Mat Sweezey on Context and B2B Marketing


Brainrider is shaking up B2B marketing conversations and serving it with a twist. This is B2B Marketers in Conversation Drinking Cocktails. Scott Armstrong sits down with B2B marketing veteran Mat Sweezey to discuss his newest book and how context is impacting marketing today. Plus, your new favorite cocktail is here: introducing the classic Mat-hattan.

Watch episode one below.  

B2B Marketers in Conversation Drinking Cocktails
Episode 1 – Mat Sweezey 

Purchase your copy of Mat Sweezey’s Context Marketing Revolution at any of your preferred local retailers.

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Speaker 1 (SCOTT) (00:00):


Since the 1990s, email marketing has seen a lot of changes. It’s become an important part of modern marketing strategy, and when used correctly, is a great way to nurture and engage with prospects. Now in the changing digital landscape, the way marketers interact with their audience is evolving. With personalization and permission going head to head, the success of your email marketing relies heavily on context and customer experience.

That’s why I’m sitting down with Mat Sweezey, Director of Market Strategy at Salesforce and award-winning podcast host of the Electronic Propaganda Society podcast. He’s regarded as one of the top minds in the future of B2B Marketing and, most recently, has added author of “The Context Marketing Revolution” to his long list of accomplishments. In celebration of Mat, we’ll be drinking Mat-hattans. Just like this drink, Mat is strong, sophisticated, well-traveled, and has an old soul. This is B2B Marketers in Conversation Drinking Cocktails

Hey Mat, great to have you here. Sup, man. Well, let's get to the real reason—cheers! Oh, that is one strong old soul drink. Love it. Fantastic. A quick shout out to Marlene from Famous Last Words, a bar just down the street for helping us make this delicious Mat-hattan. And if you'd like to join us for a Mat-hattan, feel free to make this cocktail that we're enjoying by taking a look at the ingredients on your screen. So what have you been up to considering the world has gone crazy?


Speaker 2 (MAT) (01:37):

Man, it's been all over the place as it has for everybody.


Speaker 1 (SCOTT) (01:42):

I've been busy actually taking the time to read through your book. What's the reception been like?


Speaker 2 (MAT) (01:47):

Oh man, it's been great. You know, it's funny, I didn't plan on launching a book in the middle of a global pandemic, but hey, that happened. Um, as I'm sure a lot of things happen for all of us. Um, so you know, the reception has been pretty good. Um, you know, it did an Amazon best seller list for a short while and you know, some subcategories. That was kind of cool. Um, and then a lot of people are really just reaching out and saying they're really enjoying it and it's really helping them kind of see where they really want to go and kind of a new idea for their future.


Speaker 1 (SCOTT) (02:16):

You know, a quick toast to you. That's one of--you built your career around really having ideas and helping marketers and so to do it in the midst of a pandemic is an amazing thing, to do it with a great read is an amazing thing. But I really do think it's part of your old soul that you do that. So quick, a quick toast to that. Uh, in your book you talk a lot about how context plays a big role in the future of marketing. What's inspired you to talk about context in that way?


Speaker 2 (MAT) (02:41):

Kind of the inspiration for the book and kind of that really comes out of a lot of the research that I've done for the past-- I mean, that was five years of research in total for that book. And I really started to ask what--the whole book kind of started with one question, which was: how much is it going to cost to break through the noise in the future? And to answer that, we had to start first off saying, yes, well how much noise is there? So we can start to quantify what does it take to break through now and what will it be and what will it take in the future? Uh, so when I started to do that, I started to realize that something actually big was actually happening. And that's where I started to realize we actually entered a new media era.


Speaker 2 (MAT) (03:16):

Now, just, I'm a super big media nerd and that's kinda what, uh, there's big--that Marshall McLuhan, um, you know, if you're Canadian, he's known as Canada's greatest thinker. I'm a big McLuhan fan. Um, so I actually got to work with his son and grandson on some of the theories of the book. But that's really what kind of inspired it--was just that one simple question of what will it take in the future to break through? And what I realized was we're in a different environment, hence we have to play a different game. Um, and then when I kind of started to dig and follow all that research down, what I really found out was context is really the key to the, to the modern media environment.


Speaker 1 (SCOTT) (3:50):

Yeah, it totally makes sense. And a lot of those themes are resonating. It, you talk about the five elements in context and how they play a role in better customer experience. Can you elaborate a bit on that too?


Speaker 2 (MAT) (04:02):

Yeah. So you know, one of the big premises of this book, and really what I'm talking about is a radical transformation, right. We’re talking about digital transformation of a business. This is marketing's transformation that goes along with that. This is how we reimagine marketing for a modern era. Um, and so with that, it's very much based on experience, right? Experience is one of the key fundamental aspects that, and I say, what if we were transforming what must transform? Well, one of the key things is the concept that we must give up that marketing's role is to create messages and transition them into the owners and sustainers of all experiences. And so then that brings up a question, well then what is a good experience? And I break it down into those five elements: available, permission, personal, authentic, and purposeful.


Speaker 2 (MAT) (04:48):

So if any element that, or any experience that focuses on those five elements or combines as many of those five as possible is going to be the most contextual to the moment and have the greatest likelihood of breaking through. Um, and with that, there's lots of examples, right? One of those is personal. And let's just talk about this one really quick. We're all very familiar with personalization. Um, however, I'm not talking about personalization, right? There's a difference between personalization and personal delivery, right? So one of the highest values of this modern media environment is human to human connection, right? The fact that you and I can be talking to each other on a screen, um, with like in real time HD, this is radically insane. This just didn't exist a few years ago. Um, so, you know, it's a very different world. So in this new world, the highest value is not publication of content. It's the connection between two people. Um, so it's human to human, right? So that's one of the aspects of, you know, if we can not think about experiences is how do we make it the most personalized experience. It's how do we personally engage that person? How do we connect two humans together to create a personal experience in different way.


Speaker 1 (SCOTT) (05:54):

That's a, that's a great insight. Talking about how personal connection is part of overall business digital transformation. Really makes you think hard about the, the, the, the simplistic analysis of digital company transformation and really turned it into sort of more, a more tangible way to do it. I love it. Talk to me about the personal and then permission. How do they coexist?


Speaker 2 (MAT) (06:17):

Yeah, so personal and permission. So first off, permission is, easier to start with because anytime we have someone's permission to talk with them, it's much easier to talk with them, right? They're already willing to have that conversation. So permission also gets only becomes more important as we move forward for two factors. One is the individual owns most of the channels that we need to communicate with them, right? We have to have permission for direct communication and direct communication is very powerful. Um, so permission is a primary number one for direct. Second is that that permission opens you up to first party data and you need that first party data specifically. Now it can, it's going to be even more critical moving forward as Google kills off third party cookies. Well, the entire internet is killing off the third party cookie, right? So first party data, it's the only way to get that is by a permission.


Speaker 2 (MAT) (07:03):

Um, so we need to think about permission from that. And then once you have that data, you can then be more personal because now you have the data to know how to connect and who to connect in real time. Um, and so that data is not just used to say, how do I mass personalize this thing, but how do I create a custom experience that's getting context to this person at this moment? Um, may that be connecting a specific person inside your organization and prompting them to have a very specific conversation, uh, in a very specific moment. And that is context in a very personal way. Um, that is very different than personalization of the past.


Speaker 1 (SCOTT) (07:38):

Yeah, that makes--it makes a ton of sense. There's a third concept that I want to loop into this part of the conversation where you talked about, uh, the personal as opposed to just personalization. You talked about permission. Can you expand a bit on the infinite media environment that you also talk about?


Speaker 2 (MAT) (07:56):

Yeah. So essentially when I started doing all that research of looking at noise, that's really when I came upon this idea of the infinite media era versus the limited media era. And it's, this is extremely critical. It's extremely nerdy and super media heavy. And most people are like, yeah, we intrinsically, we knew that already. And I'm like, yeah, we all knew there was a lot of noise. We all knew consumers created a lot of content. We didn't know that the consumer was the largest creator of content in the world and starting has been since 2009 so all the noise that we're breaking through is primarily consumer generated noise, but most fascinating is the number two is not brands. It's the individual's personal devices and those fees that they get from those personal devices and what that can do and how it motivates them in radically different ways is what's so fascinating to me.


Speaker 2 (MAT) (08:46):

And just think about this one example, right? If we're to think about traditional marketing, we're going to say, all right, take any medium, and the goal of that is we're going to put something on that medium to get some type of action out of an individual, right? We want some type of action to happen. Now I want you to think about how any example you can pick any advertising campaign to drive motivation now I want you to think differently about media and motivation in terms of a Fitbit. A Fitbit is a personalized device that has a personalized media feed, that is creating media just for one person and the ultimate context of their day. And it can send them a notification to make them walk 500 more steps. There is no way traditional creative efforts could ever get somebody to walk 500 more steps, but that one hyper personal piece of media can motivate a consumer in a way.


Speaker 2 (MAT) (09:36):

No other format of media has ever been able to do that. Right? Let's think about that, right? How do we then leverage personalized media in a different way? Um, and that's really kind of what this infinite media era means. And what it really means is from a large scale, we no longer have control. Brands no longer have control, right? The, the media environment now operates for the individual, right? And so that's when we start to get into the word context. Because what happens when you have infinite media is there's too much media for an individual to sort through it. So now artificial intelligence is employed and all consumers are now AI, what I call post AI consumers. Because every digital thing that they touch is an artificial intelligence thing that's curating that experience just for the context of them in that moment. Um, and that's really why context is then--becomes the foundation of the modern media environment.


Speaker 1 (SCOTT) (10:28):

Yeah, I love it. You know, when I was reading your book, it also made me think--beyond the big themes, what was I doing June 24th, 2009? And the best answer that I could give you is I was likely on my device. Hopefully I was drinking a Mat-hatten cause I love to do that with you, but I was also probably on my device and I've been on my device ever since. So you get it. I love those themes. Let's make them a little more practical. So, so where does email marketing fit that media landscape?


Speaker 2 (MAT) (10:57):

Yeah, so that's an interesting question. Um, it's a direct methodology, right? And so when I think about these things, I don't necessarily think about a specific medium, um, and say, how does that play? I'd rather think about these things from a larger macro standpoint. But the interesting aspect is email is extremely important in a person's life, right? It's, it's available, it's accessible, it's free, there's no barriers to using it, and it's a very powerful piece, right? Um, and you can probably look at, you know, how much time do we spend with it? It's a lot of time. Um, just the basic concepts are, it's a medium, but what makes the best use of that medium is when we think about it in a contextual format. So some, some easy things to think about, right? So here's a question. Um, from a consumer behavior standpoint, look at yourself and look at how you engage on a daily basis. Let's ask this question. How do you engage with email? Do you do A or do you do B? Do you a open up your email inbox in the morning, open the first email,


Speaker 2 (MAT) (11:54):

start to read the contents to decide if this is actually something you want to read, and then continue to decide what you want to do with it after that. Go to the next, continue that same process, open the email to decide what you want to do with it, or do you do B? You scan all the subject lines, delete the crap and work on the rest? Right. Yeah. Your laughter is the same for everyone. We all do B and this is the interesting thing, is, one, who taught you how to do that? The answer is nobody. That's a learned behavior that would be called heuristics of the environment. And then two is you only--the fascinating part here is you're making that determination on less than a hundred characters of data. You're doing it in a fraction of a second and there's no remorse in it.


Speaker 2 (MAT) (12:35):

You don't delete an email and say, damn, I wish I didn't do that. Right? Right? So how are we so good at doing that? And the answer is marketers are so poor at writing emails and they think about email marketing from a mass methodology, right? How do I create one subject line to convert as many people as possible via this experience, right? That's mass personalization. Rather than saying, what if we flip this conversation and said, well, what emails do get opened? Well, who is the best email marketer at your organization? And it's any email that comes from a personal email account. Now, if we start to look at how those emails are written and how those subject lines are written and how that actually, the format of those emails is crafted, it's radically different. Now let's go to the next question on this. This thread, right?


Speaker 2 (MAT) (13:19):

Which is the question of, have you ever created a fully formatted CSS email to send to a single person, right? Answer is no. That's not how two humans communicate. We simply go into a rich text editor, fire it up and fire it away. Right? So what I'm trying to say here is it's a powerful medium, but we need to rethink what works on it and what works on it is extremely authentic and contextual engagements between two humans, right? So the more that we can do that with that medium, the more successful we will be with that medium. 


Speaker 1 (SCOTT) (13:52):

Yeah, that's, there's tons of power. I know you think of the macro, I love how you think if the macro, but really that has a lot of tactical implications on what we're doing. You know, think through the personal, think through the context, and then think through, you know, how do you deliver it in a way that's going to work against your objectives? Yeah, I love it. It's context can completely be applied to that tactic and really thinking through all of the different channels our clients are using. And that same principle really applies to what you're doing. Brilliant. Um, in your book, you're talking about how customers are defining their own experience and how this creates a barrier for B2B marketers. How does that affect your, your channel selection and your channel execution? For example, B2B emails?


Speaker 2 (MAT) (14:38):

Even if an individual is crafting their own experience, that means they're going where they want to go. And if we're not there, then we're, we're out, right? And, and I think there's, there's a couple--so let's say this all the way up and then all the way back down, right? So all the way up, there's the conversation of we need to have PR, we need to have brand, we need to have these big, big, big things that encompass like you know, all these things. And then that usually focuses on a conversation in a marketplace that's not happening when the person's actually making the decision, right? They're usually separate. So you know, this is where old marketing logic falls apart, right? Old marketing logic such as to be top of mind. Yes, top of mind has some validity, like there is some piece to it. But what we must realize is that consumers don't rely on their mind like they used to. Right?


Speaker 2 (MAT) (15:25):

Simple, just simple fact, right? This has replaced my--my actual memory is now here, right?

Speaker 1 (SCOTT):
It is for me!

Speaker 2 (MAT): 

I mean, I don't know anyone's phone number, there's no reason to, right? We offload, that's just what humans do. So then if we're no longer top of mind, how do we make decisions? Well, I use the power of this again to ask a question when I need to unlock that information. Right? And if the answer that I get there is not you, it doesn't matter what top of mind, it's where, it's you know, share of journey. It's where are you in those things and, and the, the key piece is when I asked for that information and you answer that question in that moment, you have ultimate power and to guide where I go next. And that's then what we need to think about in terms of how we drive demand.


Speaker 2 (MAT) (16:11):

Now if we want to put this and then add email into this and say, all right, well we know where people are in the journey and we know where we need to get them, so we can then help get them there with an email, right? That is if we have permission and we've already built that permission and made that connection with them earlier in there. And then you can take that one step further and you can even say, well then how does that email get sent? Right? Like, we can rethink automation in ways of, rather than me automating it, prebuilt email, maybe there's a person that we need to connect who reaches out to them at this right moment. Right. So maybe it's now BDRs are the ones, this is totally just random big thinking, but like what if that's an interesting use case of rather than this is a prebuilt email, we know it needs to be send it this time, we know who the best person is to have this conversation. Let them have it. Um, so, you know, there's some interesting ways that we can think about that.


Speaker 1 (SCOTT) (17:00):

Yeah. Yeah, totally. Totally, totally. I'm just riffing off of that in terms of all sorts of different ways you can practically apply that thinking to what we're doing with campaigns and messaging and conversion. Okay. So, so last last thought really is what's that, what's some practical advice, um, from reading your book that marketers could take and use within the next six months?


Speaker 2  (MAT)(17:22):

Sure. Um, there's a lot of things and I think if, if you could take anything away from my book, right? There's a couple of basic things that I would love for you to take away. One is the concept of with, not on. Right? Marketers, we need to rethink how we approach marketplaces and how we approach our roles. We need to work with our audience and work with our marketplace to co-create these things rather than sitting back and saying, how creative can I be? And then forcing that creative thing onto the marketplace, what we find is always, it's better when we work with our marketplace rather than on our marketplace. And you can do that starting right now. Right? So here's the second one. It's review your work. And this is something that I've been on marketers for a long time and it's just, and I'll ask you a simple question I've asked this question to marketers all over the world and here's the simple question: When was the last time you picked up the telephone and called somebody who is engaged with your content or engaged with a specific experience to ask if it met their expectations and how you can make it better for the next person. Right? Less than 1% of marketers around the world have ever done that once. Right? Now we need to think about this. We would fire any product manager who doesn't follow up with customers who engage with their product to figure out how to make that product better. We must realize experiences are products and must be treated in the same way, right? So just simply put in review processes because here's the data, right? I ran the numbers. 71% of people have been disappointed with content they've engaged with. To the extent that 25% of them will never engage with your brand ever again. 

So yes, you may have a download, but that does not tell you: Did it meet their expectations? Did they find it a positive experience? It just told you they downloaded it. Right? Start of the experience. We don't know how that experience finished and we won't know until you reach out and ask them. And the reality of basic math is you only need to ask about six people and you know, a pretty solid, is this a good or a bad? Um, and so we just need to make sure that it's a part of our process. So I think those two things are really solid, easy tactical ways to kind of, you know, pulls from that book and move forward.


Speaker 1 (SCOTT) (19:30):

Well, it's a, it's an amazing read. It's an amazing conversation, uh, wish we were hanging out in person, but I'm glad that we're able to have virtual drinks. Uh, there's the book for those people who are watching. Uh, I couldn't go to a bookstore, so I've got a Kindle version of it. A big thanks to you, Matt, for joining us today. Uh, sharing a, a Mat-hattan with me makes me happy. A big thanks to Marlene from Famous Last Words nearby, uh, for mixing up and suggesting our Mat-hattans. And a big thanks to you, our audience for joining us for this episode of B2B Marketers in Conversation Drinking Cocktails. If you have any other burning questions about the future of email marketing or optimizing your customer experience, reach out to us at or get in touch with us on any of our social channels with the hashtag B2BMarketersDrinking. 


Speaker 1 (SCOTT):

Okay. So if he goes that way and I go this way, does that work or is that the same way?


Speaker 1 (SCOTT) (20:30):

I feel like that’s...


Speaker 2 (MAT): 

I'm going left. 


Speaker 1 (SCOTT): 

There you go. I’ll go this way.


Speaker 1 (SCOTT) and 2 (MAT):