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Niskayuna's Fallone has marketed bikes, beer and boy wizards

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Niskayuna's Fallone has marketed bikes, beer and boy wizards

Co-founder of id29 working to expand Troy firm
Niskayuna's Fallone has marketed bikes, beer and boy wizards
Michael Fallone is shown in the Troy office of id29, the marketing firm he cofounded.
Photographer: John Cropley

TROY — After all the technological advances Michael Fallone has seen in his 30 years of marketing, many projects still often come down to emotion and intuition.

But technology and experience do allow his marketing firm, id29, to better create a proposal that feels right to the client. There’s science and analysis, Fallone said, and there's art and heart.

“You can have a set of guideposts as intelligent as possible,” he explained, “but at the end of the day it has to feel good. And we would typically provide our clients with anywhere from three to five options, because there are times when one is going to feel better. And that comes down to gut.”

Fallone and Doug Bartow co-founded id29 in 2003. It has since found success at the local and national level as a full-service brand and marketing agency, with some successes beyond the scope one might expect from a firm its size.

IMAGE PROVIDED
Part of a marketing campaign created by Troy-based marketing firm id29 for the launch of the seventh Harry Potter book.IMAGE PROVIDED
Part of a marketing campaign created by Troy-based marketing firm id29 for the launch of the seventh Harry Potter book.

Most notable was the buildup to the U.S. release of the final Harry Potter book in 2007. Publisher Scholastic commissioned id29 to create the concept for the rollout and handle 90 percent of the execution.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” set a record with 8.3 million copies sold in the first 24 hours.

“They had five of the largest agencies in the world pitch for that project and we beat them, small little boutique agency in Troy,” said Fallone. “It was nine months working in complete secrecy. It was all hands on deck pretty much around the clock. As far as a single project goes, it was the hardest work we’ve ever done.”

CAREER FOCUS

Fallone, 53, was born in Schenectady, raised in East Greenbush and now lives in Niskayuna with wife Amy, daughter Ava and son Xavier. Since earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing management from Siena College, his whole career has been in marketing, starting with Colonie firm Media Logic.

“I was employee No. 13, something like that, in 1989,” Fallone recalled. He rose to account supervisor at Media Logic, but left for Valley Media, a California wholesale music distributor. Over five years, he rose to vice president of marketing and annual sales grew from $100 million to $1 billion.

“That was a ride,” he said. “That was when physical product actually meant something. We had like 2 million square feet of distribution space because we were powering Amazon, CDNow, Barnes & Noble, all the online retailers when they didn’t have their own distribution centers.”

He resigned and moved back east in early 2000. In retrospect, it might seem like a strategically timed decision to exit at the top — Amazon would soon build its own distribution centers and CD sales have decreased every year except one since 2000 — but Fallone had other reasons.

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“My son was born out there, and I wanted him to grow up with family,” he said.

After another stint at Media Logic, he and Bartow — a former colleague then working at MassMOCA — founded id29. The “id” in the name could stand for “idea” or “identity,” but it was chosen because it sounded good. The “2” stands for the two guys who founded the company. The “9” stands for the nine family members the two guys were endangering by quitting their jobs and starting their own firm.

Today, Bartow is design director. Fallone leads strategy, the account services team and the creative team. He’s also leading the effort to grow the firm through mergers and/or acquisitions. When the merger now in progress is complete, he’ll run both companies.

Beyond the management role, Fallone’s marketing roles focus on business strategy and creative concepts.

“Business strategy and brand strategy, I consider one and the same — brand has to be in service of business objectives,” he explained.

Other members of the 12-person id29 team have talents Fallone does not.

“I am not a designer,” he said as an example.

His free time can be focused as sharply as his professional life. He won a state bicycling championship in his 30s, for example, and rode more than 7,000 miles during the 2018 season. 

“There’s a couple of things I do continuously: Cycling, and I’ve played guitar for 40-something years,” Fallone said. “I consider myself a cyclist. That’s part of who I am.”

Also, he takes in concerts with Xavier whenever he can, heavy metal preferred.

THE WAY IT WORKS

The work of id29 is about 60 percent businesses-to-business marketing and 40 percent business-to-consumer. The industry calls these B2B and B2C, and tends to treat them as distinctly different specialties, but Fallone believes they are very similar at their core.

The B2B contracts are more numerous for id29, but the biggest and most visible work has been B2C projects such as “Deathly Hallows” and Puma’s golf business.

The heart of id29’s work is “brand” — the identity that a client company projects to the outside world and to its own personnel. If the branding is successful, people perceive that identity and associate it with the company. 

“A typical engagement for us starts with brand strategy. That’s making sure we understand the intelligence behind what the brand should be and what it needs to be,” Fallone said. “The second stage would be brand design. That includes brand identity and the overall visual representation of the brand, and textual as well. Then we typically go to execution and marketing tactics. 

“We also do a lot of website development, which is part of the last piece there. Also digital marketing.”

Typically, id29 starts with secondary research to subjectively understand the client’s competition, customer and marketplace. It fills in gaps with its own research, then holds a dozen or more workshops on brand strategy. The process that began so subjectively now switches to eliminating as much subjectivity as possible to create an objective plan and range of options to pitch to the client — who can then subjectively choose the right path.

“We do the best we can to take all the subjectivity out of it, but at the end of the day, it really is what feels the best,” Fallone said. “Our job is to help guide the clients to make a good decision.”

Id29 won't work in sticky areas such as politics, religion and tobacco promotion, and it vets companies for problems before taking them on as clients. Many clients are local to upstate New York, some are national, a few are international. 

IMAGE PROVIDED
Part of a marketing campaign created by Troy marketing firm id29 for Colonie-based toll-management company Bestpass.IMAGE PROVIDED
Part of a marketing campaign created by Troy marketing firm id29 for Colonie-based toll-management company Bestpass.

There are beers and boy wizards and bicycles in the id29 portfolio that many people would recognize, but there are other firms right here in the Capital Region that wouldn’t ring a bell to anyone not involved in the same industry. 

Colonie toll-management firm Bestpass, for example, has grown to the point that it handled over $1 billion in toll payments in 2019. Yet few people might know what it does, other than truck drivers and truck fleet managers, which is who id29 targets the marketing toward.

“Locally, one of the relationships I’m most proud of is Bestpass for the past six years,” Fallone said. “That’s quite a success story. They’re wonderful people.”

THE FUTURE

In 2019, id29 received an infusion of capital — over $1 million from an existing client — that will allow it to improve its processes and attract talent.

“In this business, you’re as good as your people are,” Fallone said. “So being able to attract the best talent is really, really important.”

He added: “It’s hard to grow with limited resources. And while we’ve been doing well for the past 16 years, I set my sights a little higher a few years ago and wanted to achieve things we have not been able to achieve in the past.”

Id29 aims for vertical growth — expansion of its expertise in a particular specialty rather than increased business from all quarters.

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“The mergers and acquisitions we’re looking at are going to be part of that strategy. We’re going to be specific. We’re going to be looking at the health and wellness vertical in the future.”

Recreational sports is another potential area of vertical growth, and one that would complement health and wellness nicely. Id29 already has experience with golf through its work with Puma. It also has significant experience in the cycling industry — with clients such as Stan’s No Tube, American Bicycle Group and Firefly Bicycles — that grew from Fallone’s own interest in biking. 

“So sports and recreation is something I’m always keeping an eye on because we would like to grow that area,” Fallone said.

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