If you’re searching for the right information to base your marketing on, it’s time to start mining for data that fascinates and captivates. Our guest today is an expert on using sales and marketing data to create powerful stories that move people.
Dennis Goedegebuure is a growth marketing executive with nearly 20 years of experience working for big brands such as eBay, PayPal, Fanatics and Airbnb. He finds it fascinating to understand how marketing influences the daily habits and purchase behavior of every consumer segment.
In today’s episode, Dennis lays out the basics of data-driven storytelling. He shares inspiring examples from his own career along with tips on how to turn mundane data into a memorable story. Dennis points to the importance of creating visual storytelling content whenever possible. We also discuss the dangers surrounding online security and how to protect yourself against scams. You won’t want to miss all of the incredible stories in this episode!
In this Episode
- [00:20] – Stephan introduces Dennis Goedegebuure, a seasoned marketing expert who has worked with some of the world’s largest corporations, eBay, PayPal, Fanatics and Airbnb.
- [05:40] – Dennis talks about the company Bitdefender and its founder’s mission.
- [12:38] – Dennis gives a great example of compelling data-driven storytelling he did way back in 2009 while he was working at eBay.
- [18:28] – Dennis tells the story of when he helped Fanatics innovate new products based on his data from blog posts.
- [26:06] – Stephan and Dennis mention several books with great visual representations of data.
- [31:34] – Dennis explains how he finds data feeds that are available and uses them to create stories.
- [38:44] – Dennis shares stories of when he used his intuition to make campaigns and business decisions.
- [45:41] – Dennis tells a real story about two former guards on the Berlin Wall meeting each other through Airbnb that inspired one of his clever campaigns for Airbnb.
- [50:11] – Stephan asks Dennis what was his most profound learning through his toughest life challenges.
- [56:44] – Visit Dennis Goedegebuure’s website, The Next Corner, thenextcorner.net or follow him on social media accounts to connect and learn more about him.
Dennis, it’s so great to have you on the show.
Thank you, Stephan. It’s a pleasure.
It’s so great to have you on the show, Dennis, and I would love for us to start off by sharing a bit about your origin story with our listener so that they understand that you’re the real deal. You’ve been doing some incredible work at really big companies over many years like eBay. You’ve had impacts that have driven countless new users to these different platforms that we all use and know. Can you share a bit about this?
Yeah, sure. Originally Dutch, that’s where my name is also coming from. I don’t hold anybody to good pronunciation. It’s always a fun gimmick at conferences because I’m the guy with a difficult last name that nobody can pronounce, but you know Dennis G? Oh, it’s Dennis, that guy.
I started at eBay in the internet marketing field where we really pioneered the growth channels for eBay in the Netherlands when the company just bought a company, which was a European clone, eBazaar. At that moment, they started to roll out the eBay playbook in Europe where eBazaar was more focused on traditional TV and radio advertising. eBay traditionally only marketed online where we were driving new users to a platform.The ability to visualize an entire story using data and grab an audience's attention is a unique ability. As a result, it has become a special skill in today's marketing. Click To Tweet
Started there in 2002, did a lot of interesting projects as a small country in a bigger European field. We were well-known for our innovation. With scarce resources, we were making new ideas into our playbook. That got the eye of the headquarters on me, which resulted in a move to Silicon Valley in San Jose to take up a very international coordinating role in eBay where I was looking after the SEO channel to coordinate best practices and priorities for eBay worldwide where it was a decentralized organization for a long time.
At a certain moment, we centralized it and I became director of SEO for eBay worldwide, which was a very interesting job. You’re working on a very large site with a lot of traffic and also a lot of incoming links, which we can talk about a little bit later some innovations that we brought to the platform. That was a good school for me to be educated on everything around growth marketing or online marketing. That got me the foundation at my later work at other companies like you mentioned, Airbnb, Fanatics, and PayPal.
I just spent around 15 years in the U.S. and we recently relocated back to the Netherlands. This call is taking place from both sides of the world, Stephan. That’s always fun, but the COVID situation and the notion that we couldn’t jump on an airplane to go visit our parents in the Netherlands made us realize that we were very far away and that it was time to move back after 15 years.
We’re back in the homeland and still looking for new ways of driving growth marketing for companies so we can talk a little bit about what’s next for Dennis in the coming hour. That got me where we are right now. eBay was really my foundation for a lot of the work I’m doing.
What are you up to now? What’s capturing your attention, and what are the big challenges you’re facing now?
I was looking for a global scale growing vertical with the ambition to invest in a program that I would put together.
In my search for a new job or a new position, I was looking for a company that could hire me for a global role. I was looking for a global scale growing vertical and with the ambition to invest in a program that I was going to put together. I found that in a company called Bitdefender, which is in the cybersecurity vertical and I’m the VP of New Customer Acquisition for Bitdefender worldwide, which is at the time of this recording, we are planning our announcement which is imminent to the public view.
You’re getting the scoop here.
Okay, this episode will air in about three to four weeks’ time, actually more on five, I think. Is that enough time to make this not a scoop so we can actually talk about it as long as I promise to be under embargo here?
It’s going to be this week that it’s going to be announced.
Okay, awesome. So do you want to talk about it since it will be live by the time this episode airs?
Okay, what’s the scoop? What’s the exciting stuff happening at Bitdefender?
The company is 20 years old, growing in both the enterprise and on the consumer side. There are a number of ideas that I have to draw in Bitdefender.
That’s why I come to help a team build a stronger brand and narrative within the consumer space, where I see a marketing opportunity.
One is that the founder is very charismatic and knows where he wants to go. He’s actually a former mathematician from the communist party. When there was a revolution, he actually sat down at the kitchen table and thought, where am I going to get my next paycheck, and founded the cybersecurity company together with his wife, and grew that into a globally recognized brand that delivers a very good product.
Not well known to the extent that we would like to be, but that’s why I come to help the team to build a stronger brand and the narrative within the consumer space where I see an opportunity for marketing to not only grow the pie for Bitdefender in the vertical of cybersecurity but also grow the full pie where the consumers are not very educated around every threat that is happening especially with more devices being connected.
You never know when your fridge starts to mine bitcoin because you clicked on a link and your whole network is compromised.
That mining bitcoin doesn’t actually go to your crypto wallet.
Exactly. I see there is an opportunity for the company to play a bigger role here, and it’s where my left and right brain can work together in good data-driven storytelling that helps the brand, but also looking at the performance marketing channels, not only the SEO but also the paid channels to drive new consumers through the funnel and grow the company.
That’s such a great idea and the modality is data-driven storytelling. We’re going to have to go into that.
I have some great examples.
I’m going to ask you for those in a minute, but I want to make a point here that I think is a little off-topic but very important for our listeners. That is that everybody’s security needs to be shored up—everybody’s.
It’s not a question of are you secure yet, but where are your biggest vulnerabilities because everybody has vulnerabilities. If you can think of really low-hanging fruit, a simple security measures to implement, what would it be, Dennis?
One of the driving factors is somebody very near to me was scammed through social engineering where they used my name and dutch telephone number with WhatsApp to impersonate me and get money to transfer over.
Anytime you get messages that look like it’s from somebody that you know or is very near to you and asking for money, pick up the phone. Pick up the phone and check if that person is really asking for that money and otherwise just ignore, block it, and report.
Last week there was a big story about the scams that are going on with the peer-to-peer money transferring apps where two Bank of America customers actually got scammed through the Zelle app. They’ll eventually get their money back, but it’s so easy to spoof a phone number where it looks like you’re talking with the bank that calls you up or sends you messages. You log in to your account, and boom, your money is gone. Be very, very careful.Data lets us see what could become of something. It allows us to build or stop certain things from happening. Click To Tweet
Also with posting information online. Nobody needs to know where you grew up, those first three digital. If they know the first car that you had because those are all the secret questions that are being asked to retrieve your password.
Your first pet’s name as well. That’s like, oh, I remember those days with little Fluffy.
The quizzes on social media that are asking these kinds of questions, just ignore them and don’t participate because it’s all collecting data about your profile either to scam you or your loved ones.
Right. One thing I’m surprised by that is such a no-brainer, I think, is two-factor authentication and how few people are utilizing that, especially for the really important social accounts, your most important financial accounts, et cetera. You need to have two-FA in place across the board. In fact, I just came across this surprising stat that Twitter recently disclosed that the number of accounts using two-factor authentication is only 2.3%.
Wow, that’s really low.
Two-factor authentication, I once read an article about somebody that got their whole identity stolen by social engineering and not having two-factor authentication and lost a very valuable domain because they were just going into Gmail accounts, retrieving passwords using that Gmail account, and getting into GoDaddy account and then transferring the domain out. Having two-factor authentication can prevent a lot of these headaches.
Yeah, jeez. It’s really important.
It’s a very, very interesting field.
So what is the announcement from Bitdefender?
It’s just that I joined Bitdefender. We are growing with a number of high-level executives that are higher and I waited until we could announce it after the holiday break. I actually joined in May, so I’ve been there five months, and so far, I traveled one time to Bucharest, which was last week.
Bucharest, I’ve been there. It’s a really cool place. I went with my wife to Transylvania up to Brașov.
Unfortunately, I’ve only seen the old town from walking over there and the hotel in the office. It’s quick in and out. Next week I’m going to be there as well.
Oh, cool. All right. What would be a great example of data-driven storytelling that you could share, maybe how you got the story, or how this evolved with your involvement? That would be great.
I believe in 2009 when Steve Jobs, for the first time, went on Macworld in January and presented the Ipad. Remember he was like, “We call this the iPad.” I was at eBay at that time and I was deeply entrenched in all the internal keyword dashboards where the product was announced at the beginning of January in 2009 and going on sale only six months later in June.Always be on the lookout for correlations in the data because they can predict specific outcomes that you spin into a story or a business problem you need to solve. Click To Tweet
The very interesting part is that we saw the internal keyword searches on eBay spike the moment Steve presented the iPad. Obviously, as a true marketer, I see an opportunity here because, at that point, I don’t know if you remember, it was the high times of Digg, digg.com, where social submitted new stories hitting the Digg homepage could crash a server.
Everything Apple was doing was reaching the homepage of Digg, and Apple, as a secretive company, didn’t produce any sales data of their newly introduced product. I saw an opportunity here when the time comes when they’re actually going on sale to produce something with this, something meaningful that we could use to highlight the opportunity to buy iPads on eBay. Especially because Apple announced it will only go on sale in the U.S. first and six months later, they will be introduced internationally.
eBay, as a worldwide marketplace, is a perfect place to buy your iPad if you really want one and have it shipped over to you. They went on sale for the first two weeks. I collected all the data. I had custom queries written to get the number of iPads sold on eBay, at what price, and where they would be shipping to from the U.S. I went on, at that moment it was called Elance, now it’s Upwork. I got a designer from Argentina to produce an infographic for me that was showing where the iPads were being sold around the world.
I dropped an email to two of my friends here in the Netherlands who run a very large tech block, thenextweb.com, and said, “I have a great story for you to be published. If you can give me an editor account, I’ll run it by you first then we can launch it.” Without asking for permission from the eBay PR team, I said to my boss at that time, ”Listen, we need to do this. If I go through them, it will take ages to get all the approvals. Can you read through the article and give me your blessing? Then we asked for forgiveness later.”
It got me thinking about how you can create better storytelling using the data you possess and get value out of it.
We launched that on thenextweb.com with the infographic and it just blew up. It was picked up on all the big tech publications—New York Times, Time Magazine, of course, TechCrunch, and 9to5Mac. But that really got me thinking about how you can create better storytelling using the data that you possess and can get value out of it.
The funny thing is that on that day, we presented an overview of our SEO efforts to the CTO of eBay. Part of that overview is how we should harness our data into better stories to tell using our PR efforts. The CTO came forward and said, “Yeah, I saw this great article today of our PR team talking about the iPad really being sold on eBay around the world.” My boss started laughing and yeah, that was him putting that story there. We instantly got the approval to do that at scale.
That is a great example of how we used data-driven storytelling. With the velocity of items being sold on eBay, we could get stories anywhere you would cut it. But the funny thing is that I actually used that story as well to land my next job at PayPal.
Two years ago, when I was looking for a new opportunity, an email came in my inbox to meet with the CMO of PayPal. She used to work for Steve Jobs at Apple at the time when the iPad was launched. The first thing I walk into that conversation is like, I already worked for you, but you didn’t know it yet. I showed her the article and she said, “I saw that back then. I didn’t like it because they were never giving any sales data, but I like it now. Let’s discuss what we want to do here at PayPal.”
That was instantly another life for that story that I did ten years before that helped me get a great introduction to an amazing market here that I know. That is one of my friends, Allison Johnson.
That’s awesome. There are no coincidences, right?
What would be another example of data-driven storytelling that would have happened maybe at another organization that you were at, such as PayPal or something that you’re cooking up at Bitdefender, something that is a little more contemporary?
When I was at Fanatics, I was working for the same boss as with eBay where I was getting a lot of freedom to explore different opportunities of data and data-driven storytelling. Where we built a full series of blog posts around the jersey evolution of a lot of the teams. You know that Fanatics is the largest ecommerce merchandise retailer for sports, where the product was front and center of the story.
We would go and analyze every aspect of a jersey of a sports team and write about the evolution, how it changed over time with either colors or little nuances in the designs. We were starting to get traction on that. The data that I was collecting through Google Search Console was helping us to inform the next story. For instance, the Chicago Bears have a three-letter acronym on their sleeve, GSH, which stands for one of the founders of the NFL.
We started to innovate new products based on the data from this kind of blog post, which is quite innovative.
Whenever the Bears were playing, I would see the queries, what GSH stands for, go through the roof. I was looking at peaks. That informed me that we needed to create more stories around that acronym. Another one is that the Seattle Seahawks were playing in their color rush jersey, which is bright green, which is not the normal color. We always saw the spikes in traffic on those days that they played in those jerseys to be twice as big as the normal spikes.
I took that story to our product development organization and said, “Listen, there seems to be something with this color, maybe we can do something more about it.” We started to innovate new products based on the data that we saw from this kind of blog post. Which is quite innovative if you ask me, where usually when you’re looking at the manufacturing of products within the garments vertical is more fashion-driven or looking at what are the trends. We just looked at the data that the fans really liked and what we could do with that with new product designs.
Very cool. Our listeners might think to themselves, I’m not a big recognized brand with millions of visits to my website like Fanatics or eBay. What am I supposed to do with this concept of data-driven storytelling? Is there anything here for me? I instinctively feel like the answer is a yes that even somebody who is a local plumber could come up with some really compelling data-driven storytelling.
Let’s actually use that as an example. Somebody who’s been in business, let’s say for 20 years, and they’ve kept their financial records and something like QuickBooks or whatever so they can pull up data like how many times they were called out to clean drains, how many were emergency visits, how many times did they find a previous plumber left a piece of equipment in the pipes? That actually happened here in the house we’re living in. A previous plumber left a piece of a snake inside of the pipes, or a telescoping camera piece inside of the pipes or something like that. I was like, what?Pictures are the new headlines. These days when people are scrolling faster and faster, a picture tells a thousand words. Click To Tweet
The thing is that the day after Thanksgiving is the best plumbing day because a lot of people are rinsing their place through the normal sink. There’s a lot of greases that goes with hot water, then it is melting through the hot water, then it cools off again in the pipe, and then it blocks the pipe.
The first thing I was thinking when you’re saying that’s the biggest day for calling in plumbers, I was thinking like, okay, everybody ate too much and then they’re going to the bathroom. It is a little more innocent.
People rinse it and drain it through the sink. It appears that that is the biggest emergency day where plumbers are getting called in for unclogging the sink. That could be a great data-driven post. I’m just going on a riff here like, thinking through the temperature that might have caused you to put more grease into the sauce or the stuffing where you’re getting extra clogged up pipes because you wanted to have everybody get a warm feeling or something like that.
Can you actually compare the emergencies on the day after Thanksgiving with some correlating events, either it’s because some football team has won the day after Thanksgiving or there were extra big sales on Black Friday, and so people were not paying attention to rinsing off their plate? Something like that.
Can you actually put that correlation into the data that you see as a plumber and whip up some funny, interesting posts that are very easy to digest and consumable, and makes everybody laugh about the emergency that you might have had and never will have because it was costing you a fortune to get a plumber? Something like that. I’m just brainstorming here. I can see a lot of these things.
I like that angle. Imagine having a holiday that you called National Plumbing Emergency Day or something because it’s the day after Thanksgiving. Yes, it’s also Black Friday, but it’s also a big day for plumbers, you just named it a holiday, and here’s why. You could do a little press release around it, you could pitch news outlets around that.
I remember years ago, I heard about freshpair.com creating a holiday. They called it National Underwear Day. They celebrated it by getting a bunch of people to agree to do a fun run in Manhattan in their underwear. Of course, they got a lot of press and everything. It’s pretty genius and I think that’s now an accepted thing, that National Underwear Day is a particular day of the year every year even a decade later.
Exactly. For National Plumber Day, let’s do it on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Maybe it gives you enough time to watch football, do some shopping, and then on Saturday, you call your plumber. Something like that.
Very cool. What would be an example of data-driven storytelling that was so expounded upon that it was turned into a book? Can you think of anything where it was not just a 2000-word article or something but it was an actual book?
I can’t remember one of the books. I think that with a lot of this data-driven storytelling, the data tells a story already. Maybe the art of telling a story with data can become a new book, but if the data is already being published, then it becomes stale very easily. I don’t know if you have read a book around these kinds of topics, Stephan, but I haven’t seen one story that is turned into a book.
There are these books that are visual masterpieces. I forget the name of the author, but it’s all based on data. I’m going to Google it.What would you do if you were not afraid? You can always go back. If you fail, then at least you tried. Click To Tweet
I have two books that are about the data-driven storytelling process. It’s not about the one-story itself. I’ve got two books. I can look up the books if you want.
Edward Tufte. That’s the author, Edward Tufte. Have you heard of him?
No. I might have a book up online.
He’s a statistician and he’s got some books on data visualization that are works of art. They’re really impressive. They’re worthy of being coffee table books. There’s one called The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. That’s not one set of data that’s turned into a storytelling book. It’s a visual representation of a lot of data in a beautiful format. But that’s something that comes to mind that I came across years ago.
I have a book and I have it somewhere in storage. It’s Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics, which tells you a little bit about how you can use data and then map it to visualize it in a very consumable way that gets the message across. I think if you ask me what kind of interesting skills I would like to develop further is really the art of storytelling through visualization.
I want to develop further the skill of storytelling through visualization.
Pictures are the new headlines where your headline might get somebody’s attention. But these days, when people are scrolling faster and faster, a picture tells a thousand words. If you are able to visualize a story using data or a map in some sort of way to grab the attention of the person that you want to interact with with your story, that is a unique skill set. I think that could really be valuable in the new marketing.
I don’t know if this is an example really of data-driven storytelling, but this comes to mind. I’m going to share it anyways. The author Michael Crichton was just phenomenal. I loved his books. I remember one of my favorite reads of fiction of his was Prey. It was about the dangers of nanotechnology.
Once you could get true molecular nanotechnology where they were self-replicating, these nanobots could then turn into swarms, and then those swarms could come after you and whatever else. There is a lot of data. He did a ton of research in all of his books. It just was full of data. He did so much research. It felt very credible because of that.
That’s an extreme example because now we’re talking about actual fiction instead of a nonfiction business-type resource book. I think we can learn a lot from these kinds of storytellers, Michael Crichton, Stephen King, and Neal Stephenson who wrote The Diamond Age, which is one of my favorite books. It’s all about, again, nanotechnology. He also wrote Snow Crash, which is another phenomenal book. Ready Player One was written by Ernest Cline. Did you ever see the movie or read the book?
I have not. I’ve been pretty preoccupied with a number of things in my life that prevented me from a lot of reading lately.
You can listen to it.
Mainly four kids.
I can relate. I’ve got a two-year-old myself. It keeps me busy. There’s an audiobook version of Ready Player One and it’s phenomenal. It really is good. It’s better than the movie, definitely better than the movie. The movie is really fun and enjoyable. It’s a Steven Spielberg movie. He’s good at his craft, but the book, it’s at another level.
It’s usually the case, the book is better than the movie.
Anyway, storytelling, crucially important when you weave in data. It makes the storytelling more credible, but when you start with the data and you see what stories you can come up with based on the data, that’s even better because there’s stuff that will present itself to you that you’ll never have thought of.
I had a short stint between eBay and Airbnb where I worked for Geeknet. Geeknet was a small media company with some software properties where we were selling media advertising. That is where I created the story that unfortunately came true a couple of months later. But when I looked at the warming of the oceans and the bigger hurricanes that were a result of global warming, we created an infographic that showed the data centers at the East Coast in jeopardy when a big storm would hit.
We created more data into the cloud and there was obviously a metaphor for the hurricanes that were also big clouds. We had that good connection. Then a couple of months later, the big storm Sandy hit New York where a number of data centers were knocked out. Of course, we never wanted this to become true, but it goes to show that if you’re able to connect certain elements like, what do we see when things are happening in the world like bigger hurricanes due to warming of the ocean and on the coastline, what is in jeopardy at that point?
I saw that the opportunity was there to create a story that unfortunately came true. You can still look that up as well online with the infographic. I have this interesting weather, temperatures, and other things that are happening around us to connect that with other things that you can use in the storytelling. We saw that as well at Fanatics where big ice storms or big snowstorms could impact our delivery of a product because we had a fulfillment center in Ohio.
During the peak season and the shopping season, one big snowstorm comes along, and the trucks that have to pick up the packages might not be able to come to the fulfillment center. So we built actually a model that could look at weather patterns and temperatures and see if we can predict some of the fulfillment of the Christmas shopping of a customer at that moment in time.
I’m always looking for those kinds of correlations where you can predict certain outcomes that you either spin into a story or a business problem that you need to solve. The Fanatics example was not that I was the driving factor for it, but it’s more like, how can you use these data feeds that are generally available? How can you use those?
I saw that the opportunity was there to create a story that unfortunately came true.
It’s possible to look a bit prophetic with good data. I think there’s actually maybe a mix of just good intuition and good data mining to look for trends, anomalies, and different things that could be shocking or surprising to people and merge those two things in. I think that there might have been for you an intuitive hit that came in that helped you to identify some of these opportunities or bring to the forefront some of these key issues before they actually reared their ugly head.
Yeah, and that’s what I’m trying to do right now with Bitdefender. I don’t have the access to all our data yet because some of the data you need a higher clearance level. I’ve only been here for five months, so we’ll eventually get there somewhere.
We’re looking at the data and see what could happen to make sure that we either build a product that allows us to stop certain things to happen to our consumers or proactively warn them in a way that doesn’t speed up the process or make other people more aware of a vulnerability. Because you’re sitting in this highly classified world where some of the bugs or vulnerabilities cannot be openly talked about, but do need to be addressed to keep everybody safe.
One thing that pops to my mind that was so shocking is a demonstration where a hacker was breaking into a car while the person was driving that car. This person was just on their computer. Someone else was driving on a track or whatever. The guy was able to take control of the car, make it stop on its own, or turn signals on, and do things like that without the driver’s involvement. It was pretty frightening.
That’s the scary part. Just imagine all the Wi-Fi, kid’s monitors, or the Ring doorbell, or your lock in your front door. I’ve seen that happen as well, little movies where they steal a car, like the luxury car that is parked in front of a house. They just go with a sensor over the front door to pick up the signal of the key that is laying inside and switch it off, turn on the car, and just drive off. That’s just the car that will be stolen. It’s not anybody in harm’s way.
The example that you mentioned is really frightening because there’s nothing at that point you can do anymore. You’re really at the mercy of a bad actor that can take over your car and do what they want.
You mentioned the baby monitors. Those are essentially spy cameras in the house that you’ve put in there yourself. Who knows what someone can do with that data? Talking about negative data storytelling there. If there’s stuff that you didn’t want to have filmed, that’s a spy camera that you’ve installed yourself.
Even the Ring doorbell can be used in that kind of way to get some data, how many packages you order. Then the number of packages delivered to your door can be picked up by somebody and then they have an address to steal your stuff.
It’s an interesting world we live in.
That’s what I mean. There’s more education needed for the average consumer.
Yeah. Let’s talk a bit about intuition. I’m curious to hear of some times where you were able to pull in your intuition to achieve something really cool with whatever companies you were working for at that time. Maybe involving some campaigns or a big maybe counterintuitive even business decision that people would have maybe faced. You might have faced some skepticism or some resistance, but you were able to prevail and prove that that was just the thing that the company needed.
It was 2014, January when I was working at Airbnb. I was talking to a good friend of mine, a German SEO guy, Marcus Tandler. You know him well.
You’re sitting in this highly classified world where some bugs or vulnerabilities cannot be openly discussed but need to be addressed to keep everybody safe.
Marcus Tandler of SEOktoberfest of Ryte. He was actually a past guest on this podcast. If listeners are interested, he’s brilliant. Definitely check out his episode if it interests you.
We were talking about how we could actually do some storytelling campaigns for Airbnb in the German market that would naturally earn incoming links for SEO. At that point in time, it made me realize it was 2014, I grew up in Europe with the Berlin Wall as part of the separation between East and West. It made me realize that 2014 was the 25th year anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down.
We had this unique story that was submitted by one of our guests, that was used already a couple of times by the founders in PR on states in interviews and on TV, but was never turned into a full marketing campaign that we could use to showcase how great traveling on Airbnb could be. In that call, I was talking to Marcus about it. I said, “Oh my God, it’s the 25th year anniversary of the Berlin Wall falling down. This story can be something great.” Marcus told me, “Dude, we have to do something with this.”
That spiraled into a number of pitches within the company. It wasn’t until I was asked to onboard a new CMO who came from Coca-Cola, Jonathan Mildenhall. I don’t know if you remember that Coca-Cola content strategy, content 2020 YouTube video that was going around in our circles years ago. I believe it was in 2012 or 2013 that they published that.
There’s more education needed for the average consumer.
Remember, in 2012 or 2013, content marketing was all the rage in SEO because we needed to create more content. What did we do? Content marketing. Then here was Coca-Cola spending $4 billion in marketing talking about content strategy. We all ate it up. This is the guy who pioneered that marketing strategy for Coca-Cola, who became my boss.
I went through the onboarding with him, and in my first deep dive on SEO, we were talking about content marketing and how we could use this unique story that was submitted to us. We told it a number of times, but to instill that belong anywhere in the mission of Airbnb, of the new brand. Within six months, we built a campaign that resulted in his first big campaign for Airbnb. But it was a beautiful campaign that we told during that weekend of the 25th year anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down.
We created a whole campaign around it on TV, social amplification, and deeper content that people could go travel to Berlin during that weekend. That was a big success, but it definitely took some hard-selling internally to actually use a story that was already told so many times in a marketing campaign. But because it was so culturally relevant and it was beautifully done in an animation video, we got a big success out of it during that weekend.
Because it was so culturally relevant and beautifully done in an animation video, we got a big success out of it.
It was still used a month afterward as an example from people saying, oh my God, it was such a beautiful story and a beautiful campaign. I had that intuition at the beginning of 2014 that because it was the 25th anniversary, I knew how it would be celebrated within Germany and the bigger Europe because I grew up in Europe. People here in the US do not always understand how the Western East were really put against each other through media, through our daily life, or the history that they were learning in school while the people on the other side were just human as well.
There’s a bigger story behind that animated video where there’s still walls being built in the world where both sides of that wall, there are people living there who are taught to hate each other, but they actually could love each other the way that these two guys who met in the Airbnb can as well.
That’s cool. That reminds me of something I learned from Ephraim Olschewski who was a past guest on this podcast and on my other show on Get Yourself Optimized. One thing he taught me is that there’s this invisible wall of context that separates you from the person you’re in conversation with. If you are willing to climb that wall and get into their world, see the world through their eyes, walk the world in their shoes, you can build rapport and relatedness.
It doesn’t count if you simply get their world. That doesn’t cut it for that person on the other side of that wall—that invisible wall. It has to be that the person feels gotten by you. That’s where the difference is.
The story is really profound because there were two former guards on the Berlin Wall, one from the east, one from the west. They met each other on Airbnb. They were taught to be each other’s enemies in the past, but now they could actually share experiences. They found out they had a lot in common. It was beautiful. It’s a beautiful story to tell.
Wow, and was it real? Was it based on fact?
Yeah, it was a real story. That’s what made it even more profound because he was a man who used to be a guard on the west side, but he moved away because he couldn’t bear the thought of having an enemy. He always carried something with him that didn’t allow him to live his life to the fullest.
His daughter brought him back to Berlin and booked an Airbnb on the east side. The guy who came to deliver the key, started talking like, well, why are you here? They found out they were each other shadows at the Berlin Wall. The story that the guy from the east side started to tell when the wall came down, he started to travel on his bicycle through Europe and stayed at people’s houses. That was also an angle that we didn’t use in the actual campaign, but he could have been the original Airbnb guest because he was staying in people’s houses while traveling.
As I said earlier in this conversation that there are no coincidences. I really believe that nothing is random. Here, you have another example of that where what are the odds that somebody who was a previous guard stays at Airbnb and the person showing up to deliver the key was his counterpart on the east.
Amazing story, but the way it was taught in the animated video is also very touchy, which allows us to travel very far in all kinds of media in the attention that we got.
Is that video still available? Our listeners can go check that out and watch the video.
Absolutely. You will see it on my LinkedIn profile because it’s one of the parts of my work that I call the best work in my career, next to something that I did at eBay.
That’s cool. When we’re talking earlier about, I was asking you, is there an example of a book that data-driven storytelling was turned into an entire book? I could see Airbnb creating a book all about how to be an Airbnb nomad, how to belong anywhere. It would be based on data, like what are the best excursions, experiences, places to stay, cities to visit, and the most ideal track to take, that could be turned into an incredible book.
They actually launched a magazine called Pineapple a couple of years ago, which did exactly that, but then four versions or four editions per year with the latest travel tips and a focus on one of the continents, with hosts being highlighted into the magazine as well. Very much looking at how we can make the experience even better.
That’s how we’re unique about Airbnb, I think, as a technology company, but being founded by two guys who went to a designer school, to RISD. They look at the world differently than technologists. They’re looking at the world, and they visualize the world how they would like to build it and then do it. That’s obviously one of the biggest successes for Airbnb. They look to improve the full customer journey and the experience, not only that moment when you book something and then you’re on your own. That’s quite unique what they’ve built.
For our listener who’s not familiar with RISD, that is a very prestigious school for design, Rhode Island School of Design, RISD. Very cool.
I know we’re running out of time here. I wanted for our last question to get very much in the heart here, not that we haven’t been, but I would love for you to share for our listener one of the most profound things that you have learned through whatever your toughest challenge was. Some people go through horrible divorce or dissolution of their marriage. Some people have a near-death experience. Some people have gone bankrupt.
I just interviewed somebody earlier this week for my other podcast, Torsten Lange. He is a phenomenal world expert in the area of Reiki. How he got started in that was he had to go through bankruptcy. He didn’t have to. He went through bankruptcy. That was his dark night of the soul that took him to the point of recognizing that he had healing hands, then he really went fully into that and developed a worldwide level of expertise in it.
I’m curious, what would be the biggest takeaway from your biggest challenge, dark night of the soul, near-death experience, or whatever?
Three things pop into my mind either it’s dark or not. The moment where I got my new contract to move to the US, I was panicking. What if I fail? Then I think back to a book about dealing with change, Who Moved My Cheese? One of the rules there is, what would you do if you were not afraid? That’s where it clicked for me. It’s like, okay, I can always go back. If I fail, then at least I’ve tried. I did that.
The original goal was to move two, three, or four years, it turned into 15. I had met my then-girlfriend just 1 ½ month before and she was with me. I moved countries, got married, got a daughter, and got a new job all in one year. Just think through, what would you do if you were not afraid?
Then back in 2017, we were expecting our fourth child. I actually visited, and I know you’ve been to many of them, a conference by Tony Robbins, UPW, Unleash the Power Within, where he uses a technique where you’re going deep, deep into visualization where you want to go and what is important to you. Instantly, through these four days, I worked on my roadmap for the future, which got me back here in the Netherlands, eventually. It’s a little faster than we anticipated, but it allowed me to really visualize what the next 5, 10, 20 years will look like for me.
Then I was hit by a massive heart attack just a year later, which got me that almost death experience. But luckily, I had looked at big medical emergencies and signs for that. I was able to self-diagnose. Hey, I’m having a heart attack right now, let me check into the hospital. That saved me because if I would have laid down for half an hour, it would have been over.
It allowed me to review that roadmap again that I’d worked on with Tony, not one-on-one, but I see it as he worked with 5000–6000 people, but he worked with me (the feeling maybe), and made some really important decisions for the family and financially, career-wise, and then the person who I want to be, which allowed me to do a lot of the things that I do right now. The reason why I joined Bitdefender is because I see it as a bigger calling to help educate people on the threat levels that we see every day increasing.
It also allows me to work from the Netherlands while the HQ is in Romania. It gives me the flexibility to go to the office here or work from home that I could spend with my kids, some more time when it really matters. All these things happen for a reason. There is no coincidence, like you said. Embrace those dark moments because those are the moments that you’ll learn the most about yourself, about your family, and about your friends in this situation. What gets you there will get you out of there as well.
All these things happen for a reason. There is no coincidence.
Beautifully said. You meant to tie in your experience with recognizing that you’re having a heart attack and taking immediate massive action. That ties in to what we’ve been talking about, tying in the data-driven nature of being prepared, knowledgeable, and all that with the intuition.
You had the intuition, the intuitive hit, to go to the hospital, not go and lay down and see if it went away. You also had the data because you had already known what some of the symptoms or signs of a heart attack. Combining those two saved your life.
Yup. The massive action part is definitely something I might have been overly doing before I went to Tony Robbins. But afterward, I do it much more proactive or much more in the known. You have to take massive action now because otherwise, you don’t get there where you want to go. Let’s start with a visualization like knowing where you want to go to, chunk it up, and then take massive action and execution.
Dennis, thank you so much. This was fabulous. If our listeners wants to follow you on social media, learn from you, and connect with you (all that good stuff), where should they go?
Because of my difficult last name, I have an online brand that I’ve built called The Next Corner. You can find it on Twitter, @thenextcorner. I have a website where I used to run some of my content, thenextcorner.net or dennisgoedegebuure.com. You can google me because, unfortunately, there is one other guy. Unfortunately for him because as an SEO, I dominated the first page for my first and last name. You can google me and find more of my content.
Awesome. Thank you, Dennis. Thank you, listener.
It was a pleasure.
It’s a pleasure to reconnect with you, Dennis. Listener, I’d love for you to make a difference in the world not just in your marketing, but in the way you show up for your loved ones. Hopefully, you’ve been inspired by this episode. I know I have. We’ll catch you in the next episode. I’m your host, Stephan Spencer, signing off.
- Dennis Goedegebuure
- LinkedIn – Dennis Goedegebuure
- The Next Corner
- Twitter – The Next Corner
- Ready Player One
- Snow Crash
- The Diamond Age
- The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
- Visualize This
- Who Moved My Cheese?
- Ephraim Olschewski – previous episode
- Marcus Tandler – previous episode
- Ephraim Olschewski – GYO previous episode
- Allison Johnson
- Edward Tufte
- Ephraim Olschewski
- Ernest Cline
- Jonathan Mildenhall
- Marcus Tandler
- Michael Crichton
- Neal Stephenson
- Stephen King
- Steven Spielberg
- Tony Robbins
- Torsten Lange
- Chicago Bears
- New York Times
- Seattle Seahawks
- The Next Web
- Time Magazine
- Unleash the Power Within
- Breaking Down Walls | Wall & Chain – Airbnb
- Ready Player One
- Just how successful has the iPad already been abroad? Ask eBay
Your Checklist of Actions to Take
Start with a thorough research strategy to gather the exact type of data I am looking for. Select a topic of interest and look for credible resources that can verify my queries.
Ask the right questions. Doing so will grant me the best answers. But always bear in mind that I cannot ask for personal information online.
Analyze the data after collecting information. Analysis always comes next after data gathering. This will determine the execution part of the process, which will become my narrative.
Brainstorm ideas with my team on how to curate the best campaigns for my audience. Seek people who are pretty adept in the field of copywriting, graphic design, marketing, etc.
Implement the art of storytelling when I present my narrative. People pay more attention when something is interesting, relatable, and engaging.
Become familiar with my audience’s behavior. Step into their shoes and see the world through their eyes. Doing so can help me build a strong rapport with them.
Observe relevant days in conceptualizing data-driven storytelling. For example, certain times of the year can affect a person’s decision-making process.
Incorporate well-designed visuals that can accompany my core message. Develop a robust branding strategy that can perfectly embody who I am or what my business is about.
Be versatile in using different types of media when presenting my data. For example, infographics are an excellent way to capture the readers’ attention and help them understand the information quickly.
About Dennis Goedegebuure
Dennis Goedegebuure is a growth marketing executive with nearly 20 years of experience working for big brands you will know; eBay, PayPal, Fanatics and Airbnb.
Dennis enjoys working at direct-to-consumer or consumer brands as the work touches so many aspects how people make their daily decisions. He finds it fascinating to understand how marketing influences the daily habits and purchase behavior of every consumer segment.
After 15 years working in the Bay Area, Dennis and his family moved back to The Netherlands during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dennis holds a master’s degree from the University of Amsterdam, specialized in Marketing and Finance. He lives with his wife and 4 children in Wassenaar, The Netherlands.
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