it, I like to talk about it. As an executive here we collectively gave him the green light that said, “Hey, your team can take the time they need to do this.” When they did it the first time, it was only technology people and now it has evolved to be the entire company. A lot of the finance people do it and marketing people, which is fantastic. Even our HR team sometimes jumps in and does some of the projects as well. It’s really open to everybody.
I think what we’ve learned from the past IO has been that you want to really push on innovation. That’s the goal, but at the same time, you want to encourage people to do things that are realistic that we can execute as a company. There have been some great ideas that have come up at these IO weeks but then you look at the ideas after the fact and what it would take to actually execute and realize we can’t do that, or we could do that but it’s going to cost this amount of money and that’s not feasible.
This year, actually, for this current Innovation Week, one of the real focus areas is on tangible things that we can do in the short-term. We actually really focused them this time and one of the awards is based on what project is most likely to be executed in market. I think that’s one of the things because, at the end of these weeks, it’s a big investment from the company in labor hours and employee resources so you want to be able to get something out of it beyond just a morale program. You do really want to start bringing some of these ideas to market. Hopefully, with some of that direction this time around, we’ll see some ideas that we can take right out of Innovation Week and then put into practice in the business.
Drew Neisser: I wonder if marketing’s role in this could be to use your social listening and other customer feedback from customer service to say, “Hey, these are some of the problems we’d like you to address as well.” Is that part of this?
Jeff Perkins: Yeah. That’s a big thing, especially in this current Innovation Week we have a theme and it’s “customer delight.” That’s another new thing we’ve done, introduce a theme to it. All of the projects that people are going to come back with should be very focused on these questions: How is this delighting our customers? How is it making them more excited about ParkMobile, more loyal to ParkMobile? I’m really curious to see what happens given that additional direction beyond just innovation—because when you say innovation, it’s pretty wide—but customer delight is a big one because we know from our research that the customers who are more engaged with ParkMobile are more loyal, are using the app more. The more things we can do to create those loyal raving fans of ParkMobile, the better our business is going to be in the future.
Drew Neisser: Yeah. I suspect there’s two ways about this. The other way would be, what are the areas where we have the biggest pain points? But part of this I also am imagining is, I don’t use the app because I don’t park in New York City. I have a car, but I just don’t have that issue that often. But if you were someone who is commuting all the time or going to sporting events all the time, you would have a need for that app, so I think a lot of it depends on the nature of your driving behavior. Part of satisfaction is, “I use this all the time because I need it all the time.”
Jeff Perkins: Right.
Drew Neisser: That’s part one. And then part two is, I need it all the time, I use it all the time, but this thing irritates me. Fix it. Interesting. As we wrap up, one of the things that I just wanted to ask about is, some companies just celebrate the successes, which is great innovation, but sometimes, if you don’t fail, the old saying is, you’re not trying hard enough. I’m curious, in any of this, do you have any mechanism for: “We tried it, it didn’t work out, but god bless you for bringing that to the table?”
Jeff Perkins: The great thing that I’ve enjoyed about a career in marketing is that it’s all about failure to some extent because you don’t succeed unless you figure out what doesn’t work and what does work. Believe me, I’ve had many epic fails in my career and continue to here as we learn our way into what is an optimal marketing program for this business. That changes every 12 months based on new tactics and new programs.
It’s funny, I think probably the biggest failure I’ve had here I had early on, fortunately, and it’s really helped me a lot. Because we have an app and we’re in people’s pockets and we have their data and we have their email, we know where they’re going, we know where they’re parking, we know what their billing zip code is, we have a lot of data about our customers. That’s pretty powerful. As a marketer, I know where you are and where you’re going, and I could constantly message you and constantly stay in touch with you. We had a bunch of fails early on when we abused that.
I’ll give you a few examples. The Houston Astros, when they won the World Series a few years ago, I thought that was great. We have a lot of users in Houston. I’m going to congratulate the Houston Astros for winning the World Series and do a push notification in the app to all of our users, so we push, “Congratulations, Houston Astros World Series champions.” Then we got a ton of blowback on social media for that, “Why ParkMobile was congratulating the Houston Astros? That makes no sense.” That was an interesting lesson.
Then during the holidays, we sent people a “Happy Holidays from ParkMobile.” We got more blowback: “The last thing I need is a happy holiday e-mail from my parking app.” Through some of that experimentation, I learned something important, which was that we had very poor self-awareness as a brand in what our role is in the life of our users. That’s really important for a marketer to understand, because if you don’t have that self-awareness and you abuse the communication channel, they’re going to turn you off, they’re going to delete you as an app, they’re going to look at you unfavorably as a business.
Now we’re very careful and we have a clear guide for how we engage with our users. What we try to look at in every piece of communication, especially ones that are going through the app and could be intrusive in some ways, is if it’s adding value to them as they’re on whatever journey they’re on to get from point A to point B to where they’re parking. I’ll give you a few examples of where our messaging program is really effective.
If you are traveling from New Jersey and you’re driving down to Washington, D.C. and you have the ParkMobile app, as you enter the D.C. market, you’ll get a pop up that says, “Hey, ParkMobile is available all over D.C., you can use the app here to park.” This is a really nice way to inform people that an app they have works in this market. That was one.
The other thing is, when people travel and they have the app and they fly to a new location and land at the airport, we used to actually as soon as you land at the airport, you would get a pop up that says “Hey, ParkMobile’s in this market.” And we heard from consumers that, “Well, thanks for telling me ParkMobile’s here, but I’m taking Uber all over town,” so we said, “All right, let’s not geo-fence the airport. Let’s geo-fence the rental car facility.”
Drew Neisser: Exactly
Jeff Perkins: We’re just getting a lot smarter in ways that we can provide information that adds value to the consumer without being too intrusive and really without violating that relationship you have with the user. That’s always been very important to me because the last thing we want to do is piss someone off to the point where they delete the app or vent on social media. We know that our app is a utility and you’re not spending, we’re not Facebook, we’re not Peloton, we’re not a passion brand. We’re a utility. You use us to park and then you get on your way. By having that self-awareness, it really informs the way we do marketing and the kinds of programs we do. We’re very focused on not being intrusive but adding value to the consumer.
Drew Neisser: Yep, we call that marketing as service. If any time you can turn marketing into something that is of legitimate value in the conversation, it’s a win-win. This has been amazing. I really enjoyed this and getting a deep dive into, as a CMO, focusing your attention on your internal audience for the most part. I’m curious, if we had to wrap this up, if you two do’s and a don’t, you have a bunch of CMOs who are new on the job. They know they have to deal with what you had to deal with, give them do’s and a don’t for building a strong employee engagement program.
Jeff Perkins: The two do’s. The first do is, if you don’t have core values or if your core values are just words on a wall, really think about updating them, redoing them, or figuring out a way to bring those core values to life. I truly believe that the core values of the organization are foundational to the success of the organization and if you don’t get that right, it’s going to be challenging. As companies, we’re all about our people and by having those values that you live by and work by, it’s critical.
The second thing is, you can never over-communicate. As a marketing team, we’re experts usually in communication. We need to be very active in making sure we’re not just communicating outside the company, but also communicating inside the company. Making sure employees understand what’s going on, what the priorities are, what’s important, and if you have to, as a CMO, roll up your sleeves and do that weekly newsletter. Go for it. I will tell you, being able to get people on the same page in your organization and aware of what’s going on is critical to success.
The don’t for me goes back to my last point I was talking about. Don’t violate the relationship you have with your customer or your consumer. Understand the role you have in their life and provide value to them when you can, but don’t just message them because you’re able to and you have these cool martech tools that enable you to geo-fence and geo-target and retarget them. When it comes to your marketing program, really figure out how to add value and ask what in your business is adding value. Everything else, just get rid of it.
Drew Neisser: Love it. What a great place to wrap up the show. Thank you so much for joining with us and sharing your expertise. Congratulations on your success so far, and to the listeners, I hope you enjoyed this episode. Really tried to do a deep dive on one subject. I think we covered a lot of territory getting executive buy-in and building values, communicating an ongoing basis, building a culture.
Just in case you were wondering, I think I noticed that you were recognized as a top place to work in Atlanta. That’s one of the ways. By the way, I wanted to mention, I noticed you’re a Springsteen fan. Several years ago, I interviewed a guy by the name of Stephen Handmaker, who is at an insurance company, who’s a huge Springsteen fan as well. You’ve been to 27 concerts?
Jeff Perkins: Thirty plus. Can you indulge me for a second, can I geek out a bit? Huge Springsteen fan. I’ve been seeing him forever. Within the first two months of meeting my wife, I took her to a Springsteen concert to see if she could qualify to be my spouse because if she didn’t like it, it wouldn’t have worked out.
Springsteen has had an interesting role in my career. I wrote a blog one time after a Springsteen show and I think the blog title was “What Would Springsteen Do? 5 Lessons from the Boss.” I wrote it and I posted on my blog and on LinkedIn. A lot of people commented, especially the Springsteen fans. A few years later, I’m interviewing for a job. It would be my first CMO job and I was interviewing with the CEO. We had a good interview and I walked away thinking that it went pretty well. I sent him the thank you note and then he replied back to me right away with: “OMG, I just read your ‘What would Springsteen do?’ story. I’ve seen him 50 times. ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ is my favorite!” And so I got that CMO job.
Drew Neisser: There you go. Just because of Springsteen. I love that. Well, you’re going to have to send me a link to that post and in the show notes, we will include your post as well as the article that I wrote. All the points were songs of Springsteen as well and I know Stephen Handmaker’s going to get a big kick out of this as well. All right. Well, clearly, we could talk for a long time, but we need to wrap this up because our folks commute. We just hit 45 minutes and that’s as long as they travel; right now they’re probably looking at the app finding their parking spot. So, with that, thank you again for being on the show. Also, listeners, thank you.
If you enjoyed the show as always, please do me a favor. Send me a note. You know how to get a hold of me and suggested another topic that you think I should do a deep dive on. Finally, rate the show! While you’re downloading a ParkMobile. Go ahead to go to iTunes and rate the show. All right. With that, until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.