March 20, 2024

A Decade of Applecart

By Matt Kalmans and Sacha Samotin, Co-Founders and Co-CEOs of Applecart

As we celebrate our ten-year anniversary at Applecart, now surrounded by 100+ brilliant colleagues, having counseled the C-suites of hundreds of industry-leading organizations including dozens of Fortune 500 companies and many of the largest trade associations in the country, it’s an opportune time to reflect on all that we’ve learned and to articulate a path forward for the next decade of Applecart. 

Where We Began

We met each other one summer as undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania, both research assistants to Professor John DiIulio, Jr. In his entry-level political science class, Professor DiIulio introduced a paper published at Yale that turned conventional communications dogma on its head. The paper showed that most forms of marketing had no statistically significant impact on a voter's likelihood to actually vote on Election Day. But when the political scientists tried an unconventional appeal--leveraging social pressure as a way to encourage people to take action--it turned out to be dramatically more effective than traditional marketing tactics.

It was a powerful finding--broadly applicable to all sorts of people and all kinds of action, not just voters and voting--and it inspired the company we run today. It turns out people are far more impacted by what they hear from the people who matter most to them--their colleagues, friends, family, and neighbors--than they are by what we might traditionally consider "advertising." This statement about human psychology fascinated us, and its applications seemed endless.

Decision Makers are Humans Too

What we came to learn was that while the influence of social connections applied to consumers at large, it applied just as much, if not more so, to decision makers. 

  • No number of slick ads or fancy events can impact a CEO as much as what they hear from a close advisor or spouse, or can impact a Member of Congress as much as what they hear from a major backer. Conversely, there’s not a single ad or event that wouldn’t be far more impactful if shared and amplified by a close personal connection of that CEO or Member of Congress. This dynamic is ever more true amidst the increasingly overcrowded information environment that we all seem to occupy, awash in a sea of iPhone notifications, tweets (if we can even still call them that), and endless cycles of “breaking news” on TV. 
  • The world has changed in many respects over the last decade since we started this business, but human psychology hasn’t. The best way to break through is, and has always been, with a trusted voice. An Edelman study found that 79% of influential content is pushed to decision makers by a trusted source or discovered by them in a trusted publication. And a McKinsey Quarterly report found that decision makers are 50x more likely to act on a recommendation from a trusted source.

However, as we dove into the deep end of the world of communications and marketing, we found many tools for reaching the billions of people who make hundred dollar decisions, but none were purpose-built for influencing the hundred people that make billion dollar decisions:

  • the Senator that is a deciding vote on the bill;
  • the CEO that can authorize the multi-billion dollar transaction;
  • the analyst on Wall Street that publishes the “buy” or “sell” rating that changes the trajectory of a Fortune 50 company’s stock price; and
  • many others.

“How odd,” we thought, “the fewest tools exist to impact the most critical stakeholders and outcomes.”

That’s the problem Applecart has come to solve for some of the world’s most prominent organizations. 

Decision Maker Marketing: A Purpose-Built Approach to a Radically Different Problem

The challenge of impacting high stakes decision makers requires a fundamentally different approach to communications and marketing than the mass appeals used to sell consumers goods and services at scale. For communicators, the approach shouldn’t assume that, in a crowded world, securing a placement in a top-tier publication or a logo on the back of an athlete at a prestigious event guarantees it will be seen by those who matter most to the business. For marketers, it shouldn’t assume that volume (e.g. more advertising, more impressions, more clicks) is an end in and of itself. It shouldn’t rely on cobbling together a number of existing tools built primarily for other purposes to get to “good enough” with respect to reaching a business’ most important stakeholders. It should work back from the business problem: “how do you secure the attention of the decision making elite and hard-to-reach?” and build the most effective tools for that problem. It should enable leaders to garner visibility with those that most move the needle for their business quickly, cost-effectively, and in a way that is provable and measurable.

It’s our firm belief that such an approach has the potential to be an indispensable advantage to C-Suite leaders of all types:

  • Chief Human Resource Officers looking to reach employees
  • Heads of Government Relations looking to reach policymakers
  • Chief Marketing Officers looking to reach IT decision makers for their highest value accounts
  • Chief Executive Officers looking to manage their profile with peers, reporters, investors, and analysts…just to name a few.

Ten years ago, when we started Applecart, politics was an extracurricular for the rich and an occasional irritant to major corporations, activist investors were a rare threat to a CEO, and there was no “social media” that you needed to worry about “listening” to. Today, some of the most successful companies’ greatest vulnerabilities lie in the extent to which they do or don’t effectively message to small numbers of stakeholders who can make or break their business.
This calls for a new type of communications and marketing that we call Decision Maker Marketing.

Today, Applecart is the only solution that enables organizations and causes to reach sophisticated C-suite leaders and manage their relationships with their most important stakeholders. Over the next ten years, we look forward to continuing to make Applecart an indispensable asset to C-Suite leaders challenged with the responsibility of Decision Maker Marketing.

We are indebted to the many – from the early days to today – who have and do let us into their offices and who entrust us with their most sensitive and high stakes relationships. It’s our great privilege to be your partner.

To the next 10 years,

Matt + Sacha