Howard Tiersky is the Founder and CEO of FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency, a 75 employee digital agency that helps executives at large brands transform the customer experience to win in today’s digital world. He is a successful entrepreneur who has been named by IDG as one of the “Top 10 Digital Transformation Influencers” and by Enterprise Management 360°as “One of the Top 10 Digital Transformation Influencers That Will Change Your World.”
Howard is also the Author of the recent Wall Street Journal best-selling book, Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance. Howard also speaks for large organizations at major events and podcasts and is a member of the Adjunct Faculty at New York University.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Howard Tiersky’s background and how he got started in digital marketing
- The evolution of the internet and technology — and how they improve customer experience
- What makes a brand successful digitally?
- What long-established brands should do to shift to the digital world
- Howard talks about the process of writing his book, Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance, and what he learned from the experience
- How Howard’s use of “winning digital customers” and “relevance” helps with his branding
- Where to learn more and get in touch with Howard Tiersky
In this episode…
To create a great customer experience, brands in the digital age have to find ways to maximize technology if they want their products to benefit their customers. You have to create value and increase your brand’s appeal — and stand out from your competitors to become successful.
According to Howard Tiersky, the most successful online brands use technology and the internet to provide better experiences for their customers. They focus on a hyper convenience frame of mind to make it easier for customers to find, learn, and use their products. They also personalize online experiences to meet the needs of different customers.
Howard Tiersky, the Founder and CEO of FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency, is Rich Goldstein’s guest in this episode of the Innovations and Breakthroughs Podcast, where he talks about transforming the customer experience online. Howard also talks about writing his book and explains what brands can do to become successful behind the screen.
Resources Mentioned in this episode
- Goldstein Patent Law
- Rich Goldstein’s book: The ABA Consumer Guide to Obtaining a Patent
- FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency
- Howard Tiersky on LinkedIn
- Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance by Howard Tiersky
- Winning Digital Customers podcast
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Goldstein Patent Law, a firm that helps protect inventors’ ideas and products. They have advised and obtained patents for thousands of companies over the past 25 years. So if you’re a company that has a software, product, or design you want protected, you can go to https://goldsteinpatentlaw.com/. They have amazing free resources for learning more about the patent process.
You can email their team at [email protected] to explore if it’s a match to work together. Rich Goldstein has also written a book for the American Bar Association that explains in plain English how patents work, which is called ‘The ABA Consumer Guide to Obtaining a Patent.’
Welcome to innovations and breakthroughs with your host Rich Goldstein, talking about the evolutionary, the revolutionary, the inspiration and the perspiration and those aha moments that change everything. And now here’s your host, Rich Goldstein,
Rich Goldstein host of the innovations and breakthroughs podcast, where I feature top leaders in the path they took to create change past guests include Joe Polish, Roland Frasier, and Joe DeSena. This episode is brought to you by my company, Goldstein patent law, where we help you to protect your ideas and products. We’ve advised that obtained patents for thousands of companies of the past 27 years. So if you’re a company that has software, a product or a design, you want protected go to Goldstein patent law.com, where there are amazing free resources for learning about the patent process. Then you could email my team [email protected] to explore if it’s a match to work together. You can also check out the book I wrote for the American bar association that explains in plain English, how patents work it’s called the ABA consumer guide to obtaining a patent. I have with me here today, Howard TSG Howard is the author of the recent wall street journal bestselling book, winning digital customers. The antidote to irrelevance the book is a reflection of what Howard does in his everyday life. He runs a 75 employee digital agency that helps executives at large brands to transform the customer experience so that they will win in today’s digital world. How it speaks for large organizations at major events on numerous podcasts, and he even taught for a number of years at New York university. I’m very pleased to welcome you today, Howard. TSQ welcome.
Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.
Yeah, my pleasure. Um, so, um, I mean, let’s talk a little bit about background and how you got to where you are today. So you, you, your background is in digital marketing. Um, and, uh, of course, um, and you got involved in digital marketing in the early days. So do you want to tell me a little bit about how you got started in this field?
Uh, oh, sure. Happy to, well, gosh, my background depends how far back you want to go. My original background actually was in theater and, uh, I sort of was, uh, my education was a to become a theater director and, uh, it was very passionate about theater and was doing digital design work back in the nineties to date myself here, uh, while I was pursuing my career in the theater. And, uh, then as opportunities to do things like CDROMs and kiosks and other kind of pre-internet interactive, um, experiences became lucrative and creatively. Interesting. I started to do a lot of that type of work and fate over the kind of more kind of traditional theatrical productions I’ve been doing. And I, gosh, you know, I got on that train and just sort of have been riding it ever since, as it became, you know, more and more interesting to do things on the internet and then the capabilities of the internet for animation video in an activity e-commerce social media, you know, and on and on, and, and sort of the last few decades has just been a whirlwind and I’ve been doing that.
Uh, you know, I was fortunate enough to, um, be at, uh, Ernst and young consulting around the time when the internet was sort of becoming commercialized. And so I got to participate in a lot of big companies first forays into creating digital properties and, um, have been, uh, helping support digital transformation. Of course we didn’t have called it that the whole last couple of decades, but really helping companies make the shift to take advantage of digital and increasingly to reinvent their companies around a digital experience, which is really what companies need to do today, at least most do in order to be really successful with today’s digital customer.
Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s, that’s fascinating that journey you’ve been on from the very beginning of it. And I’m curious, um, you know, if, if you could, um, if you could pinpoint or even, um, um, recall noticing the, the, the transformation that took place from the internet being a technical, uh, endeavor. In other words, a place where, um, it was kind of oriented around the technology, um, and it was oriented around just kind of what was available. People being able to click on links to bring them to a different property or search for things. And it was very much oriented around technology. And at some certain point that began the shift toward the customer began the shift toward the customer experience, um, because it clearly wasn’t like that. If you look at webpages going back into the nineties, there was very little attention given to the customer experience. So I’m just wondering if there are particular point in time where you notice the beginning of that type of transition, where people kind of woke up to the fact that it wasn’t just technical people that were on the internet. It was everyday people and, and perhaps, um, there needed to be a different approach to reach them.
Hmm. Yeah, I think that, uh, you know, over the, over the years, what happened among other things was the internet went from being a, sort of an academic and a government project to something that was commercialized. And so once you start to commercialize something and it stops being just kind of a, a curiosity or someone’s hobby, but something that a business is relying on, all of a sudden people start to ask questions about, well, you know, are we getting the maximum revenue that we could from this channel? Are we, are we succeeding in achieving our business goals or is anything holding us back? And, uh, the principles of, of product design that came out of non-digital products, you know, the concepts of things like design thinking that said you, how do you really create a fantastic, no telephone or, or mouse computer mouse, or, you know, any object, a pencil sharpener, um, there’s a whole heritage of that.
And what happened was people started applying those same types of the thinking, the same types of questions, companies like frog design and IDEO. And of course, apple working with some of those companies really inspired people. I think to realize that that the technology world could massively benefit from the thinking of what you could generally call the world of design. And of course I was already working in that intersection because I was someone with sort of a design and creative background, but working in a space, obviously with technology being a key, kind of a part of the paint that you create something with. So, um, I think then what happened was that, uh, some people were able to demonstrate and certainly apple, you didn’t have to give them credit as being a, uh, a thought leader and an inspiration to show that if you create technology, do you have an experiences that are easy to use that are a pleasure to use?
You will get more business than I think a lot of businesses said, well, we want some of that and started applying some of these same design practices to say, how can we, how can we make a better shopping experience, definitely make a better banking experience, although many didn’t, you know, you, you see many companies that have were laggards for a long time. So it’s certainly not something that caught on like wildfire. It was surprisingly slow for companies to catch on. And it was really, really important to focus on customer experience. And even to this day, a big part of the education mission that I have in my life is to help executives at companies who think they’re being bottom line oriented and who they’re for are a little bit skeptical of investments in quote unquote customer experience. Because after all, you know, is that really going to have ROI, just give the customer a better experience. And of course the answer is most of the time. Yes. And there’s plenty of data and studies and research has shown that and ways of approaching it to apply money to customer experience, to deliver better results. But there’s still a lot of skepticism about it amazingly. So we’re not a hundred percent there in terms of everyone being persuaded.
Yeah. Got it. Um, and, uh, in terms of creating that customer experience though, and in terms of, uh, you were saying some of those, those companies did not succeed, but some of them did kind of crack the code and figure something out that helped them be successful. So, um, and I know this, this really relates to the whole field and, and, and your whole body of work of, of how you do this. But I guess just how do we even approach the subject of like, what is it that makes a brand succeed online? Like what they figured out?
Well, we’ve, we’ve tried to study that because of course it’s our job. We get brought in to brands to make them succeed. And so we’ve been asking ourselves that question for decades and not just asking it like, uh, Hmm. What could it be? But asking, uh, the underlying question was, is, you know, if we’re not sure, how can we find out how can we study and analyze and reverse engineer and look for trends and say, well, what is it the clearly there’s we live in a digital world of endless experimentation. So if we pay attention, we have the opportunity to look at what everybody’s doing and say, Hmm, as you said, some things have been successful. Some things have not been successful. What are the patterns? And, uh, of course, there’s much one could say about it, but if I were to give you like a concise answer, I would say, I think there’s three main things that the companies that are really successful at digital are doing, uh, the first is that they focus on what a co a client of mine termed hyper convenience.
And I’ve been using that term ever since, because I think it’s well articulated this idea that if you, the easier you can make the experience, the less, the less time it takes the less mental effort that it takes, the less, the easier it is to learn that is a major factor in getting someone to like, use your experience, be willing to be less price sensitive, come back more often, all these types of things. And, um, you know, Uber was so simple that when we got Uber, we didn’t have to think about how to use it. It’s just so obvious and easy to use. And of course, that goes back to that same design heritage that says, how do I make something that’s super easy to use? So I think that’s, that’s one of the three things just absolutely. And you know, now you see it, it’s like, I forget it, was it PT, Barnum, or somebody had that quote, you know, no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence public.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I think the new one is instead of the intelligence, it’s the laziness, right? It’s like no one ever got, went broke, overestimating the laziness of the American public. And I just said, I don’t mean that in a critical way, but I mean, if you, every bit of effort you can take out is heading you in the right direction. And this is why Netflix, when an episode of stranger things ends, it goes, okay, I’m starting the next one in five, four, three, you know, cause you shouldn’t have to go through all the trouble of finding where you put the remote. I mean, it could be on the table or it could be on the sofa. Then you got to pick which button to push it’s way too much work. You know, they’re just going to move it forward. And of course we see that in so many products.
So I think that’s the first thing. And then the second thing is proactive personalization, the opportunity to take what we know about about the customer and use it to create a better experience. And that’s everything from your Amazon recommendations to your Netflix recommendations, to just something as simple as a knowing all of your credit cards, knowing your preferences, having all of your savings. Yeah. Dresses, um, you know, I think that, that, that is the second key thing, you know, at Domino’s, you know, if you want to order a pizza, you can just text them the pizza emoji and they’ll just pull up whatever your last order was, whatever last address you had, it sent to whatever credit, a card you used last time. And just confirm you want that again. Right? So that’s bringing together both hyper convenience and the idea of, of proactive personalization. You know, I mean, I grew up in the eighties and I remember every Thursday night we’d watch cheers and they’d sing that song. Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. Right? Well, these days we want to go where everyone knows our name, our shoe size or credit card are dressed. You know, what, what we bought last week, where we might want this password as well. Right. Who wants to have to remember a
Password, all the fields auto-populated right. That’s kind of, everybody knows your name. Everybody has all of your info so you can just click.
Yes, absolutely. And well, of course there are privacy considerations. The more fundamental drive that people seem to have is I just want to deal with somebody who knows and gets me well enough that I don’t have to do much work. So that area of practice personalization is the second key one. And the third is just a massive value shift. Look at everything. Google gives you for free look at how you can go to Spotify and, and play just about any song you’ve ever wanted. What does it cost like $11 and 99 cents a month or something like that, what you used to pay for one album. So just the fundamental idea. Dropbox lets you store terabytes of information for what are they charged, you know, 12 bucks a month. So just this idea that, that things are either free or such a good deal. And uh, you know, Uber, for example, is half the price of a taxi cab or car service in many areas, not everywhere. I Amazon’s often the lowest cost, you know? So this, this opportunity to get more for less, with less effort and energy in a way that’s more personalized to you. I think you could look across any successful brand digital or not, but that’s succeeding in today’s digital world and these, there may be something else, but these are the three major themes.
Yeah, no, absolutely. I think that’s, that’s amazing. I’ve never heard those three, um, that set of three distinctions before, uh, in terms of, of the, the things that make digital brands successful. Um, now what about like, um, digital? Like what about brands that have been around for a very long time? Like, um, famous brands that go back decades, even centuries? Um, well how do they make the transition to um, um, to the digital world?
Yeah, well that is pretty much the topic of my book actually, uh, you know, uh, the antidote to irrelevance, right? Because the risk is that they don’t, and of course we’ve seen many brands that have failed and whether that’s sports authority or toys R us, or, you know, you can make a long list of brands that have, and that’s been going on for a while. It’s not new. I mean, we have seen of course with, COVID a number of new failures of brands, but like look back to companies like Kodak, Western union. I mean, we have so many great brands that have not been able to make the transition to be relevant in a digital world. Um, so you asked how well, you know, I, well, I actually that having said that fairly depressing statement that I just made I’ll, I’ll, I’ll say the other side of the coin, which is that the first is to know that it absolutely can be done.
I sometimes feel that some people executives and I get to be in a lot of behind the closed door meetings, you know what people say when they’re not speaking publicly about how they feel. And I, it’s not uncommon for me to hear people at big companies thinking about, I want to be out of here in a year anyway. I mean, this company is never going to be able to compete, you know, but let’s just do the best we can in the short term, because I have no idea how, how are we going to make it in the long run? And that can be very senior people at some big companies, obviously I won’t name which, um, so there can be a kind of a sense of discouragement that, you know, the Googles and the Facebooks and the Amazons and the Uber’s and the Airbnb’s, they’re going to sort of take over the world. But if you look at what’s happening and, and that would have been a more supportable argument five years ago, and certainly 10 years ago, when it seemed like all the digital riches are being grabbed by the companies that were the new pure play digital born companies, but that’s not true today. And if you look
At comp, right?
Yes, but obviously in web van, obviously it was unsuccessful. But, but, but you know, you could certainly highlight many companies. I mean, the amount of we did a report once there’s a number of years ago, looking at media companies and the value, and this was years ago at that time of four or five big digital media companies like Google and Facebook was so much more than if you could pick like the top footie media companies that have been around, you know, whether that’s, you know, universal studios and paramount and NBC, you know, you could add them all together. And they weren’t nearly the value of these companies that have been around less than 10 years. And it’s easy to get a little demoralized by that. But if you look at many of the companies, I mean the number two most successful e-commerce retailer in the United States is Walmart.
Number four is Costco. So yeah, Amazon’s number one. But the absolutely, you know, a federal express is killing it. The New York times subscriptions have never been higher. Um, you know, so, so, uh, Starbucks is doing amazing things in terms of appealing to today’s digital customer. And one could go on and on. And there’s no question that these are the exceptions today rather than the rule. And there are many great legacy brands, like you mentioned that are still struggling to make the transition. But I think the first thing they need to do is recognize that there’s no excuse to say, oh, well, we’re not a digitally first company. We’re not Facebook, we’re not Amazon. We’re never going to be able to make this work. And I think you need to have the mindset of the scale of the transformation. That’s probably necessary. You know, Netflix, sometimes I hear people say, well, those companies that are successful, those are all just technology companies. That’s all, they’re all tech companies, Netflix and Uber. They’re not, they’re not tech companies. Oracle is a tech company. I grant you that, right. They make software, right. Apple is a tech company. Of course now they’re increasingly also becoming a media company, but Netflix is a media company, right. Is a transportation company. So again,
Netflix was a mail order company. They made their, their business through just a large scale, like, um, being able to mail DVDs, um, you know, at scale that’s really what the business was built on, not even the technology,
Right? So sometimes we think they’re all tech companies because they’re so tech centric, but they’re really in another industry. And that means we need to think about every company that, you know, that’s what it looks like when a media company is digitally transformed. Um, and that’s the scale of change and the scale of transformation that some companies need. And then sometimes people look at that scale and they go to get from here to there. Ah, how would I get there? Right? No one’s career is on how we make that transformation, but it absolutely can be done. And then my book, which I won’t try to go into all the details here, but it’s a five-step process for how can a company go through the five major steps that I outlined through the book of taking large brands? In my experience, I I’m being told that people are applying the principles of my book for a lot of small, medium sized businesses, which I love to hear, but my experience and the thing that I focus on in my career and what I wrote my book with in mind are big companies and how big companies track, because that’s what I know.
And, uh, uh, so this is a five step process for any significantly sized brand or company to make the journey from where they are to where they need to be.
Yeah, well, that’s, that’s great. And, and, um, so in terms of the book, like what was that project like how long of a, how long of a project, how long you’ve been working on it, kinda. Um, and how did it come together and, and how did you organize it? Tell me a little bit about insight into that, because I think a good part of my audience is very interested in how you take something from in here and you bring it out into the world, which is what you do professionally, um, is you help people to take concepts and turn them into real life action. But the book itself that creative venture, I’m, I’m very curious about, tell me,
Yeah, well, I’ll start by saying, um, when I write another book, I will follow a very different process that I found in writing this book. I definitely learned a lot. This is actually my second book, but, um, the, the first, the first book I came out with was a much smaller, less ambitious book. Um, and I’m not really sure how to say hello when I started it, because what I really did was for years, I’ve been writing articles and videos and other things on discrete topics related to, um, digital transformation, ideation, design thinking, user experience, many of these types of topics. So I have hundreds and hundreds of articles out there. And so at a certain point, when I decided I wanted to do a book, I had this idea, I think somebody had convinced me. They said, Howard, just take all these articles. You’ve written, you’ve got a book here. All you have to do is kind of curate them and organize them. Right. And you have a book. And so I said, okay, great. And actually
I have to do is yeah. Yeah. Well, easy
For the person. Who’s not going to do it to say, right. So I actually had one of the, uh, a guy, uh, somebody works on my team, Connor who was really great. And I said, here, you’re going to help me with this project. Cause I don’t, my time is constrained. And I said, we’re going to take all these articles that we’re gonna figure out. Anyway, we took all these articles and we tried to sort of shape them into a book. And it wasn’t super successful in terms like being a cohesive book. You know, it was a whole bunch of articles, all put in one big Microsoft word file. And then I’m like, okay, can we just sort of figure out how to like bring the, and you know, in one article, I would say these five things and in the next article, I’d say six other things.
And two of the things were the same things I’d said in the priority call, but some of them were different. Anyway, bottom line is at a certain point, we had this thing that had a lot of great content, but it didn’t have great structure and it wasn’t really readable end to end. And it wasn’t really a cogent single thing. And I heard, oh, the way you want it to. Yeah. So I’m like, Ugh, this isn’t really like quite where I was trying to go. Like, who was it again that told me I could just take all my articles and put them into a book. Um, and I, I, to be perfectly blunt, it probably depends how good a book you want and what kind of, what you want the book to do. Of course, if you can, you can put a cover on something and say here’s 25 articles, you know, and just call it a book.
But I wanted something that people could use as a real guidebook to being able to drive transformation. And I realized at that point that I had all the answers were there, but the structure was not there just by putting articles together. So I actually hired an outside development editor instead of someone from my team, but I said, you’re going to help me. I hired somebody who had edited tons and tons of books. And I said, take a look at this thing we’ve got, which by the way was like 600 pages. Right. And I’m like, it’s too long. It’s hard to read anyway. So she was super helpful, Maryland Friedman was her name. And, uh, she, um, helped us take all of that content and figure out what was the framework that was behind all of it. And then to be honest, I just really wound up rewriting the whole thing from scratch.
I used all that stuff more like for reference, and I’m sure there’s places where there’s a paragraph from an article here or there, but in reality, it didn’t really work to try to turn all these articles other than just in terms of the ideas that were in the articles, which certainly many of which wound up in the book, but the actual, what was written largely not. And so, and that’s why I say I, I wasted a lot of time. I would do it. It would have been easier to just start from scratch than to try to start from all my whole articles to be Frank. Um, and, uh, so anyway, the whole project was probably a couple of years and if I had done it in a more, um, well, a different way, I probably could have done it in six months or nine months instead of two years. But that’s, that’s the, that’s the version of the story anyway.
Thanks for sharing that. And, uh, and so the, the title of the book, um, you know, winning digital customers, that’s actually branding that you carry out through a lot of other mediums where you, um, where you book to educate people about how to do this, um, how to, um, how to do this type of branding transformation. So you also have a live cast on LinkedIn by the name winning digital customers. And you also have a podcast winning digital customers. Correct? That’s all true. Yes. Yeah. And, um, and so, so that’s been core, I guess that’s core branding for you that, um, in terms of now your brand than just zooming out and looking at your brand, um, that helps people have a consistent experience with the type of info that you provide.
Yeah, I hope so. That’s the goal to make it easy for people to recognize this is all coming from the kind of the same, the same voice, the same message. And, and, and, you know, I always like brands and this is what I try to do with that brand that just put it out there. What are they actually delivering to? You know, I know people, people only are interested in the things I talk about, like digital transformation. Like you notice the word digital transformation, or even the title of my book. At one point they were like with many books, you went through many different titles, but in the end I feel like people care less about how well, first, first, first people really have to get engaged with what what’s, the result you’re offering them. And only once they get excited that you have a result that they want, then they want to know, okay, well, what’s the, how, how do I get the result?
And of course the answer is digital transformation, design thinking, agile. I mean, there’s a lot of practices. We talked about the book. Um, so, uh, anyway, so we wound up just branding it. What is it people really want? And what is it that they don’t want? I always feel like as a marketer, which is part of what I do is marketing. Um, I feel like, and so I tried it in as few words as possible, you know, cause obviously the title of a book can only be so long. Can you give people what I think they want to win? And when digital with today’s digital customers and remind them of what they don’t want and the risk, which is, you know, what’s the antidote to irrelevance. So I hope that that word irrelevance, I don’t want, I don’t ever want to get people down. I’m a positive person, but I do really think that companies have a real risk. We see it around us all the time that the field is littered with bodies. So let’s not kid ourselves, you know, it’s, it’s a, it’s put up or shut up time for big companies in terms of demonstrating that they can really be elegant in a digital world.
Yeah, absolutely. And, and I guess the, the interesting thing about that choice of words irrelevance too, is it’s like, um, what you want is people to love your brand, but if they don’t love your brand, they don’t hate your brand. You’re just irrelevant.
Yeah. I think that, um, we, you know, in the book we talk about that idea of love and how that’s probably the most valuable business asset there is, is when people really love your brand. And of course we all know brands, we all have brands in our lives that we love. And as you say, you know, we have many brands that we do business with, but we don’t love because you know, you got to get gas somewhere. Maybe don’t love your gas station, but the problem is then it’s a race to compete on price or location or, you know, and, and it’s so easy for someone to take your customer. But when you have a customer that was really emotionally connected to your brand, then you have an asset that transcends some new competitive, shiny object, somebody sale price, all those kinds of things.
Great. That’s amazing, amazing advice. And, uh, people want to learn more about you or get in touch with you. How do they go about doing so?
Yeah, well, uh, I would love them to go to winning digital customers.com, winning digital customers.com all one word, obviously. And, uh, there, you can actually download the first chapter of my book for free if you like, and you can, of course find my podcast wherever you get your podcasts on apple, Spotify, et cetera, et cetera. Yes, exactly. And the is on LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube. So again, if you search for my name Howard Tiersky or winning digital customers, you should find it. We do live casts on Mondays and Wednesdays, and we drop one new podcast every week where I’m interviewing a leader in the world of digital transformation.
Fantastic. So the book again is winning digital customers. The antidotes are irrelevance, um, Howard Tiersky I really appreciate you being here. This was a fantastic conversation. So thanks so much. I will thank you so much for having me.
Thanks for listening to innovations and breakthroughs with your host, rich Goldstein. Be sure to click, subscribe, check us out on the [email protected] and we’ll see you next time.