Orlando Baeza is the CMO of Verve, a global word-of-mouth, advocacy-based sales platform that incentivizes fans to sell tickets to their networks. The five-year-old well-funded startup is already the secret sauce for companies like Lollapalooza and Live Nation challenging old ticket selling models. Coming from marketing leadership roles at Buzzfeed, Nike, Paramount, Activision and adidas, Orlando was quick to spot the new frontier and is already expanding Verve into new marketplace platforms like Pollen, rolling out across the globe. Video warning… keep the volume off to avoid jumping out of your chair and dancing in your office.
Tell us about your background and why you chose to join The Verve?
Well, I guess the simplest way to answer that is I saw this as an opportunity to build the next BIG youth culture brand from the ground level, while at the same time, taking on what would be the biggest challenge of my career.
My career path has really been guided by my personal passions first and foremost. That has taken me through multiple industries – from my time Nike and Adidas, to my work on Call of Duty and Guitar Hero, to my time at Paramount Pictures and most recently with BuzzFeed. So, in many ways, this seemed to be the perfect opportunity to leverage the very unique blend of industries, experiences and brand growth models I’ve had the benefit to gain from over the years.
I have always been obsessed with culture and what moves it, as well as with consumer behavior and how it shifts. Staying as close to culture as possible (going to shows, listening parties, pop up experiences, mentoring, etc) has been a massive benefit to my career as it’s helped me spot cultural trends and consumer behavior shifts, in some cases, before they became commercially viable.
Everybody knows that word-of-mouth is becoming increasingly more important in today’s landscape. From a potency standpoint, McKinsey found that word-of-mouth generates twice the amount of sales as paid advertising. The other thing worth mentioning here most conversations about brands are happening offline as they occur face-to-face. At Verve, we are mobilizing these offline interactions and are able to have an impact on these conversations.
Verve Co-Founders, Callum and Liam, are so passionate about driving and scaling advocacy across the verticals (music, travel, sports, etc.) it became very apparent to me that they were onto something special here and I thought I could help drive impact.
What major challenges did you have to overcome as a marketer?
First, the sheer volume of changing consumer trends to take into account for any brand strategy or marketing campaign. Every year there’s a new topic that every marketer is talking about -- Big Data; AR/VR; E-Sports; etc. I think as valuable as it is to invest in understanding these new tech breakthroughs and their applications, it’s even more valuable to have some restraint and not over-invest in every new thing. Instead, it’s more important to really think through the implications of these elements on your brand/business and decide based on that analysis where to invest time/energy/budget. One of the really unique shifts we’ve seen is how the burden of loyalty in the brand-consumer relationship has completely changed. Consumers used to be loyal to these aspirational brands and would strive to become the image they portrayed and now, more than ever, it is actually the brand that has to prove loyalty to its consumers with actions not words.
“Now, more than ever, it is actually the brand that has to prove loyalty to its consumers with actions not words. ”
Next for me, diversity and inclusion. This has always been both a challenge and a benefit to me in my career. I’ve been a champion for this everywhere I’ve gone and I try to lead by example. For me, it’s not always about just gender or ethnicity, it’s about attaining diversity of thought in your organization. The importance of this cannot be overstated in my opinion. The common challenge that presents itself is when you find yourself being one of the very few, or only, ethnically diverse person in senior level executive meetings. The benefit in this scenario is by being in those rooms you’re able to shine a light on topics or champion initiatives that likely would have been overlooked otherwise.
What are you currently working on that’s unique or innovative?
I’d start with Pollen - a combination of category disruption, community creation, and the birth of a new type of marketplace, which connects our Members-only community with a curated selection of the best experiences they care about - festivals, concerts, nightlife, dining, sports and travel.
There are no membership fees, but the application process is very selective. We’re trying to find members that have passions to match the supply on the marketplace and display a high level of influence within their personal networks. Pollen members are empowered to bring their network to the experiences they love the most and earn amazing rewards for them and their friends from free tickets and drinks to backstage access, meet-and-greets and other perks that enhance their overall experience.
“We want people to look back on their previous 10 years, think about their Top 5 experiences and remember Pollen being responsible for 3 of them.”
On the Verve side, we're building a global platform for 16-28-year-olds to discover and buy through aspirational brands from their network. We work in more than 20 countries with the biggest and best brands including C3 Presents, MGM resorts, Hakkasan, Lollapalloza, Sonar, Elrow, ESPN, Universal Music Group and more. With all the success of our Ambassador-led ticketing platform, we’re looking to scale this into the sports vertical with some amazing new partners in all of the major professional sporting leagues.
What are the biggest changes in your industry and how are you staying ahead?
The new pace and speed that every modern brand builder must be able to work within, and understanding how it varies in different industries. At places like Nike or Activision, we’d be building strategy and campaigns 18-24 months in advance, as opposed to somewhere like BuzzFeed or now at Verve, where we’re planning 2-6 months in advance to stay nimble, adjusting in real time, based on how our consumers are responding and data we’re analyzing.
While I still believe it’s imperative to have a long-term vision, I think the need to focus on shorter timelines has never been more important than today’s marketing and advertising ecosystem.
Tell us about the pivotal learning moments you’ve had along your career path or in your company’s course?
Hard to narrow this to a moment or two, but a major theme in my career is not being scared to change industries and take on challenges that consistently reset my learning curve. It’s helped me avoid ever hitting a plateau and it’s made me a better marketer, people manager, and has made me a stronger executive overall. Challenges like launching a Call of Duty game in China for the first time ever in the middle of a government-led console ban or re-imagining how to kick off a movie campaign to supercharge engagement from core fans are the types of things that pushed me to think further out of the box and test my creativity as well as my strategic chops.
Tackling similar consumer challenges in the broadest sense with a very different set of specific challenges at different companies (target demo, unique disadvantages, different budget levels, shifting industries) force you to consistently sharpen your skill set.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Get the hell out of sports!” When one of my mentors said this to me during the time I was at Adidas, I remember thinking: Are you crazy? This is a dream job! I played basketball all my life and was working in basketball and finding some success while doing so.
But his follow up point was: "Do you want to become one of the best marketers in sports? Or do you want to become a world-class marketer?”
And that is when the light bulb went off for me. I then set a goal for myself that I would work in 3-5 different industries and become a better marketer for getting out of my comfort zone repeatedly.