How Carbon’s Dan Ashby is Changing the Game with Revolutionary 3D+ Innovation for Sports

Landis Smithers, Chief Creative Officer at The Standard

From his past experience working for tech solutions companies, including Salesforce, to his current role as Head of Marketing for leading 3D/4D CLIP manufacturer Carbon, Dan is going against the grain to think differently about B2B marketing. Leading the trend of B2B marketers taking more risks, Dan shares how his team developed a full-blown digital campaign in under three weeks and just in time for the Big Game to promote the revolutionary technology used for headgear support in Riddell football helmets.

What the heck is CLIP? “HARNESSING LIGHT AND OXYGEN TO PRODUCE OBJECTS FROM A POOL OF RESIN, CLIP is a photochemical process that eliminates the shortcomings of conventional 3D printing by harnessing light and oxygen to rapidly produce objects from a pool of resin.” We had to look it up too! The future has arrived.

Why did you choose to join Carbon?

I believe that it is hard to do your best work if you’re not enthusiastic about the product you are marketing. It has to be transformative, groundbreaking and something that’s going to make life better. I guess this is the Millennial in me. Seeing the revolutionary technology that Carbon had created and the impact that it has on everyday human lives really excited me. Carbon has the ability to produce advanced products - like dentures and protection for headgear - which scale, thereby making them affordable. Our technology which is currently used by Riddell for football helmets has the potential for improving athlete protection across a broad spectrum of uses. This excites me and provides me with a tremendous amount of job satisfaction.


What’s currently happening in marketing that most excites you?

...more B2B companies are willing to take a risk and are marketing more like a consumer brand.

When I started my career about ten years ago, I began by working for B2B companies. I remember that I was disappointed about how these companies approached marketing. There was this precedent that everything you produced had to be very corporate, or as I would characterize it, very boring. It was dry; it was technical. People who had been doing this for far longer than I had would tell me that if you want to be reputable and credible, you have to have be very technical and business oriented. Throughout my career and especially during these last few years we’re starting to learn that this is not entirely true.

B2B marketers are now starting to take greater risks in the way they are marketing to audiences. This is because even though we are getting more and more productive with the technology that we have, our ability to absorb new information has stayed the same. As we fight for people’s attention, the need to stand out is becoming more important than ever. The trend in marketing that I am seeing is that more B2B companies are willing to take a risk and are marketing more like a consumer brand.


What are you working on now that is innovative?

We learned a lot from our relationship with Adidas. We saw the impact that our technology was having on their customer base. This motivated us to begin marketing Carbon as a consumer-facing brand. We did this with Adidas, noting that their shoe contained this innovative technology, 4D Futurecraft 4D.

We next turned our attention to Riddell to help them launch their product which incorporates our 3D lattice liner technology. We did this by tapping into the cultural phenomena of the Super Bowl via the #ProtectItAll campaign. We leveraged this opportunity to really share and amplify our story. A few days before the Super Bowl we did a big launch in a very consumer marketing way. We were promoted as a trending spotlight on Twitter. We launched videos which demonstrated our passion for elevating the game of football and other sports. The results greatly exceeded our expectations. We had one of the top performing Twitter Spotlight trends of all time, more than doubled our social media following, and surpassed all previous highs in web traffic. But most importantly, it benefited both our customer and us by creating brand awareness and generating demand for the product.

 
 


What big learning moments have you had along your career path? Do you have any notable mentors?

When I joined Carbon, I was fortunate to get to work with Dara Treseder, our CMO. Dara has taught me many things, but the one that resonated the most with me is that every challenge offers an opportunity. I now subscribe to the idea that with every challenge, we have the opportunity to learn and grow.

A great example of this was when our team was challenged to create a promotion highlighting Carbon’s contribution to the innovative safety liner used in Riddell’s new line of football helmets. We had only three weeks to develop the concept and the content for the campaign, which involved a great deal of work. Dara was confident we would be able to complete the project and exceed expectations. She framed the project as an opportunity for the team to get creative and innovative. Her confidence and excitement about the project was contagious and motivated us to do our best with the limited amount of time and resources available to us.

Our initial idea had been to produce a spot which would air at the upcoming Super Bowl game in Atlanta. But we knew this wouldn’t give us the ROI we needed. We brainstormed alternatives. It occurred to us that while our audience’s eyeballs were on TV, their conversations were occurring on social media. We pivoted from our original idea and developed the concept of an online campaign utilizing YouTube and Twitter. The campaign was a huge success and accomplished all of our original objectives at a fraction of the cost to run the Super Bowl ad.


How do you pick and develop the talent on your team and ensure there is collaboration?

Some of the best players in the world are not the ones with the greatest statistics, but rather are the ones who make their team members better.

I am an avid NBA fan, and so I closely watch how coaches draft and develop the players on their team. Of course they draft for talent, but equally important is the player’s attitude. You can bring in a very talented NBA player, but if they don’t have the proper attitude, ambition and the right mindset, and are willing to learn and contribute to the overall team’s success, then they will not inspire the other players and create a culture of winning. Some of the best players in the world are not the ones with the greatest statistics, but rather are the ones who make their team members better.

When hiring, I look for that aura in a person that will enable them to make other people in our organization better. I look for passion; I look for enthusiasm first and foremost. I also look for an eagerness to learn and to dive in and begin working on solving problems and achieving objectives. You can always coach skills, and you can motivate people to do the right things, but if they don’t have that inspiring attitude from the very beginning then you’re going to struggle to try to make them great.


What one thing do you need from your CMO to help you be successful?

The way I coach people is how I want to be coached. The things that I am looking for is a desire to do great things, being a strong leader, communicating well and someone with a great attitude. People who have these traits motivate me, and their enthusiasm is contagious. It permeates the entire organization and creates the culture of winning which I referred to earlier.

Fortunately, our CMO Dara brings all of this to the table… I get to witness her consistently doing her best work and I want to replicate that. Dara is very transparent and supportive of her team. She wants each of us to be successful and provides the coaching and resources needed to enable us to succeed.


What’s the best advice you’ve received that has helped you in your career?

If you spend the whole day talking, then you are not learning. I love the quote from Doug Larson that "Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you'd have preferred to talk." Great leaders know how to listen. I am a bit of an introvert, so I tend to listen more than I speak. I also intentionally listen to people throughout the hierarchy of the organization, from the very bottom to the very top. This gives me a great perspective on what’s going on within the company and what the daily struggles are. This information helps me as I develop strategic initiatives.


If you weren’t a marketer, what would you be?

I would probably run a music studio to help up and coming artists develop their music and record their early albums.


What book would you most recommend to fellow marketers?

“The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F%!$” by Mark Mason. This has helped me segment the things I really care about from the ones that aren’t important.