Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Future of Marketing is Human.


A few months back I visited the Museum of Failure in Los Angeles. Seriously, this is a real thing–– a pop-up museum showcasing decades of really bad marketing ideas. My personal favorite? Gerber Singles––meals in a jar targeted at young adults who didn’t have time to cook. And as we know, nothing says your life sucks more than eating dinner in a jar…from a baby food brand.

This experience jolted me into thinking about how marketers, no matter how well-intentioned, can become better equipped to embrace change and avoid being showcased in the Museum of Failure.

Fast forward to this past weekend. I was invited to speak at an American Marketing Association conference to share my perspective on the future of marketing. It goes without saying that if I could predict the future, there’s a good chance I might have been Skyping the audience from my newly purchased private island.

We’re living in a period of unprecedented change. Massive demographic shifts. Shifting cultural norms. Media fragmentation. New technologies. The power of data. Low barriers to entry. New business models disrupting the status quo. 

Change is simply the new normal. The marketers that succeed will be those that quickly adapt, developing the skills to rapidly test, learn and iterate. Being open to change isn’t a best practice, it’s a survival skill. (As has been said, if you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less!)

The most exciting part of where marketing is heading is what we are returning to. We’re moving past the phase of being dazzled by shiny new marketing technologies, applying them simply because we can. We’re remembering that on the other side of that screen, those VR goggles, or holding the mobile app…there is a human being. 

Human Centered Design, and by extension, Human Centered Marketing, starts with genuine empathy. Human centered marketers don’t draw inspiration from the latest technologies. They draw inspiration from people. They develop an empathetic understanding of their journey, needs, and aspirations.

This is not about going analog. Far from it! Data and marketing technologies give us more ways to be more relevant and personalized to customers. Addressable TV enables us to use Mass Media as 1:1 marketing. First party data segmentation enables us to personalize at scale. Machine Learning helps technology be more intuitive. (Just ask Alexa.) Data provide the ability to better understand people––how they’re alike, how they’re unique, how we can help them.

But we know, too, that there is a dark side to technology, to social media, to seeing humans as algorithms. We are witnessing an erosion of trust concurrent with an increase in isolation, social bubbles, and stress.

This is why I've embraced a simple truth: what’s true in life should be true in marketing. If a marketer hopes to build lasting customer relationships, it must first earn the customer’s trust. Empathy is how we build trust in our personal relationships. So, too, in marketing. 

Empathy is different than being customer driven. (Hey, simply being customer driven leads to dinners in a jar for time-starved young adults!) Empathy is the ability see the world through another person’s eyes…to truly understand their experience by standing in their shoes.

Practitioners of Human Centered Design start by putting aside preconceived ideas and instead focus on understanding the people they are designing for. It involves discovering what people are trying to accomplish; how they want to feel; their unarticulated needs; their pain points. Successful marketers increasingly understand that true customer empathy is a source of differentiation.

We see signals pointing to the future of marketing in many of the disruptive marketing frameworks that take a human centered approach to helping people accomplish goals. 

Direct-to-Customer Marketers such Casper, Warby Parker and Carvana are disrupting categories by uncovering unarticulated needs and designing new experiences that are convenient, friction-free and personalized. (DTC marketers have the added advantage of capturing 1st Party Data, enabling them to maintain ongoing relationships with their customers.) 

Subscription Marketers, similar to DTC brands, solve real customer pain points yet have the added benefit of continuously learning how to personalize the experience. Stitch Fix learns more about its customers each month based on what clothing they return or keep. Netflix uses machine learning to understand what we like to binge. And in a surprising move, John Hancock recently announced it will only underwrite “interactive insurance” policies for customers who agree to share health data from their wearable device. (Subscription models have a huge financial benefit to these marketers, generating a more predictable revenue stream and greater lifetime value per customer.)

Mobile 1st Marketers use mobile as a business strategy, not a media channel. Mobile 1st businesses apply Human Centered Design to understand the customer journey, especially the unarticulated pain points, and use mobile to help people accomplish tasks. Delta has done a brilliant job of this, even down to solving the latent anxiety felt by many travelers who worry whether their bag was successfully loaded on the plane. Domino’s is also embracing a Mobile 1st approach, not just with their Pizza Tracker, but now with the launch of Domino’s Hot Spots nationwide.

Purpose-Driven companies are human centered, but in a different way. Brands such as Tom’s, Chobani and Dove aren’t listening to customers to figure out how to be more relevant. They are guided by a clear sense of purpose about making the world a better place. They operate as a force for positive change and attract people who share that same belief. (Research increasingly shows a growing number of customers will consider a brand’s stand on social issues before making a choice.)

As I said at the start, change is simply the new normal. The most exciting change in marketing is how, in an increasingly digital age, we are returning our focus to the human experience. We’re remembering a timeless human lesson: To build lasting customer relationships, we must first earn the customer’s trust by designing experiences inspired by genuine human empathy.

Because what’s true in life, is true in marketing.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018


Earlier in my career I was part of the team at Ogilvy that helped American Express create its first-ever campaign targeting women.  The platform was simple: show self-fulfilled women as independent and positive role models using the American Express Card to live a more interesting life.  Soon after, the number of female applicants doubled.  The campaign was even featured in a documentary that aired on PBS showing best practices in marketing to women.  (The oddest part of the documentary experience was having to recreate the creative presentation.   We all said really smart things the second time around.)

Fast forward to today, a time when women make or influence around 85% of purchases, yet often do not identify at all with the women they see in advertising.  Worse than perpetuating a marketing problem, we're unconsciously perpetuating a cultural problem in the media.

Studies show that unconscious bias is formed as early as five years old, as this #RedrawTheBalance video illustrates so powerfully.

Today, the teams at Ford and GTB attended the #SeeHer bootcamp, hosted by @ShellyZalis and the ANA.  It's eye-opening.  Shelley's insights are candid, fact-based, and actionable.  I highly encourage all marketers and their agency partners to go through this experience and learn more about how to use the ANA's GEM Score.

Doing so simply leads to smarter marketing and better results.  Case studies from HP and AT&T show that overall recall, persuasion and effectiveness substantially increase when women and young girls are presented respectfully, appropriately and as a positive role model.

We were happy to learn that the GEM Scores for the advertising created by GTB for Ford exceeds the automotive average.  But being better than average is not our goal.  Now we have a path forward to do even better.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

I am not at Cannes.


Nor are any of my colleagues. 

Instead we are in conference rooms reviewing mobile shopping metrics to find clues for creating a better customer journey. (People had bottles water and Diet Coke, but not a single glass of rosé.)

We're having daily stand-ups, going through heat maps to spark ideas to improve the online customer experience.  (Nobody was in beach sandals. Nor, thankfully, speedos.)

We are brainstorming ways to use data and adtech to deliver personalization at scale. (Cool, euro-looking sunglasses were not required.)

We are working with clients, debating campaigns briefs, attending Human Centered Design sessions, collaborating on social video content, and having some laughs along the way. 

I view Cannes as part of the past, and gatherings such as TED, CES, SxSW representing what's happening now. Although one day, even these events may become Cannes-like.

This is not Cinderella venting about not going to the ball. This is celebrating how fortunate I feel to work with people who are defining the future of marketing. (I’ll drink to that. In fact, make it a chilled rosé from the south of France!)