Q&A with Ross Quintana: What DJ Championships Taught Me About Personalized Customer Experiences
Marketing has a rhythm, a cadence. If done right, each tactic hits the notes needed to evoke emotion and inspire action in the audience. But if your timing is off, or your messages don’t resonate, people will opt out of your next show.
If anyone is plugged into the marketing beat, it’s Ross Quintana, CEO of Social Magnets. Why? Well, Ross is a three-time Champion Battle DJ with mad skills in marketing, social media, and beat juggling. We recently chatted with Ross about marketing trends and how to lay down the right beats for your audience.
The Marketing Beat: Q&A with Ross Quintana
Arm Treasure Data: You’re a man of many titles, but I have to ask about a couple: You were a sponsored snowboarder and a Battle DJ? How did those come to pass?
Ross: I was a street skater in high school. My friend invited me snowboarding one time, and I was hooked. The sport was young, and snowboarders weren’t even allowed on all of the mountains yet.
I was sponsored for snowboarding out of high school—back in ‘93. I had a custom board I designed and rode it in a few competitions before injuring myself on a big air jump in a competition.
Battle DJing came from my love for music. I was a battle MC and a freestyle battle dancer, winning various competitions. After that, I started scratching and beat juggling. It all revolved around the underground hip-hop scene of the early 90s. I entered a Guitar Center competition in Seattle that was just getting started. I moved to Spokane and entered the next year, ended up winning three years in a row.
Arm Treasure Data: How did these two roles prepare you for your marketing career?
Ross: Snowboarding, like skating, taught me how to master the unknown. We didn’t have YouTube back then. You had to practice, test things, and be relentless in your pursuit. With snowboarding, we were riding switch stance (backwards) doing tricks that weren’t ever done before. It was a time of innovation, not copying.
Marketing is going through the same thing right now.
Technology is changing the landscape so fast that you have to be willing to try things nobody has done before. What worked before is likely not a safe bet. Organizations are failing because they want to either copy or keep doing what they have always done. It is the originals and innovators who have a huge advantage now and in the future.
DJing taught me how to find new combinations. If you imagine a sound and an on-off switch—play with that for hours, months, and try and come up with countless variations and combinations. It requires methodical, creative patience.
Beat juggling is even harder than scratching: You have two records to keep track of in your mind and must remix parts of a beat in perfection to create something new. This is like managing customer experiences. You have so many touchpoints on the journey. Brands have a hard time keeping up with all the variables to create seamless, personalized end-to-end experiences in real-time.
The final piece is pattern recognition. Beat juggling is about recognizing patterns that move people and create emotion. This directly applies to content marketing and branding. You have to know what works, but not be trapped by yesterday’s patterns. You have to understand the moments that move people. It is an art to create emotion in groups of people.
Arm Treasure Data: You had a great post on LinkedIn a few years back about how CMOs can teach the C-Suite the new rules of marketing. So say I’m a CMO who is trying to invest in martech that will really move the needle. How do I make that case to the executive team?
Ross: The first thing you have to do is assess if your C-Suite is agile enough to take the risks needed to win. If they aren’t, you can still win, but you need to lay out a better plan and develop the right strategic allies. Being safe is no longer safe, and selling risk is not easy. The real problem is the past paradigm, which was, “Prove to us it will work, then we will fund it.”
This is no longer our reality. Small companies are disrupting entire organizations because they recognize it is a blue ocean, and the guaranteed way to fail is to do what seems safe. Just as digital transformation fails because leadership and company culture are not agile, so also martech initiatives will never see the light of day if the people are not ready to make risky—but calculated—decisions and investments.
First, sell the leadership and mindset needed for success, then sell the solution. Otherwise, it will just sound too risky. This includes selling the right to fail, because you aren’t going to hit a home run on your first swing.
I just saw a video from Jeff Bezos talking about the huge failures Amazon made that cost a lot of money, but how nobody remembers or cares about your pile of failures; they just remember your huge successes.
Arm Treasure Data: Where is the biggest opportunity for marketers to level-up with technology?
Technology is changing so fast. People are coming in without a solid understanding of where we are, and what is on the horizon. Agile learners and constant learners are needed to help navigate and execute the stormy waters. The technology isn’t going to save us.
There are so many moving parts. Even in big companies, you have to operate while you innovate. People assume everyone else has the knowledge needed to execute, but my guess is that’s far from true. When technology leaps forward, most people are left behind. They don’t even understand how the new technology integrates or replaces the old technology.
A good example is social media. People think that is old news, but it is more like an embryo. Look at the monster world of TV and advertising—social media has entirely changed that industry and will continue to do so.
Arm Treasure Data: How can marketers make better use of customer data throughout content creation and amplification?
Ross: Content creation is a baby tiger. Make no mistake: We have not even begun to scratch the surface of its potential in the marketing space. We’re still working towards personalized content based on deep customer data.
Marketers will get a big boost as customer data platforms develop. Real-time personalization at scale is on the horizon and beyond—AI will help us get creative with that functionality and is where the real innovation in customer experience will happen.
For now, brands can talk more with their customers and advocates. They need to be included in the ideation. The easiest way to create content that people love is to ask them what they want. Quality is more important than ever—so are partnerships with influencers and relationships with customers.
Analytics and small data are all over the place. We have never known more about customers. Relationship marketing, influencer marketing, and individual communications with your customers are all huge opportunities for brands. The fact is we are going from an eight-piece customer journey puzzle to a 1000-piece puzzle. There is no way around that.
Arm Treasure Data: What’s one thing marketers are still doing that you wish they would stop?
Ross: One of the fatal flaws is still not being connected with their customers. We have teams that come up with creative without a single customer’s input. They broadcast messages to win awards instead of adding value to consumers.
It is like the whole marketing world still wants to find ways to take value from consumers without delivering value. They want to be masters of the art of talking without listening. They want to increase revenue without developing brand advocates. This isn’t just marketing; it is all the old ways of thinking about business.
We want technology to make our brand seem human, so we can sell people whatever we want. We should be finding out what the perfect product for them is and delivering it before they know they are missing out.
Arm Treasure Data: Marketing has drastically changed in the last decade. What do you think the next five years hold for us? Or the next ten? How do we get ready?
Ross: The next five years should see AI integration to the point of impacting our lives, such as social media has. We will see personalization driven by customer data platforms start to deliver value to both customers and companies. IoT will start to be integrated because AI will be hungry for the data.
Technologies of today that are more hype than reality will start to change the marketing landscape. Augmented reality will eventually be the second coming of the internet and replace mobile. People are hyped about it, but I don’t think they understand how it will unbox the internet and integrate it into our daily lives. All these things take time to be developed, adopted, and integrated in a meaningful way. Marketing people can prepare by constant study, experimentation, and innovation.
The Beat Goes On
In the cacophony of consumer marketing, poorly timed offers and promotions just add to the noise. You can break through and wow customers, but you need to know the rhythm, content, and offers that make them move. And for that, you need data and insight.