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.

Ask The CMO: Joey Bergstein

Ask The CMO: Joey Bergstein On Cause Vs. Brand Purpose + Having A ‘True North’ For Your Business

Marketing continues to rise in importance inside the leading organizations in the world. As brand purpose goes from a marketing tool, to a critical driver of long-term growth and development, the creation of authentic experiences that allow brands to connect and engage with a consumer in ways that assure their safety and the hope of a better and brighter tomorrow has never been more important. As a result, CEOs are looking to collaborate with CMOs more so than ever before to ensure that these shifts take place quickly and effectively, in ways that deliver enhanced performance.

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 speaking with purposeful business pioneer Joey Bergstein, former CMO, COO and now CEO, of Seventh Generation.  His rise within one of the world’s most purpose driven brands is a shining example of what we are seeing in the way of leaders and the brands they serve being rewarded for doing well by doing good, and setting a new bar on what is expected of business in today’s uncertain and challenging times. Following is a recap of our conversation:

Billee:  This column has been getting some attention because the marketing role is really in a period of flux. Instead of seeing that as a challenge, many smart marketers are viewing it as a major opportunity as the function rises in importance. I’d love to talk about your journey from CMO to COO and now CEO, and from that unique perspective, hear your thoughts on the changing face of marketing and its growing connection to overall financial performance?

Joey: It’s certainly been an amazing voyage that I’ve been on since joining Seventh Generation. I’ve been here for six years now. As you said, I came in as the CMO, leading the marketing team, but three years ago I took on the role of GM in addition to being the CMO which was pretty unique. It was a great opportunity for me to lead the business, while still overseeing the marketing team quite directly. Wearing two hats was a little bit like marking your own homework sometimes, but fortunately, it seems to have worked out in the end as we mastered that intersection and have built the business rapidly.

I would say over the last six years that our business has been through an incredible transformation. We’ve been remaining true to our founding mission, which is all about inspiring a consumer revolution that nurtures the health of the next seven generations. We have been able to continue to grow by sharpening our message, continually improving our products and building a passionate community base. People really want to get involved in the issues that we’re concerned about and believe in and the values that we stand for.

Billee: You were acquired in October 2016 by Unilever.  Can you factor that into your journey as well

Joey: That’s been an exciting voyage too and are discovering some really huge mutual benefits. Obviously, Unilever is enormous and brings a lot of scale and capabilities that were difficult for us to access on our own as a small company, but at the same time, we are playing a big role in Unilever’s sustainability agenda. They are clearly leaders amongst the multinationals when it comes to sustainability but there are many issues where we feel like we were able to help them find an even stronger voice.

Ingredient disclosure is a great example, as it’s an issue that we’ve taken a hard stance on and helped Unilever embrace authentically.  Starting in 2008, we listed all of the ingredients on the label on the back of all of our products, which isn’t required in the cleaning business but that was something that we felt the consumers had a right to know because these are products they use around their families every day. We’ve been advocating for that to become a standard across the industry and we’re seeing more and more companies moving to more disclosure of ingredients, particularly over the last year. So, for us with Unilever, it’s really been a nice relationship where we’re both giving and taking as we’ve been working through this integration.

Billee:  Wow. A ton of great information. I’m going to take a step back. It sounds like your evolution is emblematic of the shift that we’re seeing in the marketplace related to how you can no longer separate the brand from the product and how success is contingent upon an intersection of the two. Would you say that is the structure or path that you’ve taken?

Joey: Yeah, I think so. I’ve always believed that the consumer is at the heart of any strong brand or business. I think what I bring to Seventh Generation is the ability to bring together holistically what is it that we’re trying to achieve in the world. What is it that people are looking for and how do those things come together into a company to be able to reach all stakeholders in a powerful way?  One of the things that I’ve found amazing about Seventh Generation, as a company, is the fact that we are mission-driven and we embrace all stakeholders, not only in relation to the consumer.  So, a lot of decisions we make start with what is the change we’re trying to create in the world?  And, how do we move society and the business to a better place? Right now, I think what it takes to lead in the world today is just being able to think holistically about what any given company is trying to achieve.

Billee: I think that’s exactly right. You actually live brand purpose and ensure that it’s not just a nice ‘wrapper’, but actually a critical driver of long-term strategy and growth, regardless of what constituency you’re trying to reach. It’s at the core of your DNA. Are there any thoughts that you can share with other marketers about best ways of approaching that?

Joey: I love that you mentioned DNA. We talk about our DNA and purpose all the time and I think it is often confused with cause. I think real purpose is quite different. Purpose should be about why was a company developed and what is its mission ? What is it that it is trying to achieve? The key is identifying the things that you think are really important and driving that purpose through all aspects of the business. If you really believe in your purpose, then it affects everything that you do. It affects the products that you make. It affects every choice you make and how you treat your employees. It even affects your compensation system.

A great example of how purpose impacts our compensation system is that 20 percent of our annual bonus is based on delivering against our mission-oriented goals. Goals such as: improvements in post-consumer recycled plastic in our packaging or reducing the environmental impact of our diaper. We set very specific goals that go to 2030. And we’ve got a path that gets us from where we are today against each of those goals to 2030 and success in achieving these goals becomes a really substantial part of us of our compensation. It’s amazing how that helps everybody focus on the totality of what we’re trying to do. Not just driving sales and profit but making everybody into 360 degree stakeholders.

Billee: That’s fascinating and leads me to my next question. We’re in an experience economy. Regardless of who you’re selling to, be it a business, a consumer, or an employee, it’s really got to be about getting people to believe in the why and who, as much, if not more so, than the what. Can you talk about that and share an insider perspective from Seventh Generation?

Joey: I think that’s really true. People are looking for companies that are trying to make a difference. They want to support them with their dollars. And we live in a world where there’s just so much transparency, that people can learn almost anything they want to know about a company and it impacts the choices they make. Inside our business, we’ve been amazed when you run a market mix analysis and see the benefit of some of our advocacy efforts. So, taking a stance on ingredient disclosure, or taking a stance on toxic chemical reform, which isn’t really about trying to sell Seventh Generation products at all, but really just about trying to move the industry to a better place, benefits the business.  We do this simply because we believe business should be a force for good and instill trust.

It seems like many brands have just imploded on trust over the past years. I don’t remember a year where you heard so many stories about brands just losing consumers’ trust and I think a lot of these brands will get it back, but it won’t be easy, as it can’t be bought. It must be earned.

Billee: That’s brilliantly said. One of the areas that I’ve been looking at in my work in this column and with clients, is the reason behind that closing point, so I’m actually really glad that you brought it up. What I have found, is you can say you are as purposeful as you want, but if you’re not informed through the lens of emotional intelligence it really doesn’t matter. I’m seeing a lot of brands that are succeeding placing g an increased emphasis on emotional literacy across the board. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Joey:  I think you’re absolutely spot on. I think what’s going on, not to get all nerdy, but I often think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and it feels like as a society particularly in a developed country like the U.S., that safety, security, health and well-being are generally pretty well met needs.  What people are actually looking for, is a form of self-actualization and in making the choices that they make, they are seeking to make more meaningful statements about who they are and what they stand for.  I think the brands that are doing it well have acknowledged that. I think the brands that are doing really well are not just creating marketing campaigns that are purposeful, but are really finding ways to truly bring purpose into the products that they create and I think that’s what’s making an exponential difference.

Note:  We have designed a platform to help businesses catalyze their growth through a unique blend of AI, neuro-based technology, business and creative consulting services. You can learn more about our Emotional Intelligence Accelerator Platform right here

Billee: Amazing. It kind of goes to what I think is a shift in business overall. Beyond just the notion of purpose, to this idea that in the uncertain times that we’re living in, there is an increased desire for business to step in and give back to the world as much as the bottom line. Almost a need for CEOs to have a grander sense of moral leadership and responsibility. What do you think about that?

Joey:  I think that that’s absolutely true.  Much of the change in the country is being driven by business and that it’s also amazing how people are looking to business leaders as a source of inspiration in many cases. I think that there’s absolutely a responsibility for CEOs and for business to take stances on issues that are important and to make their voices heard because ultimately, they can make a real difference. We certainly see that in our business and the issues that we get involved in. We are able to make a difference where we want to. I think when it comes to the greater social issues that are out there, when big business makes bold statements it’s hard to ignore.

Billee: Circling back to something you just said about scale. I’ve noticed two things happening. One is big brands trying to demonstrate authenticity and failing to do so. The other is that smaller brands are trying to become bigger and losing their authenticity in the process. Do you have any thoughts on the best way of scaling a business, but not at the expense of your ‘North Star’ if you will?

Joey: I think North Star is exactly the right word. I feel like we have the same dictionary sometimes (during this conversation). I think it’s exactly that. It’s knowing who you are, what you’re about, and what you stand for and holding yourself accountable to continuing to make the right choices even when that means making decisions that may not necessarily enable you to grow at the pace that you want to grow. Where Seventh Generation takes its name from is the Great Law of the Iroquois. In our every deliberation, we must take into account the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations. So that’s where the name came from. We have that stenciled on the window of our big conference room and it makes a difference for us.

We’ve made decisions not to launch products because we weren’t 100 percent sure of consistency with all of the standards that we set. I’m thinking about one product in particular, and while it would have been a huge success, we’re pretty confident it wasn’t up to our standards so we actually took more than a year to improve it to get it consistent with our standards. Those are hard decisions when you’re growing a business. But if you don’t make decisions like that, then you know, with each decision that comes after that, it becomes easier and easier to lose sight of that North Star. Our new Maya disinfectant product is a great example of us staying true to our North Star throughout the entire process, from invention to market.

Billee:  So true, and so impactful. Just one final question. The end of the year will be here before we know it and it’s been quite an interesting one chock full of many changes.  I’m sure that business and leadership will continue to face some new challenges and opportunities in the year ahead. Is there anything you’d like to leave us with along those lines?

Joey: I think that business can be a real powerful force for good, especially during difficult and trying times. I think the stronger the voices are that keep us moving forward towards a true North Star, the better off we’re going to be as a society. I think there’s an opportunity for business to lead in a big way. It’s times like this that people need strong leadership most and today it’s the responsibility and duty of business to step in and accept that challenge.

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

Alain Grant CMO

Ask The CMO: Alain Grant Mahmoud On Why Brand And Product Are One In The Age Of Experience

There has perhaps never been a more difficult time to be a marketer. We are in a period of seismic business change, catalyzed by the digital transformation that is upon us. This is requiring leading brands to reimagine the marketing function in ways that embrace a sense of purpose, uniting brand and product, to create emotionally driven experiences that create market distinction. With this 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 fourth piece in this series, I had the pleasure of speaking with Alain Grant Mahmoud, CMO of ClearCove and marketing veteran who has served leading brands in his 20 plus year career such as Frito-Lay, Microsoft, Chevron and Wells Fargo. We discussed his thoughts on the importance of creativity and emotional connection in the new age of business transformation, along with the need to remember that brand and product must become one in our era of experience. The following is a recap of our conversation:

Billee: It’s probably the most challenging time to be a marketer in history as marketing has become more important than ever before in driving not just brand awareness but performance. What are your thoughts?

Alain: I agree with you in that marketing has become more challenging to a certain extent. More people, more brands, more competition, more technological advancements and so on and so forth. But, I also think it’s probably the most exciting time to be a marketer.

Marketing is more nuanced and complex than ever before as we’re able to engage with people throughout day-to-day life. With mobile devices essentially being an extension of ourselves, we live in an age of marketing micro moments and being able to deliver solutions accordingly, both in the digital world and its relationship with brick and mortar. There’s always been science in marketing and branding but it’s much more sophisticated now. What’s going to be key for companies and brands in order to differentiate themselves, is to figure out ways to authentically resonate with people in a way that facilitates meaningful, emotionally engaging, long-lasting connections. With AI and other technologies, everything is better, stronger faster, but we can’t forget the human component in marketing and the power of creativity.

Note:  We have designed a platform to help businesses catalyze their growth through a unique blend of AI, neuro-based technology, business and creative consulting services. You can learn more about our Emotional Intelligence Accelerator Platform right here

Billee: The last thing that you said is very powerful. Everybody is very overwhelmed with this idea of you using the science side of marketing to really change the way it’s done and to ultimately really impact performance. I personally feel that the innovation needed on the creative side is kind of being ignored a little bit. What are your thoughts?

Alain: The creative side should not be replaced but empowered by technology.

Science and automation can only do so much. As much as the technology has evolved, it still has a tremendous way to go. And it’s nowhere near being able to replace human intuition, human emotion or emotional intelligence and creativity. When you put a bunch of people in a room together and you start riffing off one another, there’s really no substitute for that, and I don’t see that being replaced. In the case of the marketing world, it’s become very data-driven and I think that you really need to step back and see the forest through the trees to create and deliver beautiful content that is emotional, engaging and evocative.

Billee: I love that as it’s a really contrarian answer that is so insightful. I agree with you especially because you lead marketing for a B2B brand. Most people would think the inverse-that a consumer brand would rely more on creativity and a B2B brand would perhaps need to rely more on data and science.  Can you talk to me about how you are applying that thinking to your work at ClearCove?

Alain: It’s a really interesting question. At the end of the day we’re marketing to people. People have emotions no matter what you’re trying to sell them.When I first started going to work in the 90s, people didn’t really know how to behave. It was like you had two personalities. You had a work persona and then an out of work persona. Today, I think the boundaries to use technology between your business and personal lives have become very blurred. We’re always connected. We’re always working and so on and so forth. So, I think the need to instill that level of awe and that level of emotional engagement into all communications is greater than ever right now. Hence I believe we’ll see greater levels of Account Based Marketing and personalization in the B2B world, which will be driven by the power of technology.

Billee: You are at a startup that’s doing something meaningful in revolutionizing water technology, but a lot of brands, whether they are purposeful in their DNA, or not, have begun to evolve their purpose beyond a brand tool, it’s a business growth strategy. Can you talk a little bit about the power of purpose and its impact on a business and its long-term growth strategy?

Alain: You know that that’s a really good question in terms of what I do.  We essentially mine resources out of wastewater. We transform wastewater into valuable resources, primarily clean water and energy. I love what we do at ClearCove; it doesn’t get much more inspiring than sustainably recycling critical resources that feed, fuel and water our planet.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes today. Authenticity is paramount in an age of transparency. Stakeholder knowledge and power is at an all time high. And I think having an inspiring purpose is incredibly important in terms of building a business; not just with your external customers, but internally, too, in terms of building your brand from the inside out and creating an inspiring rallying cry across both employees and other internal stakeholders that they can engage with. Brand is no longer separated from product. They are one in the same and have to be equal parts of the overall experience.

Billee: I couldn’t agree more. Something you just said ties back to something you mentioned earlier, which was super insightful: ‘in essence, the brand and the product used to be separate and now they need to be one in the same.’ As a result, I’m seeing different adjustments taking place in the C-Suite. The CMO is now much more closely linked to the CEO. We are also seeing more Chief Brand Officers because increasingly the overall experience of the brand is connected to performance. Do you have any thoughts on all that and how it pertains to you personally?

Alain: I’m encouraged by the change that has transpired over the last 20 years.  We used to talk about marketing or branding as very much a tactical downstream tool. I think that’s really changed now. In today’s world, the entire C-suite needs to be a marketer and needs to be brand savvy. From a CMO standpoint I think you really need to be a little bit of everything these days. I think you need decent business acumen because ultimately branding is a bridge between the business or the business strategy and the marketplace. As a result, you really need to understand the business side of it and how to integrate the brand throughout an organization.

CMOs absolutely need to be savvy when it comes to the digital arena. If you don’t get digital you’re a dinosaur. I think there’s a need for CMOs to have a higher level of emotional intelligence in the world that we live in, and have a keen understanding that everything is exposed in these micro moments. Marketers of today are very different than even 5 or 10 years ago. When I look at a lot of the younger marketers starting out in their careers now, I’m super impressed. I think there’s a real need for senior level marketers to up their game.

Billee: Is there anything that you’re doing that demonstrates this new type of approach at ClearCove that you think would be illustrative of your thinking?

Alain: Yes. We’re in the planning stage right now for a campaign, a kind of ‘Pepsi Challenge’, that will demonstrate ClearCove’s technology leadership in the wastewater resource recovery space. The plan is to roll out this campaign platform out across multiple verticals in the food and beverage space, which is our core focus, with a view to building understanding and buy-in for our patented technology. Our technology is very different compared to every other resource recovery or wastewater treatment technologies in that we do not use biology, which is highly volatile and energy-consuming. Every other single technology has been around for 40, 50, 60 years, which is pretty scary. To highlight our unique approach, we will be taking the thinking of the ‘Pepsi Challenge’ product comparison concept, applying it to resource recovery and then using that platform to engage our audiences emotionally and intellectually across multiple channels through programmatic, social, earned and influencer media tactics. There’s a lot of skepticism and a lot of naysayers now. The technology is proven. It’s out there, it’s working and our customers love it. But, there are still a lot of people that are sitting on the fence. We need to address this, at least from a brand and communications perspective.

Billee: You mentioned this idea of emotion and the idea that neuroscience will continue to emerge in marketing because the need to emotionally connect is so important. I’d really be interested to have you share your thoughts with our readers about that.

Alain: That’s a really good question. Granted, I’m not a neuroscientist, but in today’s world we can connect and engage with customers 24/7. In many ways, life has become a vertical scroll. Consumers are completely and utterly saturated at any given moment in the day. They are continually consuming media or buying something online etc., hence the greater need to differentiate brands and personalize communications. I think neuroscience only becomes more and more important and in that context; the science is great, but it needs to inform the creative to create emotional connections. I see the evolution of neuroscience in marketing being catalyzed by the advancement of mobile and sensor technologies. As we migrate more toward wearables and embedded microchips, engagement solutions will be rooted in peoples’ emotional and physiological states.

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

Jackson Jeyanayagam

Ask the CMO: Boxed CMO Jackson Jeyanayagam On Marketing As A Mix Of Heart + Science To Drive Growth

We are in a period of significant business change that has made it a more challenging time than ever to be a marketer. Whether you are a marketer at an incumbent brand or a start-up, the playing field has become rapidly leveled as technology has become the great equalizer. With this in mind, I have launched an “Ask the CMO” series where I talk to some of the top marketers in the world to uncover the leading issues and trends driving change in the marketplace.

For my third piece in this series, I had the privilege of speaking with Jackson Jeyanayagam, marketing veteran, former head of digital at Chipotle and current CMO of Boxeda digital wholesaler that’s created a smarter way to shop, stock up and save. We discussed his thoughts on the changing face of marketing and the winning combination of heart + science that he feels is imperative to success in today’s environment. Following is a recap of our conversation:

Billee: You have had a career with a lot of varied experience on both the agency side and big brand side and now you are at Boxed, a start up. That said, based on your wealth of knowledge, how do you feel the landscape is treating marketers right now? Everybody seems to feel it’s a very complex and difficult time to be a marketer. What’s your perspective?

Jackson: I think it’s an interesting time to be a marketer.  There is a crazy amount of access to data that’s presented itself to marketers whether it’s retailers or third party marketer’s data. In one way, it’s been really great because we have so much information about the customer and their background and the share of wallet – where they’re shopping and what drives them. But on the other hand, it’s also a lot to swim through and lots of figure out. So, despite all the data, what I’ve noticed is the days of the brand creative leading marketers is still relevant, you know those old Mad Men Don Draper days.  But, now you’re starting to see movement to much more of a balance. Yes, I understand the creative role and know how to put together a wonderful storyboard or overseeing a great creative production of a TV spot or to get a digital video. But if I don’t have that data that gives me some insight into my customer – where I should target this video and how I should spend my money, then it’s kind of pointless.   I think there’s a balance of that data with that creative piece which is not really traditional with marketers right now. Marketers have always been just the big creative thinkers that know how to put the brand on the map. But it seems like they’re shifting quite a bit.

Billee: That’s exactly spot on with what I’ve been seeing and talking to people about, whether it’s for this column or with a client. From what I can tell, a large reason for this shift, is that marketing is becoming more and more responsible for the overall success of the enterprise as opposed to just responsible for the brand. What are your thoughts on that?

Jackson: Yeah, definitely. I think that’s a great call. I think the big brands are seeing the successful startups and how they operate and how they staff and then I think marketing is a big part of where you’ve seen that trend. Where the smaller or late stage startups are staffing marketers with heavy data and analytics experience that understand that bridging the gap of creative and data are responsible for margin bottom-line growth. This idea that they understand that my dollar spent needs to come back as dollars earned somehow. And I think startups have to live like that there’s no way around it, but it’s nice to see a big CPG and big apparel brands do the exact same thing.   Whether it’s a tech focus or it’s a retail focus, it doesn’t really matter. The expectation is that you know you how you can drive bottom-line growth and that $500,000 spent on this or that needs to deliver sales. It’s more at the end of the year, or at the end of the quarter that if you spent X amount you have clear goals to building and establishing the brand one-to-one, but there is going to be a lot more focus on goals around the quarterly earnings and the end of year revenue.  As a result, our marketers have been asked to step up and do a lot more. I think that’s going to continue to influence how the big brands also staff their marketing function, starting at the top.

 Billee: You know I think that’s a great point. If you look at the CPG giants, who most would think of as infallible, like Procter + Gamble, they have been stumbling a bit as of late, and I think that that probably goes to a bit of what you’re talking about.  They don’t have the ability to be as transformative as they’d like be because they’re too big. That being said, it seems that in a startup environment you do push yourself to be even more agile than you were before. You know everyone’s trying to copy you, so you need to stay continually agile to always stay ahead?

Jackson: Yeah.  It’s in our DNA at Boxed, right. In a startup, you move much quicker and you move faster and you make decisions where people have autonomy, and then they go execute. So, no matter what the bigger brands do, from my experience, it’s going to be hard for them to downsize that approval process and make sure that things move as quickly and as nimbly as they need to.  Startups will always have their evangelism meeting, but big brands are going to go through many many many layers of conversation and many layers of discussion to make a real impact no matter how creatively or data-driven your marketing team is. I think the second piece is ensuring as we grow in scale and we do get bigger that we’re able to maintain that, and that is hard to do. But that’s the truth. I think one the biggest differences is a start ups ability to make quick decisions and have them implemented right away.

Billee: So, everyone’s talking about AI whether it’s artificial intelligence, augmented intelligence, whatever you want to call it. It makes a lot of sense as a natural extension on the data side. That’s not that big of a leap to understand, but a lot of people are trying to imagine how to push AI into creativity. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Jackson: I think not so much in the creative side yet. I think that it is more right now from a functionality standpoint. I think in an e-commerce brand, everything we do is rooted in what’s best for the customer and how we create a better experience for them. That involves our team working closely together to develop new technologies that create an awesome experience for our customer and that includes getting ahead of their needs, being predictive in what we can offer them and being really smart and creative with where we push ourselves. So, for instance we’re leveraging machine learning that allows us to better predict what you’re going to order before you run out because our DNA is ‘stock up, don’t run out.’ So, we’ve created an AI and predictive technology called Smart StockUp and Concierge that help us deliver a better experience right to your door before you even have to order from us. So, for us, being innovative in the creation of experiences is actually already part of our DNA. We already think about that.

Note: We have designed a platform to help businesses catalyze their growth through a unique blend of AI, neuro-based technology, business and creative consulting services. You can learn more about our Emotional Intelligence Accelerator Platform right here

Billee: What are your thoughts on best practices for fusing content with commerce to heighten experiences? A lot of people thought of those things in silos in the past but if you look at a brand like Casper,that’s a home run because they fuse the two together very strategically and it’s not just content for content sake. What are your thoughts on that? 

Jackson: Yeah, I think Warby (Parker) does it really well as well.  Their content matches back to what people are doing on their site.  They don’t give you content all of a sudden that doesn’t make sense. So, for us it’s really about how do we deliver content we create content that’s tied into our value prop is a big part of getting it right. So, we offer a lot of snacks. We do a lot of recipe content like here’s something you could plan for your family’s meals for the next few days or few weeks.  Looking at hosting occasions is a big part of our what we do as well.  So, content has to be really smart and creative around hosting Super Bowl party, hosting graduation party or hosting a bachelor party. Those really make sense for our core audience and what we offer. So, every time we think about content it has to be strictly be connected to what we offer our customer and what’s the value or the benefit for them shopping with us. If it’s not valuable, then to your point is it’s just for the sake of it. Right?

Billee: Right, and clearly your brand has an identity, but do you feel that it’s important to focus on having a grander purpose, something that is more aspirational, or are you just focused on what it is that you’re doing transactionally?

Jackson: Yeah I’m glad you asked because if you look at e-commerce it is a very soulless category. Everyone from the big players to the smaller players it is very much a race to the bottom-line.  It’s very much about the best deals. It’s very much about who has the best prices. So, for us if we don’t compete there then it is all a moot point. We have to be competitive there. However, I would say on top of that it is about building a corporate ethos and building a brand that people can relate to. So, what we’ve done is we’ve done things that we think people care about. One example is that we pay the pink tax on feminine hygiene products because they’re actually taxed like luxury items in 30 plus states. We take that cost and that’s on us.

We’ve also done things for employees where we have a college and wedding plan in particular for the warehouse employees because we understand that it’s a big stressful, financial burden for them and a big life event We realized that was a big concern for a lot of employees and we created a wedding fund that allows employees to get married and get paid for up to $20,000 and we also created a college fund for anyone’s kids in college.  So, that’s a big part of the corporate ethos that we’re doing something for the betterment of our people and our team.

I have a personal tagline. I always tell people marketing is half heart and half science – I actually say the art in science is not about the arts but actually how are you doing the right thing. It means something to you and your brand as a company if your vision is a part of your values and you trust your heart. As a marketer, you have the science and data maybe to back it up and you can’t go wrong. I think the creative comes if you have the heart, and it the science is data driven. So, I love the quote: ‘It’s the ‘heart and the science’.

Billee: How do you feel about the growing need for CEOs and CMOs to collaborate more closely to be successful?

Jackson: I mean I think it’s critical. So, I think you know our founder Chieh Huang. He’s a marketer or he loves marketing.  He thinks that he gets the value of it. That’s why he hired someone like me who comes from brand so am not a traditional startup e-commerce guy. He also understands that he needs to give me and my team autonomy to do what we need to so we Slack each other we talk every day. I mean, essentially two or three times a day, about marketing and kind of what the priorities are. So, it’s a balance of how do we address the short term needs of a startup which is you know quarter by quarter or month by month week by week sometimes from a performance standpoint. Now part of my role is actually driving growth.

I think in the past, I mean, I’ve seen other brands where the CEO and CMO might not talk for like a month until there’s a quarterly monthly meeting.  And that’s absurd.   it’s kind of awesome our founder likes to talk because I get to get inside that what he’s thinking of the discussions he’s having with investors and potential investors and how he’s thinking about the company over the next quarter and one year to two years. So even though I know what the clear goals are for the year, things change very quickly in our space, especially in e-commerce and he and I need to just be in constant communication. So, it’s almost like I’m an extension of him and he’s an extension of me in a lot of ways because we have to be in each other’s heads for this to work.

Billee: That’s it for me unless you have anything that you wanted to leave the readers with that they should be aware of during these challenging times?

Jackson: For me, I just think it’s a new age for marketing and I think it’s a really interesting and fun time. I would say the one thing I think is different than when I came out of marketing is you have to have a much broader perspective to be successful. And, you might need to do a little bit of everything to achieve results. I actually think that up-and-coming marketers aren’t just going to come from one or two tracks, they’re going to be much, much more wholly rounded and I think kids will come out with a little bit coding experience for instance, while also understanding the basics of PR and content.  They’re the ones who will be better off and will be the ones who help define the future of what marketing will look like.

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


Ask The CMO: A Conversation With Alan Gellman On Marketing As A Lever of Innovation And Growth

Marketing is rapidly moving from a siloed communications activity to a powerful driver of business strategy, innovation, growth and experience. We are in a period of significant business change, catalyzed by the digital transformation that is upon us. This is requiring leading brands to reimagine the marketing function in ways that embrace an emphasis on both brand and performance. No longer is an either-or option viable.  With this in mind, I have launched an “Ask the CMO” series where I talk to some of the top marketers in the world to uncover the leading issues and trends driving change in the marketplace.

For my second piece in this series, I had the privilege of speaking with Alan Gellman, digital trailblazer, marketing visionary, former CMO of Esurance and current Future of Money Fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg. We discussed his thoughts on harnessing marketing as a lever to drive innovation, and growth through a lens of brand purpose and winning experiences. Below is a recap of our conversation:

Billee: Digital transformation is new to some, but it’s something you have been doing for years at brands like Kraft, Wells Fargo and Esurance. With that said, what are the key things that people should be aware of as digital goes from a siloed function to more of a critical driver of day-to-day business?

Alan:  I have a pretty strong view around what marketing needs to be in terms of driving growth inside organizations. It’s not just about generating traffic or building a brand, and yet those things are classically critical and always will be. Today, it also has to be about why are you in business. What’s your purpose as a company? Guiding companies to achieve that purpose and to create value for consumers is critical to marketing today and an important part of achieving that is through digitally driven transformation. That means helping to guide, if not owning directly, what the value exchange with the customer is. Marketing isn’t strictly the communication side; I am equally focused on the product and the experiences that we create. So, the starting point on framing for me is building the type of business that will create value for customers. And, then how do you tell them about it and reach the right ones in innovative and compelling ways and make sure they know the value proposition, understand what you’re bringing to them, including through targeting and compellingly creative.

Billee: I couldn’t agree more. But, I find that in speaking to many clients and executives in general, a lot of people seem generally confused about what purpose is and how a company should find it. Do you have any thoughts on top things marketers should consider as they try to pivot their organizations to the bigger picture to provide a grander value than just a product or service?

Alan: So, there are a few things. First, as customer champions, marketers need to lead the organization in clarifying why it exists and how it adds value. In addition, marketers are often quite siloed in their training and in their thinking and in what they choose to tackle. And so, the starting point has to be you’ve got to get out of your own box. And nearly all of us are in our own box. So, start by organizing marketers and teams so that they know their accountability and realize it isn’t just “oh I’m a performance marketer who does search engine marketing work.”  Rather it needs to be about working daily, in an integrative fashion to be impacting positively on the brand as well as performance. We have to change how we develop people so that they have the skills and toolkit and even more important the mental models that say this is about a holistic way of understanding our customers and reaching them and delivering for them.

Billee: Based off of that insight, my instinct is that a variety of things that I am seeing and hearing about are not truly done through an integrative lens. Most notably, as highlighted at Cannes, content experiences don’t seem to have a creative through line that ladders up to a bigger or more purposeful brand voice. So how can marketers have a more holistic view to connect the creative in ways that generate purposeful and authentic experiences?

Alan: I think the first thing is really determining how do you have an overarching storyline and creative approach that works its way through all of the marketing regardless of what type it is. What we developed at Esurance for example, was a very clear purpose. But it was really heavy lifting where we debated every word, as we should have. We did this because without debating it and changing it, it’s not a living and breathing organism. As we engaged with it, we realized it couldn’t be a marketing tagline, but rather what the company was working toward. At Esurance we said it can’t just be about insurance. “Insurance for the modern world” is a great tagline and very much about the DNA of the company. But, what we did instead was say how do you turn that into an aspiration or a why? Where we netted out with our purpose was the direction we wanted to push the company toward: “modernize protection and help people thrive in the modern world.”

Billee: There are many changes taking place like the ones you have just touched upon making it a very difficult time to be a marketer. Can you address the disconnect between the ability for corporate infrastructures to pivot in lockstep with the evolution of the marketing function and how marketing leadership should address these chasms?

Alan: Yes of course. I look at it as integrative marketing as we have been discussing. I have seen in my experience that people have to be developed to be truly integrated marketers. Few offline people deeply know digital and vice versa frankly. Performance and brand need to be approached through an integrative lens to truly drive performance and build the right infrastructure. The key to success is to develop an integrated perspective connecting product, marketing and experience with full and deep C-suite engagement. Understanding and developing that purpose together. And it requires thought leadership coming from marketing as it relates first to purpose and ultimately to how you drive growth.

Billee: So, I think what you are saying is that people need to take charge of their own destiny in the top marketing role. Many people are failing to do this as CMO turnover has never been higher. Any tips on best practices for achieving success in today’s environment?

Alan: I think there are ways where marketers need to evolve. First of all, every marketer needs to be thinking of themselves as a general manager. Many marketers out there just say they’re trying to get budget. Their objective should first be to ask themselves am I efficiently driving growth and innovation for my organization. Think of yourself as owning the P&L. Think of yourself as being accountable for both the top line and the bottom line ; it should never just be about the budget.

Billee: Do you have any thoughts on the best ways that marketers should look at artificial intelligence strategically through a more holistic lens, meaning both creatively and data technology wise. Less shiny new object, more driver of business strategy, growth and experience? 

Alan: There’s not one way, but there’s definitely a way not to, which is it’s not a new toy. And I think that’s part of your point. Artificial intelligence has actually been around a long time and it’s really about ways of being smarter. How can machine learning help you understand how you’re optimizing your creative for a given delivery?  How do you deliver the right message at the right time in the right sequence? It’s about learning and using that speed and use of modeling. All marketers should be experimenting with that now.  These are critical capabilities that are evolving but it’s not one magic bullet and it’s not a panacea at all.

Billee: In conclusion, what’s next for you?

Alan: First, as noted earlier, I’ve agreed to become a Future of Money Fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg. I’m excited to work with the team to explore all the many ways money and financial services will evolve to help consumers and society.  In addition, I am exploring how I can help companies in the fintech and healthtech spaces scale their growth, possibly as an advisor. Between the rapid and inevitable move to mobile, the increased expectations of consumers who have experienced disruption in most other categories, and the potential to create value, Fintech is an exciting place to be right now.

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