S. David Ramirez is the Senior Marketing Manager at TINT – and board member for the International Festivals and Events Association (IFEA).
He frequently writes and speaks about marketing and event management and recently presented at Adweek’s Social Media Week.
In his words, he shares:
- How events have changed over the past two years
- Why consumers (and employees) are becoming more intentional about the brands they invest in
- His thoughts on the new era of influencer marketing
What do you do for a living? What does your day-to-day look like?
As a senior marketer at TINT, my job really focuses on field and brand initiatives.
On the field side, we have events, webinars, LinkedIn lives, and any sort of like programming where we’re trying to get people to show up. Social Media Week in New York which we just came from is a great example. [We] got to speak on stage and hang out together, which is the fun part of field and event marketing – but also booking all the travel, finding the right hotel, finding the place to do the happy hour, sourcing all the swag, picking the event in the first place. That’s all part of that field marketing responsibility.
On the brand side, we have initiatives that need an owner – and need someone to love and care for them.
What is your favorite part of events specifically?
Events are just so varied and there’s no event that’s exactly the same. You can produce the same event year after year, or even like quarter after quarter and every single time, it’s going to be different.
And to see not just the event activation itself, but the way things are changing in our industry since 2020 hit – event professionals were truly stuck. People had to plan large-scale events and activations. Some people went digital, some people shut down for two years. Some people went to a hybrid concept. There were so many different things that happened. And even now in the industry, there are workforce changes. There are technological changes. There are widely publicized instances of people failing at events. Can we talk about Fyre Festival and Astroworld? That’s never been in the spotlight more than ever.
When you think about like huge issues at Woodstock, people got caught up in the fact that people were throwing mud and that there were lots of hippies doing drugs, not in the fact that the event itself failed, but when you had Fyre festival and Astroworld, everyone became an event professional and said, oh, this is where the logistics failed. And this is where safety failed. And this is where this happened or that happened.
And so being an event professional and working with fantastic event professionals. there’s so much variation. There’s so much changing within the space – and being able to be a thought leader, especially with international (and Texas) festivals and events is a great opportunity to leave my mark on the industry at a very pivotal time in its history.
What blogs or resources do you use to keep up with industry changes?
My favorite one is this little newsletter called Future of Marketing. I’m a huge fan and realistically, I think part of the challenge is a lot of event pros have been in this space for a long time. And taking new concepts and synthesizing them into something that’s applicable to events is a challenge.
And so I love to see what you write about in Future of Marketing. You’ll write about social commerce and then I will spend an evening thinking, how does that apply to a special event or a concert or a trade show? Or you’ll write about employee-generated content. How do you train a thousand volunteers that you have for an event that you only have for 48 hours in an EGC program?
There are unique challenges to the space and so looking and seeing what really masterful and really amazing marketers are doing and figuring out how it applies to events and field activations is really the secret sauce.
Beyond that, there are lots of really great trade associations for events. IFEA is one of them, TFEA is one of them. But there’s also PCMA and NPI. The International Live Events Association, ILEA. So it’s a lot of alphabet soup, but it’s cool to see what everyone is doing within their spaces.
And each one of those associations focuses on different parts of the event industry. ILEA is more concerts and bars and performing venues, IFEA is super largescale events like the Thanksgiving day parade for Macy’s and the McAllen holiday parade and State fair of Texas, and then TFEA is very state-local, so Fiesta here in San Antonio, or parades up in Garland or Dallas/Fort Worth.
Simply looking and seeing what people are doing and then trying to apply it locally. Lots of newsletters, lots of reading every morning.
What is something interesting or surprising that you’ve learned over the last couple of months?
One interesting thing over the last couple of months is seeing the mindset around Gen Z and around the workforce, in general; all the people in hospitality, travel, tourism, and events have been suffering. They’re struggling to staff up. They’re struggling to get people to come out.
There is revenge shopping and revenge participation, which is where people had been stuck at home for a year and a half. And so they’re like, I gotta go to every concert. I gotta go do all the things that I couldn’t do.
And now, as we see the recession coming, we knew that there was gonna be an economic impact beyond that – the way that people are trying to recession-proof their business, recession-proof their marketing, recession-proof their content. Part of that is also the way that Gen Z is being pulled in.
I think there are still some folks that are talking about millennials and how we’re marketing to them, which is stupid because I’m a millennial (and I’m a geriatric millennial), so I’m in my mid-thirties. If you call me that on the street, I will fight you in public.
But Gen Z is turning 24, 25 this year. They’re already out of college. They’re entering the workforce and they have so many interesting ideas, especially because they grew up with a cell phone and tablet in their hand. And realistically, they had to learn streaming and remote work and hybrid work as kids, not as adults.
So, seeing the way they can apply those things they had to learn in high school and college to the real world, has been really interesting. It’s all those workforce shifts that are happening as we (hopefully) close out the pandemic and enter this phase of economic recovery and recession.
What is something that you feel marketers need to stop doing and what should they be doing instead?
I think every B2B marketer needs to stop saying there’s no such thing as B2B marketing – that there is only people-to-people marketing because we get it; everyone has to say that on stage at least once if you’re at a B2B conference or giving a B2B talk – and it makes me hate you as a person (lol). We know.
I think really connecting or being inauthentic with the way that you connect with your audience is going to be the poison pill of the future. We saw a little bit of that looking backward at stuff like Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby; there are some people that, politically, did not like what they were doing; they stopped shopping there, stopped eating there, but realistically their core audience is still there. But looking at millennials and Gen Z – and looking just broadly across the political spectrum – people want to buy from brands that look like them, act like them, believe like them.
If you’re inauthentically blacking out your social feed just because everyone’s doing it, or if you’re doing a dance challenge, but you run a stream of gas stations and you have no connection to that dance challenge – people don’t want you just to keep up with the Joneses. They want you to actually do stuff that’s meaningful to them, and in some cases that may be doing a dance challenge that may be active in the political spectrum; in some cases, it may be staying neutral or being Switzerland in all of it, and so really better understanding who your audience really is and what they expect. Especially because I think we’re seeing the death of the generations that did never use social – even the younger boomers that are retiring stuff, are retiring to spend all their time on social media.
Be authentic and stop being inauthentic and gross.
Why do you think user-generated content and employee-generated content are so important for brands?
I think continuing this thread of conversation, this idea of cultural tribalism is really the name of it. And it goes beyond politics or geography. I think a great example is TikTok – you hear people say, oh, I’m on book tok. I’m on LGBT tok. I’m on home improvement tok or cooking tok or this tok or that tok.
They don’t just look at their experience as separate from the platform itself; it’s very important for them to identify as part of the tribe that it’s active in creating around these specific topics and specific subgenres within TikTok. And I think we see that a little bit on Twitter.
There are some like communities, especially with the advent of Twitter Circles and the way it’s been fully deployed at this point – they’re trying to replicate some of that. But user-generated content is all about people sharing ideas and concepts with other people and acknowledging that people trust people, don’t trust brands.
And so if you can find a way to meaningfully connect with book tok or food tok or car tok or whatever your TikTok subgenre is – or whatever your social subgenre is – that’s the greatest way to drive connection.
Again, with the rumblings of a recession on the horizon, people are going to buy from brands that they have an affinity for. They’re not going to buy from brands just because of convenience. They’re not gonna buy from brands just because they’re out there. People wanna buy from brands – especially when money’s tight – that mean something to them or trigger some sort of positive sensation or positive memory in their mind.
And the same with employee-generated content. I heard on NPR this morning that for every unemployed person in the United States, there are two open jobs. The unemployment rate is the lowest in America’s, I think, last 50 years, 60 years – it’s some crazy low rate.
So even with their jobs, people wanna work at a place that reflects their values or reflects their perspective. And if people are going to be toxic, if people are gonna be rough, if people are gonna be unauthentic, they’re not gonna work there. And so the best way to showcase that you have a great company value is not a company value page. It’s not spotlighting your C-suite. It’s showing real boots on the ground, grassroots workers, living, engaging and doing the thing.
What do you feel marketers tend to struggle with? And do you have any solutions for that?
It’s people at the end of the day. Sometimes, especially now – I keep going back to the recession because it was just on my mind – people think if I can get the right CRM, if I can get the right artificial intelligence. If I have the right tool that will deliver a post to the right social network, everything will be fine. I can automate everything. I can use tools for everything, but ultimately on both sides, it’s the people who manage the tools and it’s the people who engage with the stuff that the tools are producing or the content the tools are distributing.
And so if you don’t have the right people in place; if you don’t have the right content in place, and if you’re not targeting the right end user or end consumer, then a multimillion-dollar tech stack is going to do nothing for you.
So focus on hiring the right folks and focus on content that converts or drives action, which is often user-generated content – let’s be frank. And then focus on who you’re actually targeting. beyond your ICP, your ideal customer profile. Who is really the person that’s supposed to be buying your product? Whether it’s MarTech or widgets or cheeseburgers.
Sell to the right people.
Considering UGC – what is your take on the new era of influencer marketing?
I have been thinking a lot about influencers and I think it comes down to: people want see themselves reflected in the media. [I just bought a] face wash, for example; if it had been some six-foot, super buff white guy selling me the face wash, I probably wouldn’t have bought it because that doesn’t reflect my perspective. That doesn’t reflect me.
The person who influenced me to buy was a queer brown, sassy person of color, who looked like, had a similar skin type to me, and was talking about their challenges and saying why it was a great product. I immediately connected with them on multiple levels.
There will always be a place in the world for the Kardashians of the world – Like when you think further back to Orson Welles and radio, he was one of the first radio influencers. And then you have Babe Ruth as one of the major baseball influencers. There will always be room for these sort of celebrity influencers and there will be people that connect with them for one reason or another. But I think the average person or user wants to connect with folks that look like them, act like them, and believe like them.
People that have between 10k and a hundred thousand followers – that’s going to be the place that people really want to activate because people believe them as if they’re telling the gospel truth compared to a Kardashian or Jenner that I know is being paid $1.2 million per post.
I want someone who has my oily skin type and has similar problems and lives in a similar micro-climate to tell me this is a great face wash, or this is a great hamburger, or this is a great vehicle to drive. And I give that a lot more credence than someone who’s a multimillionaire telling me that I should buy this face powder because it has their name on it.
What does the future of marketing look like to you?
The future of marketing is younger. It’s browner, it’s queerer. It’s more female and more gendered. The future of marketing reflects the future of America. And that is maybe something politically unsavvy to say but the fact is when you look at the way that not just the U.S., but the world is turning, the populations that are growing are brown and queer and young. And the populations that are going away are elitist and CIS and white. The future is going to represent the real people of the world – and if you’re not connecting with them, then you’re losing out on the actual audience.
As a millennial, it’s weird that I’m so infatuated with Gen Z, but Gen Z will not hold back on telling you that your product is problematic or racist or a dog whistle or whatever. And I love and appreciate them for that. And I look forward to seeing how they do not just as like junior marketers, which many of them are because they’re only 24, 25, but as they move into the echelons of marketing establishments and marketing organizations – [seeing] how they truly change the way that we articulate brand and philosophy around marketing and reaching people.
What is a book, person, or podcast that shaped your career and why?
If I had to pick an author (I recently talked about it on the Social Pros Podcast), there is a writer by the name of Max Barry who writes political and business satire. And it’s funny because if you’ve worked in marketing or communications – and you read some of these books – you’ve probably been in those rooms. You’ve been in those marketing meetings where you’re pitching ideas and someone says something stupid – and then all of a sudden that starts this waterfall of ideas and content, and that’s the idea that you run with.
I highly recommend Max Barry. If you want to start off with the political stuff, he wrote a book called Jennifer Government, which is really intriguing. If you want to start with his marketing stuff, Syrup is the one that I recommend, which is about marketing for Coca-Cola and soda companies. If you want to go into like more of the comms and PR, he has a book called Lexicon. And then if you want to do just more straight sci-fi, I just finished Providence, which is his new book that came out this year.
Where do you look for inspiration?
The French painter, Henri Matisse, said that there are flowers wherever you look. People were judging his painting style because they couldn’t even see the flowers that you try to paint. And he said, creativity takes courage. “There are flowers everywhere for those who want to see them.” And so I really try to take that with me.
You can find inspiration in architecture, in a great plate of food, in a good conversation. Just keep an open mind, listen attentively, and let yourself be creative.
A great example is this concept that we’re working on – whether or not it gets fully activated the way that I want to, which always comes down to budget. And the ideal budget I have for it is probably too big for anyone; it starts with a Cadillac and then, work your way back into a Pinto. But even doing the legwork and the thought experiment of “if you had a giant empty room and an unlimited budget, what would you create to explain X, Y, Z concept” was just fantastic.
I got to learn about archives and history and museums, do research on ancient Greek, and look at stuff that I hadn’t looked at since college. So not getting stuck in the rut of looking to the same sources and listening to the same people – look everywhere because there are flowers there.
What advice do you have for marketers or creatives who look up to you?
I’m a very short person, so they tend to look down on me.
I would say to keep an open mind. You never know where your career is gonna take you.
I started my career in corporate foodservice marketing, and then started doing PR, got into political marketing for a while, and then did higher ed marketing and then financial marketing for a year and a half, and then ended up here. Don’t think that the path is clear, and then just know that the field is evolving very quickly – what you’re studying now may be a good kind of foundation for it, but realistically, the job of your dreams may not exist yet. And I can tell you when I was in college, majoring in marketing, minoring in English and PR, I never would’ve thought that there would be a job where I could just do events and creative stuff and brand things like field and brand marketing back then. And now it’s an actual field of practice. There are groups, practitioners, and thousands of us across the planet – but this type of marketing didn’t exist in the early days. And if you don’t know what flavor of marketing you want to do, it may just not be in existence yet. So give it a couple of years and it might be there.
How do you wind down from a long day of work?
I am a big sci-fi and fantasy nerd. It is halfway through the year and I think I’ve read about 30 novels so far. I try to read a novel every week or so – and it’s always high sci-fi, high fantasy. So nothing to do with marketing or business or anything like that; it is lasers and spacecrafts and wizards and elves. So just putting my mind to something that’s completely not relevant to my day-to-day is a nice way to wind down and still keep entertained.
If David did not make you feel guilty about the number of books you’ve read this year, I don’t know what will.
If you have Amazon Kindle, it’ll tell you what your reading streak is and keep track of your books for you. You don’t need to have a Kindle itself. You can do the app on your smartphone. I read them on my phone mostly.
There’s also a shadow cast function on Kindle where you can pay a little bit more and you get the audiobook at the same time. It’s this really cool functionality where you can read the book on your phone, bookmark it and then get in your car, and the audiobook will pick up where you left off on the bookmark. And then when you stop your car and the audiobook, and your bookmark will move to that page.
It’s a great way to chew your literature.
That’s another thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately – I’m following away too many marketers!
And I think that’s a challenge for marketers in general.
If you’re a salesperson you can stop selling. If you’re a cook, you can probably stop cooking unless you’re like eating in a restaurant. But I don’t know about you, but I might see a billboard when I’m out driving and be like, oh, who designed that billboard? That’s not very effective, or I see a piece of marketing or I get a mailer or I click an ad or I’m scrolling on my phone. The marketing brain is always working –– and so to save yourself, you need to be intentional about not always doing marketing.
My partner hates it because we’ll go on vacation and as an event person, you’ll probably go to an event or a concert – and as someone who also plans events and concerts, sometimes it’s common to think oh, that barricade is probably supposed to be there, or this room is kind of bizarre. So yeah, intentionally turning off the marketing brain can be very hard. And even after 15 years in the industry, I still struggle.
What are you excited about or looking forward to?
I am most excited to go to conferences, which sounds weird, but the IFEA conference is coming up in September in beautiful McAllen, Texas. We haven’t had one since 2019, so I’m really excited to go to IFEA to not just market and sell TINT and do all that stuff, but to see friends from the events and industry that I haven’t seen in person in a long time.
And it’s one thing to be on webinars or our monthly affinity calls, but I’m really excited to go share a beer and commiserate or celebrate, or just reconnect with folks that – like I said – I haven’t seen since 2019.