This week’s episode of the Marketing Cloudcast offers insights into how meaningful relationships and purpose-driven marketing can lead to a successful career. Fitness buffs and fans will be excited to know that we were able to spend time with Spencer Rice, the former CMO of SoulCycle and current CEO of LifeShop, to discuss growing a brand, staying true to your identity, and the twists and turns that help you find your career.
Tune into the full conversation and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Reach out and let us know if you have an interesting topic for the Marketing Cloudcast.
Like many people in the business, Spencer didn’t necessarily envision a career in marketing when he first started out. In fact, he says, “I started my career a long time ago in Los Angeles in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency, where I eventually worked my way up to being an agent in the Motion Picture Talent department.” No big deal.
“I'm a storyteller,” Spencer says, “it's the reason I went into the entertainment business and worked at an agency. I had dreams of being a producer, but ultimately I found my niche in marketing. For me, it's fun to work with brands and entrepreneurs to help them figure out their authentic story — how to tell it and, then, how to pour gasoline on it so it spreads.” In marketing no two stories, no two brands are the same, and Spencer gets a lot of enjoyment out of crafting that message and figuring out the best way to get it out there.
SoulCycle is notable not just because of its strong brand but because that brand is rooted in principles and purpose. When Spencer started there, he always used to say, "as long as the experience in the studio, in the room, remain consistently awesome and the staff are trained to give unparalleled customer service, then my real responsibility as CMO is just don't screw it up.” He felt that experience sold itself, so his job was really to “use all of the tools at my disposal to empower, excite, and enable our riders and customers to make noise about their experiences.”
Julie and Elizabeth, the founders, were obsessed with building a strong brand and made all of their decisions based around that. “People's association with the brand is what made them feel like they were part of something that stood for something, and I think today people want to belong.”
When Spencer decided to move on from SoulCycle, he left his marketing team a manifesto of principles that he had learned to live by during his time there. The first one was from a Simon Sinek book: “We start with why.” Every campaign they launched, every social media post, event, or initiative always had to tell a story in a way that would make sense to their riders.
“That story, to me, was what distinguished a great campaign from just a series of tactics,” Spencer says. “Marketers today sometimes struggle to understand the difference between tactics and strategy, and I think having a really clear interpretation of, ‘this is why we are doing what we do, these are the goals, and this is the purpose, and this is how it aligns with the values we're trying to express'.” All of the individual parts — the tactics — need to make sense within the context of that broader story you’re trying to tell, the strategy.
The other major principle that SoulCycle had was "we didn't sell; we let the experience sell itself.” Anything they could do with partnerships, promotions, influencer campaigns, and local grassroots outreach was part of that strategy if it could directly lead to full rooms, “because at SoulCycle, a full room is a better experience.” Giving riders a great customer experience enticed them to come back, and then to start talking about it.
Another mantra of Spencer’s was that “the star of SoulCycle is always SoulCycle." That meant they didn’t participate in events where they would be one of many — they either wanted to be the headliner or to fund and deliver their own experiences to make sure that no one could dilute their message. That meant they would often forego opportunities to build awareness or expand their reach, especially when they were starting out, because they wanted to protect their brand proposition.
“I think, at times, we might not have been justified doing it,” Spencer admits. “There were certainly early-on opportunities to take the easy money, to accept sponsorships, to do partnerships that were going to pay us.” However, they felt that doing something like putting certain products in their studios and giving someone else a platform would ultimately be a bad decision. “We were very deliberate about that because we felt like the minute we sacrificed the strength and power of our brand, our customers would notice it and it would signify the beginning of a leaky brand proposition that we couldn't afford to give up.”
According to Spencer, we’re in the midst of a shift in the public perception of marketing and what a CMO should do. When SoulCycle started in 2006, brand was king, but in the wake of so many different digital and social media channels, “you started to see this quick shift away from the importance of brand and storytelling, and towards performance marketing.” However, for Spencer, that mistake is starting to catch up with a lot of companies who have moved away from the basics. “In a largely digital world where social media can play such an impact, you cannot just be about leads and acquisitions. You have to be focusing on retention and loyalty and service and experience.”
Marketers today need to be focused on creating meaningful connections with their customers, making them feel a certain way, and at the end of the day, that’s storytelling. “Marketers and CMOs are playing a much bigger role again enterprise-wide as there's a shift away from being a purely tactical role to more of a strategic storyteller. I'm finding that my experience and my expertise is becoming more valuable, not less, which means that I can have a bigger impact doing what I do now than really ever before.”
For Spencer, being a Trailblazer comes down to combining two key skills: vision and courage.
“A lot of people have great ideas that they cannot bring to life. It's very, very few people, the real Trailblazers, who have visionary ideas that they believe in their hearts must happen, must come to be.” So it’s not just about being able to think differently, but having the conviction and the courage to take a risk and make it happen. Trailblazers need to be bold and “get people on their train to accomplish and bring their vision to life.”
Listen to the full episode of Marketing Cloudcast to hear more of our conversation with Spencer, and join thousands of trailblazing subscribers on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Stitcher, or Overcast.
P.S. — Don't forget that Salesforce Connections, the the marketing, commerce, and service event of the year, is just around the corner on June 12-14. Head to Salesforce.com/connections for more information and to register today!