Shhh! David Puckett Shares About The Secretive Hyperculture Marketing Group's Data Analysis and Work
Secret societies and speakeasy establishments have been around for centuries, with purposes ranging from fostering women's' access to justice in the 1920s to providing a creative outlet for rising generations of artists and slam poets. David Puckett's Hyperculture Marketing Group, an omni-channel marketing agency, works in a similar way, emphasizing data consolidation and segmentation in order to help artists reach their full potential demographics.
Hyperculture truly is a full-service company, assisting music industry creatives with nearly everything imaginable–paid social, paid search, SEO, SEM, email marketing, SMS marketing, CRM builds, CRM management, tech stack consulting–and a tagline that reads "If you want to work with us, you’ll find us". Much of the company's artist roster remains a mystery, but with industry heavyweights such as Alicia Keys, Shinedown, Megan Thee Stallion, Mötley Crüe, Ice Nine Kills, Death Row Records, and Veeps publicly working with Hyperculture, it's no surprise that the agency is in such high demand. Although they are more difficult to track down than most other management agencies, the Hyperculture team consistently pushes the envelope in analysis and leveraging of fan data, prioritizing clients' direct understandings of their fanbases in order to most effectively engage and expand their audiences.
With clients primarily acquired through word of mouth and some very intentional internet searching, founder David Puckett and his team are able to determine which artists are most willing to put in the necessary time and effort to create and implement customized plans, weeding out those who are less dedicated to the project. This added layer of mystery originally served to limit the number of clients working through the company at any given time, as Puckett tours full-time internationally in rock band We Came As Romans. Incidentally, Hyperculture's "speakeasy" approach has increased its demand and created what some might find to be a fun challenge or puzzle to solve–an extra step needed to attain invaluable marketing advice and insights.
We spoke with Hyperculture Marketing Group founder and CEO David Puckett about the role of third-party contributors in separating artists from their fans, the most effective types of fan data, how Hyperculture tailors marketing plans to each individual client, and the irony of becoming less easily available to the general public.
Check out the full interview below and seek out Hyperculture Marketing Group (if you dare...). Let us know what you think!
How did you first get the idea to start Hyperculture?
Hyperculture was actually my consulting arm originally. I've been touring full time since 2007. I launched my first company in 2014 and scaled that to a sizable amount relatively quickly without any outside capital. It was just a lot of leveraging digital marketing and throwing everything I could into learning about that world. When it first started it was primarily paid social and email marketing. I started to learn about how valuable data really is.
A few of my business mentors saw how quickly I was able to scale my company and they pulled me in as a consultant to various companies that they were involved with or owned. I think my first consulting gig was in the agriculture space for a farm that was doing like $16 to $18 million a year in revenue, but it was all from wholesale, so different local restaurants or schools were sourcing their product. They would have people come visit the farm and purchase directly from them, but they didn't have any type of direct-to-consumer online vertical. There was no web store where people could transact, so they hired me as a consultant to come in and strategize that initiative. I then implemented and trained a small team to take it over. We ended up doing around $3.5 million for them over that first year.
He was really happy with how it turned out and started passing my name around to other people in his space, in his network. I just found myself a touring rock drummer who would consult for all these seven to nine figure companies at the time while I was on the road. Hyperculture was initially really just that consulting arm. I scaled my consulting work to where I was exclusively working with eight to ten figure companies–normally on three to six month terms–and then I had an “aha!” moment. I was working with a lifestyle brand who has both their web store, where they're doing a crap ton of revenue, and also a bunch of brick and mortar locations around the country.
The problem that they were running into at the time was that if you were to go buy a product of theirs on their website, and then three months later buy a product of theirs from a brick and mortar location in Philadelphia or somewhere else, they didn't have the right technology stack in place to where both of those points of customer data would update in their CRM (customer relationship management software). I was coming in to overhaul their CRM with them and retrain their team a little bit and thought, “man, my band sells stuff at the merch table and we sell stuff online. Not only is all of that data scattered, but we also don't get any of it as of right now.”
I was really curious about whether we were just totally missing something or if it was a common issue in the music industry. I started reaching out to all my friends in the music industry and realized that it wasn't just my band, that this seems to be something for which most artists really don’t have a good solution. So, I pivoted Hyperculture from being just my consulting arm to it being a full-service marketing agency that works with artists to solve that problem.
How do you balance being on tour full time with working in marketing and advertising?
I hire people that are way smarter than me! My team is amazing. They all have unbelievably unique and incredible backgrounds. As an artist, seeing what we've been able to do with a lot of bands to help them drive revenue and grow their businesses, if I were to keep it to just myself, I wouldn’t be able to make as much of an impact.
I had the thought pretty early on that if I really wanted to make as much of a dent to help artists as possible and to close that gap between them and their fans, that I would have to build a good team around it. I got really lucky, just getting connected with great people in the digital space, some of whom have backgrounds as touring artists, are still touring artists, and went through a similar journey that I went through. They realized that the profit margins of being in a rock band typically aren't great, regardless of how well your band does, and they wanted to spend their time home from touring learning about something that they could use on the road.
On the other side of it, I think time management and opportunity cost are a lens that I tend to view everything through. I try to be as mindful as possible about how I can be the most efficient for growing the business and for the mission that we stand by, which is to help artists. My time isn't necessarily best served as an account manager or on the financial side of balancing books and dealing with tax liability. My time is best served communicating consistently with our existing customers, strategizing with them, and bringing on new artists that we can work with.
We try to structure our day-to-day operations based around where everyone on our team can work most efficiently. We tend to be the happiest operating and building the team that way. When I'm on tour, I'm normally taking two to four hours of meetings a day. It also depends on the tour. If it's a headlining tour, I've got a longer sound check, VIP meet and greets, longer warm-ups, and more. If it’s a support tour, we have a short sound check, no meet and greet, and we’re normally on stage at 8:30PM. That means that the rest of the day is relatively open and I’m able to take three or four hours of meetings without a problem, while still being out on the road.
I irritate my bandmates a lot because I just take over the back lounge of the buses as an office space during the day, but they're awesome. They’re super supportive and it means a lot to me.
What kind of data do you report on as compared to other marketing companies?
As I was growing and learning in this field, especially around my band's last album release in 2017. The label sent us reports from the marketing agency, which we were paying for… The label fronted the cash, but it was recouping all of that out of what we own–on our masters, streaming, and other things.
It was coming out of our pocket in the long-run. The marketing agency used was supposed to be one of the biggest and best agencies out there, but they were reporting on stupid metrics that really don't matter at the end of the day. They weren't reporting on how many units they were able to move of our pre-order for vinyl and CDs, or the cost per purchase to get one of those transactions rolling. They weren’t running campaigns for fan discovery over to DSPs, where they would tell us things like the average cost per click to get someone over to a DSP for the first time and the average number of streams per session coming in from a first-time fan. They were reporting on things like how many people were reached. It was essentially, “we spent this much and reached this many people, so if you want to reach more people, you should spend more money.”
The way that that agency specifically operates is that they're paid 20% of whatever you spend on advertising. A lot of managers, a lot of folks in bands, and a lot of labels aren't necessarily super privy to the types of metrics that are available to report on. It just kind of became apparent to me that this agency, specifically, was giving us really dumb metrics saying that they're important when they're not. Then, they’d tell us that it was going great and that we should spend more because that's how they make more money. I hated it. They could be running ads to Taylor Swift fans for all we know, and a Taylor Swift fan isn't necessarily always going to like a metalcore band.
The first thing that I really wanted to get really clear on is reporting. Whenever we're doing something with the client, we want to define with them: what are the KPIs or the key performance indicators upfront? What are the metrics that support that KPI? Then we want to make sure that all of our reporting is built around those metrics. So if we're doing a big campaign for pre-orders trying to push units, we're not going to report on impressions. We're going to report on sales that are coming in. We want to know what audiences and assets are converting and why.
"They’d tell us that it was going great and that we should spend more because that's how they make more money. I hated it. They could be running ads to Taylor Swift fans for all we know, and a Taylor Swift fan isn't necessarily always going to like a metalcore band."
Tell us a little bit more about your speakeasy approach.
We get really, really, really intricate with how we report, which takes up a lot more bandwidth than just saying “here's how many people are reached.” We started taking on clients; things were going great. Soon, we were getting hit up by more people than we could service, so I had to make a decision. I thought, “at that point, do we grow the company at a rate where we lose the ability to control our output and our services?” We could bring on anyone who has a background in digital and media buying and not training them properly or make sure that we're fully aligned on our mission or we could just shut off the pipeline. I don't think any of us are out here trying to become a billion dollar agency… we’re just trying to make as much money as we can while being impact and mission-focused first.
I want to make sure that first and foremost, my team is taken care of, salaries are met, everyone's good, and able to take care of their families and their mortgages. Outside of that, the most important thing to us is making sure that our clients are taken care of.
If we say yes to every opportunity that comes our way, that eventually is going to come at the expense of us being able to service our existing clients to the same standard. So, I decided that rather than telling people “no” flat-out, I’d just make it hard to find and get in touch with us.
I’m a big bourbon guy… I lived in Kentucky for six years and some of my favorite spots to go to are speakeasies–especially the ones that are hard to track down. I figured that doing something similar with Hyperculture would be a fun way to vet how serious someone is about working with us. If you go to our website, which is currently being overhauled a little bit, our contact page says “If you want to work with us, you’ll find us.” Our business cards are just matte black with a glossy QR code that takes you to a page with that tagline.
We’ve got case studies out there everywhere and everyone kind of knows who we work with and what we do. I’m very fortunate that we’ve built up a great reputation and that the artist teams and companies we work with (even outside of the music industry) speak very highly of us. If there’s someone that really wants to work with us and who would be a good fit, they should be able to get connected with us via word of mouth or some intentional searching. If that one or two extra steps just isn’t worth it to them, we totally respect and understand it, but it shows that they’re not that interested.
"Our business cards are just matte black with a glossy QR code that takes you to a page with that tagline."
Do you think that that kind of extra layer of mystery on how to find Hyperculture adds to the demand to work with you?
To be honest, it wasn’t really our intent for the speakeasy approach to increase demand; the intent was to make onboarding clients easier. At that point, we know that someone put in a little bit of extra legwork to get in touch with us, so they’re probably serious.
That being said, I do think there is that cause and effect happening when you tell someone they can’t have something and they just want it more. It wasn’t the original purpose of us doing that, but it definitely ended up happening because we aren’t as accessible as other agencies or partners to work with. Because we’re not out there doing any initiatives to grow our name and be on the forefront of everyone’s minds, or actively focusing on sales, it makes people want us a little bit more and it helps us sift through the people who are going to be good partners for us to work with.
Where exactly do third-party contributors (venues, merchandising, etc.) come into play? How do you eliminate that space between the artist and the fans?
My background in doing all of this isn't just in the entertainment space. I was a D2C, a direct-consumer consultant, for eight to ten figure companies, so brands that are driving transactions. I realized that the music industry, as an artist, is really the only industry that exists (to my knowledge) where the brand that's driving the transaction is separated from the fan or the customer data. Most of the time that's because the artist is put in a position where they're relying on all their different third parties, like their merch company, who's running their web store and most of the time running the logistics behind their point of sale and inventory management for merchandise. With that third party being responsible for brokering or utilizing and creating the eCommerce platform, the fan data is going directly into the merch company's pocket.
The merch company might use it for their other artists. Most of the times on the privacy policies, in terms of service of the website, the artist has equal ownership of that data but no one's raising the flag to the artist. Management teams are typically so busy trying to make sure that the band's album cycle is going well and getting the band on a bigger tour that managers typically aren't focused on making sure that the artist owns the customer data. A lot of managers don't necessarily know how powerful it can be. It’s the same with the artists; they want to be free to create and perform. You don't have a lot of folks that are trying to make sure they own the fan relationship.
The technology and softwares exist to make sure that the artist is getting equal ownership of that customer data, as well as their third party partners. There are some third parties where it gets complicated, like with certain major conglomerates in the ticketing space, where legally, they have every ability to give the artists that data and that information, but due to internal policies, they won’t. That typically goes back to the artists being put in a position where they are now reliant on that third party to contact their fans.
For example, if WCAR wanted to contact anyone who's ever bought my band's ticket to see us in Baltimore, we'd have to go through the ticketing company to do that. In order to get access to those fans, we'd have to book our show through that ticketing company. It's a weird monopoly of fan data, where you have these major corporations really wanting to make sure that they own the most valuable fan information so the artist has to rely on them to get access and communicate with them directly.
"It's a weird monopoly of fan data, where you have these major corporations really wanting to make sure that they own the most valuable fan information so the artist has to rely on them to get access and communicate with them directly."
How does your in-depth data analysis allow you to cater to different types of fans (in terms of e-commerce)?
When it comes to working with the band to scale their web store revenue, for example, most of the time, the merch company has a newsletter for the artist. If the artist has a merch sale or new products, they'll send one message to that full list of people who are subscribed. Inside that mailing list, there are different types of fans. You have Betty, who's a die hard fan of the band, spends $200 every single month on merchandise, will drive up to eight hours to come to a show, and secretly somehow learned the singer's home address.
That’s the mega fan, but you also have Johnny, who bought a discounted t-shirt three years ago and has not listened to the band since then. I think that there's such a big opportunity in segmenting fans into isolated groups based on what we know to be true about them and their engagement with the brand, then communicating with those people based on their interest.
"I think that there's such a big opportunity in segmenting fans into isolated groups based on what we know to be true about them and their engagement with the brand, then communicating with those people based on their interest."
Sending Johnny an email telling him to buy a shirt when he hasn't even listened to your most recent album is probably not going to perform well. He might open that email, but he's not going to buy something and he's not really going to care. It's probably gonna irritate him even more when another email comes in the future. It puts that fan who might be churning out of engagement at risk. Because Johnny opened that email and didn't click, or maybe didn't even open the email, unsubscribed from the list, or moved it over to his spam folder, all of those little logistics pieces that happen end up affecting your open rate and your IP warming.
It could affect that email actually getting to Betty (the mega fan). Now that your open rate is suffering and the clickthrough rate is super low, Google, Yahoo, Hotmail, (the two people that still use AOL) and all the other servers are going to look at that and say, “man, people really aren't liking this content. We're just gonna start sending this to spam more.”
Now you're not able to even reach a lot of your most valuable fans because the merch company is just doing the easy thing: sending every email to the full list. What we like to do is segment our clients' fan data into different groups of definitions or cohorts based on engagement. For the Bettys of the fanbase, we might send them a different message and experience, versus the Johnnys, who we should focus on getting re-engaged before we try to get them to buy something.
"Now you're not able to even reach a lot of your most valuable fans because the merch company is just doing the easy thing: sending every email to the full list. What we like to do is segment our clients' fan data into different groups of definitions or cohorts based on engagement."
How does your in-depth data analysis allow you to cater to different types of fans (in terms of fan growth)?
One of the things that we did with Papa Roach's campaign for their most recent album release is that when it came to fan acquisition, growing DSPs, and targeting new audiences, rather than just relying on interest-based targeting on social media and internet keywords, we were able to create an isolated group of Papa Roach fans who have the highest lifetime value between their point of sale on tour, ticket sales, VIP sales, e-commerce sales, and more. We were able to blend all that data to create a really robust list of valuable transaction-based fans. Then, we used technology to find, within a 1-2% margin, other people with the same digital interests, behaviors, and patterns. This kind of segmenting really enables you to control the narrative with your fans and communicate with them effectively.
Give a few examples of artists you work with and their individualized plans.
There are a lot of artists who we're working with, but there are extensive NDAs involved, so I can’t give too much information on them. One of the artists that we're currently campaigning for, though, is Alicia Keys (I’d have to get the thumbs up from Alicia’s management to say too much more here).
One of the fun things that we're doing when it comes to her demographic is that we're pushing a few different angles rather than just saying, “we want to target anyone that likes RnB.” Instead, we're testing a bunch of different backdoor audiences as well. We're targeting fans of other acts that Alicia wants to grow in market share and we're excluding anyone that's engaged with Alicia's socials over the last year, so we know that all of those impressions are prospective fans coming in.
We're testing a second audience that is genre-based. This would be where we're focusing on RnB or 90s, hip-hop, or all of these other categories that she tends to exist in, which is so much fun because she goes back and forth between so many different genres. It's a blast to work on that, as well as testing a cosmetics and lifestyle audience because she also has a cosmetics line. Additionally, we test that against a media-based audience.
"Audiences were consuming content at twice the rate of what we saw on the artist or the genre-based tests."
What we found on the first test campaign we ran is that for the cosmetic audience, the cost per result was about 10% more than the genre of the interest base. Audiences were consuming content at twice the rate of what we saw on the artist or the genre-based tests. A lot of agencies would say, “this is more expensive, let's shut it off,” but by being able to track the actual consumption–being able to justify and say, “these folks are consuming your content at twice the rate as all of these other audiences are and there's a higher likelihood of them transitioning over to a separate business and entity that you own.” With all of these tests, we’re able to make a very informed decision, from which we tailor a lot of our upcoming initiatives around capitalizing off of the most valuable audiences.