Hulu’s Nick Tran Talks Leadership Style While Remaining Culturally Relevant as a Brand

They're constantly staying on top of trends to remain accessible to audiences

Hulu's Nick Tran looks to bring people on his team who he can collaborate with easily and who are experts in their given fields. Hulu
Headshot of Nadine Dietz

As the vp of brand marketing and culture at Hulu, Nick Tran leads a team in charge of defining and shaping the overall customer experience and relationship with the brand. From previous stints with Taco Bell, Samsung and apparel startup Stance Socks, Nick carries a diverse background with the common thread of keeping brands at the forefront of cultural happenings. And with Hulu’s steady growth—such as seeing an increase in subscribers to more than 25 million last year, a 48 percent growth—and cable viewership on the decline, it’s more imperative than ever for streaming companies to appeal to free agent consumers.

Read on to learn how Nick’s leadership style enables him to serve as team captain while letting others lead and how he and his team are tapping into trends to get more people talking about (and subscribing to) Hulu.

Adweek: What current developments in marketing are most inspiring to you?
Nick Tran: I love the fact that marketing is constantly evolving, and right now I think technology like 5G and voice will predict how consumers build relationships with brands. We’ve seen some promising trends with Hulu viewers who use voice. For example, we know that Alexa users watch more hours of TV than non-Alexa users on Fire TV. With 5G, internet speeds and access improves. It’s a game changer for the industry and critical for live sports streaming because it will allow us to deliver high-quality streams via our Live TV service so fans can stream games with higher picture quality and lower latency.

"Collaboration allows our team to unify under one north star. We can’t grow and push boundaries as a team if we’re not working in a collaborative environment."

What are you working on now that you think is innovative?
I’m really excited about the ideas coming out of our new culture and innovation lab. The team is especially important because, as a brand, we need to be mindful of how and where we tap into relevant moments in culture. While brand marketing is responsible for what we say to consumers (inside-out), our culture team is focused on what we do in the world (outside-in).

As an example, last month we added two new holiday scenics to our popular seasonal collection that feature a sensory-driven ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) approach, all for a good cause. … We were inspired by the popular ASMR trend [and] tapped into well-known influencers in the space to help us create Library Cheer and The Gathering, and then layered on a “stream for a cause” component. … That effort led to a 50 percent increase in views of our scenics compared to last year.

We also recently reintroduced ourselves to audiences with our “Better Ruins Everything” ad campaign that debuted during the 2018 Emmy Awards. The campaign, which is still running today, includes 15-, 30- and 60-second spots featuring a celebrity cast that represents Hulu’s diverse offering of hit TV series and films, Hulu Originals and live sports. We also featured several Easter eggs throughout the 60-second national launch spot, including a cameo with rapper Trippie Redd, a red robe made popular in The Handmaid’s Tale and a cameo and clip of music from Dillon Francis. Within the first 24 hours, we surpassed more than 20 million views of the launch spot and helped increase social mentions of Hulu by 51 percent compared to the prior day.

How do you pick and develop the talent on your team and ensure there is collaboration?
As I look to build a diverse team, I’m always personally involved in selecting the talent. I look for passionate people with a learning mindset that are experts in their respective area, especially if it’s an area where I’m not as strong. I like to use cycling as a metaphor for how I lead my team. Ultimately, I see myself as the team captain in the back drafting off different team members at different times. Depending upon the project, a different team member is in the front leading the pack and I’m in the back making sure they don’t go off course.

Collaboration allows our team to unify under one north star. We can’t grow and push boundaries as a team if we’re not working in a collaborative environment. Some of this happens naturally, but I also like to put a system in place to ensure certain levels of collaboration exist, not only on my team but cross-functionally as well.

What one thing do you need from your CMO to help you be successful?
Trust. Working for a leader who trusts and supports your vision is vital to personal and company success. My day-to-day role is more creatively-led so my CMO uses her strong ability to take data and analytics and craft that into a strategic direction for my team to use creatively and then trusts we’ll provide the best work possible.

What advice would you give to marketers who are just starting their careers?
I don’t think you can ever go wrong if you let your passion be your guide. I know it sounds cliché, but honestly, if you find something that you love to do, you can spend a lot of time dedicated to it and it doesn’t feel like work. Always be aware of the white spaces, whether within your industry or within your company or team. If you’re able to identify missing links, those can eventually lead to opportunities that allow you to chart your own career path and ultimately become a leader in that space. Choose to do things that people don’t expect you to do. Volunteer to take on a project people don’t want to do, get out of your bubble and challenge yourself to learn something new and, most importantly, just start, even if you fail at first.

This story first appeared on Marketer Moves, an Adweek publication. Nadine Dietz is chief community officer at Adweek and host of the CMO Moves podcast.