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For this episode of E-Coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Brett Arndt, Founder and CEO of Experience Fresh, an advertising agency located in St Louis, Missouri. He shares his journey in advertising, the power of creating authentic connections between brands and consumers, and how AI is revolutionizing the industry. Discover how empathy, data analytics, and AI intersect to create meaningful user experiences while staying ahead in the digital marketing landscape. Brett’s insights offer a fascinating glimpse into the future of advertising and technology.
Watch the episode now for more insights!
When a brand has the opportunity to emotionally connect and extend that level of empathy to a user, magic happens.
Hey, hi, everyone. Welcome to your show, E-Coffee with Experts. This is Ranmay, your host for today’s episode. Today we have Brett, who is the Founder and CEO of Experience Fresh with us. Welcome, Brett.
Thanks, Ranmay. Thanks for having me.
Great. Brett, before we move forward, our audience would like to hear more about your journey this far what Experience Fresh is all about, and how you see your agency as different from all the ones out there. Once you have spoken about your journey, we’ll take it forward from there on.
Thank you. Yeah, and it’s good to be with you and with your viewers as well. I’m here in St. Louis, Missouri, at our HQ. We established Experience Fresh back in 2011, I had been part of a few different startups focused on direct-to-consumer and CPG. I fell in love with advertising. I fell in love with this idea of being able to create authentic connections and trust between a brand and a consumer. My journey in advertising was a little bit different. In my mid-20s, I went and wanted to be part of an agency. I interviewed and sent out my resume to a dozen different agencies, and I kept hearing the same response, which was, that if you want to work in advertising, you need to have agency experience. That led me to start Experience Fresh and to think about ways that we could support our clients differently. Experience Fresh was a consultancy. I was able to consult with global brands down to early-stage startups. From 2011 until 2019, was built some in-house agency teams across different organizations, and then moved from a consultancy to a creative agency in 2019.
So 2019 brought on a long-time co-creator friend as a partner and relaunched in 2019. We were going to focus on two core competencies. We were going to focus on brand strategy and production. And that went great. From 2019 to 2020, we started to grow. We included our team and brought the design in-house. And in 2020, we went from a team of two to five. And then towards the back half of 2020, our clients were taking the content that we were creating across production and design, and they were working with their media placement agencies, working with different media buy agencies. They said, Hey, we really would love it if this was more of a cohesive process. Is this something that you guys do? At the time, we didn’t, but we said, Hey if we want to compete and we want to offer the best available resources for our clients, we should bring us in-house. We took a big risk. We doubled down. We brought a digital team in-house in the early stages, early part of 2021, and started to see an amazing snowball effect across our clients. What we really would attest that too is doing great work, having great communication, and really under-promising and over-delivering and really matching not just the creative, but also the digital KPIs to our clients’ larger objectives.
Gosh, that was in 2021. I think we had a team of six or seven, and we’ve gone through a few acquisitions as an agency working with and partnering with boutique firms. We looked for really good talent, and as we were looking for a talent search like everyone else was in 2020, we were looking for talent. We said, hey, let’s not just look at bringing in talent in-house. Let’s look at partnering with agencies and acquiring agencies as well to be able to grow our offerings to our clients. So Experience Fresh has three agencies that are part of our organization as well. And we still are an agency that focuses deep, not wide. Our acquisition strategy, our talent, and all of the work that we do as an agency are built to serve our clients that much more. So as an agency today, we have four competencies. We focus still on brand and marketing strategy. We focus on creative services, which for us is heavy on content: production, design, photography, motion, and UI/UX. And then we have a marketing team more focused on automation, performance marketing, top of the funnel, CRM integrations, all of that, all the technical components that I know just about that much to get in trouble with.
Then we have our performance-paid media team. We manage around 25 to 30 million a year and spend across different clients of all shapes and sizes, really focusing on Meta and Google’s platforms.
Lovely. Quite a journey. I love the fun of actually under-promising and over-delivering. I just love how it works across fields and industries. Great. And then tell us the story of how Experience Fresh, the name was formed.
Yeah, no, it’s a good story. We were originally called Fresh, which was the name of our agency. And why that idea came to life is that most of the clients that we were working with wanted new ideas, and they wanted to be able to align those ideas with their growth objectives. We made it into an action, where we want our client, we want to create fresh ideas for our clients, but ultimately, we want our client’s customers to experience those fresh ideas. It became a roll off the tongue to experience fresh ideas, experience fresh. Eventually, we said, Hey, this needs to lock the agency to this name. We need to lock the agency to this name and we need to build our brand around the value that we provide for our clients.
Lovely. You know how client projects can change the direction of your journey.
Your journey, yeah, your agency.
And how you rebranded yourself. Lovely. Video, Brett and today’s digital age, consumers have so many choices, that they’re flooded with them. How do you advise brands to cut through the noise and create a brand strategy that not only stands out but also resonates with their target audiences on a deep emotional level? Also, the tech marks all the boxes for, like we all marketers, dive for Google’s algorithm out there. How do you balance all of those out?
Yeah, that’s a good question. We talk about this to our staff and our clients our vision as an agency is to create authentic emotional connection and trust between brands and their customers. I think we’re at such a pivotal shift, and I know that everyone, if you don’t mention AI, I can even have a podcast, right? But we are in such a pivotal shift, and I think a lot of it is brought on by AI. But I think it was before that, right? I think that we have so much access to content. We have many talented content creators, and everyone has their platform, which is amazing. But content without context really can fall flat, and can’t land. And so when we advise brands, specifically in the brand strategy, in the early stages of partnership and of working together, it’s really how are we going to be providing value-added context that an end-user wants to experience? It is no longer just good enough to create a hooky copy, or it’s no longer enough just to stop a scroll with a great visual. It has to be contextual. It has to be creating value within the consumer’s ecosystem.
And I think when we do that for a brand and on behalf of a brand, that’s where we see some of the greatest wins.
Absolutely. And talking about user experience, how do you elaborate on the role of empathy in user experience design? And how can brands infuse quality into their digital experiences while maintaining a strategic approach?
It’s a good question. Yeah, I think that empathy is just a chord to our human nature. When we lose empathy as people and the humanness of that, I think that’s when we start to lose the ability to connect. When we lose empathy we started to see so much fall apart. I think that the same is true with brands. When a brand has the opportunity to emotionally connect and to have to extend that level of empathy to a user, magic happens, right? And there is, when I was talking about the early part of our journey, falling in love with advertising, there is a brand that has the not just ability, but the responsibility to steward that connection well. It does not matter if it’s a coffee brand that you’re drinking, or whether it’s a clothing brand that you’re wearing, we are essentially in the agency world. We’re fabricating that connection. We’re creating Love it for sight, we’re creating demand. We’re creating all of these different tools in persuasion, and there’s a responsibility to that. I think that if a brand were to lose that empathetic connection to their consumer, they start to feel to miss out not just on their opportunity, but their role with their customer, with their consumer.
Brilliant. I love the way you elaborated on it. Superb. Talking about user experiences often involves the understanding psychology of the end users. As you mentioned, it is an integral part. Can you share some insights into how you approach understanding and empathizing with the diverse and evolving needs and expectations of users, and the end consumers, and then they are spoiled with choices at all times? How do we counter them as a market lead for a brand?
Yeah, that’s I guess some good questions, Ranmay. I think that we’re at such a unique time of whether it’s universal design, whether it’s new design regulations, all of these elements that are trying to speak into the user experience, trying to speak into the customer journey. When I think about the customer journey, when I think about what we have now obsessed with data, I often like to put myself in the customer’s shoes. We have a different lens as agency owners, collaborators, and leaders. But we are, when we’re allowing cookies when we know that pixels are being set, we’re giving part of our future customer journey and part of our future user experience to a brand. I think that when we look at that path, when we look at creating the different elements within that, it goes back to, a little bit, back to that stewardship. It’s that I have that data, how can I create the best contextual, the best experience for the end-user? That’s something that’s our responsibility as an agency. I think that when we look at bringing those different elements into that user experience, we’re going to see great work happen, but we’re also going to be able to help the end-user navigate in a way that is creating value for them.
We were in a pitch yesterday, and we were pitching a global brand. We were walking through all the different stages of the funnel, and we were walking through different content that we would be creating across that funnel and ultimately how it translates to UX, whether it’s the website, whether it’s Amazon, Storefront, all these different components. As we’re looking through that, where we’re going to see the greatest value for the client is being sure that there are consistencies throughout that journey, whether it’s top, mid, bottom, full is creating those consistencies and knowing that as a consumer, this brand has access to part of me through my digital journey, my digital fingerprint. And we’re adding value by creating the most comprehensive and contextual experience for the user.
And what is your take on the balance between data analytics and the human-centered aspect of user experience? How do you navigate this intersection to create authentic and meaningful connections with the end users of your brands?
Yeah, data is knowledge is power, but data is power as well. I think that there’s nothing as an end user, but more industry. We’re in the industry, so we’re all hyper-aware of being in the industry. But there’s nothing more frustrating to us than when you sign up for something or you’re engaged because you are served a great ad, and then you either get completely inundated or you completely fall off. Google and Meta, do a fantastic job of giving us so much access to that information. I think that when we look at that, we need to embrace that, and we need to be very transparent on behalf of our clients, on behalf of our client’s customers, is that we need to be transparent that this is how we’re going to leverage that. I think the transparency doesn’t need to be in disclaimers, although it legally has to be in disclaimers, but it needs to be in transparency and communication. We can be asking greater questions. We can take the data that Google is serving us, that Meta is serving us, and that other platforms are serving us, but we can go deeper into those questions.
I think someone who does it is fantastic. I think that The Hustle does it fantastic. Their daily email drop. I think some other brands are leading it well across the D2C journey as it relates to e-commerce brands. There’s a lot that we can learn from the way that brands are interacting, we’re interacting with brands, but also the way that agencies are doing it as well.
Absolutely. And the last one, Brett, and I cannot let you go without asking this one. What do you think is the role of AI moving forward? It did take us by storm and ChatGPT hit us, right? But at the back end, things have stabilized and people have their perspective of how it is going to move the way. Let’s say, in the next quarter, probably six months down the line, what is your take on it? How do you use AI in your agency and how do you think it can be utilized or can be moved? And just exciting times, I wanted to understand what is your take on it.
Yeah, We were in an all-hands team meeting the other day with about 25 to 30 team members in our agency. One of the things I was saying to our team is that if we’re not leveraging and utilizing AI to add value to our clients and add value to our clients, clients, we’re behind the times, right? Ai is here to stay. It can make your job more efficient. It can make content more contextual. And part of our job is to be the conductor of that AI. We get to decide our future of how we leverage and utilize such a powerful tool. For us, as an agency, we came on the scene at a really special time, right? If I were an agency that was 30, 40, or 50 years old, I’d be a little concerned, right? Because it’s hard to move a ship that’s that big and For our agency, we came on the scene four years ago. We had a background in heavy on strategy. We’ve scaled and exited different organizations. No business through and through, ultimately know the end customer and what the customer needs and wants. But we came at a time when AI was starting to come on the scene, and we just fully embraced it.
Ai is using everything that we do as an agency. It’s using our production department to sort footage. It’s used in our content and copy team to be able to create ideas that we can quickly, win quickly, and lose quickly that we build out. We use AI in our customer experience journey. We use AI to bring in and take different components of campaigns that we’re running, and integrate call center partnerships that we have to understand what campaigns are going to perform the best for our clients. I actually can’t think of a way that AI is not used and leveraged at Experience Fresh. And I think it’s a cautionary tale, right? If we don’t leverage and utilize something so powerful and so big, an agency is going to get lost and quickly become obsolete.
Yeah, absolutely. While we were all scared when it hit us as an industry, people who have gotten to terms with it or have learned the tool more efficiently, the drafts have been cut out in terms of how you use it as a weapon in your armory versus the other way around. I’m glad to understand because we also leverage it day in, and day out across our functions like you do. I’m a big fan of it, to be honest. It has made our tasks easier. Only you have to understand how much to use it, how to use it, more importantly, and then that human factor at the end of it to ensure that whatever goes out. Because it is still not fully let’s say, deliverable or your final product. You still need to have that human input, human editing, whatever, depending on which functions are you using. But yeah, it’s an important tool to stay, like you said. So we got to use it and use it to the optimum, right?
I love that. Yeah, Ranmay, I think that when we look at the job of an agency, I know that you guys are experts in the SEO, and SEM side, and you guys have such a deep knowledge there. But our job as an agency is to serve our clients, right? Our job as an agency is to make our clients shine and to create the best possible chance for our clients to win. And they trust us. They trust us with that. And with something as disruptive in a positive way as an AI tool, if we’re not bringing that transparency to our clients and saying, hey, we’re using this because of why, or we’re using this because of X, and it’s going to add value to your brand and your process, then that’s just a missed opportunity to continue to build trust with our clients.
Yeah, 200 % agreed on that. Because we use it, I’m a big fan, like I said. And any new technology that comes to the market initially, that is the storm, and that is the resistance to change. But the fast adopters, the first movers, like to say, they always have this advantage of, I know a lot of agency folks who were experimenting and doing their R&D, and we also did a lot of it. Right now, our team is absolutely on top of it when it comes to creating content with ChatGPT or other tools out there. Yeah, absolutely. As you mentioned, you’ve got to be transparent. And why are your clients going to suffer because of your resistance to change with such a big impactful revolution change that has come to the industry?
Absolutely. Good. I’ve read it has been a brilliant conversation, but yeah, I’ll not let you go before I play a quick rapid-fire with you. I hope you’re game for it.
Yeah? Lovely. What was your last Google search?
My last Google search. Yesterday was halloween day here in the States, and I think I did a costume search on easy costumes for dads was my last Google search.
Okay, all right. When was your last vacation, Brett and where was that? Yeah?
My last vacation was in July. I took my family out to the Rocky Mountains, Colorado, for some whitewater rafting and camping.
Lovely. How did your friends or your, let’s say, school faculties would define you as a child, Brett?
How were you as a child? How would your friends define you?
How was I as a child? I would say always up for an adventure and always up for a good time.
Lovely. What did you do with your first paycheck, Brett?
My first paycheck? I think I actually bought a backpacking backpack and then went out on a multi-day backpacking trip. It was a disaster. I remember it very clearly because we got rained on and it was a complete disaster. But that’s what I spent my first paycheck on.
Lovely. Let’s say if we were to make a movie on you, Brett. All right. What genre would it be?
It’d have to be probably just a really bad action film. Just a movie that most people could fall asleep to.
I thought you would say adventure or something about travel and stuff like that. Lovely. Okay, the last one, I will not grill you any further. Your celebrity crush?
My celebrity crush? Oh, man. I’m going to say it’s going to be a period. I’m going to probably say, man, that’s a good one. I think it’s like the late ’90s Jennifer Aniston, is my celebrity crush.
Okay. I was saying the SEO ones and the digital marketing ones were easy for you guys.
When we’re using and we’re talking about personal, it does get more challenging.
Yeah, absolutely. Great. Lovely, Brett. It has been a brilliant conversation, and I’m sure our audience would benefit a lot from what they heard in terms of the insights that you shared. Thank you so much for taking your time and doing this with us here.
Thanks, Ranmay. Thanks for hosting.
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