Episode 1: The Unicorn Hunters

By Jen Neumann on March, 5 2024
Group 8054

Fresh Thinking by de Novo.

At de Novo, your goals become our goals. It's how we help our clients succeed. Want to pull back the curtain and see how we do it? Check out our various insights and musings on our blog.

Stay up to date

dN_Podcast_Branding Banner


On our first episode, we cover some common terms from our de Novo glossary, talk about the power of leveraging a fractional marketing team, break down some ads from the big game, and provide a path to help you find your creative unicorn. 

For more information about fractional marketing, check out our blog: Do you need another employee, or do you need a Unicorn?

The conversation doesn't end here! Find us on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, sign up for our newsletter, or send us an email at: with the subject "Dear de Novo." 


Transcript for Podcast Episode 1

The Unicorn Hunters: Your Guide to Fractional Marketing

Jen  0:01  

Hello and welcome to– are you talking? Oh my God. All right, we'll try this again. Ryan, Are you settled? Okay

Jen  0:20  

Hello and welcome to Think Fresh, a podcast brought to you by de Novo Marketing's collective creative, coming to you from our Ideas Institute and here to talk about all things marketing. Insights on new trends, innovative ideas, and marketing tools you can use in your day-to-day life, and whatever else we deem relevant. I'm Jen Neumann, de Novo CEO and your host,


and I'm Ryan Shenefelt, account manager innovation and education lead, and resident nosy eavesdropper, always looking to push the envelope.

Jen  0:48  

He is indeed very, very nosy. 

Ryan  0:51  

Today, we're going to talk about fractional marketing. So as we get started, we should probably define a few things just so everyone's on the same page. We have a lot of words we say a lot here at de Novo, but they might not be obvious. So Jen, what are our ideas Institute?

Jen  1:08  

Well, our Ideas Institute is where we're broadcasting from right now. And it's a recent expansion of our space. We're here in the world headquarters of de Novo, here in the cherry building in Cedar Rapids. And the Ideas Institute is really where we go to generate those crazy ideas. It's a space for ourselves and our clients. And it's just, it's got a great energy to it here. 

Ryan  1:33  

On top of all of that kind of creative energy that you you mentioned, we have something we say a lot of de Novo the collective creative. Can you explain that a little bit for all of our new listeners?

Jen  1:42  

Well, the collective creative is exactly what it sounds like. It's, it's all of these creative weirdos here at De Novo working together. We like to explain to our clients that really in our company, everybody gets to weigh in on projects, and everybody lends their creative ideas and their energy to giving our clients the best results. So our collective creative is just all of us together working to produce the craziest ideas that work

Ryan  2:09  

why Think Fresh, what is what is Think Fresh, besides the name of our podcast?

Jen  2:15  

Well Think Fresh, that's in our roots. I mean, that was that was on our first business cards back in 2007. And it is what we come back to every time we think about, you know, how we define ourselves as an agency, we start to stray from it, and then we come back to it because that's really at the heart of everything we do here. It's it's not about formulas. It's not about, you know, repeating a recipe. It really is about bringing fresh, crazy ideas to everything we do. 


Ryan  2:45  

And this isn't I've been here for 11 years, you're on 17/ 16? 


It's…it's some number in that range…


 What came first Think Fresh with the cherry branding, or were we in the cherry building first?


Jen  2:57  

No, the cherries weren't part of the branding until we moved to the cherry building, okay,

Ryan  3:02  

so it's no good to know. Good to know. But the fresh ideas were always around. Always,


Jen  3:07  

always, always Think Fresh. Alright, now that we've defined a few of the basics, what are we here to talk

Ryan  3:11  

about? Today, we are talking about fractional marketing, which, when I first heard this term, it took me a while to piece it together. So Jen for everyone, and honestly, for me a little bit, can you go into what fractional marketing is?

Jen  3:26  

Do you not read my blog? 

Ryan  3:29  

I will say I didn't know what fraction of marketing was. I've heard of it, I mean, I know how we operate. I know that we operate now as a fractional marketing team for many of our clients. But your blog was the first time that I that I read that we talked about it a lot at De Novo about like finding a unicorn, you're not going to find a unicorn, and it really seems like fractional marketing is almost hiring a unicorn or, or helps you on that hunt for a unicorn. 

Jen  3:57  

Good, Ryan. you get an A-minus for that. That's pretty good. Fractional marketing is sort of a new way of talking about an old concept. Fractional marketing is in many ways like a retained marketing service. And what it really stemmed from was understanding the needs of today's marketing directors and creatives, marketing departments, and the challenges they find in hiring and keeping their talent. And so what fractional marketing does, the way we do it offers that consistency, and high quality and responsiveness to a marketing department, a marketing director. In some cases, there's not a marketing director, but what it does is it keeps things consistent for our clients and keeps a high level and very high-quality content production. 

Ryan  4:48  

Perfect. Yes, thank you for explaining it like that. That makes a whole lot more sense. One thing that you were saying is is a marketing team. Are there other variations of this fraction of marketing like a marketing director, or really is it best to do a full fractional marketing department or team 

Jen  5:06  

It’s wrapped around what the client needs and what that particular company community or organization might be trying to achieve. So, in some instances, we function as marketing director and marketing team for some groups. And in others, we meld right into their team and function alongside them and strategize with them, and are a part of, of what they are able to produce. So it's really flexible and nimble to how today's marketers need to be supported. So our use of fractional marketing came from the audience audit research report through the Agency Management Institute. And what it really showed was today's marketing leaders are struggling to manage a lot of different vendors or a lot of different people. And when they lose someone in their department, it leaves a really big hole. So what we do is we come in alongside that and we say, you know, we're consistent, we are able to fill in gaps, or we are able to develop strategy and help you execute on it. So it's really, you know, when we talked earlier about being able to be flexible for our clients, that's what this is, it's really helping them meet their goals in whatever way. But when you think about what it costs to hire a team member, and what happens when you lose them. A team member has typically a set of skills, but they don't have all of the skills, I mean, there, there aren't too many marketing unicorns out there. And they are going for a pretty, pretty high price, I would imagine what fractional marketing, the way we do it does is gives you a team for the price of an employee or two.

Ryan  7:00  

The term marketing unicorn is one that I think when whenever we have clients talking about hiring a marketing manager, they want that person to have social media skills, graphic design skills, a little bit of video work, be able to update the website, it's like that's, that's a lot of skills. Each one of those is almost its degree and its person, and very rarely, like you said, well you find that one person so that's why we call that the unicorn, everyone's looking for this unicorn, and I'm sure every industry has their version of a unicorn. They exist, but they are few and far between. Some may say they're unicorns, but really they just have a horse with a horn strapped to them. Or they're on cocaine one of the two, or they're on cocaine, yes. Much more popular back in the is it 90s 80s 80s When the business people were, you know, we don't even have to get into it, we don't even have to get into it. One thing that you briefly mentioned was those holes that happen when somebody leaves on the team, being an account manager, I've been able to experience this a little bit when my point of contact changes, it's it's always hard to work with a with a new person, however, you then become almost the resource for them. I've been able to tell them like oh, no, like, this is how we did it last year because we learn these things. So that I don't want to call it continuity. But truly, that's what it is when you when you get to work with with another group of people. You don't just lose one person, you have the full team there. So have you have you run into into any issues with people losing team members are wanting to grow a team but then people leave? Yeah,

Jen  8:40  

I mean, the way people work now and the way they sort of ladder up their careers these days is often to leave a company to get that, you know, next pay bump or that next promotion that they want, if it's not happening fast enough. So that's, that's hard, especially on smaller teams to offer that type of that type of opportunity to them at the pace that they want. People don't stay in jobs for 20 years. You are you're not going anywhere. But most people don't. And so you know, when when you might have somebody for a maximum of five years, these days, you just have to think how do I how do I keep that continuity? And you're right. I mean, we have we have clients where they've had their marketing director leave, and they have a very small team. And we have been able to provide that consistency and say, This is where we were in the strategy. This is what we've done so far and be able to give them that historical context.

Ryan  9:34  

So one of the things that we've talked about for fractional marketing is that it's very flexible and you can scale up or scale down. We talked about a teammate leaving and that producing a whole but But what about if like the director leaves or if the marketing, the marketing VP leaves How can we help there?

Jen  9:52  

Well, one of the things that we've we've done on occasion and can do for our clients is provide that fractional Leadership and stepping into that role. It's not something that we want to do permanently if their structure is to have a marketing director or a CMO or VP in that role, but it is something that we can help fill that gap so that their team isn't leaderless at that time. So it can be, it can be a really critical move for a company to do that. And to have that option.

Ryan  10:24  

And even if the director doesn't leave, one thing that we do with our retainer clients is we can scale up or scale back if needed, maybe a few months, where we provide some more hours to them, just in the interim, while they are working through working through their hiring process, because hiring in itself is basically a job finding those new people, especially if you do have a little bit higher turnover, it seems like your HR team is constantly hiring and directors are being pulled into meetings, when when can they actually do the marketing work,

Jen  10:56  

we've even helped some of our clients find that replacement at times or been a part of interviews or selections. It's just such a critical role sometimes, and you want to get the right hire and having somebody on the outside can can be really helpful.

Ryan  11:12  

Something that we've said a few times here is is retainer based. A fraction of marketing team is kind of like a retainer, that de Novo we work in two different ways, or three different ways. Hourly, sometimes but retainer based and also project based. So can you just talk a little bit about the differences between what a retainer is and what a project based team can look like?

Jen  11:34  

retainer base really is very similar to that fractional marketing team, it allows us to develop a scope of work that we provide on a monthly basis. So really, that that is another way to say fractional marketing. Project Based is where we provide a scope of work just for a project. Now, we might be doing more than one project at a time, but they're scoped out separately, and it's one at a time, whereas retainer based allows us to sort of flex with the client over time, like you said, scale up or scale back, depending on their needs. Sometimes we'll provide more hours in one month and less than another month, it just depends on what that client needs. retainer or fractional marketing on a contract basis, allows us to be more strategic over time. But project base really allows us to dig into just on one singular project. So it's really dependent on what a client needs to in order to, to help them meet their goals.

Ryan  12:26  

We've talked a little bit about the benefits of a fractional marketing team, are there are there downsides are there let's not let's not ignore those are there any cons of why you would hire refraction marketing, or maybe what you have to think about when you are when you are hiring that position? Well,

Jen  12:44  

if your company culture is one where everybody really works together in the same space, it can be really hard to integrate a fractional marketing team, when we're not on site with them all the time. We often go to our clients or are in meetings with our clients. But you know, it is not the same as having a full time employee with a specific skill set it is, it's where off site for the most part. So that's one thing, if that's really important to your culture, that you have people there as a part of your team, then then that can be that can be difficult. It's also because on one side, it's a benefit, where you don't have the liability of an employee. It's also easily expendable, when the marketing budget gets cut, which as we all know, when the economy gets a little tight, and people get nervous, the first thing stupidly to get cut is marketing neve


Ryan  13:36  

made sense. To me, it's when you need to tell your story the most talk about your products the most. But it's still it's still that first thing that gets cut, it really

Jen  13:43  

depends on the mindset of the leadership of a company, if a lot of them think of marketing, frankly, as a nuisance expense that they have to do in order to generate sales, right? They don't see it as something that extends into their brand, that something that helps them hire necessarily so. So a more marketing minded leadership team will see the value of that marketing, whereas somebody who doesn't really understand that and sees it as more of a oh, we have to do this. But when times get tough, maybe we don't have to do it is is the difference there. So yes, it does tend to get cut and a marketing contract can and you know, here at de Novo, we even give a 60 day out to our clients because we know that that's the way the world works and that things can can change on a dime in our economy and in our world.

Ryan  14:34  

You mentioned not having that employee there in the office. As an account manager. One of my main job is to make sure that we are communicating with our clients. I personally and I know the rest of us account managers, we really do want to make sure our clients know that they can get a hold of us. Anytime they really need us shooting an email, we'll respond as quick as possible, but most of them have our cell phone numbers. So if any marketing emergencies happen when they do happen from time to time, we get that either a quick text or a phone call away. So we're basically in the office. But we also love when they come to our office, they usually like to get out of theirs, come into the Ideas Institute, or come into our office and just get a little bit of a change of perspective, and have a team that thinks a little bit differently and pulls them in a different direction, maybe,

Jen  15:22  

well, a lot of our clients love that, you know, they do love coming to our space, it's gets them out of their office and thinking a little bit differently, working with our team, or we're facilitating here. So that is where that integration can happen. Like I said, No, we're not in your office from eight to five every day. But our communication is top notch, I am really proud of our responsiveness. As an agency, it's one of the things I hear the most. And I think when you're looking for a fractional marketing team that you want, you want a team that will provide that to you and will feel like they are a part of your team.

Ryan  16:00  

And even though we're not in that industry, one of my favorite parts about working, working again, at an agency is researching the hell out of those fields. So we get to dig in a lot. And it's not just one specific industry, this this comes in both of our kind of verticals, if you will, like a public sector, private sector, I think sometimes clients worry that, oh, they're not experts in transportation, or they're not experts in trucking. We are experts in marketing. And that's something I pride myself in truly marketing experts that can learn your industry, or at least learn your industry enough to figure out those insights that your customers are looking for, or their customers are looking for. Well, you're right.

Jen  16:43  

And that's, that's a professional curiosity is what that is. And professional curiosity is what helps you quickly get up to speed and learn everything you can and ask more questions, ask deeper questions sometimes that you know, maybe the client isn't thinking about because they're not looking at it objectively. So professional curiosity is what makes a creative professional. Really good at their job. Okay,

Ryan  17:10  

Jen, we just covered fractional marketing. But it's time for our next segment the power of three, which is like the rapid, very educational practical piece, really just summarizing this in three sections. So what are three of the top ways that a company can engage with a fractional marketing team?

Jen  17:28  

Okay, well, I'm not sure these are the top three. But here are three ways we can immediately help messaging development and strategy, making sure that things align with the brand and their goals. That's, that's a top one. Second video on photography, I think that this is something that a lot of clients do not have the expertise. Yes, you can shoot a lot of stuff on an iPhone, but you're getting weird stuff. And it doesn't look very professional, it doesn't refer reflect your brand. And that same thing goes for photography. And the last is design. Having professional design that really speaks to what the end user is trying to accomplish is really important. So those are probably the three biggest needs we hear about and the three ways we can jump in and immediately help. So Ryan, do you feel like you understand fractional marketing now?

Ryan  18:20  

Yes, yes, I do. It's what Jenna was always been, it's what we've always been doing. And I am still going to call myself a unicorn, I don't care, still considering it a unicorn. So now it's time for our segment called creative briefs. And and the creative brief is something that we on our team Give to everyone to make sure everyone quickly gets on the same page. This is a true document in the agency world. But it's also a way for us to put a little spin on this and audit or take a deeper dive into some work that you might have seen out there by other agencies or maybe even by de Novo where we just talk about the creative, a little bit more. Today, we are going to be covering some ads that we saw on the Superbowl, we will post these in the show notes so you can have access to them as well. But we're diving into if we think they worked, why they worked, why they didn't work, and just talk a little bit about the creative process and the creative journey. Yeah,

Jen  19:09  

we want to make sure that, you know, most companies don't have a Superbowl budget, right. But can you take something from what another company did and make sure that you are using it to hone your own creative process? So you want to dive in with Contestant number one here?

Ryan  19:28  

Yes, yes. Contestant number one for me. This is going to be my when or the one that I thought was was great. This was by Elf Cosmetics. And it they call it judge beauty. This is where they brought in Judge Judy, where she was talking with a plaintiff and a defendant. They were actually on suits. So a show that was very popular in Netflix, they're pulling in some some high name actors, but what I think is most relevant is they also kept it very sharp on their target market. So in the In the middle of the commercial they they cut to some Instagram celebrities like Benito Skinner drag queen Heidi and closet. They even had Meggie or Meghan Trainor. Sorry, Maggie Maggie,

Jen  20:10  

are you guys on that type of we have that relationship, we are

Ryan  20:13  

tight. They pulled in her as well. So they they weren't just going for mass appeal, I use this term with love, they were going for the girls and the gays, the people that use Elf Cosmetics, this was not for the people that do not use their cosmetics. They really focused on the beauty piece. One thing that they said was everyone can be beautiful, or I think they said Beauty fades. But DME is forever. Something that really, that really stood out to me just making sure like, hey, beauty fades.

Jen  20:43  

But here's the thing we're told expensive is better, we make an assumption that is expensive, is better. And secretly, nobody really wants to pay that much. Right. So I think that that was the insight that came out of it was it was giving you permission to use cheaper makeup. And that's why they gave that nod to cruelty free, right? Because you think of cruelty free as a feature of a higher end product, they can afford to do that. And that's why that's why this cost $97 For a bottle of foundation, they even dropped a price point in there, which I thought was really interesting. $14 for a bottle of foundation, and suddenly giving you permission and telling you this will be good quality, it won't turn your face green, right? Like it's not going to give us it. I thought that that was the insight that came out of it was a lot of us are spending a stupid amount of money on cosmetics. And it kind of gave us permission to not to Yeah,

Ryan  21:38  

and an elf is something that I don't know if everyone knew meant eyes, lips and face. So if they are ever going to be transitioning away from that name really leaning in on the eyes, lips and face, they made it very clear in this commercial. They showed it right on screen. This was also their first time writing a Superbowl commercial. I dug into that a little bit. So they spent the budget to get their name out there and pull in some familiar faces. But yes, also give permission for a cheaper makeup option.

Jen  22:06  

That's my that's what I took from it. Yeah. All right, what's your what's your second contestant,

Ryan  22:12  

I am glad that you brought up permission to purchase a cheaper option. However, my second option almost leans in a little too heavily on this. So my next one is what I thought was Teemu. However, we learned very quickly, from the ear worm jingle that it is 10 mu. So they instantly told me that I was saying it wrong. So I didn't love that. But this commercial was a fully 100% animated commercial, that had a o 10. Mu, they just kept playing over and over again. So they got that messaging out there. But in a negative way, almost 100% of this was 3d rendered. But the other part that they did that was curious to me, all of the products were 3d rendered. So Temo is a company where you can buy products, it's they they say that they're cheaper than Amazon, you can shop like a billionaire, and you get all these products. So it showed people buying a t shirt, and then the t shirt would magically appear on their body. But one problem with cheap products is you worry about the quality. And they're never showing the product, they're never showing that quality there. So it's not overcoming a barrier that many people might have. Sure it's cheap, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's quality.

Jen  23:25  

I think I think you hit the nail on the head. They're not showing it because it's not quality. I mean, what you get when you order from that company is often vastly different than what you thought you ordered. My Insight was they had the budget for animation. So they did it.

Ryan  23:39  

Yep, we can make this happen. We're gonna do it and you don't have to pay for a celebrity placement. In that case, you're not paying for the big name, but they also ran the exact same commercial three times. So that was shocking to me as well. They had I think the commercial was $5 million for a 32nd spot which means they're $15 million running the same commercial three different times it

Jen  24:01  

was a flex for sure, but I just I don't know if that paid off for them or not. There was nothing that really there wasn't a great call to action. I think shop like a billionaire is a dumb tagline frankly like it's just I don't know if it really appeals to people or not I think about five seconds on that app and you realize you're just buying cheap plastic crap from overseas you're like this is not helping our environment in any way shape or form and you feel you can't just because you can doesn't mean you should but generally covered my my wins my fails or my contestants if you will.

Unknown Speaker  24:36  

 Let's dig into yours. What is your your your Contestant number one?

Jen  24:40  

Oh my God, I didn't prepare that. I'm good with the two that we covered. Perfect.

Ryan  24:45  

All right. So what did we take from that? What did we actually learn? Both of our ads really focused on the cheap price point. Right so our elf beauty, they leaned on cheap but also quality you can get an awesome concealer for $14 leaning in On the quality, whereas T mu, they just leaned in on being cheap. They don't show the quality of any of their products, probably for good reason. Really in summary it, it all comes back to your insight. You don't have to necessarily have $5 million for a for a Superbowl placement. But you do still have to have that consumer insight. What is your ad trying to say? So an easy way for us to take it from millions of dollars to maybe smaller budgets. But it always comes back to that insight.

Jen  25:28  

Yeah, and thanks for doing my homework for me.

Ryan  25:31  

I got your back. Okay, Jen. Now it's time for our last segment. This one is called Fresh takes fractional marketing, what's your take? Fractional

Jen  25:40  

marketing or retain marketing has been around for a long time, the way we've always functioned. We've flexed with not only our clients, but we also flex with the economy. And we pay a lot of attention to that. We have weathered a lot of headwinds in, in our in our company's history. And it's always been successful for us because we've realized, what do our clients need right now. So what I'm seeing right now out there is a need for consistency in hiring. So now I'm gonna get a little extra deep on this and say, Things changed when Obamacare came online, right? Suddenly, the gig economy was a thing, you could quit your job. And you could follow your passion as bullshit as that line is, it's not that it's a bad thing. It's just don't expect to make a lot of money doing it. But a lot of people became freelancers. Right. And it was, it was an interesting way to have your needs met as a marketing director, or even beyond marketing. What happened though, over time is those freelancers either went back to full time work, or they became very specialized, or they left town and took, you know, all your video files with them. And so what we've always done is flexed with what our clients need. In 2008, when not only locally, we had a flood, but also that the economic headwinds that we faced back then, you know, it was a fairly mild recession, but it still took a bite out of a lot of budgets. That's where we first started that fractional concept, when we called it retainer, or interim, interim leadership, whatever they needed at the time. And then as the economy got better, then we transitioned more into the fulfillment side, and executing on creative strategy again, we can do this whatever way our clients want. So that's, that's my that's what I think. I think it'll always be needed. It's just you have to be nimble to what the client needs and really pay close attention to what the economy is doing and how that impacts if you're a marketing director, your own budget, maybe what your own company leadership might be thinking about, and how are you going to fill the gaps so I think it's I think it's here to stay. I think it was already here. We're just talking about it differently. Now. Fractional retainer marketing now has a new name fractional marketing. Don't use that. I think we did a Gen. We just did our first podcast episode. I'm exhausted. Stars. We did it. I'm excited. Thanks for listening. We hope you enjoyed this episode of Think Fresh. And

Ryan  28:20  

remember the conversation does not have to end here. If you liked what you heard today, be sure to follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram. Review our show on wherever you listen to your podcast on or share all your marketing trials and triumphs by shooting us an email at info at think de with the subject line dear de novo so we don't miss it. And

Jen  28:39  

while you wait eagerly for our next episode, you can get your fix by checking out our blog fresh thinking at blog that think de Stay tuned for more engaging conversations laughs and of course marketing brilliant and be making fun Orion in the next episodes to come.

Ryan  28:54  

Here's to fresh thinking, sparking creativity, and never being boring. Bye friends!

Jen  29:03  

We swearing on this are now

Submit a Comment

Stay up to date
Get latest articles directly in your inbox