Episode 57: It’s An Art - Leadership & Collaboration, With Inkbox’s Bret Simpson

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This is a podcast episode titled, Episode 57: It’s An Art - Leadership & Collaboration, With Inkbox’s Bret Simpson. The summary for this episode is: <p>Successful collaboration can sometimes feel like an impossibility… especially so when there are HUGE changes happening in an organization.&nbsp;</p><p>So, when we come across a leader who’s doing it—and doing it really well—we pick their brain. </p><p><a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/bret-simpson/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Bret Simpson</a>, Director of Strategic Initiatives at<a href="https://inkbox.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"> Inkbox</a>, is one such person. And we’re so glad he agreed to share his insights this week - on Flip CX’s Spamming Zero podcast.&nbsp;</p><p>What’s Covered?&nbsp;</p><ul><li>Bret’s background (including his current guilty pleasure)&nbsp;</li><li>High-level POV: How Inkbox approaches collaboration</li><li>The Andon Cord method &amp; why Bret believes in it&nbsp;</li><li>The key to cross-functional communication&nbsp;</li><li>Our expert’s outline for their weekly Scrum meeting&nbsp;</li><li>Lessons learned in Inkbox’s new collaboration with Walmart&nbsp;</li><li>Keeping audience front of mind&nbsp;</li><li>Flip, Marry, Kill: E-Comm&nbsp;style</li><li>An experience that wowed Bret</li><li>And more&nbsp;</li></ul><p><br></p><p><em>Ready for more fantastic Spamming Zero conversations ahead? Listen, rate, and subscribe on </em><a href="https://www.youtube.com/@spammingzeropodcast/videos" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"><em>YouTube</em></a><em>, </em><a href="https://listen.casted.us/public/126/Spamming-Zero-50f3e248/1540dfdf" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"><em>&nbsp;Casted</em></a><em>,</em><a href="https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-1-introduction-to-spamming-zero/id1626323789?i=1000564895366" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"><em> Apple Podcast</em></a><em>, or</em><a href="https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy5jYXN0ZWQudXMvMTI2L1NwYW1taW5nLVplcm8tNTBmM2UyNDgvZmVlZA" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank"><em> Google podcasts</em></a><em>.</em></p>

James: Hey everybody. It's July, 2023, and this month's sponsor of the Spamming Zero Podcast is Just Uno, justuno. com. That's J- U- S- T- U- N- O. com. They create personalized website experiences that converts specifically for eCommerce as well. They work with a bunch of direct to consumer brands, but I find it very fascinating. Here's some just stats that they have aggregated across all their customers. On average, a customer of theirs sees 135% lift in online revenue in the first year using Just Uno. That's amazing. That's incredible. They also see five times the amount that they grew their email list by almost by 500% with Just Uno, one of their customers called Snow Monkey. And then another one is 133, 000 industry leading brands leveraging Just Uno. This is insane to me. Just Uno offers a bunch of different solutions that I really can relate to as a marketer, especially if you're in the direct to consumer space. This is a great place to start. You can drive engagement through gamification, do personalization at scale, segmenting and targeting as well. Also tying into sales, you can increase the sales as well as the paid media and email list growth, which is one of the hardest things to do across all marketing. So that's justuno. com. They're incredible to work with. We love them here at Flip. They're one of our partners and they're also really well integrated into your eCommerce stack, so they already connected to your Shopify accounts, your Magentos, whatever your OMS might be, they can tie directly into it. That's justuno. com. I'm James.

Brian: And I'm Brian.

James: This is Spamming Zero. Welcome to another episode of Spamming Zero everyone. Thank you to all of our listeners out here who listen every single week. Thanks for sticking with us. We are joined by Brett Simpson, who is from Inkbox. Brett, welcome to the show.

Brett: Thank you very much for having me.

James: Yeah, absolutely. So Brett, tell us a little bit about your background and a little bit about your experience in eCommerce so far.

Brett: Yeah, I've spent the last 10 or 15 years at various eCommerce companies, usually with a focus on web to print, so I kind of ended up by accident specializing in that, but I think it was just a timing thing. I've kind of worked in small enough companies that I've worked all over the shop. So I've worked in marketing, I've done operations, I've done fulfillment. I've kind of built manufacturing systems out, and so now I try to just take a backseat and help other people with what they're trying to work on that maybe they need an outside perspective from other departments and try to represent those other departments interests when I'm working on a project with a given department.

James: Love it. So Brett, before we joined, we were kind of chatting a little bit and we were talking about it's really good weather here in Utah. So if we've been going outside a lot, and I was telling you how I'm taking my boys swimming today and you said, " I'm on a swimming break." So what are you on a swimming break from, and why?

Brett: I got another tattoo. I was just out of a swimming band because I got a tattoo. I was traveling for work and I kind of had a free day and I was like, I'll get a tattoo. And then as soon as that was over, I went swimming. I'm from Toronto where there's no swimming for most of the winter. So I was kind of excited to get into it. But then yeah, this week I decided to get another tattoo. There was an artist who was leaving town for a while and I was like, ah, they got an opening. I really want to get in there. So I got a full shin piece of my dog, my sassy orange dog.

James: What's your dog's name?

Brett: Hachi. Hachiko.

James: Ah, awesome. Is there meaning behind that?

Brett: It's a very sad story from Japan about a dog that was friends with a professor and he waited at the train station every day for the professor to get off the train. And if I remember correctly, I haven't seen the movie because it's too sad. She came to me with this name. But yeah, if I remember correctly, the professor passes away and Hachiko sits at the train station every day and waits for him to show up one day. Kind of the really sad episode of Futurama. As I understand it, that's why she's named Hachiko. She's really sweet though. She's like 11 years old. She's the queen of the house.

James: What kind of dog is it?

Brett: She's a Shiba Inu. This is her bed that I had to build her. This used to be a shelf that an air conditioner was on.

James: Awesome.

Brett: So I've cut a little hole there so she can come in from the backyard as she pleases and lie down, watch me work.

James: So if Chewy is listening, Brett needs some love for his dog just so it actually doesn't turn into a sad dog like the other one.

Brett: Yeah, exactly. No, we got to take care of Hachiko. She's a queen and she knows it.

James: Yeah, I love it. All right, so let's get started. First of all, I'd like to start these things off with just a quick little kind of different question. Today we are going to talk about quite a bit. So first of all, we're going to talk about leadership. Second, we're going to talk about collaboration and we're going to talk about how you address that at Inkbox as well. But before we do, what's your big guilty pleasure right now?

Brett: I would say I'm really into eighties Japanese city pop at the moment. I couldn't name a single artist, certainly not without mispronouncing it, but I've got a couple playlists and there are some absolute bangers that came out of Japan in the eighties. That's kind of my main playlist. It kind of makes your life feel... if you're stuck in traffic, I promise you put on eighties Japanese city pop, it makes your life feel like a video game. You're less upset about it. You're just on a side quest now.

James: That's awesome. I love that analogy. My daughter's been into K- Pop.

Brett: Oh yeah.

James: Actually more younger years, but still, I've never thought about it as a little side mission in a video game.

Brett: Yeah. It can change the way that you perceive kind of your life, which when I'm stuck in traffic, I really need all the help I can get.

James: All right. So let's dive into this topic. Would you be willing to share some insights into yours and Inbox's unique approach to collaboration? I know that's something that you said you were really passionate about, so let's talk about that. Give maybe a high level on your point of view on it and then how you're actually implementing that at Inkbox.

Brett: Yeah, I think we try to be a really high ownership environment and a high accountability environment. For both of those to coexist, it's also got to be super high trust. You need to make space for people to make mistakes, which everybody likes to say that, but it's really tough to build out a culture where people feel comfortable admitting their mistakes, especially in certain forums. You're going to get new team members all the time who are going to come in and that's going to be very new to them. So it's going to take them a while to feel comfortable with that. So a big part of it for me is leading by example. I try to encourage our team to, and I do every single time I make a pretty substantial mistake or oversight, which happens, or a bad decision, I present it in one of our cross- functional meetings the next Monday. I say, this is what I did, this is what I thought I was doing and this is where I went wrong. We haven't had too many people also do a slide in the company- wide meeting just yet. But people really appreciate it. I think that leading by example in terms of that and giving people the space to approach you with something and say either I don't have the answer to this. That's a big one. How many companies have you worked out where somebody will ask a question and the other person starts answering it? And it's really clear right away that the true answer is, I don't know. I don't know the answer to that, but I could find out and I could get back to you. But you don't have a culture where they're allowed to say that. You have a culture where they have to try to pull something on the fly and so they give you whatever answer is going to get them out of the hot seat, which is okay, but what that starts to do is that then other people hear you say that or they hear leaders of a certain level say that and it becomes gospel. Yeah. It's like, okay, well from now on we're doing it that way because I heard in a meeting my boss say we were doing it that way. But they might have just been panicked and they didn't have time to think about it. So I think it's really critical to make room for people to say, I don't know, I'm coming back to it or we did this and that was not the right move. That was a mistake and here's what we've learned. That was already in place before I started at Inkbox. I can't take credit for all of it, but I definitely try to make that a big part of our culture. At the very least, everybody knows that if they can't cop to a mistake in a 60 person Monday morning meeting, fair play, I understand. They at least know that they can message me or their boss or whoever they think could help them figure out the best way to deal with it and get it resolved. So that I think is a big part of it. Also, we're big on the Andon cord method where it's like anybody in the company can stop anything from moving forward if they see a big enough problem. They can talk to whoever they need to and they can say, put that whole project on hold because I've just identified this. And we're very careful to follow the Andon process. We thank them for it, we take time, we deal with it immediately and we take time to understand what they're saying. That's really important that they feel reinforced that they have the ability to stop the entire company moving if it's important enough. Because sometimes it is.

James: I love that approach because... well, there's a couple things that you said that I want to unpack for a second. One, I don't think enough leaders share their failures. You get to a certain level in an organization and you almost never even hear about them.

Brett: Yeah.

James: I don't know, I love that you're passionate about this because I'm also passionate about this. This is actually something that I talk about a lot on LinkedIn. I do like a CMO fail alert post every so often. I believe that the more that we can be transparent about our failures, the more that we can help people that are trying to reach the level that maybe we are already at be better and be better leaders in the future. I think ultimately we should all want to create that type of environment.

Brett: Yes.

James: I love that you're passionate about it and I love that you talked about that. I also really like the idea of anybody in the organization can stop a project. I think that's cool. This is the first time I've ever actually ever heard of that theory. So talk to me about how does it work. How does somebody raise that to the surface? It's through Slack or what?

Brett: So I think an important part of it is that it needs to be flexible. It needs to be you got to meet people on their level. If you're asking people to step outside of their comfort zone and you're asking that organization- wide, I want somebody... We set up a couple retail kiosks recently, just kind of an experiment. We're trying to keep it low cost and just see if we can increase retail presence in a certain area. We got there and we opened one of the drawers that was supposed to be where all the tattoos go and it was just an empty, like a rectangle. So we had all these Ziploc bags of tattoos and I had to put them somewhere before the mall opened and before we got people trained so they were locked up. So I just kind of dumped the box of tattoos in. When I was training or onboarding people just kind of showing them around, they opened the drawer and nobody said right away anything about it. I was like, "Okay, just to be clear, if you're ever at work and you see something this chaotic, this is not good enough. And you need to be in my inbox telling me, Hey man, that's bad and we need to solve that right now because that's just unacceptable." You've got to instill that in people so that they feel comfortable bringing it up because otherwise too many people will continue to operate like, I assume someone above me has thought about this already and decided that this isn't a big deal. You'll get six months into projects and then that will actually be the thing. The thing everyone was worried about is the thing that's going to cause a lot of problems and you've got to re- scope a bunch of stuff. And not hearing that early is very, very costly and you don't want to hear it early. You don't really want to hear it.

James: It's kind of like a silent killer.

Brett: Yeah.

James: It just lingers and eventually kills what you're doing. So I love that. You work a lot cross- functionally with teams as well. So talk to us a little bit about how you approach the cross- functional team side of this and how that plays a role in the culture.

Brett: Yeah, it can be really challenging. The main thing that I try to instill is that there cannot be secrets. Not that there aren't any, but there can't be because the longer you keep something secret, the less we can help you with it. So I really don't like... there are some operations. Development is a really good example of one that has to happen in a black box to a point. You can put in requirements, you can discuss prioritization, but the code of it for the most part, most people aren't going to understand what's happening there enough to weigh in on it, which is fine. Everything else, and including the design of that code, everything else needs to be happening kind of in an open accessible environment. We record most of our meetings. I record pretty much every meeting that I'm in and we make those available so that anybody can go back and find everything. We publish everything we can on either shared drives or confluence. It kind of varies by department, but as long as the information's available, I'm happy. We leverage Airtable a lot and everybody has access to each other's Airtable. There's very, very little that's hidden. And recently what we started doing in one of our Monday meetings is just a company wide scrum and it didn't really take... I thought it would take a little bit for people to catch on, but we just kind of started the first week. I gave people instructions the Monday morning on what I expected from them and I went first, and then I had our PM go next and I had our head of dev go next so that it was three people in a row that knew what they were comfortable in the format. Then everybody else, I was like, " Look, just say your piece. You've had a few examples. Do your best. Nothing's wrong here." That has taken a meeting that for a little while was in a bit of a state of limbo where the utility of it was kind of questionable and I was really trying to figure out exactly what it should be. Everybody I talked to wanted it to be something slightly different. It wasn't until we tried a few of those things, threw most of that out and then changed it to a scrum format, which I want to give credit to our PM Olivia for pushing for that. She suggested it and I was like, ah, I did really... yeah, I've been thinking about that and you know what, we're going to try it next week. We've been doing that and the feedback from across the teams has been that this is the most helpful that meeting has been for them for a long time, because now they actually understand what people are working on, what they're up against. They can volunteer help instead of being asked for it is a big one. And they can start to align some of their efforts just very passively, just in very minor ways with what other people are working on, which makes them way more effective when they start having to answer questions for somebody else to help them out. They already have the context so they know exactly where it's coming from and they kind of expected it.

James: So dive into that a little bit more if you don't mind. What's the framework of the meeting then? How does it operate?

Brett: It is now you show up, you listen to two minutes of Japanese city pop because the dead air at the beginning of the meeting kills me. After two minutes, two minutes in we start. I don't care who's there, we're starting two minutes in every single time. We pull up a slideshow. The slideshow is just a list of names for the first slide and that's the order we go in. That's just so that I don't go in between everybody and say, okay, you are next. Because when I do that, I have a tendency... When it's a Zoom meeting, you kind of-

James: Forget to fill the air.

Brett: You really start to feel like a late night jazz DJ. I'm like, thank you very much to the marketing team. Next up. So I just make a list. I tell everybody to go through it. The points of what I want to hear from you are up there, which is what was your main focus last week and very, very high level. How did that go? What is your main focus this week, and do you see any blockers or any areas that you're going to need to leverage other teams for help? We go through everybody. I take notes on things that seem like they need to be followed up on, which are fairly few and far between. Then we have a second section which we go through the rest of the presentation after that slide. People have an opportunity in advance to put anything they want to in that slide deck. So if you have an announcement or something that that's the right group for you, you have an opportunity to do it. But that happens after scrum usually doesn't happen to be honest. We go through the scrum and, when the meeting's over, the meeting's over. They often last 12 minutes, we book 30 minutes for it. It's Monday. Everybody's kind of happy to have the time back. Yeah, it's just been super productive. It's little things like our research and innovation team talking about what they're working on, giving our social team a heads- up that allows them to interact with our customers more thoughtfully knowing what's on the roadmap as opposed to... RNI is an easy one that they can be off in the lab all day and you wouldn't necessarily know what they're doing.

James: That's true.

Brett: Yeah. So yeah, it kind of brings everybody together. It's really quick and structured and people know what to expect from it and I think that's where most of the utility is coming from now.

James: Cool. So what are some successful launches and campaigns that you've done where you've put together this collaboration and some of this culture initiatives? Talk to us a little bit about that. I know you guys... I believe this is public and if it's not, we'll have to cut it out, but I believe it is. You guys just did a partnership with Walmart, right?

Brett: Yeah, we did. We got an opportunity to sell into Walmart, which is our first mass retail. We've done little retail placements. We have some contracts in retail, but nothing to this scale. This was really substantial and it affected... that touches every team. That's going to touch design, it touched development, it went to fulfillment, it went to research and innovation. Our compliance team worked so hard because when you're dealing with Walmart especially, you really have to follow all the rules, which for a company that was a startup and not acquired two years ago, following rules is kind of new to us. So following them all exactly to a T is quite difficult. Marketing got in on it. Our whole eComm team, that's kind of what was most interesting about it is we have a very eComm focused team. We have been for so many years, an eCommerce company. That's it. We've had a couple retail stores and they were successful, but you know what I mean, our head account-

James: For the most part, it's mostly online.

Brett: We're heavily specialized. So we were all of a sudden taking all these people who know eComm backwards and forwards and saying, okay, we're doing mass retail. You need to figure out what works in Walmart. So that changes... your whole creative direction has to change. You have to speak to a whole different type of consumer. Our negotiations changed. It was a lot less casual. So we had to bring everybody together and not only accomplish everything that we needed to accomplish to get that out on frankly an insane timeline, which we did, of course. But aside from that, we also had to learn what we didn't know and that was across the entire company, and then figure out how to fill those gaps before we got there. A lot of communication was involved. There's a lot of getting the key players in there to know contextually what everybody's doing so that you're not in lockstep, but you know very clearly when you need to ask someone either for help or what their opinion is or if something will affect their team. I think that's really, really the key of it is that you have to know when a decision you make in marketing is going to affect every other team on that list. And that's tough to do. It's really difficult to do and we don't always get it right. So we kind of err on the side of over communication. We do extra meetings about big projects, big initiatives like that, and as I said, we make sure people are comfortable asking the tough questions. Are we sure we can actually do this, because I see these roadblocks in place, and then we try to resolve those.

James: What was the timeline for the full Walmart rollout? Was it like 12 months, six months, longer?

Brett: It wasn't 12. I think from the beginning of the project to delivery was probably close to six, but that means so-

James: That's still fast, by the way.

Brett: So much of that has to happen in the first month so that the other two months you can achieve all the cascading list of things that you need to achieve.

James: Yeah, I was going to say that's actually pretty fast, especially since you guys were doing this for... this was the first time you've ever had, outside of the couple of stores, mass distribution into the brick and mortar.

Brett: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Yeah, we had to move extremely quickly. We had to make a whole list of decisions that we weren't making before and therefore weren't as confident in making and then do all that while you protect the very sizable eCommerce brand that we fill. For example, we can't just shut down our production line and just run mass retail because the paycheck's big. We have to figure out how to balance those things. Luckily I didn't have to figure that out. But yeah, it was definitely a challenge.

James: So what was your biggest learning moment and what do you feel like the biggest failure in that situation was?

Brett: I think one of the toughest things was that we held some of the team out for valid reasons until we had commitment that we were actually going to go ahead with something. We had to limit our investment in it, right?

James: Yeah.

Brett: But at the same time, you can't limit the investment too much. They are the biggest retailer in the world. They can tell me anything and I'm going to find a way to do it. But I think balancing that. What was the biggest failure of it?

James: Or what is the biggest success or what biggest learning moment that you feel like you got out of it?

Brett: Yeah, I think we learned a lot of small lessons about how the cascading decisions affected everybody. There were a lot of decisions that were being made in conjunction with Walmart for obvious reasons, like your assortment, which tattoos are we going to put on the shelves? Cause we've only got 10,000 on the website, so we can't put 10,000 in Walmart unfortunately. So we've got to figure out which ones. It's very easy to take a decision like that that everybody has input on and make it the world's biggest decision and take too much time with it.

James: I could not imagine doing that. That's a lot of tattoos.

Brett: It's also easy to do the opposite. Oh yeah, a lot of tattoos. There are themes though. We can see trends, but I think trying to decide all that was definitely challenging. We didn't have the time to user test it in the way that I would prefer to get exacting answers. I think it put us in a position where honestly, we should have done some garbage work for it. We should have made more mockups and more materials earlier in it that we could have presented to them so that some of the work was done a little bit later because we had a mountain of work to climb once we got it signed. I think that was the biggest thing that cross- functionally kind of made it difficult to execute at the same time. Had we over- invested in that and then not signed the deal, I would-

James: It would've been time wasted.

Brett: Yeah, I would be in here being like, the biggest mistake we made last year was over investing in this thing that didn't pan out.

James: I love the balance that you guys have chose to do there because I think that that's pretty telling. I think that it also speaks to the speed in which you were able to roll it out because I think six months not ever being there, that's actually really awesome.

Brett: Yeah.

James: Y'all should be proud of that.

Brett: Yeah. Yeah. No, the team definitely, across the whole organization, just worked really hard and did some really, really amazing stuff. Unfortunately at Inkbox, it kind of feels like that's a Tuesday. Everybody's like, yeah, we do impossible stuff all the time. It's not a big deal.

James: So I'm curious because you guys have a product that can be very specific to the generational gaps that exist in our world. So when you're rolling out to Walmart now, to your point, you have a different audience. You have an audience that might actually not be able to get online and transact, but they might be the younger generation like Gen Z. So let's talk a little bit about that. When you're going through your tattoo selection, and obviously that's a big group project. I can't imagine going through 10,000, but you said you had groups. So did you think about the generational differences between who your audience is and did that play a role in any of it?

Brett: That was actually what we... sorry, my chair's rolling away because my floor is not flat. That was a really big part of the challenge for us, and it was actually the opposite of what you were thinking.

James: Really?

Brett: Yeah, we get a lot of interest and a lot of consumers who are Gen Z, I guess using somebody else's credit card or what have you.

James: What I meant though is I bet you the Gen Z generation is not the ones that are specifically going on their website and transacting on their own. Now they're going to have more access to your products at Walmart or no?

Brett: So it's actually that we want to find a good way to serve what is... they're currently the core market almost is Gen Z for us.

James: Yeah.

Brett: So now that we're in Walmart, we have to consider that not everybody is a cooler than me, Gen Z kid. When we're dealing with the website, I frequently tell people... I'm not that old, but I frequently tell people like, " Hey man, I'm too old to know. I don't know what the answer to that is. Ask me a question I can do a spreadsheet on." So I never know what the Gen Z people are going to like. Then we were doing Walmart, we were like, there's actually going to be a huge... the semi- permanent tattoo market, the body art market as a whole extends a lot further than Gen Z. Gen Z was just more willing to adopt it because they couldn't get tattoos. They were more open psychologically. So they're more willing to entertain the idea that a tattoo that doesn't last forever and didn't hurt is still a real tattoo and is still something valid. Whereas there are a lot of people my age who we've talked about certain markets that were like, they're just going to look at it and be like, well, if it didn't hurt, it doesn't count.

James: I remember going to grocery, or not grocery stores, but gas stations that had the little penny candies and they'd have the gum.

Brett: Yeah.

James: And they'd have the tattoos. I would get so many of those as a young, young kid. My boys, we went to Hawaii and they wanted to get a tattoo on their face and all sorts of stuff. I'm like, " Yeah, go for it. Why not? It's kind of fun." I'm curious how much the history and the evolution of those early products in the eighties and nineties were, temporary tattoos were starting to become a thing, but they were in a very unique market. How much of that did that play a role in the history of Inkbox and what you guys do today? Do you guys ever look back at those situations?

Brett: Yeah, yeah, quite a bit. Our application process is very different from those and the experience with them is very different. So there's still, I think, room for those tattoos. I think especially we think about how Halloween. For a Halloween costume, do you really want a tattoo that lasts one or two weeks?

James: Nope.

Brett: Yeah. So we don't sell a lot of custom tattoos that are for Halloween costumes. We might sell tattoos that are Halloween themed and go with certain outfits, but you're not doing it for the costume. So there is kind of room for both. But the main thing that led our founders to start the business was that they wanted a tattoo that looked real enough that you could as an adult, wear it and go out to a bar and not necessarily get hazed, which I think would happen less these days, which I'm very happy about. But seven years ago when we started it, I feel like if you went in with an obvious temporary tattoo to the wrong bar, you'd get an earful about it.

James: No doubt about it.

Brett: So they wanted something that looked a little more realistic and would last longer and allow them to get the tattoos that they wanted in a real kind of experience without making a mistake that you get something dumb and you have to live with it for the rest of your life, which is a real concern in your, I don't know, early twenties I think. I was very concerned about that until, I don't know, I feel like I was 30 before I was kind of like, eh, I'll get whatever tattoo.

James: I don't care. All right, so I got to ask you this. The other day I wrote a post on LinkedIn and I asked everybody because it reminded me of this campaign that Domino's did, and they did it in Russia. Basically the first a hundred people that got the Domino's tattoo permanent, it had to be permanent, got pizza for 10 years for free or something like that. It was such a massive campaign, it blew up. So I asked this question to the LinkedIn world of what is a tattoo that you would get for a brand if they gave you free product?

Brett: Ooh, that's very tough because I have an ideological disagreement with getting brands on my body. Hang on, I'm just going to think about it for a second then I'll definitely have something. Okay, Royal Enfield. If I could get unlimited free Royal Enfield motorcycles, I would.

James: There you go. There you go. It was really interesting. There was people that put in gas stations and grocery stores and I was like, okay, these people are thinking a lot more logical than I was. I was like, I'd put you in Utah Jazz because I'm obsessed with them.

Brett: I did think about food because it was a consumable, but then I would couldn't think of anything other than Popeye's. And I was like, I don't think I can eat that much Popeye's.

James: I don't know, man. You could spread it out. It's free.

Brett: Forever. Yeah, that'd be a good vibe. I think I would waste it on something stupid. I would get synthesizers or motorcycles or something cool.

James: Man, I'm getting all these interesting thoughts in my head right now about, I want to partner with you guys and see if I can get a massive amount of people to get a temporary tattoo for two weeks for an event or something like that.

Brett: You definitely can.

James: It'd be so cool. I've never seen anything like that. Yeah, there's flash mobs out there that sing and dance, but have you ever seen a flash mob get all tattoos the same way? I don't think so.

Brett: Well, something I actually really... there's a tattoo artist, I think he's in Montreal. I don't really know, but a tattoo artist I follow on Instagram who takes old timey rubber hose cartoons and he'll take frames out of them and you can get a frame from an animation. So there are 64 other people out there with other frames of the same character. And altogether it makes an animation. I think that's so cool. You have this connection with all these other people that you will never encounter. And even if you do, you would never know.

James: That's pretty cool. I like that a lot.

Brett: I love that project. I really want to go get one, but I'm also really picky, so until he has the right characters and I'm in town.

James: Well, now that I know that you're really picky, how about as a follow- up to this, you send me in an email your favorite Inkbox tattoos, your top three.

Brett: Oh, that's easy. Yeah, I can do that. I have them on speed dial. I have bookmarks.

James: You have them already? That's awesome. Okay, let's flip gears here for a little bit. We do something on this podcast called FMK. Everybody knows what it is, but we're not going to say the word that starts with F. I got to clean it up for my kids.

Brett: I don't think I ... I didn't swear yet.

James: You can swear. It's just my kids get on me if I do.

Brett: Oh, okay.

James: If they hear somebody else do it, they're like, oh, no big deal. But if dad does it, they're like, "Dad, I can't believe you did that." You know how it goes.

Brett: Yeah, it makes sense.

James: All right, so let's talk about this. What is something sexy right now that you feel like is sexy in eCommerce?

Brett: It's got to be AI content. That's what everybody's into. That's the thing that, especially the sexy descriptor, because maybe there's less to it right now, but it's super attractive and we all really want to leverage it. There's one project. I can mention just a random... yeah, I already said a brand. So there's one project that I saw on TikTok that is called GPT Boss.

James: GT Boss. I haven't heard this one.

Brett: It's really quite small. I don't know. He has a lot of users I think, but it's pretty rudimentary. But basically it's a whole team of people who are specialized in certain areas, but all the people are just trained AI models that are specifically focused on marketing or certain functions like writing a business plan or something like that. Content generation. I hate writing Instagram captions. You can get Instagram captions all generated here.

James: Wow. So he's basically created his own little organization.

Brett: Yeah.

James: That's wild.

Brett: All the characters, all the personas have names and everything, and the more you use each of them within the memory window, the more they'll leverage that information you can put in your company info, et cetera. I haven't really done much with it yet, but I think it's super cool and super interesting.

James: Oh, I'm going to have to play with that now. So if you need a reminder, it's called GPT Boss,

Brett: GPT Boss. If you Google it, it does come up. I think a credit is one character and you get 25,000 credits as a demo. It's pretty generous. You can play around with it quite a bit, and then it's like 20 bucks a month or something.

James: Oh wow.

Brett: So it's not too bad. If you wanted to take it for a test drive, it doesn't seem too bad.

James: I'm definitely going to do that. Okay. What is something you love, or in this particular case would marry in eCommerce right now?

Brett: I got to say the offline kind of connection of whatever the brand is when you finally get the product. I get so much stuff on Amazon. I'm always buying... if it's under 10 bucks and I really want it, I'm just buying it. It's always just loose box garbage packaging. So it's so much more important now when you get iPhones kind of played out. We've all seen it too many times, but when you get something and you start unpacking and it's really thoughtful the way you unpack it. It's kind of like we've put so much into onboarding digital experiences. There's like chameleon, there's so many tools just to take you from somebody who doesn't know what they're doing and bring you into the ecosystem. But physical products often or the end output often gets neglected. And when you're up against drop shippers and Amazon, I think it's something that's so compelling. It's tough to focus on because it comes after conversion and it doesn't tough to tie to retention, but it's the thought there really, really makes it a difference and builds a connection, I think.

James: I cannot agree with you more. I'm actually doing a fun little speaking gig next week in Vegas and part of what I'm talking about is sensory marketing and the gentleman, the CMO for MasterCard, Raja inaudible, the stuff he's doing. They have a credit card, people. Like a credit card, and they have a sound, they have a smell. This stuff really makes a difference. The more research that I do on sensory marketing and the way our senses can invoke memory, it's just incredible to listen to and to watch. I think more brands need to do it. For example, there's a reason why when we listened to a song that we heard back in high school and we were in love with somebody that was in high school, and all of a sudden all these feelings come back and all these memories come back. Music does that, right? Smell is actually the strongest scent that is tied to memory. So when we smell something, oh, this reminds me of that person, or this reminds me of this particular event or situation. There's a reason why when you go to Vegas and these large resorts have smells going through their vent system and producing oxygen so that you don't have to smell the smoke even though you're in a place where people can smoke. It's like there's all of these situations where senses play a vital role in the experience. I think it's too many brands have gotten away from it. Yeah, the unpacking really doesn't matter. The visual, the touch, if it's got texture to it, so many things make a difference. So just the touch alone has multiple aspects to it.

Brett: The weight. Yeah. The credit cards are such a good example because they weigh... I'm making this up, but I don't know, 40 grams, 30 grams, something like that.

James: Really small.

Brett: A 10 gram difference on those is like 33% of the difference. So just an extra 10 grams makes it feel so much more substantial. In my shop, actually, can we go on a little product design tangent?

James: Heck yeah.

Brett: Is that cool?

James: Let's do it.

Brett: I had throw some light shade at somebody way more successful than me. I bought a set of Dungeons and Dragons dice to make decisions for me in my in workshop right now. I have something over here I call the infinite to- do list, which is just a list of all the things that I want to work on, but I-

James: Don't have time.

Brett: Yeah. So sometimes I'll be in my shop and I'll tidy up, which isn't on the list because you have to do that before you're allowed to do the list. Then I'll roll usually a D 20. Sometimes I'll count how many things are on the list and I'll roll the appropriate dice, and then whatever that lands on, that's what I'm working on that day. Sometimes I veto it. I'm like, eh, I don't want to do that. But these are so heavy. They're solid, solid metal of whatever.

James: The D&D dice are, for sure. My son has some of them.

Brett: This one, you could break a window with this if you really gave her. I was so satisfied with those. So we have a D& D group at the office and it was one of those months when you get paid three times. So I was feeling like a millionaire and I bought everybody in the group their own set because I couldn't put them down. Then I was waiting in the mail for something. This is where I'm going to throw some undeserved shade at somebody more successful than me. I was waiting for something to come in the mail that was on a similar vibe called Build dice by Simone inaudible. She's a YouTuber. She made the truckload, which unreal that thing. It's like an El Camino. It's sick. But she made these Build dice, which kind of have things on each side and they're different. There's three of them, they're different categories. So you kind of roll them and it tells you a category to build. So this is no power tools or something's going to be not useful. This would be what you make. So a gift or a vehicle or furniture, and then what you're going to make it out of. So when I have nothing on the list, which hasn't happened yet, then you can roll these. And right now it would tell me to make out of wood, which is good because I have the tools for low budget, which is good because I have that budget, a gift. I might actually do that. I'll put that up here. Anyway, these are aluminum or something.

James: That's really cool.

Brett: They're great, but they're not as heavy and they're so much bigger. I got them in the same week and I was just like, ah, I really wanted-

James: Wish they were heavier.

Brett: Yeah. I think it would be crazy for them to be this dense. I think it would be way too much for most people. It would put dent in your workshop table and stuff. But still, because I had these that day, I really wanted these to just be solid steel and crack my floor if I dropped them.

James: Real question.

Brett: Yeah.

James: Have you seen the new D& D movie?

Brett: I have not. I am the absolute worst at watching films. I can't do theaters. I can't do...

James: But it's D& D. It's the first real D& D movie.

Brett: I'll watch it-

James: When it comes out on Netflix?

Brett: Yeah, I'll watch it when it comes out on Netflix. I'll put it on my big screen in my garage while I'm working on something else. I cannot go to theaters anymore. I don't have the attention span. I can't even really just sit and watch a film. I did a graph for my D& D group, because they were giving me a hard time, about how much I care about a character from when I'm introduced to them to in context of the media. It takes me so long to care about the characters in a film that by the time I do, it's over. Then there's no film for me to care about. But with television, I can deal with it because usually I get a couple seasons to hang my hat on after I start to care about the characters. But yeah, no films, I think it's also because I used to work at a video store for like a year.

James: Oh, that explains it. Blockbuster?

Brett: No, a lovely, lovely out of business shop in inaudible, Ontario, Canada called Queen Video. I have a tattoo commemorating my experience.

James: You got a brand on your body?

Brett: No, I got a symbol of where I work. It's a VHS tape there. All these, this whole arm is just symbols.

James: So close.

Brett: Yeah. But I got to the point I was watching a lot of DVDs because they're free and I got to the point where I would just look at the timer on the DVD player and be like, oh, okay, so what's about to happen is fall from grace for the main character is the hero's journey. I don't know why I get so hung up on it. That's the whole idea of going to a movie. What do I want them to tell me? A story that doesn't end well? No, but I don't know. I just can't do it anymore.

James: There's some out there that you could watch that don't end well.

Brett: Interestingly, the ones that kind of work for me are horror films, which are even more kind of handcuffed to certain themes and constructs. But I find it more like it's like pop music. They're in a box, but they're going to be as creative as they can in that box. The rest, I don't know. Yeah, it's a bad. It's not a good trait. Everybody likes films but me.

James: That's fine. Not everybody does. That's totally fine. So what would you kill in eCommerce right now?

Brett: If I could, you know what? At least if I did it would happen universally. We got to get rid of popups. It's so crazy. You go to a website now, you got GDPR or CCPA, depending on your region, both if it's poorly implemented.

James: Cookies.

Brett: You got an email signup. Yeah, the cookies banner. You got email signup. You got-

James: Accessibility, the chat.

Brett: Yeah, chat. You got something that's... at least me because I'm in Canada, you always get something that's like, Hey, we know you're in Canada and we do ship there. Yeah, everybody ships to Canada, dog. I didn't need a popup. I know how to find the page. The challenge with those is I'm known for that in my company. I'm always like, ah, no popups. I hate popups, but I'm also data- driven. So I'm always like, prove to me that that popup is going to make us money and you can keep it. And they do every time. Every time they're like, " Hey, I want to put a spinner in the pop- up, like a wheel, a spin to win." And I'm like, " Man, I hate that. No, that's the worst. We can't do that. Throw it up, see if it works." And it does every time. It's so frustrating.

James: That's awesome.

Brett: Somebody's got to come up with something else. I don't know what it is, but we got to come up with something that's not a popup and not auto playing a video or music because that we need to leave in the past. That gets all this information across. It gets email signups and I do the email. I sign up for the email things too. So I know it works, but it's got to go. I can't use the internet anymore. It's too much stuff in my way.

James: I love this. This is awesome. I've actually never heard anybody talk about popups that way or that they have such a dislike for them, but their teams have got them approved every time.

Brett: It's not even in very rare circumstances would I be able to make that decision unless there was data to back me up that I could prove it. But yeah, I always challenge people. They wanted to put spin to win up for so long on our website, and in some regions it is up, and that's because it works and people like it. The customers respond to it in a positive way. They buy something which means that they didn't hate the experience, but the experience is bad.

James: It really is kind of weird how we enjoy the things that we don't like sometimes as human beings.

Brett: Yeah, TikTok is a constant reminder of that.

James: No doubt.

Brett: They'll bring me some stuff that I'm like, man, I don't want to watch this.

James: What did I just watch? So Brett, we're at time, but we can't let you get off until you answer this question. Tell us about an experience that you've had that left vivid memories for you or something that just really wowed you.

Brett: I will try to be concise. I went on a trip to Portugal a few years ago and I went to Porto where they make port wine, the fortified wine, very popular. Not for me. Also, as it turns out, not for the other seven to eight Canadians and Brits. They put Canadians, British people and Australians together in tour groups on purpose because we're all kind of culture. We're a little rowdy. We're kind of like Americans. We're a little too rowdy. So they put us all together and we went on this whole tour and everybody was... We were going to the wineries, we were tasting the wine. We were all being good sports about it. Yeah, lovely wine. We love what you're working on here. The architecture was beautiful. Seeing the landscape was beautiful. Our tour guide started asking us like, " Hey, how are you guys feeling about the wine so far?" We were like... we all hesitated. And he was like, " You guys don't like it, do you?" We all kind of one by one we're like, " You know what? It's good. There are things I can appreciate about it, but maybe one, two glasses. I think I'm four deep now. I think this stuff's a little strong. We usually drink beer." So he told us, he was like, 'We have two more wineries to hit, but if you'd prefer..." we were talking about his childhood, asking him a bunch of questions about that. He was telling us how he grew up in the mountains, herding goats and going camping and walking miles through the mountains with goats. We were all super interested in that. He was like, " Would you be interested, instead of hitting the last two wineries, of swinging past kind of where I grew up, the little mountain village where I grew up." And we were like, " Yeah." He was like, "I'll get you farmer's wine." And we were like, " What's that?" He was like, " It's literally the people who live there, every one of them grows grapes and they make wine themselves every year and they will give you as much as you want to drink. They're happy to share it. That's what it's for. But it's like young wine, it's not very good. It's nothing like what you've been having. I want to set your expectations." We were like, " No, that sounds good actually." So he took us up there and it was this tiny, tiny mountain town. There was one fluorescent bulb in the one store that they had. He told us to wait in the car and he went and he talked to the lady who ran the store, and she was so happy to invite us in. A couple of the Canadians in our group spoke French. It just so happens that in this mountain town in Portugal, everybody speaks French. It was just a holdout from French occupation. So we could actually really communicate. We got to learn so much about the actual experience of growing up in Portugal in the early 1900s and how they live in this village and how they all come together. It's kind of like a community farm village. Money's kind of weird there. You don't really exchange it that much with the people who also live there. You try keep it out of it and you just take care of each other. It was just such a fulfilling experience. I should probably look up if the guy's still doing tours or if he opened his dream farm and give him a shout- out. But it was just so unreal to get that real human connection and really experience, not this dressed up, you are so special, thank you for coming to our winery type of situation. It was truly an exchange of information and ideas and us telling her what it was like in Canada and her telling us what it was like growing up in a mountain in Portugal and what their national festivals were like and stuff. It was just incredible.

James: That is awesome. I hope you took a lot of pictures of that.

Brett: Not enough. Not enough. It's never enough. I always leave my phone in my pocket too long.

James: Well Brett, we are at time. Thank you so much for joining us today on Spamming Zero.

Brett: Thanks for having me. I had a lot of fun.

James: Yeah, you've been great, man. We got to have you back. You're a great storyteller. I like that on the show.

Brett: Thanks. Yeah, I do what I can.

James: If you have not yet subscribed to the podcast, we would love it if you would give us a rating.

Brett: Oh, I've been listening to the podcast a little bit over the last couple weeks, but I didn't subscribe, so I will.

James: What do you think about it so far?

Brett: It's good. It's good to get different perspectives. I think the content is different enough every episode, which is nice. It's not a good work on your motorcycle podcast because you do have to pay attention. So it goes into the bucket of ones that I listen to while I'm actually paying attention, which is probably a good spot to be for this type of content as opposed to comedy podcast, which yeah, if I miss two jokes, I'll be okay.

James: Yeah, well, let me know how we can improve it. We're always looking for new ways to do it, so let me know.

Brett: Sure, yeah, I'll send you some thoughts. But yeah, it's good stuff.

James: Brett Simpson, everybody, from Inkbox.

Brett: Thanks very much.


Successful collaboration can sometimes feel like an impossibility… especially so when there are HUGE changes happening in an organization. 

So, when we come across a leader who’s doing it—and doing it really well—we pick their brain.

Bret Simpson, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Inkbox, is one such person. And we’re so glad he agreed to share his insights this week - on Flip CX’s Spamming Zero podcast. 

What’s Covered? 

  • Bret’s background (including his current guilty pleasure) 
  • High-level POV: How Inkbox approaches collaboration
  • The Andon Cord method & why Bret believes in it 
  • The key to cross-functional communication 
  • Our expert’s outline for their weekly Scrum meeting 
  • Lessons learned in Inkbox’s new collaboration with Walmart 
  • Keeping audience front of mind 
  • Flip, Marry, Kill: E-Comm style
  • An experience that wowed Bret
  • And more 

Ready for more fantastic Spamming Zero conversations ahead? Listen, rate, and subscribe on YouTube,  Casted, Apple Podcast, or Google podcasts.

Today's Host

Guest Thumbnail

Brian Schiff

|CEO of Flip
Guest Thumbnail

James Gilbert

|CMO of Flip

Today's Guests

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Bret Simpson

|Director, Strategic Initiatives @ Inkbox
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