How Does Bridging Creativity and Strategy Amplify Content?

Great things happen when your creative and strategy are aligned.

February 28, 2024

(Transcript generated by

Ben (00:01.412)
Welcome back to another episode of Content Amplified. Today I'm joined by Brian. Brian, welcome to the show.

Brian Santa Maria (00:07.106)
Thank you, Ben.

Ben (00:09.012)
Brian, you have a fascinating background. So different from me. I love it. Could you maybe introduce yourself and introduce your background about how you got into marketing and kind of your passions for marketing? I think it's super valuable and then we'll dive into the subject for today.

Brian Santa Maria (00:12.226)
Say it again.

Brian Santa Maria (00:28.046)
Sure, sure, sure. Yeah, I am B, Brian Santamaria, and I am currently working with VC Held.

CPG company, leading their marketing and creative efforts and going through a sort of rebrand in the go-to-market strategy. I also freelance with a handful of companies that have asked me to do similar things, build their creative departments and fill their creative strategies out for their go-to-market strategies and they'll range anywhere from no money to two, three, four hundred million in market cap. So bottom midsize. And

I started though in theater. I went to art school, CalArts, wonderful school. I wish there was a mascot that I could say Go Bulls or something, but they have no mascot. I was going to be an animator and that's Walt Disney School. It's multi-disciplinary. So when I came out with my theater degree, it was very avant-garde based. I got to work with some incredible artists, followers there, Michael Counts, Richard Foreman, Travis Preston, and going through that sort of

Brian Santa Maria (01:40.036)
you take, you wear a lot of different hats and you no longer sort of have these lines around what is and isn't theater or what isn't music or what isn't whatever art medium you want. It all sort of feels like...

you as you and I briefly talked about before this podcast is you feel like you've given yourself a lot of tools and they're all at your disposal to use and whoever's going to label it is going to label it. And so after that I ended up in doing a lot of classical theater. I was at Shakespeare Theater in DC under Michael Kahn. I had done a stint with Disney Imagineering through an arts group that I had worked with out in

out of CalArts. And then I was at UCB in New York while Amy, Amy Poehler was still there and then writing for The Onion. And so when I came onto The Onion, The Onion was transitioning from the newspaper and the...

website to video and it started as two to three minute short videos to rival, to satirize, I guess, you know, headline news and that sort of thing. And we quickly, if this then what, and started doing various forms of news, sports news, reviews, breaking news, whatever. And that went on to two television shows, a one-up Peabody, and then I got sick. And

back in Omaha having to leave New York was the first time I ever worked at an ad agency and they had...

Brian Santa Maria (03:18.97)
heard I was in town and brought me in to punch up for Disney. Anyone who's worked in comedy knows what the punch up means. And we sold some stuff to Disney really fast and they said well you come in and do this for us a lot and that's that was that. And so I came in as a junior copywriter and eventually quickly copywriter at Bailey Lowerman. That went on to some freelance work when I decided to come back out to LA and the freelance work turned into head writer at

built a content studio in the floor beneath us, and then got brought into a big retailer, Best Buy, to modernize their digital work that went very quickly, and eventually we in-housed everything. So the work that had been done by CPB and Gray now became an in-house agency at Best Buy, and then the past...

year, 18 months has been what I opened talking about, which has been me working with some CPG brands and after having built an internal studio with an agency and an internal agency with a corporation, companies asking how do we approach the creative work and the marketing work really internally. And

I don't know whether you normally talk to creatives or marketers or both. There's certainly a lot of overlap between the two. And now I've found myself filling that overlap too, is that I went back to school in the middle there after CalArts and I did Stanford lead at their GSB and then I did an MBA at Brown and really sort of bridged that.

that void between creative strategy and creative execution and I'm able to sort of understand what it's all about because for me It was all me the guiding the connective tissue between the beginning of my career and Hopefully the middle where I am now Has been that it was always Focused on what it's about all of these things I can do and have done are the tool set that I use

Brian Santa Maria (05:22.538)
to elevate the about, you know, whether it was a three minute comedic thing, satirized thing on the onion or whether it was an avant-garde theater production in college or whether it's selling refrigerators on Labor Day at Best Buy. It was always being able to identify, okay, what is this about, which hopefully is the top of your brief.

and then say these are all of our tools we can use, which ones work the best to do that. Yeah, that's what I do.

Ben (05:53.92)
Love that. That's fantastic. So let's put yourself in the shoes of someone, you know, coming into a brand new business and it sounds like you have been in this position a lot. You're coming into a business that is clearly wanting to level up their creative, their storytelling, their content. Where do you start in analyzing where you're at and figure out a pathway to where they could be? I mean, you're talking about.

buying entire floors and creating content studios. It has to start somewhere. How do you go from that humble beginnings to something that incredible, bringing all this effort in-house for Best Buy? How does that scale? What does that process look like? What's the framework you use?

Brian Santa Maria (06:26.686)

Brian Santa Maria (06:43.97)
For me, I think it all, again, this is where that bridge is between strategy and creative execution. It's being able to identify what you need and what the difference is between what you need and what you want and what the customer actually needs. And understanding what your tool set is and not living in a fantasy world. I think that you work with large agencies and there's a problem in the advertising world where we only give lions and big creative awards to these people who do.

big expensive things that are almost built for the applause. The metrics on whether or not they converted are irrelevant because Wyden Kennedy created something that was so wonderful and fun to watch. And I don't mean to jump on Wyden Kennedy because this isn't a comment on their KPIs. They've done incredible work with their clients. But it's almost like.

we're only ready to give those people accolades. And what we don't do is look at these small brands and these small hustlers who are out there working for people who don't have huge budgets. And because they don't have huge budgets and huge resources, they have to limit, they have to, what's the word I'm looking for? They have to temper what the expectations are on the work.

a client that I would come in that I've come in for is working with virtually zero budgets and but the brand that exists there is also inadequate and so how do we take the brand repackage it without starting over because we don't have the timelines to start over so you've got to you've got to patch the ship up while it's sailing

but not put yourself behind any eight ball by setting expectations that you can't meet. And so that starts with identifying what your tool set is. Our tool set is going to be stock photography or stock assets. We can't use anything other than stock assets. So that means that if we build a mood board that is using Chanel photography, well, we're setting ourselves up to fail because we can't do that, right? So we have to build a mood board out of what is actually accessible to us.

Brian Santa Maria (09:00.416)
I think it really starts there, is finding somewhere that you can work with, knowing what your limitations are going to be and then working within those limitations. We say all the time, think outside the box. And there's not enough emphasis and reward given to people who think inside the box. That those box limitations, if they're the correct limitations, if you've identified the correct limitations, then what they are doing is keeping you from swimming out of your depth. And if you work within them...

and still stay focused on what it is you're about, which should be primary always, no matter what the work is, is what are you about? And how are you then, what communication medium are you using to communicate that? Then you can make work that really works at any level.

Ben (09:46.188)
How do you help a business understand what they are about? Some know it, some don't. How would you recommend that you figure that out?

Brian Santa Maria (09:50.163)

Brian Santa Maria (09:57.67)
You got to be a company that wants to know it if you don't want to know it then you're never gonna Figure it out and that you see that all the time and even large successful companies, right? Like knowing what you're about isn't not knowing what you're about doesn't mean you can't be financially successful people do it all the time They distract themselves or whatever and something is still working Success validates bad decisions all the time. But um, I would say that what I do and what I've been doing with somebody right now is

I start with the new employees. What did you think this company was before you came in? What do you think it is now? Start with the, then go to the old employees. What do you think this company is about? And then you go to their customers if you can. What are they giving you? And why do you keep coming back to them? Then what do you think they're about? And then what I do is I sort of look at where the alignment is, where they're misaligned.

And then usually there are some interesting reveals that surprise me along the way. And so, oh, that's an interesting tidbit. That's an interesting tidbit. And then we get down to the core, right? They call them, there's an old teacher at Stanford, you just talk about the five whys. And when you're interviewing people, you always want to be asking them dumb questions. And they'll say, why did, you know, why'd you go, why do you go to McDonald's? Well, because I'm hungry. Why? Why are you hungry? Well, because I like to have breakfast. Why? Well, because I have a long day ahead of me. Why?

work really hard and I'm up late doing work and so I have to get up early in the morning on an empty stomach. Okay, now what started as a bunch of stupid questions have told us has told us an awful lot about

actually what product, what an Egg McMuffin is doing for a consumer in that morning, right? It's more than just I'm hungry. It's that, and I don't know, I made up those answers, so maybe that's not at all what an Egg McMuffin does for somebody in the morning, but you get what I'm saying, is that we're...

Brian Santa Maria (11:54.602)
you're solving it, you're serving a commuter's need to stay focused on their work without being distracted by a loss of energy or something like that. That's a much more narrow focus than I'm hungry. And so figuring out how to do that from inside the company with old people, inside the company with new people, inside the company, or then outside the company from the people who work with them.

gives me a lot of information around what it is they're about. And then circle that. And then for me as a writer, because I'm a writer at my core, is we write it all out, and then I take out everything that's unnecessary, everything that's unnecessary, everything that's unnecessary, until you get the simplest, until you distill it to its simplest form. At best by what we were able to end up with is, let's talk about what's possible.

Ben (12:21.864)
I love it.

Brian Santa Maria (12:45.562)
And there's a lot baked into that line. Talk comes from a learning that one of the things people come to Best Buy for is conversation. That why do they come to us when, again, five whys, why'd you come to us? Well, because I need a refrigerator. Yeah, but why did you come to us? Well, because I could come in and talk to somebody about it.

and what did you want to talk about? Why did you want to talk to somebody about it? Because I didn't know what refrigerators could do. And so now all of a sudden we get a lot deeper about what purpose it is we're serving. We're actually serving the conversation part of someone's fulfilled possibilities. And so we say, let's talk about what's possible and that's done well for us. And then when I talk about distilling it, you can look at a company like Coke.

Ben (13:30.271)
I love that.

Brian Santa Maria (13:35.394)
Of course, it's easy to look at a company like Apple or Coke or Nike and say do what they're doing But but in this case Coke on every bottle for a hundred and some odd years has had the word enjoy on it, right? like How much more distilled can you get? Than what Coke does for you enjoy now you look at it you look at every advertisement on Coke and in some way They're they're celebrating enjoyment, you know

Ben (14:00.528)
I love that. That makes a lot of sense. So one final question, because we're coming towards the end. I told you it would go by really, really quickly. When you're digging deep, do you tell the different layers of why? So like, you know, in your McDonald's example, you know, why did you come to McDonald's? And you started asking why is, do you typically only focus on like the bottom insight wise or is there an advantage or a time where you would

Brian Santa Maria (14:08.362)
Yeah, man.

Brian Santa Maria (14:17.867)

Ben (14:28.936)
share the whys at every layer. How do you kind of weigh out when you have found the about, what you're about through the whys?

Brian Santa Maria (14:39.702)
Yeah, I think what you're looking for when you do that is, it's sort of a business term, so they're half meaningless. But insight, you know, you're looking for, when you keep asking questions like that, what you're hoping to get is on, at one point.

You want to get to the bottom and distill it down, but you also somewhere along the way are hoping to reveal an insight, in quotes. An insight can come in many different forms, but ultimately what it is, it's that moment that makes you go, oh, that's a little bit surprising, but at the same time, no, I feel like I knew it and just never put my finger on it. And no one else in the market is actually addressing that thing right there. And I can speak to somebody in that way.

Brian Santa Maria (15:26.698)
You know, okay, here's an insight. Is one of the brands I work with, we sell, they sell coffee, we sell coffee to churches, and in interviewing people and figuring out what it is we do, what are you actually buying when we're buying coffee, why? Because we want people to feel like they are at home. Why? Because we want them to stay, why? Because we want them to, we want to build community. Oh, what we're actually doing is building community here. Well, so now we start serving, we start serving community. This brand starts addressing the needs of the church.

community, not just the needs of coffee, right? Because they can, there's a thousand coffees out there, they can shop for the most flavorful one if they want, but we started addressing the needs of the community, which may be very different, you know?

And then what happens is three or four months later, what we find is once we've started doing that, all of a sudden these churches that had been subscribers of the coffee are ordering 60 to 70% more coffee. Why are they ordering 60 to 70% more coffee? Not because they have way more people coming to church, but because the people who are there are staying and talking longer. Why? Because the community has been strengthened. And so we identified an insight in the need, addressed it through the brand,

Brian Santa Maria (16:39.616)
actually purchasing from us in the first place whether they knew it or not which was community strengthening community right

Ben (16:47.328)
I love it. That's fantastic. Well, Brian, yeah.

Brian Santa Maria (16:49.118)
And that was never the target. That was never the target, right? We were never, we didn't come at it, try it. We didn't know that was the bottom when they said it, but we just identified the insight and answered for it.

Ben (16:55.921)

Ben (16:59.984)
Yeah, exactly. Well, I feel like we could go on for days, but unfortunately we have come to the end of our time. Brian, if anyone wants to connect with you online, how can they get in touch with you and further the conversation?

Brian Santa Maria (17:12.386)
Oh geez, I guess LinkedIn. I guess LinkedIn. Be Santa Maria on LinkedIn. I'm not on Facebook anymore. I am not on, I mean I have a Twitter account at Brian Santa Maria, but I don't think I use it ever any longer since the great upheaval. But yeah, that's it.

And my email, you can email me at bsantamariasenior at I'll answer that. Oh, and right, at, that'll get right to me.

Ben (17:34.856)
I love it.

Ben (17:39.38)
Very cool.

Ben (17:45.472)
Awesome. And we'll link to everything in the show notes. So again, thank you for the time. These insights are amazing. Appreciate your time.

Brian Santa Maria (17:48.59)
Appreciate you. Yeah. Love it, Ben. Thank you so much for having me. What a great way to spend my afternoon.

Ben (17:57.468)

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