Brad Kugler on Digital Executive Podcast

October 25, 2023 • Posted by Michelle

Brad Kugler joins host Brian Thomas on The Digital Executive Podcast for an episode titled “The Disrupted Becomes the Disrupter.” Brad shares his entrepreneurial journey over the past 30 years where he’s seen or experienced three economic downturns, and being in a disrupted business. His biggest gain and win from all this was the immense experience he gained from it.

Soundbite and transcript below! Listen to the entire episode here:

Welcome to Coruzant Technologies, home of the Digital Executive Podcast.

[00:00:12] Brian Thomas: Welcome to The Digital Executive. Today’s guest is Brad Kugler. Innovate or go extinct! 30-year entrepreneur. Brad Kugler learned the hard way when his VHS DVD business was disrupted by Netflix. He wanted to become the disruptor. He’s now the CEO and co-founder of DirectMail 2.0, a marketing technology firm known for enhancing direct mail campaigns through the integration of digital platforms.

Among DirectMail 2.0 recent accomplishments, is its third straight appearance in as many years on the Inc. 5, 000 list, magazine’s longstanding ranking of America’s 5,000 fastest growing privately owned businesses over a three-year period. In just a third year of eligibility, DirectMail 2.0 has made the list every year since becoming eligible, this year coming in at 3, 318 with 152 percent three-year growth.

The Tampa Bay Fast 50, an annual list published by the Tampa Bay Business Journal, recognizing the fastest growing companies in the area, also featured Direct Mail 2.0. With a two-year revenue growth rate of over 85 percent from 2020 to 2022, the marketing tech firm came in at number 48 on the Fast 50 list.

Well, good afternoon, Brad. Welcome to the show.

[00:01:24] Brad Kugler: Thanks, Brian. Excellent to be here. I’m excited to chat.

[00:01:28] Brian Thomas: Awesome. Appreciate it and appreciate you making the time. I know we’re only an hour difference today, you being in Florida, but I do appreciate you making the time.

And what we’re going to do, Brad, is just jump right into these questions. We want to talk about your career a little bit in media distribution and business operations. You are a serial entrepreneur and now the co-founder and CEO of DirectMail 2.0. Could you share with our audience the secret to your career growth and what inspires you?

[00:01:55] Brad Kugler: I’d have to say, I’m not the youngest kid on the entrepreneurial block. I’m 56 years old. So, I would say that my experience of being in the business world actually over 30 years at this point is probably the best thing that’s caused me to excel. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve persisted through, I guess now 3 economic downturns.

I’ve been in a disrupted industry. So, all of this is experience that I’d like to think I learned from and can use to further myself and each and every subsequent endeavor.

[00:02:26] Brian Thomas: Thank you for sharing. And you’re right being an entrepreneur. We talk about this a lot on the show is the challenge that we have and the real entrepreneurs and this is no dig on anybody that was or is trying to be an entrepreneur is the fact that you can be resilient through some of these downturns.

And I know for you specifically with the downturn in the media distribution, we talked about that before we hit the record here, like blockbuster video, right? You were in that video business, that rental business, and that’s tough. It really is. And we saw a lot of people get disrupted.

So, I appreciate your share on that Brad, your platform touts, it seamlessly tracks client direct mail campaigns and enhances the overall results through omnichannel marketing, using various digital technologies in one easy platform. Can you walk us through what this entails?

[00:03:12] Brad Kugler: Absolutely. I think the easiest way to explain it is everybody’s gotten advertising mail in their mailbox, right?

And lately, what you’ve probably seen on some of the postcards or letters or flyers that you get are things like QR codes, text back numbers, personalized landing pages that you go to, and it says your name and it knows some information about you. So, we also direct digital ads to the receivers of the mail. So that means if you’re going to get a piece of mail in your mailbox, we’re already hitting you with the same message and the same offer. And hopefully the same creative starting from five days before that mail hits. So, we’re sort of planting that seed of familiarity.

And then we continue that digital ad campaign, of 30 days after and we’re getting you on your social media. We’re getting you on your TVs on your smart TVs. We’re getting you on your browsing when you go to ESPN dot com or CNN or where you tend to circulate. We’re hitting you with that same message anywhere from 8 to 20 times.

And, you know, whenever you receive a message. That often you’re more likely to engage so you couple that additional advertising with the ability to track and prove the attribution of that mail and that ad campaign, you have a disruptor for what used to be traditional ink on paper mailbox in your mail.

And we are seeing a lift of about 50 percent over direct mail alone, and it’s only costing the advertiser anywhere from 4 to 8 cents per piece to get all these features and these digital ads.

[00:04:42] Brian Thomas: Love that. Brad, I’ll disclose I’m close to your age. But what I’d like to say is, I worked in the summertime during high school at a direct mail company.

They’re out of business now, but that was the thing back then. What’s really exciting to hear is that it’s really still around and people are engaging it for An uplift in their sales. And I appreciate you still doing this grind. And I know you’ve got to change some things to be competitive, but I love this, love the story.

Love the fact that this is still around 40 years later.

[00:05:10] Brad Kugler: It is, and honestly, the story germinates from the fact that, I was selling CDs and DVDs and VHS, and I was completely disrupted by the streaming digital industry. There was no way for me to compete or become a Netflix or an Amazon or an Apple.

It was just, I don’t have a billion dollars to invest. When I was looking for another opportunity, it had to be something where I was the disruptor. I was taking an old technology, and I was on the forefront of that new rebirth of that technology. And that’s what I see in this new direct mail omni channel marketing technology that we’re offering.

[00:05:45] Brian Thomas: That’s awesome. Could you also, Brad, kind of step in why you’re different than maybe your competitors and what is your future vision of the company?

[00:05:52] Brad Kugler: Yeah, honestly, as far as competitors, we don’t have an apples to apples competitors. I’m in a very niche industry. There were a few peripheral similar offerings out there.

Everybody’s going to say the same thing, but our technology is really better. From Both of the 2 somewhat like competitors I have, I’ve been approached to be bought out and it was quickly discovered I’m larger than they are. So that sort of validated what I already knew is that I had a better mousetrap than the competitors, even though I was later to the party.

So, the differentiation is. If you want to break it down to feature sets, I have 15 different features that I can add to a direct mail campaign to lift it. Most of my competitors have 5 or 6. I fall into that better, faster, cheaper model where I’m just doing more for the same or less money.

[00:06:42] Brian Thomas: That’s awesome. I appreciate that. And my favorite question of the day, we are technology, podcast, platform, I’m a technologist, technology executive. Been doing this a long time, Brad, but we always like to ask our guests. It doesn’t matter what your background is, but if you’re leveraging any of that new and emerging technology in your business, and if not, maybe there’s a cool tool or app you might share with us today.

[00:07:04] Brad Kugler: Absolutely. 1 of the things that we’re leveraging and we’re building out what I think is the 1st direct mail predictive analytics platform using AI. And right now, we’re going through a process of finding a large language model that we can leverage. Obviously, I don’t want to build my own to then crunch the data in our database to spit out an answer for somebody who’s already built that model. So, the other thing we’re using is we’re using a company called Cloud Factory. So, we’re taking the 80,000 postcard flyers letters that have been sent out as direct mail. And what we’re doing is we’re Annotating them.

We’re flagging them for use in an AI or large learning model. Like I’ll give you an example. So, you get a postcard in the mail and you have a headline and you have a QR code and it’s, the text to image ratio is 10 to 90 or it’s 30 to 70. I want to know if those types of creative things actually produce a lift, in the direct mail engagement or response rate, along with the targeting demographics as well as the timing of the mail. So, this is the product that we’re building that we hope to release next year is a fully AI predictive model for direct mail marketing.

[00:08:17] Brian Thomas: I love that. That has been such a huge topic as far as this podcast the last six months, obviously, is LLMs and conversational, generative AI and of course predictive modeling and predictive analytics is huge, we talk about that a lot here, so I appreciate you sharing that and diving into that a little bit. We, here in our audience really appreciate that. Brad, it was a pleasure having you on today and I look forward to speaking with you real soon.

[00:08:42] Brad Kugler: Excellent. It’s been a pleasure, Brian. Let’s do it again.

Sometime. I’ll let you know how it goes.

[00:08:46] Brian Thomas: Bye for now.