How I Made it in Marketing

Adaptive Leadership: It’s never too late to reinvent yourself (podcast episode #90)

March 12, 2024 Carlos Cantú Season 1 Episode 90
Adaptive Leadership: It’s never too late to reinvent yourself (podcast episode #90)
How I Made it in Marketing
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How I Made it in Marketing
Adaptive Leadership: It’s never too late to reinvent yourself (podcast episode #90)
Mar 12, 2024 Season 1 Episode 90
Carlos Cantú


We use that term for companies. But what about for you?

What is your current value proposition, and what would you like it to be…no matter where you are in your career?

Because as my next guest has learned – it’s never too late to reinvent yourself.

Here to share the story behind that lesson, along with many more lesson-filled stories, is Carlos Cantú, CMO, Freepik (

Freepik is owned by EQT, a public company that trades on Nasdaq Stockholm. It reported 2.131 billion Euros of revenue in 2023, or about 2.41 billion US dollars. Cantú manages a marketing team of 45 people.

Stories (with lessons) about what he made in marketing

Here are some lessons from Cantú that emerged in our discussion.

  • It’s never too late to reinvent yourself
  • You don’t need to know everything to do the job
  • Diverse teams are more challenging in the short term but worth it in the long run
  • Clarity and focus are keys to a corporate turnaround
  • Embrace discomfort to harness creativity
  • Balance data with intuition for the full story
  • Discussed in this episode

Leading Through Learning: Chief Growth Officer’s innovative approach to marketing leadership (podcast episode #79) (

Marketing & Content in Gaming/Esports: Influencers of all sizes can drive product adoption (podcast episode #55) (

Innovation Leadership and Coaching: You should almost always do less than you think (podcast episode #46) (

Digital Marketing: Be passionate about the challenge you are trying to solve and not stubborn about the product solution (podcast episode #59) (

Get more episodes

This article is distributed through the MarketingSherpa email newsletter ( Sign up for free if you’d like to get more episodes like this one.

For more insights, check out...

This podcast is not about marketing – it is about the marketer. It draws its inspiration from the Flint McGlaughlin quote, “The key to transformative marketing is a transformed marketer” from the Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages ( free digital marketing course.

Apply to be a guest
If you would like to apply to be a guest on How I Made It In Marketing, here is the podcast guest application –

Show Notes Transcript


We use that term for companies. But what about for you?

What is your current value proposition, and what would you like it to be…no matter where you are in your career?

Because as my next guest has learned – it’s never too late to reinvent yourself.

Here to share the story behind that lesson, along with many more lesson-filled stories, is Carlos Cantú, CMO, Freepik (

Freepik is owned by EQT, a public company that trades on Nasdaq Stockholm. It reported 2.131 billion Euros of revenue in 2023, or about 2.41 billion US dollars. Cantú manages a marketing team of 45 people.

Stories (with lessons) about what he made in marketing

Here are some lessons from Cantú that emerged in our discussion.

  • It’s never too late to reinvent yourself
  • You don’t need to know everything to do the job
  • Diverse teams are more challenging in the short term but worth it in the long run
  • Clarity and focus are keys to a corporate turnaround
  • Embrace discomfort to harness creativity
  • Balance data with intuition for the full story
  • Discussed in this episode

Leading Through Learning: Chief Growth Officer’s innovative approach to marketing leadership (podcast episode #79) (

Marketing & Content in Gaming/Esports: Influencers of all sizes can drive product adoption (podcast episode #55) (

Innovation Leadership and Coaching: You should almost always do less than you think (podcast episode #46) (

Digital Marketing: Be passionate about the challenge you are trying to solve and not stubborn about the product solution (podcast episode #59) (

Get more episodes

This article is distributed through the MarketingSherpa email newsletter ( Sign up for free if you’d like to get more episodes like this one.

For more insights, check out...

This podcast is not about marketing – it is about the marketer. It draws its inspiration from the Flint McGlaughlin quote, “The key to transformative marketing is a transformed marketer” from the Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages ( free digital marketing course.

Apply to be a guest
If you would like to apply to be a guest on How I Made It In Marketing, here is the podcast guest application –

Carlos Cantu: We do a lot of user interviews and then we also spend a lot of time on social listening to try to get the perspective from those non users that we think are potential because that's the other the other risk. But you spend a lot of time with your users and you just work for those current users and you don't pay attention to those potential interests which are the ones that are going to grow your business.

Intro: Welcome to How I Made It in marketing. From Marketing Sherpa, we scour pitches from hundreds of creative leaders and uncover specific examples not just trending ideas or buzzword laden schmaltz, real world examples to help you transform yourself as a marketer. Now here's your host, the senior director of Content and Marketing at Marketing Sherpa Daniel Bernstein, to tell you about today's guest.

Carlos Cantu: He's been in.

Daniel Burstein: Rebranding. We use that term for companies, but what about for you in your career? What is your current value proposition and what would you like it to be no matter where you are in your career right now? Because as my next guest has learned, it's never too late to reinvent yourself here, to share stories behind that lesson, along with many more lesson filled stories, is Carlos Cantu, the CMO at Freepik.

Thanks for joining me, Carlos.

Carlos Cantu: Thank you for the invitation, Danilo, Very excited to be here.

Daniel Burstein: All right. Now what people understand I'm talking to you is I'm going to take a quick look at your background, just kind of cherry picking around. You've been associate creative director at Lo Lintas Creative director at great advertising group, creative director at Young and Rubicam, Executive Creative Director at Cheal Worldwide, part of Samsung Group, Director of Marketing at Twitter India and for the past two years, Chief Marketing Officer at Freepik Company Freepik is owned by Equity, a public company that trades on NASDAQ Stockholm.

It reported €2.131 billion of revenue in 2023, or about 2.41 billion U.S. dollars. And Carlos manages a marketing team of 45 people at Freepik. So, Carlos, give us a sense, what is your day like as CMO?

Carlos Cantu: Yeah, and never boring, I would say that. So and usually different every day. But I managed different teams from the social media team, the CRM team, the PR team and the paid media team and all these teams need to work together. They all have their own goals, but at the end the marketing goal is just one. And my job, my main job is to bring them all together, try to keep them aligned, give them the tools they need, try to remove the blockers they have, and then step out of the way and let them do what they do better than myself.

So that usually means spending a lot of time in meetings and conversations, usually more time outs like that, going through emails and and then at some point try to make time to think of strategic innovation and and try to think more long term.

Daniel Burstein: Very nice. Well, let's take a look at some of the lessons from your career to see how you got to where you are today. And I want our audience can learn from it. So let's start with this lesson I mentioned, right? Announce that it's never too late to reinvent yourself. That's very motivating. But how did you learn that in your career?

Carlos Cantu: Yeah, and I learned this quite late, so I wish someone had told me that earlier before because I spent, I think around 15 years building a career by writing 30 seconds TV ads or the short stories ride for brands. And they thought that was my business and that was going to make me grow and become a CEO of one of these big agencies.

But at some point in my career, I went to a festival in Cannes in the south of France, which is the advertising Cannes Festival that lives there. Call they call it. And they came back very, very sad because the most exciting projects I saw there were projects that I was not able to to because they were not TV ads anymore.

So brands were moving away from doing TV to experiential to digital to mobile, all these new things. Imagine how old I moved to South to be that way. And so I realized that I had to reinvent myself. Who, particularly as a creative director, you need to be always on top of the wait, right? So and I realized that it was almost too late.

And so I did a lot. I took a lot of cursus or diplomacy and listen to podcasts and read to a lot of blogs and tried to something I think that helped me a lot is try to meet people that were doing this type of faith to understand how they think, what would they how they plan, what they were doing and what was inspiring them.

So I tried to meet them all and I pushed for for a couple years on until I got a good opportunity, which is this agency called Tale, which, as you were saying, they are the the agency of record of the Samsung group. Actually, they are part of Samsung. So they were they had an office in Mexico where I'm originally from.

I was I was based there back then and they needed an executive creative director because they wanted to to make their agency an open agency, which meant not only taking care of Samsung, which is what they were doing for for a few years, but to start to get all their clients on top of Samsung too. So I convinced them that I was the right person.

Probably I was not. But I, you know, fake it until you make it out. But I you know, and but I convinced them. And that gave me the opportunity to learn. I spent four years as the executive creative director there and that to get me an opportunity to really understand technology, to understand mobile advertising, to understand digital much better.

And so show and yeah, it gave me the opportunity to reinvent myself and also gave me and opened a new door for me, which took me on the next step in my career.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. So let me ask. I am kind of of that age too. I assume I started in traditional. What do you most and least miss about traditional and how do you apply that to what you're doing today? I'll say for me personally, what I most miss is, you know, one of the things I started out doing was writing print ads in the Wall Street Journal.

So when we presented to a client, a lot of our clients weren't local. Like we would actually have to mock it up. You know, we would FedEx it out. Yeah. So the deadline became when FedEx would come to overnight it or even like if we really push on deadline getting to the airport to FedEx it. Right. So the one thing I like there is like there was some sort of ebb and flow to the work because then you were done and you really couldn't do anything that you got the client feedback again, as opposed to now where everything is instant and digital and, you know, and so one thing I try to do is make

sure there's still an ebb and flow to my work. And it's not just constant output, but the thing I don't miss, I'll tell you what I don't miss because I've also written 32nd radio ads. I used to write it for a car company name and it was like, I think it was like 22.5, but then 7.5 for the disclaimer or 8.5 or however the numbers or something was very specific.

And so now, like on how I made it marketing, when people ask me how long is an episode, I just tell them, it's as long as it needs to be. I love you know, I love that there's no media buy. It's it's as long as it needs to be. So for you, what do you what do you most and least miss and how do you apply that to your work today?

Carlos Cantu: Well, yeah. So I think it was very easy and and a lovely thing that you were able to write the whole story. So you knew how it was going to start and how it was then and, and that was it. So the brand created its own story, right? It was very difficult. Yeah. So some people will would call to that small number on the back of the package to tell, Hey I don't like your advertising, but maybe 1020 and if you were very, very good, maybe a few of your friends would tell you, Hey, I like that.

I think it's funny or whatever, but this was the whole story was written by you, you know, like you, you, you this is how the story starts. These sub historians. And that's a brand. Not a lot. These the brands don't own their own story. You know, they try to jump in and be part of the conversation and jump in and be part of the story.

And in the best case scenario, you trigger story as a subbrand and then you let users take it from there and maybe you're part of it. So that makes it much more challenging. Also also makes it more exciting to me nowadays. But but it was nice when you were the storyteller, going back to what we were saying off camera, and which is that I love being or I like being a storyteller.

And so yeah, but I miss a little bit and I miss also I miss that you can spend that time where you could spend six months in one project I had like, Hey, go brainstorm for two weeks, come back with ideas, the kind will give you feedback, go back that, finalize the script, go to a few directors, get there before the station.

There the perspective Go produce the ad like spend a month in the production and then publish in six months. Nowadays you need to launch probably six or five different campaigns.

Daniel Burstein: For.

Carlos Cantu: Whatever. But something that I usually say is that 50% of what I learned in that first phase of my career went to the trash. To being is not not, not useful anymore. It doesn't apply anymore. But the other 50%, I think it's still relevant today. And and that has been super helpful for me being an old school creative director, as someone told me once on Twitter, has been super helpful because I understand the power of having a creative concept, of having a clear brief, having a positioning for a brand, of having a human insights as part of of the creative process.

And I think those those things still benefit even when you post something on on Tik-Tok, if you have a human inside front of your, your TikTok will be better than, than, than if you just come up with a nice catchy headline or a catchy meme or catchy video, you know? So for me that that's a good a good balance.

Daniel Burstein: I mean, I go back to that quote from 100 years ago. Talk about your advertising. The truth well told, Right. I mean, that was the best the best quote I ever heard about what advertising is. And to your point, yeah, that's not going to change. You still got to figure out those truths. Tell it. Well, now there's different tools.

There's Tik Tok and like you said, audience and the customers, they can see some truth. Back to you also. Right. But it's still finding that truth and telling it Well, being that storyteller. Right.

Carlos Cantu: And just because of what you just mentioned, that they will come back after you, you need to tell the truth. That's you're, you know, like that, that you're transparent and that you walk the talk so that.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, that's right. Yeah. Not just well, tell the truth. So that's that was one of the main kind of transformations to changes in your career. The other one here, you had the lesson you don't need to know everything to do the job. So I think you kind of gave us an example with Samsung in the jail like Figure Jamaica, but you also had another transformation right after leaving agencies.

You want to tell us about that? You don't need to know everything to do the job.

Carlos Cantu: Yes. So those first 15 years, I never met someone that has been very close to me since then, which is my imposter syndrome. In those first 15 years, it was no imposter syndrome. I was never an imposter. But since then I've been an imposter a few times, and I've been through this imposter syndrome a few times on. And, you know, like, I still I still have my processing room sitting next to me very often, But I am okay because I realize excited with what you were saying, which is I was not hired to know everything.

I was hired because the person who hires me knows that I know a few things and hopes that I will learn the rest because, you know, that's the only way you grow in your career. And I moved from being a creative director to being part of a tech company. I joined Twitter and become a brand strategist and very quick kind of girl.

I was the first Twitter employee in Mexico, so my boss, my manager who was based in New York, flew to Mexico to welcome me and to introduce me to to our clients because my job was to be a bridge between the brands and their agencies and Twitter. Because back then no one knew how to do advertising or marketing through Twitter.

So I was there to help them, but I was just starting. So I didn't know. I didn't know much back then, particularly on my first day. So I went through five or six meetings with with my manager. On my first day, I listened to him a lot. I smiled the outline, met some customers, and at the end of the day, in the last meeting, the customer, the client said, Hey, I would like your team to come back tomorrow and give a workshop to my team so that they start using Twitter better.

And my my manager J.p Maheu, who I really respect. He was a sure car to come back tomorrow and give your team a workshop and they step out of the meeting and I'm like, Hey, ATP, what are you talking about? I've been with the company one day. I haven't even go through my training because usually when you join Twitter they tell you they used to fly to San Francisco and take a week with them too.

And I was going to do that next week. Followed. So it was like haven't even begun to training with Carlos. You've been with five meetings with me today. You listen to what I told all the brands about Twitter. Now you know more about Twitter than 90% of the people. So you can you can give a workshop. So I think that that that was the first one, you know, And so after that, I've been through a couple more imposter syndrome periods.

Let's see.

Daniel Burstein: So that's great. You went from traditional media to digital. That was jump. Then you went from digital to boom right into Twitter. And no, I knew how to use Twitter, even what it was probably that that's really impressive. So let me ask you, that was the first day, right? But take us into a month, few months. Like was there a specific tactic that you use to help you get up to speed as a marketing leader at Twitter?

So, for example, I interviewed Christine Healy, chief growth officer at Senior Lee, on how I made it marketing. And one of her lessons was you don't have to know it to lead it. And so she told stories to, you know, starting roles in unfamiliar fields. And what she would do is she would make sure she found colleagues that were experienced in that industry to learn from, to get a deeper understanding of the key goals and tasks.

Right. I mean, she knew she knew marketing, but she didn't always knew that industry. So she's like, I've got to find that colleague that knows this industry. So for you, Carlos, boom. Going into Twitter that first day, you were just, I guess, the fire hose analogy would work there. What do you do in the next month or few months to kind of get up to speed as a market leader and specific tactic work for you?

Carlos Cantu: Yeah, but first, let me say that that's a very good advice and I'm going to follow. I think that's very smart. Like you don't know can throw everything as long as you can lead and let the people know which which is great. Yes. So first of all was like understanding what were my strengths, why I was hired, what was the expected from me, and and try to learn what I didn't know as fast as possible.

But I think that the first priority that helped me a lot was with Pepsi. So they wanted to own the Super Bowl a And I was like back then we really wanted to reach out to their main competitor and we were trying to do our best with their competitor. And they were not too were not engaging with me, they were not interested.

And I had some other brands that I really wanted them to work with us and they were not there. There were not interested. But then Pepsi were super excited and they were like, Hey Carlos, I think we can do something very smart. And actually I need to be super honest about these. They had a great idea and I was like, Wow, this is a great idea.

I'm the one who was supposed to come up with these great ideas, but they, they say it is their let's make it happen. And and I just focused for two months on one pie and one project, which was not even my idea for a former creative director. That's very difficult to do. But I saw that as a low hanging fruit and I made my bed was that if we were successful, other brands will say, Hey, I want that.

And it worked. It really worked. So I was like, So? So the learning for me and I tried to apply that. Since then, every time I have a new challenge or new position is start with something that you know you will do well and you gain confidence through that and then have a quick win that will help you also, that will help your credibility and your confidence.

So that that helped me a lot.

Daniel Burstein: You know, I love that, especially for an emerging technology. And that's kind of we're talking about what marketing Sherpa is built on. That's what this how I made it. Marketing is built on like I get pitches all the time from, we want to tell you all about artificial intelligence or marketing automation, lead generation, bubble, blah, blah, ACM and all this stuff.

And it's like, I don't care what you think about it. Show me how you did it. Right? That's all we're going to publish. I'm going to publish case studies when talk about stories, show me how you did it. And that's the exact same thing, especially for an emerging technology branding company. Stop saying how great you are, right? Just make some successes and then show everyone how you did it.

The other thing I like about that is like, I don't know if you as a marketer, I'm such a sucker for a great idea, right? Like, like I like how you said it wasn't even my idea, but it was a great idea. I mean, I get pitched all the time for stuff that was sell me just everywhere. And so say getting pitch.

But boy, if I don't care where it comes from, if I hear a great idea, I'm just I just love that. I'm just like, it just draws me in. Like, it seems like you're the same kind of guy. Like, boy, when you hear that idea, doesn't matter where it comes from. I want some of that right?

Carlos Cantu: Yeah. So let me. So at some point when I was with Twitter, there was this creative studio and I was already a marketer. So that's a little bit later in my career, but I was already a marketer, but the creative director position in the studio was open and it was like, Hey, I would love to get that position.

And I talked to my manager who was in charge of both was my manager, but he was also in charge of the studio and he was, Hey Carlos, maybe actually, I think you could take that position. I can. I could give you that position. But if I give you that position, you won't have a marketer in front that will approve the ideas for you and that has been since, you know, like I realized that that's that's my my position now.

I'm not I'm an idea enabler. I don't come up with ideas. Sometimes I do. Most of the time they're not brilliant ideas, but sometimes I push for my own ideas. But I'm fine just with whomever comes up with idea. As you were saying, that I will help you. I will help you to make it happen. You know, like a and another CMO.

You just today I had a very tough conversation with my CEO because we are launching a campaign today and I showed him this campaign a few months and get me some feedback. And he's usually very respectful. So he's like, Carlos, I think this and this, but you it's your decision. And today we're announcing it on the Internet, like it's like with everyone on marketing.

Then the marketing team jumps in. He says, Hey, I already told Cardin's don't like this campaign. I don't think it's the right word, but I would like, hey, please. Or queen, quickly, wink. He's the CEO. I think you're listening to this. Well, hey, can we chat? 5 minutes? So we had a conversation and at the end we we had a good agreement that he was like, Hey, Curtis, is your decision.

And I would like, okay, maybe we don't go all in that. First we go, we may we publish the first phase. And if we see that that first phase works, we go only. So what for me? And then I go back to my team and like, Hey, hey, don't worry, we're going to publish. And, you know, like I was that was not my idea.

That's not my campaign. It is, but it's not. My media came for me, but I'm an enabler and I'm very happy to be able to do that.

Daniel Burstein: Well, first of all, thank you for being on How I made it mark my day. A campaign is launching. That's very kind of you to give us your time today. But that's what I mean. That's when we were an agency. That's what we always wanted. Right. Or, you know, we're going to. That's what you always wanted. You wanted that good client.

You wanted that client that would fight for that. Yes. I can't tell you how many times I've been in a meeting and you get that kind of middle manager person who at first went along with it. Right? Then you're in the meeting with the CMO or whatever it is, right? So the director marketing. Okay. Got a reminder in meeting with the CMO, the CMO doesn't like it so much.

Then the director of marketing is going back on the matter like it either it's like, What are you talking about?

Carlos Cantu: We were talking about.

Daniel Burstein: Last week during my trip, you know, So that's I love how like the CEO we're going to those disagreements, but you say, hey, we're let's try this, let's go for it. You know, let's let's not back down. Let's at least give it a chance. I love that. I think that's what we all need to do for our team.

So bravo, Carlos.

Carlos Cantu: And, you know, like because they spent a lot of time pitching ideas. Marketers. Yeah. Yeah. Thoughts. But I want to I need to be honest to myself, probably in the agency and the creative director thinks I'm not a good client. I don't know. Maybe they think they are. He's so tough and I and it's only me thinking that I'm a good client and maybe it's okay.

It's like when you became become a parent and you end up doing what you always promised yourself that you were never going to do in your kid. Like, Hey, when I'm when I'm a dad, I will never do this. And then you end up doing that. Maybe, maybe it's holding. But yeah, but at least I, I doing that I make an effort to, to be a good player through a good marketer.

Daniel Burstein: It's like we just talked about the truth, well told and everyone's got a voice now. So when this episode comes out they're going to be posting on LinkedIn or they like, What are you talking about? Carlos gives them a good idea of.

Carlos Cantu: And maybe it's a good reality check. I need to have.

Daniel Burstein: I'd say when we're managing teams, fostering their creativity, selling their creativity is important. But you also mentioned that diverse teams are more challenging in the short term but worth it in the long run. What do you mean by that? How did you learn that?

Carlos Cantu: Yeah, so later in my career or still with Twitter, I was invited to become a marketer. That's how I ended up here and which was I was excited about it, but it was a big challenge. But on top of that, I was in I was based in Mexico, as I was saying earlier, but I was invited to lead the marketing team in Amaya, which means Europe and the Middle East, Africa too.

But our efforts were more focused on Europe and the Middle East, and that was very interesting. But I've never been the marketer, I've never worked in Europe or the Middle East, so it was double, double the challenge. And so my position was based in Dublin and I was working with local marketing teams in the different European market or markets, sorry, the UK, France, Spain, Germany and also the Middle East, particularly Dubai, which would work as a hub for for the Middle East.

We were doing a lot of campaigns for Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Dubai and the Emirates also. And also we had a team in charge of and Israel, and most of these people were locals, which meant that my team, which was not a big team, we were, I think, 12 back then, but I think we were 12 with eight different nationalities for different religions or beliefs and say and all kinds of diversity, which felt really exciting at the beginning.

But when we were trying to so when we were brainstorming for me, brainstorm are our two phase process. The first part of the process is very important to have as more diverse ideas as possible. So something I used to do is tell the team that we're not aiming for the best idea, we're just aiming for the larger amount of ideas possible because the idea is not to find that one idea is just to come up with different alternatives.

And if we say that it's only about quantity, then people are more open to share ideas without thinking if those ideas are good or bad. And the reason we do that is because the for us, the objective of sharing an idea is to just trigger a new idea. So the more ideas you share, the more ideas you trigger and the more ideas you have, more options you have.

So that part of the process with a diverse group is great. The only thing you need to learn, or in my experience, the only thing you need to learn is that there are two types of people introverts and extroverts. So find a system that works for both those who are very comfortable sharing ideas. As soon as the idea and balancer and others that need more time, think of it, put it on paper, and then share it.

So we we found a good system for that. But then the second phase of the brainstorm is now that you have that this broad range of ideas find the right idea. And that was super tough because people with different perspectives, different backgrounds, different experiences, you should have different point of view. And it's the points a few and try to find what's the right idea.

It's much more challenging because finding good at point, of course, is very difficult. In the beginning it was very, very tough to to come up with agreements in those second parts of the brainstorms.

So the first two products were very, very tough. We usually didn't work on that on regional projects, but those that were regional and when we when we all came together or at least three or four from different markets, came together, were very, very challenging. And at some point I was like, Hey, maybe I just should appoint a product to one of the teams and let them try it.

But then the third project we worked on together, even though the process was tough through salt, were mace, were super strong, and I realized that that tough process and the difficult conversations and that difficult process to come up with with an agreement were key for the success of the of the campaign. So I was like, okay, it is what it is.

We will have an amazing brainstorm. It will take us a lot of time to get to the right idea. But once we get there, we will know that it's a very strong idea. And that's what I meant when when I was saying that, like, hey, that diversity helps. But it's also challenging and you need to to learn out of those pressures.

Daniel Burstein: Hey, breath is painful, right? Breath is painful.

Carlos Cantu: Yeah. Yeah.

Daniel Burstein: So let me ask you, you're talking about diversity in your own team and that's great. And how you got to the ideas. What I asked you about diversity when it comes to customers right. Because a lot of times I think when we hear this word diversity, I don't know of as as a society, I don't think it's marketers as much by society.

It's just become diversity of like identity, right? There are certain things, whatever nationality, religion, gender, whatever these things are versus, you know, traditionally market was diversity of ideas. And so I wanted to ask how you make sure you have a diversity of ideas for your customers and art. Don't just pigeonhole them into an identity. And then let me give you one example longer thinking.

I interviewed S.M. Lotti, the head of marketing at CSM, on how I made it a marketing. One of her lessons was always consult other perspectives and value your own perspective as well. And she told a story of a colleague that inspired her. She worked for a video game company and she led focus groups for video games and she made sure she would take into account not just a broad range of ages because I guess in that was kind of focus, okay, that's identity.

How old are young you with video games, but also a broad range of experiences playing the game as well, which might not map to age. Right. So for you, Carlos, do you have an example of how you make sure you get a diversity of ideas about your customers? And we're not just kind of pigeonholing them into certain groups?

Carlos Cantu: So yeah, that's a great question because we spend a lot of time focus on that. We our, our product is a website. The is a website with a resources, a website with tools and has a very global remit. We have 85 million monthly visitors and they come from almost every country, the world, almost every country, some primary specific exceptions.

We need to be relevant to all of them. But most of the time when because if you want to be relevant, you need to show that you know them and you care. For me, that's at the end. Like you need to show your users your target audience that you understand them and that you care about that. And most of the times that's easier when you separate them from the rest.

When you talk about their uniqueness and not about what makes everyone similar. So if you want to be more relevant, you cannot be universal in most of the case sometime, which is okay. Then. Then you work on specific campaigns for specific audiences, specific markets. But sometimes there are there are some contradictions. So for instance, last year we realized that we wanted to commit towards tried and social diversity and that we wanted to actually have a saying regarding the regarding that and but the idea was based on this phrase to gay that sometimes people use us to gay in that target weight or in a negative sense and happens to be that in the weight of

creativity in the world, in the world of design, it should actually be something positive. Or for many of us it is positive. So we were like, Hey, actually to gay means to put to a cute, but we have a big, big audience and a lot of users in markets where is not a message that that well received. And we we got a lot of negative comments that from those markets at some point were like hey I was like should we just eliminate the post?

And that same CEO I was talking about earlier and who with whom I had a discussion today, he was like, No, Carlos, that's our point view and when we need to So subtext you need to commit, even if that means that don't make everyone happy. And yeah, we also like we're big we've been very, very focused on creating tools based on generative A.I. that helps our users to create what we support.

We always say great design faster, and we truly think that generic TV offers us a lot of solutions. A competitive users. But it's also true that for many of the design of our users who are professional designers, they feel threatened by the high. We we decided to talk about it and we already were launching a campaign that actually talks about and like, maybe we don't have the answer.

We have a point of view and that's the conversation. So I think being being honest also helps.

Daniel Burstein: Absolutely. Yeah. And I mean, it sounds like also knowing that you can't be everything to everyone as much as you have a broad audience and try to be everything, everyone. You can't be everything to everyone. That is what a value proposition and brand decision is at the end of the day, and not even just about identity or anything political really.

But it's also like, hey, but it might be we serve designers, but we sort of these types of designers passed versus we could do everything or everyone, which I think is a mistake that you see some brands and brands try to make right?

Carlos Cantu: Yeah, this is this terms and I've used this term about in the past and I feel bad about it that blow call you know big global and local at the same time or brand four months you can do branding and performance on the same time come on that's not real.

Daniel Burstein: Make a choice Make a choice but you're putting brand is that we're going to go.

Carlos Cantu: Marketing marketing that's exactly both. Well actually any strategy is about making choices right at the end there's that this.

Daniel Burstein: Is watered down and kind of wishy washy, right? Yeah.

Carlos Cantu: Yes.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, right. Well, the first half of the episode, we talk about lessons from things. Carlos In the second half, we talk about lessons from people who's made them with. That's what we get to do as marketers. We get to make things and we get to make them with people and now we get to make them on the air, as Carlos just mentioned.

So I should mention that the how I made it a marketing podcast is underwritten by McLeod's Institute, the parent organization of marketing Sherpa. A McLeod's a I from McLeod's Institute, now has expert copywriter, project manager, marketing professor and social Media Pro. It's totally free to use. You don't even have to register for now. Just go to McCabe's icon.

That's NCC Ellerbe Seacom to start working with artificial intelligence and get it working on your marketing help you do some better marketing there. All right. So let's talk about some lessons you learned from people you collaborated with. Your first lesson was clarity and focus are keys to a corporate turnaround. You learned this from Jack Dorsey, who, of course, was Twitter's founder and former CEO.

How did you learn this from Jack?

Carlos Cantu: Yeah, and I think it the it's exactly what we were talking about, about taking decisions on Twitter 2014. Jack Dorsey was not the CEO and the company was not doing great. And particularly in terms of users, it was not growing in terms of users. So the board thought, hey, we need to make a change. And they decided to bring back Jack Dorsey.

And the first thing he did was take what to help, what went well, what happened here? And I think we forgot what Twitter is here for. So let's make it super clear what is Twitter here for? Twitter is here to help people give a microphone to the world and to make Twitter the place to find out what's going on in the world first.

Okay. So do you agree? Yes, we agree. So now we're going to be focusing on offering that. So if something we're working on, it's not focused on that. We won't be working on that. That's sounds good. It's so it's nothing new. But but he took really tough decisions. For instance, he decided to kill time, which was this amazing app that was created back then and offered by us.

So I think it was seconds of videos with audio. A lot of people would say that Vine was the first talk and he decided to to kill the app. And it was very sad to many of us that really liked it and that saw a lot of candor. And I'm not sure if it was a good business decision for Pine.

But I'm sure that that was one of the most important decisions for Twitter. Maybe it would have been smarter just to sell it or just to make a spinoff and make it an independent company. And I would have been very happy with that. We will never know. But I understand why he did it, and I think it was the right thing to do for Twitter.

And since he came back, we just focus on being the best place for people to find out what's going on in the world. And, you know, you know the story that was in 2014.

Daniel Burstein: So yeah, so I think what you're talking about is brand drift like we like it was a great example. Starbucks founder Howard Schultz came back. They were making all these different sandwiches and stuff. And he's like, No, this is wrong. You Can't smell the coffee. I don't care how much money we make from these sandwiches, get rid of them.

We need to smell a coffee. That's all we need to do. So I wonder, do you have an example of how you protect a brand from brand drift like this? Is there something specific you do? And I'll I'll give you one example. When I interviewed Jake Watson, vice president of marketing at PDI, one of his lessons was you should almost always do less than you think.

We're always trying to do more, right? He told the story about narrowing down campaigns, products, projects to just the highest priorities that will yield the most for he said. The customer, the sales team and ultimately the business that was kind of his North star of how we did things. So for you, Carlos, like is there any specific thing you do to protect brands from that brand?

Drift Because there's always that we just always want to do more, right? There's always something else we can add on. There's always another possible customer. We can get possible brand extension. We could do How do you protect a brand?

Carlos Cantu: I struggle to do that every day. It's like an every day challenge for me and so, yeah, I think that what helps me is to ask my stakeholders, the Chief Product officer, the Chief Financial officer, the CEO, what's the North Star, What's the focus? What are the three things we should be doing in this year? And I and I asked this question a lot and very often some of them have a lot of clarity and they know and we can meet with some I need to come back and ask again because I use their own work.

You know, I always say that. And this this applies to anything. I think like I have the blanket. Hey, you're you're the blanket and metaphor, which is I say, hey, this is the marketing resources. It's a blanket has certain size. And with this blanket we can cover just part of everything we want to. We will work together and put the blanket in the most strategic position to cover the key things we cover.

I know that in two months you will come back and say, Hey, I need to cover something that we're not covered currently covering because that happens every time and that's fine. I think that strategists are always alive. They should be alive, but we will pull that blanket from one end and that and we will cover what you missed.

What we need to be conscious that when we pull it from one end, we are on covering the other end and we need to take that decision together. The only thing I cannot do is to make the blanket bigger unless the CFO comes back and say, Hey, great news, we have an extra budget, which never happens. So I use that very simple metaphor of the blanket to work with with my stakeholders on that daily basis.

But it's not an easy job and it's an everyday challenge.

Daniel Burstein: Well, I like that example because in the days of traditional advertising, things were naturally finite in some way. Like you had a print ad and it was that size and sure, you had that horrible client who wanted to throw like ten things in there when only like two would fit. But still there was a finite size. So I love your blanket analogy because when it comes to something like a home page, for example, where everybody wants to be on, you can just make that whole page go forever and keep everyone happy and throw everything on there.

But saying that, Blake like it's a very like visceral and real thing of like, okay, it makes a lot of sense.

Carlos Cantu: With ten companies is particularly tough. You know, like for instance, at the moment, one of the challenges we have in the marketing team at Freepik is that we have a very smart innovation team. We call it the labs, the free pick labs. They are super smart, so they come up with amazing ideas out of the blue in two weeks and they are like, Hey Carlos, we need to go to market with these.

And I'm like, This was not in the plan. Like we're planning to do AB and see how come, But it's a happy problem. It's just a very tough it's a very tough to salt but but, but that nowadays planning we're we're almost planning on how to work with with no plan we're like, can we, you know, put a team in place at a processing place that allows us to be as fluid and agile as possible because we don't know don't know what's going to be happening in one month with these guys, which is great.

But but it's tough.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, yeah. That pace of change has really changed. Here's another issue. Speaking of toughness and discomfort, you say embrace discomfort to harness creativity. You said you learn this from Lorde's lemonade brand strategy, global marketing director at Grupo Bimbo. How did you learn this from Lourdes?

Carlos Cantu: Yeah, she was she was my manager for for a long time, and she was first to create a V pipe. Sorry, that gray. And then she was the CEO. A gentleman will become more and more and we work together on those to, say, two agencies. And I was always like a very and I know I had a I always used to hire people with a certain style, with a certain way of work, with a certain creative portfolio.

And because it was very easy to me, going back to that creative process, coming up with the right idea or fighting the idea that we like was very easy because we had the same context and same references, sculpture. And I think one year I hired a couple and when I was going to hire the third one, Lord, this was Carlos.

You're hiring a new clone. You're you keep hiring clones here. It's great. I like you and I like to work with you. That's why I hired you. But if you want to be a successful creative director, you need to work with people with whom you don't feel comfortable and, you know, like I did change changed the way I hire people, like, drastically.

And sometimes it's just because they're followers different and because their style is different, which is easy. That's an easy one, but sometimes it means hire people that probably are not as friendly, people that probably might be late to meetings quite often, or that might be less emotional, emotionally stable, and would require more time or require some time off every now and then.

A people who have very a very deep beliefs that would require them to do things that will keep them away from from the from the business for for a few weeks. So I understood that it was worth it going through that uncomfortable side of working with them because of their talent, because of their perspective, and because of at least getting different A, B, C, Yep.

Daniel Burstein: So I can agree with that. I think we can all agree with that. As marketers, we want these different perspectives. But when you're saying that, what I'm thinking is everything you're mentioning is like a management challenge, right? So how do you take these people that are difficult in these ways to get that good product, But how do you take them and create an efficient, effective team to for example, I interviewed Andrew Birnbaum, the co-founder and CEO of First Tube, on how I made a marketing podcast, and one of his lessons was embrace each person's strengths and align on an execution plan.

And he talked about in a startup, you know, leveraging operational expertise and mixing in generalists and specific deep expertise and kind of putting that all together in a good way so they can all execute. So kind of going back to the things you talked about, Carlos, I can just hear a lot of people listening on the call here are managers or leaders and kind of wincing because, you know, people showing up late and not working for weeks and all of these things sounds great in theory, but how do you actually align that into an effective, efficient team that, as you just mentioned previously, when things are constantly changing and it's hard to even plan?

Carlos Cantu: Yeah, no. And and it doesn't sound great. It doesn't make sense being honest. And then it's challenging. That's that's what I mean when I say it's it's it's not easy I think that you or at least for me it's I can only and I can only manage to have a couple people with certain personalities in the team understanding that, hey, maybe this is going to be their tough week and they're going to be off and that I can the rest of the team will be able to compensate for that and also making sure making sure that their talent or their strengths are so strong that they will compensate when they are back, you know, using

that as an example. And but you you know, I, I also have people and it's very important to me that I have people that I can trust with I without even taking a look. And I know that they're going to be there that are going to solve it and they're going to ship it. And I don't need to to even take a look at it.

And knowing that you have those on your team is also important. So it's not only hire or control people, it's just like it could include them, you know, and maybe that was the advice I needed because I only hire people that arrive early that were very formal, that had structure, and I needed a few of the others.

Daniel Burstein: You know, I mean, the thing I like about it, I'll say now that I challenge you to figure out how the heck to manage it. The thing I like about it is, you know, something I've always seen or learned in my career is sometimes people strengths and weaknesses are two sides of the same coin. Right? And for example, Peter Drucker wrote I forgot which book was I think was the effective executive.

And he was talking about Abraham Lincoln and General Grant. I think it was General Grant like General Grant was unfortunately like an alcoholic. But but he won all these battles. And so people were saying, you got to fire General Grant because he's an alcoholic. And he's like, Give me ten other generals like, he's not well rounded. There's a lot of bad things about him.

But the thing that he has to do, he does really well. And I thought, too, like in people I've gotten to work with over time, like project managers who are really inflexible and really bad with change, but at the same time kind of wanted that for a project manager because you wanted them to push for people to have the deadlines and not, you know, your excuses about, well, everything is changing and all this, right?

And so again, it's kind of keeping in mind that that, that some for some reason, I don't know in society or in business we've had this idea of we want, you know, everyone to be these well-rounded renaissance people. But if you have someone who's really good at something, if they're like really creative, you know, a flip side of that is they might not be good with, like you said, showing up to meetings on time or reading the darn memos from, you know, H.R. or whatever these other things are.

Carlos Cantu: Yeah.

Daniel Burstein: Filling out their time sheets back in the agency days, right?

Carlos Cantu: Yeah. Perfect example thing. And also, like, people have good times and bad times. Yeah. And make they're going through not a great time and then they improve. Sometimes it gets it just gets tougher and gets worse. And you know, like I, I had to take some tough decisions with, with people from my team because I couldn't afford to have them anymore.

I couldn't afford to to critique trusts on or on something. Sometimes it was a matter of capacity, sometimes it was a matter of commitment. Some, you know, like sometimes it was a matter of talent. And and it's also important that then you take those difficult decisions when you manage a team, because at the end you're affecting a person that's terrible or a family and that's terrible.

But you you need to think of the team.

Daniel Burstein: Absolutely. Let's take a look at another lesson here. Balance data with intuition for the full story. You said that you learned from working Cuenca Freepik CEO and co-founder you've mentioned previously. How did you learn this? From what kind.

Carlos Cantu: Of I need every day. So he's a mathematician. He's very, very smart. He's scientific. I would say like, so he, he understand data really well and therefore he always finds that the mistakes on the data or what's missing on the data and see, you know, like every time I called to him with very positive results, he won't trust them.

He will say, hey, this is too positive, too good to be true. And he usually is right about it. But what he says is and actually this is of a phrase from Jeff Bezos, a he won one very famous interview he gave. He was saying Prodigy, he can set it in other places, too, but is like when when the anecdote and the data are not aligned and go back and check the data because probably the the anecdote is right and and I've been learning this and I've been paying much more attention to the anecdotes.

And even if I've heard that things are rare 99 times. Hey, this morning I saw and it was green that was like even if it's only one I go back and check sometimes happens to be that it's 99 out of 100 and that's fine but but that sometimes those anecdotes mean a lot. It's kind of like, I don't believe in destiny or I'm not very superstitious being honest, but sometimes I feel like they put that anecdote in front of me just to give me an opportunity to check.

So I use it that way, like and that doesn't mean that the anecdote is always right. But don't get me wrong, it's not about trust. That is just distrust the data. Go back and check.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I mean, I love serendipity, though. I love serendipity, right? Is that feeling like, okay, this I'm very lucky.

Carlos Cantu: Yes, I agree. Yeah, yeah.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. So let me ask you, I think this is a great example of, you know, you mentioned and you worked at Twitter and you and as we mentioned earlier, like something that's changed, just like, hey, in this era, like we can get so much feedback from customers that we couldn't get before. But here's one thing that I've seen is, you know, sometimes the loudest, most boastful customers that we're hearing from are outliers.

And we're not hearing from, you know, the broad group of customers. And so this is a challenge with the anecdote where the anecdote can overpower the data and we feel like, it must be this, I hear this so I wonder, like, how do you balance I don't know if you engage in a B testing or folks like what do you do for customer research to make sure that those just few loud voices or c loud anecdotes don't overpower the data?

And at the end of the day, we're understanding our broad range of customers and not just listening to those loud voice. Is there anything specific you do for custom research on AB testing surveys, focus groups, whatever? What we focus on works for you.

Carlos Cantu: A, B, testing every day.

We do user interviews every week for different reasons and with different topics. But we we do a lot of user interviews and then we also spend a lot of time on social listening to try to get the perspective from those non-users that we think are potential because that's the other the other risk that you spend a lot of time with your users and you just work for those producers and you don't pay attention to those potential users, which are the ones that are going to grow your business, right?

So We we try to keep a balance there between users and audience and users. And we with a B test all the time. Some channels are better for than that than others. I love CRM for a this year and a lot allow us to test a lot of things constantly and you have a lot of data. But all that said, those outliers that are very cool, very loyal customers might be more relevant than those that are more quiet.

You know, it's not enough and you shouldn't just focus on them. But those who are loud speakers can influence others or will influence others. So that's why they are particularly relevant, because they they are opinion leaders among their peers, you know, like they be. And that's important, too. And usually they are very and it's difficult. But if if you are able to turn around a user that doesn't like your product and you should listen to them, you reply and you competencies, they become very loyal and they, they, they are it's more probable than they are that they become advocates than those that are quiet and love your product.

Daniel Burstein: That's a good point. Your most passionate complainers can also be your most passionate fans and vice versa. You've got to be passionate fans never to let them down because you will hear all the reasons you're a great, you know, in a few weeks if you let them down or all the reasons or not. So that's a really good point.

Carlos. We've talked about so many different things about what it means to be a marketer. You've been both on the agency side, on the brand side. You've been in traditional, you've been in digital, social, everything. I know. So if you had to break it down, what are the key qualities of an effective marketer?

Carlos Cantu: Yeah, and I think that there are three things that are important that's difficult, but I'm going to just three might not be enough, but it's a good start. The first one is to understand that it's a business and the health of the business is key. You know, the business not healthy. Nothing else matters. Second, that having a healthy business is never enough, and the healthy business also requires to have satisfied user that is finding on your product or your service.

Finding someone that body is what you offer that. So for me, those are two very, very important things to keep in mind every day. Pretty basic, but like, Hey, how's the business doing? How can we improve the business? How is our user thinking? How are they feeling? What can we do to do a better job for them? And that's on daily basis.

And the third thing is, no matter who is your customer, if you you're in B to B or C, you should take your brick and mortar or you're on my We are connecting with human beings. Keep it human. Like you can keep in mind that there is no human decision, that it's 100% rational, and that if you don't play into the emotional, into the emotions, you will never succeed.

In my experience.

Daniel Burstein: I love that data. B There are emotions too. It's not just all logic. I see that because B2B.

Carlos Cantu: You know, you're not talking to businesses and I yeah, I spent five years on B marketing Twitter and you're talking to businesses, you're talking to people who lead the business. But at the end you need to combines one person, right? And that that decision will never be 100% rational.

Daniel Burstein: No, it's beautiful, especially with tech companies. I see. They're just like logic. They're like, Let's just put all this logic down their throat of these features and functions and risks and finding things. That's up. You know, they don't happen versus B, like I said, yeah, it's a it's a human decision on two levels for the company and then for that individual's career that you've got to consider.

So I love.

Carlos Cantu: That.

Daniel Burstein: Well, thank you so much for your time today, Carlos. I really this is a very human conversation. I learned a lot from it. Thank you.

Carlos Cantu: Thank you, Dot. And it's been it's been a pleasure. And I really enjoyed it. And I hope that people get something out of it.

Daniel Burstein: And thank you to everyone for listening.

Outro: Thank you for joining us for how I made it in marketing with Daniel Bernstein. Now that you've got an inspiration for transforming yourself as a marketer, get some ideas for your next marketing campaign. From Marketing Sherpas, Extensive library of free case studies at marketing Sherpa dot com That's marketing SRH, ERP, Ecom and.