Q&A with Skullcandy Marketing Machine Tyson Andrus

Tyson Andrus of Skullcandy

An exclusive interview with Tyson Andrus. Mr. Andrus will lead a discussion on customer engagement at the upcoming Liquid Brand Summit, held March 1 in Palo Alto. Click here to learn more about the Summit and our guest speakers and session leaders.

ABOUT TYSON:
When it comes to extreme-sports style, few companies have the street cred of Skullcandy, known for making the sickest headphones, earbuds, and iPod docks around. Tyson Andrus sits at the helm of the company’s Channel Marketing division where he leverages the brand’s authentic action-sports DNA with strategic retailer partners to drive growth that has landed the company on the “Inc 500″ list three years running. His career began at a boutique marketing consultancy and more recently led him to hone his brand management skills at General Mills before taking the plunge into the world of consumer electronics.

We asked him a few questions about what it takes to engage customers and build relationships that last.
THE INTERVIEW:
Q. Skullcandy has been extremely successful at staying in front of its customers’ desires. What methods have you used to get to know your customers? How do you go about doing audience research?

A: In my past life this would be a complex and lengthy explanation, detailing focus groups through one-way mirrors, countless surveys, customer “shop-alongs” and product usage observation studies. While some marketers will shudder at this response, the roots and culture of Skullcandy allow me to answer this one very simply: We are our customers.

From the marketing department to the design team, clear over to sales, customer service and supply chain, we all live the brand every day.

Although strictly speaking, Skullcandy is a consumer electronics company, the brand is unique to the industry in that it was born on the [ski] slopes and embodies the action sports culture associated with surf, skate and snow. This was as true in the fledgling start-up years as it is today, despite the fact that the company has grown to be one of the largest headphone companies in the U.S.

You’d be hard pressed to find many employees not wearing one of our 100 plus flavors of headphones on any given day, but it doesn’t end there. Every employee in the Park city office gets a season pass to the ski resort down the road and is encouraged to use it. In our San Clemente office, the “board room” contains just that - surf boards. And, while the offices have their own half pipe ramps, you’re just as likely to see people using their skateboards as transportation between their desk and the copy machine.

Q. How do you keep your hands on the pulse of your customer base as it evolves and changes? i.e. How do you find out what they are thinking; what they’re interested in?

A: An expression comes to mind: “Fads are bad, but the trend is your friend.”

Although sales numbers don’t lie, they’re only a snapshot of the past. Solely reacting to those numbers is just that: reactionary. We strive to align ourselves with the tastemakers and stay on the forefront of meaningful trends.

How exactly do we do that? The original success of Skullcandy was achieved through selling stylish, colorful headphones geared towards active usage in the very stores where our customers bought all their other equipment: board shops. You got it-surf, skate and snow! And, because that’s still at the heart of our business, we have a great relationship with those iconic shops from coast-to-coast, as well as the small business owners that continue to make them successful. We have many customer feedback mechanisms, but I would credit this as one of the most critical in not only following our customers’ evolving tastes, but being a part of the evolution itself.

Q. How are you using social media as a listening channel for getting to know your customer?

A: Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare . . . it seems like you can’t go anywhere to escape them. Social media is both pervasive and potentially very persuasive. Being that social media [channels] are great communication tools - and communication should be a two-way street- they are also great feedback mechanisms to tap into our customers’ minds.

The insights customers are willing to share when they are safe and sound behind their social profile are nuggets of gold that you simply couldn’t coax out of them through traditional mediums. Spark a little bit of conversation and watch the frenzy ensue . . . we call it”social chumming” minus the fishy smell. From there, it’s pretty formulaic: monitor the dialogues, identify key findings, craft a plan and execute!

Q. What led you to decide the channels you are using were the best way to influence your customers?

A: I’ll have to be painfully honest here and say trial and error. What might work for Coca Cola may not work for us, and what works well for us now may not be as effective a couple years down the road. I think it’s crucial to have an array of tools in the tool belt to connect with customers - and just as importantly, not be afraid to experiment with new ones. Just as the customer is evolving, the methods by which you influence them need to continually evolve as well.

ASK TYSON:
Want more from the Skullcandy Marketing Machine? Send us your questions and thoughts. We’ll include them in discussions at the Liquid Brand Summit. We look forward to hearing from you.

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