What does it take to design brands for B2B (Business to Business) companies? In this week's episode, Ian interviews Massimo Zefferino to find out.
Massimo is the founder of ZFactor, a brand strategy & design agency that helps B2B technology brands be more human & look more global. Massimo is also a co-host of The Angry Designer Podcast.
Ian Paget: Massimo, you're one of the hosts of the Angry Designer Podcast, and that's how we connected.
Massimo Zefferino: The Angry Designer Podcast, Yeah.
Ian Paget: I've been doing a bit of digging into your background, what you're all about, what you do and stuff like this, and I am aware of Zfactor... is it pronounced Zed Factor... Zee Factor?
Massimo Zefferino: So it's kind of funny because we're a Canadian company but I grew up watching Sesame Street, so I learned my alphabet from an American alphabet. So I've generally been pretty relaxed. However you want to call it in your language, as long as it still sounds cool.
Ian Paget: Massimo you are one of the hosts of The Angry Designer podcast and its how we connected, but I've been doing a bit of digging into your background, what you're all about what you do and stuff like this and I am aware of Z factor. (Is it Zed or Zee)?
Massimo Zefferino: It's kind of funny because we're Canadian company but I grew up watching sesame street, so I learned my alphabet from an American alphabet, so I've generally been pretty relaxed. I figure however you want to call it in your language as long as it still sounds good.
Ian Paget: (Zed factor) I’m going to say Z factor.
Massimo Zefferino: Between you and I, I personally like (Zed factor).
Ian Paget: (Zed factor) sounds cooler. Okay, so something I like to do in this podcast, I obviously want to talk about Z Factor, but I think so that it can be relatable to people listening that might just be starting out or might work for themselves and be thinking of creating studio or an agency of some kind, how did you get to starting said Z Factor, what's the background to that?
Massimo Zefferino: I am one of those odd fortunate cases that always knew I wanted to do this for a living. I was probably about 12 years old when I was watching this episode of this American show called Who's the Boss. And it was an Italian guy who was the main for this advertising executive. And I was young and I knew I was creative but I had no idea how to make money from this. So what I ended up doing is I saw this episode, and she was an advertising exec, and she got in front of people and she presented ideas and I was like, wow, that is really cool, I want to do that for a living. But I had no idea how I could get there. And then in high school I think it was like grade 9, maybe grade 10 I took a graphic design class because I was an arts kid. Everything I did was about art. I learned about graphic design and this woman my teacher at that time, she said, if you want to own an advertising agency, this is you're in, this is how you can get there. So literally every decision I made from that point forward for the next 10 years. I set myself a goal that by the time I turned 25 I was going to open up an agency.
Ian Paget: Wait a second. You came up with this idea at the age of 15?
Massimo Zefferino: I did.
Ian Paget: That’s pretty old.
Massimo Zefferino: Crazy. I had this percolating in my mind and I do have to give credit to my girlfriend's father at the time because he sat us down. I was 15, and he's like, you guys, I want you to write down a goal on a piece of paper of where you want to be in 10 years, and it was the quickest in my mind, it just snapped, it's just like I'm going to have an agency. You know, 10 years, I'm going to have it. It was no questions. Of course, I lost that piece of paper but every decision I made from that point to starting Z factor was either going to take me closer to my goal or further. And don't get me wrong, I was still young, I was still foolish, and I had a lot of fun. I still went out and did everything that teenagers did and had a great life, but I always knew I was going to go to college for design in high school, I knew everything I was going to do was going to take me closer.
Even those jobs that I took, just to make money as a kid, I would always think twice. Is this going to take me closer to my goal or further? So instead of just taking a retail sales job, I took a retail sales job in a photo store, a camera store, because it would teach me about photography. And then when I did take sales jobs, I wanted to make sure that it taught me how to sell, not just trinkets and trash at the convenience store, but how to interact with people and try to make the sale. So sure enough, went through college, and college was a struggle because I started - so up until college, I had already had a freelance business going on. I'll be it, you know, it was a teenager and just doing small little jobs for anybody who needed it, but then by the time I actually went to college, I had already learned an Apple. I already knew what a Mackintosh was. I was already familiar with the software. And I had put down my pencil in my mid-teens knowing that the future was going to be digital. And the first year of graphic design college, and it was a great college, it was a struggle because they did not want anyone to touch a computer. They said, no, we don't even touch computers until third year.
Personally, I think it's because I had no idea how to even use it personally, but I knew this was the future. And it was such a struggle for me, because I had already had this motivation, this energy to go. And here they were like almost holding me back teaching… and I'm all for theory don't get me wrong, I'm all for everything you do about art fundamentals and such but I had already had success in business, and my whole life was gearing towards this. And these guys were almost pulling me back because in college a lot of the exercises were subjective, they would mark you on something subjective and I had an issue with that because this field is so subjective. I was like, well how could you actually tell me I'm right or wrong? Because it works for me, it worked for the people I showed just because the prof didn't think it worked, why are you failing me or giving me a failing mark? So I would always push back and then the Profs, they sat me aside one day and they actually said to me that with your attitude you will never make it in this industry.
And Ian I tell you that's the wrong thing to tell anybody who's on a mission. I just felt that fire inside of me just explode, and I was like, yeah, I'll show you. So within a week I said the hell with this course, I dropped out and there was another course that was advertising and design and it basically taught the rest of the business. So I was already passionate about graphic design, but I needed to learn the rest of the business and in my whole pursuit of owning an agency, I knew I had to learn it, and so the best thing I could have done, absolute best, because my passion taught me design, it taught me principles and that never stopped, but by switching courses, I learned the business side, which was the I could have done at that point because it taught me about marketing, it taught me even further about sales and media. And of course they started you on the computer in first year because they knew that the computer was the future of this space, go figure. So needless to say, within a year after graduating, I was happy to have started my agency and I started it one year earlier than my 10 year goal, which was kind of cool.
Ian Paget: You know what I really love about this? And I find it amazing that you picked up so early is the idea of having a vision and working towards it. That is like so incredibly important. Most people don't pick that up until later in life and the fact that you had that from the age of 15 fast forward your career rapidly.
Massimo Zefferino: You know, and it is. It's a matter of just finding a target and heading towards that target. Now regardless, it doesn't have to be for a career per se, I want to be married and have kids by this date or I want to have this much real estate by this date, whatever that target is, or I want to travel to this many countries by the time. You need to have some sort of target. Just to kind of help guide you your life in the direction. It's not the only thing you're going to do, but you need that, like your mind is a goal seeking mechanism. If you set that goal and I do find that if you actually said it not just in your mind, but in the real world, whether you write it down and just put on a sticky note or something, it will find a way how to get there and it finds it subconsciously. So I’m a big believer, huge believer.
Ian Paget: Well I can totally relate to that. I've mentioned this on the podcast previously, but something that I did at one point with an ex-partner of mine, we put up a feature board and basically what we did was pinned up basically what we want, and it was something that we read in the book and we pinned up like, what type of work do we want to be doing? What type of house we want to be living in? What kind of holidays and stuff like that. And you know, what was really surprising to me, literally everything on that board I did it in a really short space of time.
Massimo Zefferino: Exactly, it's almost crazy. The universe works in an amazing way.
Ian Paget: I mean basic things like holidays, like simple things like holidays. It's like, okay, I want to go there. That's the only place I want to go. That's the only place that literally matters, right? Let's not go there and now let's just go there. And rather than having like two smaller holidays, just have one big holiday going on, it's a total mind shift, just figuring stuff out and working towards it.
Massimo Zefferino: And that's the key I find. It's like that decision you make has already been done and now it's all the small decisions that are going to take you there. It's easy to make a big lofty goal and have it at the end has one less decision that you have to make. Now, all the smaller subconscious ones to get you there will just fall into place. I'm a huge believer of that. So see it works, it works for you.
Ian Paget: Exactly. I mean, it's why I have like things like this podcast and why do other things because there is like a long term plan that will eventually, I'll get there. It's just this big audacious goal that I might not never reach, but it's just more exciting to be able to work towards that target. And I think everyone should have this and the fact that you had that from the age of 15, it's also…
Massimo Zefferino: I was pretty fortunate.
Ian Paget: I mean as for people like getting in your way that's concerning. And I ironically listened to a handful of your podcast and one of them, you actually shared that story where you explained that you went back and you ended up in the lift with somebody in…
Massimo Zefferino: Oh my God, there is no better feeling. Let me tell you, there is no better feeling. After I successfully started my agency and was growing it was probably about year 8 or 9 and I just needed a little bit of a break because it was a heck of a pace. It was probably the 10 year mark and my college had invited me to come back and teach which was amazing. And I was like absolutely, I'd love to come back and teach a course for a couple of semesters. And I remember going to the college and going into the staff elevator and one of those Profs that told me I couldn't make it came in, she didn't even recognise me. And I even asked her do you recognise me? She's like, no. It's like a movie, you have a million and a half different ideas of what you wanted to say and what you would say. But when I got there, it's just like you know what, I don't even have to say anything. It was almost like I proved to myself and I didn't have to prove it to anybody else that it was the right decision. I did the right path. Afterwards, of course, I probably spent the next year saying I should have said this, I should have said that.
Ian Paget: No, you was a better person not saying anything. But yeah, there's a lot of satisfaction in that. Ironically, at college I had careers advice and they literally told me, I cannot do graphic design unless I go to university. I didn’t go to university and here I am.
Massimo Zefferino: Yeah, surprising. Right?
Ian Paget: Yeah. So anyone young that's listening to this that has teachers and advisors and stuff like that saying stuff just ignore them because if you want to do something, just flip and do it.
Massimo Zefferino: Absolutely. Passion will take you further. Passion and perseverance will take you further than any education. And don't get me wrong, I'm all for education absolutely. But just because you have the education it doesn't guarantee you any future, your future is still up to you. And again especially when it comes to careers, like the creative career is still not carved out. I mean, don't get me wrong if I'm going in for surgery, I want to see a lot of degrees on the wall behind the doctor.
Ian Paget: Exactly.
Massimo Zefferino: But when it comes to something experience based. No, there's so much more important than just the schooling alone.
Ian Paget: Exactly. And to be honest qualification doesn't necessarily mean that person is particularly very good at what they do.
Massimo Zefferino: Absolutely.
Ian Paget: It’s that side of things as well. So with Z Factor you focus on B2B Technology companies.
Massimo Zefferino: B2B.
Ian Paget: What made you choose to go down that route? And how early in the process did you introduce that?
Massimo Zefferino: So interesting actually we've always been a B2B agency. So from day one, yeah, literally from day one when we started the agency, I picked up… So back then you know when we started this agency only it wasn't like 50 years ago, it was only like 25 years ago we used to have these things called the yellow pages which was just a giant phone book that you would actually pick up and look through and you'd find services, businesses. Like it was two inches thick and it was just disgusting.
Ian Paget: It sounds funny talking about that now. But yeah I definitely remember the yellow pages and I swear they were like 5" thick. I swear they were really thick.
Massimo Zefferino: So I remember picking it up and the first thing I did is I was like you know what I'm starting my agency. First thing I did is I went to look up how many advertising agencies there were in Kitchener Waterloo. And back then there really weren't any web pages there really wasn't anything that you would literally have to go and spy on them, you'd show up, you'd walk in, you'd ask some questions. There was some 34 different agencies in the town and back then our town was only about 300,000 people and here I am starting and there's already 34 other companies and I was just like, what the heck am I going to do? How am I possibly going to compete with all these agencies as a brand new company? And I knew right from the get go, I needed something to differentiate ourselves immediately.
And coming from an Italian background, everything I knew growing up was always manual labor, whether it was being construction, whether it's being working in factories, whether it was concrete, laying driveways, my whole experience was all blue collar environment. So coming from that background, I knew that there was this huge market that nobody cared about. All the agencies back then were all looking for really exciting, glitzy fancy jobs. Right from the get go you saw that there was already ego out there and you saw that there was people that didn't want to bring themselves down to this level and I was like my goal is to have an agency and this market needs to be served. So it was prime for the picking. So there was magazines on trade, all these trades like I remember there was all these really wacky magazines like metal forming magazine, and hydraulic and OEM Magazines and it was insane that there was this giant untapped market nobody else wanted. So right away jumped into that and I was like you know what, you're already spending money.
I picked up these magazines and I would literally call up the companies and I call up and who's in charge of marketing at your place. And they were like okay they introduced me this person and my pitch was literally you're spending all this money placing ads in these industrial magazines, but you're not spending a penny on actually designing the ads, they look horrible, like they look like you put it together and more times than not they did put it together themselves, they were putting it in applications like you know back then, I guess equivalent a word and stuff that just weren't meant for and they had no experience doing this stuff. So immediately we just hit the ground running, we started creating ads and believe it or not, initially we would create the ads for the commission price that they would pay for these magazines because the magazines would then pay out a 15% commission. And so they paid to the agency, so we designed them their ads for free. We'd get all this experience.
The company then was like, wow, you guys are really good, I have some brochures, I need done, let's talk or I have some data sheets that need done, let's talk. And so there was this giant industrial B2B market that was just ready for the picking, which again was perfect for us. So, we started, we hit the ground running and for the 1st 10 years that was our business, everything was B2B industrial, manufacturing, trading companies. What happened was there was a shift in the market at that point. And this is when technology in our area started becoming big because we're the home of Blackberry here in Waterloo. And as tech was rising industry was actually following and a lot of small shops were just being farmed out further away or offshore.
So what we realised at an early part or early stage is that the engineers that we used to deal with in these B2B manufacturing companies where the exact same engineers, personality types, they thought the same, they acted the same in the tech space. So for us when that transition came and we started observing getting into the technology market it was really easy transition to focus into that space. Of course we had to adopt technology at the same time which was great for us. But needless to say, going from B2B manufacturing and then switching to B2B technology companies was just a natural fit for us. It was our momentum, it was just the trajectory of where the industry was going.
Ian Paget: You are clearly very business minded and have been from that.
Massimo Zefferino: I never really thought of myself that way to be honest.
Ian Paget: You definitely are, like from the outset, you clearly had an interest in marketing, advertising from the outset and that's kind of run through what you're doing anyway. So I find it's really interesting what you just said about the type of person within these companies that you're working with had a very specific personality type. Can you elaborate on that? Like what type of person are they? Have you seen it different drastically to other industries?
Massimo Zefferino: Well, I mean for us and then we have literally repositioned, rebranded, retargeted or a company based on this personality type. Engineers, whether they are technology engineers or manufacturing engineers, they're generally very smart people, but their mindset is a little bit different, they're a little bit more passionate about how things work. And when you start talking to an engineer about something they've created, the technology behind what they've created they get excited, they get jazzed up, just like designers do. And they start talking about tech in this high level way that they talk about the tech, but they don't necessarily talk about what the tech does for the end user or how it helps.
They're really excited about what it is that they've created. They are technology focused people. They're generally very smart. They went to school for computer sciences often. So they start talking about… in equivalent to like cellphones. Like the cellphone phase. Everybody talks about how fast the cell phone is and how much storage space it has, and how incredible the screen is, it's got so many DPR completely different part. But what I'm going on this is the people who build the phones are very passionate about the technology behind the phones, but it takes a marketing company, not to throw it out there, but Apple to translate those technical features into what matters to the end user. I mean, it doesn't matter how much storage space phone has if somebody says this phone has got a terabyte of storage, what matters to the end user is you can be spinning up videos for the next year straight and you can store it all on your phone. These are some of the things that I find… I did a really horrible job explaining this.
Ian Paget: No, you explained it perfectly.
Massimo Zefferino: They suffer from the curse of knowledge, right? Because they're too smart for their own good and they can't translate their knowledge base and what gets them excited into what really matters for the end user. And so that's where our shift came in. We as designers always been a designer and I always love solving problems and trying to understand how people work, because I had this growing up passion about how things are made and as a designer what the purposes of these things being made, I was able to translate at a very young age early on the career what they're actually making, like what the benefit is to the end user because again the end user doesn't really care about the storage space, it's just what does that phones storage space do for them. They don't care about the technology and like the fact that they're using this programming language versus this programming language or that programming language. What matters is what that outcome is for them. It's a faster user experience, a better user experience, it’s going to allow them to make their lives that much easier or faster. So I think that's what we're connection where strength was more than anything else and that's what's served us really well over the past 25 years.
Ian Paget: Yeah, I love thinking in this way like one really good example that I always hear is that people don't want to buy a drill, they want the whole.
Massimo Zefferino: That's exactly it. Oh my God, wow, you just would have saved me five minutes of trying to explain that analogy.
Ian Paget: Because I mean that's exactly what Apple do really well is that Apple is… I don't know if they were the first company, but they were definitely one of the biggest that took something that people didn't really understand or they didn't see the value in it. And you still see this today, how Samsung advertised their stuff first as Apple. Samsung tend to focus on the amount of storage space, the screen size.
Massimo Zefferino: The technical features.
Ian Paget: I mean that does work if you are more techy and you understand the actual benefits of those things, but the average consumer they are more interested in I can fit 1000 songs in my pocket, which I think is richly explained in the iPod.
Massimo Zefferino: Absolutely.
Ian Paget: And that that way of advertising is so incredibly powerful, but also so simple that people don't realise that it's a good way of selling.
Massimo Zefferino: It's that whole features versus benefits. And you're right, there were other MP3 players prior to the iPod
Ian Paget: They were loads.
Massimo Zefferino: Right.
Ian Paget: Yeah exactly.
Massimo Zefferino: But they would always brag about the storage space. And that didn't mean anything to somebody because they just had no idea. It was when Steve Jobs said, we've created something that allows you to carry 10,000 songs in your pocket. All of a sudden it made that connection for people. It's not the feature that people buy. It's the benefit that people buy and when people are very passionate and often very smart, they love the features because that's what they built, that's what they're passionate about and what they're responsible for. But it's often hard for those people to do because of the curse of knowledge, they are just to see for their own good. They can't dumb it down and that's a horrible thing to say, but they can't explain it in a way that makes to translate the value to the end user, because they're just assuming that the end user understands the features the way they would, right? So you're right, it's the benefit is what sells the product, the company, the brand, not the features behind it.
Ian Paget: I want to talk a bit more about B2B. So for the audience just to be totally clear, so that everyone understands what we're talking about. B2B is Business to Business. So these clients that you're targeting are companies that attract other companies. And where I used to work, so I used to work for an eCommerce web design agency and we would very often build B2C website. So business to consumer, so companies selling a specific product to mass audience of consumers that are buying and using that product and we did that very often, but now and again there were a need for B2B. And B2B seem more like a more lucrative offering, but for whatever reason the company that I worked for felt that it was almost like an entirely different thing. We'd have to build an entirely different product market in an entirely different way. And there was sort of this stigma in my head anyway at the time, I mean this was some time back now where B2C was exciting, B2B was boring. I don't know if that's necessarily the case, but I mean asking you, you work in this area, and Z Factor doesn't have this boring feel, how you present yourself and everything isn't boring in the in the slightest. So I'm just going to straight up ask you is the B2B market boring?
Massimo Zefferino: To me it's been fantastic. I can't say it's been boring at all, now this has been over 25 years’ worth of experience right? When I started I tried to do the suit thing, I tried to be the professional because I was learning and I just thought that's what everybody was.
Ian Paget: When I say boring, I mean very like shirt and tie, very clean cut.
Massimo Zefferino: Yeah. Well that's what I thought it was initially.
Ian Paget: That's how I see it. It's how I see it still a little bit.
Massimo Zefferino: And what happened was I kind of gave up on that. So it worked to my benefit that I broke out of that mould and I was just like the heck with this, I'm just going to be me. So I always wanted to be creative and I'm going to bring that energy to the B2B Space. Now, talking about the differences between B2B and B2C. Is there a difference? There absolutely is a difference between how they're marketed, how they're designed for, but it's not so much that it's boring. You have to understand that most Consumer purchases are emotionally driven, okay, it's like 95% of our daily purchases are purchased out of emotion. We don't think we just buy. And that's based on our brand, the perception how we feel about something, how we feel about our product.
And we're just buying it because we're… literally we're just following without understanding why. B2B purchases are completely opposite. They're scrutinised. They're often not just a black and white purchase. I mean sure if you need to go buy a widget, you can go buy a widget. You need to go buy screwdriver this or that, fine, you go to Home Depot, that's fine, that's still a small purchase. But when you're talking about purchases over a couple of $100 or a couple $1000. They're not emotionally driven at this point. They’re often scrutinised on price, they're often scrutinised on performance. Sometimes they have to go through bigger different departments depending on the size of the actual purchase. Because the purchase cycle is completely different, you have to remove the emotion part and you have to start balancing how much information to give about your products. So they understand the benefits of your products just in a different way. I mean the brand building part is exactly the same, which of course I'm very passionate about. You're still speaking about the brand, you're still living the brand, breathing the brand, but it's like when you're building the material you do have to talk about the feature and the benefit. So again, you can't just skirt over them.
So I think that's the difference in how you deliver, is you have to educate often as well as wow and jazz people. So once people understand this a little more it becomes fun. Now don't get me wrong, we don't often mascots, like we love the opportunities to do silly mascots for customers and have these little brand ambassadors build out. But when you go… they're great because they allow people to create this emotional connection with the brand. I have yet to have a B2B customer accept a mascot as part of their company brand. They just refused to. And it's because it's less about the emotion and more about the product, you know, more about the outcome of it. So often it's a little bit more conservative, often, but that's because they don't want to be viewed as what they need to be credible. And that's where often startups, technology startups, they're fantastic if they’re B2C they can be edgy, they could be fun, they could be totally out there. But when it's a B2B startup, it's completely the opposite. They don't want to necessarily look like a startup. They're going to scrutinise you right from the start because their jobs are on the line and often when it's a B2B purchase, it's not just a widget, it's a piece of machinery in the tens of thousands, if not millions of dollars that has to integrate within their platform. So they have to always be seen as a leader. So once you start accepting and understanding this, it becomes a lot more fun because you can figure out how to actually play within that realm.
Ian Paget: Yeah, that's a really interesting way of looking at it. That's for sure. Okay, so, something I want to also ask you is, so B2B is clearly lucrative. It was lucrative for my old company they had more money, it was bigger projects and so on and it seems to be working well for you from the outset, since you are still focusing on that now. So there might be people listening to this that might be thinking, okay, it’s interesting going into the B2B space in terms of advertising to this sector and targeting, attracting this type of company, does this different much. And I want to point out something I noticed on your website you do not have a portfolio. Is that intentional or is that laziness? What's the deal with that?
Massimo Zefferino: A little bit of both.
Ian Paget: Okay.
Massimo Zefferino: You know what, so I remember trying to keep up with our portfolio in our old website and it drove me nuts because we've always been a busy shop and it got to the point where, you know, like with the one part of it was constantly trying to update our portfolio. We would end up focusing on work, on our customers, not necessarily ourselves. And so our portfolio became outdated and so in one way not laziness.
Ian Paget: Every designer is the same by the way, like mine it hasn't been updated in like two years. I was speaking with a friend the other day, he was asking me like, do I feel annoyed that I can't update my portfolio and like, yeah, but it doesn't really make any difference. My two year old portfolio is good enough to attract clients.
Massimo Zefferino: Exactly, right. But here's the thing though, in the B2B space I don't I want people to look at an image and kind of pigeonhole us assume that this is what they can do and this is what their capabilities are. So when we removed it from our website, and I mean our website is ridiculous. It is so plain Jane, it's so basic and so simple. But it says the right words that resonates with our customers and we don't want to answer too many questions on our website. We want people to pick up the phone and call. I mean it's not to say that our website has been a giant lead magnet because it hasn't and I can honestly say that, for the most part it's a secondary piece of credibility that customers go look at to make sure where we are. But the customers that do come from our website, the leads that we do get.
I think our conversion rate on our website is like 80% because again the people who are shopping around for something that looks very creative generally don't know their space enough if they're just judging who they're going to deal with based on how pretty something looks. The people who reach out to us tend to be… from the B2B space especially, they run into a problem. They realise that they have a problem with their marketing. I mean the visual part is just the gravy on top of it and it seems like by focusing on what we say on our website, not what we're showing, it actually increased our conversion. Because by the time they're calling they're like, okay, you claim you're already the expert, let's talk. And then we have to talk and then right away I'll immediately send them something, I'll send them a portfolio online. You know, our big agency pitch, it shows, you know about 20 pages worth of the work that we've done over the past 2-3 years and then that's. I mean that's fine. That just kind of makes them feel better about the situation. But they pick up the phone call based on the words on our website, not because of the…
Ian Paget: Interesting.
Massimo Zefferino: Little different, right?
Ian Paget: Well, yeah, I mean it's fascinating because the general logic would apply that in order to convert projects that potential clients would need to see the type of work that you've done previously. So it's really fascinating that people have came across you and thought these guys can do what I want without actually seeing it.
Massimo Zefferino: Yeah. And again keep in mind website is only one of many touch points. You got your website, you've got your LinkedIn, you've got your networking groups and then you've got your reputation. And I mean our growth has largely been by this clients for life belief tenant that we have here. We make sure that customers have such a good experience with us. They understand number one that we actually know what we're talking about, we know what we're doing. We understand the B2B space. Number two, the quality of work that they receive is always top notch. And number three, we're always having a good time with customers.
We always make sure customers like dealing with us, it's not that hole, and again we don't hold back punches, of course we're professional, but I mean we're cracking jokes, sometimes we'll send gag stuff and we make every experience… Like, when somebody's dealing with us, the highlight of their day. Even in our emails, you know, sometimes when I hire team members, I have to break them down because they're too professional. And I'm like, you know what? People want to deal with humans. They don't want to deal with just another professional. And so it's okay to be a little bit more casual, it's okay to be a little bit more, we don't have to perfect and customers appreciate this relationship. And so when they jump to another place, they immediately want to call us and they take us along, so it's this whole customers for life, you treat them so well that they bring you along in their journey. This is something we've talked about on the podcast as well. And this is one of those big differentiators that has helped us over the past 25 years. 100%. It has probably been probably been the biggest source of leads over our whole span.
Ian Paget: This story is making me think of my first job. So I used to work for a medical company and I was part of this team called Product Support and Education. And we worked really closely with the sales team for this medical company. And the absolute most successful salesperson was just somebody that everybody absolutely loved. And it felt like he never did any work. He would kind of like just not mess around but make you joke, make you like him, make you look forward to seeing him. Like when he came it was just like, everybody loved this guy and if he did the same thing with customers which is most likely because I believe this was part of his personality but he would go in there have a joke, have a tease and make friends like people wanted to, like they would go out for a drink with him because they like him, you know they're friends with him. And this is something that always really fascinated me at that time and I haven't thought of this for ages but it was almost like people bought the products from him because they liked him.
Massimo Zefferino: Absolutely.
Ian Paget: And the product did what it needed to and when he went into sales mode, he was great at selling it like it.
Massimo Zefferino: Exactly.
Ian Paget: And he dressed well and you know, very presentable and everything like that, but he just had this personality and character and it feels like and you can correct me if I'm wrong, but it feels like it with what you're doing this single thing. I mean obviously you need to be able to do a good job and serve the client and solve the problem with all this stuff. But it feels like it's actually that relationship that know like and trust factor that is working for you.
Massimo Zefferino: Absolutely. You know what people, so I always say, you know, obviously above the relationship, the most important thing is you have to be able to deliver. So let's be clear about this. You could be the best designer in the world, doesn't mean a thing if they can't deliver, they can't make a deadline if they're constantly focused on being perfect versus being perfect for the customer. But that relationship though, like once there's that trust and people know they can rely on you. They will reach out to you on things. I mean, they will grow your skill set even more than you thought you could. We have had customers reach out to us asking us to do projects, not because we knew how to do, because we were clear, we said, look, I've never done this before and they're saying, you know what, but based on working with you, you will be able to deliver, you will learn how to do this and you'll do a better job at this than anybody else. And it's true, they knew that above anything else Z factor gets shit done. And they knew it's just like, they would come to us and be like, you're the only person that we think can get this job done. Here’s the 10% of it, go learn the other 90% and deliver. And they would make sure that we were paid for it. So that is a huge compliment that people can rely on you to deliver and then they will take you with them for their entire career.
Ian Paget: Yeah. And if they moved to different companies they all want to work with you.
Massimo Zefferino: We've had customers take us to four or five different companies Ian. It's amazing. And every customer we treat as gold, every time they leave and they introduce somebody else we treat that next person as gold. And so they don't leave either. So we just kept growing by retaining customers.
Ian Paget: I think that's a really good message to be sharing on this podcast. So just keeping on this question. One other thing I wanted to ask you, so you don't have a portfolio, you don't have case studies online so people cannot see examples of what you do, but they come to you anyway, you specifically mention that your website is just one touch point and that you have many touch points. Out of curiosity what of everything that you're doing is actually attracting people to come to you to ask the questions?
Massimo Zefferino: I hate to say this no designers don't necessarily like this, but it's the networking part of the business that has done the most because you start developing a reputation, you start working in certain circles in certain industries and that travels like proof is in the pudding in the end. We've always been a B2B company and then based on our location we turned into a B2B technology company. But then based on specific case studies and experiences with customers, we've really narrowed down into IOT internet of things, and in the broadband market. And what happens is when you start reaching out to I'm a big proponent of being a specialist, if you haven't figured it out.
We own B2B space, we own a B2B technology space and even more so, you know, IOT and broadband is where we want to play even more. And the more of a specialist you become, the more people will actually lean in to listen to what you have to say, right? Because again it's just the more networking you do, and I don't mean networking events. Because I hate networking events, but you meet one person through that one person you'll meet somebody they work, then all of a sudden once you have that trust factor built in place, somebody they know will have a problem and they will be like, hey Massimo can help you out with this, he's great at that.
Maybe we land them as a customer, maybe we don't, but that knowledge transfer continues. And we're constantly… I love technology and how it works, I love just some of the stuff that we're privy to is just mind blowing, I can't really talk about it, but it's just so fascinating. And when you start having these conversations with people, they realise you actually know what you're talking about and then you offer skills that they don't have being the fact that we can make their technology more human, make it more understandable. So this is what I mean by networking. So not networking events, hate networking events, but you know what, LinkedIn, I'm on LinkedIn all the time, every time I meet somebody else, I make sure I add them. I reach out to people on there and I make sure that every time we talk that people understand what our differentiating factor is.
Ian Paget: And something else I want to point out that you probably wouldn't point out personally is you are a very good communicator.
Massimo Zefferino: I think I am horrible.
Ian Paget: You talk about what you do very clearly and it provides a real sense of confidence that you know what you're doing. I mean, I did find a portfolio online in the end, but based on this conversation alone, I feel confident that you could do what I would need if I was in the B2B sector. You give off this confidence and I think that's one component of this package in order to do it in a way that you're doing.
Massimo Zefferino: I do think confidence is a big part to do with this. I think all designers at some point or another suffer from confidence or having a lack of, but confidence is gained by experience and by doing something. The more you do something, you know, the more experience you gain in a certain space. That whole confidence, the self-confidence lacks off, it just disappears because you're comfortable talking about something, so while some people might not be confident in getting up in front of an audience and talking to them the first time, if they do it 20-30 times. The confidence isn't even an issue, they can just get up and do it. And it just kind of goes out the window. So maybe because I've done a few pitches.
Ian Paget: I mean it's the same as me, like naturally I've never been the best communicator, but it's something that I was very aware of and I've wanted to work on my confidence and one of the ways of working on that has been doing a podcast. So if anyone was to go back to my earlier podcast, which I would be totally transparent, that a lot of them are quite heavily edited and sometimes actually re-record my part. I am even now a much stronger communicator because I'm constantly recording these things, having conversations. Sometimes you can talk to a lot of people, you meet them and people speak really well, like they just speak really like elegantly and I don't know what if it's in their genes or if they've learned it or what it is, maybe the way that they was brought up. I don't feel like I could ever be that, I guess I'm a bit weird and a bit quirky and I don't know, but to some extent, the more confidence I've grown, there's also been the acceptance of knowing who I am and actually just using that to my advantage.
Massimo Zefferino: Right.
Ian Paget: You know that weirdness, just using it to my advantage in the way that I do on this podcast.
Massimo Zefferino: Well I keep in mind, and you pretty much said this. When you started your podcast, you had some issues and you would rerecord and probably very critical in yourself. Other people probably didn't notice, but you did right. But now look at you like you're a legend in this space. You are the podcast that we all in the design space try to live up to.
Ian Paget: That's very cool to here. That's weird.
Massimo Zefferino: I know.
Ian Paget: Because even now I feel like, yeah, this could be better.
Massimo Zefferino: Don’t think about it. Look at who you’ve had on the show Michael Janda.
Ian Paget: You just ask them.
Massimo Zefferino: But dude, you've transformed this into something, and again you're not giving yourself enough credit. Because if they came to your podcast and they were like, oh God, this guy is a heck, you know, he's a mess. I don't want to go on his show.
Ian Paget: Absolutely, I agree on that.
Massimo Zefferino: You have built something and you've built something, time and overtime, right? You've got so much experience doing this and it shows.
Ian Paget: And I've shaped it into something that I didn't originally plan it to be. Like it's evolved and changed and I know my interview styles improved and all this sort of stuff.
Massimo Zefferino: See absolutely.
Ian Paget: So what I'm getting at is that if you are a shy, insecure person that feels sick speaking on the phone that was me. And I think it's good to bring this up that, yeah, I don't think I'm as good a communicator as you are, but I feel that anybody, no matter who you are, if you actually want to be a good communicator, you can be and it seems to be from what I can see as an outsider, anyway, one of the real key aspects of your success.
Massimo Zefferino: I do thank you for that.
Ian Paget: Because I feel you don't have a portfolio, you don't have case studies, it's you, they are buying you. It's true. You're doing networking, but you're gaining that trust. You're gaining that credibility. You’ve build up all of this stuff so that when you speak to people, you convert them because of the confidence, the way you speak about what you do and stuff like that. And I think people don't think about that enough and ironically people don't talk about this type of thing enough, but actually if it's not the portfolio that sells? It's not the case studies of itself, what is it? It's you.
Massimo Zefferino: It’s that promise that we're going to be delivering every time. And ultimately, again, you could have the best portfolio in the world, but if you can't close that deal, if you can't deliver that product it doesn't mean anything in the end.
Ian Paget: I mean, you're getting people through the door, you're speaking with them, you're then showing them the work, providing that additional confidence, and then once you've got them in the door, you're keeping them for life. But yeah, most likely what's been your key successes is you individually, and if you ever do stuff away from the company factor that in, because you need to probably add all of this stuff that I think that you don't need. But actually you probably would need if you wasn't doing what you're doing.
Massimo Zefferino: Yeah, good point. You are right.
Ian Paget: Okay. So another thing I want to ask you about, so on your website and I think this is really interesting with you being B2B. Your main message is we speak human and you seem to have the same theme through your website and your podcast, even though it's called Angry Designer. Even that cuts through industry jargon and nonsense. So again it’s the whole we speak human thing, even though that's a podcast for graphic designers. So where is this coming from? Where is this how we speak human aspect of your business come from?
Massimo Zefferino: As a designer of course we're supposed to solve customer problems, right? And I've always been very customer focused in the end. And we try to make the end user's life better. We learned at a really, really early time that where companies suffered was helping technology companies be more human and look more global, right? These are two big staples that we realised, this is where they lacked. So the be more human technology companies, manufacturing companies, like we said they speak very much, they always they're always going on about the features. They're not able to translate those features into a human aspect. What really, really matters to that end user? So the first thing that we always do is we help companies dissect this, create this messaging that's based around the end user, not around their product, because again ultimately people don't care about your product. They care about what your product is going to do for them ultimately.
So first and foremost we help companies be more human. To look more global part is the other side of the equation where startups, technology companies, their brands are so fragmented, they’re mess there, they look different across every platform, so we bring all that together and make sure it's completely unified, right? And then again now all of a sudden it takes this this small local company and makes them look like a global entity because everything is kind of insane. So those are kind of the two staples of how we pitch our customers. But in the end what we realised is just it's all about communication and I guess kind of maybe going back to your point about before, I guess. I never really thought about how important that is to me.
We want to make sure that when, you know, companies are speaking to their end user, their customers, whether it’s B2B manufacturing company dealing with a supply chain issue or B2C company to their end user or The Angry Designers speaking to other graphic designers, it's cutting through all that jargon, the nonsense, the buzzwords, the technology speak and getting down to what it's really all about. And this is where we pride ourselves about. It's all about just being human people ultimately buy from people, right? And that's why unfortunately sponsorships work so well that's why when you can tie an image towards something and it works very well, people will buy from somebody more than anything else. So we want to make sure that that human connection is always there. But in a way that the end user understands. So that's where the “We speak human” idea comes from.
Ian Paget: Yeah, I love that. And I think that's something that works really well for B2B. Because B2B they probably struggled to speak human and they don't want to look like a startup.
Massimo Zefferino: It's so true. Again, it's not that, I mean, they're brilliant. These engineers that we deal with are the smartest people I've met in my life. Some of these people are the ones that are responsible for the internet connection that basically every single computer in the world connects to the internet with. And these are like our clients, like they're rocket scientists, like I can't even tell you how smart these people are.
Ian Paget: They changed the world.
Massimo Zefferino: They really do. And often what happens is if they're left to talk to people directly, and let's take a look at Elon Musk, you know, and a lot of stuff that comes out of his mouth, it's just so out there because that connection isn't made, they can't connect on that level. They love talking about what they're passionate about, but they're so smart that they just assume that everybody understands what they're talking about. So it's not their fault, they're just too smart for their own good, which we call the curse of knowledge.
Ian Paget: It makes me wonder is who's actually smarter, the person that can think of that information or the person that can condense it down into a very minimal easy.
Massimo Zefferino: You know what simplicity is often the most complex part in design.
Ian Paget: Exactly.
Massimo Zefferino: And I mean, you know, like who's smarter? Well, from a monetary standpoint, Apple did pretty good speaking very simply about their products. And I mean, again, let's face it, their products are some of the most complicated in the world, yet they make the experience so simple for people. So I'm a big fan of that, very big fan of simplicity.
Ian Paget: Okay, I'm going to ask you one last question because we're coming up to nearly an hour. Speak more human. I think that's something that people can figure out on their own. Look more global. How do you make the company look more global? Is there any specific aesthetic or something that you're using?
Massimo Zefferino: So, I mean first and foremost its consistency. I don't care if they want to look like IBM or if they're happy looking like a small startup. The issue first and foremost that really makes the company look smaller than it actually is, is when every representative of that company is telling a different story, sales guys telling one thing, the customer service person is telling something else, their social media person is telling something else, their website is telling something else. If a brand is fragmented right and delivering different messages, it's so much weaker than if they all the messages pulled together and delivered a single heart stopping moment. That's a horrible thing to say. But if you can bring all these messages first and foremost together into some one unified message that everybody can rally behind, that's the first step that we've, and our customers get so much success from.
It's just by literally having everybody embrace the exact same belief of what the brand is. It's I'm a big proponent of a brand promise. I'm not rally mission vision, all that sure, whatever. But it's that promise. If everybody can rally behind a brand promise that the brand promises to uphold and deliver every single time quickly. Everything else in an organisation rallies behind that promise. All of a sudden everybody's talking the same, believing the same. They can see that that vision the same in the end because of this promise. Everybody's just rallying behind that. Once that's in place then it's a matter of going out and elevating the quality of everything and making sure it's all consistent, it's all the same. Following your brand guidelines, creating some brand standards and following that so critical, and people don't understand some of the biggest successes that we've had with our customers is just when we bring all their supply chain together, when we bring all of their, you know, their sales reps together, making sure everything is unified and delivering the same vision.
All of a sudden it's like these companies now they're telling us… one of our customers was going through this and they underestimated how large they actually were. And so we help them bring their entire brand together and now they just pitched, they were at a trade show in Australia of all places and they delivered this new unified message bringing all three components of their brand together and putting it under one big promise. And all of a sudden all their competitors have stepped up and taken notice that they are an entirely different company on the way they're presenting. And now it's like maybe they were flying under the radar before, but now that all of a sudden they have this big unified global appeal to them. They're able to charge almost twice of what they were charging before for the same. Like I mean they've literally just doubled their bottom line by doing nothing more than just making sure they have the same brand message, the promise that they're delivering. And this one happened really quick, but I mean and we find that that's usually the biggest impact that companies have right off the bat. So that's what we refer to about looking global when you can bring all that together and make sure it's all focused on the line. It's just by its very nature. You've increased the size of your company, whether anything's changed or not other than your brand messaging.
Ian Paget: Yeah. And I wasn't sure how it was going to answer that question because I was actually thinking aesthetically but actually it does come from the inside of the business, really doesn't like it starts from everybody having the same consistent message and it is making me think of again for a company that I used to work at. It was something that I tried to help with while I was at that company because they offered lots of different things, but not everybody know exactly what they offered. So everyone was kind of selling or explaining it in a different way and something simple what I did was like a little booklet that all new starters had when it first started at the company, and we would go through that, and they would understand exactly what did what and what team did what thing. And that simple thing aligned everybody internally and actually helped a lot externally as well. And branding and graphic design it literally starts within the organisation.
Massimo Zefferino: It really does, right? Well. And I mean by nature its design, right? And I mean, we solve problems and we solve it being a designer. When we started this business, really, it was just there was a designer. Now, we've got everything from user experience designer to user interface designer to environmental designer has just become like it's almost a catch phrase at this point. But ultimately being a designer means you are responsible to solve a problem for the end user. And it doesn't necessarily mean that it's always going to be a graphic problem. And graphic in the end is how we deliver the visual component of this. But there's often a bigger problem and I think that's my most part. I mean, although I'm going to be a proud graphic designer until the day I die. I'm going to be creating logos even for free in another 20, 30, 40 years. But the fun part isn't necessarily the design part. It's trying to solve that problem. And often in cases like this, you solved it simply by this book and you aligned everybody by creating this book. That was a great… unknowingly you solved a huge problem for that brand. So kudos to you, you did what a designer should do. As opposed to just being focused on just the output, the design, the spacing, the white space, the messaging. Sometimes I think designers get a little too wrapped up in the delivery where they should be first focusing on the problem that they need to solve.
Ian Paget: Yeah, and that's why I think it's interesting that you brought that up. So focusing on looking label isn't an aesthetic thing. It's very much a perception thing as well. And I think that's the really fascinating thing to bring up and something that graphic designers and creative people, brand strategies and stuff like that can all apply to these things of course. So we spoke for about an hour and I actually think that's a good point to wrap this up. So Massimo, this has been absolutely fantastic and a really good hour chat and I really appreciate you coming on and I do want to direct people to The Angry Designer podcast that you are a cohost on. And go and check that out. You know, more of this kind of thing with you guys laugh a lot in your podcast.
Massimo Zefferino: We do have sometimes too much fun, but it's always for the right reason. We need to bring it down a little bit sometimes. Sometimes our space is very serious and people… you know, you can't have fun if you're serious all the time. And if you start realising, you know, how many things we all have in common from our own design issues to our customer issues to just solving the problems. It actually can be kind of funny and I mean sometimes it gets riled up of course, but you know, we are all…
Ian Paget: You need to be angry on the angry designer podcast, you need to be like “arrghh”.
Massimo Zefferino: Little bit, right? And some days we are holy cow, sometimes they go on rants and I can't stop. But you know, other times its passion led, right? It’s nice to help people realise that they're not alone in this mission. I want people to be designing. I mean we have a high burn out rate as designers unfortunately. And there's not many designers over the age… when they hit 40 is just the numbers drop crazy whether they're moving up or they're bouncing and unfortunately burnout is a real thing. I mean, my goal would be to just to create more 25, 30, 40 year designers out there. Like I want everybody to be a Paul Rand and just kind of keep designing until your last day like Massimo Vignelli. So hopefully we help people with a lot of their venting and they realise that they're not alone, they're not alone.
Ian Paget: Yeah, well, thank you very much for coming on. It's been a real pleasure. Hopefully people enjoy this chat as well.
Massimo Zefferino: I hope so. Again based on the talent that you've had on here and then the legends this is an honour for me, so thank you for allowing me to come on this show. It's amazing.
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