We asked Pete Blackshaw (@PBlackshaw), CEO of Cintrifuse (@cintrifuse) and one of the 2019 Cincinnati Marketing Legends being honored at our awards ceremony on May 30, to answer a few questions about his career, challenges, advice to fellow marketers and more.

When you reflect on your career, what are you most proud of?

I’m proudest of the fact that I’ve always put consumer trust at the heart of everything I’ve done, from my earliest days at P&G … to the launch of PlanetFeedback … to the publication of my book, Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends; Angry Customers Tell 3,000! … to my work at Nielsen and Nestle.

And, of course, it’s very much at the heart of the work we’re doing now at Cintrifuse. In fact, the opportunity to focus so squarely on trust as a driver of business and economic growth is a huge part of what brought me back to Cincinnati.

Legend doesn’t mean “has been” for us! It means someone who is still growing and learning, still contributing, still shaking things up. What are some of your personal career goals in the next 5 years? 10 years? Beyond?

I’m deeply honored and humbled by this award — and to be in the company of amazing people like Molly Wellmann and Jim Stengel. My only hope is that it’s premature! I stay open to possibilities. I believe the best opportunities tend to be those that emerge, rather than the ones you carefully plan for, so I try to stay very attuned to paths I can’t yet see.

What excites me most is when pathways converge unexpectedly — when things like my passion for the consumer, my love of digital, my belief in the positive force of disruption, and my deep commitment to public service all come together to create opportunities I hadn’t imagined before. That’s exactly what happened when the opportunity to join Cintrifuse landed on my doorstep! So, “Stay Tuned” is not a message I send to others; it’s the message I send to myself every day.

“Stay Tuned” is not a message I send to others; it’s the message I send to myself every day.

Wax poetic on what you think makes a successful marketer in a profession that is always changing and evolving.

The key to winning in a world of constant change is to be very clear on what isn’t changing. In marketing, it’s the fundamentals: listen and understand, meet people’s needs, provide unfailingly reliable quality and service, be honest, and respect what they believe, say and do

I talk a lot about the key drivers of trust, leadership and branding. There are four core themes that I think run through all great marketing.

  • Never Shout; Always Listen — there are SO many ways to do this today and great marketers tap into all of them.
  • Earn the Relationship, Then Convert It. Relationships are earned first and foremost by demonstrating trustworthiness and respect … and only then creating opportunities for loyalty and advocacy.
  • Manage Tensions to Unlock Value. Tensions create the sparks that drive innovation and that meet needs no one else has fully met before.
  • All Branding is Personal. Messages and meaning — the lifeblood of marketing — are experienced by people one at a time.

The four core themes that run through all great marketing: 1) Never Shout, Always Listen; 2) Earn the Relationship, Then Convert it; 3) Manage Tensions to Unlock Value; 4) All Branding is Personal.

These basic themes — and the core fundamentals of branding — are as true today as they’ve ever been. It’s critical to be in touch with new technologies, new channels, new competitors, new ways to engage — but you’ll always be in the best position to take advantage of change if you keep your eyes on the fundamentals.

Everyone has challenges, but they are oftentimes the lessons or experiences that help us grow and do better. What are some challenges you have had to overcome? What advice would you share about overcoming challenges?

My experience as a startup founder at PlanetFeedback continues to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done … and I use the lessons I learned from that experience every single day.

Leading a startup is such a formative experience because nothing about it is easy, no matter how passionate you are. I had to raise a lot of money — including from friends and family, which always keeps you up at night. I had to live through and lead two massive rounds of layoffs just to keep the business on life support. When we merged with another company, I had to suck it up and give up my CEO position to my counterpart. I had to channel my frustration with big companies for taking so long to sign onto tiny little pilot projects that took months to sign — months when we kept burning through cash trying to hold on.  

Eventually, we sold the business to Nielsen, so it was ultimately a successful venture, but It was hard. I wouldn’t trade the experience. I would not be doing what I’m doing today if PlanetFeedback was not part of my story.

My one piece of advice is always to see every challenge through the eyes of the people who buy your products or service, whether you’re an entrepreneur or a leader inside a big corporation. It doesn’t matter what your role is. Listen to your inner consumer. Listen to what the consumer inside you is telling the business leader inside you. And mark my word: the consumer inside you is always right!

Based on your specific craft/discipline within marketing, what do you see being the biggest opportunity for marketers in the next couple years? Biggest challenge?

The biggest opportunity that I see is to think and act like a concierge. Personalization technologies are a huge enabler of this, and companies that do it well will create enormous competitive advantages. AI, in particular, when combined with human insight and empathy, can bring transformative — even life-changing — benefits to consumers worldwide.

If you think and act like a consummate concierge, consumers will open up the door to their personal data. They’ll opt in and not opt out. They’ll talk to their network about you with real passion. And they’ll be far more likely to stay with you as a loyal consumer.

If you think and act like a consummate concierge, consumers will open up the door to their personal data. They’ll opt in and not opt out.

I love this idea as it applies to marketers because it’s so easy to translate the concept into highly personalized branded experiences. A great concierge anticipates, answers, and guides, and always does so with a friendly and inviting face.

Now, the challenge is simply to live up to the expectation of being a great concierge. Investment and incentives need to step-change but, even more importantly, marketers’ mindsets need to change, with an emphasis on listening, empathy, and boundless curiosity in search of ever-better ways to serve consumers.  

One particular aspect of curiosity, by the way, is to think as creatively as possible about how to integrate digital tech into every aspect of consumer engagement. Multi-Sensory Experiences — enabled by Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Gamification, IoT and other technologies — are becoming a powerful new way to engage consumers in ways that have never before been possible and are rapidly becoming mainstream.

To me, thinking and behaving like a great concierge is the profile of a winning 21st century marketer.

Only three years old, the AMA Cincinnati Marketing Legends Award aims to recognize those who have made a lasting impact within marketing. What does it mean to you to be nominated, and ultimately selected, for this award?

I’m honored more than I can say to receive this award and I’m also tremendously motivated by it. Hopefully, I’m nowhere near my final act! So, getting this award at this point in my life and career is a powerful driver of sustained accountability! It means I have to keep taking up my game to stay worthy of the recognition. That’s a powerful catalyst for courage, risk-taking, innovation, and service to others. I’m grateful for it in so many ways.

This award at this point in my life and career is a powerful driver of sustained accountability!

Finally, tell us a little bit about yourself outside of your work—family, favorite travel experiences, hobbies, etc.

My family is my passion – and travel has been a great passion of my family – so the two go pretty much hand in hand. My wife Erika and I have three amazing kids and we have always made road trips a staple of our family experiences. A great, well-planned road trip is like social media without social media! We talk about school and sports. The kids ask questions about work. We occasionally do “rap battles” on handpicked themes. Sometimes, we listen to a great podcast together – which is such a wonderful way to teach kids the art of listening and reflecting.

I also brought my passion for video to all these adventures. I made it my mission to film and edit a mini movie after every adventure or day skiing. This discipline, all done with my thumbs on iMovie, has shaped my views about the future of content and storytelling,  and even real-time feedback. And it’s built a wonderful archive of family experiences.

Now that we’re back in Cincinnati, we’re already at work planning our trips from here. The Midwest is such a great home base because we’re in the heart of America. You can bet we’ll be hitting the roads again as soon as school is out!

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