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Podcast: Meet the Marketer - Jeremy Stone, Titleist Vokey Wedges

Insights / 05.17.2019

Red Door /

Marketing is often confused with promotion, but really, it’s about much more than that. Marketing is about knowing and understanding your customer so well, that your product or service fits them and ultimately, sells itself. In short, marketing is about insight above all else. 

In the spirit of those insights, we present our Meet the Marketer series, where we discuss the careers and tactics of marketers behind industry leading brands.  
 
In this episode, we sit down with Jeremy Stone, Director of Marketing at Titleist Vokey Design Wedges – a leader in the wedge category, and one of six categories of clubs by the golf brand Titleist. With an undying passion for golf, Jeremy’s connection to the sport dates back to early playing days and a college career that saw him captain the golf team at Carnegie Mellon University, while also earning bachelor and master’s degrees in Marketing & Strategy along the way. Prior to joining Titleist in 2010, Jeremy spent 4 years at Apple, working at the intersection of product development, design and marketing for their iWorks suite, before ultimately landing in the golf industry. Since then, Jeremy has worked tirelessly to further establish Vokey’s position as a frontrunner in the wedge category, while also continuing to differentiate their products through education, fitting, and performance leadership.
 


You have a background in golf, but also worked outside of the golf industry prior to Titleist. What advantages do you see of having a perspective from outside the sport or category?

Jeremy: I wouldn't say it's necessary or critical. Certainly there are many folks who I respect immensely that have had incredible success working on brands or working in companies that they just, you know, hadn't participated in prior to that role. But it helps me immensely. I think there's pros and cons. But I would say kind of two-fold from my experience, which was I get to follow a passion in my career, which is incredible. I'm incredibly fortunate, but I value the experiences I've had outside of that business. I think I'm immensely better at my job within golf, chasing my passion because I spent those four years at Apple, because I had the opportunity to see how an entirely different industry goes about its business, whether it's, you know, the flow, the pace of business, the hiring practices, all the different methodologies that I learned at Apple, I'm able to kind of compare and contrast now in my current role. And that makes it interesting.

Reid: Was that part of the plan? I mean, when you're in college, you're sitting there saying, "I like, I want to get into golf or I want to get a particular experience in order to..." I mean, was there a path that we were planning ahead?

Jeremy: That implies a plan. I'd love to say I had it that mapped out that early. I thought early on... There's a funny part in a golfer's life where you realize quickly you're not going to be playing on Sundays for real money on the PGA tour, right? That happens to all of us. It happened to me very, very early, well before college. But I always had that idea that, "Boy, it would be fun to find my way into golf." And I explored a lot of those avenues. Like a lot of golfers, I worked at golf courses. I got to see, you know, do I want to be a golf professional? Do I want to be on the other side of the business? Do I want to be on the sales side? And ultimately none of those things really motivated me.

Jeremy: So I was fortunate that through college and grad school, I learned that I wanted to be on the product side of things. I wanted to be a part of the strategy. I wanted to get to see things end-to-end. But I always had that hankering in the back of my mind, boy, it'd be fun to get into golf and do that and really combine these two things that I'm passionate about. So I'm certainly didn't have the plan to end up, you know, getting this great experience at Apple and then getting into golf. But I was very fortunate, just worked out for me in that way. And I think I'm all for the better.

Reid: So, I mean when Apple comes calling him, that was something you perceived, you're like, "Oh my gosh, that's amazing too." And it's so golf being a passion. Apple being what we all know it to be. And so it helped inform that.

Jeremy: No question. And again, I'm a big proponent that it's okay to admit sometimes you're fortunate in you're lucky and your life. And I certainly have been on a few occasions. One of them being one of my grad school professors saying to me, "Hey Jeremy, I have this six-month project opportunity with Apple. I know you're probably looking for full-time employment and I can't guarantee you anything, but this one's going to be a lot of fun." And he had been a mentor of mine through most of my graduate study, certainly my second year of MBA. And the opportunity for me was, okay, Apple's a no brainer.

Jeremy: But also to spend more time with Professor [Boatwright00:05:27]. And he was just so wonderful to me and so generous with his time. So the opportunity to do a project with him outside of school on a more professional level was equally as enticing as obviously Apple being incredibly enticing in that, just one thing led to another.

Reid: So that's being open to these opportunities while they are imperfect in the sense it wasn't a full-time thing, but all these other dimensions led to something that was going to be appealing. But probably most importantly, it sounds like fun in the spirit of fun and in a job, fun in a role.

Jeremy: Intellectually challenging. You know, you've got to find some fun in that. And then I talked about fortune. It just, you know, making sure that, "Hey look, I've only got six months here. Let's make the best of it and see what happens." And that's okay. Sometimes you've just gotta be prepared for that and then just make sure you're prepared for whatever it is that comes next.

Reid: Well, and so fun. And then obviously pairing that with passion. I mean, golf is such a passion compared to say what may you might see in CPG or consumer services. I think people think about as like, "Oh my gosh, that sounds awesome." But I mean are obviously there are cons to that too. What are the pros and cons of working in a category where the consumer, or even the people working within the brand, as we talked about here, have such passion for the category?

What are the pros and cons of working in a indsutry where there's such passion for the category?

Jeremy: Definitely pros and cons. I'm biased. I think they're more pros.

Reid: As there should be.

Jeremy: Exactly. I love what I get to do. I'm living what I was doing anyway, right? So when I was at Apple, I was reading about golf. And watching golf on the weekends. Now, you know, I professionally benefit from those hobbies and those passion pursuits.

Jeremy: I also happen to be around a network of people that are my target audience and that's immensely valuable. The ability to, you know, sit around with some friends from the golf team and just talk to them about some things. And I'm doing market research and they don't know I'm doing market research.

Jeremy: But that's also a con, right? I think challenging sometimes is getting away from my job. And golf has always been, you know, an escape for me. And so I have to consciously decide sometimes, "You know what? I'm going to go play golf and I'm not going to do anything related to work. This is just going to be me. I'm going to get away. I'm going to do all the things that made golf a passion of mine from the beginning." And so I would say a big con is making sure I find the ability to get away from something that is and can be all consuming.

Reid: Well, and I think as we all go through our career and our trajectory, I think we learned that too as it relates to you, as we grow our families, and things like that too, is how you make sure you carve out dedicated present time in any aspect of our life with our family, with kids, with spouses, with the job too. Beause you need to be immersed in it when we're focused as well. So I think it's probably a muscle we all fine tune over the years.

Jeremy: No question.

Reid: So you know, going to a now on the, also another aspect of the personal aspect here, which is, you know, you primarily manage a brand with a namesake, which is also fairly unique thing and not everyone has the opportunity to do. I mean marketers will often try to humanize a brand for sure. But in this case you actually have a person attached to this Bob Vokey. Vokey Wedges. He's iconic as a brand and as a person. So is there something different about managing a brand with a person's name, a real-life human, compared to an entity that you know on a technical level, is four walls and a door?

Many marketers have to try to humanize a brand, but in this case Bob Vokey of Vokey Wedges, is both iconic as a brand and as a person. Is there something different about managing a brand attached to a person’s name?

Jeremy: Yes. You know, I certainly haven't had the same ownership of previous brands that I do with Vokey, but there's no question getting to work with peers who are in a different, even within our own walls, right? The folks that manage the metals and irons business don't have a personna to it. And so there's an authenticity that comes from the Titleist brand but is not personified.

Jeremy: And so again, pros and cons, I'm very fortunate. Bob is unbelievable in terms of his desires and what he loves to pursue. And that's making wedges and really it goes one layer deeper, which is just, he wants to help folks hit better wedge shots. And the humility that comes with that... The humbleness that comes with this guy who will sit there... And I always joke, "Boy, it'd be fun to put a GoPro on the golfer, not Bob, to watch the golf, but the Golfer. Because I think you could put that GoPro on Jordan Speith or me or you or anyone in between all of us, and Bob would be the same guy.

Jeremy: And so that's a level that we get to all observe and it sets the bar for our team. And so we're very fortunate that the guy who personifies our brand sets an amazing tone. And yet at the same time, stays out of our way. He doesn't want to get involved in the marketing. He likes to be aware of how his name is being used, but he really doesn't have an interest in hanging out in the marketing kitchen.

Jeremy: But you know, there's a pressure to that, right? It's not just a brand. If I make a mistake in how we position the brand, it's not just wedges. It's a guy whose name is on it. And so it adds to the pressure. I'm very fortunate that Bob himself eases that burden on me. And so again, I'm very fortunate.

Reid: I mean it's fascinating at this point where you have people who see marketing's role is selling the product, and then there are another case where what we're talking about here, a product that is so good because someone just dedicates themselves to it, and perpetually improving it, and understanding the game, and understanding the golfer, which with humility but such passion and pride and skill, dedicating themselves to learning it.

Reid: So I mean, getting the product right first makes, I mean everyone's a job a lot easier.

Jeremy: And I joke I've got the easiest job in marketing. You know, when, you know, as a marketer you want great product, because no matter how good your marketing is, if the product doesn't deliver the golfers, or whatever your target audiences, they won't come back. And so I feel like I've got the best product on earth related to the fact that it's made by this guy. And I've got now the best story. So as a marketer, you've got product in a story. What more could you ask for? It makes my job very easy.

Reid: I mean that's the aim of anybody, right? You mean how often we get asked, like you know, "We need to create the story. The story that breaks..." We're just illuminating a story. The story is already there. And so getting the product right also there has to do with then the product consumer-market fit. And I think obviously the Vokey wedges fit in spot as do many other products do, and are doing their respective categories. So, any category has it stratification from economy up to luxury, or entry to pro performance. How do you think of Titleist and how does that affect how you message a market compared to what maybe you see your competitors do?

Any category has its stratification from economy up to luxury or from entry to pro performance-level. How do you think of Titleist and how does that affect how you message and market compared to what you see competitors do?

Jeremy: That's an interesting one because Titlest itself, even within our four walls has some stratification. And I benefited starting my career with the majority of our golf ball division. And we have a golf ball product that spans what you just described, you know we've got the high performing tour player ball that is the most expensive on the market, but we also have more of an entry-level price point golf ball.

Jeremy: So we touch a broader swath of golfers. And I think I have the benefit of seeing us, you know, grapple with that internally. But that's what our competitors look at as well, which is kind of a broader swath. Whereas on the club side of our business, along with Vokey Wedges, we benefit from a level of discipline with who we're trying to speak to. And that's a group of golfers who are, aspire to be better. And that aspiration I think defines what we try to do.

Jeremy: It's folks not necessarily based on a skill level. We don't define it on what's your handicap, for example, right? But it's about what your mindset is. "Am I here to just go out and have fun? Or am I here to cause I want to be better?" And better is part of the fun. That pursuit is part of the fun. And that's our person. That's our golfer.

Jeremy: And so we benefit from that discipline and what that lends itself to is we tend to be the top of the market. We tend to be that aspirational brand, whether it's price point premium, or however else you frame it. That's one of the things I've enjoyed about the shift from more of you know, a multi-brand role or a multi-product role at Titleist brand to a deep dive into the Vokey Wedge brand, is that that discipline of focus.

Reid: I mean understanding then that you're sitting in a particular spot within a category, but now then the category itself has its ebbs and flows, you know. It has challenges like any other category, including economic cycles, and trends. I mean, is there anything that stands out then categorically that unique attributes of golf that creates extraordinary challenges from a business and marketing standpoint?

Are there any unique attributes of golf that create extraordinary challenges from a business or marketing standpoint?

Jeremy: Golf is interesting and one of the primary benefits is you know exactly who you're trying to speak to. And for a lot of the media decisions we have to make, for example, it's a little bit self-determined. There's a golf channel on TV. Well that's easy. I should probably have some presence there, right? It's an entire channel dedicated to the sport. The only people tuning in are my audience. So that's great.

Jeremy: But then there's obviously the more nuanced ways to reach out. And I think when we try to live in a world that is certainly getting to be more targeted, more personal, I think that's where some of the challenges come in. Because not a lot of media companies sit around saying, "Boy, let's build the golf demographic." So, you're not walking in the way you would to perhaps some other larger brands are larger market opportunities where a media company kind of has a prebuilt idea for you that you're just nipping around the edges. We're inventing a lot of this stuff. We're reimagining targeting and it's a small base, right? So if only if less than 10% of the US population plays golf, we're already starting from a small base.

Jeremy: And then when your price point premium and you're looking at the discipline target that we look at, it's even smaller. There's a ton of tools out there that help us do this, but a lot of it is make it up as we go. And so I think golf has some challenges inherently built in, albeit we've got some easy buttons as well.

Reid: So do you feel as a leader that Titleist, is do you feel a responsibility to the category to grow, grow the space, grow golf?

Jeremy: That's one that we get a lot of questions about. As a brand and as a leader, I think there's a responsibility and we try to keep it to the golfer. Growing the game itself, there's a number of entities that we think are far better positioned to do that. The PGA of America, the USGA, the RNA. There's a whole host of groups that are far better positioned and certainly don't have some of the baggage perhaps that a brand could bring to the table to grow the game. We, I think, have an obligation as a leader to support a lot of these organizations and participate with them and try not to swim upstream. And we do all of that. When there are rules and regulations made by the governing bodies, which are these organizations, we abide by them. We support them. We fully embrace them. And I think that's an element that we have a responsibility as a leader to stand up for and support the organizations that are better positioned to do some of these more macro grow the game type initiatives.

Reid: And that's one of the things that a lot of marketers don't have to deal with that. I mean you got the, you know, food, there's FDA or you know, in other, FCC and media, things like that. But you guys have a governing body of, that dictates what you can and can't do with your product, that is different than most categories. So that's one of the many unique aspects of it all.

Jeremy: Absolutely.

Reid: And in the spirit of fairness and all of that where you're trying to be competitive in a case where to make, create some advantage for a player where there is current to create some level of fairness. So a unique challenge to say the least.

Reid: But I know that there's so many marketers who sit there and think, you know, they've got a passion for golf." They're sitting in their chair. They're listening to this. And there, you know, die to sit in your spot and work on a brand like Vokey. You know, go to the Masters, to hob-knob with the pros. I mean, what's ultimately, I mean, what's the real deal on this? What's the inside scoop on it? What's it really like?

There are so many marketers out there who have a passion for golf and therefore would die to sit in your spot and work on a brand like Vokey. Whether it’s going to The Masters, or spending time with golf pros, what’s that really like?

Jeremy: It's great. I mean, that's why I got into this. Let's not pull any punches. I love what I do. And there's certainly these inherent perks that are a blast. I get to very often it's that inside the ropes experience at an event. You know, the most recent one that I was at was at Riviera up in LA in February. And to be that up close with the most talented people on the planet at anything is fascinating. And watching how they go about their business, watching how they go about their work... But then also to get to see the humanity of it. And to get to see them react to either your product, or in my case you mentioned earlier, you know, we've got Bob Vokey. So to see the player interaction and the reverence that the most talented guys in the world have for this guy, you know, Volk, who I work with regularly, that's immensely fun to see.

Jeremy: I think my favorite parts are that, which is, you know, that that humanity behind this uber-talent. And then for me getting to spend time with a guy like Bob Vokey who has his following, who has his level of, at least within the golf community, this rock star status. And then sitting in an airport lounge somewhere on our way back from some trip we were on. And he just breaks out the good stories. That's when the fun ones come out. That's a treat.

Jeremy: And then certainly really diving deeper into kind of the, for lack of a better term, the selfish side of it, my Dad is the one who got me into the game. And so I've had the opportunity to share some experiences with him that have just been dynamite. And be able to return in some small way the passion that he instilled in me that got me to where I am. I just think that I'm fortunate that he introduced me to this game and now to build a return that in some small way has been a lot of fun.

Reid: Yeah, it's interesting you bring that up. I think with sport, you know, there's always the thing that people like in sport-to-business because it has so many principals there. And recently I've realized more and more as we've gotten as an agency more and more tied to sport, is the actually the family connection to the game. How there are these moments that so many people remember when their parent, their dad, whatever, took them to a game and it created these memories. Or you know, time on a course with... I mean I had this much so much time on a course with my dad, such quality time for hours on, you know, and, and most of it you're actually just hanging out, not, you know... The volume of time spent hitting shots and talking to each other, it's disproportionate toward hanging out.

Reid: And so, you know, I realize now that another aspect of it all, the personal drive that comes with it and, and business similarities, and then this part that sits there and says, "Wow, there is a higher purpose to this in a way that brings us together." Spirit of competition releases stress, and all these other things. But family and time. And you know, in such a cool way, you have that connection on every dimension with the humanity, the athletes, the relationship with the Voke, and then getting these stories, now you share back with dad who you spent many hours with, I'm sure on the course.

Jeremy: And still do. And I think that's been, you're right, it's so enjoyable. And then to be, to sometimes sit back, just like today and reflect on the fact that, "Wow, this is pretty interesting and this is where I've landed." Again, I'm very fortunate. And it's been a lot of fun. And it's just required me to kind of dig in on all the fundamentals that many of the marketers understand and learn about. And I'm still learning from a lot of them so that I can be better at this.

Reid: Like you say too, there's these places that seems so obvious and so, you know, the golf channel or whatever, but then these learning, these new things that, that we have this higher sense of responsibility to do at this point, because it isn't getting easier. And it's getting more complicated. It's getting broader, but then at least there's this quest to not, kind of rest on laurels either. If you're going to continue to be a leader, you need to continue to be a leader and find new ways of reaching people and upholding these responsibilities. So I need to do a fantastic job of doing that.

Jeremy: Well, we have help, that's for sure.

Reid: So, to wrap it all up and, and put a bow on this for the listeners, I think broadly speaking, I mean, do you have lessons that you've learned in your career that you can share? You know, I think that you've talked about the humanity and the responsibility and the different tactics and things like that, but on a personal level, I mean, what advice stands for you that you value and love to share with other people related to marketing?

Do you have any lessons that you’ve learned in your career that you can share with our listeners?

Jeremy: Sure. I think when you get in the realm of advice, I've benefited so much from others, and I would say that that is the most important thing. I've got to make sure I recognize and I'm always grateful for how others have helped me along the way. I think that idea of a mentor, whether it's a direct management structure, or whether it's outside of that cycle, or even outside of your business, is so critical. Because there are times where you just have to address it. Whether it's a marketing idea, or whether it's a career decision, having folks that you can talk to that can relate to the experiences you're going through is so valuable. And so that would be number one.

Jeremy: And then number two, I feel like a theme today for me has been, you know, my good fortune. And again, I'm not ashamed to admit that fortune plays a role in anyone who has success. I just always like to think that, you know, fortune favors the prepared. And so making sure that anytime I step into a situation, I'm going to work my tail off so that when that good fortune presents itself, what in whatever capacity that is, I'm ready for it.

Jeremy: And I'm also the logical choice for whatever that next step may be. And I want to make sure that those that I work with and those around me that may present me with those choices also believe I'm that logical choice.

Jeremy: So I think folks to understand that there's always that preparedness that's required. Even when good fortune smiles upon you, it's because of all the hard work that led you there.

Reid: I mean, one of the things I appreciate about you so much is your perpetual curiosity and then subsequent openness. So not only do you want to know things, but you're also open to receiving and then do with it, you know, what you can. Because, you know, not all ideas are going to be the ones that see the light of day, but at least you're open to hearing them and hearing them out and thinking them through.

Reid: I appreciate you then sharing all this with our listeners and I know that a lot will value the time they spent with us here today.  Again, Jeremy, thanks for joining us.

Jeremy: Thanks for having me.

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