Phillip Stutts is an entrepreneur, digital marketing strategist, and the author of Fire Them Now. In this interview, Phillip dives deep into the data that his agency has been collecting and sharing each month throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, cutting straight to the chase on how consumer motivations and behavior are changing—likely the early signs of a long-term change in how people shop, why people shop, and what they purchase.
John Meese 0:02
Philip, how're you doing today?
Phillip Stutts 0:05
Good. John, you started out our offline conversation by saying I'm good? kind of question mark Right? Yeah. You know, the one word that just sticks with me right now is weird. Everything's weird.
John Meese 0:19
Yeah, it is.
Phillip Stutts 0:21
You know, every month everything's changing. The economy should have been depressed in March and April. It didn't. I know why, because I looked at some of this data, but it didn't. It went against people's instincts, right. And now we're heading into fall. And it's like, what now and we're seeing some new data. That's a little a little weird. everyhting's just weird. Isn't that great?
John Meese 0:48
Well, I I feel you on that, Philip. I'm also a little bit weird. You know, my background before I got into like entrepreneurship is economics. Like I actually have a degree in economics and nothing I learned. It's really explained that What's going on in our world right now? I mean, to some extent, yes. But it's it kind of defies all of the predictive models for the most part. And so what I'm fasting what I'd love to dive into in a minute with you is to talk about how you've actually taken, I think, a really unique approach to understanding data in real time throughout this whole thing. So I appreciate you being willing to jump in today. But before we dive into that, I actually want to back up for a second Philip, and if you would, I'd love to introduce you to our audience. So Philip, I love this is how I love to ask the question, which is what gets you out of bed in the morning?
Phillip Stutts 1:34
Ah, um, I'm a business owner and so I'm massively purpose driven. And so I am very pur- I love what I do for a living. I'm passionate about it. And that just filters into every part of my life does it mean I do well in all parts of my life. You know, they're always works in progress, but from my family To my marriage and to my business, I feel like I have a purpose for all of them. And it really, you know, it gets me up at 430 every morning. So that's it
John Meese 2:11
That's good. Well, that's good motivation. Well, so let's talk about that business for a second. You say your business is called Win Big Media, right?
Phillip Stutts 2:18
Yeah, I have two marketing companies. One a corporate marketing agency is called Win Big Media. We work with fortune 200 companies start up small businesses as a marketing agency and then we have a political ad agency called Go Big Media. So those are the two I had to separate them because we're in a woke world, and everybody's offended by everything so we couldn't have one company that did politics and corporate that just didn't work. So we had to separate them.
John Meese 2:46
Yeah, well, I love that subtle distinction in there too. Between the only difference between them is when one you go and the other you win so I'll just leave that there. And for the we don't need to dive deeper into into that but I love that so well, Philip, I first got To know you through through Michael Hyatt, our mutual friend, Michael, he brought you on for business accelerator to do a couple of interviews, right at the start of when the pandemic was really becoming a thing. And we were all trying to figure out what it means. And so you brought a lot of data insight into that. And so I know we're going to dive into some of that today and talk about what this means for, you know, what entrepreneurs, business owners can get out of the research that you've done. But first, I'd actually would love to back up a little bit further and ask you personally, Philip, just as a human being, when did you first realize that COVID-19 was a real threat? Do you remember where you were what happened or who you were talking to?
Phillip Stutts 3:37
Yeah, I'm slightly autistic on dates, as my wife would tell people, so yeah, I actually do I know we were it was a March 5. And I said, holy shit, this is gonna change everything. For our clients. I wasn't thinking about anything else. Listen, I was in New York on March 1. Like I'm in New York every month. Until March 1, that was the last time I was in New York. But I, you know, and it wasn't I went out to dinner on the night before in New York with my buddy who is a one of the probably top five guys at ESPN as a broadcaster. So I was like something weird is going on. And I ran back and I held an all team meeting. And I grabbed all of our count team members that run all of our, you know, the accounts for all our clients. And I said, Well, we've got a pivot right now, all of our clients, right now, we have to pivot everybody immediately. And we need to figure out what's going on with COVID because this feels like an earthquake. And so my client account team was like, What? No, why would we change what is crushing for our clients without any data backing up what you're saying? Because we're, if you ever learn or research anything about not only my brand, but our companies, everything we do is based in data, whether you did marketing campaigns or database. And and they had a good point. It's like, I'm going against everything I believe, but it just felt so crazy to me. And I said, I don't care, we're changing everything. And then I went to our data partner. So what we'll get into is the data in a second, but what we have is the largest, my data partner is the largest data collection analytics and AI company in America. They are literally looking at I'm not making this up 10 billion online decisions every day and then modeling out how consumers are making decisions. This is how we start all of our marketing campaigns for our clients. And so I went to them and said, this amazing we got you know, this is all the something's crazy is going on. We got to figure this out. And they're like, Ah, yeah, okay. And and so this is true. So that was like around March 5, and then about A week later, I sat down with all our team or account teams again and I said, All right, how what? What What did you What have we done? What have we pivoted? Like I was just saying we need to pivot and say, Hey, we know COVID are out there and we're here to serve you and also, and they were not we didn't we didn't listen to you. We didn't we didn't do anything. We've run in the same campaigns for and I'm like, I was so I was like, apoplectic about it. I was like, What? Like, we talked about us I'm the boss, you do these things? And they're like, yeah, now old man. We didn't you know, we didn't really want to go, that's a big deal. I literally went crazy. So I went back again to the data partner and I said, we got to figure this out. Now it is I can't wait any longer. And they said, Okay, let's, let's go out in the field and figure this out. Well, that took another week or so and then on from March 22nd to March 29 over 7 day period. Out data partner they had surgery. They the 15,000 American consumers in January before COVID really was the thing. And then they went back to those consumers and re surveyed them when the lockdowns went into effect. And they were only able to get back in touch with 4888 of them, but we were able to survey them and and kind of compare what would be the same people. What was the sentiment in January? What was the sentiment after the lockdowns went into effect, right. And then we were able to model that to their database of 200 million American consumers 500 and 50 million connected devices and 10 billion online decisions transactions made daily and what we found was unprecedented change in the way consumers were buying products, services and brands unprecedented. Literally the marketplace flipped overnight and no one knew about it. And so I you know after that, that covers I had the second time with my team. The second time I like literally said, your, you know, your jobs on the line, you got to switch, we got to go and just address COVID. But once we got the data back around March 29, we literally now knew how to market our clients. And they were basically you know, we were marketing all of our clients for the last seven, eight years on achievement, influence, status, significance, wealth creation, these types of things, these types of messages crushed across the board, it didn't matter. I mean, I'm not getting whether it was like a health care company or a pest control company, you still found nuance and how to do these things and get people to buy services or products, right. If you use those messages after March, you know, 15th you were dead, dead and right. The Instagram economy went away instantly evaporated right. When I say Instagram influencers that would show their butt cheeks on an online on a beach and tell you how great their life is. That's an extreme example. But that like, what are they going to do? They can't travel. No one wants to look at that anymore because they're there. They're believing they have to fight for their life and their family's life. Right, right. When we found three messages that were above all others, these are the only three messages that we're really getting customers to buy anything that customers were not buying, because they wanted to buy things they were only buying because they needed something. Toilet paper, right? That was that was the big one back then. And the the message is where does your product brand or safety? And so your product brand, or product or service focus on keeping the consumer safe? Does it focus on building trust or proving trust? And is it helping others okay? And so we pivoted all of our clients and all of our clients literally had explosive growth and growth in that moment. It was just a time that they go alright, well, let's double down and go from And they went for it and it worked. And then as the months went on, and the economy opened up, sort of trust in and helping others sort of dissipated, but safety stayed at the top. So what I mean by safety is like, we work with a pest control company, and they we pivoted them to say, you know, you can't cut your budget right now for Pest Control services, you're locked in your house, you need to keep your family safe. We're here to keep you safe. Our technicians will wear gloves, masks, visors, love, all that kind of stuff. Right? And that that ended up being a need the purchase, not I want purchase, because when people are opening up their budgets, their family budgets, their checkbooks, they're trying to ask the question, do I really need this? Right, right. And so we had to position them that way, just like we did all of our clients, even the clients that were somewhat frivolous, right, in the old economy. And so
John Meese 10:53
Can you give an example of what you mean by that?
Phillip Stutts 10:56
Uh oh, like an apparel company, right? Yeah, clothes, like, people, you know, we're not gonna just go, Hey, you know, I'm gonna change my wardrobe right now that was not happening, right. But we had to show that that company was helping others that they were donating profits to charity that they were in their community, volunteering, things like that, right? Anything you could and it wasn't like we were trying to, for that particular company, we're trying to like 6x their business, right? We were just trying to help them survive that moment, because they did nothing, they were going to die. And so that was sort of, you know, every client has different outcomes, right? So these are the things that sort of we worked on. But over the months, we've decided to track every single month, consumer sentiment, customer sentiment, your customers, your clients, how they're changing their purchasing decisions, all that. So like I said, safety has always stayed at the top of the funnel for us. We've seen this in all the data and then and that's because of, not only did the lockdowns happen, but then the economy came back and people were less concerned about helping others they're ready to go out and have fun and spend money. But then the Black Lives Matter protests broke down and then the riots broke out. So safety stayed at the top
John Meese 12:10
Right. So this is people who are concerned for their own safety.
Phillip Stutts 12:13
Right, they absolutely it was more inward looking. Whereas in March and April was more outward looking, how can I help my neighbor help my family member help my grandparents helped me you know, all that kind of stuff. Right? So we saw that now in the month of June, late June now, you know, that we saw in June, July and August, we're seeing the COVID cases spike in certain states. We're seeing states go back into lockdown. Now we got like, you know, states like California, and municipalities like Miami, or Fairfax, Virginia, and they're like, you know what, we're going to online education this fall. And all these parents are like, what? No, you know, like they're freaking out. Right? And yeah, and all of a sudden, people are getting scared again, not scared for themselves but for others. So we're seeing that helping others trust and safety. We sort of seeing it crest again, that wave has come back up. And that's how we're positioning all of our clients right now.
John Meese 13:13
Okay, so we're right now talking in late July. And so you're saying that we've seen is that the safety is continued to be a consistent theme? But what's you know, so what, if you could just kind of recap again, just I want to dive a little bit deeper into that in terms of the changes you're seeing right now, because whoever's listening, this obviously is listening after this point. So we got to do a little bit of speculation, right? We're still using data, but here in terms of trying to try to say like what's going on right now that we can count on to continue to go on for a while so that business owners can adapt? So are there trends within the data you're seeing like that safety?
Phillip Stutts 13:46
Oh, God, yeah, for sure. So I'm gonna write about it to my subscriber list this week, because they get exclusive access to all this stuff, but your listeners will get it as well. We'll hand it out at the end right? But What we're seeing right now sorry, I'm in the middle of writing at some of my statistics. But, uh, so you guys can know, set. So here's really interesting part 89% of Americans right now are moderately or largely concerned about the economy.
John Meese 14:18
Hmm, the economy as a whole.
Phillip Stutts 14:20
89% percent is a massive number, but 79.5 of the same Americans are concerned about their health. So more people are concerned right now about the economy than they are their own health.
John Meese 14:35
Phillip Stutts 14:35
Yeah, by pretty significant margin 10%. So when you add in that 72.4% of Americans believe the US economy won't return to normal until at least the spring of 2021. Then I believe you got a problem in the economy, I think the economy and here are the other things that we're seeing in this data right now. First of all, unemployment benefits are going to be running out at the end of July and unless Congress extends them, but even if they extend they're not going to extend them to the price point that they were. Yeah, I have so many business owners that come to me and say we can't hire back the people we furloughed because they're making more money in unemployment than they did when we hired them. So now that's going to run out right? The recent economic lockdowns in states like California, Arizona, parts of Texas, parts of Florida, like Miami, is having a huge psychological effect on consumers. When you have travel restrictions and state like New York, New York has just listed 22 states that if you travel into New York from those states, like Florida, you have to do a 14 day quarantine. Right? That is crushing work travel right now. That is a massive impact on the economy. When you look at consumers wanting to buy a major luxury purchase, right? And June, that number was 7% of all Americans that is really, really, really low. I mean, we were We're like at 25% a year ago, right?
John Meese 16:02
Phillip Stutts 16:03
So now, you got 7% in June of 2020.
John Meese 16:08
And talk, can you talk a little bit more about what that means? So yeah,
Phillip Stutts 16:10
I well, let me go, July, that number has fallen to 3.4%. So what it means is that 96.4% of the American consumers will not be making any luxury purchases, that's cars, watches, artwork up tickets to a big show, like a major luxury purchase. They're not doing it. And it's trending even though the trend is so small. It's it's a huge impact to look at these things right. Now, you add into that the stress of parents who have to handle their educate their children's education as well because either there's a hybrid physical online presence or it's all online like state of California, even private schools are having to be online by the state of California. And then parents are going to have to buy stuff school supplies, the kids that have to go back to physical schools, my child in Florida, she has to have, you know, she cannot share any supplies she has to. So we're having to go buy like an unprecedent amount of supplies, right? I can afford that. That's not a big deal to me. But for a lot of families, it's a huge deal to them. And so you're adding all of these things together. And there is this huge reckoning coming this fall that people don't see and they are not paying attention to. And so what I'm trying to say is economic concerns are driving more than anything. People are buying for need not want. People are buying for safety first, but underlying issues, they want to be able to help their family and they're not going to buy unless they trust you. And you have to understand those things right now. Sorry.
John Meese 17:51
Wow. Okay, so there's a reckoning coming. That's a bold statement, but I think it's I think it's true. I mean, I think you've been you've been tracking the data, more Closer than anyone I know in terms of the economic impact and the psychological impact, right? Because I mean, from the beginning, this is not just a health crisis. It's not just an economic crisis, but it's a mental health crisis, right? I mean, it's a psychological massive impact on and that affects the economy. I mean, that affects what people do. So I'd love to know kind of talking to the business owner entrepreneurs listening to this. They're saying, Okay, what do I do? I mean, well, what would you say to that, Philip, in terms of the business owner that's listening, and they're trying to figure out, Okay, how do I adapt? How do I survive and thrive in the midst of this? How do I, you know, really continue to build and grow and support myself, my family, my employees and my community?
Phillip Stutts 18:36
Yeah, I think if you sit in the in the corner, if you lay in the corner, sucking your thumb in the fetal position, that's exactly what's going to happen to your business. So you have to be aggressive and you have to go for it. Tony Robbins has a great quote that says the quality of your life is the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably tolerate. Well get ready because you're about to tolerate a lot of uncertainty. But yeah, if you don't tolerate it, you're dead. And what you know what I'd say on a micro level, that's a macro viewpoint, micro level, you better understand your customers right now. Right? Don't if you're not using data to understand what's going on with your customers, and you're not serving them in an unprecedented way, you're gonna find yourself disrupted. It's just plain and simple. And, and, you know, it's funny, John, we, we've been pushing this data model in my marketing business for years now, and you get some most is a great metaphor for everything we just talked to. So many business owners, like, I just want the get rich, quick pill, or Yeah, they go, I don't need data, I'm just gonna run a bunch of tactics and I want to follow the shiny object and all of a sudden, and then all of a sudden, you know, marketing agencies have been crushed in this because business owners cut marketing, almost as the top priority is one of the top cuts that They may write even before sometimes they cut staff, right.
And I think, as a marketer and not trying to be self serving, but that is ridiculous, you can't survive. You can't survive if you're not marketing, right? You write to figure out a way. And so all of a sudden, in a moment where all these marketing agencies are going out of business, ours has tripled in the last four months, because all we do is track data. And then we run our marketing campaigns full service, referral, marketing, we run these marketing campaigns based on what the data tells us. Not on guesses, not on hope. Right. And and that's been had unprecedented success for some of these businesses that decided to go for it and March and April. And that's what's helped us and propelled us forward it because finally, the business owner is understanding. I need to take the guesswork out. If I'm going to market I better be rooted in data and facts rather than going after all the shiny objects. We had a client recently. You know, a lot of business owners just They chase shiny objects, right? I've been guilty of this in the past you to me too. Yeah. And we were were We were having a really big success for a specific client. And then he came to us and said, hey, I've been reading about tik tok I want to get on Tick Tock. And we're like, the data has says that that is the No, that is the data. There's no customer of yours on tik tok right now. And he's like, Yeah, but I talked to somebody who said I needed to be on tik tok. And I mean, like, this is like it, I finally can push back on the business owner, because I can show him definitively that that would be a stupid, ridiculous waste of money and the business owner now understands that can't waste a dollar but they know they can't waste a dollar. They can't be frivolous with their with their wallets, and their checkbooks and their budgets anymore. They have to follow the data. And so for us, this is a good moment for us because we can finally take these clients to different levels that they didn't know that They could go to even among in a pandemic, or an economic downturn.
John Meese 22:06
Well, okay, so let's back up for a second, because you mentioned that while a lot of agencies are really suffering, which I've seen firsthand, I mean, I've been part of client conversations where we've let go, you know, ad partners and or other agencies, you're saying that your agency has actually tripled in the midst of this crisis. I don't know you guys are doing some things differently, just in terms of your approach with data. But how are you pivoting to pursue opportunity right now, as you're I mean, you're a business owner yourself. So we know how are you showing up? I mean, this is probably an example of this is this conversation around data, but how are you pivoting to pursue opportunity, and cause that tripling,
Phillip Stutts 22:37
I actually decided to do all the things I'm telling you. Create safety, build trust and help others. So we have given away all of our data that we have invested at this point, $125,000 sound, each report is about $25,000 of investment for us, and we have given it all away/ Because we're trying to keep business, other business owners willing to work with us safe when you are rooted in data, and you're not asking people for anything that builds trust, and frankly, it's helping everybody that we're giving it to. So we've had over 94,000 downloads or data so far. And, you know, have we picked up a lot of clients out of that? Absolutely. But I gave first, I did not ask for anything. I did not say give me money first. We just decided to give first and that had, you know, it's been crazy. So that's that's how we done it. This was not a marketing plan. This literally was that I on that March 5, I asked myself a question, how do I want to be remembered a year from now? And I started writing and I wrote for about an hour and this was the one of the solutions I came up with.
John Meese 23:51
Wow. Well, that's really special. I appreciate you sharing that. So before we wrap up, I do want to ask this is a little bit of a little bit out of left field but you know I'm thinking that, you know, we're primarily saying that this research is helpful to the businesses, owners and entrepreneurs who are adapting right now. But there's also this whole army of 10s of millions of people who were recently promoted from employee to entrepreneur. Right. And so they're now out there
Phillip Stutts 24:14
Good way of saying it, yeah.
John Meese 24:16
Yeah. Thank you. So I'm curious to know, based on what you're seeing, you know, did you have any advice specifically to those people who may be watching this and trying to figure out how to become an entrepreneur?
Phillip Stutts 24:26
Yeah, they can disrupt so many industries right now, this is what happened in 2008. This is why we saw a 12 year Bull Run, because people said I don't have to have the old model anymore, right. And so when I look at industries that are going to be in serious Jeopardy, it's like commercial real estate, right? Because when people have now worked for 120 hundred 50 days online and on zoom, you've now like I'm paying in rent $15,000 a month in Washington DC for one of our offices. We've haven't had a single employee in that office since March. Why am I doing that, like I know now I'm in I'm in a locked lease, I can't change it. And I'm in it for two and a half more years. But you think I'm going to be in that lease when it's done? No.
John Meese 25:09
Are you, do you think you are going to sign a three year lease again?
Phillip Stutts 25:11
Yeah, five years lease, no. Um, so and then restaurant industry, right? We're talking 30, 25 to 30% of all restaurants are going to go away, because they just can't make money even halfway open. You're talking about brick and mortar retail is gonna have a massive disruption. And so these are the industries that I'm looking at going don't look them as the disruption look at it from an entrepreneurial standpoint. Man, I could I could create a restaurant concept of you know, take out, eat and eat outside. Something that you know, you only order online on a on an app. You don't have to have waiters. You don't have to do that. You could literally bootstrap and out innovate the restaurant industry right now because they're so stuck in the old model, commercial real estate, holy hell, I would not want to be in that business for the next 18 months because that's the biggest disruption is going to happen. But in about 18 months, it sure I'm gonna have a lot of fun buying some commercial real estate because it's going to be so cheap. And they're going to be so many opportunities. And I don't know how to position that industry right now. We'll see what happens. But it, you know that for sure. And then obviously, you can sell clothes, you can do retail, and you can do it online, and the brick and mortar businesses are just completely screwed. So what I'm saying is the flexibility of not being married to the old and the past is so important for these new entrepreneurs. Find an idea, figure out how to make you have to make it digital. You know, when I say digital, you have to make it online. You have to it can have both physical and online presence. But there has to be the online component man Oh, man, do I see my friends that only have physical presences in businesses and holy cow, do they say man, I should have pivoted, I should have done it. And if you're new, you don't have to worry about that. You don't have to carry that burden of the old model, you can make your own rules. And that's what I would encourage business owners to do.
John Meese 27:07
Well, I love that. And Philip, that's really encouraging advice. I appreciate you sharing that. And I'm gonna have to think more in the commercial real estate options. You know, I opened a co working space in January. So right before I was gonna say, going through the lockdown owning a coworking space has been a little bumpy.
Phillip Stutts 27:23
Sure, but may end up being it may end up being pretty good, john, because people don't want to have five year six year leases and coworking spaces or month to month and like, that's what we've talked about where we could pivot to next we did this to start our company. But then we got so big. Over the last years, we had to get real office space. And now we're like, well, we don't need this. If we need to meet. We can just rent office space for a week and then go back and work online for three weeks and then come back for a week and how much money are we going to save in the long run? So that's how we're going to look at it.
John Meese 27:55
Yeah, we've had people join even during this, you know, it's been kind of a weird pandemic. We're like probably about a third are paying members that core of my coworking space Cobra Columbia, literally haven't slept in the building in two months. So both then we've had other members join who are normally traveling full time or working out of an office in Nashville, you know, in there, and they just don't know where else to work to
Phillip Stutts 28:14
I travel for a living on the road 10 to 14 days a month. And I have not been on an airplane since March 22. And my business has tripled. Right. Right. So yeah, I'm thinking, Well, hold on this works. Now. I don't have to travel is great. Yeah, so I get it.
John Meese 28:34
Well, Phillip, thank you so much for your time and all of your insight. I really appreciate that. I love to know where can we find you learn more about you in this research online, but also to follow up because I know you're going to be doing more research as the situation continues to evolve.
Phillip Stutts 28:46
Yeah. So and here's one of the things the to answer this. I've offered this exclusively. You know, to our Well, I give it out before the general public, we give it exclusively to my subscriber list. My subscriber list has quadrupled since March, right? Yeah. And but if you want to get this data and look at the past reports and look at how everything's changed, not only do we give you the raw data, and very easy, graphically pleasing, you know, download, but you can also read the crib notes that I put, I produced I write. So once every time we put the data out, I write a summary of the top points in the data. So you can go in granular or you can just get the top points but you go to winbigmedia.com, winbigmedia.com and just click on the COVID-19 consumer research tab. A little bit about, you know, just my own brand, you can go to philipstutts.com. I'm sure in the show notes, John, you will spell my name correctly, and you can go there. That's sort of where, you know, I put out all my brand stuffs, too. So those are those are the two locations. And yeah, reach out to me. I'd love to hear from you.
John Meese 29:59
Well, great. That's excellent. Thank You so much, Philip. I appreciate you and everything you do. Please keep up the good work.
Phillip Stutts 30:03
All right man. Thanks
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