the age of WE

The Age Of WE Has Only Just Begun

I sat down to write WE-Commerce five years ago, and it was finally published by Penguin in December of 2015. I cannot tell you how rewarding it is today to see how my vision of a world where “we would do it for the benefit of the many over the few” has actually come to fruition. When I first started to think about the “world of we” that we are living in today, Airbnb was new, and the sharing economy was simply thought of as a wunderkind economic engine focused on democratizing the use of things like luxury lodging and car service globally.

That provincial notion changed overnight after PwC cited it as an economic niche that would potentially drive $335 billion into the global economy by 2025. Now in 2018, it’s hard to imagine a world that isn’t centered on the power of placing the well-being of the collective we over that of the singular me. Illustrative of this idea is a recent profile piece in the New York Times, where David Gelles wrote about the incredible rise of WeWork from a multi-billion-dollar office space provider, to an entity that is projected to be worth hundreds of billions in the not too distant future. The catalyst for this mind-boggling growth: the company’s mission of instilling a sense of the value of purposeful community into society at large-way beyond the walls of just the workplace. WeWork CEO Adam Neumann summated it similarly to how I did in WE-Commerce, stating that we are heading toward a world “where a mindset of we versus me” will most definitely shape our future.

This phenomenon of doing it for the many vs. the few has led us to the much-heralded age of purpose we are living in today. Holly Branson (yes THAT Branson), like Adam, touches on many of these new ideals in her new book WEconomy. I took a similar POV in WE-Commerce, where I called for a new era of “profiting with purpose”—one where brands would place benevolence at the heart of all they do, with an eye toward doing what is right, not just what’s convenient.

holly branson Weconomy

Holly perhaps said it best when she noted: “Purpose is the biggest transformation to happen to business since the assembly line,” and I couldn’t agree more. Ironically, I spoke of the Model T in my book and analogized the Industrial Revolution to our present decade. I highlighted the shared ideal of redemptive deconstruction—one where the world tears down what doesn’t work and rebuilds again anew with vigor. I truly believe that we are exiting a period of darkness with corporate leaders taking on a heightened sense of moral responsibility that will help direct us toward a much brighter and better tomorrow.

I am proud to say that my company Brandthropologie is not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. Not only are we helping brands follow the ideals of visionaries like Adam and Holly, but we are also working to grow the technology of our own new parent company Centiment. Centiment, an IBM With Watson company, is neurodata technology built to do good.  For the first time in history, we have the ability to quantify, measure + understand human thought. We are at the forefront of this shift and are helping pioneer a new age of marketing + advertising–one that is emotionally-informed, non-biased + purpose-driven.

I predict that the age of We has only just begun. I see a day in the not too distant future, where the line between personal and professional lives will continue to blur as the need to make personal value statements in all actions escalates. I imagine a bright future where the idea of brands isolating CSR and cause into compartmentalized units will evaporate. I see that in the age of collaboration we are living in today, purpose will continue to emerge less as a function of brand aesthetics and more as a vital driver of business strategy and innovation.

Consequently, in order to win in our new world, brands won’t need to just create the best “things”, they will need to embody the best values and ideals, while demonstrating a commitment to extend the notion of profit way beyond their bottom-line. The world of profit with purpose is here stay, and in my humble view, the age of WE-Commerce has only just begun.


Top 3 Disruptive Marketing Trends For 2018

Here are the top 3 things disruptive marketers should keep the top of mind in 2018 to ascend the corporate ladder, shake things up and drive toward unprecedented success:

1) Move from cause to brand purpose and place it at the heart of business strategy.

CSR and cause marketing drove marketers of the past to think about corporate responsibility and giving back as key marketing activities and acts of corporate citizenship. Today these two ideas have migrated to the notion of brand purpose. This is where an organization identifies an aspirational mission, tied to its day to day offerings. This unifying theme serves to strategic blend business and brand in ways that create experiences centered around, in some way, making tomorrow better than today.

Successful marketers in the year ahead will place brand purpose at the core of business and brand strategy and use it as a lever of growth with internal and external audiences.

2) Drive toward engagement of the heart.

Emotional engagement is the sister to rational engagement. Rational engagement is based on the stimulation of the mind, whereas emotional engagement is based on the stimulation of the heart. In today’s age of brand experience, it seems that emotional engagement is proving to be more and more critical to achieving winning results and effective storytelling and digital marketing are at the heart of this movement.

Today marketers are being tasked with crafting interactions with customers instead of mere transactions. To do this, they must not lead the customer journey with the “sale” but rather the carrot that will drive to it. That carrot must be translated into the ability to transform storytelling into a vital business competency that takes the why and who of the brand and translates them into experiences that create lasting emotional connections. This type of thinking will without question help define distinction and competitive advantage in 2018.

3) Remember that customers today don’t buy into things, they buy into stories brought to life through a strategic mix of creativity + technology.

Stories have become one of the greatest currencies of business. This is because goods and services have become largely commodified by price point and customers are looking for brands they can believe in, be a part of, and make statements through, that echo their personal ethos.

In the year ahead, smart marketers will use a strategic mix of creativity and technology to generate and deliver stories that create lasting connections with customers. This will involve leveraging data-driven insights on both the science AND art side of the marketing function. Using the power of cognitive tech to unearth storylines that convey authentic voice and emotionally engage, as well as personalize and best time interactions, will empower companies to emerge as much as best-in-class content brands, as leaders of their given industries.

Note: This article was first published on Billee’s Forbes blog


Ask the CMO: Adam Petrick On ‘Storydoing’ And The Need To Be Interesting

The importance of the marketing function has risen dramatically inside leading organizations in our experience economy. As the push for emotional engagement rises, brands are pushing themselves to find new and exciting ways of generating meaningful experiences. As a result, storytelling continues to move from the end of the supply chain to the beginning of the invention process, and the idea of “storydoing” vs. “storytelling” has emerged in the foreground. This notion seems to fuse the increasing need for brands to have a grander sense of purpose beyond the bottom-line with the growing appetite from consumers to be emotionally engaged through authentic stories and experiences that matter.

For my latest Ask the CMO column, a series dedicated to analyzing the latest trends and disruptions in the marketing landscape, I had the pleasure of chatting with Adam Petrick, Global Director of Brand + Marketing for Puma. His repositioning of a retro sneaker brand into one of the hottest fashion footwear companies in the world is a terrific example of marketing’s new ability to drive both brand as well as performance through winning experiences that are purposeful and tied to doing interesting things in the world. Following is a recap of our conversation:

Billee: I’ve been talking to leaders about how this period of flux we’re in right now in the marketing space is impacting business. So, can we start with your thoughts on the current landscape?

Adam: When I think about the shift in the landscape with regard to the sneaker business, I see many retailers struggling to accommodate all the various changes that need to be made.  The business environment is getting more and more challenging, regardless of the business you are in, because consumer expectations are getting higher across the board. And those expectations are impacting everything from wide distribution plans to specific retail partners connected with any given campaign.  As a result, we’ve had to change the way that we get messages to consumers. I would say that we have to be less about the about message, and more about general behavior. We need to appeal to our consumer in a different way because at the end of the day saying “hi, please buy my shoe” doesn’t work.

As brands, we have to push ourselves to be interesting . That’s a very different proposition than just a few years ago. I think that’s an exciting shift, and one that might even be better for the brand landscape overall.

Billee: I agree. Almost all of the folks whom I’ve spoken to for this column agree that it is an exciting time because there is a bigger opportunity for marketing to make a difference. So, we are in an experience economy and I think that gets to your point of the need to focus less on the WHAT, if you will, and more on the WHO and the WHY behind it to create emotional experiences that are purposeful. How do you feel about that?

Adam: I thought you were going to say HOW because I think that the how is also very, very important. To me, the how is critical and central to everything that we’re trying to do right now with our brand.  We’re trying to do less “storytelling” and more “storydoing.”  We are trying to DO more period. To broadcast less, and take more action. For example, it’s really interesting when we partner with a star like Rihanna and ask her to develop a collection with us that connects to her Foundation’s cause. Not interesting to us would have been writing a giant check to Rihanna and asking her to be the face of an ad campaign. By being interesting and doing interesting things, we get to take interesting actions that impact our consumers, our culture and also of course our business.

Billee: So, I like the idea of the “storydoing” as opposed to just storytelling. To me it sounds like it connects to a grander purpose that goes beyond just the bottom line. Do you have thoughts on that?

AdamAt the end of the day we are selling goods, but we also have to do it in a way that feels like a service.When I say that, purpose for us is about trying to give us as a brand a reason to exist in the world and to help give people a reason to have us exist in their world. The way we do this is by continuing to create stuff that is cool and fun. We like to take the role of a “co-conspirator” to our audience, our partners and the culture overall.  I think that the idea of being a co-conspirator is what gives us meaning. To do this effectively and authentically, we have to listen more, and we have to pay close attention to what’s going on in the culture to deliver products that connect, resonate and matter.

Billee: That makes a lot of sense. I think that all of what you’re talking ties to this pivot we are seeing from rational engagement to more emotional engagement and connecting through the lens of feeling as opposed to just things. Do you agree?

Adam:  I do agree. I think that rational engagement could be about selling people a product based on a technology or a specific benefit that makes sense from a price standpoint. But I think that emotional connection is now very, very important because when you choose to wear a brand, especially in our business, where the differentiation between the brands is sometimes hard to see, that choice is driven by an emotional connection. You’re either familiar with the brand and you understand what it stands for, or you don’t. And if you aren’t connecting with a brand, then you’re not going to choose that brand. So, it’s extremely important to have emotional depth or meaning in order to be in the top consideration set of your target consumers.

Billee:  That’s a lot of great information, so how do we tie it to the fact that your brand has gone through a significant revitalization in recent years. I believe that I’m correct in saying that you have been at Puma for quite a while, so I guess I’d ask what kind of pivot did you execute to go from where you were when you started at Puma, to where you are now, which I would say is quite an admirable leap?

Adam: I think that we struggled for a long time to figure out what it was that we wanted to represent and what it was that we wanted to mean in the world. I think that there was a lot of discussion to get alignment around what we wanted to be.  Were we a sports brand? A fashion brand? Or a lifestyle brand? I think what happened was three or four years ago we said we have to make some changes and focus, otherwise we are going to disappear. So, we said let’s get back to basics. Let’s get back to sports. Let’s reground ourselves in our history and our authentic connection to sport and view everything we do through the lens of sports.

I think what was critical to this pivot was the realization that sports aren’t just about performance. “Sports” is also about the culture of all the things that are around sports. If you’re only focused on a category within sports, such as performance, that can be quite limiting. But when you start to think about sports as culture or sports as a lifestyle, then things get interesting.

Billee: What you just said leads me to the idea that many brands I speak with when pivoting are looking first at optimizing the experience internally in their own cultures. Was that part of your transformation process?

Adam: Yes, yes, I couldn’t agree more that the transformation of the internal culture was a very important part of the brand’s transformation. Thank you for pointing that out because you’re absolutely right. That is where it began. For us it began with grounding ourselves in the history of the brand and our legacy as a performance driven brand. We also said that we had to behave in a different way as a culture.  We started with a brand mantra – Forever Faster. You know it was something that sounded great and aligned with us as a sports brand, but it also really drove a behavioral shift internally. This happened when we said being Forever Faster is not just about speed necessarily, it also was about always striving to be better. To be better in staying ahead of trends, always striving to make connections faster and always striving to solve problems faster. Forever Faster took on a lot of meaning internally and a rallying cry that marked a significant moment in our brand’s transformation.

Billee: That’s awesome to hear because it sounds like a great example of why brands need to look internally before having positive impact externally. A lot of what people used to think of internal culture as being handled by H.R. people and saw it as a very utilitarian function as opposed to a strategic one. The shift in leadership that I’m noticing is that senior marketers, like yourself, are stepping up to impact the employee experience?

Adam: I would say definitely.  You are asking very good questions (laughs). Yes, I think that in order to have a company perform at a high level, your brand values and the things that your brand stand for in your consumer’s eyes have to align with internal behavior and your brand values. You then have to walk the walk internally and externally. It’s one thing for a marketer, or a brand person, or even an H.R. person, to put a poster on the wall, and entirely another to do the things that we say we stand for. Because of this, senior leadership must be closely involved in internal culture initiatives, and marketing must be among the top leaders driving that train.

Billee: That sounds like an extremely authentic approach to culture building. Tying back to partnerships that you mentioned earlier, it sounds like you’re very deliberate and discerning in selecting the type of partnerships that you do based off what we just discussed, being true to your brand values. Do you want to tell me a little bit about the most recent Rihanna CLF Creeper partnership and how and why it reflects your values?

Adam:  Yes absolutely. Let’s start with Rihanna. I think Rihanna as an individual, or a creative brain or personality is very brave and her choices are determined and always true and authentic to her creative spirit. She was a little bit edgy, and we loved her synergy with our brand values.

Rihanna’s foundation is obviously very important to her and therefore because we are her partner, it’s very important to us. She has an iconic sneaker called the Creeper. It is something that we’ve had in our offering with her for a couple of years now. They are always very highly sought after, always very popular.  So, this year we said, hey let’s make another Creeper, but let’s do it in a way that also can benefit her Clara Lionel Foundation. So, we worked together to generate a unique design that would be unique to the foundation’s activities this Fall. The proceeds from the sale of that product are benefiting the cause. And the product is connecting super well in culture. So, a true win-win that is not only reflective of her but of the Puma brand and values as well.

Billee:  Is there anything that you want to leave us with to recap the past year or more importantly, to address what we might see in 2018

Adam: I think that more and more we are focused on trying to do interesting things with people who have their finger on the pulse of our audience and our customers. We want to create unique partnerships. We want to create new products. We want to generate stuff that’s going to be interesting rather than us looking inward as a brand.We want to be listening to our customers, listening to what’s going on out there in culture and responding to that by behaving in interesting ways. You’re going to see a lot more of that from us and likely other brands in 2018 and 2019 and beyond.

 Note: This article was first published on Billee’s Forbes blog


Ask the CMO: Xerox’s Toni Clayton-Hine On Marketing As The Driver Of Brand Reinvention

We are in a period of transformation we haven’t seen since the days of the Industrial Revolution. Once untouchable market incumbents have fallen. Small and agile start-ups have come out of nowhere to reimagine industries. Digital has gone from a mere channel to a necessary and vital component of reimagining business. Within this sea change, the role in the C-Suite that has perhaps been impacted most is that of the CMO.

Faced with an increasing amount of responsibility and accountability for the long-term growth of a company’s brand and performance, it has perhaps never been a more challenging time to be a marketer. With that in mind, I have launched an “Ask the CMO” feature where I speak with some of the top marketers in the world to uncover the leading issues and trends driving change in the marketplace.

For my latest piece in this series, I had the pleasure of speaking with Toni Clayton-Hine, CMO of Xerox and marketing veteran who has overseen the recent transformation of Xerox and its Set the Page Free campaign. The platform is a great example of using marketing as a major driver of brand reinvention. Its core objective is not to focus on the brand’s legacy connected with hardware and paper products, but to instead highlight the ways Xerox can serve clients who need assistance in straddling the real-life and virtual realms, while advancing innovations imperative to the future of work. The project brings together fourteen world-renowned creative talents including authors, poets and songwriters to collaborate on a book about the modern workplace.

 We discussed the creation and execution of this campaign, along with her key thoughts on the need for marketing to drive agile transformation in today’s rapidly changing world. The following is a recap of our conversation:

Billee: I’m excited to have a conversation with you related to the transformation I’ve seen going on at Xerox, particularly the whole Set the Page Free idea. So, why don’t we open up with your thoughts on the changing landscape?

Toni: I’m sure you see different definitions of what makes a great CMO and what makes a great marketing function, depending on the company, where it is and where it’s going. I can speak specifically to where Xerox is today and our unique position. We’ve got this iconic brand, with such a deep history, but one of the things that we have to deal with is not the awareness of Xerox as a company, but awareness of Xerox in terms of what we stand for today.  My role is to create awareness and consideration around our current portfolio, with the changing set of people that are buying, selling or influencing our technology every day, and then making sure that that brand is connected not just at that broad awareness level but also down into the field.

I think that’s one thing that’s probably common in terms of the conversations that you are having with other CMOs. The need to make sure that the components of marketing are connected and creating a more holistic view from brand awareness, to offering consideration, down to actually closing the transaction in demand generation as opposed to running those activities in silos.

Billee: I think that that’s exactly right. Generally, everyone is on the same page, but when you get inside of different organizations, there’s a lot of nuance. I know you’ve been doing a lot of great things to instigate change. Do you want to talk about anything you’ve been working on that’s emblematic of making necessary shifts and best practices for being responsive to the market?

Toni: When I took over my role in January, the way that Xerox had been run was we had this really large very diverse portfolio, and we ran a brand office that was almost separate from the performance you mentioned. I saw an opportunity to bring those things together. So that’s been a lot of the change that I am trying to drive, which is making sure that we operationalize all the handoffs and the connection points from the brand down into the field, and ensure that that drives performance.

One example is “The Set the Page Free” campaign which we believe is a unique and creative way to show how people are using and leveraging the technology in an interesting and unique way. It’s 100 percent digital, which we did that on purpose in order to use the campaign as an overarching umbrella that will ultimately drive awareness, consideration, and ultimately demand.

Every choice we’ve made in terms of bringing this campaign to life has included some sort of digital signature so that we can then leverage it downstream, albeit sometimes very far downstream, into a potential lead.

Billee: I appreciate you sharing that as it’s certainly a really great example of how to make some of the necessary shifts that are required today to connect brand directly to performance. A question that I have for you relates to how many brands are trying to identify how their brand purpose can be a mechanism driving strategy and ultimately optimizing the experience. Was that a factor in your vision when you thought about making changes?

Toni: Our purpose has always been to innovate the way the world communicates and connects and works. And, because we have that overarching promise, we can view today’s technology and tomorrow’s workplace as the lens by which we can deliver on that goal.

The one thing that helps us with this is the research centers at Xerox. Our scientists at places like PARC, the Palo Alto Research Center, understand how people work. They watch people in the workplace and how they’re interacting with technology, as opposed to starting with a problem and then asking a customer or a user what problems do you have that we can solve? They start with observation. And when you have access to that information you start to see the different ways you could solve that problem. That helps make my job easier.

Billee: Right. A lot of what I’ve been talking about that’s connected to what you just said is the big switch from rational engagement and talking about the WHAT, to emotional engagement and talking about the WHY and the WHO. I would think that what you just said would make capturing emotional engagement a bit easier since it’s informed and tuned in to a specific problem that already exists. Is that, right?

Toni: That’s absolutely right. I like how you said that. I guess I’ve always looked at it as kind of experiential, meaning moving from delivering a great product to delivering a great experience. And we’re very lucky in some respects that the B2B space follows the B2C space. So, I know the experience that’s being developed and what you’re expecting in that space from Amazon or from an Airbnb will ultimately be what’s expected in B2B. So, I use B2C as a bit of a crystal ball. When we are going to design a web journey, I know what a consumer is looking for when they go out and buy some sort of consumer based package. Good. OK. Now, what’s that going to mean in my enterprise environment?

Billee: So, in essence you know that it doesn’t matter who you’re trying to connect with, everybody today is a customer. How does your observation about the need to deliver a great experience translate in the B2E-space, with your internal customer? We know culture starts at home and that it is becoming a much more visible responsibility for marketers. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Toni: We have been working very closely with our H.R. colleagues to refine the Xerox culture, take the best elements, and update it to reflect who we are as a company today. We’re definitely spending more energy trying to create that connection to make sure our employees are advocating and articulating our brand value proposition as part of our culture work.

Billee: At the end of the day, I think that what I’m hearing is that beside the fact that there’s general consensus that employees need to be treated as customers, is this idea that because personal and professional lives intersect so much today, employees want to feel that they’re doing something with a grander purpose, as opposed to just ‘selling stuff.” This makes organizations start to think about creating a campaign approach for them as well. Is that something you might consider as you continue to evolve your brand reinvention?

Toni: One of the things we brought forward in the Set the Page Free campaign was a tie to global literacy through a relationship with the 92nd Street Y and a donation to World Reader. One of the reasons we wanted to do this is because (when you think about our employees and how they are engaging with the world), the societal and philanthropic impact becomes very important to our culture and engages our employees.

Billee: That’s something I’m seeing and hearing as well, and I think, in my humble opinion, that it has to do what’s going on in the world. We see the need for businesses to play a grander role in moral leadership, and a sense of responsibility that extends beyond the bottom line. Do you think that trend will continue?

Toni: I would say that there’s probably a little bit of a pendulum shifting back.

But I think that it will it will continue to be part of a company’s vernacular for a long time. I don’t think we’re going to go back to something where it’s only about the product and what the product does for you. People have shifted their priorities to doing business with companies that do good or at least have an awareness of their social impact. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Billee: That emotional belief is a uniting idea that everyone I speak to stands behind. Another area that I have spoken about with many of your peers, is the idea of moving storytelling from vehicle of awareness at the end of the supply chain, to a vital business competency at the beginning of the invention process. This has become an increasingly important idea in the age of experience where brand purpose needs to be pulled into all customer touch points through stories that create interactions as opposed to transactions.   What are your thoughts?

Toni: It’s a pretty natural thing for us. We make sure that we’ve got purpose-driven content that goes through the entire buyer’s journey. And I talk a lot about making sure that we’ve got the content that translates emotional response into action.

We also look at how we parse content between people who are selling our products, whether they’re our employees or our channel partners versus, those who are buying our products, which in our instance is the CIO/CFO, and those who are actually using our products for their business.  So, for me it’s constantly looking at a cube view, and making sure that we’ve got an asset and a story around those different personas. We need to be sure that we’ve got the right content along those lines be able to drive somebody down their road. Today, everything related to brand, needs to be connected emotionally to an experience to drive performance. It’s that simple.

 Note: This article was first published on Billee’s Forbes blog

Marketing Trends 2018

Top 5 Marketing Trends For CMOs and CEOs in 2018

There hasn’t been a year in recent memory packed with as much change as we have witnessed in 2017. This groundswell of disruption stands poised to continue into the year ahead as the lines between culture and commerce, and the public and private sector, continue to evaporate. As our new age of business continues, the CMO function continues to rise in importance due to a confluence of factors ranging from digital transformation to purpose driven business.

As plans get underway for 2018, what follows are the top 5 things CMOs should be aware of as we inch closer to the new year:

1. We are in an experience economy. Antiquated rules of engagement no longer apply.

The old rules of business were ruled by what was dubbed TQM, or Total Quality Management. Winning companies would win or lose based off of their ability to deliver a quality product seamlessly and consistently. This, in their view, would drive customer loyalty and assure a category or market leadership position. Today, and for the past decade actually, largely in a Jobsian shadow, we have rapidly left that notion behind in lieu of the age of TEM, or Total Experience Management. As commodification has been rampant across industry sector, with offerings based on price point becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate, winning experiences have become paramount, and the ability to drive true engagement has become the Holy Grail, whether you are selling apples or automobiles.

 Consequently, marketers are being tasked with crafting interactions with customers instead of mere transactions. To do this, they must not lead the customer journey with the “sale” but rather the carrot that will drive to it. That carrot must be translated into the ability to transform storytelling into a vital business competency that takes the why and who of the brand and translates them into experiences that create lasting emotional connections. This type of thinking will without question help define distinction and competitive advantage in 2018.

Emotional engagement is the sister to rational engagement. Rational engagement is based on the stimulation of the mind, whereas emotional engagement is based upon the stimulation of the heart. In today’s age of brand experience, it seems that emotional engagement is proving to be more and more critical to achieving winning results and effective storytelling and digital marketing are at the heart of this movement.

In order to be able to master the new art of emotional engagement, you can no longer tell customers what you care to, or create the experiences you desire them to have. You must tell them the stories they crave to hear, and provide the moments that they seek to feel connected and emotionally engaged. This significant paradigm shift has led to an economy predicated on engagement and experience and has paved the way for an era of digital marketing driven by strategic, digital marketing analytics rather than naked creativity.

When thinking about how to gain competitive advantage in the marketing realm in the year ahead, think about capturing key insights and then use those insights to transform storytelling into a strategic business competency that generates content experiences that bring the brand to life.

2. In the age of experience, EVERYONE is a customer.

Today, organizations that use artful storytelling to create winning experiences are the ones who are leading our new era of collaborative commerce forward – and moving product, improving engagement and retaining employees. The key to their success is realizing that today, everyone, inside and outside of the organization, needs to be viewed as a customer. The following is a framework to use for experience design through a B2B, B2C, and B2E lens for the coming year:

B2B Experience

Pivoting from a product centric approach to one that is experience-based, B2B companies are harnessing creativity and technology to tell winning stories that will help educate and inform on the new age of business transformation upon us. To do this, they are using storytelling to optimize the customer experience through the following spheres: economic, innovation, agility/transformative ability, future aspiration and brand engagement.

Case in Point:

A B2B Experience: GE

GE focuses on telling engaging stories that make sense for businesses. They invite customers in to see ‘Imagination at Work’, and give customers a reason to believe and engage with their innovation that builds, powers, moves & cures the world. By harnessing storytelling, creativity and technology via content on digital platforms, including Instagram, Tumblr and YouTube, GE is delivering on their desired business outcomes:

  1. Increase audience awareness of the scope of what GE does and highlight positive experiences with the brand.
  2. Support pipeline for young engineering and business talent.
  3. Drive interest among the next generation of potential shareholders. The company needs to attract the next generation of shareholders.

B2C Experience

Today, consumers want to be a part of a brand that does more than give them immediate gratification from a product or service. They want to become a part of a brand that they believe in – a brand voice – one that can enrich their daily lives in ways that create meaningful and impactful engagement. Conveying the cornerstone of your company’s purpose-driven thought leadership in ways that bridge to the world at large, beyond the bottom-line, is critical to success in today’s competitive landscape. Today’s best consumer experiences are defined by telling informed stories that impact the following spheres of influence and create emotional engagement: future motivation, trust, personalization/loyalty, empathy and education.

Case in Point:

A B2C Experience: Casper

 Casper’s founders believed if you’re going to convince consumers to trust you that sleep is a pursuit as worthy of obsession as exercise or eating, you have to approach the story arcs (of empathy and education) differently. Casper is combining science, design thinking, branding, and a winking sense of humor to redefine the humble mattress into lifestyle experience that has built a new cohort of evangelists proselytizing that the key to productivity and overall health stems from maximizing the quality of our slumber. Casper also upended some fundamental assumptions that nobody talks about their mattress and therefore word-of-mouth sales would be impossible to ignite, a notion that was shattered by an immediate boom in viral unboxing videos that captured the exciting unboxing experience.

B2E Experience

According to Harvard Business Review, 89% of executives surveyed said a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction ; 84% said it can affect an organization’s ability to transform; and 80% said it helps increase customer and employee loyalty. To operationalize your purpose-driven narrative into mantras that bring your brand purpose to life in your organization, consider how you can impact the following spheres of influence to help you create authentic employee experiences that delight, inform and engage: future motivation, leadership/core values: trust, reward + recognition, education and immersion.

Case in Point:

A B2E Experience: W.L. Gore

The executive team began to see trends that employees were anxious that slow decision-making and a lack of risk-taking might be weighing on Gore’s entrepreneurial endeavors. At Gore, a company built with innovation at its core, the risk of an innovation slowdown was particularly serious. Strong leadership, rooted in the company’s core values, worked quickly to streamline decision-making, encouraged the formation of small startup teams that were motivated to explore new ventures and also created an in-house team called the Innovation Center of Expertise to shepherd (and reward) promising employee ideas.

3. We are in an era of purposeful business driven by collaboration, inclusion, and the notion of leaving the world a better place. Empathy is the NEW BLACK.

The collaborative purpose economy we are living in has elicited a call to action to business leaders to contribute to the world as much as their own bottom-line, and do so in ways that bridge the gap between the public and private sectors to activate real change. This paradigm shift has instigated a pivot point where brands are now aiming to connect with customers on a much deeper and more personal level. The new recipe for successful engagement in business today is one centered around three core themes: aspirational purpose, inclusion and empathy.

Creativity is defined as the ability to make the complex elegantly simple, so for that reason, we see the definition for customer engagement that is authentic and measurable, as a simple formula that we call The New Inclusion Equation: Access + Ideas = Purposeful Action. What this translates to as we move forward, is the need for brands to make customers feel included in the aspirations to make tomorrow better than today. The key ingredient in making this endeavor successful is the notion of adding a touch of empathy to your marketing, storytelling and overall experience development.

Smart organizations will approach the creation of winning experiences by finding their purpose and then using it as a creative and aspirational theme with which to engage. Consequently, an approach to building + operationalizing brand purpose will be increasingly valuable in achieving desired business outcomes. Transforming collaboration and inclusion from activities into strategies will be critical to achieving such endeavors in 2018.

With internal audiences, the idea of brand purpose can be married with internal culture to deliver best-in-class storytelling and content experiences to employees with an eye on retaining them and turning them into brand advocates. Similarly, when applying this notion to B2B or B2C experience, a brand’s purpose must be connected to the themes driving external culture to achieve the same type of optimal experience throughout the customer funnel.

Case in point:

Part of Apple’s 2017 brand push included an empathic plea to “open your heart to everyone.” The Designed for Ian spot within this campaign celebrates the brands sense of purpose, and the world’s new sense of inclusion. Look for more of this in 2018.

4. Stop worrying about Artificial Intelligence. Start focusing on Augmented Intelligence.

 Many CMOs and other senior executives today have been inundated with messages and directives about Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the past year, many of which have been inaccessible and confusing. With that in mind, it’s important to understand that the best path to the future will not be powered by AI as a stand-alone solution that replaces man, but rather by Augmented Intelligence solutions – Man + Machine – where man’s abilities will be enhanced by machine learning and cognitive technology.

When thinking about how to fold AI into marketing efforts in the year ahead, it’s important to think backwards in the sense of looking at what you are trying to achieve, and then introducing the best pieces of AI technology that can heighten your current brand experience.

 Most critical to such an approach will be realizing that AI is not just about harnessing the insights big data can provide on the science side of the marketing house, but having the vision to understand how AI can be used to positively impact the creative process as well.

Currently only .5% of data is used to generate advertising or creative at the world’s leading brands, according to Forrester. This creates a huge opportunity for smart marketers to harness data-driven storytelling that informs content experiences to achieve brand leadership and market distinction.

Case in Point:

In an article in the Atlantic in late 2016, a master’s thesis surfaced in anthropology submitted to the University of Chicago by Kurt Vonnegut. What Vonnegut said in that body of research was that he did not understand why simple shape of stories couldn’t be fed into computers, as to him stories were, what he called “beautiful shapes.”

The explanation comes from a lecture that Vonnegut did where he mapped the narrative arc of popular storylines against an XY axis graph and was able to draw a direct through line to Cinderella and the Old Testament, and what united them, and therefore made them so engaging. In the world of AI in 2017 then, wouldn’t this model assume that high powered computing would be able to help marketers identify narrative patterns in culture that would enable their stories and content to be more empathetic, emotional and therefore more engaging?

A group of researchers from the University of Vermont and the University of Adelaide set out to explore this idea and what they did was collect thousands of story arcs for fiction, which resulted in the following classifications of six types of narratives:

1) Rags to Riches (rise)

2) Riches to Rags (fall)

3) Man, in a Hole (fall then rise)

4) Icarus (rise then fall)

 5) Cinderella (rise then fall then rise)

6) Oedipus (fall then rise then fall)

What they were able to do with the help of AI was identify narrative patterns that had resonance around these themes, which then enabled them to develop story arcs under each of the six categories that would drive meaningful engagement around specific scenarios. The key takeaway from the research was that scientists could train machines to reverse engineer what they know about story trajectories and their connection to emotion and empathy to create compelling works that land right in the sweet spot of true engagement.

 So, what this is all means is we can and should think about how to leverage cognitive technologies to attain the insights that will help us push into the emotional levers that are resonating with customers. This will empower us to produce creative works of content that connect and procure meaningful customer engagement.

5. Don’t just be smart. Be emotionally intelligent.

As Simon Sinek told us all this year, it is much more important today to focus on the why and who as opposed to the what. In a world where products have become increasingly commoditized by price point, and consumers are looking for experiences that enable them to vote with their wallets, connecting on a deeply emotional level, has never been important.

In the year ahead, it won’t just be important for brands to continue to be more purposeful, collaborative, inclusive and empathic in all their engagement efforts, rather, what will separate the winners from the losers, will be those who make a commitment to sharpen their Emotional IQ.

As the general push for being more “mindful” across the board continues to ensue, the emotional factors driving it become even more important. According to this month’s Harvard Business Review “By understanding that the mechanism behind mindfulness is the improvement of broader emotional intelligence competencies, leaders and the brands they steward can more intentionally work on all of the areas that will have the strongest impact.”

Research across hundreds of brands in dozens of categories shows that the most effective way to maximize customer value is to move beyond mere customer satisfaction and connect with customers at an emotional level – tapping into their fundamental motivations and fulfilling their deep, often unspoken emotional needs. That means that by appealing to any of dozens of “emotional motivators”, such as a desire to belong, to succeed in life, or to feel secure, brands will engage with customers.

On a lifetime value basis, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers. These emotionally connected customers buy more of your products and services, visit you more often, exhibit less price sensitivity, pay more attention to your communications, follow your advice, and recommend you more – everything you hope their experience with you will cause them to do. Companies deploying emotional-connection-based strategies and metrics to design, prioritize, and measure the customer experience, find that increasing customers’ emotional connection drives significant improvements in financial outcomes. As a result, contextual, emotional and sentiment thought-driven AI is the next wave of marketing (and advertising).

Case in Point:

3 Elements Marketers Must Be Aware of When Using AI Tools to Drive Emotional Intelligence

  1. We are not all the same. Care for and customize your models and people will respond. One size fits all does not work in the realm of emotional engagement.
  2. AI only works and connects emotionally when it’s trained on good data. Using a known brand such as Watson or Google Cloud is great, but if you don’t train it on real-world data that is like your customer when you introduce it to real people, it won’t work — or worse. We currently use natural language understanding and machine vision with IBM Watson to deliver dynamic advertising that is built to understand people for who they are, enabling brands and agencies to move toward using AI products for their clients, without a headache and in an unbiased way.
  3. Use true care when looking at programmatic techniques.These affect people psychologically. Just because someone gives you 110% ROI by throwing hurtful content at anyone, doesn’t mean you should do it. Care about people and they will respond to your brand and emotionally engage.

Note: This article was first published on Billee’s Forbes blog.