Branden Lisi is the Co-founder of Object 9, a digital agency started in 1992 around the dawn of the internet. His team built a great reputation revitalizing brands starting with Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR), which led to many other assignments in the food and beverage space. Over the last 10 years, Object 9 has moved into helping equipment and machinery companies build a sustainable lead generation program. Branden is also a franchise owner and pastry inspector.
In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Branden Lisi, the Co-founder of Object 9, about how he built a digital agency and his experience working with CPG brands. Branden also discusses best practices for cold calling, how Hurricane Katrina impacted his business, and his tips for building a great company culture.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- How Branden Lisi started a digital agency in 1992
- Branden’s experience doing cable sales for a telecom company and how he used those skills to build his own business
- Branden talks about working with PBR, Diageo, Red Stripe, and best practices for cold calling
- How Hurricane Katrina impacted Branden’s business
- Why Branden pivoted from the consumer packaged goods industry — and his tips for building a great company culture
- How Branden became a franchise owner and his experience being diagnosed with cancer
- Tips for opening a new store in a new location
- The people Branden appreciates for their support
Resources Mentioned In This Episode
- Object 9
- Branden Lisi on LinkedIn
- Neal Stewart on LinkedIn
- Pabst Blue Ribbon
- Red Stripe
- Rocket Fizz
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Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.
John Corcoran 0:40
All right, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here, the host of this show. You know. if you are new to this podcast you haven’t heard before, but check out our archives because we got some great interviews with smart CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs from companies and organizations ranging from Netflix to Kinkos’, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, OpenTable, and many more. And I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25 where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And my guest here today is Branden Lisi. He’s the Co-founder of Object 9, which get this digital agency that started in 1992, around the dawn of the internet. And his team built a really great reputation revitalizing brands starting with PBR – Pabst Blue Ribbon, that classic beer, led to lots of assignments in food and beverage brands. And then over the last 10 years, Object 9 has moved into helping companies such as equipment and machinery companies, helping them with building a sustaining lead generation program. So that’s what he’s focused on now. But we’re also going to talk about his personal journey, a cancer journey, we’re going to talk about moving into different types of businesses, such as candy stores that tapped into his background and upbringing and family history. And we’ll talk all about that and how he got his title, which is pastry inspector, I love that.
Of course, this episode is brought to you by Rise25, where we help b2b businesses to get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done for you podcasts and content marketing. Go to rise25.com and you can learn all about it. Alright, Branden, pleasure to have you here today. And I gotta hear about this. How did you start a digital agency in 1982? And how, how, what even was a digital agency in 1992? That I don’t even think that was a term back then.
Branden Lisi 2:30
Well, first of all, let me thank you for having me on the show. I’m honored to be on on your podcast man I am. I’m actually a big fan. So thank you. So when we started in 92, it wasn’t called a digital agency. We were just enamored with technology. My business partner, John Kato, in particular is always what I would characterize as kind of on the bleeding edge. Actually, I would say I’m probably more Mr. Analog. In the business, you know, I was the guy who was more in tune with guitars and golf clubs and that kind of thing. But we always had a technology bent to our business. And when we started, I was 26. And John was 24. And the only marketing directors who are ages at that time were in telecommunications. And so really kind of the clients that a lot of ways sort of drugged us more towards or opened us up towards digital marketing, because that’s what they needed. And that’s the world that they were playing. And so it was really kind of inclination, in terms of enjoying technology, but also really important to have the kinds of clients that we did at that point in time. And we got into doing a lot of things, some of the old school folks that are listening to podcasts, or remember Macromedia Director, and some of those basic kinds of things. And we were building websites pretty early on in the process when people didn’t, you know, they were still thinking of the interwebs. They didn’t really know what it was. And so we got into it. And we were just as I said, you know, in our pre production call, we just evolving towards something. Just really were two guys that wanted to kind of control our own destinies. I realized pretty early that I wasn’t cut out for corporate America.
John Corcoran 4:22
And actually, I want to ask about this experience because you, you were doing sales for a company that was bought out by one telecommunication company eventually bought out by Cox. You’re making $60,000 a year, which was a load of money back then, working 20 hours a week doing cable sales. And then one day they call ever into a mandatory staff meeting and you’re thinking up that’s it. The gig is up. I’m being fired. Tell us about that experience.
Branden Lisi 4:52
Yeah, so you know, I had been in cable sales literally live the existence of Jim Carrey’s character, the cable guy I will As the cable guy went and did sales installed them, it was really an amazing job. I was making a ridiculous amount of money for work, the hours I worked. And selling cable back then was a little bit like selling toilet paper. I just walk around until somebody’s out there now I’ll take some cable. And we had been purchased. We were a privately owned company locally owned, real family oriented, great place to work, great environment, great culture. We got bought by a company called Tci. And they had told everybody Oh, no, we’re keeping everything exactly as is. The day of the merger, we get paged, because back then we all had pagers, mandatory, meaning I’d be there the next day, and I figured man, the gig is up, you know, I’m going to this, I’m gonna lose this job. I actually showed up the next day, wearing my suit and tie and had the one that heads with me back in the day when people still use the newspaper to find jobs. And I walked in and I was in a room with all the other sales guys and my sales manager or my new sales manager walked in, and when everybody in that other room, there’s about 200 of them, they’re all getting fired, but we’re keeping you guys because you’re the ones who are making money. And I left there that day after seeing the kind of devastation that they wrought on that company. You know, they were tearing out a lot of people right before their pensions were due and whatnot, trying to save money. And I just really didn’t like the way they handled any of it. It was not very classic. And I called my my best friend up from college, and said, Hey, man, that idea you have for business, let’s do it. And so that’s kind of what got me into it. I was always interested in science. That’s where I thought I was going to be because I was a chemistry major in college, but I got into marketing and sales and really loved it. And kind of found a natural aptitude in that background in the telecom world and understanding kind of how the cable and telecommunications networks work gave me some credibility that helped me get clients in the telecom space. And that’s really where we were for the first decade of our business. And so it
John Corcoran 7:03
moved. So in a sense, it was it was kind of taking some of the skills you had honed, working for this larger company, and then kind of spun them off doing it for yourself.
Branden Lisi 7:11
Yeah, and I think, you know, some of it was, you know, it wasn’t always around the technology, it was understanding that what drove the business was subscriber acquisition and churn reduction, right? I mean, that’s the metrics that matter in the world of, you know, connectivity. And can I get subscribers can Can I keep them, it’s just like software sales. And so I understood the marketing and sales drivers of that first business, from the bottom of the organization. But when I would walk into a telecommunications business, they were still very sales driven back in the 90s. And I could relate to them and talk with them on their terms and their metrics. And they felt understood. And I think that’s kind of been a central theme of my experience as a marketing person for 30 years is, you just you have to understand the category and you have to be able to relate to the client, and the pain and the issues and the pressures that are facing that client. Yeah, so that’s really what allowed us to transition into telecommunications. And that got us into some big companies. So we got to ride the Worldcon rocket ship to the moon while they were in growth through acquisition mode. And fortunately, we got out when they got into growth through fraud a little bit later. And then we pivoted a little bit, did some self promotion, because one of the projects we did for the telecom company was turned out to be very instrumental. We had done prepaid calling cards and we were actually the ones that introduced prepaid calling cards as a consumer product in the US at that point up till that point in time, they were really a consumer product or collectible kind of product to the more prevalent in Europe where they had a lot of currency issues and whatnot. And we rolled out prepaid calling cards in the US and that was our first package Goodge GOODS project. And then we leveraged that one case study and to getting work for PBR. And that were led to literally millions and millions of dollars, where the work for hundreds of different kinds of brands in the world of consumer packaged goods, and
John Corcoran 9:25
PBR has gone through this kind of up and down over the last 25 30 years where it was trendy and it wasn’t trendy. Where were you in that evolution was it was it we were?
Branden Lisi 9:37
Yeah, we we were the guys that were part of it. And there’s a guy named Neil Stewart, who was the brand manager who I think was super instrumental. He and the partners on the group of people that are were on our agency team working together really had a very dynamic client agency, understanding of the product and the brand and the consumers and there was a lot of interest in authenticity. And that was sort of the foundational element of the PBR resurgence. And so we were right there in the heart of it for 2000. And we get a lot of credit for it, and I think rightfully so. But Neil Stewart, who was the brand manager, really was an excellent brand manager understood the product, understood the customers and was a great person to work with. And the work we did grew the brand substantially. We ended up doing work across our entire portfolio, I think it was 35 brands. And that gave us a real good foundation and the wine, beer spirits face. And then when they sold that business off, a lot of those PBR brand managers went to other places and ended up calling us and we worked on their brands. But it also gave us a lot of national credibility for brand revitalization. And that led to a call from Diageo. And we, like our brand, do Diageo.
John Corcoran 10:56
Yeah, as a huge liquor brand. And you actually got that huge account through a cold call, and you’re a big fan of cold calling, even to this day.
Branden Lisi 11:06
Yeah, man, it still works. Everybody’s enamored with digital marketing, and rightfully so. And we do that. But getting on the phone, or having that kind of capability to reach out to people and engage with people and start a conversation still matters in this business, because this is inherently, like many other businesses very relationship driven.
John Corcoran 11:27
How does it work today? What are the best practices for cold calling today?