Categories
Audience Branding Insights Strategy & Positioning

Why should marketers make time to perform a social media audit? In general, any marketing activity that replaces guesswork with relevant data should provide opportunities to improve ROI. To answer this question, it also helps to understand the increasing importance of social media marketing for growing businesses.

According to data collected by Sprout Social in a Harris poll:

  • Social platforms introduced over half of consumers to new brands in the past year.
  • Even more, almost half of consumers increased their usage of social sites solely to learn more about new products.
  • Almost eight out of 10 consumers said that positive social interactions with a company would motivate them to make a purchase.

Social sites allow companies to connect with customers and expand audiences by crafting posts, influencer marketing, or responding to citations and mentions. At the same time, lots of businesses improvise their social strategies without taking time to develop a plan, state goals, or uncover information that will help them improve. 

Even though many brands find social media marketing productive, they also recognize that they have plenty of rivals competing for attention. Businesses can benefit from the competitive advantage that data-based marketing plans can offer. 

A social media audit provides essential insights into critical metrics. It demonstrates which activities offer the best returns and which ones need improvement. In turn, marketers can use this information to improve their results by fixing problems and focusing on activities most likely to yield positive results. 

A quick five-step social media audit template

A term like audit might intimidate some marketers. Don’t worry. This kind of audit won’t require a team of financial professionals. The process should not take long and will rely on easily accessible data and a simple, five-step template. The audit also relies on information that marketers should find easily accessible. 

Best of all, the audit won’t impose any penalties. Instead, it offers insights into areas for improvement. For instance, marketers may find they lack key metrics. Anything missing provides an essential insight into a place for improvement. Solid marketing plans start with measurable goals and the metrics required to measure them. 

Step 1: Make an informative list of all social media platforms

As with any exercise, it helps to begin with a simple warmup. Start by listing all the social media sites the business uses. If a list of social sites already exists, ensure a team member takes responsibility for keeping it updated.

Social media management tools help improve efficiency and team collaboration. Some popular examples include Hootsuite and Sprout Social. These tools may also offer social listening features that help marketers keep track of brand mentions from other sources. For an audit, using one of these tools should make it easy to pull a list of social sites. 

Social media software and apps can save time, help marketers stick to posting schedules, and provide important analytics. If the company uses specific social sites but hasn’t set them up in their social media manager, include a suggestion to update them in the audit report. If the business hasn’t started using a social media tool, this might offer an excellent opportunity to consider it. 

Step 2: Check for consistent branding and messaging

Does the company’s presence across various social networks share a consistent brand voice, according to brand guidelines? Has the company even established brand guidelines that offer team members essential information like the mission, goals, target audience, brand voice, and images?

According to the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, consistent branding benefits companies by developing positive brand recognition, trust, and customer connections. Many marketers only associate branding with logos and other images. While visuals matter, so will communicating values and missions to customers.

Businesses must develop brand guidelines to ensure marketers understand these critical factors and communicate them to the right audiences. Thus, reporting on deviations from these guidelines or even a total lack of them offers an essential opportunity for improvement.

Step 3: Identify the best-performing content

Marketers with plenty of social media history and some successes can gain quick insights by examining posts that performed well previously. Consider various metrics, including likes and shares, views, click-throughs, and conversions. Also, look at these metrics in light of the content’s goals.

With the right social media analytics, this step might look pretty easy. However, interpreting performance can take some judgment. For instance, engagement might help measure brand recognition campaigns, but marketers should measure revenue-generating posts by click-throughs and conversions.

Also, keep the specific platform, goals, and target audience in mind. For example:

  • Light-hearted videos might provide a good way to improve engagement, but product posts, infographics, or longer text posts might do a better job of closing sales.
  • Longer posts often succeed better on video-centric platforms, like YouTube, but Facebook users tend to have less patience and might prefer shorter ones.

Use analytics platforms to ensure the content attracts the intended audience. For instance, a light-hearted, punchy video might have generated plenty of engagement. However, it might not have achieved its goal if it had primarily attracted teenage viewers, but the intended audience consisted of millennial moms. In contrast, if an unexpected audience converted with click-throughs and sales, marketers might reevaluate their targets.

In any case, scouring high-performing content should offer plenty of insights to inform future investments. Similarly, low-performing content can tell marketers what their audiences don’t care for. At the same time, make sure to evaluate performance with other factors in mind, like the social media platform, audience demographics, etc.

Step 4: Spot high-performing platforms

As various audiences prefer different types of content, all social media users don’t share the same platform preferences. Past metrics will show which platforms have performed well in the past. That information offers a quick way to determine which social sites to focus on in the future. 

At the same time, marketers may hope to expand into new platforms or experiment with different content on platforms they haven’t enjoyed a lot of luck with in the past. Combining an understanding of the audience with information about performance on other platforms can offer valuable clues for choosing new social sites.

For example: 

  • Sprout Social offered recent demographic information about popular social media sites. Despite Facebook’s reputation as a network where mom and grandma socialize, average users range between 25 and 34. Men slightly outnumber women. Users spend an average of about half an hour on the site daily.
  • Companies looking to engage with older women should consider Pinterest, with an average user base of women between 50 and 64. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Instagram has similar average demographics as Facebook. If marketing performs well on Facebook, Instagram might provide a logical place to expand.
  • In contrast, TikTok attracts teens and has an audience that skews towards females. Snapchat engages a similar demographic. Twitter attracts a young adult audience with more men than women.

The top platforms attract hundreds of millions to billions of users. Thus, social sites that might not look ideally suited to a specific brand’s target could still have plenty of users that qualify as part of a target audience. Thus, a product aimed at college students might sometimes perform well on Pinterest or Instagram. Use typical audiences on various sites as a guide, but don’t let it prevent experimenting with other venues. 

During the audit, focus on figuring out which sites have performed well in the past. Understand that the reasons the posts succeeded might not carry over to another platform. In-depth knowledge of audiences can offer clues, but only real-world tests can provide verifiable results.

Step 5: Take Action

By now, a social media action report should offer plenty of valuable insights. The completed audit report should contain:

  • A list of all current social media platforms
  • Notes about posts that don’t conform to messaging and branding guidelines
  • Information about high-performing content and platforms 

Marketers should not need to struggle to find plenty of actionable items, including issues to fix, analytics data to acquire, brand guidelines to create or update, and potential types of content and platforms to focus on. Keep the audit document to refer back to, and very importantly, set a date for the next social media audit. The report can also provide a tool for budgeting and meetings with management.

Why conduct a social media audit as soon as possible?

Businesses increasingly depend on social media to connect with customers. Optimizing any marketing efforts requires a plan, goals, and a way to measure progress. The information produced by the report will enable marketers to develop an effective, data-driven marketing plan that should improve returns. Just as important, the audit report will give marketers a way to communicate with other team members and management.

Completing the five steps in this social media audit template should not take long. If the preparer faces obstacles because of a lack of information, the audit has already done its job by uncovering a significant weakness. At least the marketers now know they’re missing data, and this understanding will offer ways to improve to ensure the following audit report doesn’t take much time. Of course, taking actions specified in the audit report may provide plenty of work until it’s time for the next one.

Categories
Audience Branding Insights Strategy & Positioning

Research suggests that consumers make most purchase decisions for consumer packaged goods while they’re out shopping. Imagine customers viewing similar products from various brands on store shelves or in an eCommerce shop. Brand packaging that attracts attention and engages interest can significantly influence shopping choices. 

Customers can’t open boxes, bottles, and jars in the store before purchasing and certainly can’t open online purchases. At the same time, most shoppers arrive with set preferences and tastes, and they need to rely on labels, descriptions, and branding to figure out if one item or another will satisfy them after they get home. After all, most people don’t spend that much time researching products like yogurt, lotion, or snack bars before they shop. 

A product’s packaging needs to catch a customer’s eye and make a good impression. Brands need to rely on their packaging to tell their stories. The text, logos, and other graphics must do an excellent job of differentiating themselves from alternative options. Find out how brand packaging can influence purchase decisions and explore some real-world package redesigns that had a significant impact on sales. 

How much does brand packaging influence buying choices?

For instance, a scholarly article in the National Journal of Medicine discussed packaging design for cosmetics products. The authors found that consumers made 73 percent of their buying choices at the point of sale. The researchers concluded that the shoppers’ perception of the product and the entire brand’s value begins with attractive packaging. 

An excellent package design can benefit consumers and companies by easing the shopping decision by helping the well-packaged product stand out in a crowd of choices. Elements of using packaging to develop and reintroduce a positive brand identity can include colors, shapes, quality, materials, and convenience. 

Companies invest a lot in developing products that suit customer preferences. For example, cosmetics consumers enjoy attractive packaging that reflects their lifestyles and tastes. Successful brands take time to learn about their target audience and design packaging to please customers. 

Packaging serves as a salesperson on a shelf 

For instance, these shoppers will want to ensure the packaging makes dispensing easy, protects the product, and offers a sustainable, eco-friendly alternative. In a typical consumer’s mind, packaging can add to or detract from the quality and value of the product. 

These factors often combine as a first source of the customer’s perception of the brand’s identity. The researchers referred to packaging as a salesperson on a shelf. If brands want to profit from a 24-7 remote and unsupervised salesperson, the packaging must support and communicate their brand message. 

Examples of packaging changes to support a positive brand identity 

Since packaging’s first job involves engaging the shopper’s attention, it helps to parse out visual elements of recent package design changes. Many companies have boosted sales after learning more about their target audience. This understanding offered them insights to introduce packaging improvements. To understand how these improvements helped attract customers, consider some examples. 

Chobani

Chobani yogurt package redesign

Chobani redesigned its packaging a few years ago. Find the old version on the left and the new one on the right. When the company changed its packaging, it had already produced yogurt for over a decade. Chobani had also beaten the competition to become the best-selling brand in the country. The redesign surprised some observers who associate packaging changes with businesses that struggle and not those that already lead their fields. 

The company’s chief creative officer, Leland Maschmeyer, responded that they didn’t want to wait for a problem that would force them to rush into making impulsive choices. He also said that the company’s leadership position gave them more confidence to make calculated moves to help position the brand for future growth. 

Chobani had learned more about the changing tastes of yogurt buyers and wanted to ensure that their packaging reflected it. He added that rebranding during a downturn might communicate weakness rather than innovation. 

At first glance, the new design appears more straightforward than the old one. Mr. Maschmeyer said this design choice reflected the brand’s transparency and natural, whole-food, simple ingredients. 

The Packaging Lab also reported on psychological studies that help explain how other elements of the changes supported the idea of a natural, simple product: 

  • In places where people read their language from left to right, shoppers prefer reading the details on the left side of an image. The new package moved most of the text to the left side instead of centering it on top of the strawberry. 
  • The company also changed to a bolder and simpler font, replacing the fancier script. A plainer font can also help communicate a more natural and simple image. 
  • Chobani left the basic color scheme the same as customers probably already unconsciously associated these shades with the brand. At the same time, the new design appears less complex and cluttered. 
  • Instead of just one extremely bright, oversized strawberry, multiple realistic berries adorn the label, signaling natural abundance. 

RxBar

In contrast to Chobani, RxBar floundered in relative obscurity before redesigning its packaging about five years ago. Peter Rahal and Jarred Smith founded the company. These two partners designed the original packaging on the left in PowerPoint by themselves just before they launched RxBar in 2013. 

At first glance, the design appears adequate. However, it didn’t do much to differentiate RxBars from its competitors. For instance: 

  • Consumers can find plenty of protein bars at grocery and convenience stores, most of which look similar. Rahal and Smith probably gained their initial inspiration from products they had seen on store shelves. 
  • Most snack bars, even supposedly healthy ones, look like candy bars in the package. Some snack bars also resemble candy more than healthy snacks after reading the ingredients. Thus, consumers might not know the difference between healthy snacks and candy bars full of processed ingredients, fat, and sugar. 

After a few years, the founders realized that most sales the brand had achieved previously came from word-of-mouth emphasis on RxBar’s natural, whole ingredients. They listed the ingredients on the back of the bar, but most people didn’t bother to turn the package over to read them. The company’s founders grew convinced that promoting these real-food, recognizable ingredients would give them a competitive advantage over highly processed competitors. 

After achieving stability a couple of years after launching, the pair consulted with a packaging design company to help them rebrand. Thus, RxBar’s new packaging lists the simple, healthy ingredients in bold letters on the front. The redesign also changed the large photo representing the bar’s flavor to a smaller and more modern graphic image. In addition, the company shrunk the logo, figuring the basic but distinctive style of their packaging would offer plenty of branding. 

Despite some concerns from consultants about making the package look generic, the founder’s ideas worked. RxBar’s packaging won design awards, and the company soon had contracts with major retailers like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. RxBar may have violated plenty of traditional packaging design rules. However, they conveyed their most important message to distributors, retailers, and consumers. 

Luma & Leaf

Luma & Leaf serves the growing market of younger adults who prefer organic skincare products. Bigeye took on the project to revamp the company’s branding while maintaining the company’s playful voice. 

Bigeye took the time to understand Luma & Leaf’s business goals and target market. For example: 

  • The designers understood the client’s core belief that everybody deserves products that help them look and feel their best without adding unnecessary stress. 
  • They also knew the audience preferred natural, sustainable products that offered convenience and a pleasant appearance. 

Skincare product companies must stand out in a highly competitive market. Thus, Bigeye wanted to ensure that the packaging communicated Luma & Leaf’s competitive differentiator in a prominent yet attractive way. Various patterns represent collections within the company’s brand architecture, including Clearing, Soothing, and Illuminating. Each distinctive pattern showcases the natural, plant-based ingredients used to make the product. 

Organic ingredients and sustainable packaging support healthy skin and a healthy environment. The company’s customers care about using natural products on their own bodies. These consumers also express concerns about the environment. In addition to making skincare products with sustainable ingredients, Luma & Leaf also offers upcyclable packaging that customers can use for plant misters, bud vases, and more. 

The messaging paid off. When Luma & Leaf launched the newly designed products on the company’s eCommerce site, they generated thousands of dollars worth of sales within days. Learn more about Bigeye’s packaging design work with Luma & Leaf on the case study page

Is it time for a better packaging design?

Instead of struggling for a few years like RxBar, startups can encourage faster growth by studying their market and designing packaging that offers more value to themselves and their customers. Similarly, established businesses might consider a revamp to meet new trends or reenergize sluggish sales. 

At Bigeye, we’re always eager to listen to your company story and help you communicate it to more customers. Contact us today to get started. 

Categories
Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Bigeye recently released ENVISION 2022, an on-demand video exploring key findings from our report, Retail Disrupted. This week’s podcast is an extended interview with ENVISION guest Doug Stephens, a retail futurist, author, and CEO of Retail Prophet. During our interview, Doug shared his thoughts on luxury retail’s resilience among Asian consumers, Amazon’s experiments with physical store concepts, and social and sustainability issues around retailing in the metaverse.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Doug Stephens: There’s a lot of conversation today around the metaverse, obviously. A lot of people are talking about this, but the one thing that I am not hearing asked is: is it good for society?

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us today. Last October, Bigeye published a market research report entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We recently released a video, ENVISION 2022, in which four experts discuss key findings from our study and explore some of the potential implications for retailers and brand marketers. Our podcast today is an extended interview with one of our guests for ENVISION 2022. Doug Stephens is one of the world’s foremost retail industry futurists. His thinking has influenced many of the world’s best-known retailers, agencies, and brands, including Walmart, Google, Home Depot, Disney, BMW, and Coca-Cola. Prior to founding his firm, Retail Prophet, Doug spent over 20 years in the retail industry, holding senior international roles. He’s also the author of three ground-breaking books on retail innovation, a nationally syndicated retail columnist for CBC Radio, as well as a featured contributor to The Business of Fashion. Doug’s perspectives on the business of retailing at the intersection of consumer behavior have been featured in many of the world’s leading publications and media outlets, and he speaks regularly to major brands and organizations. So let’s first revisit a conversation with Doug when he joined us on IN CLEAR FOCUS in August of 2021. To discuss his work and some of the ideas in his third book, Resurrecting Retail: the future of business in a post-pandemic world, Doug joined us from his home office in Toronto, Canada.

[MUSIC]

Adrian Tennant: Doug, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Doug Stephens: Thank you so much, Adrian. Thanks for having me.

Adrian Tennant: So, Doug, what is Retail Prophet and what services do you provide?

Doug Stephens: So Retail Prophet is a consultancy that focuses exclusively on the future of retail and consumer behavior. And we advise brands like, BMW, Walmart, L’Oreal, LVMH, and Google, and all focused on this issue of the five to 10-year horizon of retail. You know, what’s changing? How are consumer behaviors manifesting in different ways? How do retailers need to plan a strategy for that new environment? And certainly for an ever-changing competitive landscape, not the least of which have been many of the changes that we’ve seen in the last year or so.

Adrian Tennant: Doug, did you find retail or did retail find you? I’m curious, did you have any family members that worked in retail when you were growing up?

Doug Stephens: I did, actually, my elder sister spent many years working in department stores, and she worked with Macy’s. But that in no way, shape, or form influenced my decision to get into what many call, “the accidental profession”, retail. Uh, but it did turn out that it was one of my first, I’ll call it, real jobs after getting married. I got into retail very much on the ground floor of the industry as a young person, kind of working my way up through the ranks of retail companies in both Canada and the US. Starting on the sales floor and finishing, as the general manager of a relatively large US company. So that was the beginning. And then, in 2009, I founded Retail Prophet, having had the experience of working in the retail industry and experiencing firsthand how shortsighted an industry it tended to be. As you can appreciate around 2008, 2009, the whole world was sort of imploding. The economic landscape was changing. Technology was rapidly changing. Certainly a changing of the guard demographically in terms of consumer groups. And so it seemed to me at that point that, uh, the world needed a narrative that was looking out on this horizon with a little bit more, um, prescience perhaps than the usual reactive nature of retail.

Adrian Tennant: Your second book, published in 2017, is entitled Reengineering Retail: The Future of Retailing in a Post-Digital World. Doug, what did you mean by post-digital?

Doug Stephens: Yeah, the term was chosen very deliberately, because it was my feeling, Adrian, that by 2017, the presence of technology in a consumer experience was really no longer a novelty or a surprise. It was my belief, and I maintain that belief, that we live in a world where consumers, I think, are more surprised these days by the absence of technology than by its presence. You know, we’re sort of mystified when we find ourselves in a situation where we can’t benefit from the introduction or from the use of technology. Just to give you an example, I was In a big box store just this last week. And I asked a pretty simple question regarding a product that I believe that they might’ve had. And it was sort of reduced to guesswork on the part of the sales associate. I asked if they had a certain product and they said, “I think we do. And I think it’s over here.” And in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “well, are you telling me that there isn’t a piece of handheld technology or some other piece of technology that can’t tell you exactly where that product is in your store?” So as again, I think as consumers, these days, we are more surprised when there’s an absence of technology to assist us than–than when there is. So I believed for that reason, we were really living, not in a digital world, but in a post-digital world.

Adrian Tennant: One of the themes you introduced in Reengineering Retail and expand upon in your new book, Resurrecting Retail, is the idea of store as media. Now, as you know, one of the fastest-growing areas of ad placement is in-store media, with retailers including Walmart, Target, and Kroger, creating in-house solutions to offer ad space to CPG brands that they sell. But that’s not what you mean, correct?

Doug Stephens: That’s correct. Yeah. That’s not what I’m referring to. What I mean is that the actual shopping experience itself is, to my mind, the most powerful and manageable, and frankly measurable form of media that a retailer or a brand possesses. The problem is most of them don’t treat it that way. They don’t treat the experience as a media experience. Historically, as retailers, we’ve gone out to the open market. We’ve bought media, we’ve bought advertising, in an effort to acquire customers, to gather brand recognition or brand awareness. And then if we’re successful in doing that, we move those consumers to a point of distribution or points of distribution to transact sales. The problem is stores are now the media itself and media in many ways is becoming the store. As a consumer now I don’t look at advertising as a mere call-out to go to a store. The advertising is the store. I can buy directly from TikTok, from Facebook, from Instagram, from any piece of media that falls within my grasp. So, many retailers would say, “well, if media is becoming the store, does that negate the necessity for stores?” And my argument is no, not at all, because it’s actually a trading of roles. Physical stores are becoming a very powerful media channel. And I’ll just explain very briefly what I mean by that. We have to sort of start from a place where we accept that the going in premise of effective media is that there is an audience for it. Obviously we want to try and create media experiences, wherever there’s an audience that can enjoy that. If we go back a thousand years ago, that point of gathering an audience was the marketplace. That was really the primary channel through which consumers got information, where they communed, where they connected with friends and family, and ultimately where they conducted commerce. Over time, that was displaced somewhat by other forms of media, whether it was print media, radio, television, and today, of course, digital is the campfire that we all gather around. But the problem is digital is actually becoming prohibitive as a means of acquiring customers. From a cost standpoint, there are brands today already that are saying, “look, we just cannot afford to acquire incremental customers using digital media. That cost is too high. And in many cases, it exceeds the lifetime value of that consumer.” So, when I refer to stores being media, I’m certainly not talking about the networks that, as you mentioned, many retailers are putting in their stores to just inundate us visually and audibly with more and more advertising. I’m suggesting that the experience that I have in a Kroger is actually the most important form of media that Kroger can execute. So it’s a different philosophy entirely.


Adrian Tennant: The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Amazon has plans to open several large physical retail locations in the US that will operate like smaller department stores. This could extend the company’s reach in its sales of clothing, household items, electronics, and other categories. So Doug, what’s your take on this latest development from Amazon?

Doug Stephens: Yeah, it’s a really interesting development. Um, it’s one of those that when you read it, is not surprising, but it’s certainly interesting and compelling. And in a weird sort of way, you know, one of the old credos in any investment community is that you try to determine where everyone is running to, and if you’re smart, then you run in the opposite direction. And right now, the retail industry as a whole is running away from physical retail and running toward digital. So what does Amazon do? Amazon takes exactly the opposite approach and they run toward the physical world. Now, this isn’t Amazon’s first foray into physical retail. Of course, they bought Whole Foods several years ago. They have opened, Amazon GO stores, Amazon Four-Star stores. And if we’re being completely honest, their track record in physical retail isn’t that extraordinary, really. Having said that, this makes a lot of sense. There are things that are simply difficult to buy on Amazon and difficult to buy on any retailer’s website, frankly, things that require more consideration, things that require touch and feel – complex products that really require more information or confidence before a consumer’s willing to make a purchase. And of course, apparel falls into that category as well. So that makes sense. This also provides a local logistics point, a point to distribute products from, a point to collect returns from, which would only add efficiency to Amazon’s bottom line. It also gives them an opportunity to collect more data about how consumers do shop in physical environments. Amazon knows full well how we behave online, but it gives them an opportunity to create yet another data point in the marketplace to begin to connect consumer behavior between the online world and the physical world. And then there’s the more sinister side. It also gives them the ability, as we know from past announcements, it gives Amazon the ability to absolutely tank the market caps of companies like Kohls, who could potentially even become acquisition targets. We know that anytime Amazon merely clears its throat and sort of fixes its gaze on a category, they have a tendency to really rock the market caps of incumbents in those categories. We’ve seen them do it in the pharmacy sector. We’ve seen them do it across various categories. So that could be potentially the play here as well. But I think the big message to the marketplace, Adrian, and my opinion is that this is a warning shot across the bow of all physical retailers. And most specifically, I’m thinking of categories that have sort of dodged the bullet up until now. Categories like home improvement. If Amazon can open a quote-unquote department store and sell in the physical world, well, that brings them one step closer to selling lumber and concrete and building supplies and maybe doing a much better job of it than the incumbents in that category. So, I think everyone has to take this very seriously. And above all, Amazon has the luxury to spend a tremendous amount of money doing this and sticking with it and experimenting. So, yeah, not a surprise, could have many, many strategic dimensions, but something that everyone in the retail industry should be taking note of, for sure.

[MUSIC]

Adrian Tennant: That was Doug Stephens talking with me in August last year. In October 2021, Bigeye published Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. Shortly after our report’s publication, Facebook changed its corporate name to Meta, reflecting its ambitions to build the metaverse. In November, the Metaverse Group, a subsidiary of the cryptocurrency investment company Tokens.com, purchased the virtual world Decentraland’s most expensive plot of land in its Fashion Street district for $2.4 million. So when Doug Stephens joined us for Bigeye’s ENVISION 2022 video event, we talked about the impact of the metaverse on retailing. I asked Doug if he thought we would see a real estate land grab in virtual worlds.

Doug Stephens: Yeah, I think we will. You know, just to sort of level set in terms of the metaverse and what it means, the metaverse in concept anyway, is the idea of a more immersive, real-time, persistent internet, if you will. A series of connected worlds that we as users can sort of transport across and Meta would be one of those worlds within the metaverse. Now in reality we’re at least, I would say, five to 10 years, perhaps even longer away from the full sort of vision of the metaverse actually coming to be. But in the meantime, as you point out, there’s a tremendous amount of speculation going on. And I think everyone sort of agrees that the metaverse is a logical sort of evolution of our relationship with online technology. You know, today we’re able to interact, but we’re not able to do so in a very real feeling way, uh, in a very connected way. We’re certainly able to shop online, but again, we have this barrier, where we can’t really experience things or interact with things before we buy them. And so I think there’s wide agreement that this is a logical evolution, but nobody really knows how or how quickly all of this is going to play out. So we’re seeing some early bets and I sort of liken it, Adrian, to you know, if we go all the way back to the early 1990s and the prospect of this thing called the internet, and we had companies finding themselves being shut out of having their own domain names in some cases, you know, People were out there on the open market, sort of these early adopters were out there buying up domain names and then selling them back to the brands that actually owned that IP, that owned that brand name. And so I think a lot of companies now are trying to get a jump on this. And I think the key thing about real estate in the metaverse, as it sounds like a ridiculous concept, you know, why would somebody buy virtual space in something that should be infinite really? But it isn’t. And I think that’s really the key idea here is that real estate within a place like Decentrand is not some infinite landscape of never-ending opportunities for real estate. This is literally a place that has finite assets and some of those assets are clearly more premium than others. And so, uh, we are definitely seeing brands say, “Look, we don’t wanna find ourselves once again being shut out. And so we’re going to make some early bets on things like this.”

Adrian Tennant: We’ve also seen a lot of coverage of non-fungible tokens or NFTs. Nike, Adidas, and Under Armor are all investing in this space. For example, Nike acquired RTFKT, a startup that creates NFTs of sneakers and other collectibles. Doug, what’s the strategy behind these investments?

Doug Stephens: Well again, I think there’s a lot of poking and prodding going on right now. I think that there are a lot of very early bets being placed by brands that can afford to do so, to at least experiment and iterate around some of these ideas and concepts. I mean, I don’t think anyone really understands at this point, how big a market virtual apparel, for example, might comprise. Certainly, I think that most would agree that it’s going to be for the foreseeable future anyway, a fraction, you know, a minute fraction of what the broader apparel market, the physical apparel market might be worth. But, and again, it’s logical to assume that as we see this metaverse constructed, as we, as individuals spend more and more time in these virtual worlds, the adoption of things like virtual apparel might start to make more and more sense. And so brands like Nike, again, don’t wanna be at the tail end of that wave. They want to be leading that wave. In the near term, what we also know is that there is a fairly robust market right now, just among people who are experimenting with buying NFTs, you know, making some early investments in the hope that, uh, some of these assets will actually, you know, exponentially increase in value. But, I came across a quote, about the gold rush and it was essentially that, uh, the businesses that really made money during the gold rush were those that sold picks and shovels. Uh, it wasn’t the miners that made the fortunes. And so I think that we are seeing a lot of brands now just riding this wave of novelty. If people are out there spending money on these assets as a novelty and they’re experimenting with them, then I think a lot of brands are saying, “why shouldn’t we capitalize on this while it lasts?”

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Last October, Bigeye published a market research report, entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We surveyed consumers across America to find out how their shopping behaviors had changed as a result of the pandemic. In a special Bigeye video event, we’re joined by four experts who reflect on the study’s findings and explore the implications for retailers and brand marketers in 2022.

Doug Stephens: It’s logical to assume that as we see this metaverse construct, as we as individuals spend more and more time in these virtual worlds, that the adoption of things like virtual apparel might start to make more and more sense.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: I think being channel agnostic and just making sure that you are you know meeting your consumer, where they are is important. to not think about channels as competitive to each other, thinking about them as complementary.

Andy Sheldon: When you’re watching something as a live stream, that’s linear, there’s no choice, but to watch what’s going on at that moment on the shopping teller.

Syama Meagher: I see NFTs as an invitation for consumers to join brands on a digital journey and for brands to invite consumers to spend their cryptocurrencies and their time into building a relationship with the brand. 

Adrian Tennant: For a lively discussion about the future of retail and marketing watch Bigeye’s Envision 2022. For details, go to bigeyeagency.com/insights.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, The Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing, consumer research, and customer experience. Our featured book for July is Future-Ready Retail: How to Reimagine the Customer Experience, Rebuild Retail Spaces, and Reignite our Shopping Malls and Streets, by Ibrahim Ibrahim, a futurist, retail strategist, and designer. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Future-Ready Retail, go to KoganPage.com – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to an extended interview with the retail futurist Doug Stephens, who was recently a guest on Bigeye’s ENVISION 2022 video event.

Adrian Tennant:  When we spoke previously, you characterized Amazon’s rumored plans to open department stores as yet another way in which the company can collect data about consumer preferences and potentially disrupt incumbents in categories such as home improvement. In December, it was announced that the high-end UK department store chain Selfridges would be acquired by a Thai retailer and an Austrian property firm in a deal worth around 5.4 billion dollars. Doug, what do you think this means for department stores in general, and luxury brand retailing in particular?

Doug Stephens: Yeah, it’s a good question and, you know, Adrian, I’m not sure how much we can really infer from the transaction about the broader landscape as it applies to department stores. I wouldn’t necessarily look at the Selfridges transaction and say, well, you know, maybe department stores as a channel or as a concept are sort of turning a new corner and maybe they’re on their way back to some sort of revival. I think, uh, if anything, I would say Selfridges is really a bit of an outlier in the department store category, in that I think they recognized very early on that the true power that they had as a brand and as a department store was in conveying experiences to consumers. It wasn’t about products necessarily. It was more about how do we wrap up all of our categories into an experience that consumers enjoy. And certainly, I think they led the way in that respect. And I’ve pointed to them many times over the years as being exemplary in terms of their ability to design and execute experiences. So I think if anything, it really speaks to that. It speaks to the idea that any brand, if you are able to, design, and construct, and execute brilliant customer experiences, and really pump equity into your brand through doing that you do add value. Regardless of channel, doesn’t matter if you’re a department store, a standalone, merchant, uh, a specialty merchant, or a hypermarket. It’s really about experiences. And as far as luxury goes, I think that the horizon is relatively optimistic for luxury. I think that the industry recognizes that we live in an extremely polarized retail market today, where it is really commodity goods on one side that are dominating. And on the other side, it is luxury. And I think everyone also is anticipating the return of the Asian consumer to the broader global market. Once things open up, I think there’s gonna be a huge appetite on the part of Chinese consumers to get back out on the road and enjoy some of those luxury experiences. So that’s sort of the way I interpret that transaction.

Adrian Tennant: What is the one aspect of retailing that you think is most likely to be disrupted or look completely different by the year 2030?

Doug Stephens: So I believe that what we have seen over the last decade or so is this progression toward stores, physical stores, ceasing to be a practical distribution mechanism for products. I think we would all agree that the inventory requirements, the space requirements, and the manpower requirements to use physical stores merely as a distribution vehicle for products is a really relatively inefficient use of that asset. What we are seeing is more and more stores really becoming mechanisms for customer acquisition. So whether we’re talking about Nike House of Innovation stores, or Canada Goose is another brand. Now that is sort of looking at their stores more as being this sort of open end of the funnel to receive new customers and acquire them and bring them into their ecosystem. I believe we’re gonna continue to see that progression going forward. And to the extent that I would say, with the exception of all but the most commodity-based items, you know, grocery, pharmacy, things of that nature. I really believe that the nature of physical retail is going to move over to becoming more of a media channel, where brands can tell their brand stories where they can treat customers to unique experiences. And then as they say, bring those customers into their ecosystem where they can shop across channels and certainly through more efficient channels for product delivery like online. So that is really, I think the progression that we’re gonna continue to see moving forward.

Adrian Tennant: Doug, what’s one question you wished I had asked you, but didn’t – and what would your answer be?

Doug Stephens: It’s a great question. I think that there’s a lot of conversation today around the metaverse, obviously. A lot of people are talking about this, but the one thing that I am not hearing asked is, what I think is a vitally important question about the metaverse. And I think with any new technological advancement, certainly one of this magnitude, we should be asking an important question about it. There are really three questions, I guess. The first is, is it possible? And I think we would all agree that the metaverse in concept is possible. You know, the idea of a more, immersive experiential internet is certainly possible. Is it probable? As I said earlier, I think it’s a logical extension of our online experiences and I don’t think many people would disagree with that. But the third question and probably the most important one is, is it preferable? Is it good for society? And when I look around today and I look at the internet that we have today, and I look at issues that we have around, young people suffering from anxiety and depression. From people feeling a sense of inadequacy, on social media, because they’re really looking at this sort of hyper version of their friends and their social networks, uh, lifestyles. When I look at the addiction to online technology, and things of that nature, uh, it really makes me wonder if we are prepared for the metaverse, or should we really be looking at the metaverse as a means of quelling some of those problems, of addressing those problems? Should we be looking at the metaverse as a means of making the internet a better, safer, and more responsible place? and even things like environmental issues, around the energy usage that would be required to power this connected, immersive, and persistent reality, it would be tremendous. And it really doesn’t get us much further, ahead than we are today, with environmental concerns. So I think these are the questions that we really need to be asking about the metaverse. It’s possible, it’s probable, but is it preferable? And can we make it so?

Adrian Tennant: Doug, thank you very much for sharing your insights with us for ENVISION.

Doug Stephens: It’s my pleasure, Adrian. Thanks so much for having me.

Adrian Tennant: You’ve been listening to an extended interview with Doug Stephens, retail futurist, author, and the CEO of Retail Prophet who was recently a guest on Bigeye’s ENVISION 2022 Retail Disrupted video event. You can still view the full video at bigeyeagency.com/insights. You’ll find a transcript of this podcast with links to the resources we discussed on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at bigeyeagency.com – select Podcast from the menu. And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


Categories
Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Rebecca Brooker is the co-founder of Queer Design Club, an organization celebrating work that happens at the intersection of queer identity and design worldwide. Rebecca talks about growing up queer in Trinidad, the difficulties she faced with her US work visa, and the circumstances that inspired her to co-found Queer Design Club. We discuss some of the results of the second Queer Design Count and learn what attendees of the first-ever Queer Design Summit on July 7 can expect.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Rebecca Brooker: I would say our mission today is really focused on creating a more equitable and equal environment for LGBTQ+ people in the workplace, specifically the design industry.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. Although Pride Month may have ended, the challenge of reflecting and representing the diversity of consumers identifying as LGBTQIA+ continues year-round. A study published by Bigeye’s research partner, GWI, found that among US internet users, age 16 and above, 42 percent of those who identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community, consider themselves outspoken on the issues that they care about, compared to just a third of other users. Sixty-three percent of LGBTQ+ members believe that we should be more open about mental health, compared with 49 percent of other users. And GWI’s data found around one-half of all LGBTQ+ members want brands to support diversity and equity in the workplace compared to just under one-third of other users. To talk about the LGBTQIA+ community, especially those working in the field of design, our guest this week is Rebecca Brooker. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Rebecca studied graphic design in New York City, where, after graduating in 2017, she worked for several organizations. In 2018, she moved to Argentina to join Media Monks. In 2019, Rebecca co-founded Queer Design Club, an organization that celebrates work that happens at the intersection of queer identity and design worldwide. Today, Rebecca is Art Director with the Washington DC-based agency, Ghost Note, the co-chair of Queer Design Club, and leads her own independent design business, Planthouse Studio. To talk about her very busy life, Rebecca is joining us today from her home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Rebecca, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Rebecca Brooker: Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here.

Adrian Tennant: Now, Rebecca, you are originally from Trinidad and Tobago. Were you always interested in pursuing a career in design?

Rebecca Brooker: Not until I really understood what design was. In high school, I was very much using a cracked version of Photoshop and just making posters and flyers and doing these Photoshop tutorials online at the time. And for me at that moment, a student being 15/16 years old, I was very convinced that was what graphic design was and I wanted to do more of that. So I had this initial interest in putting things together, using design to solve visual problems, and communicating information. But it wasn’t until I left Trinidad to go to school in New York, that I really started to study design, and really understood that it’s more than just the visuals. It’s really a problem-solving method in a way that I had never really perceived design to be before. That was really when I fell in love with design was when I started studying it and I had so many questions. I was so curious. So, in this space of play with my work where anything was possible, anything is possible. And that was really what made me fall in love with a career in design and made me stay in the industry.

Adrian Tennant: I’ve heard you say that you came out as queer in your mid-teens. Is Caribbean culture accepting of LGBTQIA+ identities? What was your experience like after you came out?

Rebecca Brooker: Yeah. I first came out to my mom when I was around 16. And I didn’t come out because I wanted to, I came out because she found me scribbling love notes to a girl in my notebook. So the coming out was involuntary, but Caribbean culture is tough on the queer community. There historically has not been a large queer community in Trinidad that’s open and active. So I didn’t grow up seeing a lot of the queerness that we see now on television, that we see in our daily lives, that we see in a world that is more open and accepting. I didn’t have that 16 years ago and I think a lot of people in the Caribbean still don’t have that. So Caribbean culture on a whole has a lot of progression to do still on the way that they can treat and understand LGBTQ people. And I think that really comes because the Caribbean itself is born out of a lot of experiences of colonialism, a lot of experiences of slavery, where even if you were gay in those times, it definitely was not okay to come out and say that. And so we have a lot of grandfather laws that really like actually prohibit and make it illegal for people to be openly queer, right? So when there are still systems in place to criminalize being LGBTQ in the Caribbean, it’s not really creating that safe space that people need to believe that the culture is changing.

Adrian Tennant: You studied design in New York. After you graduated, you stayed on to pursue various work opportunities, but I understand that the conditions under which you left the US and ultimately landed a role in Argentina were pretty stressful. Could you tell us a bit about that?

Rebecca Brooker: Yeah after I left Trinidad and I started studying in New York, you know, I was an international student. I was going through like a roller coaster, basically, because on one hand, I had this new environment that was much more accepting of my personal identity and much more just freeing for who I wanna be, and how I wanna explore myself. I was, at the same time, studying design, doing really well in my pursuit of kicking off my career with great opportunities. And so I was at the time working at Compass, a luxury real estate company based in New York. And things were going pretty well, you know, I was making a good set of money. I had a nice apartment. My partner and I were together for two or three years at that point. And, things were really feeling stable and as an international student, I was also pursuing my H-1B visa at the same time. And, my employer was handling the application and everything through their lawyers. The H-1B – for people who don’t know – is an employment-based visa. And I was in this period of waiting for them to tell me if the visa was picked in the visa lottery, and you know, waiting, waiting, waiting. And then one day, I got an email that literally said, “Your visa was not picked in the lottery. You have until the end of August to leave the country. And if you don’t leave the country, you’re gonna get banned because you have overstayed your welcome.” And this was at that point, I was living in New York for about six years, and at that moment, you know, I just felt my world was turned upside down. The rug was pulled out from under me just enjoying my life and then being, “You have to leave this country. You are going to have to leave your job. You cannot continue to live here and you have three weeks to do it.” And usually, you have actually like around 60 or 90 days, I can’t remember, a longer time period, but the lawyers that my company had been working with failed to notify me the moment that the visa had been denied. So I had lost a bunch of time waiting to find out that the visa had been denied when I could have been using that time to prepare for leaving if I had a full two or three months’ notice. So it was a really stressful situation and a real turning point in my life where I had to figure out what was gonna be my next move. I returned home to Trinidad for a while. I took a bit of a break from design and kind of just was unemployed for a month. And then I got this opportunity to go to Argentina and work for Media Monks. Media Monks was at the time signing a contract with my old employer, Compass, and they said, you know, “We need a designer to go help us build the team. We think you’d be great for the job.” And I said, “I have literally nothing else going on right now. So I will go.” And that was how I ended up landing on my feet in Buenos Aires.

Adrian Tennant: And how’s your Spanish going today? 

Rebecca Brooker: I arrived without knowing an ounce of Spanish. And now I could say I could pretty much hold my own in a fairly fluent conversation. So…

Adrian Tennant: That’s immersion for you. Total immersion.

Rebecca Brooker: Vamos!

Adrian Tennant: So Rebecca, today you are an Art Director at Ghost Note agency. Could you tell us about your role there and some of the clients that you’ve been working with recently?

Rebecca Brooker: Yeah, Ghost Note is a small, Black-owned, and Black-founded agency, out of Washington, DC. They’ve been around for almost 10 years now. And through the pandemic, they took some time to reconfigure what the agency looks like, and what they wanna pursue, and really came out stronger on the other side of the pandemic, by hiring a new Creative Director, a new Art Director, hiring a few new designers – and we’ve been a real force to work with these past few months. We’ve been working with amazing clients like Nike. We recently did the rebrand for Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, DC. That was an amazing project that just meant a lot of impact in my life. Like I always wanted to work with museums. I’m super interested in art, but being able to rebrand a museum in a historically Black community in a historically Black neighborhood, and actually, America’s first community museum, meant a lot to me to be able to work on that project and lead that rebrand. Most recently, we’re actually currently working on the identity for the Center for Journalism and Democracy at Howard University, which is being led by Nikole Hannah-Jones. Nikole Hannah-Jones is an American journalist who founded The 1619 Project which was featured by the New York Times. An amazing, incredible, Black journalist who is really about to change the future of journalism by creating the Center to really help educate Black students and students that attend historically Black universities in long-form investigative journalism. So that’s a project that again, feels really dear to me. And part of the reason I love working at Ghost Note is that we get to have opportunities to make work that feels very impactful in places where my perspective matters. Like my perspective is a queer, mixed-race immigrant person is important and this is the first time in my career that I feel like I get to channel some of that into the work to make a difference. And intersectionality is a huge part of my life. I’ve always lived an intersectional life, you know, being a mixed-race person from Trinidad. It’s something that in Trinidad, I look white, and in the states, I look Black, and it’s always been a conundrum of like, you know, in Trinidad where a lot of people are multiracial, a lot of people are mixed, I never had to answer the question of “What are you?” to an extent, or “What race are you?” or “Who are you? What’s your heritage, what’s your background?” And I got that question a lot more when I moved to the states. Like it was the first time that I actually had to consider and I took a DNA test to find out, ’cause I was like, “I don’t know who I am.” If you ask me, my dad looks Black. My mom looks mixed race. We have Spanish, Chinese, and Indian in the family, like it’s such a diverse culture that it wasn’t until very late in my teens that I started to ask and look for questions like “Who am I?” and “What is my identity that I’m bringing to a table?”, aside from just being gay, you know? And so I feel intersectionality is a real, it’s a real focus for me. And I think part of why I do so much work in the queer community and in the spaces that I can through design is because we always have these conversations in silos, where we put people in things where they can only be one thing at a time. It’s Pride Month. So you have to be gay right now. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay and Black. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay and Asian. It’s Pride Month. So it’s all about being gay. And there’s not a lot there, usually there isn’t a lot of room for nuance. And that’s something that I’m super interested in creating more of just in my world and the worlds I’m interacting with.

Adrian Tennant: Rebecca, you are also the co-founder of Queer Design Club. Could you explain what prompted you to create the organization?

Rebecca Brooker: After I graduated from college, I was looking for a place to really find that community, that intersectional community that we’re talking about, and realized that I wanted to find queer people who were also interested in design. And I knew a handful of them like I could see people on Twitter, and Instagram, but you know, when you put in “queer graphic design” on Google, you actually wouldn’t have gotten a lot of search results about four years ago. We saw that as an opportunity to really found a community for queer people to come together, for them to meet each other, to share the contributions that we’ve made to the industry, to uplift each other, and kind of share tips for navigating a very straight, white heterosexual world. And that was the beginning, it was something that just really started as a hobby. Like we just wanted to talk to other queer graphic designers and people that worked in the industry and bond over that. And from there, it’s grown to be this massive community that is like a lifeline for some people. You come here and you can find advice on how to get your first job in design. You can find portfolio reviews. People are willing to look at your resume and give you advice. And we didn’t even know how many people needed that until we founded the space and found out. So now we’ve identified more than just a fun social space, where we were just looking for extending our friendships. We’ve really started to develop a mission, a vision, and values that we wanna hold for our community because it’s become such a precious space.

Adrian Tennant: So how do you describe Queer Design Club’s mission today?

Rebecca Brooker: I would say our mission today is really focused on creating a more equitable and equal environment for LGBTQ+ people in the workplace, specifically the design industry. We work primarily with designers because design, as a field, is actually incredibly welcoming to queer people. It’s a very open field. It’s a natural way to express yourself creatively and with the move towards a lot of online education and learning, the barrier to getting into design has significantly lowered. So you no longer have to attend the RISDs and the SCADs and get a four-year degree in graphic design. You can pop over on YouTube and get this for free. So we have a lot more junior people who are coming to design, and by extension to tech, because it’s an industry where there’s a lot of opportunities, the salaries are super high-paying and are life-changing for someone who may be coming from a background of not having access to money. If you are a Black, queer, disabled person, getting into design in the tech industry may be your way of getting to that next financial level that can help you find a stable place to live. It may help you afford gender-affirming care for yourself. There are a lot of reasons why queer people would want to come into design. But the thing we’ve noticed is there are not the means to support queer people in design right now. So our mission is really to help companies and help others build up that support network to make sure that when queer people come into the industry, where they have an environment where they can thrive and where they wanna stay.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, The Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing, consumer research, and customer experience. Our featured book for July is Future-Ready Retail: How to Reimagine the Customer Experience, Rebuild Retail Spaces, and Reignite our Shopping Malls and Streets, by Ibrahim Ibrahim, a futurist, retail strategist, and designer. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Future-Ready Retail, go to KoganPage.com – that’s K O G A N, P A G E dot com.

Seth Segura: I’m Seth Segura, VP and Creative Director at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as creative professionals.At Bigeye, we always put audiences first. For every engagement, we commit to really understanding our clients’ prospects and customers. Through our own primary research, we capture valuable data about people’s attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. These insights inform our strategy and guide our creative briefs. Clients see them brought to life in inspiring, imaginative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns. If you’d like to put Bigeye’s audience-focused creative communications to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com. Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Rebecca Brooker, Art Director at Ghost Note agency and the co-founder of Queer Design Club, a community where LGBTQ+ designers can celebrate their contributions to the industry, share work, and connect with each other. The initiative that brought you to my attention was the research study you conducted called the Queer Design Count. Now, before we discuss some of the findings, can you explain why you decided to undertake a research study in the first place?

Rebecca Brooker: Yes, when we first were founding the community, one of the questions that we had was like, “Who even is our community?” I mentioned that we knew a handful of people on Instagram, on Twitter, but that wasn’t enough for us to make an assumption about who we’re building this thing for. So we started to dive in and look for some data around how many people are queer in the design world. Do we even know? Might we ever know? We may not. But that data wasn’t available, basically. The AIGA design census had one question about are you gay? And it’s a checkbox, yes or no. So we had a little sense that this community exists within the industry. We know that. We just need to find out how to reach them and what they’re experiencing. So we started the Queer Design Count as the first and only design industry survey specifically directed towards LGBTQ people. And the goal with that is to really better understand the queer experience that people are having in design. Are you making more money than straight cis-people? Are we making less? How visible are we in leadership roles? How junior are we in the industry? Are we getting equal pay? Things like these were questions that we started to ask ourselves that we didn’t have answers to. And the only way that we can find out was to ask the community directly. Over the past two years, we’ve really found this to be our niche in something that is a really ownable piece of work for us because we actually have been able to identify a lot of problems and put concrete data behind the things that we know to be true about our experience. So now, we’re kind of using this as our north star and our guide to be able to recommend and you know, propose solutions for the industry that will make it more equitable towards queer people. And that’s something that we really are interested in working with other companies on, we’re interested in working with nonprofits on. We wanna continue being able to pulse-check our community and say, every June people show up and say, we support queer people. Is the needle moving? Is something changing? Or is this just lip service that we continue to do year after year? And the Count is really our way of finding out.

Adrian Tennant: Now I believe you’ve published two counts so far. Is that correct?

Rebecca Brooker: Yes, we published the first one in 2019 and we are publishing the 2021 version of the count as well, which we’ve been just finalizing with all of the data and the stories that we heard through the pandemic. There was a lot to understand and to parse through about how the queer experience has changed, especially in light of the pandemic. This report is really dear to my heart. We ask people some tough questions in a time when lives were very tough and that is reflected in some of the data that we saw.

Adrian Tennant: In what ways did learnings from the first Queer Design Count inform your approach to the questions you asked for this second study?

Rebecca Brooker: That’s a great question. The first count, I would say, was really our first shot in the dark at trying to put together what we thought would be a very complete survey. And I think the challenges myself nor my co-founder John had – we’re not research analysts at all. We’re not researchers, this isn’t our everyday work, but we tried our best to be as robust and complete and ask people as many and as few questions as possible to keep them engaged. And I think with that being said, you know, the first time we couldn’t capture everything all the way around. So we didn’t get to ask questions around people’s disabilities. We didn’t get to ask questions about how many students and what student life was like. We didn’t get to dive super deep into some of the intersections that I would’ve wanted to the second time around. So when we were considering, how would we change or shift some things in the 2021 report, we obviously wanted to keep it similar enough that we can have comparative data or year over year, but we also wanted to add in new sections for asking people about their disability, asking people about how that may affect them in terms of like physical disability or is it something more like neurodivergence? There were a lot of questions directed to students that we had the opportunity to ask and realized that maybe we didn’t have enough categories in 2019 when we talk about what industry do you work in? What job do you work in? Are you a student? Are you full-time? Are you freelance? And I think going through the first one helped us better set up a more intersectional and robust second year with the addition of the COVID section. That was a huge new section that, fingers crossed, will be unique to our 2021 report. But it was important for us to ask people about their experience through the pandemic because we knew that so much had shifted and it wouldn’t have been fair or equal to survey people about income or about their titles or roles at work without the consideration that we’re going through a global pandemic, a huge, resignation of jobs, and that there is a lot of data that we want to find out around there.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the key statistics from the second study that have been most surprising to you?

Rebecca Brooker: I think a lot of the data that came out around people’s experience in the pandemic was the most surprising to me. One of the things that we found out was that 41 percent of trans designers lost employment in COVID 19 compared to 29 percent of cisgender designers. And for me, that was a hugely unexpected statistic. And I’m personally even still, toying with how we interpret that statistic. Is it that trans designers were pushed to a point where they would prefer to work freelance than full-time and they chose to leave those jobs, in a walk of autonomy and reclaiming the clients and the projects that they work on in a world that is being increasingly anti-trans? There is power in being able to work for yourself. There’s power in being able to be your own boss in that way. If you have the privilege to do. The flip side of that is it might have meant that 41 percent of trans designers got fired. They may have just been straight-up fired. And that’s something that, we really start to look at the testimonials and what people are saying to us to be able to better recommend what we think the analysis behind this stat is. And that’s always a tricky part of writing these reports. you know, we can only hypothesize exactly what people are saying and connect so many dots. But when we start to read some of the testimonials and the things that people are saying, that is really where you see the true colors come to light and you really start to understand just how badly people need support in, not just in design, but in the world. You know, there were a lot of trans people who, with the pandemic and shelter-in-place orders, were forced to return to home, a home that may not be safe, stable, a home where they may be misgendered and dead-named all the time. And there’s just a lot of testimonials around that experience that we saw happening. People losing their jobs and being homeless was another part of it. There was also a great number of people who actually bounced and said, “I lost my job initially, took a couple of months off, but then landed a gig that paid three times as much.” Great. I think there’s a lot that we can say about what we want these stats to say. But really trying to listen to what queer people are actually saying is where we want to focus our analysis of the report.

Adrian Tennant: It’s always interesting when you have a quantitative survey, but you have those qualitative open ends. I’m curious, how many respondents did you have for the second wave?

Rebecca Brooker: Yeah, we had 1,377 respondents in the second survey. The first survey, in 2019, we had close to 1100 or so. And this is actually pretty on par with what the AIGA design census responses were like. Now we obviously know that there are more than 1300 queer people in the industry. That’s a given, but when we think about in terms of reach and in terms of how we may be messaging this survey out, it’s pretty on par and I think that’s a great thing to say. The AIGA design census is open to everyone who can participate and they have almost 1500 or so respondents average on a year. Getting close to 1300 queer people I think alone is amazing, and really shows how overrepresented queer people are in the industry.

Adrian Tennant: One of the stats that you shared with me that really stood out: 72 percent of LGBTQIA+ designers experienced some form of discrimination at work. Rebecca, I know it’s a big question. What factors contribute to this do you think? is this discrimination intentional, systemic, or structural?

Rebecca Brooker: I think that it’s a combination of all three, Adrian. Honestly, I think that there are a lot. If you think about the scale of microaggression to macroaggression, it hits on all parts of that spectrum. The discriminatory experience that we saw most people relating to was just the simple acknowledgment of their existence. Like using the right pronouns, giving them the proper email address that’s not a dead name, and email that’s tied to legal documents. On the microaggression front, like I think there are certain things like that as we start to think about queer teams and queer’s perspectives and how, it may feel like you’re being discriminated against in maybe not someone saying something to you, but in their actions. Right? So you may be working on a team with a couple of other designers and let’s say you have to design a form. And the people put in gender binaries, male or female, and they say, “Hey, can you review this form?” And you look at this form and you say, “Hey, I’m non-binary and I don’t have a place on this form. This is not present.” You’re not being seen for who you are. And that is something that is a reason why queer people and honestly, people with all different intersectional identities. Diverse teams on the whole make better projects because you’re able to catch those blind spots. And you’re able to catch these oversights and understand that if I – a queer, mixed-race immigrant – can’t identify with this thing. I can tell you a ton of other people aren’t gonna identify with it either. So this is an oversight. I think on a more systemic basis, when we look at the number of visible queer people out in executive leadership, it also says something about our corporate queer culture, right? And the more visibly queer you are, and the more alternative presenting that you may seem, the tougher time you’re gonna have presenting yourself as a corporate executive. and this is partially why we see trans people and queer people in leadership having such a hard time because there is an expectation that you’re gonna show up and look like a straight white man to be a leader at a corporation. And people start feeling uncomfortable when you know, the creative director is more queer or the CMO or the CTO, you know, I think it, it just corporate queer culture and executive culture is something that we’re still trying to figure out. And I think this is part of why we don’t see as many out corporate people in leadership. So that is a form of discrimination. I think, where, you know, you kind of have to start hiding yourself again and going back into the closet to present in a way that feels acceptable for business. And that’s just not the industry that we want to create.

Adrian Tennant: Oftentimes, research studies just sit on a shelf, getting dusty. That’s definitely not the case with the Queer Design Count. You’re planning to go deeper into the results with a live community event in just a few days’ time. Rebecca, can you tell us about the first-ever Queer Design Summit?

Rebecca Brooker: I would love to! The Queer Design Summit is our first, large community event that, after doing two years of these studies, we really wanted to put it on the main stage and have people talk more about what they experience, have a space for designers to converse with each other in front of an audience, and explain what they interpret by some of the statistics and some of the data, and how their lived experiences may match up to what we’re seeing in the data. And the reason we wanted to do this was because, over the past two years, collectively we’ve surveyed close to 3,000 people and we wanted to be able to further the conversation about this data, especially as we’re coming off the heels of Pride Month and everyone’s company just had some kind of Pride event. What are the queer people really feeling about where we are in the state of the industry? These are questions that we had and we wanted to help facilitate that conversation and also make space for workshops and different places where we may try to find some solutions. For example, we’re working with Meta Lab to have a “How might we?” session, that is gonna help us brainstorm and think about how might we pose solutions or recommendations to some of the things that we talked about on the day of the summit. How do we pose solutions for pay equity and more cultural acceptance of intersectional, queer identities? How do we continue to move queer, Black, and trans people of color to the forefront? There are a lot of questions that we want answers to, and discussions that we want to have around the data that the summit is gonna provide, a great stage and audience for.

Adrian Tennant: If listeners would like to sign up to attend the Queer Design Summit, what can they do so?

Rebecca Brooker: You can sign up over at queerdesign.club/summit, and the summit is gonna be held on July 7th. It’s a one-day conference and it will be starting at 10:00 AM Pacific time. That’s 1:00 PM Eastern time, and we’re gonna have a full day of panels, workshops, and a little bit of an after-party with some Drag Queen Bingo. I think it’s gonna be a really amazing event, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: Rebecca, if in clear focus, listeners would like to learn more about you and your work, where can they find you?

Rebecca Brooker: You can find me over at RebeccaBrooker.com. Or you can find me @BeckyBrooker on Twitter. I’m pretty active on Twitter, more than on Instagram. So I would love to connect with anyone who wants to have a conversation. Also, feel free to look me up on LinkedIn. I would be happy to connect with anyone who wants to know more about the community or just talk queer design.

Adrian Tennant: And if folks listening are interested in getting involved with Queer Design Club, what’s the best way to do so?

Rebecca Brooker: We would love to have you. We are such an open and welcoming community to anyone who wants to be involved. Queer people can sign up on our directory online if you wanna list yourself. Or you can join our Slack community. Allies, recruiters, anyone who’s looking to reach the queer community and post opportunities, you’re also welcome to join our Slack community. We have several channels for job postings, freelance calls, and open calls. We have advice channels, help, and requests. Anything you may need to ask a queer designer, you can come over to the Slack and we would be more than happy to help.

Adrian Tennant: Rebecca, thank you very much for being our guest on, IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Rebecca Brooker: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to share this with your community.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Rebecca Brooker, Art Director at Ghost Note agency, and co-founder of Queer Design Club. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com. Just select podcasts from the menu. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week. Goodbye.


Categories
Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Celebrating Pride month, our guest is Graham Nolan, the co-founder, and co-chair of Do The WeRQ, an organization on a mission to increase queer creativity, representation, and share of voice within the advertising industry. Graham identifies some of the Pride campaigns that have caught his eye this month and reflects on why rainbow-washing seems less prevalent this year. We also discuss some of the greatest challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ people working in the industry.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Graham Nolan: For right now, we are still just listening to people, gathering their stories. Between the L and the G and the B and the T and the Q, there are so many different perspectives. And we want to make sure that we’re building them into our organization in the right way.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. Each year, consumer brands and many publicly traded companies celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community by sponsoring or participating in Pride events. While June sees many logos transformed into rainbow-colored versions, younger members of the community are likely to scrutinize companies’ actual records on LGBTQIA+ inclusive initiatives. This year’s Pride events are also taking place against a backdrop of censorship in public schools and libraries, including the banning of many books that relate to communities of color and LGBTQIA+ subjects. Making a return visit to IN CLEAR FOCUS, our guest this week is the co-founder of an organization that’s on a mission to increase queer creativity, representation, and share a voice within the advertising industry. Graham Nolan is a PR and communications consultant with over two decades of experience advancing meaningful brand conversations. He’s worked at Grey, Momentum Worldwide, and Starcom MediaVest Group. Graham’s many talents include writing, storytelling, and stand up comedy. He’s spoken on LGBTQIA+ culture and media behaviors at events including South by Southwest and New York Comic-Con. Graham is joining us again today from his home office in Austin, Texas. Graham, welcome back to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Graham Nolan: Thank you for having me. It’s very nice to be back.

Adrian Tennant: Graham, you are the co-founder and co-chair of an organization called Do The WeRQ. For folks who didn’t hear our interview last year, could you explain Do The WeRQ’s mission?

Graham Nolan: Yeah, absolutely. So, Do The WeRQ is an LGBTQ+ advertising and marketing community. We’re a grassroots organization and platform for change geared towards this, very specific community, with a mission to increase queer creativity, representation, and share a voice in the business. So we bring people together from across the industry to build connections and experiences and to collaborate on cultural transformations that we hope will support the community, both in front of and behind the scenes of the work that we’re doing throughout the year. That’s one of the biggest parts of this: our consistent voice in this discussion, because as we know, it’s Pride month currently as we record. And, the conversation tends to disappear in July. I’m having a lot of conversations about the organization this month and just like state-of-the-uniony like, how do I see the nature of the organization? And I truly see it as living proof that inclusion is innovation. So we designed this very simple and relevant mission that endured through the turbulent times that we lived in during our launch period. And we know that we want to elevate queer creativity and share a voice in the business. And that mission enabled us to be found and for us to find people and for other people to make the mission their own. So we’re still a relatively young organization, but the fact is if you don’t really know yourself, it would’ve been easy. I think to just like spin out, like some people are coming to us and they’re just sort of like, “Should you be mentoring?” “Should you be a podcast?” “Should you be this?” All those things are fantastic. All those things are essential and necessary, but if we don’t know who we are, then we don’t know how to respond to those and how to team with people on those. So, you know, what we’ve had is, every new volunteer is unlocking a new possibility in support of that mission. Whether that’s a tool they want to create, a discussion, expertise, a network, a data set. But we meet people. We include their perspective. We celebrate their ideas, which is a nice position to be in. We elevate their work and that’s what advances the mission. Currently, our work includes public programming and discussion forums and we’re developing data resources that will make the case for equity, a monthly newsletter for intel sharing and talent recognition. We’re doing bespoke partner consultation and program development, and we’re also still working on the whole in-person live experience aspect of this, because it’s so core to our community. We’ve also been a responsive resource to anyone who just raises their hand to ask a question. There’s no one who asks a question about Do The WeRQ that I don’t have a conversation with. So, it’s cool to see that every new conversation opens a door. If you get people in the room and you know, if you give them your resources and you elevate them, then great things will happen. And it’s like, the nature of us is you want to be friends with us, cool. What do you want to do? Our network is behind you on it. And then we’re, you know, empowering people to create the things they want to create.

Adrian Tennant: Do The WeRQ launched right at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and all of the events you originally planned to be in person had to go virtual. What’s the programming looking like now, and for the remainder of 2022?

Graham Nolan: Okay. So I’m going to be that guy who like cites research, but then doesn’t know where it came from. It was funny, I specifically remember, it’s a very crystallized memory for me. I’m in my very small studio apartment, as we are two months into lockdown. I picked a very small apartment because I thought I would always be going out and now I’m trapped in a room and we’re like having this conversation all of a sudden about what are we doing? Because we know our mission and we’d wanted to start with the conference. That was the first thing that we wanted to do. And we had decided that we didn’t want to come out with a proclamation necessarily, and that a conference would be more about a listening forum. So that was going to be really important. And then someone brings up some sort of comprehensive study about the way that LGBTQ community is built on in-person spaces. That they are so endemic to the nature of our community. Which is so funny, because I’m 43. Around the time that I was considering coming out, it was such a digital experience. I couldn’t have imagined going to a parade, but chat rooms seemed like a safe place to start having some of these discussions. And so it was. We are in bars, we are in parades, we are at rallies. That’s the nature of us. But we needed our brave spaces to be safe spaces first. So experiences are still on the way and we’re going to innovate what those can be – those are definitely going to be an aspect of us where I think it feels less like an advertising organization and more like a movement. The way that we have adjusted is Kate Wolff, co-chair, and co-founder who is just one of my favorite people on this planet. She has really taken the reins with Arya Davachi who’s our head of programming and made sure that we can pivot and have like really cool conversations we are doing on Fishbowl. If anyone wants to subscribe to that app and listen to the shows that we’re doing there, we’re having a lot of conversations about the nature of LGBTQ workplace inclusion. Arya is the host of those and he is – chef’s kiss – fantastic! We’re also having periodic Town Halls where we are getting really in the weeds on advertising topics as well. So there’s a lot of programming that’s online. We’re making sure that it’s all going to be queued up for digital listening. You know, it’s really funny. When we talked to Tiffany R. Warren, the founder of ADCOLOR about the fact that we were going to do this at all, she was just like, “You have to be consistent. You have to be a presence. This can’t just, this has to be like a really steady thing.” And that’s why we really push towards the launch of our newsletter as a consistent cadence for spotlighting talent and getting things out there. And that actually links to a bunch of our digital programming as well. And we’re just doing general community-building and allowing organizations and individuals to support and lead programs that connect with our mission. So basically, we’ve got some partners who are like, “We want to have a session about this” and we may build that topic into programming that we have externally. We also have some people who are just like, “Look, we want to do this in-house first. We’re a large company. Not everything we do in DEI has to be for public relations.” That’s right. So we’re doing a lot of programming that’s internal for partners as well. In terms of other stuff that we’ve got brewing for the rest of the year, we’re still very big into looking into the data, to show where we stand and to determine where we can go. We always talk about how the 3 Percent Movement wears their metric on their sleeve. They knew that at the time of their founding, 3 percent of creative leadership in this industry was women. And so they knew what needle they had to move. And we still don’t know what needle we have to move, precisely. And we’re operating on instinct as best we can for right now, but that’s the lesson we’re all learning as marketers, right? It’s when you have the data though, that you’re either like really confident in your decisions or you find out that you were wrong the whole time. I think that for us, it’s going to be a discovery of what problems are most intense for us. We have so many problems. It’s like which ones to choose from. So we’re trying to inform ourselves that way so that all the programming that we do speaks to the most urgent issues among the community, you know, we’re still building digital platforms for doing that. We will do in-person events for that, as I mentioned, And I think that one of the interesting things is this has continually, a strategy thing, a listening thing that we’re still not anywhere near our proclamation. And maybe we’ll never get to that point. Some organizations come out of the gate with “This is the change that needs to happen.” And we’re very content to be in a place where for right now, we are still just listening to people, gathering their stories. Between the L and the G and the B and the T and the Q, there’s so many different perspectives. And we want to make sure that we’re building them into our organization in the right way.

Adrian Tennant: Adweek recently published its third annual Pride Stars issue. An accompanying article celebrates 22 LGBTQ+ change-makers, creating more inclusive spaces. Article contributors Colin Daniels and Chloe Harper-Gold describe the honoraries as quote, “Multifaceted people who remind us all that we don’t have to limit ourselves to one label or identity, and that we’re more than just a Stripe on a rainbow flag,” end quote. Graham, what’s your take on these kinds of annual Pride-related articles and the representation of LGBTQIA+ people in ad industry publications more generally?

Graham Nolan: I’m in a good mood today, I just had a lovely breakfast and talked about all things creativity with a friend of mine. I gotta say that the more these articles come out, the more the nature of them seems to be very celebratory. There’s the occasional marketer who got it wrong. And then everyone just does their think pieces about this. I’m seeing a lot of forgiveness to those discussions as well, though, Where it’s just let’s see where if they went wrong, like where did they go wrong? But this month, right now, so, you know, you’re seeing the coverage of the big idea and the celebrity aspect of all these campaigns. And then you’re immediately seeing the thing where it’s like, “And by the way we asked, and they are making a contribution of like $10,000, $500,000 to these organizations that matter.” So currently with the – and look, I am a realist about this stuff. My day job is public relations and I’m as critical of the media as I need to be for that work – but what I’m seeing is like a lot of a reason to be optimistic in terms of the coverage. I feel like there’s a great volume of it this year. We’re not relying on one or two marketers. We’re seeing it from like large scale companies and small scale companies in terms of you know, who’s stepping up to the community. The large companies are sort of like turning large ships in order to make sure they could be valuable. The nimble companies are the ones that are just if they were founded in the last couple of years, maybe sometimes their model was built to be this kind of company. So you get to see them live up to their purpose and grow upon the scale of impact that they can make. 

Adrian Tennant: Graham, you are a regular contributor to ad industry publications yourself. Reflecting on Pride month, you recently wrote for Adweek quote, “There are social problems in plain sight that changing your logo for a month doesn’t solve. To provide the most value to LGBTQ+ communities, brands must delve into the most uncomfortable parts of our lives and address our most ignored problems – and do it early,” end quote. Graham, can you unpack this for us? What are some of the most pressing challenges where brands could make an immediate impact?

Graham Nolan: This is where I want to introduce what sounds like a meandering idea, but I swear it’s connected, because I’ve been obsessing over it and we found a fun little phrasing for it amongst ourselves. I was talking a lot to Arielle Egozi who is a genius human being who is on our leadership team. We did a South by Southwest session. We were just having long conversations over dinner. And we were talking about the rainbow washing thing in the context of dating – that’s always like a good allegory for how we go all about this stuff. And it’s what is the nature of rainbow washing as an allegory to marketing? It’s that we’re on a dating site. We see your pictures. I get to see your opening quote. I get to see the song that represents you the most. It’s all words and pictures and words and pictures. And most of them are very romantic and you know, they’re all very lofty and so we can find that Mr. Right, we can be together. And then you get into the actual relationship and a lot of the time what goes wrong. And I swear, I will not confuse this in my therapy session! A lot of the time what goes wrong is that you go, “Oh wow, this is crazy. I fell in love with someone who probably wouldn’t even be my friend.” And in fact, when you break up, I think that a lot of people think that you should stay friends with your exes. I am from a different school on that, but I will say that I think that there’s this discovery for some people where they’re just like, “Oh wow like we were never even friends,” right? And so it’s funny. I lean on what we jokingly call the Michael Bolton principle of marketing. Do you know what song I’m referring to, of Mr. Bolton’s? The song is How Can We Be Lovers If We Can’t Be Friends? That is how I’ve started to see this whole process. I think of someone that I dated in the past, who got invited by friends to parties. And it was this specific day, he got invited to a party and his car needed to be jumped and his friends are asking him to come to this party and he’s like, well, I need my truck jumped. And he texts three or four different people that would be able to help him. And they’re just like, well, I’m already at the party, but hope you can make it. And I think that I was like, oh my God, that’s what’s happening with marketing, right? Like where it’s just like, you know, we’re going to have this ad and we’re going to have celebrities and we’re going to show you a party. And we’re going to show you this idealized world. And it’s but I can’t get to the party. I don’t have a ride. I don’t have, and that’s the nature of this stuff. It’s like, “Oh my God, thank you so much for showing us a campaign with an LGBTQ celebrity represented. And so I can see a bit of myself at a party that I can’t make it to because I can’t pay my rent. I have healthcare issues that are specific to my community.” So it’s just I’m obsessing over the idea that, brands, I want to love you. I know that there’s so many conversations like in the industry on the creative level about brands and whether they can be loved and whether brand love is something that can be given, You know,but we never talk about friendship, right? So we’re asking brands to stop funding politicians wielding policies that endangers trans youth, and then showing us ads with celebrities. If you don’t stop the funding, don’t make the ads. Like don’t romance me when you won’t support me. And that’s what the piece spoke to, right? And the funny thing is one of my biggest pet peeves in this industry is pain points. I have friends that do it. I’m not trying to shame those friends. I’m saying that you know what marketers really need are problems. They need problems to solve like we need problems to solve. The volume of anti LGBTQ bills boomed from 41 in 2018 to 238 in March 2022. We’ve got all these legal battles. 40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide in their lifetime compared to less than 5% of the general US population. So the piece asked the question, what are the most obvious currently ignored LGBTQ challenges where brands can make the most immediate impact. And we spelled out that health is a huge area. Parenthood is a huge area. Bi- and pan- representation in the media is such a huge area that gets so overlooked. for the purposes of the piece I had to go, what if X kind of brand could do Y thing? And actually most of my anecdotal sort of feedback I got from people was about those things. I’m saying dive into some of our real problems that are more pervasive across the community that are more inclusive of all the letters within our community. It’s the problems that are a creative wellspring. Like all problems are.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, The Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and consumer research. Our featured book for June is The Direct To Consumer Playbook: The Stories and Strategies of the Brands that Wrote the DTC Rules, by Mike Stevens. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of The Direct To Consumer Playbook, go to KoganPage.com – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Graham Nolan, a PR and communications consultant, and the co-chair of Do The WeRQ, an organization that’s on a mission to increase queer creativity, representation, and share of voice within the advertising industry. Data from Pen America published earlier this month shows that Southern states have been exercising increasing control over book censorship. Graham, you are in Texas, the state which has the dubious honor of having the largest number of books banned, currently 713, from public schools and libraries. Now I’m in Florida, which has banned 204 books. Pen America has highlighted the disproportionate targeting of books by or about people whose identities and stories have traditionally been underrepresented in children’s and young adult literature, such as people of color, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. So this year’s pride celebrations are taking place against a backdrop, not only of censorship in schools and libraries but also initiatives such as Florida’s own Parental Rights in Education bill now better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. We’ve discussed Lush Cosmetics’ response to this in a previous podcast. So Graham, do you have the sense that pride is more reflective of its roots this year in calling out systemic harassment and prejudice, which is what sparked the Stonewall riots originally over half a century ago?

Graham Nolan: I’ve had so many conversations lately about pride and why we need it and whether we need it. And I think that we do need it. I think that what it comes down to is if we lived somewhere in the multiverse where pride didn’t exist, that we would create it now. Right. So I think that flat out answers the question of what it is. And what we would create. Lots of people would have different opinions on that, right? And that plays into how we create it every year. It’s a cultural moment. There’s consistency to it, but we have to decide what pride still is. It’s a moment, we need a moment. So like, you know, to examine where we stand, it’s a space, we need spaces. That’s great. But then after that, you know, the most consistent thing is that it’s what any one person needs it to be. Pride is looked at through the eyes of everyone in the community and some people have never felt safe with it or never felt welcome in it and are making their own spaces, their own versions of it. And by the way, it’s really interesting to live in Texas where August is our pride here. So there’s nationwide celebrations in June and we’re down for those. And I think a lot of people in Austin here are saying like happy Pride Month, but also, in the meantime, there’s the resurgence of this party here called Queer Bomb here in Austin. It was just like, you know, uh, Pride got pretty gay focused on one letter. And, for those who don’t know queer is theoretically the label under which everything that is just not heteronormative falls. And bear in mind, just over two years ago, and I’m starting this conversation, people are just like, ” Can we, can we say that? Is that good? Have we taken that word back? Is it okay to say queer?” When it’s actually supposed to be like the most inclusive word? Right. All of this stuff has personal perspective to it. So we all have to decide what we want pride to be. and it’s, this is an interesting town to watch that unfold. Where I’m going to mention Nick Allen who’s one of our creative directors is her fascinating perspective on the ways in which Pride is becoming fractured, and fragmented, and the ways in which that is not inherently a good or a bad thing. It’s really interesting. And she could speak to this far more eloquently, but like, you know, basically the way she breaks it down, like activist Pride and corporate Pride. And activist Pride, I think is inherently the 365 one. So when we say, “Speak to us for the rest of the year”, that’s the one. That’s where we keep pushing for change. We continually have problems which beg creative solutions throughout the year. The fundamental problem with brands playing in that one is they don’t always know what to do in scenarios where they can’t be the main character. And LGBTQ people are the main character in the story of activist Pride. Right. So then you’ve got corporate Pride, June only, allows for stories where brands can, for that moment, be a prominent character. And as I mentioned, honestly, I think that they can make mistakes in doing so. I think that we’re being a little bit more forgiving. I see a place for cancel culture, but I’m not seeing a lot of brands that are being canceled anymore because of the way that they’re doing things in June. Right. I think of it as what is it? Is Brigadoon that musical? Brigadoon is the musical – the Scottish one. I forgot the actual name of it. I know Schmigadoon I know, Brigadoon – it’s a magical town that pops up every couple of years. You can cross this bridge and come in. And I’m like, Pride is that, right? It’s just like, every once in a while, there’s the bridge where it’s like, you can come in, check out our town, we’ll check you out. You don’t necessarily like fit into this magical world, but sometimes you do. And sometimes you’re in addition. And so I of think of it like that, where it’s like, you know, that’s where we have some room for some honest mistakes and things like that. But we do need – and we love guest stars – but we need more than guest stars. We need corporate pride because we have a stake in what these businesses do, right? It’s just as important that we have that bridge that we’re able to sort of like, “Okay, you’re going to come into our town and we’re also going to venture out into your world because you make money off of us. So we need to have an opinion on things as well.” So I think it’s really, I see corporate Pride as a nice opportunity for us both to do some sharing, and then to, tell them to essentially be our friends. And that, that sort of integrates into what they do on the daily.

Adrian Tennant: Since we spoke last year, there’s been a lot of industry interest in the metaverse with a number of high-profile brands, taking their first steps into these virtual spaces. For example, Glossy reported that as part of its Pride activations throughout June, the cosmetics brand NYX Professional Makeup is selling a series of NFT avatars at auction, which can be used on The Sandbox metaverse platform. The collection offers 36 skin shades, a nod to the wide variety of foundations it offers and avatars are available now. All proceeds from the NFT auction will go to the Los Angeles LGBT Center. And The Sandbox will also collaborate with the newly launched People of Crypto Lab or POC on The Valley of Belonging, which claims to be the first diversity, equity, and inclusivity hub in the metaverse. The new hub launched on the 24th of this month and will, quote: “Celebrate our differences, boldly affirming the importance of an equitable web3” end quote. So Graham, what’s your view of these Pride activations in the metaverse?

Graham Nolan: My gut reaction is that if we’re, if we’re not active as, if we as an LGBTQ community are not active in creating them, then we already have a serious problem. So we talked a little bit about that dynamic and that problem. And over the course of the week, I was talking to another friend about what’s happening in the metaverse and she brought some data to my attention. So I think it is Morning Consult data that showed that men are more interested in the metaverse than women at 46% and 28% interest respectively. So that’s a pretty significant gap. Then the same friend shows me these stats that say, it’s by share of internet users in the United States who have heard about the metaverse as of March 2022 by gender again. And then you’ve got these stats that show that in terms of who’s heard nothing at all about the metaverse 50% of women have heard nothing at all about the metaverse I guess. And 28% of men have heard nothing at all. In terms of, who’s heard a lot about the metaverse 17% of men have heard a lot about the metaverse and 5% of women have heard a lot about the metaverse. Those are some huge disparities. that points to just, you know, we just need visibility to even know that this is an opportunity for us. How much are we being invited to this? We’re 7.1% of the population, according to national numbers right now, knowing we are eventually probably going to be who knows the number keeps going up. We might be 10% of tomorrow’s society and tomorrow could be next week, or it could be in three years, or it could be in 10 years. But If this is a future space, if this is about like, you know, the future of tomorrow and knowing that maybe LGBTQ populations will get to 10% of the nation, are we 10% of the people building the metaverse right? I can’t speak to the specifics of metaverse activations. I haven’t played in it. I’m going to, I’m going to be real. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve spent a bunch of time in there. I’m very selective about the communities where I feel safe and where I want to play, but I’m keeping my eye on it from the outside perspective on it. I know it’s relevant. I know it’s a relevant part of the future, but I can tell you this. We as an LGBTQ community need a reason to be there because we have options about where we can spend our time. We have new experiences being created for and owned by queer people. And they’re addressing our needs effectively because they understand us. So ultimately the metaverse has growing competition for our attention and our involvement because there are other platforms out there that do cater to us. You should build with us. Because we are proven as a creative community and that we lead culture. So if you want this to be the space of tomorrow, you have to do this with the people who have very frequently created the culture of tomorrow.

Adrian Tennant: Graham, reflecting on this current Pride month, which brands do you think have done a really good job of engaging with LGBTQIA+ consumers authentically?

Graham Nolan: I’ve had a lot of conversations with Kate Wolff, co-chair of Do The WeRQ. She continually brings a lot of great work to my attention. Kate wrote a really good piece for Ad Age this month that was basically looking at some of the work that makes a difference and has the most meaningful impact. and a lot of it just speaks to commitment, whether it’s the longevity of commitment, whether it is just a very obvious truth of impact made on the community. And, I think around that time, we were talking about this campaign for CAN, which is a cannabis-based beverage. So basically there is this music video that CAN produced with a lot of celebrity cameos and a lot of LGBTQ talent from across the spectrum of LGBTQ celebrity. It’s really well done. The commitment here is understanding, they didn’t do the thing where they’re just like, “Oh, we want to represent L G and B and T and Q, but sorry, we only had room for three celebrities in this.” Like they made room for so many people. There’s so many messages there’s so much coded, like wink, this is our thing and I don’t get all of them. And I’m like, “Great!” Because they’re not all for me. But I also know that this is a party where I’m invited in terms of this video. I do know that for me, the moment where I was invited for was Sara Michelle Geller at the top of this thing, screaming gay rights. That was for me personally. But the whole thing is a reflection of so many different perspectives. And I think it’s a great connection to the brand. So I thought that came across as very authentic to me. We’ve outlived the phrase, “alternative lifestyle”. But the idea that like, we’re celebrating differences, great. And it’s a different kind of brand and there’s wonderfulness in difference is very authentic. 

Adrian Tennant: Graham, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you, your work, and Do The WeRQ, where can they find you?

Graham Nolan: I want to stress, there is no one who reaches out about Do The WeRQ that I do not get in touch with. I’ve structured my life in such a way that I can do my PR work, and leave plenty of time to schedule meetings with people who just want to do something and build something. And specifically, we’ve had more conversations with people who are just like, “Hey, you did this programming. I liked it. And I appreciated it, but this voice was missing.” And we have said, “let’s make your voice, that voice, if you are open to that. Right.” So message me on LinkedIn – it’s G R A H A M   N O L A N. You’re actually able to see it in the podcast link. So that may have been redundant! And then also, Graham Nolan at Gmail, you can email me, I’m happy to talk to people about what we can do here. Our website is under construction currently, but the one form that you could fill out there is at D O  T H E W E R Q .com sign up for our newsletter, which has a bunch of other connection opportunities and @DoTheWeRQ on Instagram and also Twitter, and also Facebook. Those are places you can connect with various members of our team to make your dreams for the community hopefully come true.

Adrian Tennant: Graham, thank you very much for being our guest again on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Graham Nolan: Thank you for having me. I want to be like, you know, Paul Rudd shows up on Conan, and every time he does, he plays that weird clip from Mac and Me. Like, I just want to be … oh, you haven’t. Oh, it’s glorious. Search for that, everyone. But glad to be your recurring guest.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Graham Nolan, co-chair of Do The WeRQ. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com – just select “Podcast” from the menu. And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


Categories
Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Our guest is Mike Stevens, the author of The Direct To Consumer Playbook: The stories and strategies of the brands that wrote the DTC rules, this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection. Reflecting stories from the founders of Tails.com, Huel, and Casper, Mike shares valuable insights about what works in the DTC space today. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can claim a 20 percent discount on The Direct To Consumer Playbook at KoganPage.com by using the promo code BIGEYE20 at checkout.

Episode Transcript


Adrian Tennant:
Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Mike Stevens: As a brand, you know, you’ve got the choices: you can do B2C, you can do third party marketplace, you can do retail, you can do direct, you can have your own shops, there’s more opportunities to build the business that you want to build.

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. Today, we’re going to look at some of the founding stories and strategies of brands that have rewritten the rules of traditional retail and established dominant market positions by adopting the direct-to-consumer or DTC business model. Although many startups launch with eCommerce, few manage to successfully scale their DTC operations. A new book entitled The Direct To Consumer Playbook offers unique insights drawn from best-in-class DTC brands, and is this month’s featured selection for the Bigeye book club in partnership with Kogan page publishing. The Direct To Consumer Playbook’s author is Mike Stevens. Mike served his entrepreneurial apprenticeship on the startup team at Innocent drinks before co-founding the good-for-you confectionery and candy company, Peppersmith. After scaling and selling Peppersmith, Mike now works as an advisor, mentor, and consultant to those seeking to enter the increasingly competitive DTC space. To discuss The Direct To Consumer Playbook today, Mike is joining us from his home in Poole, England. Mike, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Mike Stevens: Thanks for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Can you tell us a bit about Innocent drinks and what it was about working on that brand that inspired you to found Peppersmith?

Mike Stevens: Yeah, absolutely. Um, so I was really lucky to join Innocent right at the beginning of that particular business. For those of you who don’t know, Innocent is now the biggest fruit juice company in Europe, so bigger than Tropicana and now owned by Coca-Cola, so a hugely successful business. When I first met Innocent back in 2001, it was a brand new startup. So, little did I know that it was gonna go on to be the success it has been. And I was very, very lucky to be part of that business in terms of rapid growth and learning a lot. But, the main reason I joined Innocent is because it was a startup and even, you know, back in the 2000s, outside tech, startups still weren’t really a thing. The words, “startup” and “founder” didn’t really exist. So, but I always knew that I wanted to start my own business. So I joined Innocent because it was a startup operation and I thought, what a great place that would be to learn, um, what it’s like being in a young business. And, I was so glad I did because it, yeah, ticked all the boxes and I learned so much. I mean, I always advise anyone who wants to start their own business, especially if they’re young as well, go and work for a startup first because you can see what happens. You can see the ups and downs, you can see the pressures and the different things that happen in a startup, which is very different from a nine to five, well-oiled corporate, and then you can see if you like it, but then also importantly, have you got the right skills, attitude, and aptitude, to prosper in an environment like that? And if you have, absolutely take those lessons and then you can start something for yourself. So that’s what I was doing at Innocent, but that took me on to doing lots of different things, including Peppersmith.

Adrian Tennant: Well, I mentioned in the intro that you took Peppersmith from concept through to acquisition. Was that what prompted you to write The Direct To Consumer Playbook?

Mike Stevens: The motivation for writing the book came out of, I guess, some of the challenges we had in the business and the opportunities. But going back to the beginning, I mean, I started Peppersmith because I wanted to do my own thing. And what happened was, at Innocent, we were sort of leading the food revolution. And what I mean by that is the major trends, which were, you know, sort of spearheaded by the likes of Innocent and some other great food and drink brands out there with natural, healthy, sustainable products with a brand to tell the story in terms of why they’re different from all the incumbent food and drink and on the shelf. And the insight that we had is that change was happening all over the food and drink industry. So in every category, whether it was ice cream or milk or bread or cheese, whatever, you know, those trends were apparent. Apart from one category, and that was confectionary. So confectionary was, um, still dominated by, huge multinationals who’d been doing the same thing, not for years, not for decades. But some of them, like hundreds of years through the likes of Mars and Cadbury, Wrigley, these businesses have been around for a long, long time. And, what they did, they did very well. But essentially it was high volume, cheap, not very good for you crap. So we saw the opportunity to mix that up and take the trends we saw everywhere else. And so, my hypothesis was, if natural health is sustainable, and was working in every other category, why shouldn’t it work in confectionery? And we were right. So we built this brand, it was a good-for-you confectionary company that we made chewing gum, mints, and other sugar-free, sweetened candy. And we built that business over nearly 10 years and eventually exited in 2018. But to your question about why I wrote the book, following my experience there, it really was about, you know, the way we were selling our products. So, right at the very start when we launched the brand in 2010, we had a direct-to-consumer offer – which was you could go on our website, hit a PayPal button, and we could deliver you our product directly to your home. But the reason we did that wasn’t ‘cause we thought DTC was an amazing sales opportunity. We did it because we knew as a startup, it was gonna take us a long time to build up distribution. And we wanted to ensure that anyone who’d heard about us and wanted to try the product could. Because we knew that we wouldn’t be in every shop. So lots of people, if they went out and about, they might not find us. So we had this DTC offer, but as we grew, what we found was that our direct-to-consumer business was just growing, organically. It was getting bigger and bigger without us putting a lot of effort into it. It also helped that we went onto Amazon very early on. We were in the UK, we were one of the first food products on Amazon. So that really helped us in terms of internet sales. So that part of the business was growing and we were also having quite a lot of success in bricks and mortar retail distribution. So, the big supermarkets, the main health food chains in the UK, and lots of travel sites were taking the products, but the one thing that I’m sure is true, whether it’s in Europe, or the US, or wherever, dealing with these big retail chains is incredibly hard work. They’re very demanding. They don’t always do what you want them to do as a supplier and I guess as a small brand, we don’t have all the resources to serve them as maybe they would like. Where we got to is that while we had generally a lot of success in retail, it was just getting harder and harder. And at the same time, DTC was growing and we weren’t really trying. So, yeah, we reached the point it was like, “well, if retail’s getting harder, and DTC seems to be pretty open and easy and it’s growing and we’re not even trying, why don’t we put more effort into the thing that seems to be working?” which was DTC. So we decided just to put more effort and resources into our direct-to-consumer channel. What I would say, you know, by the time we sold the business in 2018, DTC and internet sales were about a third of the revenues. So the bulk of the business was still via retailers, but, I think, you know, getting to a third was quite impressive because we were making confectionery products which people normally bought from the store. So to sell in bulk, as we were, and via DTC, I think that was quite a good effort. So we grew that side of the business, but what always played in my mind is “what are the right things to be doing? should we be investing more in marketing? Or is it in operations? How do we think about pricing?” And, what I did, I was asking around my peer group of other founders, who were all, you know, we’re all trying to do a bit of DTC. So it’s probably 2014, 2015, and the answer’s pretty much from all of my, founder, peer group was, we’re doing the basics. But we don’t really know what we’re doing, we’re all sort of learning on the job. And that was the whole community. So us as a bunch of founders, who own these great brands, we’re trying to sell more and more, using the power of the internet. We were all learning on the job. And my, um, my thought at the time was like, “oh, I really wish I could just buy the book to tell me how to do this.” But it didn’t exist. I mean, it didn’t exist, I guess, cuz it, you know, this, DTC selling was quite new. But then also just no one who got around to writing it. So when I sold the business in 2018 and finally stepped away from the brand in 2019, it occurred to me that no one still written the book for brands, in terms of the best practice to sell and direct to consumers. So, because I had the time, and I still had the motivation, and my main motivation was to help other entrepreneurs like myself, I thought I’d write the book. And so that’s why I spent the last two years doing.

Adrian Tennant: Well, you wrote most of The Direct To Consumer Playbook during the COVID 19 lockdowns. In what kinds of ways did that change how you approached researching and writing the book?

Mike Stevens: Yeah. So that was quite a change. So I started in earnest really, at the end of 2019, the start of 2020. And, um,  I guess, my strategy in terms of writing the book, hadn’t changed and didn’t change. And that was going to meet with the founders or CEOs of the best DTC brands that I could find and interview and tell their story. So I did that. And when I first started, I was determined to go and meet, face to face all of the founders,and that started. And then I think it was actually in February, 2020, for the first time, I wanted to meet the founder of Tails.com, which is a DTC dog food company. And in their office, you can imagine a DTC dog food company, every day is a “Take Your Dog to Work” day. So, there were dogs everywhere, but I’ve got quite severe dog allergies, so I was trying to figure out how we navigate that. So, I did have an interview with the founder, sort of away from their office, but I had to follow up, using Zoom, cause I couldn’t go back and see him. And, that was like, “oh, I thought that was okay.” And then the pandemic hit in March 2020 you know, and what was amazing then it meant that yes, it was impractical for me to go and meet all of the founders and I actually had to cancel some interviews that I already had lined up. But what really impressed me was how quickly everyone adapted. And, doing a video call for one or two hours, didn’t seem such a strange thing. So it was actually in the end, I think it was quite advantageous to me that I could ask people, “are you happy to sit on a video call with me for a couple of hours to tell your story?” and the answer was “yep. Cuz that’s what I do all day now.” And secondly, it extended my reach so I was able to find times that could fit with me and whoever I was interviewing and also expand internationally. So, there were Simon Griffith from Who Gives A Crap in Australia. There was Jeff, the co-founder of Casper. Hugh who did Ugly Drinks out of New York. So yeah, there were just lots more people who I could reach, and if I had to go and see them face-to-face that would’ve been more difficult. So in the end, while it’s always better to do face-to-face interviews, especially as you want to get a feel for actually what those businesses are all about, it was helpful in terms of writing the book.

Adrian Tennant: Mike, what can readers expect to learn from The Direct To Consumer Playbook?

Mike Stevens: Well, essentially it is the stories and strategies of the best in class DTC companies. I think the stories are quite important in terms of where the founders come from, in terms of what their background was, what their mission was, what they’re trying to achieve. But then out of those stories and out the growth, the scaling stories of their business, it was me trying to pick out what are the things that those businesses have done so well that has enabled them to be successful? And the way I approached that, I just asked the founders all the things that I wanted to know as a founder. And I think that gave me a real advantage. I was asking questions which I think were probably quite different than a journalist would ask or an academic would ask. I was asking the questions which were keeping me awake at night. How did you approach this challenge that I faced every day? Whether that was a marketing question, that was a finance question, it was an operations question. It was a team, it was investment. It was all the things that, you know, all these businesses have to do, including us. And I think what that enabled me to do is actually because I was a founder asking questions of another founder, it was easy to establish a rapport. I was so impressed with the answers and the time that the people interviewed were able to give me, they just gave me some really powerful, honest, candid answers. And I just don’t think that would be possible if I went in there as anything other than a founder.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, The Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and consumer research. Our featured book for June is The Direct To Consumer Playbook: The Stories and Strategies of the Brands that Wrote the DTC Rules, by Mike Stevens. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of The Direct To Consumer Playbook, go to KoganPage.com – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Mike Stevens, an expert in scaling direct-to-consumer brands and the author of The Direct To Consumer Playbook, published by Kogan Page. In the book, you identify seven characteristics shared by best-in-class direct to consumer brands. One of your recommendations for DTC brands is to build community. So Mike, why community building?

Mike Stevens: Community building is so important and the reason, it comes up again and again, when talking about DTC businesses is because DTC enables you to build a community. And the reason that happens is that every transaction you have, you are interacting with that end consumer. In terms of old-school retailing, you’ve just got wholesalers, you’ve got distributors, you’ve got retailers in the way, which separates the producer and the consumer. But now they have this connection. And as you connect with those customers, they find out about you, you find out about them, and you work out, you know, which ones you have the most in common with. And the ones you have, most in common with become your people and they become more than your customers. They’re your supporters. They tell you what to do more of, they tell you what to fix. They buy everything you do, and they tell their friends to do the same. And they also, they interact with each other as well as that community. And it’s, it’s all built around who you are, what you offer and what you care about. And if you can build that community, it’s a powerful marketing tool, but it’s a really powerful reason for being, because they’re the set of people you’re gonna look after again and again.

Adrian Tennant: You also write about purpose needing to be at the heart of every brand. Why is defining the ‘why’ behind a business so important to DTC specifically?

Mike Stevens: When someone comes to you, whether it’s via or social ad or they’ve been told about you, they end up on your website, they’re looking for a connection. They want to understand what you’re about and the reason, having a purpose, and standing for something that’s so important is that competition is so abundant. You know, so customers really need to see what you do. And if they believe in the same things you believe in, they’re going to, become a customer, part of your community, become a friend of the business. And what this means, and this is quite important, as we move onto the internet, away from mainstream retailing, is that, because you care about something and you should be proud of sharing what you cared about, you’re not gonna please everyone. You know, there’s gonna be a lot of people who come to your website and it’s just not for them, and that’s okay. But the important thing to remember is the ones that do come back, because they believe in the same things you do, they’re gonna come back again and again, and be with you all the way.

Adrian Tennant: Here in the US, we’ve seen a lot of editorials recently predicting the end of the direct-to-consumer boom. Economics play a part. The social platforms that originally enabled relatively inexpensive advertising for startup brands have become more expensive in recent years. Distribution too, is changing, as many DTC brands that were once available exclusively online can now be found on traditional retail store shelves. Mike, is omnichannel retail now the way to go for most startup consumer brands, do you think?

Mike Stevens: Yes and no. I’d say no for startups because you know, I’m a huge advocate of using DTC to sort of hone your offer, to hone your product, develop your brand. You know, DTC just gives you a really great opportunity to do that without spending a huge amount of money. But beyond that, Yes, omnichannel or multichannel is really important. The landscape’s changed you know, 5, 6, 7, 8 years ago, Digital advertising costs were low. There wasn’t that many DTC companies around. Look at Casper, for example, they were really the first mattress in a box DTC company, and they worked out, for every dollar they spent on Facebook, they were given seven or $8 in return. That was fantastic. And this is why, you know, the VC community got so excited but what has happened over time, it’s just competition. So more and more people have come into the space. And that means it’s not only a problem in terms of your brand, you’ve now got lots of competition. You’ve got lots of other companies who are vying for the same customers as you. That competition has also hugely driven up the cost of acquisition. So what that’s meant for brands is actually, they now have a scaling problem. It’s hard to scale to either the level they need to be to become profitable, or the level they need to meet the requirements or the promises they made to their investors. So, that means they need to branch out beyond DTC to find more customers. And you know what? that’s perfectly okay. Because one of the really great interviews I had in the book was, Anthony Fletcher from Graze who told me, like, it’s crazy that more DTC brands are not doing multichannel because not only are there more customers to serve, it’s actually you work out, there’s just better ways to serve those customers as well, so you can become a better and stronger business. So yes, I think, multichannel, omnichannel is gonna continue to be the way that most brands operate, but isn’t that great? Because, you know, as a brand, you know, you’ve got the choices, you can do B2C, you can do third party marketplace, you can do retail, you can do direct, you can have your own shops. There’s more opportunities to build the business that you want to build. 

Adrian Tennant: One of the best-known brands in the DTC space, as you mentioned, is Casper, the mattress company, which was once valued at over $1 billion. Now, although it was listed on the NASDAQ in 2020, after 18 months of losses, Casper was taken over by a private equity firm. For The Direct To Consumer Playbook, you interviewed Jeff Chapin, one of the original co-founders of the company. So, Mike, I’m curious, how did you secure that interview, and what are some of the most important lessons you think we can learn from Casper’s experiences?

Mike Stevens: It was great to talk to Jeff and hear his story beyond Casper. Cause I do believe, you know, when the history of DTC is written in 50 years time, Casper will be one of the brands that mentioned they were real sort of trailblazers and pioneers. And it was great to hear the whole story from Jeff. Yeah, in terms of how I got that interview, like I got most of my interviews really from founder networks. You know, I was lucky that as a founder, that I knew quite a lot of the people I interviewed firsthand anyway, and then there was only one or two degrees of separation between the rest. So, was again, another advantage of being a founder. So, you know, Jeff was really kind to spend quite a lot of time with me actually, and talk through the Casper story. And one of the things that he said is that, yeah, they spent lots and lots of money, provided by the VCs, cuz they had some really decent valuations. It meant they could get a lot of money from VCs without being diluted too much. So it seemed like why wouldn’t you do that? But what, in the end they actually spent all that money on marketing and that was marketing to try to stay ahead of the competition. In the book I mentioned there wasn’t one or two competitors, I think in 2019 we got to a number of 176 mattress-in-a-box DTC companies in the US. I mean, that’s a crazy number. And as Jeff told me, if you needed to try and outspend five competitors, you know, if you needed to try and keep going longer than those five, you could probably do it. But when you’ve got, you know, 200 or 500, it’s like whack-a-mole. You know, you spend a bit of money, one disappears, and then the next one pops up. It makes life really hard. And I think where Casper got into trouble is they took on the strategy of “we were the first, we are the best. We want to stay top of the pile.” Um, and they spent a lot of money to try and achieve that. Where in effect, they should have been investing more of that money into new product development, new channels, in terms of business infrastructure. And I think they’ve got that now. And I think one of the reasons that they have been bought by private equity and taken private again is because they’ve gotten everybody really good value. Because, you know, Casper is, they make great products. They’ve got a really strong brand, so there is definitely still value there. What Casper and the management team failed to do over the years is turn that opportunity into profit. So hopefully they can do that now. For those of your listeners who might have come across Adam Grant and his book Originals, there was a great chapter in there about the fallacy of the first-mover advantage. As a first mover, you know, whoever’s following you can actually learn not only from your opportunities, from your mistakes. And it sort of makes it easier to follow than it is to lead. And I think, you know, Casper sort of led such a dynamic marketplace for so long, it wasn’t hard for some of the competitors to catch up and it caused them a marketing problem to stay ahead. Jeff was great and I’m a fan of the business still. And especially their branding. I love their attitude to customer service as well. Have a read in the book in terms of how they approach that, but did they make all the right decisions at the right time? Probably not, but they’re still going and they’re still learning.

Adrian Tennant: The Direct To Consumer Playbook has been out for a couple of months So, Mike, what kinds of responses have you had to the book so far?

Mike Stevens: Yeah. The book launched at the start of May in the UK and the end of May for the US and the rest of the world. So, I’ve been getting some responses from the UK market and it’s been going great. In the last month, it’s been number one on the Amazon marketing chart. So, I mean, that was just great to see and also I’ve been getting some really nice professional feedback in terms of endorsements for the book, but also really important, now is actually from people reading it and trying to use it. The book was written, you know, to be helpful for entrepreneurs. So when an entrepreneur sort of jumps on Amazon, alright, it gives me a review and says, look, this is, just a really helpful book. I mean, That’s the main thing. So now I’m just really interested in terms of how it translates to international markets and particularly the US. There are US brands in the book, so hopefully, it is easy for any of the readers, wherever they are, to relate. And I think, you know, DTC being sort of what it is, the fundamentals of DTC are the same wherever you are in, Boston or Brighton in England, or Bangalore, or Bahrain, or wherever – it’s the same stuff. So, yeah, I’d be really keen now to hear what international readers think of it.

Adrian Tennant: And Mike, what are you working on right now?

Mike Stevens: So, after selling, uh, my business, I’ve been doing two things. One has been writing in the book. And the second thing is I consult, I also mentor, I advise, I write articles. I love consumer goods and especially challenger brands. It’s really why I’ve been doing it for 20-plus years. So I’m really happy to interact with or help anyone who’s trying to do something new with a physical product. So, anyone who’s listened to this who needs any help, you should come check me out.

Adrian Tennant: And how do you see the direct-to-consumer landscape evolving over the next two to three years?

Mike Stevens: I mean, I think DTC will continue to be harder, for sort of new entrants. And that is only because it’s so competitive, but there are things that are getting easier. Firstly, there’s so many great tools that a DTC company can use. I mean, even when we started, I mean, Shopify wasn’t really around you know, we didn’t use Shopify for the first sort of three or four years we were doing DTC, but the, you know, tools like Shopify and Klavyo are just fantastic for creating an ecosystem you can use to get going. Then it’s saying, you know, making sure that you’ve got the right products and the right marketing messages. I mean, that’s really up to you, but the tools are there. I also do think in the next few years, we will see a correction in digital marketing costs, and the reason I say that is it’s about supply and demand. I think as more and more businesses realize that they’re not getting the right returns, from digital marketing, the cost of acquisition, it’s just actually higher than they can support. And more brands will be looking at sort of a different marketing mix. and that will mean, you know, demand will go down on those channels. So I think, yeah, the cost will come down, whether they will be as effective or not, as they have been in the past, we will see. But I do think there will be a correction there. 

Adrian Tennant: Mike, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you and your services, where can they find you?

Mike Stevens: Yeah. So, a good place to start if you’re into DTC would be the book, so that is available and I know you’re gonna share some links, Adrian, so thank you for that. But in terms of getting in touch with me personally, which I love, so please do, you’ll find me on Twitter. My handle is @OpenMikeStevens. My website is Stevens.earth. And also, you know, I’m quite active on LinkedIn as well. So Mike J. Stevens or just search, Mike Stevens, Direct To Consumer Playbook or Mike Stevens, Peppersmith, you are sure to find me.

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like a copy of The Direct To Consumer Playbook, you can save 20% when you purchase directly from the publishers online at KoganPage.com. Just add the promo code BIGEYE20 at the checkout. Mike, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Mike Stevens: It’s a pleasure. Thank you, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week. Mike Stevens, an expert in scaling direct-to-consumer brands and the author of The Direct To Consumer Playbook. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com. Just select Podcast from the menu. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Our guest is Jerry Daykin, an internationally recognized expert in inclusive marketing. Reflecting on his personal experiences as a gay man, Jerry speaks to the business benefits of representing marginalized groups of consumers and discusses how brands should approach activations during Pride Month. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can claim a 20 percent discount when pre-ordering Jerry’s new book, Inclusive Marketing, at KoganPage.com, by using the promo code BIGEYE20 at the checkout.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Jerry Daykin: If you activate in Pride Month, you’re really saying, “I’m a brand that’s here for LGBT rights and I really stand up for those consumers,” which is great if you do. But I think that comes with a bit of scrutiny about, like, “well, what are you actually doing?

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. In June of 1969, patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York City staged an uprising to resist frequent harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender folks at the hands of the police. This was a time when it was all too common for LGBTQ Americans to be subjected to persecution. That uprising marked the beginning of a national and then international movement to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices. Today, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, allies, and supporters celebrate queer history, culture, and creativity during June, designated Pride Month. But how should brands navigate support for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and other marginalized groups of consumers? As we’ve discussed previously on this podcast, a majority of the youngest generation of consumers, Gen Z, expect brands to be inclusive. To discuss the opportunities and challenges that inclusive marketing presents our guest this week is uniquely well-qualified. Currently writing a book on the topic, which promises to provide clear, actionable guidance for folks working agency-side and client-side, Jerry Daykin is a global marketing leader who has held senior roles at brands including GSK Consumer Healthcare, Diageo, and Mondelez. Jerry is also a Diversity Ambassador and co-chair of the World Federation of Advertisers’ Diversity Task Force, where he created the WFA’s framework for representation and inclusion, and sits on the diversity and inclusion boards at the Advertising Association, the Conscious Advertising Network, and Outvertising. Jerry also writes for publications, including The Drum, Ad Week, Campaign, Marketing Week, and The Guardian, and is a regular conference speaker. Currently the Vice President, Head of Global Media at Beam Suntory, Jerry is joining us today from his home in London, England. Jerry, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Jerry Daykin: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.

Adrian Tennant: What’s your definition of inclusive marketing?

Jerry Daykin: Oh, it’s a big one. I think sometimes it’s just better marketing. Like it’s our job as marketers to understand all the different consumers that we try and talk to. And so, true inclusive marketing is just when we get outside of our own bubbles and we get outside of our own kind of narrow view of the world and we truly talk to all the consumers out there. But yeah, definitely can manifest itself in terms of, kind of better representation, inclusion, et cetera, on the screen. But it starts definitely with the kind of thinking and the strategy and the people behind the screen as well. The whole process needs to change to just better do our jobs.

Adrian Tennant: Well, you’ve had many articles and opinion pieces published in marketing and ad industry publications, and today you’re recognized as an expert in inclusive marketing. So when did you realize that this was an area you really wanted to focus on?

Jerry Daykin: I am a gay man myself. I think, as a kid, I was when I was trying to work out who I was or what I was, I was quite aware that certainly in the ‘80s in the UK, literally it was illegal in schools and things. You didn’t see yourself anywhere. You didn’t see what that was. And when I first started to glimpse TV shows like Queer As Folk or occasionally adverts, maybe more in queer spaces, but you know, trying to talk to that. I realized from a fairly young age, the power of media advertising to either positively normalize or, more often than not, exclude. So I think it’s in the back of my mind been something I’ve been thinking about for quite a long time, but I’ve naturally fallen into it over the last couple of years, I think, and it’s obviously become a bigger topic in the industry and I’ve been someone who’s been willing to talk about it. I got involved in an organization called Ouvertising about five, six years ago now. And they are specifically focused on LGBT inclusion in the industry, both trying to make people who work in the industry feel more comfortable and welcome, and really challenging brands to push things externally. And so it started from that. And I think because I was one of the fairly small list of like brand side marketers, willing to sort of chat about this, I ended up getting involved in the British Advertising Association‘s D&I Forum, and eventually graduated somehow to the World Federation of Advertisers, where, over the last couple of years, I’ve been one of their Diversity Ambassadors. So I sort of slightly fell into it by it being a personal passion of mine and just going along with the ride and the opportunity and just seeing how critical it is that we do drive this change. So we need some people to shout about it.

Adrian Tennant: Well, you’ve been writing a book, entitled Inclusive Marketing: Why Representation Matters To Your Customers And Your Brand, which is due to be published in October by our friends at Kogan Page. Jerry, what prompted you to write the book?

Jerry Daykin: Yeah, I’m feeling slightly that this is an exclusive teaser of that because it’s the first time I’ve spoken to anyone about that. But, two things that prompted me: one, chatting to the Kogan Page people and they just thought it was a real opportunity because kind of, no one has written a book on that and it’s a fairly new topic. There were certainly guides and plenty of panels and thought pieces out there, but not really kind of a book that goes into more detail. And secondly, it was building a lot of the work that we did at the World Federation of Advertisers over the last couple of years with a whole bunch of other advertisers. We’ve been digging into this kind of question of like if so many advertisers nowadays accept that they want to do more inclusive marketing, why is it still quite slow to happen? And we got to talk through the whole creative process and decided that there were like every sort of every stage of that process there were moments where your bias, where your lack of experience, where your own narrow vision sometimes stops you from seeing the opportunity for inclusion or perhaps actively excludes people. And so we created a bit of a small guide last year, and it just felt like a perfect storm to dig a bit deeper into that guide for people who really wanted to go a bit further. The “representation matters” bit in the subtitle – it’s quite key to me because one of the main things I’ve done in the book is actually interviewing over 20 different marketers from different big companies and agencies and brands and things. I’ve really started every conversation kind of like we have almost today by saying, “Why does this matter to you personally?” I think some of those personal stories and those personal insights are some of the most persuasive things because we can bang on about the stats of inclusion and the business opportunity as much as you like, but when you hear some of those opportunities, so yeah, I wanted to have a chance to bring that framework to a bit more depth, to a bit more life and really to talk to some of those marketers and share some of their stories.

Adrian Tennant: What has the writing and editing process been like for you? has it required a different mindset than say writing articles?

Jerry Daykin: Yeah, I definitely didn’t know what I was getting into when I did it. And I actually, It kind of worked out really well because I was on gardening leave for a couple of months between jobs. So it sort of worked out perfectly and I thought, you know, I’ll do a bit of this whilst I’m enjoying my gardening leave. And it took up a lot more of that gardening leave than I expected it would, perhaps naively. And certainly, I think to begin with, I thought it was a clever shortcut to interview lots of other people and use their words to fill up. But actually, I’ve really enjoyed those conversations, but they took a huge amount of time to, you know, have the conversation, edit them down, write them up, and things. And yeah, I was quite conscious throughout that I think it’s one thing writing an article and giving people a sort of a headline of, you know, this is what you should do. When you get to a book and you want about a whole chapter or even just a few pages, going into each of those phases, you’ve got to be kind of really clear on another depth of guidance, of advice. I suppose I’m conscious that people hopefully are gonna pay for the book. So I feel like quite a high, like, duty for it to be actually quite interesting and good. And I have peak imposter syndrome some days. So yeah, it was quite different, but I’d be lying if there wasn’t a few late nights in the last week or so when it was due and I was up, gone midnight, just, editing and adding a few bits in here and there. I tried to be well-planned and disciplined.

Adrian Tennant: As I mentioned in the intro, June is Pride Month. As brands seek to align themselves with the LGBTQIA+ community and show support, this requires more than slapping a rainbow on the packaging. What are some of the most common misconceptions you’ve found marketers and brand managers have about LGBTQIA+ consumers?

Jerry Daykin: Yeah, there’s a part of me that thinks it’s fantastic, that lots of brands do slap a rainbow on the packaging, because as I said, when I was a kid I’d have loved it to see rainbows everywhere, you know, I love it when, my mum goes into Marks and Spencer’s, and she sees Pride everywhere. And, it’s sort of wonderfully, middle-class normalization of it. But yes, there’s a fine line. A lot of members of the community feel that some of those brands are doing it much more to cash in and make a profit, et cetera, than they are to truly, support. I think one of the biggest issues we have is the LGBT community, even within itself, is highly stereotyped. And if you look at the portrayals of that community, certainly, to begin with, I think it’s getting better, but they’ve been quite male. They’ve been quite gay, and they’re often quite young, it’s often about partying and clubbing and drinking, which of course is a fabulous part of the gay identity, but a very small slice of it. There are plenty of gay men who don’t enjoy that. There are plenty of, lesbian, bisexual, trans, and everything else in the spectrum, who don’t necessarily feel massively represented by that. They probably still think it’s nice that brands are moving a little bit in their direction. So I think there’s a sort of caution that, although we talk about this community, it’s a community of, Hundreds of millions of people. So like any other audience, there’s a lot of nuance, a lot of different aspects of it. So I think brands have to be a little bit careful of that. And I think whilst Pride Month is always a great chance to nudge ourselves in the right direction and think about this, I’m always cautious and that may not be the best place to start. Because I think if you activate in Pride Month, you’re really saying like, “I’m a brand that’s here for LGBT rights and I really stand up for those consumers,” which is great if you do. But I think that comes with a bit of scrutiny about like, “well, what, what are you actually doing? What are your actual policies? What are you actually doing internally? How do you treat your LGBT customers? I often think it’s almost if you want to start this journey, it’s maybe a bit safe to start around the year and try and do something, Outside of that peak season, start talking to LGBTQ, consumers, start advertising in LGBT publications, start making sure that, you know, your own internal LGBT employees are well looked after and resourced. And then perhaps Pride can be the icing on that cake, but I don’t mind companies like changing their logos to rainbow for Pride, but I wouldn’t make that the first step I take, I would start elsewhere. Really start representing and talking to that community. And then if you want to do that, brilliant. Sure. Why not? I think if you don’t, you can easily get called out by people who are like, “Why have you changed your logo when you don’t have a policy towards trans people in your own company?” or “You’ve had this bad issue” or, you know, various different things.

Adrian Tennant: Which consumer brands do you think do a really good job of engaging with the LGBTQIA+ community authentically?

Jerry Daykin: Yeah. I like brands that kind of have been in it for the long term. In the UK, and I think to an extent globally, the Skittles brand is one that I’ve seen do that, part of the Mars company’s portfolio. I know they’ve had sort of a multi-year partnership with Gay Times. So they’ve been working with and talking to a publication that represents that community and helps them have an authentic voice. This past year or so, they did a great activation, which was sponsoring the digging out of old black and white photos from historic Prides, recoloring them, and sharing them in their editorial. And I think they’d been doing that for four or five years. Having special packaging where they remove the rainbow from their packaging because their message is that there are other rainbows that matter. So I love that they’ve stuck with it for a few years and that it’s not just a brand manager somewhere who decided, “Oh, this year let’s do Pride.” They’ve really built a platform and worked with the community on it. They’re a big organization, but I think Procter and Gamble, P&G, do a really good job. They actually have a dedicated person, I think, whose job is LGBT inclusion and how their business can work with those communities and things. And you see that comes to life in a whole load of different ways. I know in the US they’ve done a partnership with GLAAD, and I think they’ve even created resources that other advertisers can get for free and can tap into, to help them do that. That’s a really deliberate approach, you know? This is a community that matters. These are some of our own colleagues that matter. This is an audience that we want to do the right thing with and by. And so you find other examples of brands that done kind of one-off campaigns and really nice things. But those two stand out as brands that have said, “We’re really going to do this. And we’re going to still be doing it in four or five years’ time. And we’re going to invest in the people and the resources and the partnerships to get there.” Rather than just, you know, “Oh, we’ve got a bit of money left over this year. So let’s throw it at a Pride float,” which isn’t a bad thing to do, but it’s not a thorough thing to do.

Adrian Tennant: One of the things I learned about you during the COVID lockdowns, Is that you’re a hardcore LEGO fan. You posted images to LinkedIn of, I think it was an amusement park that you’d built …

Jerry Daykin: Yes!

Adrian Tennant: … which generated a lot of engagement. So I’m curious, what do you think about the initiative LEGO announced at the beginning of this month to encourage more open conversations among families about sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression?

Jerry Daykin: Yeah. I was always a fan of LEGO, since a kid, and, with a lot of spare time on my hands, and a few canceled holidays and things, I was like, “Right, I’m going big!” So yeah, I built a huge roller coaster thing, which is a great set. And also they launched, I guess it was last Pride, an LGBT set. It was a progressive rainbow with all the different colors, all the different characters, and things. And it was designed by one of their senior designers, who I think is LGBT himself, so it was a passion project from someone in the business. And it was sort of interesting at the time because whilst I think it was very largely warmly received, there’s always going to be those people out there being like, “Oh, LEGO’s a kid’s brand and how dare you show this rainbowy stuff to kids?” So that’s why I think it’s a great thing because I think you have to approach conversations around sexuality and gender things carefully with kids because they are young. You wouldn’t talk to them about straight sex, you probably wouldn’t want to, you know, discuss certain things with them. But I think it’s also important to normalize that conversation and be like, well, it’s kind of, if you don’t talk about it at all, I mean, you just like surprise them with it when they’re 18 or something. That of course, that’s going to be weird and messy. You know, LGBT inclusion whilst for the most part, everyone loves it. And it’s great. It’s brilliant. It comes with a risk and especially I think, if you’re a kid’s brand, there’s the potential of backlash. There’s the potential of, you know, conservative groups to challenge you and try and cancel you and things. I think it shows that they, you know, they are genuinely committed to their colleagues, to the consumers, that they’re willing to say, “No, we think this is an important thing to do.” If it was a chocolate bar trying to do that, you might be like, “Why are you doing that?” But they play a key role in the development of kids, like it’s part of how you learn to build and construct and their sets represent all sorts of different aspects of societies. So yeah. why wouldn’t they also go on that journey? Yeah, for me, that’s a great example of a brand, again, trying to do something for the long-term and positively and not just change its logo, but actually change its products, change its messaging, really, really try and push things forward.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, The Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and consumer research. Our featured book for June is The Direct To Consumer Playbook: The Stories and Strategies of the Brands that Wrote the DTC Rules, by Mike Stevens. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of The Direct To Consumer Playbook, go to KoganPage.com – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Sandra Marshall: I’m Sandra Marshall, VP of Client Services at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as advertising professionals. At Bigeye, we always put audiences first. For every engagement, we’re committed not just to understanding our clients’ business challenges but also to learning about their prospects and customers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. These insights inform our strategy and collectively inspire the account, creative, media, and analytics teams working on our clients’ projects. If you’d like to put Bigeye’s audience-focused consumer insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com. Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Jerry Daykin, an expert in inclusive marketing, and the author of a new book due to be published later this year, entitled Inclusive Marketing: Why Representation Matters To Your Customers And Your Brand. Florida is now one of five states in the nation where educators and the staff at public schools are explicitly prohibited from discussing LGBTQ topics as part of the curriculum. Other active “don’t say gay” bills exist in Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. Yet other states have been moving in the opposite direction, establishing legal foundations for LGBTQ inclusive curriculums. This is true of Connecticut, Nevada, New Jersey, Illinois, Oregon, and Colorado. Headquartered in the UK, Lush Cosmetics has released a limited edition soap in the hopes of raising $50,000 for Equality Florida, an LGBTQ rights organization here in the state. The sparkly gold soap boasts that hashtag gay is okay. And it’s just the latest step Lush Cosmetics has taken to support the queer community. So Jerry, while Lush has decided to provide very visible support, should other brands in other categories respond to these kinds of issues? When is it appropriate to take a stand?

Jerry Daykin: Without getting too drawn into the politics of it, as I said earlier, I grew up in the ‘80s, and we had a somewhat similar law in the UK where schools are prohibited from talking about things. And, from my own personal experience – which, by the way, is backed up by statistics, I still ended up gay! – as you know, there’s no implication that talking about these things actually changes what people do. But in my own experience, as others’ was, I found it really hard. I was quite depressed at Uni because there was no positive role model, there was nothing about it. So I think ultimately, in my humble opinion, that’s what these laws create. They create a world in which you still have people who are gay or non-binary, trans, or whatever they are. They just don’t see the kind of positive support around them and don’t understand what that means for them. And that does nothing but bad, but, as for brands, in the book, I talk about this sort of spectrum of where brands can support. It starts from the bad end, which is like, you know, advertising excludes minorities where, it’s all just happy white middle-class men having a lovely time, you know, and then there’s a sort of a step beyond that, which is you start to try and show different minorities, but you’re probably stereotyping them. It may be a better step, but maybe the worst step. There’s a stat from the Geena Davis Institute, which looks at Cannes Lion winners, recognizing the best advertising in the world. They looked at Black representation. They said actually Black people are reasonably well-represented in Cannes Lions winners, but they are generally portrayed as less successful, and less intelligent. Well, is it good that they’re in the adverts if you’re, you know, putting them down? And so if every brand can go beyond that, to the point, which is positive inclusion. So you’re just genuinely doing our jobs, reflecting the consumers around us, which of course includes a wonderful spectrum of people on the LGBT spectrum. You know, not every ad needs to feature gay people, but if you’re producing lots of different adverts, lots of different e-commerce creative, and all sorts of things you know, some of them really should, and you should try and like totally reflect that broad intersectionality. You should try and start talking about some of the stories. And actually, when you dig into different communities, you find really interesting, really emotive stories that are probably better than some of the boring advertising we’ve been doing. And there’s a step beyond that, which is really about activism, taking a stand. I think sometimes brands think that, you know, turning up at Pride is a small step, but actually, that’s quite a big step to make because Pride – it’s a riot. It’s a challenge. You may not feel that always times, but it’s really about standing up for rights. And yeah, certainly as you get into that more purposeful marketing, should my brand take a political stand on various things? I think the answer is, it depends a bit on the brand, on the category. Like Lush Cosmetics is a really great example where their whole brand is they didn’t really do advertising. They’re built around good values, where their product is made, and what they stand for. So it’s really clearly a part of their journey. Ben and Jerry’s is another famous company. When Australia had a vote on gay marriage, they literally campaigned for gay marriage. You know, they were running adverts and things, and that’s in their DNA. It’s part of who they are. If that’s not a part of your company, I think you need to think about what right your brand has to play in various spaces. And I think it works well when brands find a kind of a purposeful cause that fits and they can get behind. But if you’ve never done anything in that space at all, and you’re suddenly campaigning really publicly for rights over there, you know, it can be a bit disconcerting. And I think not every brand needs to campaign and you’ve got to be careful because, you know, whilst I might not agree with them, of course, there are many millions of people who hold very different political views to me, and you have to unpick what is just politics and what are the absolute rights of your consumers and things. So it’s a tricky space. I think every brand can positively represent the LGBT community. And I think it’s great when brands want to go further than that, but you know, it needs to depend on the fit around the brand, the cause you can get behind. Yeah, things like that. You’ve got to think carefully about that and why it makes sense. Because you know, it still needs to be marketing to your brand. It still needs to come back to what is the promise of your brand in the first place.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the techniques that you’ve found most effective in educating colleagues or clients about the value of inclusive marketing?

Jerry Daykin: You know, there’s loads of great research over the last decade that shows it’s more effective, you know, inclusive teams work harder, and inclusive marketing delivers better. Various different organizations who measure advertising have proven that more progressive advertising is more memorable, and is more effective. So, you know, there’s that sort of brutal fact that it’s a good idea. I’ve always found that when I’ve run sessions, webinars, and things like that, it’s actually the personal take on it that really persuades people like me sharing how seeing Queer As Folk and some of these adverts when I was young was the first glimpse I got that there were other people like me and quite a lot of people, not just LGBT people, but women have examples of when they first saw empowered women in adverts and that they weren’t doing the laundry anymore or things like that. And I think that kind of opens your mind a little bit, not just to the fact that there’s a business opportunity, but actually a real consumer cultural opportunity. For the most part, I’ve worked with people who nod along and broadly agree with all this, and they want to achieve this, but they’re also juggling a million other things. They’re busy, they’re not experts in inclusive marketing. They are from a narrow world view and they’ve lived in their little bubble, their whole lives. And, they don’t really know where to start. So that’s where in terms of education, we’ve really focused on breaking down the marketing process into different stages, thinking of some of the different questions you could ask yourself. And then the two things I’d say that is that one: like anyone, wherever your background is, you can do inclusive marketing. Like you can be a super straight white middle-class man, English speaking, everything you can still do. Great inclusive marketing. But to do that, you’re going to need two things. You are going to need empathy. You’re going to need to think outside your box, because you’re going to talk to people who have very different life experiences, very different ways of reacting to content and products and things. So you really need to force yourself to be empathetic. And it’s a lot easier to do that if you are surrounded in some way by people who do have some of that lived experience, who do come from different backgrounds, either in your own team, in your agency, with consultants and focus groups and things. But yeah, anyone can do inclusive marketing, but if you want to do it and you’re nodding along to, “oh, this is a good idea.” You have got to be deliberate about it because if we’re not deliberate – we’re busy. We’re rushed. We fall into our own assumptions about things. We only give ourselves a few weeks to cast things. We find the same people, the same actors. So yeah, you’ve got to twist people’s arms emotionally, and then arm them with the practical tools to do it.

Adrian Tennant: When we first chatted a couple of weeks ago about the topics we might discuss in today’s podcast, you mentioned that you work with the United Nations. Could you tell us more about that?

Jerry Daykin: Yeah, it’s not what I signed up to be a marketer. I wasn’t expected to be dragged in front of the United Nations Human Rights Council, but I’ve actually been, and I say “been” in inverted commas because I’ve been once I’ve virtually been two other times. So three times, I’ve been to the United Nations. Unfortunately, COVID got in the way of the other two. The Human Rights Council is asking a lot of questions about the treatment of minorities, of migrants, of the LGBTQ community. And, unfortunately, a lot of those communities remain very, very badly treated. Even in the media still quite negatively presented, especially in the UK, we sometimes have quite a toxic media towards immigration, and they’re kind of asking a fairly, naive question about, why do advertisers support this stuff? And the simple answer is in many ways advertisers do fund hate speech. A lot of advertisers here trying to do Pride stuff may accidentally be funding anti-LGBT hate speech at the same time. And there are different extremes of that. There are sites out there, clickbait sites that exist that just post horrible stories, often made up, like really nasty stuff – but they are funded by advertising. So advertisers need to have brand safety approaches. They need to have ways that stop their adverts funding that really bad stuff. Many of them do, but not enough. There are middle grounds, you know, there were very substantial newspapers and TV shows that have frankly, quite anti-trans agendas or in other ways phobic towards communities. I think advertisers need to ask themselves whether they really want to support those. And there’s a more positive, other side as well, which is as well as avoiding the bad stuff, you know, make sure your advertising is funding the positive voices. So where mainstream media is covering minority communities, LGBT people, make sure you’re sponsoring those shows and funding that content. And yeah, partner with the pride media, the Gay Times, the Divas, The Pink News, or all the organizations out there and, and sponsor their content. I’m part of this organization called the conscious advertising network which is who I’ve gone with, and they also try to provide guidance and frameworks and things for marketers. And also because the United Nations is quite an important organization that people listen to, we’re also encouraging them to lean on big companies, them to lean on organizations that they work with and just to spread this point of view that we need to make sure advertising is not funding hates, not encouraging the spread of negative content. And a lot of that hate is literally spread because of advertising. People find controversial stories that are negative and make up shocking claims are shared on social media, they get more clicks, they get more eyeballs, and they make more money than actually telling the truth. So, you know, it’s not even necessarily people who want to be hateful, it’s we want to make money. So we just need to remove that incentive and try and calm down some of the negative media that is unfortunately out there still.

Adrian Tennant: Following the death of George Floyd and others, and the global demonstrations in support of the black lives matter movement, the US retailer Target publicly committed to spending more than $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by 2025. Jerry, do you have any data on retailers or brands pledging to support and buy from businesses owned by LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs?

Jerry Daykin: I don’t honestly know that I have clear evidence or numbers of things. I know, for instance, one of my competitors – and I work in Beam Suntory, an alcohol company – one of the competitors that I used to work for, Diageo, has been quite vocal that they are going to commit tens of millions of dollars of their media budget to minority-owned publications. And I do know from the WFA diversity council I sit on that most big advertising, big marketing companies do now have supplier diversity initiatives. GSK, where I used to work does, where I now work, they also do, where they look at their spending and they look at it right through their supply chains. And you have like tier one, the partners you actually pay, and tier two, the people that supply them, et cetera. And some real concerted efforts to try and move money to a range of minority supporting businesses. I don’t know that there are many businesses that like specifically split out, for instance, LGBT or Pride organizations within that. They would kind of be looped into that kind of supplier diversity initiative, which would include any sort of minority-owned, operated, targeted businesses. But I think it is a big part of what brands advertise or whatever company, if you didn’t work in advertising at all you know, companies have a huge footprint outside of their own company in terms of what they buy, where they source from. And of course, there are practicalities, like if you’re in a huge company trying to source huge amounts of materials and things, you know, the big companies that supply that stuff are probably owned by shareholders, publicly traded companies, diversity is well lost within them. But there definitely are real opportunities. Most advertising companies that have a whole load of different agencies, and different partners. There are real opportunities to work with organizations owned by different people, which actually fund LGBT communities and other minorities. And it isn’t just to tick a box and it’s nice, but coming right back to what we talked about at the start, if you want to do good marketing, if you want to be a good business, you need to better understand the breadth of the consumers you work with. And if you tap into some of these organizations, they bring experience that you almost certainly don’t have in your business. They bring different perspectives, different understanding, better ways of doing things. Like they may be small, but you can really be challenged and changed by that. And I definitely think, like, George Floyd was an interesting moment, certainly in the marketing industry where it caused a lot of companies to really reflect on what are they doing to support their black consumers, their black colleagues, and ultimately to a broader extent, total diversity. I think it’s interesting now that years passed, and we know that to an extent starts to fade. And then that’s why it’s important to have conversations like this, to write books if you really want to, and to keep people talking about these. And I think it’s great when brands then do make a public commitment like that because they are then held accountable for it. They actually have to deliver on it and it can’t just be like, post the rainbow flag, post a black square on Instagram and then a year later, slightly forget about it. So I think, I think more brands probably could make public commitments around that and think about the fact that their advertising money, their production money all the millions and billions of pounds that big companies spend, even if a small percentage of it, like it’s often, you know, just a few percentage is still millions of pounds that could fund businesses, keep different perspectives in the media alive, really make a huge difference. So definitely do that.

Adrian Tennant: What are you hoping readers will take away from your upcoming book?

Jerry Daykin: Well, I hope they achieve the two things that I said that I think you need to do. Which is one: an emotional sense of why this really blooming matters. Because I love doing interviews with the 20 marketers I spoke to. I loved hearing their stories. Some of them really unexpected, personal experiences. There’s a fairly famous marketing professor called Mark Ritson, who is quite a serious marketer, he swears quite a lot, but he’s a bit OTT, he’s a very sort of working-class, straight man. And chatting to him, he has his bunker stories of how he spent a year or two doing ethnographic research of the Pride movement in the US. So he was going to all these Pride parties and learning all about Pride culture in the US and being totally immersed in this world. You’re like, “Oh, I didn’t expect that story to come out.” I didn’t expect him to be so passionate about inclusion, as he was. If anything, I’ll be honest, I thought he might be a bit of a cynic towards it and think it was all a bit nonsense. I’ve talked to CMOs and other people who have, like, really personal experiences, both how they’ve been treated in the industry and what they’ve seen externally. Diversity is such a personal thing. There’s no one right way of being inclusive. So I hope that people that read some of those different perspectives are emotionally challenged by them. I hope they’re really also armed practically. The second half of the book is these 12 chapters that go through these 12 stages of the marketing process. I think you can, like, read it through as a book. I think you read it through and you get a good sense of the overall marketing process and that’s interesting, but I’d love to think people also bookmark it and they come back to it and then they say like, “Right, I’m about to start production on my next TV ad. Let’s read that chapter again and remind myself.” There are checklists in there as well about, you know, have you done this? Have you done that? Have you done this with your casting? Have you made your production space open and friendly and inclusive and things? So I hope it tells an emotional story. It kind of really inspires people. and then it practically helps them. and I guess my biggest wish, which is still a barrier we have to work through, is that I hope it doesn’t just preach to the choir. I mean, I think there are going to be, like, people who talk a lot about inclusion, who are going to hopefully read it and nod along. I hope we can get it into the hands of some people who maybe, have given it less thought or haven’t been able to prioritize it and persuade a few of them to start thinking a bit more about it.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Jerry, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you and your writing, where can they find you?

Jerry Daykin: Yeah, I’m quite prolific on Twitter and LinkedIn. So yeah, look for Jerry Daykin and either of those are @JDaykin on Twitter. Of course, yeah, the book is now available to pre-order on Kogan Page, So it’s out in October, but you can read all about it then. 

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like to secure a copy, you can get a 20% discount when you pre-order online at KoganPage.com. Just add the promo code, BIGEYE20 at the checkout. Jerry, thank you very much for being our guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Jerry Daykin: Thanks for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Jerry Daykin, Vice President and Head of Global Media at Beam Suntory, and the author of the book, Inclusive Marketing: Why Representation Matters To Your Customers And Your Brand, which is due to be released in October of this year. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com, select Podcast from the menu. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Categories
Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Bigeye recently released ENVISION 2022, an on-demand video exploring key findings from our report, Retail Disrupted. This week’s podcast is an extended interview with ENVISION guest Andy Sheldon, founder of the direct-to-consumer consultancy Think Straighter. During our interview, Andy shared insights from his tenure as Chief Creative Officer at Home Shopping Network and discussed where he sees untapped opportunities for DTC brands to leverage social live stream shopping.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Andy Sheldon: Engagement is the key to conversion. If you have a consumer base that’s engaged and will lean forward and be a part of your journey as you’re talking to them or selling to them, that’s an experience that can be very authentic and they trust.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us today. Last October, Bigeye published a market research report entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We recently released a video, ENVISION 2022, in which four experts discuss key findings from our study and explore some of the potential implications for retailers and brand marketers. Our podcast today is an extended interview with one of our guests for ENVISION 2022, who discussed his tenure as a creative executive at Home Shopping Network, where he spearheaded the reinvention of the brand. Andy Sheldon has over three decades of experience working in the TV, radio, and music industries and has led an array of startups and turnarounds building infrastructure, and re-engineering operations here in the U.S., as well as in the UK, where I first got to know Andy back in the early nineties. Today, Andy is the founder of Think Straighter, consulting with brands, helping them establish direct-to-consumer marketing strategies, and growing their in-house media and production capabilities. He also helps develop top-line sales strategies, and consumer and audience engagement, enhancing the long-term value of customers with brand development and growth strategies. Andy took a break from a vacation in California to join us for this conversation. [Music]

Adrian Tennant: Andy, it’s great to see you again. Thank you for joining us for ENVISION.

Andy Sheldon: Absolute pleasure, Adrian. Thanks for having me.

Adrian Tennant: You were at Home Shopping Network for approaching a decade, first as EVP of Television and then as Chief Creative Officer of HSNi and General Manager of HSN Productions. What were some of the highlights of your time there?

Andy Sheldon: You know, Adrian, it was an extraordinary time. We had just had a new CEO who came in, Mindy Grossman, and she invited me to come over from the UK and basically take over television and help her, along with the rest of the leadership team, reinvent what shopping television could be. That was a very big and somewhat daunting but incredibly exciting task. To be able to suddenly take what had been this incredibly established, beloved, shopping behemoth we wanted to be able to turn it into something that was going to be certainly different, not quite as perhaps dusty, give it a new twist, so it could be a little bit more energetic. We relaunched in a little under seven months and that was taking over five studios and completely changing them. Had to do it very carefully when you rebrand, something like an HSN that had at that point, I think it was almost 30 years that it had been around. You have to be super careful how you do it because you know, there’s a core audience and if you shock a core audience and they go “I don’t know what this is anymore. This doesn’t relate to me at all” you can lose your core audience and you can have terrible problems with top-line sales. So I think the highlights really were being able to turn the brand around, being able to take the core audience with us, being able having recreated the brand, literally from the ground up every single component of its look and its feel from the way the camera shots were being used, to music, to lighting, to sets, it was such a huge process and a project to do. But as a result of it, we were able to not only keep our core, start to develop new and younger customers, which was very important to the base in order to be able to get those sales. We were able to integrate with really well-known celebrities and incredibly big brands that would, prior to Mindy coming in and the new team that she bought in, I think it would have been impossible to have got some of those brands, but because we suddenly were no longer that dusted somewhat dated shopping experience, which was fantastic and doing great, but it would have at some point staled on people, we were able to, as a direct result of all of the changes that we’ve made, honestly, we were able to get some incredible brands. And I think that for me, whether it was working with the movie studios in Hollywood, with musicians doing live concerts, bringing in some of the biggest names in entertainment, I think that was really some of the most exciting stuff.

Adrian Tennant: Back in 1982, long before it was available to millions of households via satellite TV and cable, HSN started on a local Florida station. Today it’s available 24 hours a day, and anyone can view the channel on TV or on the website. Andy, what do you think is the main appeal of shopping TV for consumers?

Andy Sheldon: So I think it’s changed somewhat, but I think the foundational reason why shopping television has continued to be popular is simply because it’s a friend. So the hosts have been, for example, on HSN and QVC, they have had many of those hosts for many, many, many years. So for a core customer base, there’s a real trust. There’s companionship, there’s somewhat convenience, because there are certain things that I do believe that the consumer does, very specifically go into purchase. A lot of it is you know, flybuys, people that are flipping through the channels and they will stop on something and go, “that’s interesting”, continue to watch and then buy something that they didn’t necessarily know that they needed, but then they bought it and they really loved it. You know, as you rightly say, it started in a very small way, but it’s turned into this sort of 24-hour, seven-day-a-week beast. There’s education, there’s surprises. It’s a form of entertainment if you like that style of entertainment, and I think that’s why it has continued to be as successful, but it has to change, because people and the way that they are interacting with content is changing every single day.

Adrian Tennant: If a brand is interested in being featured on HSN or QVC, what steps do they typically have to take in order to be accepted?

Andy Sheldon: So it really depends upon the category that you’re in. For sure the buyers, and there is a massive buying team across the QVC HSN sort of networks, they’re incredibly experienced. They’re really good at what they do. And by that, what I mean is, they understand their customer. And understanding your customer, knowing what they will want to buy is super important. Sometimes, you can have a miss, and it doesn’t go as well, a particular product, as you were expecting. But generally speaking, I have to say the buyers are phenomenal. So to answer your question, it is all really down to the category. If you, for example, Adrian, were going to be launching a beauty brand and you were making claims about what it was doing to your skin, or any form of claim, before you can go on to shopping television and because it is television and you’re also digital with online sales, there are different regulations for what you can and cannot say. So if you’re going to make a claim, you better make certain that before you go to any one of these shopping channels, you better make certain that you’ve got your ducks in a row and that you can substantiate the claims that you’re making, because they will want that. So if it’s a beauty product or something that is making a claim, you’ve got to make certain that you’re prepared to answer the questions. If it’s a product that is not based on claims, but there’s no demonstrability, meaning it’s boring. It’s static, it’s a box. There’s not much you can do from a demonstration perspective, you need to think very hard about how you’re going to tell that story, to visually entice somebody that’s watching to be able to understand what it is you’re talking about and what you’re selling so that they can really understand the product and decide themselves if they want to buy it. So I think that they’re important components. And what you also need to understand is that when you go into something like an HSN QVC, it can be a life-changing business decision for you. Meaning if you are hugely successful, the revenues that you can derive as a direct result and the units you can sell, not insignificant, but you do have to be enormously careful that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket, find that sales slow down, and then, because you really were just relying on that income, you lose the opportunity to be able to go somewhere else because you’ve got yourself locked into something that isn’t working quite as well as you expect. So I think it’s a great medium to use, but you’ve got to be very careful how you do it. And I would say, just take the advice of the buyers, the merchants, at those networks, because they really know what they’re doing.

Adrian Tennant: According to Foresight Research, social livestream shopping is projected to reach $11 billion in the United States by the end of this year, rising to $25 billion next year. Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are all hosting live streams for shopping. You’ll typically find the host is an influencer or celebrity who highlights a product on the stream, which viewers can purchase during the broadcast. Viewers can engage directly asking the host questions about the product during the live stream or chat with other viewers for their feedback and opinions. Andy, how is the appeal of livestream shopping different from the experience of home shopping via TV channels?

Andy Sheldon: I think you need to look at the medium of shopping via television. If you think about HSN, QVC, think about it as a shopping mall. When you go into a shopping mall, you have lots and lots of different shops selling all sorts of different categories of products. And you go into that shopping mall because you are going to go shopping. And if you think about shopping television, it’s very similar. Now, you don’t have the choice with shopping television to say, “actually, I don’t want clothes today. I’d like to have jewelry.” You can do that online because you can go into any one of those categories and those brands online. But when you’re watching something as a live stream, that’s linear, there’s no choice but to watch what’s going on at that moment on the shopping television. So, as I say, think about it as a mall and there are many, many different ways that you can buy products, lots of different brands, lots of different celebrities, all under one channel. When you look at live shopping, using social, you’re really going there very deliberately. It’s highly likely that you’re not flipping by and finding it. It’s more likely that you were alerted through social media, that there was an event that was going to be going on and that you went there specifically and deliberately to go shopping. And you’re right, very often it’s going to be influencers and celebrities that are going to be using that medium. So I think that there’s room for both, for sure, but they are very different and I think that there is going to be, as it continues to grow this livestream shopping, I think there is going to be rebalancing to a certain extent, because when you’re shopping from HSN or QVC, there’s a real trust, right? You trust the product is going to arrive on time. You trust that if there’s an issue that you can return it and there’s not going to be an issue. And you trust the information that you’re being given by the shopping television host or the guest is accurate so that you can make an informed decision and then decide to buy the product. So the net net is I think the two of them are here to stay for a period of time but I think that what we will start to see is this livestream shopping, which will be specific at a moment in time will continue to grow. But I think there are going to be some growing pains with it because there’s a lot of backend work that needs to be done from an operational perspective that QVC and HSN have got completely tied up, they know exactly what they’re doing.

Adrian Tennant: Skeptics might say that it’s not surprising that livestream shopping took off precisely when people couldn’t actually go to real stores and were doom scrolling social media doing lockdowns. But we’ve also seen major brands and retailers jumping in, including Amazon with its shoppable offering at Amazon Live. Andy, do you think live stream shopping has real staying power?

Andy Sheldon: For sure. I think being able to shop conveniently the way that you want to, I think, undoubtedly is going to be here to stay. And when you think about content and the consumption of content, the sheer amount of it that exists today, I have no doubt that livestream shopping will be here for a very long time. However, not all things are created equal and I think that, when you have livestream shopping, the audience are not going to be tolerant, in my opinion, of sitting and watching the same product being held up and talked about for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, which is what can happen on shopping television. So I think that based upon the very nature that the social media platforms and the other forms, I think Amazon is very similar, frankly, to shopping television. They’re almost doing the same things slightly differently, but the live streaming of social shopping, I think is going to be here for a long time. Now you’re right. For infomercials, for home shopping, for digital live streaming, when people were stuck at home and there was nothing, frankly, they could do, you saw sales exponentially increase across all of the platforms. It did great for them as did, of course, home deliveries for food and so on. So I think that the bottom line is don’t be too skeptical about this. I think it’s here to stay. I just think the forms in which it is going to change into and how the consumer is going to participate with it will also be changing. And I think that this will change reasonably quickly over the next sort of 24 months.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.


Adrian Tennant: Last October, Bigeye published a market research report, entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We surveyed consumers across America to find out how their shopping behaviors had changed as a result of the pandemic. In a special Bigeye video event, we’re joined by four experts who reflect on the study’s findings and explore the implications for retailers and brand marketers in 2022.

Doug Stephens: It’s logical to assume that as we see this metaverse construct, as we as individuals spend more and more time in these virtual worlds, that the adoption of things like virtual apparel might start to make more and more sense.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: I think being channel agnostic and just making sure that you are you know meeting your consumer, where they are is important. to not think about channels as competitive to each other, thinking about them as complementary.

Andy Sheldon: When you’re watching something as a live stream, that’s linear, there’s no choice, but to watch what’s going on at that moment on the shopping teller.

Syama Meagher: I see NFTs as an invitation for consumers to join brands on a digital journey and for brands to invite consumers to spend their cryptocurrencies and their time into building a relationship with the brand. 

Adrian Tennant: For a lively discussion about the future of retail and marketing watch Bigeye’s Envision 2022. For details, go to bigeyeagency.com/insights.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to a conversation with Andy Sheldon, founder of the consultancy, Think Straighter, and formerly Chief Creative Officer for Home Shopping Network. Andy was a guest on Bigeye’s, recent ENVISION 2022 video event.

[Music]

Adrian Tennant: Most recently, you’ve been advising brands on how to establish direct-to-consumer operations and leverage this new landscape of streaming services and social shopping. What are some of the issues that you’re finding are top of mind for brand owners right now?

Andy Sheldon: So before I said that not all things created equal when it comes to content. And, I think that what I’m experiencing and a lot of brands are really feeling at the moment is the need to pivot and start using content in a much more pervasive way than what has already been established as the norm. And because not all things are created equal, how you watch content on say YouTube is going to be very different from Instagram, which is going to be different from TikTok. What I’m seeing is that brands today are definitely struggling with the notion that they have to be spending marketing dollars in a different way. And making content is not necessarily the easiest thing to do if you overthink it. But the truth of the matter is that whether you have a new iPhone, max pro that’s 4k ability for filming, giving you really good, high resolution picture and sound quality. What you have from a content play is the need to think through, and this is where companies I say, I think are struggling somewhat, you have to think through what is the content going to be that’s going to be on TikTok, or on Instagram, and how different that needs to be presented and created to the content that you might be wanting to put somewhere else or even on your own website. So I think the companies are struggling again against having to spend marketing dollars differently. There are actually bigger spends that now have to be made, don’t fall into the trap, and I urge anybody that’s thinking of making content. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that content has to cost a fortune. It doesn’t. In fact, if you really want to be creating content that is believable, that the consumer or the fan base is able to look at and go, they really strategically can feel and understand what’s being said is authentic. Keep it simple. But if a product needs to be demonstrated, if somebody needs to understand why this product versus another product or how to operate something, bear in mind that there is a sort of a reasonably strict code here, which is: feature, benefit, and what’s in it for me? What’s the feature of the product that you want to talk about? How does that benefit the consumer’s life? And what’s in it for them, if they were to buy it, that you can help them understand that by spending that bit of money is going to really just, in some way, enhance their day-to-day experience.

Adrian Tennant: In our Retail Disrupted report, we highlighted the importance of social media in brand discovery and the role that influencers play in the customer journey. With relatively inexpensive and easy-to-use technology theoretically enabling anyone with a smartphone to live stream to their followers on social media, do you foresee more consumers becoming influencers?

Andy Sheldon: I think it’s inevitable that there’s going to be a growth, Adrian, in this world of talking to and directly selling to a consumer or a fan base. I think there is a certain amount of, I was going to say a misunderstanding, but I think people expect social influencers to be really much more impactful than they sometimes are in connecting audiences to a product. And just because somebody who’s got a very large following in social says, “you should buy this”, doesn’t mean that their base is going to do that. And a very good reason for that engagement is the key to conversion. If you have a consumer base that’s engaged and will lean forward and be a part of your journey as you’re talking to them or selling to them, that’s an experience that can be very authentic and they trust. You can have a very large base of people that are ultimately following an influencer, but they’re not that engaged. They’re following, they want to see what they’re doing, but they don’t care very much if they say they should buy something or go somewhere. And so I think that what will happen is they will continue to be a growth. There will continue, of course, to be high sales that are going to come from the right influencers at the right time. I think that will continue to grow, but if it becomes so saturated and if everybody is trying to do that, there will be a certain amount of a disingenuous experience. I think consumers are gonna feel they’re not going to trust as much. And I think it could taper off a little.

Adrian Tennant: Today, many of the channels that were once part of cable and satellite TV bundles, including Disney, Discovery, and HBO have established standalone streaming services with, of course, a direct-to-consumer subscription model. Since you left, how well do you think HSN, QVC, and other shopping TV channels are responding to new consumer behaviors and media preferences?

Andy Sheldon: I think they have work to do. There is so much choice of content today and prior to the pandemic, what was very clearly happening and it was happening, in fact, before I left HSN, was, you could see the overnight viewership had declined, which was part of everyday sales for live television shopping. You know, who would be, you know, wanting to buy something at 3:00 AM? Well, if you’re awake and you’re flipping through the channels, really the shopping channels where the only real live where a human being was talking to another human being experience that gave people company. That really has changed and it’s changed because of all of the options that viewers have now, where they can go on to, as you say to Disney plus, or go onto Netflix, go to Amazon, whatever they’re doing, there is a plethora of really great content on demand that you can see whenever you want it. So I think that, from an HSN QVC perspective, this linear experience of a product that you just may be flipping through and are not interested in, or you’re waiting to see what the next product is going to be. And you’re waiting 10, 15, 20 minutes to see what that product is going to be. I think those days are going to soon come to a close. I don’t think consumers have necessarily got the capacity to sit for that length of time, watching the same sell go on and on and on. So I think that what QVC and HSN have got to do, and I sort of revert back a little bit to what I was suggesting earlier is, they’ve got this incredible platform. It’s a marketing platform that goes into over a hundred million homes. That marketing platform could be used in a very different way, creating some forms of entertainment and monetization, but to drive consumers to the dotcom experience because at the dotcom experience, that’s where you have real control and you can choose what you want and when you want it. So I think that’s what will probably happen at Adrian over the next short period.

Adrian Tennant: Do you have any presentation tips for anyone that’s interested in presenting their own social shopping livestreams?

Andy Sheldon: I do. I have always believed, and I use this as my mantra, I did it for a long time in England: Be real. I was a disc jockey on the radio, and a television host. And the truth of the matter is that a lot of people, when they think about being a DJ, they sort of put on the DJ voice and they sort of turn into something that they’re really not. My opinion is it is far, far better to be authentic. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t oversell. Don’t say that everything is the best or the greatest. You’ve got to be real because consumers today have the ability to instantly check on what you’re saying, to see whether or not it’s accurate. And so it is vital that if you want to be trusted as somebody that’s going to be using social, to engage with your base, to sell something: Be authentic, be real. Don’t overly sell it because consumers are smart enough to know what they do and do not want. And tell the truth because the truth, ultimately, is the most important part of somebody buying a product, because if they get something at home and it’s not what they thought it was going to be, they’ll send it back. And that creates all sorts of other problems for you. So keep it simple, feature and benefit, tell me why it’s good for me, be real. And I think they would be the tips that I would give you.

Adrian Tennant: Andy, what is one aspect of retailing, whether online, in stores, or on TV that you think is most likely to be disrupted or look completely different by 2030?

Andy Sheldon: My gut feeling is that there will be an evolution and a continuous growth in the live streaming and shopping television. And I think that it will morph and it will change. I don’t think it’s going to be extreme. I think shopping television channels, like an HSN or QVC, they have still a lot of modernization that they need to do, and they really should be using, in my opinion, that television platform as a marketing vehicle to drive people to a lot more content that’s online. But I think the biggest change is going to come in brick-and-mortar retail. I think that there is going to need to be a different form of storytelling. There’s got to be a far, far better digital experience so the consumer is able to have as much of an insight into products and being able to shop conveniently, whether they’re going to the same store on the high street, in the shopping mall, or if they’re going online. So I think the biggest changes that you’re going to start to see are going to be with some of the, you know, the big high street retailers, because they really have no choice, frankly, if they want to compete with digital sales.

Adrian Tennant: Andy, thank you very much for sharing your insights with us for ENVISION.

Andy Sheldon: Been an absolute pleasure and thank you for asking me.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to our guest this week, Andy Sheldon, founder of the consultancy Think Straighter. You can learn more about Andy and his services on the website at ThinkStraighter.com. As always, you’ll also find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com, where you’ll also find more details about Bigeye’s ENVISION 2022 on-demand video. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian’s Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Categories
Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

The LGBTQ economy is changing advertising, and provides many creators with a viable alternative to traditional employment. Guest Nick Wolny is a prolific writer and the founder of Camp Wordsmith, a business and writing incubator for entrepreneurs. Nick offers advice for anyone considering becoming an independent creator, and explains the LGBTQ economy is pushing the importance of values and ethics within brands. Nick also shares his views on artificial intelligence-based writing tools.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Nick Wolny: For gay men, there are two inflection points that happen in our lives. The first is the coming out process. And then the second is you know, actually the self-acceptance process and not feeling like you have to overcompensate for everything.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us today. Back in January, the writer, Nick Wolny, was our guest to talk about the creator economy. Nick is the founder of Camp Wordsmith, a business and writing incubator for entrepreneurs. He also writes approximately 200 articles a year for Business Insider, Fast Company, and Entrepreneur magazine among many others. In addition, he somehow manages to find the time to publish a weekly email newsletter. Today’s episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS includes highlights from our first conversation as well as previously unpublished material. To discuss his life as a solopreneur and share his personal observations about the LGBTQ economy, Nick joined us from his office in Los Angeles. [MUSIC]

Adrian Tennant: Nick, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Nick Wolny: Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

Adrian Tennant: So Nick, what led you to your career as a writer?

Nick Wolny: Well, it’s funny that now I’m doing mainly writing, because my background could not be more opposite from what I’m doing today, which I think is probably a lot of people these days, actually. My background is that I went to music school. I went to school for classical music. I have two degrees in classical French horn, which is, quite unemployable as a degree as I soon discovered. But what was valuable in that is that in music school, or if anyone, you know, played a sport at an elite level growing up, anything like that, you focus a lot about practice and mastery of a craft or of a particular skill. There’s much more of an emphasis on developing skill, rather than just getting a piece of sheepskin that you can pin to the wall and tell everyone that you’re smart, right? Like you’re training to develop real time application. So when I started to get involved more and more in digital marketing, marketing consulting, in my foray into consulting was brick and mortar fitness studios. What we found is that, you know, working on copywriting and working on marketing strategies that were really writing based yielded a really good results. And I think that’s kind of countercurrent to what we often hear in marketing, which is the video is everything. Writing is still cool. Writing is still cool, everyone. And I think that the writing piece, what drew me to it as well is that writing is a craft. It requires practice. It requires skill, and fluency, having a way with words and developing a way with words. I also think what comes up a lot for us as professionals is that we think of ourselves as good writers or that we already can handle writing. Perhaps we wrote term papers or things like that in university. And then we go to write some content, and they’ve just start to fall flat on our face with that. Right? Like it is a skill, it’s a, it’s a muscle to be developed. It atrophies when you don’t work on it, when you don’t flex it or exercise it. And so all of the different modalities for creating marketing think writing is what really attracted me. And a lot of it’s based in that skill-building essence, yeah.

Adrian Tennant: Nick, you write and publish around 200 articles a year. That’s a lot of content. How do you generate ideas?

Nick Wolny: Now what I’ll say is I’m not a huge Gary Vaynerchuk fan! I understand that Gary Vaynerchuk is all about being everywhere all the time. I’ve kind of mixed feelings about that. He does say something though that I think is really valuable and he says is “document, don’t create.” And I think what often happens when we get into content creation, particularly as this creator economy energy has really begun to surge, in our internet landscape, people get in their heads a lot about content creation and having to have it be especially rigorous with regard to research and making it more difficult than it needs to be. And so if you take the mentality of “document, don’t create,” just going in and capturing the things you’re already doing, the things you’re already saying with your clients, with your audience, with your peers, with your customers, that can be a really easy way to get into flow. You’re already pulling from your own expertise, your own experiences. If you just sat down and you spoke with a client about three recommendations for their strategy on Instagram, those three things that you just recommended, that’s content, you know what you’re doing with your clients and what you’re doing for your audience each day. Simply the documentation of that can often be the easiest way to break loose with regard to being more prolific with content creation.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. Well, with that many articles to publish across multiple outlets, what does your content planning process look like?

Nick Wolny: For writing for different publications or writing on Medium, or perhaps even my personal email list, the first thing that we look at when we want to separate out the different types of content is we look at what the verticals are going to be for these different publications. So for me, writing for different media outlets, what I’m going to write for Entrepreneur magazine is obviously going to be squarely in the field of entrepreneurship, solopreneurship, WANTrepreneurship! A lot of Entrepreneur magazine’s readership is people who are not yet entrepreneurs, but they want to be someday, right? They want those more entrepreneurial tips, but they are still an employee, or if you’re a manager or an executive. That’s fine. And then you have an outlet like Fast Company, which is going to be much more focused on creativity, innovation, productivity, and new approaches to classic problems. And so we first look at that, that kind of helps me determine what I’m going to write for which outlets. And also, I think more importantly, what content is not going to work for certain outlets, and how I need to be planning that accordingly. The other big piece is I want to make sure that I don’t, fry myself, right. It’s a lot of articles! I get that it’s a lot of articles. And so in terms of pacing it to ensure that I don’t get stacked up with too many deadlines in a given week, for example, I’ll plan, maybe three to four weeks ahead at most, just so that I can keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening on the internet and in the creator economy landscape. Looking specifically at what do I have to complete each week? What has to be turned in by a certain time? What deadlines are flexible and which deadlines are not flexible? for anyone who’s pitching media on a regular basis, anything like that, something else that I try to do with editors is once I’ve developed a rapport with an editor pitching multiple articles at once. Saying, “Hey, I’m planning out my quarter. Here are eight article ideas that I have, and here are the deadlines that I would project having them done by. Do you like this? Should we proceed in this way? Are any of these a ‘yes.’ Are any of these a ‘no’?” And almost every single time, the first thing the editor will say is ” thank you for doing this so that we have some semblance of planning.” And then the other piece is, “okay, let’s do it, let’s make it happen.” And so that kind of forms the skeleton of my editorial calendar and my content planning. What are the things that have non-negotiable deadlines? Those things come first. And then I will build some of my other writing efforts around those deadlines to ensure that I don’t have a week where I hate my life with regard to how much stuff is due by Friday afternoon.

Adrian Tennant: Today, you’re the founder and CEO of Camp Wordsmith, a business and writing incubator for entrepreneurs. What inspired you to start the business?

Nick Wolny: So the first thing I’ll say is that I think there is a shift happening in the creator economy and online entrepreneurship landscape. Historically, we’ve had a lot of activity happening at the opposite ends of the spectrum. You have a lot of people who are doing low ticket, online courses, trip wires, other information products that are low in price, you get to whet your appetite a little bit in terms of learning about, someone in particular. We look at platforms like Udemy or Skillshare or Masterclass that have really exploded over the last couple of years with these low ticket, information product style offers. So you had a lot of activity happening there, and then you have a lot of activity happening at the very high end, right? Done for you services, agency services, one-on-one coaches, business coaches, VIP days, lots of intense one-on-one activity for a higher price point. And historically, there’s been kind of a gap in terms of that group program experience or having an accelerator experience where you’re working on the business, or you’re working on growing your platform and you want some handholding. But you don’t need someone to feed you the baby food with a spoon, right? You’re just wanting a little bit of guidance. You can ride the tricycle, or the bicycle with the training wheels on it, but you want someone to push you along the way. Adrian, I’m seeing how many analogies I can smash into this one response. So the idea of that, and in my experience as well with regard to digital marketing, is that it would either be these lower ticket courses or it was these higher end copywriting or digital marketing build out services. And I wanted something in between, that people were saying that they wanted, they wanted my eyes on what they were doing. They wanted a small, intimate community of people like them who are at a similar stage of business to where they are. So Camp Wordsmith, it’s intended for coaches, consultants, and creators. It’s a business and writing incubator. So we focus on writing, improving your output of writing, but at the end of the day, we want that content to drive toward an offer of some type. There’s a lot of writing energy online that is a little bit more influencer-focused or perhaps, you know, even like having an online diary and there’s not enough conversation happening about how written content leads to sales: how written content leads to landing more clients, making more money, being able to measure your content marketing efforts effectively, right? We want that feedback. We want those metrics. and so having an incubator, having a group program container that is specifically writing focused, that’s the intention of the program. It also speaks to my music school background. My experience was always that when I went to summer camp for music, I was there with other people who were working on getting better, together. Even if people play different instruments and they were taking different classes over the course of the summer, whatever. People were there to get better together, you loved being there, there was a rapport and you were improving your craft, your skillset that you were there to work on. And so that’s really the spirit of the business as well.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Well, when we talk about the creator economy, many of us, think of influencers, YouTubers, Instagram, and TikTok, but there are also platforms for writers. Now, before we get into those, what do you see as the main differences between the so-called “gig economy” and the “creator economy?

Nick Wolny: I think there’s a lot of crossover between the two of them. Probably the biggest difference I see is that if someone is pursuing the creator economy, they need an audience. With the gig economy, you don’t necessarily need an audience, right? You can go on Fiverr. You can go on Upwork. People make good money on Upwork, right? If they have a very niche skillset, that’s in demand. And even LinkedIn recently announced that they’re going to be building out a freelancers’ platform, a jobs platform within LinkedIn itself. With those different platforms, you don’t need to necessarily have an audience, you just need to have something that people want, a skill that people want to outsource, right? That’s the only prerequisite. If you have a track record, that’s certainly going to help. If you have a portfolio of past happy clients, that’s certainly going to help. But the need for a specific audience, that is reading about your methodology and your perspectives on a regular basis is not necessary to be successful in the gig economy. People are still going to order their Uber’s and their Lyfts, regardless of who’s driving. With the creator economy, on the other hand, you do have this need for an audience. You’re sharing a perspective, you are sharing an opinion. You are seeking out a lane and looking to be a presence in that particular niche. And then from that audience, from that engaged, critical mass of followers, that’s where you’re able to take it in wherever direction that you want to take it. Some people want to be influencers. They just want absolutely as many eyeballs as possible, and they want to then monetize the access to those eyeballs that’s totally fine. And you’ve got other people who are more in the space of, what I like to call infopreneurs, right? That would be myself. Having people in my audience who want to do business similar to how I do business, or they want to learn something specific about writing or about email marketing, something very writing based. And they’re gonna follow me for that. I’m a subject matter expert in their eyes for that reason, so they want to purchase something from me. They want to hand me some dollars later on. My presence, my opinion, and my perspectives are part of what have led them to make that decision. Whereas with the gig economy, they just want their Uber so that they can get to the club at a reasonable hour, right? So I, I think that’s the biggest difference that, that I see at my end, from a 10,000 foot view.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and consumer research. Our featured book for May is Influencing Shopper Decisions: Unleash the Power of Your Brand to Win Customers by Rebecca Brooks and Devora Rogers. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Influencing Shopper Decisions, go to KoganPage.com – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Last October, Bigeye published a market research report, entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We surveyed consumers across America to find out how their shopping behaviors had changed as a result of the pandemic. In a special Bigeye video event, we’re joined by four experts who reflect on the study’s findings and explore the implications for retailers and brand marketers in 2022.

Doug Stephens: It’s logical to assume that as we see this metaverse construct, as we as individuals spend more and more time in these virtual worlds, that the adoption of things like virtual apparel might start to make more and more sense.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: I think being channel agnostic and just making sure that you are you know meeting your consumer, where they are is important. to not think about channels as competitive to each other, thinking about them as complementary.

Andy Sheldon: When you’re watching something as a live stream, that’s linear, there’s no choice, but to watch what’s going on at that moment on the shopping teller.

Syama Meagher: I see NFTs as an invitation for consumers to join brands on a digital journey and for brands to invite consumers to spend their cryptocurrencies and their time into building a relationship with the brand. 

Adrian Tennant: For a lively discussion about the future of retail and marketing watch Bigeye’s Envision 2022. For details, go to bigeyeagency.com/insights.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to an interview with the writer, Nick Wolny, who joined us back in January of this year. In this previously unpublished interview, Nick discusses the LGBTQ economy and how being a part of the queer community has influenced Nick’s approach to business. [MUSIC]

Adrian Tennant: In an article from last year, published on entrepreneur.com, you wrote that being gay is one of your most powerful weapons. How so?

Nick Wolny: Well, I think the first piece of it is the coming out process, right? You know, for me, there was a stage of life where I was not out of the closet. And then I had this inflection point in which I was coming out of the closet. And it’s a rip the bandaid off experience. It is awful for the first 70 times you do it, right. And there’s just a lot of self-reflection that happens before, during, and after that process. Um, you know, for me, it was really easy to catastrophize the potential consequences of all of that. There’s a book by a psychologist named Alan Downs called The Velvet Rage, talking a lot about how, for gay men, there are two inflection points that happen in our lives. The first is the coming out process. And then the second is you know, actually the self acceptance process and not feeling like you have to overcompensate for everything, to, kind of make up for this inherent part of yourself, um, who you are as a person. I think another piece of it is that you often have to develop a chosen family. People have varying degrees of family relatedness after their coming out process. And unfortunately for some people, the subsequent family relatedness is that they’re not related to their family anymore. Their family doesn’t want to be connected to them anymore. And so they have to sort of rebuild their definition of family, what family means to them. And with that comes choice and intention. And so I think for me personally, anyway, that process of determining, “okay, who am I going to be around and why?” and “how am I going to redefine the word family for myself?” Um, you know, it just causes you to discern who you want to be around, what you want to be around, what you’re going to let in, what you’re not going to let in. And I think a lot of that carries over into entrepreneurship. You have resolve, you have intention with what you’re doing, and you absolutely need that when you’re in the hot seat. Even if you’re in management, you’re an executive, you know, or if you’re an entrepreneur or a CEO or a founder, there is a degree of discernment that happens. And when it’s already happened in your personal life, whether it’s a coming out process or otherwise, that often carries over into your work aspirations in my experience.

Adrian Tennant: In that same article you wrote for Entrepreneur magazine, you sought out perspectives on resilience by conducting interviews with several members of the LGBTQ community. Nick, what did you learn from your research?

Nick Wolny: A big theme that came up that was really interesting was resilience and also how being out and proud or being this fully realized version of yourself, was part of the vision for a lot of these different founders, right? They wanted to feel fully expressed. They wanted to, in most, if not all cases, be free from any kind of corporate dynamic, any kind of corporate situation where who they were as a person was going to potentially impact their trajectory in life, and their future. And so being able to step in and call the shots for yourself, you know, for many of us, we ended up becoming entrepreneurs because of something we’re passionate about, or we’re interested in pursuing, or we want a higher degree of control over our careers or our work lives or our personal lives. And I think for several of these founders or these CEOs, it wasn’t just that they wanted to do that, it’s that they needed to do it. Like they actually needed to do it. They weren’t going to have the same degree of opportunities or wealth trajectory or visibility even, if they were to stay in the systems or in the corporate environments that they were currently in. It just kind of left things up to chance, right? Like if their new manager didn’t like who they were as a person, there’s like a loss of control there over your career and over your work life that you don’t have in entrepreneurship, right? You don’t have that when you’re the boss. There are plenty of other really fricking hard things that come up when you’re the CEO, but that isn’t one of them. Like you have the locus of control back in your court. And that was the most consistent theme that came up, um, in the research for that particular article.

Adrian Tennant: Gallup’s February 2021 update on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identification found that 5.6% of US adults identify as LGBT up from 4.5% in Gallup’s previous update, which was based on 2017 data. The 2021 data also showed that one in every six adults belonging to generation Z considers themselves LGBT. Nick, do you see the LGBT economy evolving to reflect these data points?

Nick Wolny: Absolutely. I think on a macro level, people care about the values of the brands that they work with. You see consumers much more interested in where corporations are, donating dollars potentially to different political organizations, things like that. There has never been a time where consumers cared more about the values and ethics of the companies that they purchase from. And so I think on that level, that definitely within the LGBTQ economy, there’s a shift happening there. There’s just a shift in buying styles in that way. I think also we’re seeing a lot of different layers within the LGBTQ experience and it’s a pleasant surprise. It’s exciting to now get to this point where people are aware that LGBTQ means more than one thing, considering the, the phenomenon of rainbow washing, for example, which is that, you know, we have these pride parades. We were, how are having these pride parades and they’re great. But it’s kind of like a superficial way of saying, “we care about you. We care about your experience.” But my experience as a white gay cisgender man is very different than someone else’s experience within the LGBTQ community. And we’re just starting to realize from a consumer perspective that there are all of these different subcultures and sub experiences, things like that. And just an increased appreciation for that. I also think in terms of the numbers and in terms of the needle moving, I mean, we know that sexuality is a spectrum. The Kinsey scale first came out in the 1940s. This is not new information, but it appears that there’s like a normalization happening. You know, for Gen Z to self-identify as queer in those numbers indicates a degree of normalization, regarding sexuality and gender identity that I don’t think we had in previous generations. And so with that level of comfort and looking at what younger generations like Gen Z are looking for in brands and in organizations as they become working adults with disposable income, I think that that will actually cause the LGBTQ economy to really expand in a lot of different ways. So it’s exciting to see how it’s going to play out.

Adrian Tennant: So Nick, how has being part of the queer community shaped you as an entrepreneur?

Nick Wolny: Well, I think a lot of entrepreneurship feels like activism in a way. You see that there are needs, and you see forces that are preventing those needs from being met. And then you get to decide whether you’re going to do something about that. Like, are you going to sit on the sidelines and let it happen, or are you actually going to get on the court and start to take action towards creating the changes that you want to see? And that is how activists are operating. And that is also often how entrepreneurs are operating. They see that a need for change exists and that if they’re just sitting on the sidelines, nothing’s going to be done, nothing’s going to happen, nothing’s going to change. And that they’re fed up with that. And so I think that drawing on that drawing on, the lived experience of “this is important. I need to take action. If I’m not taking action, nothing’s happening, nothing’s gonna move the needle is not going to move. No one else is going to do it. I’m going to step in and do it.” That really helps to stay proactive, I think. And, and to not, uh, sit back on your heels and to not take anything for granted, and I think also even going back to what you were speaking about earlier, Adrian, one of the challenges of the LGBTQ economy is that we just don’t have a lot of data. You even look at things like the United States census. We’re at the beginning of documenting the experience of LGBTQ people, just even being acknowledged we exist, you know. Nielsen added LGBTQ couples into their household demographics only recently, I believe certainly within the last 10 years, if not sooner than that. We don’t have much information about trans and non-binary entrepreneurs and, what they’re making, and what the size of their payroll is, and stuff like that. It hasn’t been that level of data and that’s not granular in that way. You know, we have that data for, women. We have that data for BIPOC entrepreneurs. We are still in an emerging stage with getting that information from the LGBTQ community. And so I think as more and more of that is done and published, and more data appears that can really help people get a clear picture on how the two of those things connect.

Adrian Tennant: Nick, what are you working on next in your business?

Nick Wolny: Two words, Camp Wordsmith. We spent a lot of 2021 iterating, testing different frameworks, working with clients and determining what leads to results. And what emerged from that was this program, camp wordsmith. I don’t think there are a lot of other things like it on the market right now. There are loads of courses I could throw my coffee mug right now down the hallway and probably hit six online courses on the way down. You know, it’s not a course and it’s not a full-out one-on-one coaching or agency services. It’s in between. It’s the best of both worlds. Often what happens when people purchase high ticket group programs is that you get intimacy with the face of the program on a webinar or on a sales call. And then you sign up, you fork over your $5,000 or whatever, and then you are dumped into a VAT of prerecorded content and you’re told thanks for the dollars. Good luck, sayonara. See you later, right? Here’s a Facebook group where you can ask some questions and get answers from your peers. And so you know, that’s not enough support. That’s actually still not enough support. There is going to be an emerging interest in incubator programs and accelerator programs, particularly as you have millions of people who are now thinking about the creator economy, maybe they resigned from their job and they are getting started with their online business. They are in the process of buying a $20 course here, buying a $20 course there. They’re in that process right now. In a year or two, they’re going to be like, okay, you know what? I need a little bit more handholding. I’ve got some traction. I need a little bit of assistance, a little bit of help. And so, I’m gonna enroll in an accelerator or in an incubator of some kind. And now we’re ready to tell everyone in their mom about this program. We think it’s fantastic and yeah, and I think that it’s going to be a pleasure to have some other fellow business and writing nerds, here in our corner, writing quickly and well and getting monetary results along the way.

Adrian Tennant: Nick, thank you very much for being our guest today on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Nick Wolny: Thank you so much for having me. This has been great.

Adrian Tennant: You’ve been listening to an encore episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS with guest, Nick Wolny. To learn more about Nick, his writing, and Camp Wordsmith, go to the website at NickWolny.com. The transcript for this episode is posted on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com – just select Podcast. And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Categories
Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Bigeye recently released ENVISION 2022, an on-demand video exploring key findings from our report, Retail Disrupted. This week’s podcast is an extended interview with ENVISION guest Ingrid Milman-Cordy, who leads digital marketing and e-commerce for Seattle-based Nuun Hydration. During our interview, Ingrid shared surprising insights about channel strategy, Nuun’s e-commerce tech stack, and why she believes the metaverse and Web3 offer brand marketers exciting opportunities.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: I think being channel agnostic and just making sure that you are meeting your consumer where they are is important. And I think one of the things that has unlocked a lot of growth for Nuun is to not think about our channels as competitives to each other but thinking about them as complimentary.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by BIGEYE: A strategy- led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us today. Last October, Bigeye published a market research report, entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We recently released a video, ENVISION 2022, in which four experts discuss key findings from our study, and explore some of the potential implications for retailers and brand marketers. Our podcast today is an extended interview with one of our guests for ENVISION 2022, who discussed how a direct-to-consumer brand originally developed for endurance athletes successfully adopted an omnichannel approach, entered mass retailers, and expanded its line to attract a broader range of consumers. Our guest is the e-commerce expert, Ingrid Millman-Cordy, who’s held leadership roles in and built digital platforms for companies including Estee Lauder, Ann Taylor LOFT, and e.l.f. Cosmetics. Ingrid also spent some time agency-side, as the senior producer of digital marketing at Barbarian, working with brands like Clinique, Sam Edelman, and John Barbados. Ingrid is currently the head of digital and e-commerce for Nuun Hydration and produces and hosts the Future Commerce podcast, Infinite Shelf. For this conversation, Ingrid joined us from her home in Seattle, Washington.

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Adrian Tennant: Ingrid, thank you for joining us for ENVISION.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Hello. I’m so happy to be here.

Adrian Tennant: So Ingrid, what drew you to a career in digital marketing and e-commerce?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Oh, well, it definitely was not a straight line mostly because when I was in college, that wasn’t a thing. It didn’t exist. So actually, I have an economics degree and my first job out of school was at Goldman Sachs because that’s what I thought, you know, people with economics degrees do. But I didn’t work in banking or anything like that, I worked in technology because that’s always been something that I’ve been really, really interested in doing. And then I realized that, while I was at Goldman, we had built one of the first, like, consumer-focused web experiences. So for the clients at Goldman Sachs, they were able to finally not get everything mailed to them in paper, they could interact on the internet with their brokers and that was revolutionary at the time, not to date myself, but it was. And, what I realized was I really loved creating web experiences for people, but I didn’t really love banking so much. And so I went ahead and actually took a role at the Estee Lauder Companies and I was there for about six years. And that’s really where I quote-unquote “grew up” in e-commerce and then digital and I had a few different roles there while I was growing up and understanding the world. And I started sort of on the platform side, cause that’s where my skill set was like in technology and building features. And then I moved on to helping brands specifically. So I did all four of the MAC and Rihanna partnerships, and that was where I got bitten by the brand and the marketing bug. And so when you combine the technology experience and the love for brands and brand experiences and marketing, that sort of where you get into digital marketing and that’s where I am.

Adrian Tennant: Well today, you’re the head of digital and e-commerce for Nuun Hydration. Could you tell us a bit about the company and the scope of your responsibilities there?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Sure. So, Nuun hydration was started about 15 years ago and it was a very niche, at that time, product for triathletes, marathon runners, people who were identified, not just as a hobby, but just as their entire identity as endurance athletes. And at the time, there was a lot of need for being able to separate your hydration needs from sugars and carbohydrates, because the biggest, sort of most well-known, and most used hydration product – that was, aside from water – was Gatorade. And Gatorade is great, except they hadn’t figured out how to separate the sugars and the carbohydrates from the electrolytes, which you need. And so the innovation was born from there and that actually endurance athletes need. And I would say for the first like 10 years of Nuun, you could only really get it at sports specialty stores, maybe even like an REI and then eventually Whole Foods. And now, we realized that the need for hydration is so much greater. And so it’s now becoming available for regular consumption: people just putting it into their waters and we’ve expanded our product portfolio into products that have immunity components for electrolyte replenishment and vitamins and things like that. We’re still very much supporting of, and in the industry of endurance athletes, but we’ve expanded our product portfolio to hydration needs as a whole. So that’s what Nuun does. And we were bought by Nestle Health Science in 2021, which I think is going to continue to unlock a lot of access to the general public, and really our mission hasn’t changed from enabling movement. We’re just enabling movement for all types of people, not just endurance athletes. So that’s Nuun. My part of that puzzle is I own the digital and e-commerce experience of connecting with our brand and transacting with our brand online in the most fundamental sense. So NuunLife.com is within my world as well as any kind of e-commerce. So whether it’s on Amazon.com or ThriveMarket, which are both pure-play ecommerce, for the most part. And then also retailer.com, so walmart.com, target.com. All of those. So anytime you transact online for e-commerce that falls within my jurisdiction at Nuun.

Adrian Tennant: Got it. Ingrid, what does your tech stack at Nuun Hydration look like?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: We mostly rely on Google Analytics and we actually now with, the Nestle Health Science connection, we have GA 360 for the first time and DV 360 and DM 360 and all of that, which is great. We’re starting to use Segment as a CDP and we use a bunch of other things to help, connect, creating quizzes, and things like that. We have little plugins from Shopify that you can use. But yeah, the big pillar ones that we interact with every day are just like the Shopify Plus platform and then Klaviyo, Yappo, Attentive, that kind of thing. 

Adrian Tennant: What are some of your favorite e-commerce tools or plugins that your team probably couldn’t live without?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Oh, man. Frankly, all three of those that I just named my team could not live without. The entire loyalty program is on Yappo and that’s a really big one for us. We love it. Klayvio is just incredibly easy to use and to look at your data and understand your customer segments and things like that. I think both of those, and then frankly, so we just launched Attentive about a year ago for SMS and my initial concern was, oh, it’s just going to cannibalize your email revenue streams. And in fact, it’s been pretty incremental. So Attentive SMS has been a pretty big win for us and they’re really easy to use. And I think our team really enjoys working with their team. It’s been really good. Oh, the other one that’s important to talk about, I think is Recharge. So we use Recharge for our subscriptions.

Adrian Tennant: Well, as you mentioned, Nuun Hydration did start life as a direct-to-consumer brand focused primarily on endurance athletes. It’s since broadened its product range and now has national distribution in mass retailers, including Target. So from your standpoint, what advice do you have for other brands that want to grow their customer base through physical retail distribution? 

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Yeah, there’s probably a good couple of hours that we can spend on this particular topic. I think broad strokes, one thing that I think has kept Nuun true to its brand and true to its audience as it can be is that we have not compromised on our values. And our values are clean planet. So we are never going to ship you know, ready-to-drink water because that’s just really impactful on the environment. It’s also using single use plastic, which we’re also not fans of. We sell plastic tubes but there are 10 uses in here and it’s fully recyclable except for the top. So you just pull off the top and we’re even, we’re working on that. So that’s another big thing that we have the opportunity to do, with a bigger company backing us. So again, these are principles that you have to know what makes your brand and what brought those really loyal consumers who self-identify as Nuunies and being part of the Nuun-iverse is actually a thing. Like I was at the DMV the other day, and I was wearing my mask that had a little Nuun logo on it. And the guy who was helping me at the DMV was like, “Oh, you’re part of the Nuuniverse! Cool.” And it was just like the coolest, funniest little interaction. And so you have to figure out what draws that emotion out of your consumers and just never take your eyes off of that, regardless of whether you’re continuing to be direct to consumer or when you eventually hopefully, you know, expand out into broader distribution nationwide.

Adrian Tennant: Well, one of the things we often hear from direct-to-consumer clients is the desire to build brands for the long-term while also driving short-term sales. So Ingrid, how do you think about the sales funnel?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Yeah. So the sales funnel is very much for us right now about education. So there is a portion of society that doesn’t really understand the benefits to water additives. So there’s a part of understanding how, if you put something, you know, that is aiding hydration into your water, you get more out of it. The easiest way to describe that, I have found, is it makes your water more sticky. Aand so that actually helps you with your actual hydration and it also makes drinking water a little bit more fun. And so there’s elements to introducing your brand into people who didn’t even know that they need additives in their water to make it work harder for you. And then the other component is just understanding, like meeting people where they’re at. So some people only drink liquids, don’t drink water at all, because water is boring. It’s not tasty. It’s not interesting. And so people would rather drink, you know, either soda or some kind of sugared water to make it a little bit more interesting. And so our goal for those people is to introduce a component to your water, that it can make it work harder for you, but it’s also a little bit more fun and interesting, and doesn’t have a whole lot of sugar and also is, cleaner ingredients. So non-GMO certified, vegan, cruelty-free, like all of the things that you want to feel good about putting into your body, there’s an education component to that. And then the rest of the sales funnel is frankly, this might be a little bit controversial, but we don’t actually care where you buy Nuun. And yes, I do own the P&L for NuunLife.com. I would love for you to buy our products on NuunLife.com. But frankly, if it’s easier for you to pick it up on the shelf at Target or Walmart. Great. If you’re at REI and you are prepping for your camping trip and you want to make sure you’re hydrated after a long hike. Great. If you’re on Amazon and you’re buying a bunch of stuff for the home and you want to buy some Nuun on there, that’s also great. And so I think being channel agnostic and just making sure that you are meeting your consumer, where they are is important. And I think one of the things that has unlocked a lot of growth for Nuun is to not think about our channels as competitives to each other but as thinking about them as complimentary.

Adrian Tennant: So just to dig a little deeper into that, whether it’s those top of the funnel, I guess in traditional times or mid to lower funnel, would you say that all your paid media pretty much has some kind of call-to-action?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Certainly, yeah, I would definitely say that. So we don’t do out of home because we’re not quite big enough yet, but if there were to be like an out of home, I would call that as top of the funnel as you get. there would still be a call to action where you can show where you can pick up the products, so there’d probably be a logo for a Target or a Walmart or an Amazon, and then NuunLife.com of course. Yeah, every single piece of content that we put out has some form of a call to action. Sometimes it’s not a “shop now” call to action, right? That’ll be like on your lower-funnel tactics. Sometimes it’s just a “learn more” so you’re educating them on a blog. One of our most successful blog posts is, “Five reasons why you’re dehydrated,” and people just really want to know. They feel it and they know the difference between when they’re hydrated and when they’re not. And so we do feel like our role is to educate people on hydration and we also connect feeling great and feeling hydrated with the ability to move and enabling movement. And so there you are, and that’s a full circle back to making sure that we are really true to our principles.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club features interviews with authors who are experts in specific areas of marketing and consumer research. Our featured book for May is Influencing Shopper Decisions: Unleash the Power of Your Brand to Win Customers by Rebecca Brooks and Devora Rogers. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can save 20 percent on a print or electronic version of the book with exclusive promo code BIGEYE20. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free e-book offer. To order your copy of Influencing Shopper Decisions, go to KoganPage.com – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Last October, Bigeye published a market research report, entitled Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. We surveyed consumers across America to find out how their shopping behaviors had changed as a result of the pandemic. In a special Bigeye video event, we’re joined by four experts who reflect on the study’s findings and explore the implications for retailers and brand marketers in 2022.

Doug Stephens: It’s logical to assume that as we see this metaverse construct, as we as individuals spend more and more time in these virtual worlds, that the adoption of things like virtual apparel might start to make more and more sense.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: I think being channel agnostic and just making sure that you are you know meeting your consumer, where they are is important. to not think about channels as competitive to each other, thinking about them as complementary.

Andy Sheldon: When you’re watching something as a live stream, that’s linear, there’s no choice, but to watch what’s going on at that moment on the shopping teller.

Syama Meagher: I see NFTs as an invitation for consumers to join brands on a digital journey and for brands to invite consumers to spend their cryptocurrencies and their time into building a relationship with the brand. 

Adrian Tennant: For a lively discussion about the future of retail and marketing watch Bigeye’s Envision 2022. For details, go to bigeyeagency.com/insights.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to a conversation with Ingrid Millman-Cordy, the head of digital and e-commerce for Nuun Hydration and the host of Future Commerce’s Infinite Shelf podcast. Ingrid was a guest on Bigeye’s recent ENVISION 2022 video event.

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Adrian Tennant: Ingrid, you produce and host a weekly podcast now in its second season called Infinite Shelf, which you describe as a human-centric retail podcast. So what prompted you to create the podcast and why that tagline?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Sure, it’s produced by the guys over at Future Commerce. You know, I started as just someone who got interviewed and then Uh, friendship and a rapport and I just ended up being a guest host every so often for the past couple of years. So that’s where the podcast bug hit me. I’m also a podcast listening junkie. Like there’s a rare moment where I’m walking or doing something around the house or doing anything and not listening to a podcast. So as a listener, I realized that there was this gap and opportunity to create content for people like me. So people who are e-commerce operators and digital minded and are interested in brands, not just for, you know, how we’re going to grow our brands and how we’re going to grow the bottom line. But those things are quite important and not trying to minimize them, but there was content that was around those topics. And when I was trying to create a place where we can have conversations with brands, with service providers, and software that talked about why they exist to serve people and the people that are inside of the brand, serving the people that are on the other side, consuming their brands. And the conversation of that felt very, very, commercialized, but at the end of the day has a big human component to it. I felt like there was a lot of talk around commercialization and optimization, but I really wanted to not ignore that, but sort of understand the one layer or two layers deeper than just the commercialization. So that’s where Infinite Shelf came through.

Adrian Tennant: In an episode from season one of Infinite Shelf, you discussed non-fungible tokens, blockchain, and cryptocurrencies. I actually really enjoyed the way that you broke each technology down for listeners. Since you published that episode, of course, we’ve seen coverage of the metaverse everywhere. What are the technologies or aspects of web three that you think could have the greatest impact on retailers in the near future?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Oh, that’s such a great question. And since that episode and a few other books and podcasts and articles that I’ve been reading, I’ve definitely gotten bit by the web three, cryptocurrency bug. Mostly because I’m fascinated by economics and just creating a new currency and all of the things that is behind creating a new system and a new way of making decisions and centralized versus decentralized and that kind of stuff. It just is philosophically fascinating to me. But going back to your question about what brands can do, really, I think of the best opportunity that brands can have now is knowing and acknowledging the fact that we spend at least a third, some people, two-thirds of their time in what we call the metaverse. I think the biggest distinction is when you hear the word, the metaverse, it feels so futuristic and it feels like it’s so far away. But in reality, when we think about how much time we spend on our iPhones and in front of our computers and everything, like, we already exist in the metaverse. So having that fundamental acknowledgment is important and then how to be relevant within that world is critical. And so I look at it right now for brands, depending on what you do, as an opportunity to speak to a consumer or remind a consumer that you are there. So remember to imagine the metaverse is this mall that people are spending hours and hours and hours of their time browsing and being within. And you have this opportunity right now to experiment with showing them a product that is from your brand that might be relevant to their life or what they’re doing in the metaverse. And so it’s just an opportunity for you to sort of get people to be aware of your brand, especially physical products, it’s hard to sell that in the metaverse, but I think again, thinking about how fashion and Nike and all of these brands are doing it is interesting. I think it’s hard to talk about it in an absolute, so if there’s like a specific example, but I hope that answers your question in terms of understanding that people are already existing in the metaverse and then it’s only going to get bigger and consume more and more of our time. Um, whether that’s a good thing or not is a whole other topic, but yeah, I think there are huge opportunities for doing it. I just think that the same way that I would give the advice for when you expand into retail to stay true to your brand and to figure out what your principles are and what your values are and stay within that realm when you’re expanding into physical retail. I think the same thing for the metaverse. So don’t become a different brand or put on some other face of your brand just because they’re now operating in the metaverse. I think it’s yet another test of being true to who you are.

Adrian Tennant: In what kinds of ways are you thinking about these emerging technologies in relation to Nuun Hydration’s business, specifically?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Yeah, so obviously if you’re sitting in front of your computer, or you’re in the metaverse, or you’re doing something online, you may forget to drink and you may forget to move your body around. And so if we can connect the opportunity to make sure that you’re hydrated and also then make your body, your physical body, feel good to take a break. You can probably have your Nuun and then remember to use that as a trigger to go for a walk, go walk your dog, go walk around the block, and get some fresh air. And then come back and do whatever you are doing, whether it’s work or whether it’s fun. So in terms of use case, I think that’s where I would A: connect it to our values and why we exist; and then B: getting people to it. So we’re looking at streaming platforms like Twitch. For example, I think Twitch is an incredible opportunity for getting into worlds that are very saturated and people have a lot of loyalty and excitement around. And so I think Twitch is a really cool way to attract people within the metaverse. Um, and then the same thing with like other streaming platforms everyone’s dipping their toe, but again, so figuring out the application for it. I think of an application for it that someone may think of is creating an NFT of a Nuun tube or something like that. So that your avatar in the Nuuniverse or in the metaverse is, not the Nuuniverse, is using it or showing that they use it. And for me, I would probably be apprehensive about creating something like that because it doesn’t feel connected to our brand in the physical space. And so again, it’s like staying within the rules and the value proposition that we’ve created in the real world.

Adrian Tennant: Which brands or e-commerce companies do you think are doing the most interesting work in this emerging Web3 space right now?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Nike and Adidas are doing really incredible things and they are not only doing it for their brand, but they seem to also be exploring other brands and other creators and investing in them. So it’s not just like thinking about how Nike or Adidas is going to exist within the metaverse, but being part of the infrastructure of building the metaverse, which I think is very cool. and also is buying them a lot of street cred within the people who are creating the metaverse right now, because they’re not just in there and trying to commercialize it, they’re in there and like building and that’s what is interesting in that world right now.

Adrian Tennant: What is the one aspect of retailing that you think is most likely to be disrupted or look completely different by 2030?.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: I do think that the line between sort of the physical world and the digital world will continue to be completely blurred. And, I think that the same way that in the past five or 10 years, retail brands have struggled to understand omnichannel and understand, “oh, there’s this like weird digital space and e-commerce, and like, that’s not really where our brand is going to be,” but then like everyone sort of went there. Um, whether it’s through social media and magazines going away and just the power shifting. I think that the sooner companies and brands start realizing that the actual delineations between the physical and the digital worlds are going to get more blurry and create their teams in that way, create their budgets in that way, I think the more well-suited they will be for being relevant in that

Adrian Tennant: As I mentioned in the intro, you spent some time on the agency side, leading digital projects with Barbarian. So Ingrid, I’m curious, did that experience influence how you interacted with agencies once you were back on the client-side?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Oh, definitely. Yeah, so this kind of goes to something I say all the time, which is that I won’t hire someone typically unless they have had experience working in retail or waiting tables. And that’s because you learn this skill of serving the general public and you learn these ways of serving people. And I think to the next level of that, the agency experience gives people that additional context. And frankly, I think the biggest lesson I learned, that I hope to carry with me, is that when I hire an agency, I don’t consider them to be a different company. Like I hire them and I make them part of our company. and I don’t want them to be full-time because I actually really value the perspective and the fact that they’re not in our echo chamber and four walls. And so there are reasons to hire an agency and keep them as an agency. However, when you actually are in the trenches together and you’re working and you’re in meetings, there is no separation. Like I treat them the way that I would treat any other new employee and I expect them to behave that way and hold our values true and speak our language and really embody our culture and the same way as I give them, you know, respect and autonomy and the ability to do what they do. So I would say it’s boiled down to mutual respect, but also just really deep incorporation into our brand and our brand values.

Adrian Tennant: Ingrid, if people would like to learn more about you, your work at Nuun Hydration, or your podcast, Infinite Shelf, where can they find you?

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: So you can find us @_InfiniteShelf on all of the socials. And, you can also catch me on my LinkedIn and it’s just Ingrid Millman-Cordy on LinkedIn.

Adrian Tennant: Ingrid, Thank you very much for sharing your insights with us today for ENVISION.

Ingrid Milman-Cordy: Of course happy to be here. Thank you.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to our guests this week. Ingrid Milman-Cordy, the head of digital and e-commerce for Nuun Hydration, and the host of Future Commerce’s Infinite Shelf podcast. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on theIN CLEAR FOCUS page at Bigeyeagency.com, where you’ll also find more details about Bigeye’s ENVISION 2022 on-demand video. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.