Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

A conversation with Kevin Perlmutter, Founder and Chief Strategist of Limbic Brand Evolution. Kevin explains how he established his brand strategy and neuromarketing consultancy, and shares some of the ways he helps brands increase consumer desire, engagement, and loyalty with emotional insights. We discuss the use of agile consumer neuroscience research tools to evaluate creative, and Kevin recommends three books that can help apply neuromarketing concepts to brand strategy.

Episode Transcript

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

Kevin Perlmutter: I’ve created a Limbic Sparks approach to brand strategy. And that is all about finding the intersection of emotional motivation between a brand and the people that brand is trying to reach.

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. If you listen to IN CLEAR FOCUS regularly, you’ll know that throughout this season we’ve been discussing brand strategy. We’ve looked at what brands are, how to audit existing brand assets, using semiotics to decode brands’ signs and symbols, and how consumers attend to brand messages. As we’ve learned, contemporary branding practice is influenced by psychology and behavioral economics. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink published in 2007, and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, published in 2011, resulted in a broader awareness among marketers of how non-conscious thought processes shape our experiences and the role that emotion plays in how we respond to brands. Our guest today is a brand strategy, customer experience, and a research innovator. Kevin Perlmutter is the Founder and Chief Strategist at Limbic Brand Evolution, a brand strategy and neuromarketing consultancy, helping clients increase consumer desire, engagement, and loyalty with emotional insights. He’s created the Limbic Sparks approach to brand strategy. Prior to founding Limbic, Kevin led strategy, innovation, and research for Made Music, a sonic branding studio, where he created their award-winning consumer neuroscience research capability. Prior to that, Kevin was a strategy leader at Interbrand where he created their first global customer experience offering. He’s also a regular contributor to Branding Mag, where he writes on the science of emotion and how it can impact brands. To discuss how emotional insights can be turned into a competitive advantage for brands, Kevin is joining us today from his office near New York City. Kevin, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Kevin Perlmutter: Thank you so much for having me. It’s wonderful to be part of this.

Adrian Tennant: Limbic is a brand strategy and neuromarketing consultancy. Could you start by defining the term neuromarketing for us in the context of brand strategy?

Kevin Perlmutter: Certainly, I mean, neuromarketing is such an important field and of course its origins are in the study, from a research perspective, of how the brain is operating: people going into labs, FMRI studies, and truly monitoring brain activity at an individual respondent level. But as it relates to brand strategy, it’s really about understanding relevant human emotions. It’s about understanding what causes people to think certain ways, how stimulus affects their understanding and context of a situation, and how they go about making decisions as it relates to products and experiences and interactions that they’re having in daily life.

Adrian Tennant: What kinds of brand strategy challenges do your clients bring to you at Limbic?

Kevin Perlmutter: Well, the primary focus of my business at Limbic Brand Evolution is brand strategy through the lens of emotional insight. So I’m doing the same kind of strategy work that most brand strategy consultants do. But my practice is exclusively focused on making decisions about a brand strategy through the lens of emotional insight. So I’m all about creating stronger connections between brands and people. And I’m tapping into the limbic part of our brain, the system one part of our brain, that operates at the subconscious level to control emotion, motivation, behavior, and memory to guide people toward decisions about brands based on how they want to feel in life in general. So the challenges that I’m helping my clients deal with? I’m helping them focus. I’m helping them connect. I’m helping them evolve. I’m helping them have deeper consumer insights that lead to more differentiated and relevant brand positioning, helping them have better customer experiences, messaging that actually connects with people. I’m helping them create those stronger connections between themselves and the people they want to reach.

Adrian Tennant: You just referred to system one thinking. I did mention in the introduction, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman who introduces this metaphor of system one and system two. So Kevin, what does an engagement with Limbic typically look like for a client?

Kevin Perlmutter: Well, the primary work I’m doing is foundational brand strategy at the brand level. And, that leads of course, to all kinds of activations. So it’s not just a brief for advertising. It’s a brief for how the brand presents itself through experiences, through messaging, through any kinds of marketing communications. So the typical work that I’m doing is: First, there’s a lot of insights discovery involved to create that strategy development. So the first phase of work is getting to understand more about the brand that I’m working with, their challenges, and all the things you would typically expect in a strategy engagement. I’m going very deep in the time that is allotted, given the project size, on understanding the customer and truly helping my clients understand what makes people tick. What is it that they need to know about people and how they’re going about life so that they could understand the relevant ways that their brand could play a valuable role? So once the project is set up and defined, I’m able to come in and out as a project-based strategist or in some cases I’m a retainer-based or a fractional Chief Strategy Officer for a brand over a longer period of time where I’m not helping them with just one project, I’m helping them with a variety of rolling challenges that they’re trying to solve.

Adrian Tennant: Do you typically engage with agencies’ or clients’ in-house creative teams? And if so, what are the dynamics like in those relationships?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yes. I mean, that’s some of the greatest work I get to do is the collaborations I have with other agencies, creative agencies, or in-house client creative teams. I love to collaborate and the work that I do requires collaboration at some level, because I’m not doing all of the activation work. I’m doing the strategy, I’m setting the brief. I’m setting up the creative activations for greater success and effectiveness. So sometimes that results in a handoff of my work to other teams. Sometimes I bring in the creative resources to do that work with my clients. And sometimes my work is extended to be a seat at the table with those teams, and help them through the activation process. Sometimes I’m doing projects independently with my clients, and sometimes I’m being brought in by creative agencies to fill a void in their roster and actually create the Limbic Sparks strategy that is going to help their work be more successful. 

Adrian Tennant: As someone who worked agency-side yourself for many years, do you think you’re viewed with less suspicion than other types of consultants?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yeah, it’s an interesting territory. And it kind of says a bit about our industry, that the question has to be asked that I might be brought in with suspicion. But the true answer is that my best relationships in the business are with agencies and creative teams. And I understand how to work with creative teams. I’ve worked in many creative environments as a strategist and what I bring to the table starts with a trusting relationship between me and my creative partners. They trust that I understand their job and their stresses and what they are on the hook to deliver. And they know, through the work we do together, that I’m going to help their work be more successful as a partner in the process. I’m not there to trip up their work. I’m not there to just represent what the client wants, which is the last thing that they want to hear. I’m there to actually help uncover insights that will make valuable contributions to the creative process. In fact, you prepped me a little bit and I knew this topic was going to come up. And interestingly, just the other day, I got a note from a partner of mine at a creative agency. We just finished a project together. And I was brought in as a strategist on the project and the creative team is continuing to do their work. And she actually wrote to me, and this is worth noting. She says, “it’s been an absolute joy to collaborate with you on this work, your ability to insert emotional resonance, and translate it to focused outputs for the team has been simply outstanding.” I mean, and that’s the best kind of compliment I can get from a creative partner when my work is part of their work.

Adrian Tennant: Oh, absolutely. Well, as I mentioned in the introduction, you’ve held senior positions in the industry. I’m curious, Kevin, what led you to an interest in emotion-based consumer insights?

Kevin Perlmutter: Well, thank you for that. And yes, I’ve worked on the agency side for many years, ad agencies in the beginning of my career, seven years, as you mentioned at Interbrand, where I launched the customer experience practice. And then four and a half years at a music studio where I led strategy, innovation and research. And when I was at Interbrand, I went there because that was the stage two of my career, where I was looking to get out of advertising and stop making promises that brands weren’t keeping and focusing more on delivering great experiences. So the ability to focus on a customer experience practice and launching that was an amazing moment for me in my career because I was able to innovate something new. When I went to the music studio, I learned a lot about the science of emotion, and I learned about neuroscience when creating that research capability with my outside partners. And I have neuroscience friends right now that continue to help me to understand how the brain works and how to apply that insight to brand strategy. So after years of working in customer experience, years of learning about how the brain works, I recognized there was an opportunity, a void in the market, to create a brand strategy consultancy that brings those worlds together to focus exclusively on emotional insight, how the brain works, and apply that to strategy. So that was really the inspiration to create the business that I’ve created, is my interest in bringing emotion-based insight into brand strategy, not as a side note, but as the epicenter of how I think.

Adrian Tennant: Well, before we get to your work with Limbic Brand Evolution, I would like to talk about that experience with music. Traditional market research of course relies on self-reported data, which means survey respondents or focus group participants consciously consider a question before making a selection or answering the moderator. The pioneering work you did with Made Music Studio focused more on non-conscious or implicit responses. Kevin, could you tell us what you learned about the subconscious impact of emotion on consumer desire as it relates to sonic branding?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yeah. Well, the biggest thing that I learned is that if our job as marketers is to motivate people to take action, to learn about a brand, to desire that brand, to move in that direction. If our job is to motivate them, then we need to be operating in a way that has the greatest impact on what motivates human beings. And when we were working in the music studio and wanting to understand how the sound that we were creating was impacting people, we recognized that sound affects people at a subconscious level before it affects them consciously. So trying to evaluate the work at a conscious level, how does that sound make you feel? Well, it made them feel something. You’ve asked the question, and now they’re thinking about their answer and telling you a story that may not be what they originally instinctively felt. So the biggest takeaway from working at the music studio for me, was that our brains have a lot going on that we are not consciously aware of. And it’s informing a lot of our feelings, our associations, and our behaviors. And as marketers, as brand people, if we’re not tapping into those instincts that people are having, and we’re only focused on their conscious responses, then we’re not getting the full story and we’re not doing our jobs most effectively.

Adrian Tennant: Kevin at Limbic Brand Evolution, you offer clients a process you call Limbic Sparks. Could you explain what it is?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yeah, well, my company is named Limbic Brand Evolution. That was very deliberate because my practice is focused on the limbic part of our brain. So I had to think, “Well, what am I actually doing for my clients?” So I came up with this term, Limbic Sparks. It’s my trademark, it’s my IP. And, I’ve created a Limbic Sparks approach to brand strategy. And that is all about finding the intersection of emotional motivation between a brand and the people that brand is trying to reach. You see, the thing we have to understand is that brands should exist to make people’s lives better. All of them are in the world, but not all of them are dedicated to making people’s lives better. And people on the other side of that equation are not walking around, looking for brands. They’re trying to have a good life. So my job as a strategist is to do what I call: create Limbic Sparks and Limbic Sparks happen when people intersect with a brand and they feel like, “Wow, this brand gets me. They are there for me, their experience, their offering, their products, their messaging was designed with me in mind and it just feels like a perfect fit.” Sparks fly and the instinctive part of our brain and all of a sudden we desire that brand. That’s what my process is designed to achieve.

Adrian Tennant: So in what kinds of ways does the Limbic Sparks process impact outcomes or deliverables for your clients?

Kevin Perlmutter: So what my process does first and foremost is it focuses very efficiently on what matters most. It’s focused on how we want people to feel and it leads to differentiated brand positioning that is proven to be more effective simply because it’s focused on the things that matter most to people and the things that will inspire the greatest action that’s compelling.

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 – 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

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Kevin Perlmutter, Founder and Chief Strategist of Limbic Brand Evolution, a brand strategy and neuromarketing consultancy. During a recent webinar for Branding Mag, you said that bringing neuromarketing insight into the creative process has to start with an understanding of people and what they want to accomplish in their lives. In what kinds of ways do you translate those insights and use them to inform creative or strategic briefs?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yeah. So as I’ve been saying, you know, I’m focused on the things that matter most, and the single most important question that I help my clients answer is why should people care about your brand? With an emphasis on the word care. I mean, honestly, most people are indifferent. They’re not walking around looking for brands. They’re just looking to have a good life. So, by focusing on that question, why should people care? I’m constantly seeking to understand through questions, through research, through conversations, through observation, I’m trying to understand what is it that this brand is doing that is so wonderful that more people should know about? And what is it that people that this brand wants to reach are actually trying to achieve in life? And how can I create a strategy that leads to messaging and experiences that bring those two worlds together? So really, that’s how it affects the creative process and how it informs the briefs that are more powerful than briefs that don’t focus on that question.

Adrian Tennant: Once creative has been developed, do you typically test to evaluate the work?

Kevin Perlmutter: I’m a big fan of testing and evaluating work. And you know, that question really has more to do with a client’s budget and their ambition for understanding more reliably that the work is solid and will achieve their goals. So, when there’s an opportunity to test the work, I’m certainly all for that, I’m a proponent of testing. Sometimes the gap between where you started and where you’re going is so large that testing may not even seem necessary because you’ve clearly solved the challenge in a new and interesting way that everyone on the team feels is definitely taking it to a new level. And the investment in research is not necessarily there. Sometimes you’re working on such a big stage with such a big brand, where the investment that comes after the strategy is so large that spending a little extra money on research is definitely worthwhile. And you want to just have that extra bit of validation before you move forward. So, I am a big fan of testing the work, but I don’t always feel it’s necessary. But I’ll never shy away from it if it’s something that the client wants to do.

Adrian Tennant: So Kevin, what are some of the most interesting projects that Limbic has undertaken recently?

Kevin Perlmutter: So, yes, I love that question because there’s some really awesome projects that I’ve been doing. I’ve had my company now for about three years. And in that time, you know, there have been a handful of projects related to brand creation, actually launching a brand new offering that has not been put out into the market yet. So I’ve worked with several new brands to determine how they should be positioned, what their value is to the world, originating and helping them define their personality, and their messaging, and guiding how they come to life. As I said, I collaborate with creative agencies on visual identity and website designers. Oftentimes my role is both strategy and copywriting for the website. So that’s brand creation has been one category of really interesting projects. Another one is portfolio architecture. Oftentimes I’m working with a client on their offering architecture or sometimes working with a very large brand that has multiple offerings and emerging offerings that are becoming broader than their original core and they’re trying to figure out how they can make the entirety of their offering clear and compelling, and making sure that each offering that they put out there is distinctively adding value to the overall brand promise. So that’s a very interesting type of project that I get to do. Sometimes it’s an individual project. Sometimes it’s an ongoing relationship where I’m rolling through their different offerings and helping them figure out how to make them distinct and valuable. And then the last one is typically repositioning. I do a lot of work with service-based businesses. Sometimes they’re a commodity in their space. You know, you have one company in this field, it’s offering the same exact services as five others in their field and geographic territory. But my job is to help make them distinct in that competitive set and, oftentimes the answer lies in their style of service and what customers love about them and what makes their style of service distinct from their competitors. And, oh yeah, “Of course we offer all of these things that are the same as our competitors, but when you’re working with us, this is how you will feel differently, how you will be treated differently as a customer.”

Adrian Tennant: What are the most common misconceptions that you find clients or agencies have about consumer neuroscience and neuromarketing?

Kevin Perlmutter: Well, I think first of all, they hear those words and it’s new. So a lot of times people shy away from the new. It’s an instinct that we have. It’s a cognitive bias that we go down the path of least resistance and avoid things that are new and complicated and require a lot of investigation. So, first of all, I think that the fact that it’s new causes people to not understand or overestimate how complicated it is. I think the second thing is that, the perception is that it’s expensive because neuromarketing is often associated with pulling people into a lab and doing FMRIs and very expensive research and it’s not like that anymore. There are research methodologies out there that are much more efficient, can be done at a quantitative level, can be done online. And if you find the right partner, then you will be working with a research methodology that is reliable, validated scientifically, and has high degrees of proven reliability and it’s not that expensive to bring that into the work. And I think the biggest misconception is that it’s not that important. I’ve bet my career on the fact that that is not true, uh, that it is incredibly important, that there is research and data that proves it’s incredibly important. And I think it’s a misconception that ignoring this is OK.

Adrian Tennant: So Kevin, how do you keep up to date with the ever-expanding universe of research platforms and possibilities?

Kevin Perlmutter: You know, I have a lot of friends in the business. I have a lot of friends at research companies. I read a lot. But the most important thing is to recognize that technology is allowing us to get better and better at understanding people’s instincts and motivations and giving us more of an ability to predict their behavior. There’s evidence out there that this is an important thing that’s happening. There are a lot of research companies out there claiming that they do this kind of work. I would caution that not all of them have gone through the rigor of validating that their methodologies will get you reliable results. So you really need to vet the companies that are out there, because this is a bit of a movement and people are jumping on and finding ways to do research that imitates those that have been pioneers in validating their methodologies. But, I keep up with these conversations and it’s important to me to know where this is going, because it’s very important for our industry.

Adrian Tennant: Well, when you and I first spoke about how we might structure this podcast conversation, I noticed that you and I have many of the same books on our office shelves. So are there any particular titles that you found especially helpful or insightful that you’d recommend to IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners interested in learning more about the topics we’ve been discussing?

Kevin Perlmutter: Yeah, certainly there are. You know, one of the most informative books on the topic that you mentioned earlier is Daniel kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, which is an incredibly in-depth read that I would work hard to get through or at least, you know, understand the highlights of, because that’s the foundation of a lot of the things that we’re talking about. There’s a book called How Emotions Are Made that I think is a very insightful book that recognizes a lot of the principles that I believe in, regarding emotions and context of experiences and how that affects people’s emotions. And slightly off the topic of emotion in the way that we’ve been talking about it, is a book that I’m a huge fan of called Nine Lies About Work. And what Nine Lies About Work does, is it busts nine myths about corporations and policies and how things typically happen. And one of the biggest conversations in that book is around leadership. And I think this does apply to what branding is all about. It asks the question, what are the common traits of leaders, the biggest leaders in the world? And the answer to that question is that, in fact, you know, while there are many articles that have said, well, “leaders are this, this, this, and this and this,” that the common traits of the most famous leaders of the world, there are no specific common traits. In fact the biggest leaders in the world, the biggest innovators in the world are such usually because they’re very good at one or two things. And then they surround themselves with people who could fill in the gaps of what they’re not as good at. So the common traits of leaders aren’t necessarily about how they lead. It’s actually about how they inspire. The biggest leaders in the world are leaders because they’ve inspired the most followers. And being inspirational and understanding how to inspire people is the most important thing that we need to be thinking about, not only as leaders, but as leading brands.

Adrian Tennant: Kevin, how do you see the role of brand strategy evolving over the next five years or so?

Kevin Perlmutter: Well, I certainly see it moving more in the direction of the way that Limbic Brand Evolution and the Limbic Sparks approach to brand strategy is set up to help customers. I recognize that people are going to catch on, that the research methodologies are out there, that the data on the power of emotion is becoming more well-known. That me being out there as a writer for Branding Mag, and as a podcast speaker and a podcast host, I’m putting information out there that I’m hoping people catch onto. I think that, in general, strategy and the creative brief that people have been using for the last many, many, many years, is in need of a major revision. I think it focuses too much on the brand and the client. It focuses on what they do as opposed to why people should care. So it’s sending creatives down the wrong path by focusing them on reasons to believe and proof points. And I think those briefs and strategy will spend more time focusing on the people that that brand is trying to reach and what makes them tick. And why they should care. And that should actually become the most important question that brand strategists answer going forward. And, if that happens, I think we’re going to find that brands who take that road will become more engaging. They’ll become more desirable. They’ll inspire more loyal customers. And there’ll be bigger parts of people’s lives.

Adrian Tennant: Kevin, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about your work at Limbic Brand Evolution, or check out your podcast, Let’s Talk Limbic Sparks, where can they find you?

Kevin Perlmutter: People can find me on LinkedIn, of course, Kevin Perlmutter is my name and I’m easily found there. But the best place to learn about my business, my practice is the Limbic Brand Evolution website. And on that website, there’s a lot of information about how I approach strategy. There’s also the Limbic Sparks podcast page where I do interviews with brand leaders who are turning emotional insight into a competitive advantage and driving business growth for the brands that they serve. And I’m hearing their stories about how they’re using the types of strategy and research and insights, develop insights techniques, that I use in my practice. And I’m hearing how they’re actually achieving that business growth in these ways. There’s also an emotional intelligence blog on my website, where articles that I’ve written and podcasts that I’ve been on are posted. So that is the best way. And if anybody wants to speak with me, there’s a Meet with Kevin link on my website where people can book time and I would be happy to talk with anyone who wants to have a conversation.

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

Kevin Perlmutter: Thank you so much for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week. Kevin Perlmutter, Founder and Chief Strategist of Limbic Brand Evolution. As always, you’ll find a full transcript and links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under insights, just click on the button marked podcast. And if you haven’t already please consider subscribing to IN CLEAR FOCUS wherever you listen to podcasts or add us to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

In October, Bigeye published an exclusive report, Retail Disrupted, and recently released ENVISION 2022, a video exploring key findings. This week’s pod is an extended interview with ENVISION guest Syama Meagher, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Scaling Retail, an innovative business consultancy. During our interview, Syama shared new insights about traditional and digital fashion – and why she believes the metaverse and Web3 offer retailers exciting opportunities. 

Episode Transcript

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

Syama Meagher: I consider myself a consumer futurist. I’m always following the money, right? I’m going, “Where is new wealth being created? How are customer values shifting? And how are we looking at being able to take some of that market share, take some of those dollars and be able to create value?”

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 surveyed over 1,500 consumers aged 18 to 55 across America to find out how their shopping behaviors have changed as a result of the pandemic. Now, we’ve recently released a video, ENVISION 2022, in which four experts discuss key findings from the retail disrupted study and explore some of the potential implications for retailers and brand marketers. A consistent theme of our conversations was the metaverse. Decentraland, a virtual world, hosted the first Metaverse Fashion Week last month, featuring dozens of global brands. Visitors were able to virtually experience fashion shows, attend live music sessions at branded after parties, and buy and wear digital clothing directly from catwalk avatars. Our podcast today is an extended interview with one of our guests for ENVISION 2022, who joined me to discuss the new world of digital fashion. With a background in traditional retail and e-commerce, Syama Meagher has held senior positions with Macy’s, Barney’s, and Gucci among others, and today is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Scaling Retail, an innovative business consultancy, specializing in launching and scaling successful fashion retail companies. She’s also an in-demand keynote speaker, a regular contributor to Forbes, and a sought-after fashion industry commentator. Syama joined us from her home in San Francisco. Syama, welcome!

Syama Meagher: Thank you, Adrian. I’m so happy to be here. 

Adrian Tennant: When did you first develop an interest in fashion?

Syama Meagher: When I was nine years old, I was that girl who went into Macy’s and went, “Oh my gosh, why are things on sale?” And wrote one of my first papers on it. So I think from a retail interest point of view, sadly, I think I’ve been curious about the retail industry since about the age of nine. And what I think has been so interesting is to kind of see how that very first inclination on why things go on sale has led me towards a whole new world of building and growing business.

Adrian Tennant: So, was there a particular time or an event that prompted you to pursue a career focused on fashion?

Syama Meagher: You know, what was so interesting is I realized that I had developed a very strong love of economics, and I always was very passionate about how systems worked. But I was also very much in love with fashion and style. And what I’d realized was the best way to execute these macro principles, these ideas around behavioral economics, but to do so in a way that was very tangible, is really what got me to fall in love with fashion because fashion is so personal. It is our identity. It is how we engage with others. So I would say, you know, it actually came out shortly after college. In university, I studied economics and philosophy, and I said, “You know what? I don’t know if I want to apply these things that I know how to do to the finance world. I think I want to be able to apply all of these great principles and ideas to the fashion world.”

Adrian Tennant: Are there particular fashion houses, designers, or entrepreneurs whom you particularly admire, or who have had a significant influence on your own approach to the business of fashion?

Syama Meagher: That’s a fantastic question. You know, I find that when I’m looking to the innovators of tomorrow, I try to look at very cross-disciplinary types of folks. So for example, thought leaders like Tom Goodwin is someone who I very much look up to. I love the ideas and thought leadership that he’s brought to tech companies. And as we look to see how fashion is growing and what happens and what moves in it, I find that actually, people from other arenas are able to provide some very interesting insight. So specifically, in terms of fashion designers, I mean, look, core to my heart, I would say I’ll always be a Phoebe Philo fan from Celine. She’s always been someone who I just admired: tastes, aesthetic, strong points of view, and commitment I think to community. And so what I think is so fascinating is when we think about the early luxury and advanced contemporary fashion brands, like, you know, Comme de Garçons and some of these brands that were so niche early on. They really garnered the love and attention of fashion fanatics, and they stayed so true and core to their identities that they’ve really been able to stand the test of time. Like Rick Owens, for example. And now you have all of these direct to consumer brands who are trying to build community, but what we’ve seen through designers like Rick Owens is the ones who stayed true to their core, their core aesthetic, their core consumers, those are the ones who continue to stay forever.

Adrian Tennant: Syama, could you tell us a bit more about your company, Scaling Retail, and the types of clients you typically work with?

Syama Meagher: Absolutely. So the thing that I love the most about Scaling Retail is we take a very 360-degree approach to business building, which I think is very different for most consultants who will come in with a very particular lens. What we’ve been able to do working with first time founders, and those who are interested in getting into spaces for the first time, is hold their hands across five main pillars. And that’s understanding your finances, your operations, looking at your product, your sales, and your marketing. And those are really five integral pillars. You cannot have siloed business models anymore, right? We need to be able to work integratively. So that is a very unique approach that we take to business. Now, in conjunction with that, we’ve also been able to attract an assortment of very interesting and exciting brands. Everything from working with the United Nations on product launches, to working with cities like the City of Coral Gables to help them with their city revitalization of their small businesses, to cannabis, fashion, lifestyle, you name it. It’s been an incredible gamut of companies and the impact that I think that’s been so incredible to see is when you see a business go from $250,000 in revenue to 10 million in revenue. That takes a moment to pause and say, “Oh my gosh, how do we actually start to create the secret sauce and to do so with every client in their own unique way?”

Adrian Tennant: Now of course, Syama, you’re also an investor and advisor. What elements typically need to be in place for you to consider investing in a startup?

Syama Meagher: That’s a really great question. So when it comes to the types of businesses, I invest across multiple verticals. And what I’m looking to do is get in on that pre-seed or seed stage round. So that’s either on the cusp of having product or good product market fit, very early stages to be able to see great accelerated growth. I am looking for companies that are on the forefront of innovation, whether that is sustainability, supply chain innovation, business model innovation. And predominantly these days I’ve been really focusing and doubling down on female-owned businesses and really starting to support the ecosystem of female entrepreneurs.

Adrian Tennant: What kinds of companies have you invested in?

Syama Meagher: So one of my favorites so far is a company called Rebundle and what they’re doing that’s fascinating is they’re the first product to innovate in the hair-braiding beauty space. Traditionally, when women get their hair braided, they’re pulling hair, either it’s synthetic hair that’s been produced for the purposes of being braided, or they’re getting hair that’s coming from other countries. And so what’s so important here is that beauty is obviously a tremendous market. And what I love so much about the thesis of Rebundle is they’re actually sourcing natural fibers that are recyclable in order to create this product that traditionally contributed to so much waste. And so this kind of innovation and product development in the supply chain, I think is so incredible. So that’s one. Another one that I’m so excited about is called The House of Wise and that is a CBD brand that’s really geared towards women. And what I love about the thesis around this business is it’s empowering women to create their own communities, to have conversations around sex, sports, wellbeing, sleep. And to be able to talk about these things very candidly while building these friendship networks and connections. So again, another female-driven business across different sorts of verticals, but focused on innovation and community.

Adrian Tennant: Now, you mentioned Rebundle as one of the companies you’ve invested in. In our retail disrupted report, we saw a greater level of interest among Gen Z consumers in recycling and reselling clothing and accessories. How are you seeing fashion brands adapt to younger consumers’ social and environmental concerns?

Syama Meagher: One of the things that I love so much about contemporary new businesses, and small businesses in particular, are the ability to be agile. You know, over the last 10 years, the ability to shift and change whether that’s supply chain, sustainability focuses, that has been really to the benefit of many young brands today. Some interesting innovations that I’ve seen are really building in the end of life of the product into the onset of the business model. So therefore right, when a Gen Z consumer is purchasing that product for the first time, there is already a resellable or recyclable program that is built into the business model. And that, I think, that circularity, of being able to sell to a consumer, have there be a platform to resell it or even to buy it back, I think is going to be fantastic, not just for Gen Zs, who want to feel more connected to their products and have products with more values, but ultimately, Adrian, to the environment, right? For us to be able to have a much healthier planet and a much healthier lifestyle.

Adrian Tennant: Digital fashion, nonfungible tokens, blockchain, cryptocurrencies, the metaverse. I know you believe they all offer opportunities to revolutionize the ways in which fashion brands conduct business and connect with consumers. So Syama, I’m curious, was there one particular moment or event that triggered your interest in Web3?

Syama Meagher: So, back in 2014, which is now nearly 10 years ago, I had the privilege of opening up a retail store for a client in the West Village. And that opening of that store was also the advent of when we first launched the Bitcoin ATM. So you can say I’ve been crypto-curious since about 2014. And what’s hilarious is that at that time, people care less about a Bitcoin ATM, but for us at that time, it was extremely innovative and exciting. And it really was my first toe in the water that let me say, “Hey, there’s something here.” Now, fast forward nearly seven years later, we saw the first sale of that Beeple NFT from Christie’s. And what I thought was so fascinating about the sale of that was it showed not only that we were ready to have a new form of art and a new form of communication, which obviously artists are always on the forefront. But we were actually able to see a market that was hungry, rich, and ready to spend. Now for me, I consider myself a consumer futurist. I’m always following the money, right? I’m going, “where is new wealth being created? How are customer values shifting? And how are we looking at being able to take some of that market share, take some of those dollars and be able to create value?” So the moment that I saw that there was really an abundance of transactions that were happening on the marketplace in terms of people buying into crypto, crypto really kind of increasing its value. So now we have more crypto millionaires in 2020 and 2021 than we’ve ever seen before. Combining that with the utility, right? Of being able to now express that into art, into having a commodity, to me was like whoa – my mind kind of exploded. And I said, “oh my gosh! We need to be able to educate brands into how to properly execute this new invitation for our consumer to come and play with them in a new way.” And it’s not using the US dollar, it’s using Ethereum or Bitcoin or any of these other tokens and solutions. So 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: 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 April is Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World by Faris Yakob. 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 Paid Attention, go to – 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. In a special Bigeye video event, we’re joined by four experts, including this week’s podcast guest, Syama Meagher.

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

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to a conversation with Syama Meagher, the founder and chief executive officer of Scaling Retail, who was recently a featured guest with Bigeye’s ENVISION 2022 video event. Well, I mentioned in the intro that you worked with Gucci in the past. The iconic fashion house released a digital version of one of their purses that actually cost more than the physical version did. Syama, what’s the appeal of investing in an NFT from a luxury brand compared to purchasing a physical product from that brand?

Syama Meagher: So interesting, right? Because it’s not like the person who bought the NFT got the handbag, right? They just got the NFT. Now, what I think is important to project ourselves into is, a future or a lifestyle where we want to represent who we are, wherever we’re engaging with people, right? You and I are engaging right now. How do I best represent myself? How can I show you who I am in the context of this digital conversation? And so when I think about things like the value of an NFT, you know, there are so many different utilities for it, but someone who’s going to buy that Gucci NFT, who wants to engage with that brand digitally. Chances are they’re spending a lot of their lives, right, and their life online, engaging with other people digitally, right? If I’m spending a lot of time going to parties and events, and I’m seeing people in real life, well, you better believe I’m going to want the social capital and status that comes along with having that Gucci handbag so I can show it off in real life. So if you think of our products and the things that we buy as extensions of identity and extensions of self, one doesn’t have to look much further than saying, “Well, where am I showing up every day? And where do I want people to get to understand and know me better?” So that digital version of a handbag, right, having those NFTs from luxury brands or from artists are going to become increasingly important as we have more platforms and opportunities to showcase and share with each other, our social capital.

Adrian Tennant: Well, I understand how that works for really well-established, large luxury brands. I know your client base also includes pre-revenue, or early growth stage companies. So in what kinds of ways are you thinking about NFTs and web three in relation to their businesses today and into the future?

Syama Meagher: Great question. NFTs are an invitation for consumers to be a part of a journey. As a small brand, there are so many ways in which you want people to be evangelizing and to be a part of your community. And so many reasons why it’s so valuable. The first is we are seeing now smaller brands use NFTs as fundraising mechanisms. That means instead of going to, let’s say a crowdfunding place in order to raise capital for your business, you can raise non-dilutive capital. So that means capital from consumers that are coming into your bank account that are not going to require a line item on your cap table. They’re not going to own a piece of your business, but they’re going to own a piece of that journey. So what I’ve been working with brands on is really not only how do we get you Web3, but truly, what are the consumer problems that you’re solving that actually Web3 is going to help you solve a lot easier? So good examples of that would be: let’s say I’m building community and I’m inviting everyone to come to an event. And this event that I’m doing is going to be one in 20 events of the year. And I want to see who are my most loyal fans, right? Not even consumers, but loyal fans. Well, I might, for everyone who shows up to my event, I might airdrop them an NFT. That’s almost like a ticket for the event and that way we can see who’s attending the event. Now let’s say they collect 15 out of the 20 events. Well, that person may not have been a purchaser of my product, but they sure as hell are brand loyal. These are our evangelists. So I’m going to go ahead and reward that person who’s now unlocked these different NFTs with some sort of reward mechanism, right? They’re now part of a certain segment of loyalty. That’s just one way of being able to engage a consumer. The other ways are being able to offer collectibles alongside physical products. So, hey, you’re going to now have, and there are so many companies that are working on this problem, but you’re going to have a digital gallery of all of the art that you own that’s an NFT. Well, if I’m a small brand, I might say, “well, you know what? With every product that I sell of this limited edition collection, I’m going to go ahead and give an NFT alongside it. And that NFT is going to be proof of ownership and proof that you actually have an authentic piece of the small collection.” Now, if someone wants to resell it, they’ll resell the NFT, right? And that I think is a very simple and easy way for smaller brands to say, “Hey, I’m already producing sustainably, limited edition quantities. I already have a niche consumer. How do I help my consumer evangelize what I’m doing on all the spaces that are important for that consumer to show up in?”

Adrian Tennant: We’ve seen sports brands like Nike and Adidas selling virtual sneakers, and then of course, as we’ve been discussing, many luxury fashion brands are also active in this NFT space. It’s still very early days, but are you getting a sense that metaverse consumers are the most enthusiastic brand loyalists in real life? Or do you think these fashion consumers in the digital realm are representing different types of buyers?

Syama Meagher: Hmm, this is interesting. If you were to look at the saleability factor of let’s say a new hot, like you mentioned, Nike, a new hot Nike sneaker. Right? Well, think of it like this: if a new hot Nike sneaker, sometimes people are buying those products not to wear them, but they’re buying them to resell them. We hear about this all the time. Right. People who are sneakerheads, or sometimes, you know, the ones who own them and wear them and like to look at them. But also there is an entirely new ecosystem of the resell market. I would say some of these NFT loyalists might also be flippers, they’re looking to invest in new hot drops, and then they’re looking to resell them. That’s just one slice of it, right? And that would be almost very similar to that kind of StockX sort of equivalency. Get first in line, buy the sneaker, and resell it. So think of the NFT as also having that brand loyal resell ability. Now also think of who these brand loyalists are, right. Or who’s consuming these NFTs as also people who were very interested in terms of what is community and what’s going to be building. So what we haven’t yet seen because NFTs are so young, like we’ve established, we actually haven’t seen any sort of NFT program launch full circle in terms of customer experience over time. So all we’ve seen so far are the beginning stages of this, right? And in the beginning stages, it simply means like, “join this and we’re going to give you the promise of Y if you buy X. ” but we haven’t actually seen is: are those promises being made good on? Right. Like, what is the actual loyalty community program over time? Now, certain companies have done well in terms of getting their foot in the door. Breitling did a launch of an NFT blockchain project that helped with authentication of their products so that people who had one of the watches, had the NFT, they could join an exclusive club, but we have yet to actually see many of these roadmaps take off in a way where we can track how frequent someone is engaging with the community. Are they truly buying more items from that brand or do they just continue to buy NFTs? lots of questions TBD.

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

Syama Meagher: I can only pick one? Um, okay. So one thing about retail, that’s totally going to change. Oh, my gosh. I want to say two things. I’m going to say one, and then if you, if you let me have the second, I’ll have the second.

Adrian Tennant: Syama, of course, I’ll let you have a second.

Syama Meagher: Okay, great. So I think the first thing that I’m so excited about actually is what all of the shifts in our supply chain are going to mean for how we consume products and our value of products. And what I mean by that is we’ve seen so many shifts and changes, obviously with disruptions in the supply chain, in manufacturing, and shipping and logistics and where we are producing products that I actually do believe that consumers are starting to understand how fragile our supply chain infrastructure is. And also the value of buying a domestically produced product. This is something that really suffered in the last 10 years. We heard a lot early 10 years ago about made in USA and how great that is. But very few consumers were actually willing to be able to put their resources or money behind those products because they were more expensive. But now, as we’re kind of looking at where, you know, supply chain shifts are happening and people are starting to understand that they’re not going to get those products in time, or as quickly as they want unless they’re manufactured locally. I think consumers are gonna be willing to spend more money for the product they want in order to have them in time. And so I think that the supply chain shifts now are going to change how we look at the value of domestic manufacturing. And I think more consumers are going to be willing to spend the money, whereas before they might’ve seen it as a vanity or fad To be able to luxuriously pay for me, made in the USA. So I think that’s a huge shift. Now, in terms of how we, and the second, thank you for giving me the second. Um, I think the other thing that’s going to be so fascinating or exciting is going to really be how we think about shopping and what it means to be able to have our identity showing up in all of these different spaces. And so when I’m looking at how consumers right now are thinking about, being brand loyal or having repeat purchases or what they’re buying from, there is going to be a synthesis of the metaverse within real life. And that means it’s not only going to be having a seamless, e-commerce experience, but it’s truly going to be, I think the advent of having an iPhone, being able to hold it up to something, being able to buy, have access and see through layers of engagement. And I think that our smartphones will be the gateways to how we start to purchase and consume more on-demand.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent! Syama, if people would like to learn more about you, your consultancy, Scaling Retail, or attend upcoming events that you’re speaking at, where can they find you?

Syama Meagher: Absolutely Adrian. All of our socials are quite robust, but I would say the Scaling Retail Instagram is a fantastic way to see all of the fun and exciting things that we’re up to. And then also on our newsletter and Adrian, I’d be remiss not to mention we’ve got an extensive YouTube platform with just a ton of fantastic retail and business information. I mean, I think being on the forefront of what’s happening in this rapidly changing world and being able to see the vision and execute tactically is something I’m so deeply passionate about. And I think people will be excited to see more.

Adrian Tennant: Well, that definitely comes across. Syama, thank you very much for sharing your insights with us!

Syama Meagher: Oh, thank you so much, Adrian. Such a pleasure.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to our guest this week, Syama Meagher, the founder and CEO of Scaling Retail. As always you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at, where you’ll also find details about Bigeye’s ENVISION 2022 video event. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host. Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Friday, April 22 is Earth Day. While many profess a desire to help fight climate change by engaging in more sustainable behaviors, there’s often a gap between people’s expressed intentions and their actual behaviors. Applied consumer neuroscience expert Michael Smith joins us to discuss his book, Inspiring Green Consumer Choices. Hear what Michael believes marketers and advertising creatives need to do to encourage more consumers to purchase sustainable products and services.

Episode Transcript

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

Michael E. Smith: There’s a great need for brand advertisers to educate consumers about the real personal and societal benefits of sustainable products and environmental behavior.

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. This Friday, April 22nd is Earth Day, which marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. The website at chronicles how, over the decades, hundreds of millions of people have been brought into the environmental movement, creating opportunities for civic engagement and volunteerism in 193 countries. Of course, the fight for a cleaner environment continues as the impact of climate change becomes more apparent every day. So to mark earth day, our podcast this week is an Encore episode, featuring the author of a book exploring the ways in which our consumer economy affects the ecosystem we inhabit and explains why efforts to mitigate humanity’s impact have to start with an improved understanding of consumer behavior. The book is entitled, Inspiring Green Consumer Choices: Leverage Neuroscience To Reshape Marketplace Behavior. Its author, Michael E. Smith, is an applied cognitive neuroscientist and management professional experienced in consumer research, neurotechnology research, development, and commercialization. Michael was a senior partner in Nielsen’s NeuroFocus consulting practice, president of Cortech labs, vice-president of Nielsen’s consumer neuroscience practice, and is the founder and principal scientist of Adaptation Research. Currently focused on challenges at the intersection of psychology, behavior change, and environmentally sustainable products and services, Michael joined us for this interview last October from his home in La Jolla, California. Michael, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Michael E. Smith: Adrian, it’s a pleasure to be with you.

Adrian Tennant: So, Michael, what prompted you to write Inspiring Green Consumer Choices?

Michael E. Smith: Well, several things. First, it integrates two topics I’ve had a long interest in. One of those is the emergence of the discipline of consumer neuroscience over the last decade or so. That discipline attempts to better understand consumer decision-making through advances in neuroscience, experimental psychology, behavioral economics, and other disciplines. As you noted in the introduction, I had been working in this field for many years and watched it grow from a niche discipline to something that’s become much more mainstream. The second topic was a growing interest in the expanding effort of marketers to both reduce the environmental footprints of the products and services they are creating and to promote those efforts and their marketing communications, there didn’t seem to be much overlap and the related literatures on these two issues. So I recognize that gap in the discussion and identified a need to introduce the fields to each other. Of course, another proximal backdrop that motivated me, was the growing impacts of extreme weather across the globe and evidence that increasing numbers of consumers were voicing both greater recognition of environmental problems and greater desire to adopt more sustainable ways of existing in the world.

Adrian Tennant: Well, the first chapter of Inspiring Green Consumer Choices includes some eye-popping stats reflecting American consumerism. You write that the average individual living in a modern home now has over 200% more personal space in which to stretch out, consume media and store their personal collections of stuff than someone would have done just a few generations previously. And yet, even with all this extra room, often including one or two car garage is filled to the brim with more stuff, almost one in every 11 Americans pay for storage facilities outside their home, fueling the $40 billion a year self storage industry. Michael, how did we get here?

Michael E. Smith: Well, slowly and then much faster. following world war two and more developed nations and especially in the US which suffered much less than the Homeland from the war, consumer behavior grew to become an increasingly large component of GDP. this mainly reflected the growth of the middle class in the U S with increasing prosperity and increasing availability of consumer goods. After a slow and relatively steady growth and demand for consumer products, essentially from the beginning of the industrial revolution onwards, beginning in the 1950s demands for such goods, enter a period of essentially exponential growth. that has put unsustainable impacts on the resources available to meet such demand and on the ability of planets, physical systems to absorb the polluting byproducts of meeting those demands. The period from around 1950 to the present is sometimes referred to by resource management experts and economists as the great acceleration. And while one might assume that much of this increase in environmental impact simply reflects population growth, in fact, most of the growth of the consumer economy has occurred in developed nations, which haven’t witnessed that much population growth. Whereas much of the population growth instead has occurred in less developed nations that are least responsible for the growth and consult.

Adrian Tennant: What are the psychological factors behind our seemingly irrational consumption and hoarding behaviors?

Michael E. Smith: Well, this is not fully understood. So let me just be clear on that. But we have inklings of what’s driving it. It is clear that the same reward systems in the brain that are involved in more extreme and pathological psychiatric aberrations, such as compulsive shopping, gambling addiction, extreme hoarding behavior, and also physical addictions to substances. Those same mechanisms are also engaged when clinically normal people buy things. the process of shopping for and purchasing attractive products, engages deep brain structures involved with reward anticipation. Which provides a bit of a dopamine rush to the shopper, you know, when they select the purchase and decide to buy it. This is a very transient effect and our emotions regressed to a kind of equilibrium after a purchase. And, you know, in a pretty, rapid fashion. As a result, the last shiny new thing we purchased is no longer quite as exciting anymore. And we step back on what is sometimes referred to as a hedonic treadmill and pursuit of other goals and desires and in a largely unconscious effort to reinstate the positive feelings we experienced on previous shopping occasions. Over time, based on that reinforcement, we develop automatic habits that drive purchasing of preferred products in a relatively autonomous fashion. We don’t give it much thought once it’s become a habit. And because we live in a social world, we tend to model our own behavior around what we see others doing and those others are also busily out there shopping. And because of that it becomes a societal norm to do exactly that behavior. and to some degree, because people are concerned about how they are perceived by others, some purchasing relates directly to an effort to convey taste and status to our peers, you know, to look good in the eyes of others.

Adrian Tennant: This is the concept of self where what we choose to buy is really an expression of how we want others to perceive us?

Michael E. Smith: Very much so.

Adrian Tennant: Michael, in Inspiring Green Consumer Choices, you describe mental models of the relationship consumers have with the environment and the history of earth day, which has been celebrated in April every year since 1970. Could you just briefly explain the roots of the circular economy movement?

Michael E. Smith: Sure. So it’s this acceleration beginning in the 1950s, by the early 1960s, people were becoming more aware of the growing problem than many forms of environmental pollution. And by 1970, as you note, there emerged widespread concern about the impacts we were having on the planet and hence the emergence of the earth day phenomenon. Accompanying this concern was a growing realization that planetary resources were not unlimited. If we are to have a long-term future on the planet, we would need to move beyond the traditional. What sometimes referred to as a linear take use, dispose of view of consumption to end, that was less wasteful and that better mimics what happens in nature and in nature, nothing is really wasted or use it up, but rather materials are cycled through ecosystems, such that the outputs from one use becomes the inputs to another process. Since this period, was also the dawn of the space age, late in the 1960s, the sociologist and economists Kenneth Boulding characterize this the emerging difference in worldview, as essentially on the old perspective, he is the metaphor of a cowboy exploring and exploiting a limitless frontier versus the emerging relatively closed system of a spaceship astronaut dependent on life support systems that minimize environmental contaminants and that recycles limited resources in more recent decades, this notion has evolved to a discussion of a circular economy, largely building on those metaphors one where waste is minimized, and the end of life of one product cycle provides resources for the next or for some new upcycled phenomenon.

Adrian Tennant: All of us engaged in quantitative and qualitative research know that pro-social biases often result in marked differences between what survey respondents and the focus group participants say they’ll do and what they actually do in real life. Environmentally conscious behaviors are no different. The problem which you lay out in your book is the gap between what consumers say about the importance of sustainability considerations in the purchase decisions and their actual choices and post-purchase, pro-environmental behaviors they engage in. Can you explain this intention action gap?

Michael E. Smith: Pro-social response biases undoubtedly play some role in explaining the gap. Additional influences may be at work as well and some of those influences may be inherent in the psychology of the consumer, while others may reflect a market failure of one form or another. On the consumer side, people just aren’t very good accountants of their own behavior. They may lack insight into how often they actually engage in pro environmental behaviors. And because they’re well-known to rely on a variety of mental heuristics, one such being the availability bias, or how easy something comes to mind when you try to think of it, they may overweight the frequency by which they engage in such behaviors, especially if it is easy to remember instances where environmental concerns weighed on their decision-making, if that comes easily to mind, it’s easy to assume that you do that more often than you actually, frankly, do. People also tend to discount some benefits such as environmental benefits if they promise to pay off only in the future, we discount future rewards to a great degree, whereas when they are trying to satisfy some immediate need, state hunger, thirst, a need for a new pair of shoes, they may be more attuned to immediate functional benefits rather than sustainability claims of more environmentally friendly products. And generally consciously considering the pros and cons of environmental benefits typically require more mental effort on their part. They might not fully understand a potential benefit and they may be skeptical of brands emphasizing such claims, and they may not really be willing to spend the extra mental effort to think through that problem. I’m reminded of a frequently cited quote, usually attributed to the Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman: ” thinking is to humans as swimming as to cats, we can do it, but absolutely hate it!”. So part of the gap may be intrinsic to human psychology. but another part of that gap may be attributable to problems brought on by marketers themselves. They have made claims that are difficult to understand in the first place. And those claims may in some cases, be rightly viewed with suspicion as there is a long history of brands engaging in greenwashing and purpose, washing, activities of that nature. And it’s well documented, so it’s not really controversial for me to say that, and I should be obvious. marketers tend to price more sustainable products at a premium to more traditional products. Yeah, many consumers may not be able to afford that differential. And a third part that might contribute to this is that some barriers that are more institutional and structural in nature, a pro-environmental consumer may sincerely want to engage in a behavior such as say, purchasing organic foods are recycling packaging, but if they live in a place where organic foods aren’t widely available or where recycling infrastructure is underdeveloped or undeveloped, they may not have the opportunity to engage in the behavior despite their desire to. So while the intention action gap is real, I think there are many things that contribute to it.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm, that’s interesting. Because the limitations of research instruments that rely upon respondents and participants self-reporting are generally well understood within the industry, there are also researchers and suppliers that offer implicit methods, including biometrics, like eye tracking, facial expression analysis, galvanic, skin response, and electroencephalography, or EEG that aim to decode consumers non-conscious thoughts. Michael, you’ve gone a lot further than most in understanding the shopping brain. Could you tell us a little about your experience as a leader in Nielsen’s consumer neuroscience practice and how the learnings could inspire brands to make it easier for consumers to make green choices?

Michael E. Smith: Happy to, and, I will say that of all the types of tools you described, it is the case that much of the applied research I’ve been involved with, and commercial endeavors I have relied heavily on those tools. my experience in the domain actually precedes my being a direct, employee of Nielsen because I previously worked for many years, and a startup that Nielsen, subsequently acquired much of that work focused on traditional, market research associated with evaluating, commercial communications about brands and their benefits and, their, attempts at persuasion in the marketplace. But such tools can serve the same purpose for the sustainability market as they do for traditional marketing. In fact, the portion of the research agenda I was directly responsible for at Nielsen examined how the brain measurement tools frequently employed in the field for optimizing commercial marketing in general could also be used to optimize communications, promoting different types of prosocial behavior. Some of the tools are really good for identifying what grabs your attention and what fails to. Others are good for estimating whether communication imposes too high of the mental workload to be effectively processed and which in turn can lead to negative emotional response. And still others could help identify whether a communication promotes a positive emotional response, and whether it’s memorable. And the commercial world, these tools can be used to pre-test communications in order to evaluate what is working well and what requires some creative optimization before it’s unleashed into the media sphere of one form or another. I’m sure you’re well acquainted with that process. Yeah, for example, for an application in this domain, I’m reminded of one project that we did on behalf of a non-governmental organization that was developing public service advertisements to promote recycling behavior. We were able to identify parts of, you know, a 32nd ad or a 62nd ad under development, that was either eliciting confusion as to what the point was or failed to elicit an emotional connection. And in turn the feedback from that measurement exercise provided information to the creative team, working on the spot that they were able to use to increase the degree by relatively minor edits and the advertising copy to increase the degree to which viewers engaged with the advertisement. So applying these tools to sustainability marketing really are not intrinsically different than marketing in general.

Adrian Tennant: And the other title by which some of these tools go, of course, is neuro marketing. I’m wondering how you feel about that term.

Michael E. Smith: Well, I have mixed feelings about it. neuro-marketing is really in my mind, the difference between consumer neuroscience and the use of the term neuro-marketing is I think of the, term consumer neuroscience applying more specifically to evaluating brain responses in response to marketing materials, whereas neuro-marketing, and my mind is more. Well, it sounds scarier to some people, rightly so in some instances, but it’s also really the application of the insights that come from consumer neuroscience to marketing strategy. So it really, those insights may help a brand marketer or an advertising team construct effective communications. And if you rely on neuroscience inputs to construct those communications, and you’re the person putting those communications out into the wild, well, that’s more of what I conceive of as neuro-marketing per se. Many other people would just equate the terms.

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 April is Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World by Faris Yakob. 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 Paid Attention, go to – 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 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. 

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 complimentary.

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 television.

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: Join us for a lively discussion about the future of retail and marketing. Bigeye’s Envision 2022, coming soon.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to an Encore episode, featuring Michael Smith, author of the book, Inspiring Green Consumer Choices: Leverage Neuroscience To Reshape Marketplace Behavior. Due to the pandemic, many US consumers had no choice but to order products online and have goods delivered to the homes. As previous guests on this podcast have noted, while we like the convenience of home delivery, it presents us with a lot more packaging waste to dispose of. Michael, you write about the important roles that habit and intent play in consumer behaviors. Could you explain why these are so important if we want to change how we shop in order to be more sustainable?

Michael E. Smith: Well, let me first say something about the first issue and then talk about habits, which are indeed very important. the other side of increased packaging for deliveries is that you’ve dramatically decreased, the human time resource and the, you know, vehicle miles traveled by everybody going out, driving to the supermarket. and then when they’re wandering around in the marketplace, maybe buying things they never intended to in the first place. So I think there are pros and cons on the sustainability front, in terms of e-commerce and further, there’s a lot of pressure on the major e-commerce providers to clean up their act as much as possible, so there’s that going for it. but to get to your point about habits, Psychologists have documented that habitual patterns of behavior influence a significant fraction of all consumer choices, especially if those choices are about products, typically purchase frequently or routinely and purchase and the context of your favorite shopping center that you’ve been to many, many times shopping for many of the same products. mainly because during the habitual behavior is relatively easy: it requires a little thought and has fairly predictable rewards associated with it. You do the same thing over, you’re likely to have the same outcome that you did in the past, whereas doing something new has the risk of remorse associated with the purchase, something that you short circuit by relying on habits. For highly ingrained behaviors, such as habits, explicit intentions, to do something different or to do the same thing more frequently, appear to have relatively little influence and academic research on this topic, if you compare the strength of an existing habit versus an individual’s explicit claims about their behavioral intentions, habit, strength in general appears to be a better predictor of actual behavior than stated intent is. One way to overcome that: habits are driven by a familiar contexts, providing cues that activate the habitual behavior. So one way to get around that is if you’re a marketer who wants to overcome existing habits is to disrupt the context in some way. And by disrupting the context, you’re more likely to give people the mental space to adopt new behaviors. and sometimes you don’t even need to disrupt the context. Sometimes life does that for you. So for example, if someone’s starting a new job, going to a new school, moving to a new neighborhood, they have to recalibrate all their routine behaviors to better adapt to the new environment. And if you can identify people, who’ve switched the context on themselves, you can approach them when they’re in a state of mind to actually try something new, with greater acceptance than they might otherwise.

Adrian Tennant: Michael, you cite a McKinsey and Company study that found that consumers feel that it’s largely the responsibility of companies and governments to reduce barriers to green consumption. What do brand marketers need to do to adjust to consumers’ growing intentions to shop more green?

Michael E. Smith: Brand marketers need to make their sustainability claims more trustworthy and transparent if people are going to be more accepting of those claims. They also need to focus more on highlighting the immediate and concrete, functional benefits of their products. And then more as a secondary consideration, focus on the more long term and abstract environment, mental benefits, because at the end of the day, if we’re not getting our needs satisfied, by a particular product or service, we will explore other ones. So, shoppers need to be convinced that whatever their primary need is be it taste or health or identifying something aesthetically pleasing. they’re not going to go after the secondary needs. They also need to ensure that their offering has some degree of mental and physical availability. Byron Sharp, in his book, How Brands Grow, emphasizes that, having something top of mind as a brand, and have it physically available where you’re shopping, are the keys to increasing, sales and growth,of your brand within the broader category. And this is as true for sustainable brands, as it is for any other brand. And then I think marketers really need to get comfortable with letting go of the notion that just because somebody filling out a survey says they’re willing to pay more for more sustainable products. Doesn’t mean when the rubber hits the road, that that’s true. some people can be distracted by a discount on a neighboring product that they find at the shelf. and many people, the majority of the population, really, especially these days don’t have the resources to spend more money on fulfilling their product needs. And so I think there needs to be a greater emphasis for marketers marketing, more sustainable products to do everything they can to achieve price parity with the competition if they want to have more success in this sphere.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm, that’s a great point. What are the kinds of adjustments that those of us working in the advertising industry will need to make to support green consumption and adoption of a post consumerism mindset?

Michael E. Smith: There’s a great need for brand advertisers to educate consumers about the real personal and societal benefits of sustainable products and environmental behavior. More generally, there’s a growing body of evidence that more informed consumers tend to be more receptive to sustainable marketing efforts. Whereas less informed consumers tend to be more skeptical. so advertising and creative development teams really need to work with marketers to convey, where we’re headed and, fashion that is informative, without eliciting so much despair that people just give up and try not to be,more sustainably thoughtful, beyond that, I think the advertising community needs to help marketers to build more trust with their consumers. They need to rely more on things like trusted third party verifications of claims. especially on topics such as sustainable sourced and fair trade bonafides rather than promoting claims that lack such certification, or that may seem otherwise self-serving, You know, the creative agencies need to be conscious to avoid communications that smack of greenwashing. Consumers will be quick to detect it and will be turned off by it. And we’ll be more likely to engage in negative word of mouth to disparage it. and finally, I think one thing that’s really critical and that’s missing and a lot of sustainability marketing, is a failure to highlight the immediate, personal benefits that a product might convey, rather than focusing on abstract environmental benefits that might be remote and in space, because if you’re not helping people to, satisfy their immediate needs, they’re not going to have the bandwidth, to try to aspire to help to satisfy a future generation’s needs. 

Adrian Tennant: When it comes to beliefs and attitudes about climate change here in the US there is polarization among the general public, as the topic has become as politicized as mandatory precautions against COVID-19.Michael, how can marketers address those skeptical of climate change? 

Michael E. Smith: You know, the first thing to realize, trying to rationally argue this point With extreme deniers it’s likely to get you nowhere. They’re likely to just harden their position because they’re not reasoning about it in a rational way, but rather in an emotional way, that may be based on their values, that may be based on their peer group, and the place of that peer group or many other factors. So, you know, one way to address this is, personalized to the extent possible communications, that makes sustainable goods and services more personally relevant to climate skeptics. And you can do that by not focusing on carbon emissions, but rather focusing on the functional and personal benefits of the sustainable products. For example, Tesla, they didn’t become a trillion dollar company. By highlighting environmental benefits. In fact, they do little direct advertising at all. And you very seldom hear Elon Musk tweeting about, you know, their impact on, carbon emissions. Rather, in a variety of ways, they try to highlight their cars being cool, sexy, high performance, and fun to drive. Their cars are an offering that also has the benefit, frankly of lifetime costs that although they seem expensive on the surface once you take into account, fuel savings, reduced repair costs because they’re actually mechanically simpler than an ice vehicle, they’re cheaper than other premium vehicles. So by convincing people, this is a cool choice,that you’ll have fun with, and that you’ll even save money on, none of that says anything about climate and, you know, that’s worked really well for them. You know, similarly you might be able to convince a denialist to nonetheless soak up their house with led lights for many of the similar reasons: they last virtually forever. they’re a little more costly, but they have such a dramatic reduction in your energy use that they paid for themselves many times over once they’re installed. who wouldn’t want to be receptive to that? I know before I got my,solar panels, I put LEDs all over the house and monitored the impact, and it actually reduced my electrical bills by about 25% because we live in a climate where we don’t have to do much heating or cooling. so lighting is actually a big component of electrical expenses. And again, you don’t have to talk about the environmental benefits to highlight those benefits. So I think that’s a good strategy with those denialists, but you know, and this is,my activism coming to light, focusing particularly on,your industry, and not to be too pointed about it, but advertising creatives should follow the lead of the organization, clean creatives, which you could look at at, which is an organization of advertisers bringing together leading agencies, their employees, and clients to address the ad and PR industry’s work with the fossil fuel industry, which is documented to be extensive. And the ideas, to stop profiting from the sale of fossil fuels at the agency level. And instead, begin to combat the longstanding corporate greenwashing the fossil fuel industry has engaged in, that has, in fact, encouraged climate disinformation and denialism in the first place. They kind of manufactured that whole cognitive positioning. So, just again, my activist thoughts that given the question, I can’t help, but bring up.

Adrian Tennant: I’m very glad that you did.. Michael, if in clear focus, listeners would like to learn more about you, your work in consumer neuroscience and psychology, or your book, Inspiring Green Consumer Choices, where can they find you?

Michael E. Smith: If they want to have direct communications, the best thing is just email me at, or connect with me on LinkedIn. And if you’re interested in the book, it’s available for order either on major e-commerce platforms like Amazon or Walmart, or from my publisher, Kogan page, just Google Inspiring Green Consumer Choices, and you’ll get lots of hits on the topic.

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

Michael E. Smith: Thank you, Adrian. It’s been a real pleasure to be with you.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to our guest on this week’s Encore episode, Michael Smith, applied cognitive neuroscientist and the principal scientist of Adaptation Research. If you’d like to obtain a copy of Michael’s book, Inspiring Green Consumer Choices, as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you’ll receive a 20% discount when you purchase online at Just enter the promo code BIGEYE20 at the checkout. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under insights, just select podcast. And 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.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Our guest is Marc Guldimann, a digital media pioneer whose company Adelaide is on a mission to bring fairness and transparency to the digital marketplace by quantifying the true quality of media through the lens of attention. We discuss Adelaide’s brand advertising model, The Attention Pathway, published with the ANA, and how Adelaide’s Attention Unit (AU) can help media buyers evaluate quality, identify efficiencies, and invest in higher quality media at a fairer value.

Episode Transcript

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

Marc Guldimann: With the privacy movement, and regulation, and walled gardens even further locking down access to data about ad exposures inside their platforms, it’s getting nearly impossible to build scaled attribution systems. So this is forcing advertisers to take a closer look at what is the quality of all of the media they’re buying.

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 at Bigeye. Thank you for joining us today. This month, we’re looking at the role that attention plays in advertising and communications. Last week we spoke with Faris Yakob, the author of Paid Attention, our featured Bigeye Book Club selection for April. Today, I’m delighted to be speaking with Marc Guldimann, a digital media pioneer whose company Adelaide is on a mission to bring fairness and transparency to the digital marketplace by quantifying the true quality of media through the lens of attention. Marc graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in social decision sciences and, after working in internet and technology firms, became the founding CEO of digital media firm Enkin and then Spongecell, which was acquired by ad server Flashtalking, now part of Mediaocean. Marc then established Parsec Media, the first marketplace to sell media based on time. Then in 2019, Marc founded Adelaide, which helps digital media buyers evaluate quality, identify efficiencies, and avoid clutter by utilizing attention metrics. To discuss how Adelaide’s approach can help agencies and in-house teams invest in higher quality media at a fairer value, Marc is joining us today from Los Angeles. Marc, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Marc Guldimann: Thanks, Adrian. Thanks for having me. And it’s nice to meet you.

Adrian Tennant: I mentioned in the introduction that you graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in Social Decision Sciences. Can you tell us a bit about what that course entailed and how it prepared you for your subsequent career in digital media?

Marc Guldimann: Yeah, so Decision Sciences is I think a mix of a business degree, a little bit of economics, and a little bit of psychology. You could also think of it as sort of like an undergraduate MBA. I don’t know if it did too well, preparing me for my career in digital media. Because when I arrived in digital media, I was a little bit surprised at the lack of let’s call it an evidence-based approach. It seemed like a lot of things were based on metrics that weren’t derived from the scientific method or derived from a scientific approach.

Adrian Tennant: Well today, we’re going to be talking about your company, Adelaide, but before we do, could you give us an idea of how, as a serial entrepreneur, your previous companies led you to your current focus on developing attention metrics?

Marc Guldimann: Yeah, sure. So I actually ended up in advertising by accident. My first startup was a company called Spongecell, where we developed as part of the web 2.0 wave, a JavaScript and DHTML calendar. Then we ended up raising money from IPG and trying to build sort of an event promotions platform that was powered by a lot of the same calendar technology. And then eventually, ended up doing display advertising that had a lot of the calendar elements inside those display ads. So that was the Spongecell that Adrian, that you’ve probably worked with and are familiar with. So that was the entrance into digital media from a background in decision sciences. I was previously working in wireless security, so it had nothing at all to do with advertising.

Adrian Tennant: It’s funny how that works sometimes. Well, as you know, Faris Yakob was our guest last week and characterized attention as the foundational idea of advertising. Faris cited Orlando Wood’s 2021 book, Look Out, which is partly about attention in advertising. And of course, in 2020, Dr. Karen Nelson-Field’s book, The Attention Economy and How Media Works was published. So I’m curious, Marc, why do you think we’re seeing so much ad industry attention being paid to attention?

Marc Guldimann: Yeah, well, I mean, I think first, I’ll say Faris’s book, Paid Attention was one of the original pieces that really sort of drew attention to attention. So his work early on guided a lot of our thinking. With regards to why we’re seeing so much attention being paid to attention these days, I think advertisers are becoming a little bit fatigued with the idea of viewability and video completion rate. And they’re starting to understand that both of those metrics are not accurate proxies. And they’ve both been pretty fully gamed by the sell-side. There are a lot of products out there that are specifically focused on driving higher viewability or higher video completion rate without the requisite increase in quality. I think the other thing that’s causing a lot of attention to be paid to this area is the decline of identity and the impact that’s having on attribution. For a long time, advertisers used attribution as a crutch. Because, you know, if you weren’t able to measure the specific quality of all of the touches against the consumer, across all of the different channels and formats for reaching them, it was still possible to build attribution models that tried to approximate the relative impact of various impressions on an eventual outcome. But now, with the privacy movement, and regulation, and walled gardens even further locking down access to data about ad exposures inside their platforms, it’s getting nearly impossible to build scaled attribution systems. So this is forcing advertisers to take a closer look at what is the quality of all of the media they’re buying.

Adrian Tennant: So can you explain to us what Adelaide does and how it quantifies the true quality of media?

Marc Guldimann: Sure. Yeah. So at Adelaide, we’ve developed the AU and the AU is a prediction of the likelihood of attention paid to any ad by any person inside of a specific ad placement. So we’ve really tried to focus on the quality of the media and its ability to create an opportunity for attention and then a subsequent outcome afterwards. We do this omnichannel, right? So the AU is a score of zero to 100 and it works across, let’s say like today, about 90% of an advertiser’s media budget. We do display, online video, walled gardens, native placements. Recently we’ve partnered with a company called TVision to release a CTV and linear product. We’re also, right now, working on an audio product, and then after that, we’ll expand to more mediums. So the goal is to give advertisers a global, omnichannel apples-to-apples metric that is a true reflection of media quality. 

Adrian Tennant: Let’s talk specifics. You provide several examples on the Adelaide website, but could you discuss a couple of case studies that demonstrate how using attention metrics has proven to be a better approach than say using viewability to quantify the quality of media?

Marc Guldimann: Yeah, definitely. So when we started out at Adelaide, we wanted to build a fast-moving media metric that was a proxy for brand outcomes. The goal was to have something that advertisers could optimize to in-flight and know that they were going to get more awareness or more consideration. So early on, we started matching our results to Kantar and to Lucid, and to sort of more attitudinal based research tools, and that it worked really, really well. We saw very consistent lift when advertisers would shift budget towards more efficient sources of AU, compared to viewability. And we did that for about the first nine months of the product. And then one of our clients, who is a global CPG, came to us and said, you know, “This is working really, really well at the top of the funnel. How’s it working in terms of actual sales or more behavioral-type metrics?” And we didn’t know. And I, to be perfectly honest, was sort of scared, because I figured the bottom of the funnel had been armed, you know, completely by Facebook and by Google and their ilk. But it actually turned out that when they ran that bottom of the funnel – like it was basically POS data against the AU, they found that it was just as correlated if not more in certain circumstances. And in hindsight, it’s obvious, right? Like quality media placement will drive any type of outcome that the creative is trying to achieve. So, what we actually see is a little bit less noise and volatility in terms of correlation at the bottom of the funnel, and I think that’s representative of a lot of the bias and noise that’s introduced in the survey methodologies at the top of the funnel. You know, there’s a lot of inconsistencies that are created by the fact that you’re really asking people to answer a bunch of questions about how they feel about a brand or how they remember, which doesn’t really get at salience or some of the more proven upper funnel metrics.

Adrian Tennant: And by “proven,” I think we have to talk about the name of your company, Marc, Adelaide. Can you tell us why you named your company Adelaide?

Marc Guldimann: Yeah. So Adelaide is where Ehrenberg-Bass is from. It’s the global epicenter of evidence-based advertising. The book, How Brands Grow, was sort of seminal in the foundation of Adelaide and our thinking and the realization that, you know, advertising and advertisers needed an evidence-based approach to measurement. So it seemed like a good name for the company, if that was our inspiration.

Adrian Tennant: Yeah. Well, in 2020, Adelaide published a guide in partnership with the ANA entitled The Attention Pathway And How To Measure It. Could you give us an overview of its contents and tell us what led to the model you proposed explaining how brand advertising works?

Marc Guldimann: Yeah, definitely. So previous to Adelaide, the company that founded Adelaide worked on an ad network called Parsec, and Parsec was the first ad network to sell media on a cost-per-second. And this means that we charged advertisers for the amount of time that people spent with ads. In this sense, advertising was an outcome, right? The amount of time that you choose to spend with a full-page print ad, or a skippable video ad, or a full page mobile ad – something that we call politely interruptive – that duration is driven by the quality of the creative, the relevance to the user, and the quality of the media. All of these three things, they’re sort of coming together to create the outcome of attention. When we’re working on Adelaide, our thinking is more that we want to understand the likelihood of attention being paid to something. And the attention pathway was critical in understanding and sort of breaking apart the difference between those two things. So the attention pathway describes the arc of attention over an individual impression. The first stage is to get noticed. The second stage is to retain attention or to capture attention. And the third stage is finally to shift the way that somebody thinks or behaves. And so over this arc, we see media and audience and creative playing a different role through those different phases. In the beginning of the impression, when it’s really important to get noticed and to sort of get the eyeballs into the box or into the medium where the ad is being delivered, that’s largely a function of the placement. And then from there, the ad, you know, definitely an eye-catching piece of creative will help drive the capture of attention. But moving on from that, the holding and the retention of attention is largely driven by creative, right? The amount of time that you spend looking at something is driven by if it’s interesting to you and if it’s relevant to you, and if it’s entertaining. Now, media still plays a role in this middle stage because you want to make sure that you have a well-lit space without a lot of clutter and a lot of distractions. But you know, at this point in the middle of the arc of attention over the impression, it’s largely about the creative capturing your attention, holding you in, and then at the end, inserting in some distinctive assets or some other branded elements that will actually drive salience or change the way that you think about the advertiser. So that’s our thinking about the attention pathway, and it really helps us understand how media and creative and audience all sort of have this interplay to drive attention.

Adrian Tennant: What kinds of responses have you had to the model from within the industry?

Marc Guldimann: So the attention pathway has been really well received because I think people are looking for very simple yet specific ways to understand how attention works. So I think that the attention pathway has been really well received. The AU overall has been very well-received for a lot of the same reasons. I think that people crave a simple and authentic way to measure things. The advertisers have so many metrics at their disposal, but a lot of them are only applicable in certain places, or have a lot of caveats, or have been gamed, and aren’t really that effective, or even worse, aren’t tied to business outcomes. I think that’s probably the most important thing when it comes to any sort of innovation in metrics or measurement, is that it needs to be about what the advertiser’s goal is and the business outcomes. So attention metrics and anything else really just needs to be in service of that advertiser’s business outcomes.

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

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 April is Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World by Faris Yakob. 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 Paid Attention, go to – that’s K O G A N, P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Marc Guldimann, founder and CEO of Adelaide, creator of the attention unit, or AU, the first omnichannel media quality score based on attention metrics. Well, I really appreciate that you pay attention to both the media side of the equation and creative. Your website offers the white paper entitled Using Attention Metrics For Creative Optimization. Marc, what are some of the key ideas here that creative teams should be paying attention to?

Marc Guldimann: Yeah. So, attention paid to creative is a really nuanced thing, right? Because there are ways to get attention onto creative that aren’t in service of the brand, right? So I can show you an ad with puppies and kittens, or an ad with naked people, hopefully it’s not the same creative! I can show you a ball coming over the horizon and your lizard brain will think a lion is about to eat you. Or we can shift eyeballs or facial features and then you have the uncanny valley and people are more likely to pay attention to that. None of those things really drive brand outcomes. So when you’re thinking about how to use attention with creative, I think it’s much more important to use some of the more advanced tools that are out there by companies like, you know, like RealEyes or like Orlando’s System1, to really understand what’s driving that attention in the creative and what does it mean? There are ways to use media attention to drive more learnings about creative attention, though. Because when you can hold constant the quality of media through the lens of attention metrics, you can start to derive more learnings about the creative, right? So you can reduce the amount of noise when you’re doing impact analysis on, you know, in the wild campaigns, and understand which creative really drove lift, and which creative underperformed. So, I think that there’s a couple of ways to think about how you can use attention metrics to understand creative, but it’s really important to understand those nuances and the fact that just optimizing to the maximum amount of attention, can do a brand a disservice. And I think that that’s something that’s really interesting to unpack because there’s a debate in our industry now where our little sort of corner of the attention corner of the industry, where some people are thinking about attention seconds and the total amount of attention captured. That can get dangerous because not only are you optimizing creative to the maximum attention, but you’re optimizing audiences to the maximum amount of attention. And unfortunately, people pay attention to things that they’re aware of. And so that can lead to targeting the wrong segments of audiences and optimizing towards the audience that’s already aware of your product, which is not really what you want to do with advertising. So I think that really highlights the nuanced approach that’s necessary when you’re going to apply attention metrics to any part of advertising.

Adrian Tennant: Well, you referenced your “corner of the attention space.” Adelaide is a founding partner in The Attention Council. Could you tell us about how the group was formed and what the aims of the council are?

Marc Guldimann: Yeah. So we started The Attention Council, it was probably about two and a half years ago, with the goal of spreading the gospel of attention metrics around the industry. And I think The Attention Council has been incredibly successful. I don’t think that we can take credit for all of the increased attention on attention, but there was a lot of work done to sort of prove out the efficacy of attention metrics and how they were attached to outcomes. So it was a lot of content created around how advertisers can apply attention metrics, and how publishers should think about them. So The Attention Council served as this sort of, foundational element in the industry. You know, all of the companies that are now growing in this space, or most of them, came out of The Attention Council.

Adrian Tennant: Now, would you say that you’re competitors with one another in some spaces, and collaborators in others, or you is a case of, co-opetition? How does it work?

Marc Guldimann: When we started, we were really the only company that was focused on measuring media, and there were a couple of researchers and eye-tracking companies in that space. So, as their companies and their visions have evolved, inevitably we started to bump into each other as they’ve started to apply their research into how to understand the quality of media.

Adrian Tennant: Marc, in what kinds of ways do clients and agencies interact with Adelaide? And what does a typical engagement look like?

Marc Guldimann: So it’s really, really simple to get started with attention metrics and with Adelaide. There’s a number of different ways, depending on the type of advertiser and the goals and how they like to work with measurement, but a lot of advertisers get started with just really simple measurement, right? They’ll apply our tag to their digital media and they’ll start to understand where they’re finding more efficient sources of attention and where maybe they’re overpaying for media through the lens of attention. So they can get this sort of benchmark view of how they’re doing. And then the next step, after that, they start to optimize. And from there, there’s a lot of different directions they can go. We have several partners that are integrating AU into MMM. We have people that are working with their publishers to do guarantees based on AU. We have people who are working with their DSPs so that their custom algorithms are tuned to drive more efficient AU. And we have lots of different applications of AU, and I think that it speaks to the fact that we’ve really honed in on media quality, right? So it’s because the AU is really just sort of the next step beyond viewability and a more precise measure of media quality, it can be plugged in to all those places where advertisers were previously using viewability. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, you mentioned earlier that you were astonished by some of the ways in which the industry was measuring success for clients. I’m curious, now for agency-side media planners and internal brand marketing teams, what are some of the ways that we can ensure we’re basing our decisions on empirical data?

Marc Guldimann: I think it’s just a matter of having an evidence-based approach to things, right? I think a lot of the metrics that the industry uses today could be classified as more of a narrative-based approach. Things like viewability or brand safety are about a story, right? They’re about like, you know, either something is viewable or not, or something is brand safe, or it’s not brand safe. Very little work has been done, definitely on the brand safety side, and I think it’s been harder for people to actually connect viewability with business outcomes. I think that in general, it’s really important for advertisers to move from those narrative-based approaches and narrative-based metrics to ones that are simply just tested and proven, right? Just using the scientific method, using exposed and controlled studies or just A/B splits. I think that that kind of approach and, you know, looking at the incremental impact of advertising is incredibly important. And the good thing is it’s getting a lot easier with the tools that are at advertisers’ disposal.

Adrian Tennant: Marc, what’s one question you wished I had asked you but didn’t? And what would the answer be?

Marc Guldimann: I don’t know exactly what the question is. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about currency and about how attention metrics can evolve from an arbitrage tool into something that advertisers treat as more of a currency that they can use to denominate contracts, and then what is the upside from that? I’ll unpack that. There’s been a lot of talk and articles written about currency and advertising. I think that the first thing that’s really important to understand about currency is that it’s a word that’s used in two ways. There’s money currencies, like the US dollar and like Bitcoin, and then there’s metric currencies, like viewability and hopefully like AU and like GRP is from the audience perspective. Those are two very different things. The money currency stuff is a very, very different subject from media currencies and/or metric currencies. And they shouldn’t be confused. In order for a metric currency to come into existence, typically it’s first used for arbitrage, right? So the first thing, when a new metric is invented and starts to being used by buyers, is that it’s typically like asymmetrical information or alpha. It’s something that the buyer can go out into the market with and buy more efficiently than the rest of the market, like finding bargains and optimizing away from overpriced assets. As that information becomes more diffuse, and more and more buyers know about it, there’s less of an opportunity to sort of get an upside from that arbitrage, the arbitrage gets sort of eeked out. And at that point, some advertisers start to say, well, you know, “I don’t want to take the chance that this high-quality asset is going to be available in the market. Instead of optimizing to it or hoping that I can find it at spot, I’m going to go and ask the supplier instead to guarantee a contract using this new metric.” And it’s at that point that it becomes a currency and then you have people starting to trade on it, right? You have advertisers and publishers and in our industry who would start to denominate contracts in a new attention metric, instead of viewability, for example. But at that point, the sellers, not all of them, but some of the more disingenuous sellers early on, will start to game the metric, right? They’re going to try to start to substitute a lower quality asset that still measures the same way or looks the same way through that new currency, but it’s cheaper for them to produce. And as that gaming gets worse and worse and worse, advertisers or buyers in a market have more incentives to innovate in terms of the metrics that they’re using. So then the cycle starts all over again. You go from arbitrage to currency, to gaming and over and over. The goal is if you can create a metric that is really hard to game, then it will be a currency for a long time. And there is a lot of secondary effects from the creation of a currency that is super trustworthy because it enables buyers and sellers to engage in these guaranteed contracts, which can eventually be standardized into futures, which allows both sides of the market to de-risk, right? So it allows the seller to know that if they make something of a certain quality, they’re going to be able to sell it for a certain amount. And it allows buyers to know that if they commit upfront to buying something for a certain price, that they will be ensured of its delivery. This is a much, much better situation than we have in advertising today, where everything is traded on the spot market. And you have an issue where publishers have very little idea of what their revenue is going to be next month let alone next year. And if you’re an advertiser, it’s really hard to ensure that you’re going to have the media that you need available that you need, to drive the impact that the rest of your business relies on marketing for. So that’s, you know, I think that the most exciting part about the work that we’re doing in attention metrics is preparing ourselves and our clients and the industry for the evolution of the currency from viewability to attention metrics. 

Adrian Tennant: Going back to our conversation around using attention metrics for creative optimization, I appreciate that Adelaide is measuring the quality of the media environment, but to what extent do you see further analysis of individual creative elements – and I’m thinking here of distinctive brand assets – are there any variations there. Are there some nuances that we should be considering as we’re putting together either visual ads or of course, audio ads?

Marc Guldimann: The measurement of a person’s attention to creative and making sure that the creative is holding your attention for long enough to drive the desired impact is something that requires a very nuanced study and something that is really focused on creative measurement. It’s possible and it’s a very, very good idea, but it’s something that requires a very intricate setup. It’s interesting because you could start to merge creative quality and media quality in some interesting ways, right? So if you’re finding that this creative that’s already been built and tested maybe isn’t scoring as high as you’d like, you could maybe invest in higher quality media. Or if you have an ad that is off the charts in terms of capturing and holding attention, you might be able to save some money on media and invest in 70 or 80% attentiveness. So, you know, as I think both sides of this advance, there will come some really interesting opportunities for crossover.

Adrian Tennant: Marc, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you, or the work you’re doing with Adelaide, where can they find you?

Marc Guldimann: So the best bet is on our website at You can send me an email M A R C – and I’d be happy to talk about attention metrics or anything else in terms of how we can help improve advertising by using more specific measurement.

Adrian Tennant: Marc, thank you very much, indeed, for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Marc Guldimann: Thanks for having me, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Marc Guldimann, founder and CEO of Adelaide. As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at under insights, just select podcast. And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts, submit a review, or tell a friend about IN CLEAR FOCUS – it really helps us out. Thanks again for listening, I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye!

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Our guest is Faris Yakob, the author of Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World, this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection. Faris explains what attention is, what the latest research reveals about how it works in humans, and the important role it plays in advertising. Faris also discusses his planning model, the Media Pyramid. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can claim a 20 percent discount on Paid Attention at by using the promo code BIGEYE20 at checkout.

Episode Transcript

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

Faris Yakob: Attention is the foundational idea of advertising. Trying to have a single way of understanding human minds and attention in advertising is just logically wrong because there’s lots of different kinds of attention, different ways they work.

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 at Bigeye. Thank you for joining us today. This month, we’re looking at the role that attention plays in advertising and communications. But what exactly do we mean by attention and how do brands attract it? The book Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World offers some answers and fresh insights into how human attention works, illustrated by strategic communications from several global brands. Published by Kogan Page, Paid Attention is our featured Bigeye Book Club selection for April and I’m delighted to be joined today by its author, Faris Yakob. Faris is the co-founder of Genius Steals, a nomadic creative consultancy, and of The School of Stolen Genius, an online learning community for marketers and creative thinkers. Faris is the former Chief Innovation Officer at MDC Partners, EVP and Chief Technology Strategist at McCann-Erikson, and Global Digital Strategy and Creative Director at Naked Communications. Faris is also a prominent international speaker and guest lecturer at a number of universities and has written for publications including Fast Company, Campaign, and The Guardian, and authors a monthly opinion column for the World Advertising Research Council. Today, Faris is joining us from London, England. Faris, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Faris Yakob: Thanks for having me. It’s delightful to be here virtually, as it were.

Adrian Tennant: Well, today we’re talking about your book, Paid Attention, and specifically the second edition, which was published earlier this year. Faris, what prompted you to write this second edition of the book?

Faris Yakob: My publisher, to their surprise, noticed that my book continued to sell five years after it came out. Now, you know, business books don’t sell very many copies. The average business book sells a couple of hundred in its first year, a couple of thousand in its life. And my book was selling thousands per year – not like many thousands – but some, and so it clearly had some longevity. And to be honest, I wrote it with that in mind, because working in the digital parts of the industry for a while, you notice how fast things change, even though some things don’t change, some things do. And publishing is an inherently slow business. It’s an 18-month or two-year production cycle for a book to come out. So I realized by the time the book came out, if I wrote it about now, it wouldn’t be relevant then. So I decided to focus on things that were more principle-based rather than specific practices, perhaps. So they approached me and said, “Would you like to write a second edition? It’s still selling well.” It’ll get a sort of sales bump, essentially, that’s why you do a second edition. It updates it, makes it current so that people who are coming into the industry – which is happening all the time – will consider it to be relevant for them. I get to get a new cover design, which I was excited about. That new cover is, I think, better, I like it a lot. And in the five or six years since it originally came out, the discourse in advertising about the concept of attention went from non-existent to extremely loud. And that made me think there was things I needed to add into my book to make it, as I said, kind of the set of principles that I believe about this stuff. So it just was interesting that the industry kind of began to reflect on attention. And because of that, it felt like I should aggregate all the new research that might help substantiate some of my thinking and make sure that the advice or thoughts were still what I believed.

Adrian Tennant: Could you give us an overview of Paid Attention and an outline of what readers will find within its pages?

Faris Yakob: Absolutely, yeah. So I guess my primary thesis is that attention is the foundational idea of advertising. So the word advertising is derived from the Latin, ‘advertere’, which means to draw attention to things. The function of advertising is to draw attention to things. I started thinking about this because I saw an interview with a guy called Apollo Robbins, who is a pickpocket, slight of hand magician, and fascinating guy. And he said this really interesting thing in a couple of quotes in the magazines and books and then on a TV show he did: “Attention is like water.” And this expression really crystallized a lot of thoughts in my head, this metaphor – I guess it’s actually a simile – really crystallized a lot of thoughts in my head about how things work. Like we call it channel planning because you create channels for attention and you hope it flows down them. But he also says you can’t control attention. As a magician, misdirection is misunderstood. You aren’t trying to push people’s attention away. You’re trying to work out where it is and move around it. So you have to be aware of it, but you can’t get it pushed off in one direction because it can come back, like a boomerang, expose what you’re doing over here. You’ve got to manage it. I thought it was super interesting. And then, you know, if you look at kind of how creativity advertising works, or at least some of the models of how it works whilst the linearity of this model is based on salesmanship from a very early age. And it’s kind of not super literal, the dominant model most people have in their head for how advertising works, it’s still called AIDA, right? It’s a cognitive cascade model. It is that you need attention to get interest, create a decision, which leads to an action. It’s very logical and linear. It feels like it makes some sort of sense, even though it doesn’t work exactly like that. And then, because I used to work in media planning, I was very aware that what we are buying and selling in aggregate is human attention. But we do it through a set of proxies that we call sometimes impressions or whatever. So it seemed like an interesting idea to build all my kind of thoughts about advertising that I’ve been writing about for 15 years around this kind of thought as it being the foundation for everything else, you know? So it’s about that. It’s also about kind of how attention works at a human cognitive level and how advertising both seeks to get it, literally and kind of conceptually, and how you use it. And then importantly, how now I think we’ve evolved since it came out originally to a different stage of media in the world. So the later chapters are all about how people think attention is changing, it’s not really. It’s more that the world changed around it. Humans change extremely slowly, but media changes really fast. Media consumption historically has always just grown as new channels have emerged. But that no longer is happening because we’ve run out of time in the day.

Adrian Tennant: In a chapter entitled Advertising Works in Mysterious Ways, you highlight two apparently diametrically opposed models of advertising. Could you explain them and how they differ with respect to the attention consumers pay to them?

Faris Yakob: Yes, absolutely. So, It may have been Ehrenberg originally who said this, “No model of advertising will ever be true because it works in different ways.” And that was a big part of my thinking: trying to have a single way of understanding human minds and attention in advertising is just logically wrong because there are lots of different kinds of attention, different ways they work. The models that talk about in that chapter, specifically, are based on Robert Heath, who at the University of Bath, wrote a really important set of papers about what he calls low attention processing. Basically, the idea is that when you look at a billboard, you never really look at a billboard or a poster. You drive by it, and yet it still has an effect. His thesis, which he sort of anchored a lot of extremely good research to, is that advertising works better if you don’t pay attention to it. Now, his thinking here is it’s because if you try and convince someone or persuade someone, their defenses go up. If you try and slip in, in the periphery of their consciousness, you create somatic changes in structures of their brain that create decision preferability, essentially. And there’s some evidence that A: we know this works to some degree we can measure low attention processing works. We know it does have an effect. At the same time, when I was originally writing the book, the internet had gotten very exciting. I was very excited about it. I spent most of my career as a consultant before advertising and in advertising sort of just pointing at the internet saying, “This seems quite important. Perhaps we should do something about that.” And the model essentially there was engagement, which is fundamentally the opposite of low attention processing. It’s like the more engaged somebody is with something, which we measure through a different set of proxies, behaviors, essentially clicking on things – we did then, at least – was basically the more engaged somebody is in your advertising or your content the better it will work. And I was struggling to reconcile how these two things could both be true. But the thing I said at the beginning is how they’re both true. Some attention works quite well, and can be very efficient at super-high frequencies, for example. If a bit of attention works, a lot of attention should work more. If we think about it as a linear thing, Which is somewhat satisfying that now that appears to be true. And it also kind of plays to Heath’s point, which is the separation of selling messaging from branding messaging, which is a big part of the last decade or so of thinking in the industry, right? Branding and direct marketing or sales promotion, whatever you want to call it, are different. They work differently. And the kinds of creative you use for them should be different. And you measure them differently and so on. So it kind of slightly reconciles that dichotomy.

Adrian Tennant: In the book, you also have a chapter entitled Everything is PR. So Faris, why should advertising attempt to become famous?

Faris Yakob: That’s a good question. Because that’s the job of advertising and the way it works best is the answer. So, Binet and Field are very clear about this. There’s a couple of pieces we have to build before we can get to this point, I think, but there are very few absolute rules in marketing. They probably can’t be on account of humans are complex and the world is complex, that’s the thing. But there is a very strong correlation and a statistically robust, consistent correlation between excess share of voice, which is buying more media than your competitors in certain channels or places and market share growth. It’s usually something like 10% plus excess share of voice leads to 0.5% plus market share growth over about six months. The point being is excess share of voice means spending more money than other people, which inherently means smaller brands can’t really do that. So it’s like the Double Jeopardy law: biggest brands tend to get both more penetration and tiny, slightly, very slightly higher frequency of purchase, which we sometimes call loyalty, which is a misleading term, but slightly higher frequency of purchase. So that Double Jeopardy law is quite robust across all kinds of decades, markets, categories, et cetera. So, if you want to grow, you have to create in Ehrenberg-Bass-ian terms mental availability. That makes logical sense because excess share of voice gives you more space in someone’s media life than other brands, which means you get more mental availability. Now the fame piece comes from both Binet and Field and, Paul Feldwick, one of the great thinkers about brand, and Feldwick’s point in Why Does The Peddler Sing? Is that mental availability is a psychological construct. The way in which you get mental availability is by making things famous. Jeremy Bullmore made this point in the nineties. Bullmore was the Worldwide Creative Director of WPP. And before that, a partner of Stephen King, the creator of what’s known as account planning, the strategic function within advertising. And Bullmore said in a paper called Persil and Posh Spice, and that he wrote in 1994 I think, that Posh Spice understood intuitively how the world of advertising works when she said in her autobiography, I believe learning to fly it’s called, She said I wanted from the very beginning, I wanted to be more famous than Persil Automatic, which is a detergent brand in the UK also known as Omo in many markets. Her insight was so strong because he said the only thing that all successful brands universally have is a certain level of fame. And then in all the data research from Binet and Field, from the IPA Databank and so on, they talk about fame advertising as a certain kind of advertising, which generates excess share of voice without excess media purchasing, because people are more likely to talk about it personally, or share about it on the internet. So you generate excess share of voice for less media money, which means you can grow without outspending the competition. So fame ultimately, or the previous great minds I’ve mentioned, have come to the idea that that’s the job: is to make things famous. And the reason that the chapter’s called Everything is PR is because it’s a couple of things. What PR does is try and get earned attention. So layering PR thinking into advertising is probably a good idea. If you want to generate outsized market share returns for less media budget, which everybody has to now, unless you’re the biggest brand in the world. But also, everything a company does is now very visible in a way that it historically wasn’t. Advertising was the most visible aspect of a company’s behavior because everybody saw all the same stuff, but not everybody’s a customer of every company. So you probably are more likely to have seen the ads of a company than you were to have bought the product, if that makes sense? But for a long time, I worked for a company called Naked Communications, which was like an integrated creative, media, strategy, boutique operation that was briefly very successful and a bit famous. And their insight, one of the reasons they call it Naked, was that they think because of the internet, especially, and the modern media world, brands now stand naked in front of consumers, which is to say when the CEO of a company tweets, it has significant communication effect. everything a company does is branding. Branding is the behavior of the company in totality: its product, its services, how it pays its staff, what people say about it in the press, and its advertising. And so when I say everything is PR, what I mean is that every action of the company, every utterance, should be considered for how it will affect the perception of the brand. Not that PR agencies are going to rule the world. That’s not what I mean, but they are useful advisors!

Adrian Tennant: Based on your research, how does human attention work? And honestly, why should marketers care?

Faris Yakob: Right. Well, how does it work? I like to say something like it’s a many-splendoured thing. It works in many different ways and it’s complex, therefore. In some aspect, the sharp pointy focused end of the most complex phenomena in the known universe: human consciousness. Right? So the fact that it’s complex is not surprising because of that. In other ways, you can measure it just as what’s called sustained awareness of a certain thing. Right? So the origins of psychology come from a book by the brother of Henry James, the author. And he sort of says attention to essentially you choosing to pay attention, which is slightly recursive, but you get the point, you choosing to attend to one or some things out of a set of possible stimuli, external and internal. When you make somebody do complex maths in their head, or remember things, it’s easy to pick their pockets as Apollo Robbins knows, ’cause their attention is directed inwards So it’s partially a thing where you choose how to focus your brain and therefore, by extension, it’s your experience of life. it’s how you interface with reality. That’s kind of the conceptual level. It’s also looking at stuff to some degree and you know, that’s part of it too. and it also works in various different ways. So you have thinking like some attention is what’s called broad-beamed. This is coming from Orlando Wood’s work in Look Out. Part of your brain is constantly trying to keep you alive, so your attention system is an alert system that keeps you constantly monitoring for threats around you. That’s broad-beamed attention, essentially. When you choose to focus on something to do work or hunt originally, you narrow your focus down to sort of very small point and try and focus on just that thing, so you can do sustained work or hunting they’re different kinds of attention, right? Equally, because your brain is trying to keep you alive, if alarms go off or you see a bear attack, that will take over your attention, you can’t control that. It will try and keep you alive, even if you’re really, really interested in, the maths you’re doing, it will try and say, “hang on, the bear!” Or, you know, “alarm, run away!” You know, so it works in different ways. Why is it important? Well, advertising has to somehow get from media into your head and the direct route for that is attention in different ways, but you have certain sensory organs. And you process a huge amount of visual and auditory data and your brain ignores the vast majority of it. You can’t consume the amount of stuff your eyes are seeing. In fact, according to a podcast, I heard recently only about 10% of the data your brain uses to create “seeing” comes from your eyes or optic nerves. The rest comes from the rest of your brain. Because it’s not just doing pictures. It’s pattern recognition. It’s conceptualizing. It’s trying to work out if you know about these things, if they’re dangerous, if their mate potential, it’s telling you, you know what this is, and that is a lot of seeing is generated internally. But, at some point, you have to create mental availability, which means you have to get your brand from through the media, into someone’s head, in order to effect any possible change. So I would say the attention is the sine qua non of advertising, without which there is nothing. If no one sees or hears your ads ever, they definitely aren’t going to work.

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

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 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 Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

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 April is Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World by Faris Yakob. 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 Paid Attention, go to – that’s K O G A N, P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Faris Yacob, co-founder of the creative consultancy, Genius Steals, and the author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection, Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World. You include several case studies in the book. Could you talk us through just a couple that characterizes smart, integrated communications planning?

Faris Yakob: Yeah, so I guess part of what I’m interested in the book is focusing on the sort of first bit of advertising, which is attention. And there’s a lot of work coming out now I think about the second bit, which is emotion and how creative actually affects human decision-making. One of the new case studies I wrote about, because I was really interested in it, because it was so divisive in the industry, which is always an interesting thing. The industry has got very…. the industry? The world has got somewhat polarized into kind of very naive binary positions. It is this, or it is that. I’m like, it probably isn’t either. It’s probably both and maybe a bit of, you know, when anyway. But the Burger King work for the last 5, 6, 7 years under Fernando Machado, who’s subsequently left, to me, felt like a very different model of communication than we historically were using. So a PR-led advertising model, where every campaign was completely different and every campaign was designed to generate mainstream media coverage. I thought that was really interesting. Now, one of the things that’s happened subsequently to him leaving for Activision is that Burger King has decided this model doesn’t work anymore. At the time, I did a bunch of research into the financials of that company. It seemed to work pretty well for a while, and then it didn’t work as well. And then people panic because business needs growth constantly. That’s the nature of these things. And I think there’s a reason for this, right? So Cory Doctorow, who’s the extremely smart writer and kind of cultural media technology thinker, writes about this. He says, “The thing humans are best at, or one of the things humans are best at is habituation.” We get used to things really, really fast and things that are exciting and novel will attract our attention. If you do them again and again, they stop attracting attention. Like the boy who cried Wolf! because we just habituate to that and be like, “Oh, well I get it now. Huh? Whatever.” So that’s my thesis for what happened with Burger King: for a few years, they were knocking it out of the park with really, really big hits that were generating a lot of excess share of voice through earned media because they were hacking the system a little bit with PR ideas. And then it stopped working as well because people are like, “I sort of get what you’re doing now. I got a bit bored of it.” You know, I think also one of my hopes or ambitions perhaps with the book is to go back to some of the Naked kind of thinking, which is that because if everything’s communication, if everything communicates, really good integrated communications planning has to involve thinking about internal audiences at the company and how the company behaves financially, legally, commercially, in climate terms, and so on. To me, that’s kind of, it’s always been kind of this weird division because advertising is an industry built on utterance: we say things for other people, we’re all ghostwriters for brands. But when the internet collapses media and commerce, as it increasingly is doing and was inevitable, certain gaps appeared in kind of the customer experience. It’s called the experience gap, sometimes. We promise certain things and then people become our customers. And it’s not exactly as good as we thought. And sometimes customer service is a bit difficult to get hold of or whatever it is. And so we were trying to fill some of those gaps, which is what the customer experience industry is all about, right? That’s what evolved is to try and fill some of these service level gaps between promises, utterances, and actions. To me, integrated communication planning is integrated marketing strategy is business strategy to some degree, – not the financial part maybe as much – but it’s thinking holistically about how the company acts in the world and how media is part of that behavior.

Adrian Tennant: Using research on how media consumption can affect psychological wellbeing, you created a tool called the Media Pyramid, which looks very similar to the food pyramid. Faris, what led you to create the model?

Faris Yakob: Why did I do it originally? Because I consume a vast amount of Twitter and I have to actively attempt to control the amount of Twitter I consume. Because the way my brain works, it likes very high frequency, high volume, disparate information to be fired at it all the time. So Twitter is uniquely suited to my media consumption modality. And I began to be aware before doom scrolling was a thing that I spent all day on Twitter. I started to feel a bit bad about stuff. And so I started looking into research about how media consumption effects reported psychological wellbeing. So when I started thinking about it, I was like, maybe I need to think about a diet, like a more balanced diets for my brain. And that led me straight to the food pyramid. Which is a now non-used model in America, the USDA abandoned it in the 2000s, but they replaced it with a thing called My Plate, which is useless. Well, I like about immediate the food pyramid model is that it’s beautifully simple in what it expresses, right? You eat 2,000 calories a day. I’m making a triangle shape with my hands, ’cause the food pyramid actually is a triangle and not a pyramid. But I followed the convention and called it a Media Pyramid, even though it’s a triangle. Anyway, you have 2,000 calories a day you should be consuming if you’re an adult man, give or take. And the things that are worst for you should make up the least amount of those calories. So the things at the top, sugars and stuff like that, Which our kind of evolved brain is extremely drawn towards because that super dense energy sources that were very rare in the conceptual African Savannah, upon which we all evolved. Because they’re rare, fats sugars and so on salts, we are drawn to them and we tend to overeat them if we have them in abundance, which is what happens. Hence the food pyramid was invented to say, ” a bit less sugar would be good”. And then at the bottom of the food pyramid, the things down there “Eat as much as you want vegetables, fruits, which contain sugar, but there are things that are better for you and things that worse for you and you should try and make your diet fit into that pyramid because you’ll be healthier.” And we tend to naturally eat upside down. Because when we’re given sugars, salts and fats, our limbic brain goes, “ah!”, you know, “get as much as you can.” And we live in times of, in some places of the world, extremely high calorific abundance, but most of those calories skew towards the things that aren’t very good for us, especially the cheap ones. So the model is simple to understand. I took to it and I started looking into the research that exists. And there’s, there is some of it it’s not huge amount, but I used as much as I could to build this. And it’s obviously a subjective attempt to think about media in a way that’s, your whole consumption of a day. How much Twitter should I be consuming? So how much social media is good for you? And because social media has become polarizing in the last decade or so, there is a lot of research about this. And then we search mostly also is between the half an hour, one hour, maybe even two hours a day of social media consumption, people tend to feel better. They feel connected. They feel informed. They feel engaged. They feel like they did something if they messaged somebody, you know. but after that, it begins to decline. And after a certain number of hours, if you’ve been doom scrolling for eight hours, you tend to report feeling worse than when you started. And the same is true with other channels. They have different curves if you like. Right? Whereas at the very bottom of the pyramid, people that read a lot of books never say, “Oh, I read a book all day. And I felt terrible afterwards.” That doesn’t happen that no one’s reported that they just go, “I feel smarter. I had a nice time.” People that play games with their friends or talk to each other or go to museums or indulge in I guess, “high culture”, that is kind of designed to be educational and informative and engaging, which is obviously somewhat bound up with kind of class distinctions and availability and all that kind of stuff, which I appreciate. Some things we consume make us feel better. People that consume podcasts report feeling good afterwards and mostly smarter sometimes. So it feels like it made sense for me to try and manage my diet because I was being drawn by the attention hacking mechanisms of the magic rectangle in my hand and the business models of the companies that want my attention to over-consuming certain things to the point where, to my own personal detriment. So I built a model, I put it on the internet and it got a lot of mainstream media pickup, because it was a feeling a lot of people were having and I found a triangle that made it sort of feel like you could think about it in a certain way. so it was, for me originally, it was a tool for me. But that’s how most of my thinking starts, I suppose.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. Interesting. So how might readers of Paid Attention use the pyramid to inform media planning, for example?

Faris Yakob: Right. So I did an evolution of this, how to plan media in a sort of media pyramid way based on the, I guess you can call it an insight if you want. But my thought was “Okay, there’s a lot of research to show that emotional congruency is a part of how attention transfer and advertising works, which is to say happy ads in happy environments or fishing ads in fishing environments, or finance ads in finance environments work better than non-congruous, non contextually relevant advertising.” Also, if people are enjoying themselves in the first couple of hours of their social media consumption or their ad supported streaming binge, there’s probably a qualitatively different effects for the advertising that operates in those two hours, than there is getting served the same impressions to the same people on the same exact channel eight hours later, when they’re miserable about it. If that’s the case, the way we balance our overall communication strategy should be considered across different time horizons and what I considered to be different levels of agency. So usually the more agency you have in your media consumption, the more likely you are to enjoy it for longer. Which is to say, if you graze broadcast television endlessly and are fed, versus if you choose to watch a certain thing, you get a longer amount of positive feelings if you choose to watch something that if you just graze. The same as true with Facebook, they’ve written about this many times. Social media in feed, if you just scroll endlessly, you get a certain amount of time before you get sad. But if you use it to communicate with people you get much longer actually makes you feel better to communicate with people, humans like that, it turns out. So there’s different vectors that the pyramid works along and they sort of map against McLuhan-esque thinking of like hot and cold media and fast and slow media and different things work in different ways. So Binet and Field have a lot of lovely graphs. One of them shows certain channels that are inherently better at brand building and certain ones that are inherently better at direct response. And it’s not exactly as simple as that, but it does make sense that things that you can do very quickly, where you can click a button and buy the thing you just saw on impulse-driven Instagram or whatever works really well with direct response. Why wouldn’t it? Make sense, right? You don’t have to go to a shop. You just literally just clicking on the button. You did it. Of course that’s going to work well that way. Can it do branding as well? Yeah, it can, but it works differently. But things like sponsorships are much better at branding overall for sort of obvious reasons because they’re inherently much longer term. Sponsorships or like football and like big sport events sponsorships, or like museums sponsorships, or anything like that. A: you’re inherently there to experience those things. Events are good for branding as well because you’re experiencing them for longer in more dimensions, and they tend to last for years. And we know that branding effects take years to show up. So it kind of maps really well to a lot of the stuff we already have begun to understand about different channels and how we use them. But it isn’t as simple as just like 10% here, 10% here, 10% here. Like I tried to make it seem because every situation is different and context is hugely important in all considerations, objectives, budgets, et cetera.

Adrian Tennant: Towards the end of Paid Attention, you write – and I quote – “While attention is the determinant resource being bought, sold, and allocated in advertising exchanges between companies and people, it’s a complex, precious thing and deserves respect in its capture and utilization by brands. It is a commons that needs renewing and protecting.” Faris, can you unpack this idea for us?

Faris Yakob: Absolutely. Yeah, that is how I write, and I guess how I speak also. So, for a while, the industry started saying something like data is the new oil and the corollary of that idea was the attention was being metaphorically, turned into a commodity. So the idea of the attention economy, it comes from the early seventies, a Nobel prize-winning economist called Herbert Simon first invented the term because he said, look, there’s more media, and there’s more information being generated all the time. And information consumes attention, media consumes attention. So if we have more media than we have attention, then the economics of things invert and the tension becomes an economic good because economics is the science of the allocation of scarcity. That’s what it is. That’s what it’s for. There’s a certain amount of stuff. Who gets it? Economics. So the idea is really old. And then somebody in the nineties wrote a thing about the attention economy for the internet It was a really prescient article way, way ahead of its time. The internet was a K dial-up thing at the time, but it was really prescient. Because there’s just less attention than there is brands and ideas that want yours and ours in totality. So my brother’s epidemiologist. He referred to this as scrambled competition. It’s a form of competition between different things that creates kind of an endless escalation sort of arms race. When we started thinking about attention as a commodity, the metaphors we use are very important. We think in metaphors too. I mean, if you believe George Lakoff the psychologist, he talks about this a lot with the way we think is purely metaphorical. Our brains work through analogy, not from first principle analysis very often. It’s too laborious. The metaphors we use change how we think about things and when attention became a commodity, we know how capitalism operates with commodities. We mine them, refine them, process them, and sell them in value-added ways to make money until they’re gone, which is going to be a problem in lots of different areas, obviously. And I feel like at the beginning, I didn’t make that clear enough and it became more clear to me in the last five years. A: ’cause I read some philosophy about attention, and B: media consumption has grown, always growing historically, since every channel was invented, adds to the media consumption like radio and TV and papers and everything. You just get more and more media consumption, but we’ve reached what I call peak attention in most mature media markets now. According to Nielsen, who are going through their own measurement and accreditation issues right now, media consumption has plateaued in America at about 12 hours and a few minutes per year. It changes by about one or two minutes a year, no more. There’s an obvious reason for this. If you’re consuming 12 hours of media a day, there’s not a lot of time left to get anything else done. I don’t know how people are managing it, but Americans do watch a lot of television. In the UK, it’s about 10 hours a day, but it sort of plateaus, it just stops growing. There’s just nowhere left for it to grow because there’s no room left in the day. Because the magic rectangle in our hand means that media can fill every possible crevice of time and space. Because of that, attention becomes a zero-sum game: companies are all fighting for it, media companies are trying to get more of it from each other so they can sell it to advertisers, and at a certain point, people started to feel like this was a lot. And so different mechanisms begin to happen, right? People go on digital detoxes or meditation became popular again for the first time since the sixties, because everyone’s like, “I feel like something is happening. And I feel like I need to reclaim some of it.” so, if you can change the metaphor from a commodity to a commons, we might be able to change how we think about it. A: your attention is literally how you experience reality. It’s your experience of your own life, how you choose to allocate it will dictate what your life is and how you think and what you believe it’s everything to some degree. Cause it’s all that’s coming in. It’s precious. And if we look at it through spreadsheets, sometimes it’s easy to dehumanize the people part of the advertising exchange. And that leads to bad advertising and bad relationships with brands and bad media being supported, perhaps unintentionally because of the scale and complexity of the algorithmic infrastructure that provides programmatic advertising. And by bad media. I mean media that lies to sell you snake oil supplements specifically that any media which tells obvious falsehoods, demonstrably untrue things in order to sell snake oil or, supplements or whatever they sell is bad. That’s bad. Don’t do that. so, the idea of the commons comes from the tragedy of the commons, right? A very famous economic principle. Let’s say you have a number of sheep farmers – shepherds? Let’s say shepherds! – shepherds. and they all have access to a common piece of ground full of grass. They all responsibly feed their sheep a certain amount per day. The grass grows back. It’s renewable. All the sheeps are fine. Sheeps? That’s not right. All the sheep are fine and everybody is fine. However, in economics, a rational actor will try and get preferential access to resources. Economics thinks about individuals, not really about sharing stuff very much because it’s the allocation who gets what, right? So one of the shepherds has this idea. What if I sneak out onto the commons at night when no one’s looking and I just feed my sheep a little bit more grass. They’ll grow a bit faster. They’ll get a bit fatter. They’ll get better milk. They’ll get better wool. I will win. No one else loses because it still grows back and the amount that I take extra is only a little bit. however, we’re all rational actors. So we’ll all do that. And then all the shepherds sneakily get their sheep on there at different times of night apparently not noticing each other, but it doesn’t matter. And we overgraze the resource until it dies and the commons becomes a desert and then the sheep all die and then everyone dies. That’s why it’s called a tragedy. And that’s what happens with resources that we all share. And it’s, what’s happening kind of in the world. And it’s sort of what happened in advertising with attention. We’re like, “let’s just get all of it we can.” But we have to be careful we don’t destroy it. And I know that sounds nonsense terming, but what I mean is reactions will happen if there’s too much supply or too much overgrazing of attention. Reactions like 20 to 30% of young people use ad-blocking technology on their laptops so they do not get served advertising. that’s an over-farming reaction, right? Places like San Paolo in Brazil, banned all outdoor advertising. All billboards now are illegal. They don’t exist. If you’ve been there, it’s kind of weird, spooky even. So used to seeing ads everywhere, when they’re gone, their absence is noticeable. But that’s because they were not responsible with it. Advertising is a self-regulated industry in most markets and increasingly what’s happened is we weren’t very responsible with it. And so things like GDPR were created to force us to be responsible in how we capture, utilize attention and data.

Adrian Tennant: Faris, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about Genius Steals, The School of Stolen Genius, or your writing, where can they find you?

Faris Yakob: So is the consultancy previously mentioned that I set up with my wife, and we do larger projects with brands, agencies, and media companies. The School of Stolen Genius is an online learning community that we have created in order to provide access to some of the thinking that we aggregate and generate for individuals who are not part of large agency structures, which is increasingly happening, and don’t have massive budgets in order to pay for huge amounts of subscriptions to huge datasets or whatever the massive holding companies can afford. That’s The SchoolOfStolenGeni.US. I am on Twitter as I mentioned more than I should be. And I’m just @Faris on Twitter @ F A R I S. And my book is available in all places that books exist or can be bought, I assume. and perhaps most maybe usefully as an intermediate measure, we have a newsletter called Strands of Stolen Genius brief bursts of inspiration of your inbox that we publish twice weekly. the first one we published, Rosie and I write it. And then every week, we curate a new contributor from our travels that we’ve met, who seems interesting in any field that’s interesting, but largely to do with creative industries, broadly, and many advertising and marketing people. So it goes out to 13 or 14,000 marketers and agency folk all over the world. It’s free. It will always be free. And it’s a good way to sort of be in touch with us and to get access to the things that are inspiring us and the people that inspire us too.

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like to obtain a copy of Faris’s book, Paid Attention, as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you’ll receive a 20% discount when you purchase online at Just enter the promo code, BIGEYE20 at the checkout. Faris, thank you very much, indeed, for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Faris Yakob: Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure. 

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Faris Yakob, co-founder of the creative consultancy Genius Steals, and the author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection, Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World. As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at under insights, just select podcast. And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts, submit a review, or tell a friend about IN CLEAR FOCUS. It really helps us out. Thanks again for listening. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Since Facebook changed its corporate name to Meta, there’s been an increased interest in the metaverse. Our guest this week is Matt Garrepy, Chief Digital Officer of Solodev, a cloud services company headquartered in Orlando. Matt explains some of the technologies that underpin virtual worlds like Decentraland and discusses why they could become primary channels for consumer engagement and transactions. Matt also forecasts future roles for NFTs in retail and brand marketing.

Episode Transcript

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

Matt Garrepy: Owning something unique brings us closer to an experience, to the content creator, and I think it brings us into a community. It’s also why NFTs, I think, are so important because they speak to a uniqueness about digital art.

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 at Bigeye. Thank you for joining us today. In October 2021, the social media platform Facebook dominated headlines after it changed its corporate name to Meta to reflect its intention to evolve into a metaverse company. In November, Microsoft announced its own metaverse, Mesh, as part of its plan to power the virtual workplace. But brands beyond tech are also planning for a future where life is lived increasingly online. Although a majority of consumers don’t know what the metaverse is, they’re still interested in taking part, according to a survey across nine markets by Bigeye’s audience research partner, GWI. Overall, just 37% of people said they’re aware of the term metaverse and know what it is. In comparison, 33% said they’re aware of the term, but don’t know what it is. And 30% are completely unaware of the metaverse. Despite this, 51% of surveyed consumers are interested in participating, and research from games analytics company Newzoo shows consumers interested in the metaverse are also receptive to branded content. The focus of our podcast today is the technology that underpins these virtual worlds, which for marketers could become key communication and consumer engagement channels. To explain more, we have the perfect guide. Matt Garrepy is the Chief Digital Officer of Solodev, a leading cloud services company, headquartered in Orlando with employees located around the world. By his own admission. Matt loves brands and has worked with hundreds of brand owners from Silicon Valley startups to Fortune 500 companies. To discuss how brand marketers and agencies need to be thinking about the metaverse, Matt is joining us today from Solodev’s offices in Orlando, Matt, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Matt Garrepy: So great to be here, Adrian. Great to be talking to you again. I’ve been looking forward to this for the last week, so I’m ready to talk about all things metaverse.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Prior to us recording this interview today, you and I had talked a bit about how we should structure our conversation to introduce each component of the metaverse. And you suggested that we start with something abstract. So, Matt, what is art?

Matt Garrepy: That is a great question, right? What is art? And I kind of liked the challenge of it, cause it’s going to be I think a little bit different for everybody. But for me, I’ll answer it the same way I did when you and I were chatting and I feel like art is anything you can get away with. And that’s not mine, I wish I could lay claim to it, but if you’ve been in a mass communications class at a college or university, you’ve probably heard this line. Many people attribute it to Andy Warhol, but it’s actually a guy named Marshall McLuhan who wrote many books, but wrote quite a bit about art and his reactions to Warhol’s art. And he was a student of how art was evolving in the sense of media and how we, as both individuals and culture, respond to that. So, yeah, he started with art, but then he kind of moved into film and television and print and all these different channels. And the line kind of resonates for me because it doesn’t attempt to really define or limit what art is or I think its perceived value. And I think that’s always been our experience with art, right? We measure that value based on how we feel about it, but also how the people around us, you know, society and culture at large. You know, I think there’s a good example in the early 20th century. There’s an artist named Marcel Duchamp who created this piece called The Fountain and he kind of marched it down to a highfalutin’ society of independent artists in New York. And he sort of laid it down in the middle room, or I’m sort of imagining that the whole process, where he lays it down in the middle of the room and it’s just a plain, white porcelain urinal and it’s signed “R Mutt.” And, you know, I can see the intelligentsia sort of like debating, is it funny? Is it a publicity stunt? Is it an insult? It could have been all of the above or none of the above. But the real question is what did it force us to think about in terms of our relationship with it? And ultimately, what did people think about it? And if you fast forward and you think about our contemporaries, like, Banksy and Beeple and how they’re making art. And sometimes it’s very clear that there’s a lot of complexity to it and other times it seems really pedestrian and, you know, it’s guys like Duchamp that forced us to think differently about those ready-made experiences. And I bring this up because NFTs, I think there’s a lot of debate about are they art? How are they being used? It looks like it’s very simple to make this, or we’re just repeating a Bored Ape 2,000 times. I mean, how creative is that? But, I just come back to that observation of what is art, if it’s not something you can get away with? And I wonder what McLuhan would think that people lived in a world where someone paid $69 million for Beeple – you know, a piece of Beeple’s art. And I think he would come to the same realization that this is all about this idea of ownership. Like owning something unique brings us closer to an experience, to the content creator, and I think it brings us into a community. That’s why brands invest so much in that experience. These are human transactions and they’re still gonna be the same transactions that exist in that mysterious metaverse. And it’s also why NFTs I think are so important because they speak to a uniqueness about digital art. They speak to a uniqueness about these assets and how we’re sharing them socially with each other. And there are a lot of questions about how do we regulate that? Or what is our perception of things like copyright that protected artists and the sanctity of art in the past? Recently there was Jodorowsky’s Dune, which was a book that was produced with all these storyboards of a film version of Dune that was going to be produced in the 1970s. It never made it to the screen, but this book is just testament to it. And you know, a group of investors I believe bought the book with crypto and went out and publicly said, “Hey, now we own Jodorowsky’s Dune. We’re going to go make the film. We’re going to produce a new piece for Netflix.” And there was a lot of confusion on their part about what ownership means. And, you know, artists still maintain that ownership of what they’ve created. But I think the body politic – the public – is still somewhat confused about where those lines are and, you know, that’s why I think regulation is going to continue to evolve over time. So it’s a really exciting field when we think about NFTs because it brings in all of these questions about art and what the nature of art is. How we behave as social creatures, how we connect with one another. And I think the meta versus what’s ultimately the expression of that, how we open that up for conversation, and ultimately for the transaction and, at the end of the day, it’s still all about experience and that’s why I think brands really need to care about it.

Adrian Tennant: For anyone unfamiliar with the term, what is a nonfungible token, or NFT for short?

Matt Garrepy: Right. I’ve been referring to NFTs for a few minutes now, but you know, what are they? And, and I think more importantly, why should we care about them? I would go back to what I’ve said already, which is the idea of art is something that we can get away with. I think NFTs embody that. And in technical terms, it’s that uniqueness factor, right? That’s what nonfungibility really speaks to – is that it’s not like something else is indeed unique in the universe. And underneath that from a technical and code perspective, it’s still just a token, right? It’s a piece of data that’s being stored on a blockchain, which is a kind of digital ledger. But by storing them on these blockchains, the owner of that NFT now has a way of publicly certifying or authenticating that they own it. And you’ll hear this term a lot with blockchain, with NFTs, but it’s this idea of immutability. This doesn’t mean that an NFT as an object, as an asset, can’t be copied, just like we wrestle with images being copied from Google and used on social media, on PowerPoint slides. It’s really the provable, documentable sense of value in that ownership, which again is residing inside these blockchains. And I’ll keep coming back to that idea of ownership as we talk about NFTs and the metaverse at large. And the other distinction too is that when we think about NFTs not necessarily being a cryptocurrency, they’re both tokens, right? A cryptocurrency is a token, an NFT is a token. But a Bitcoin sort of has the same value as any other Bitcoin, right? They’re almost identifiably the same. Whereas an NFT, because of its nature as a digital asset, is unique and one of a kind. And like I said earlier, they can be almost anything. A visual artwork, like something from Beeple, you know, a snippet from a song. There’s talk now that people will be able to own a piece of the Rolling Stones catalog. It could be a digital cell from like a classic animated Disney film. We see brands like Nike creating digital NFT companions that kind of ride along with each pair of sneakers and owners can use those as a vehicle for connecting inside a metaverse experience or a game experience. And speaking of games, we’re actually seeing micro games emerge as NFTs. So I think the definition is going to keep expanding, but it’s still about this thing that an individual is able to own. And there’s no question as a cultural phenomenon. It was in the Super Bowl, right? So, we’re talking about this really big concept that’s kind of infecting our social behavior, and I think it started with art because art is collectible. And the other types of assets that are represented by NFTs fall into that collectible category as well. And we’re not just talking about individual collectors, we’re talking about their communities. So art kind of represents a social contract between creators and viewers and buyers. And it sort of lays this foundation, I think, for making stronger contracts, that codify an agreement that someone makes between things. So that could be a buyer and seller agreement as an example. But you know, it just comes back to this idea that it’s connecting, creating a contract concept underneath everything. And then of course that’s all stored in the blockchain and now it’s being purchased with crypto. So they’re all kind of built out of the same promise of trust and having these systems in place that enable users to document and have that immutability. And the last thing I’ll say about NFTs is that right now, it was just a huge center of hype. And that goes back to their debate about their value, the perception socially and culturally, and of course, there are lots of discussions now about the amount of energy or the environmental impact on storing these images, right? Being able to put them somewhere. All issues that we’re going to wrestle with, but I just say that as someone who’s been in technology for a couple of decades, the rise of new alternative blockchains and compression technologies, they’re all going to solve these problems very quickly. So while we might be in the early days, I think we’re going to see a rapid transformation, and we’re going to see new ways to be able to store these things. And we’re going to get back to the real promise of it, which is how brands can leverage it to develop more decentralized experiences and lead their customers to the metaverse.

Adrian Tennant: At the moment, we’re seeing a lot of creative content being made available as NFTs. How do you foresee NFTs changing as the metaverse evolves?

Matt Garrepy: Yeah, it’s a great question. I don’t think we can talk about NFTs without acknowledging that this is the Wild West. And it’s a lot like it was in 2000, 2001. If you remember Webvan, I don’t know if everyone’s gonna remember Webvan, but Webvan was just a really exciting startup in Northern California and had this really radical idea of people sitting down at a computer and ordering their groceries on a website and having a van show up with their stuff, right? So it was this really radical concept and it was all this debate about, you know, whether or not it was going to catch on, how would they build out the supply chain, how would they handle distribution? And ultimately wrapped that up with a big tech fallout in 2001 and the brand didn’t really survive. But I think part of that pushback was just part of the natural evolution. And today we just sit down and expect to be able to buy groceries with an app, we don’t even think about it. So it took time for that to mature. And the difference now is that things are really changing at warp speed. So if we measured the pace of digital transformation and innovation in years before, like when Webvan was coming up, it’s all happening in weeks and days now. And some of that is a product of COVID, right? That we had this general acceleration across digital. But I think the whole field is now able to access the power of the cloud. And that’s enabling us to run through innovation trials and tests and moving into full production much faster. And all of that can feel really intimidating and create a lot of anxiety for companies that are used to running sprints, you know, being very mindful about how they put products into play. If you saw the Larry David FTX ad during the Super Bowl, you can see that the platforms are already creating urgency to adopt because it’s happening so fast. That said, crypto has really been around well over a decade, and just now it’s exponential, right? So it’s kind of Moore’s Law playing out. I think brands as a result have kind of raced to be in the race with NFTs and without really understanding what kind of long-term strategy they should take because we just don’t have the data yet. And that’s creating a pervasive fear of missing out, but, in doing that also sort of accepting that there are risks with it. And I think you can pin a lot of the urgency too on Facebook rebranding itself, becoming Meta and, you know, it’s not just them, it’s GameStop, it’s Walmart, it’s major brands kind of entering the field in a big, vocal way. But what that’s done is it ignited the awareness and the interest in NFTs. And I think other brands are thinking, how do I use this to remain competitive? And how do I get access to these AR/VR – more immersive technologies – that create new kinds of experiences for consumers? So I see a lot of innovation coming. I see more of these bigger platforms and brands embracing new ways of doing this on their own. And NFTs as a result are just going to keep changing, right? As the months fly by we’ll see new ways and new ideas. I think the focus on high utility with these technologies is really key because brands are gonna look for ways to be able to leverage the technology in a way that benefits their business processes and ultimately is measurable in some manner. We’re working with a healthcare provider right now that’s envisioning new ways to leverage NFTs as a means of documenting imaging records and printing them to a blockchain. That’s not data that you want to trust to OpenSea, which is a really big exchange, or any other big public exchange. So I think, companies and brands are going to look for ways to be as secure, in the way that they invest in and scale these infrastructures. And we got to get, I think ultimately, out of the hype part of it. You shared an example with me, about MeUndies, which is just an awesome name, right? It’s just a fun name to say, but you know, they jumped onto the Bored Apes Yacht, and, for a lot of people listening that are familiar with Bored Apes, you know, it’s a brand that’s already so recognizable and it was kind of permeating our culture. But, at the same time, what they didn’t see was the kind of amplified social risk that we’re dealing with when we have new technology. So we’re going to make mistakes and I think brands have always struggled with this. I think Dove had a really awesome campaign a few years ago that focused on a transformation message, but they made some missteps on that and Twitter was not kind to them. I think it’s up to brands to do what they’ve always done, dig in and do the research, but kind of understand that this is a new channel. And these new channels? They’re not all built the same. In the same way that we look at Facebook and TikTok and that heightens the risk. But, in saying that, we’re in this really hyperbolic chamber of highly accelerated technology, brands feeling forced – like they have to react or they have to be part of the story. And then, just a highly sensitive culture that wants what brands offer, but they’re willing to cancel their loyalty, right? So we’ve got to pay attention to all of those things and really look for ways that we can accept that crypto is here, look for the signals that it’s going to continue to be adopted, and take mindful steps by investing in better infrastructure.

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 research. Our featured book for March is Using Semiotics in Retail: Leverage consumer insight to engage shoppers and boost sales by Rachel Lawes. 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 ebook offer. To order your copy of Using Semiotics in Retail, go to – 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 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. 

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 complimentary.

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 television.

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: Join us for a lively discussion about the future of retail and marketing. Bigeye’s Envision 2022, coming soon.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Matt Garrepy, Chief Digital Officer at Solodev, a leading cloud services firm based here in Orlando. And we’re talking all things metaverse. So Matt, how are companies building marketplaces around NFTs?

Matt Garrepy: Well, there are few that are really accelerating their focus on it. And there are others that are clearly being cautious. We talk to companies day in and day out now, that are somewhere on that spectrum. They’re thinking about it, they’re plotting their next step, but they’re not quite ready to make the leap. And again, I go back to the fact that we don’t have enough data to really build a strong foundation for guiding brands, depending on where they are in the marketplace. But it’s obvious that gaming is a big area and probably the most prolific area because they kind of understood natively the concept of rewards. And the idea of a token equaling a reward inside an ecosystem. Interestingly, GameStop has really shifted their entire strategy to focus on these curated marketplaces and they see it as the future. There’s also some talk interestingly about having marketplaces where, quite literally, the assets that you buy in these metaverse experiences in these game realms, so to speak, become collateral for other purchases. So let’s say you had a really valuable asset from a game, like Fortnite, and you were able to use that to borrow or borrow against that to make a purchase of another asset. So this is this idea of decentralized finance inside the metaverse that could really change everything. And I think banks might – they might be the ones that start to open this up in the realverse just given their influence. I mean, imagine being able to go down to Chase with a digital sword and ask for a mortgage on a house. It seems ridiculous. But look at all the other ridiculous things that are seemingly happening right now because of all this new innovation. I think in Orlando, the idea of tickets with companion NFTs to theme parks could be a really amazing use case. And again, I haven’t seen them doing this yet, but they’ve gotta be working on ideas, around this, where let’s say you buy a pass to Disney or Universal. Maybe your ticket has something unique about it, that’s associated with your purchase. Maybe that NFT gets you access to specific venues or, even food access to restaurants. Then it can be used as part of an AR experience as you walk around the park. You get to see characters emerging or people walking around with their own unique tickets. Then there’s this dimension of the Disney fanatics, the collectors who will be seeking out in these marketplaces your ticket and they may be willing to spend more money on that ticket than you originally bought it for. So we’re entering this whole new realm of trade and commerce where even just the purchase of these assets can turn into a profit center or an investment in the future. And like I said, it’s all these things are all happening right now. It’s not hyperbole and this is why brands are going to need to seek out trusted infrastructure services that focus on the two key factors, security, and scalability. They have to be really at the highest levels. We built our Solodev NFT marketplace to meet those kinds of demands. What I think is interesting though, Adrian, is that while we’ve built the picks and shovels for all of this, we’re not coming up with the ideas. Everyone else is coming up with the ideas. They’re coming to us for the guidance and to help get them there. But they’re the ones that are going through that innovation process. We’re working on this high-end gallery that’s going to be focused on social art and these ideas are coming from content creators. They have the roadmap, we’re just trying to provide them the vehicle to get there. And it’s got to enable them with the kind of technology to do it. The other part I’ll say is that brands are looking for ways to differentiate and kind of own as much of the experience as they can. There are lots of creators setting up their NFT library, so to speak, in OpenSea, but they’re giving up all that control around their experience to that platform, which is very Web 2.0. The Web 3.0 idea is that these brands or these creators will be able to build this stuff on their own, build their own marketplace, be able to shape that around whatever their requirements are. And that to me is that’s the next step. The next wave is getting to that decentralization. We’re just not there yet.

Adrian Tennant: Matt, can you help us understand what is the relationship between NFTs and blockchain?

Matt Garrepy: Great question. we can’t really talk about NFTs without blockchain, and we can’t talk about blockchain without the cloud. You know, the cloud has been around for a long time. Now, I think it’s matured to the point where most people kind of understand the concept of it, at least in practice. And even to the point where it doesn’t even matter what the cloud is built of or how it functions or how it works, you just accept that it powers these experiences for you. But the cloud is responsible for what we think of as Web 2.0, right? The rise of these large centralized platforms like Facebook and Google, which by the way, are clouds, right? They meet that definition of being clouds. So if Web 1.0 was static websites and experiences, Web 2.0 is where all that interactivity came in, right? It’s the gaming, social media, e-commerce – all of them developing into big centralized kind of monolithic platforms that are owned by big tech companies. And the cloud is important because it enabled all of these systems to run at really unimaginable scale and to be over time, as secure as they are today. And that’s actually what we try to provide in our marketplace. We use a technology that’s referred to as serverless, for meeting this huge demand of concurrent users. So if we saw that Coinbase commercial, during the Super Bowl, with the floating QR code, I think everyone in America was rifling around to find their phone so they could scan this and figure out what the heck it was. Many people hit an error page, right? They didn’t have enough resources to meet demand at that level. And of course, it was millions and millions of people. But, even the idea that we’re going to have systems like Decentraland, where there may be millions of people interacting and engaging, we need to have systems that can meet that demand. So the cloud is so important in having gotten us to Web 2.0. So while that was growing and expanding, this idea of blockchains re-emerged, which has been around since the Nineties. It was a really elegant idea of creating a way to decentralize how we’re tracking things and push the truth of that out to multiple parties so that it didn’t just reside with one central authority. And that’s that concept of having a ledger, right? A ledger that has all the transactions that you make assigned to you living in multiple places, and then through consensus on servers, in a network, they’re able to codify that that is true. And this concept is largely seen as being unhackable if that we can even say that, but let’s just say it’s very, very secure because it’s not just secured with one authority. So, think of all those servers and clusters and all those transactions, what they’re governed by are these really simple things called smart contracts. And those contracts have automated rules that no entity or even government authority can alter, right? Unless the participants in an organization agreed to alter them. But the idea is that it automates the notion of trust, particularly for organizations like law firms that want to document contracts or we want to have a public sector agency that wants to log all of the transition of deeds from one owner to another. And I call those high utility blockchain apps and a great example of one that’s been documented really well is De Beers Diamonds. A great, identifiable consumer brand. They’re able to log each transaction that a specific diamond goes through on its journey from a mine to a store, to an owner, ensuring its authenticity. Who’s done the authenticating, did it originate in a conflict-free zone? All of that gets wrapped up in sort of the experience of that diamond and that adds value to it. And the cloud is what makes that blockchain, all that data, it’s never eradicated, it’s never deprecated, it just continues building, to store and scale it at just unimaginable levels. And, the whole concept of Bitcoin was built on this, right? It’s the currency of the very first blockchain. And you know, it really envisioned this idea of being a token, which we’ve said a couple of times is core to NFTs is core to cryptocurrency. But this really simple idea of a token having that documented value in it. And Bitcoin really saw the idea of centralized authorities or platforms like banks or central banks, burning those down and having a peer-to-peer payment system. And that’s really when Web 3.0 started – was with that idea that we’re going to eliminate the middleman. We’re going to make it more of a social permission-less kind of transaction, secured by the fact that the block and the blockchain was all being documented on these ledgers. But giving the power to consumers over their digital lives and, being able to, embrace this way of transacting

Adrian Tennant: Where can brand marketers and folks in advertising expect to encounter blockchain in our work lives?

Matt Garrepy: Everywhere. It’s going to be everywhere, like the internet, and in that sense, it’s going to be bigger than the internet because if you can imagine like smart contracts that governments use for, as I mentioned, like documenting their public records, you know, it goes beyond just the way that the internet is functioning as the portal for documenting things and into the business realm, where business transactions are happening. So other computer systems, other ways of being able to store the data and push it out through to a blockchain. There’s a company called Pacaso. It’s kind of a fractional home ownership concept, and they’re creating these things called decentralized autonomous organizations or DAOs, which is something you may have heard of. And the whole idea is what I just talked about, where they’re creating smart contracts that govern the ownership rules over vacation homes. So it’s transparent, it’s immutable, and multiple people can go in on owning a home instead of giving their money to Airbnb. So it’s sort of seen as a disruptor to that sort of Web 2.0 model, right? So this is a Web 3.0, Airbnb was sort of Web 2.0, and because decentralized finance is such a big part of all of this, blockchain is going to weave itself in all these traditional systems. I think the reason why is because of trust and transparency and, if we can then introduce more automation – I don’t think of AI as being Skynet or artificial intelligence, it’s more like augmented intelligence, right? Or automated intelligence. But the fact that these systems can behave on their own so that there isn’t a person, there isn’t a third party, there isn’t someone manipulating the currency, printing more of it. All of those things enable this to be much more trustworthy and transparent. And I think it’s going to ripple across everything.

Adrian Tennant: Now of course, being agency-side, I’ve got to ask, what level of interest are you seeing among agency and brand marketing clients in the metaverse and Web 3.0 technologies?

Matt Garrepy: Yeah. I think we’re seeing a really positive response largely from what we’ll call an industry sector around agencies. And I resist a little bit of the urge to sort of focus just on that as a sector, but I do think that agencies get digital experience better than most other businesses. So they’re able to adapt to this new world and what the metaverse promises, when they’re thinking about customer experience and they’re thinking about how to better serve their portfolio of customers. The way that the tools are beginning to emerge, the idea of marketplace as a service, I think this is very appealing to agencies. They’re looking at ways to be able to differentiate in their own marketplaces, but, having that offering, that service offering where they can build marketplaces from the ground up, have those scalability and security issues, buttoned-down, and part of the way that they deliver infrastructure is going to be really key. But then I think it’s just going back to this concept of brand and how can we use NFTs as part of that mix, that integrated mix. It’s still centralized platforms, but being able to offer to brands, as someone in the agency business, offer to your brand customers, a way of being able to have a signature experience that it enables companion NFTs to have value. Collaborating with them to understand what their customer experience is like so you can map that and build out the right kind of solution for it. But again, it’s all gonna come back to infrastructure, so if you have the right components in place, and have that approach around building these marketplaces, I think you’ve got a real offering, and a real key differentiator in the market. So, again, we’re in the early parts of it as well, in terms of, how we’re offering NFT marketplace as a service. Some of the people that are approaching us, they’ve worked with Microsoft as an example, so have a really strong understanding of crypto, but we have talked to people in the art field, mostly in the high-end side of it. But also people that are focused on digital experience and coming out of the agency side. So it’s definitely happening. And it’s definitely an exciting way to think about how to make brands differentiate.

Adrian Tennant: Matt, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you and the work your team is doing at Solodev, where can they find you?

Matt Garrepy: You can find Solodev at And then you can find me on Twitter @MattGarrepy. And I’m on LinkedIn as well, same spelling just with a hyphen between the first name and last name. And then there’s old-fashioned email that you can use as well, should you decide to go old-fashioned, and that’s just

Adrian Tennant: Matt, thank you very much for being a guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Matt Garrepy: Thanks so much for having me. It was great talking to you.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Matt Garrepy, Chief Digital Officer of Solodev. We’ll be catching up with Matt again in a future episode to learn more about the metaverse. As always, you’ll find a full transcript with links to the resources Matt and I discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just select “Podcast.” And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following IN CLEAR FOCUS wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Our guest this week is Dr. Andrea Laurent-Simpson, the author of Just Like Family: How Companion Animals Joined The Household. Andrea explains why a majority of pet owners regard their animals as members of the family and suggests how pet product manufacturers and marketers should approach the emergence of the “multispecies family.” Andrea uses contemporary advertisements to illustrate how dogs and cats are increasingly identified and treated as legitimate members of the household.

Episode Transcript

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

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: Family is changing and that we are increasingly as a culture accepting this idea that there are multi-species families where the dog and the cat aren’t just pets anymore. They aren’t just kind of accepted into the family fold. They literally are family members now. 

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 at Bigeye. Thank you for joining us today. May 2021 polling data from the American Society for The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found that close to one in five households had acquired a dog or cat since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. According to the ASPCA data, families who’d been debating pet ownership and individuals looking for companionship during lockdowns represent approximately 23 million American households that had the time and opportunity to welcome a new pet. Worth an estimated $189 billion in 2021, the pet care category is a fast-growing industry in the United States. In 2020, Americans purchased $42 billion of pet food, and veterinary care brought in over $31 billion. As a visit to any big box pet store reveals, there are plenty of ways to indulge our animal companions with a majority of owners in the US spending up to $500 on their pets each year. A book entitled Just Like Family: How Companion Animals Joined the Household examines how and why pets have become so integral to families in America. The book provides a compelling view of domestic animals as part of what the author, Dr. Andrea Laurent-Simpson, defines as the “multi-species family” in which dogs and cats are identified and treated as legitimate members of the household. In the book, Dr. Laurent-Simpson highlights the many roles pets play in people’s lives: as siblings to human children, as animal children, themselves, and even as grandchildren. Dr. Andrea Laurent-Simpson is a Research Assistant Professor and Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. She’s joining us today from her home north of Dallas to discuss the book and the central idea of the multi-species family. Andrea, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: Thank you, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: Could you explain what sociology is and how it differs from psychology?

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: Sure. I always think about the micro versus macro influences. So when I think about psychology, which was actually my bachelor’s degree, I think about individual kind of mental level processes, and maybe individual interaction with groups, but nothing any further than that in terms of structure. Whereas sociology focuses on more macro features. So thinking about social structures and society and the ways that humans kind of interact within that situation, and also the ways in which people socially construct the different parts of society like institutions and communities and organizations.

Adrian Tennant: So what prompted you to write Just Like Family?

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: So the introduction in my book talks about this, so that would be my dog, my first dog as an adult anyway, was a Chow Chow named Chewbacca Bear and she came into my life when I was probably 20 years old, maybe 19, and she really was my means of giving me some interaction as I lived on my own in an apartment and stress relief, I guess as I went through the undergraduate process. But when I met my husband or my future husband, he and I really bonded over her and we wound up kind of creating a little family and that family just intensified and intensified the further along he and I went and as we got married and, put off having human children, we really kind of turned all of that attention towards her. And at the time I wasn’t really aware that we were doing that. I didn’t think about it in terms of treating her like a child. It just came very naturally to us and so, around the time that I found out that she was 10 and I found out that she had lymphoma and she was like stage three lymphoma. I went through a series of visits with different veterinarians and specialists and oncologists kind of in complete denial about it until I landed at Texas A&M Veterinary School, where we kind of went back and forth, this resident and I went back and forth about her diagnosis and I realized that talking about these things in front of her was something that was disturbing to me. In front of the dog that is, in front of Chew Bear. And so I asked them to take her out of the room and I finished up that meeting with the oncologist and when I got in the car, the sociological piece of me after 10 years finally kicked in and said, “What just happened? You literally had your dog removed from the room as if she could understand these things that you were talking about.” And my brain said, “yes, she could. She could understand all of that. And these all have massive repercussions for her life and our lives.” And I think I just took off from there, in building the idea in my head and thinking about whether or not I was the only person that might be interacting with their dog or cat like this. And eventually, it turned into at least a piece of it turned into my dissertation for my doctoral work. And then I expanded from there into some other things with it and continue to expand on it now.

Adrian Tennant: Just Like Family is about what you define as the multi-species family. Could you explain your hypothesis?

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: Sure. So I guess it helps to explain what a multi-species family is in the first place. A multi-species family, at least I would say currently in a post-industrialized, high-income nation, like the United States, is a family that has not just human members, but non-human members as well and identifies those non-human animals as family. When you look at the research, primarily, at least for now that tends to be dogs and cats. There are not as many people identifying Guinea pigs and snakes and tarantulas, right, as family. So the dogs and the cats would be like a primary part of that. And the multi-species family that we see today, is one that is marked not just by having this pet in the family or even just thinking of the pet as family. It’s actually literally identifying the pet as a family member and treating him or her in that way. So identifying the dog or the cat as a sibling to your own children or identifying the dog or cat as a child to you, or that extended family piece, again, thinking of your adult children’s pets as granddogs or grandcats. I keep reinforcing the idea of contemporary, post-industrialized, high-income countries like the US, because some researchers and I’m included in this would say that multi-species families have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. It’s not so much that the multi-species family is new. It’s the incantation of it that’s very new.

Adrian Tennant: Your book discusses the many different roles that pets play in people’s lives. For example, as siblings to human children and as children or “fur babies” among child-free or childless couples. In the book, you recount a story from your personal experience when your dog was treated like a grandchild. Could you tell us more about that?

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: Sure. So I talked about Chew Bear a few minutes ago, but my husband and I were dating and clearly very committed to each other and became engaged. His mother, so in the book, I referred to her as Famoo because she’s Finnish. And so Famoo was very, very fond of Chew Bear and loved the way that we interacted with her and kind of accepted her as a primary family member. And so she engaged in that as well. She was very willing to babysit Chew Bear. She was willing to cook natural foods for Chew Bear. She was willing to, which is phenomenal to me, get on an airplane with us when we moved to Los Angeles, literally so she could take care of Chew Bear while we went and looked at different apartments and help us apartment hunt in order to find places that would be adequate for the three of us, not just Mark and I, but Mark and I and Chew Bear. And this, this wasn’t just these kinds of things, it was little things too. Talking to Chew Bear like she was her granddaughter and talking about Chew Bear as if she were a granddaughter to other people, to her friends, like outside of our family circle, talking to her friends and showing her friends pictures of Chew Bear. And these are all behavioral elements that kept popping up in my own participants, especially the child-free and involuntarily childless participants, really recounted a lot of similar activities where their parents would invoke this idea of grandparent and treat their animals in that way. Famoo had a really special connection with Chew Bear too, so it wasn’t just grandchild in name, it was grandchild in behavior. She would often talk about how she loved Chew Bear more as a grandchild than she loved some of her other human grandchildren, which obviously were not our children, so it’s okay. She had a very special connection with her and I had fun writing about some of that and I saw it replicated with other people as well. So I’ll add one more thing to that. I think that the key piece for me thinking about this sociologically, Famoo’s involvement wasn’t just sweet to watch. It was also very much so reinforcing of my own behavior and of my husband Mark’s behavior in treating her like a child. So the more that Famoo thought about and treated Chew Bear as if she were a grandchild or one of our kids, the more Mark and I were motivated to continue treating her that way. We didn’t feel stigmatized by it. We didn’t feel embarrassed by it. We felt supported in it. And again, that was something else that I saw replicated again and again, for people who really found value in their own parents supporting their ideas about their dogs and cats being like children to them, was really important. And when that support was not there, it was painfully evident in my participants’ narratives as well.

Adrian Tennant: Chapter five of Just Like Family focuses on how mass media has embraced the concept of the multi-species family. You describe your findings from a qualitative review of a series of print advertisements spanning roughly two decades. Now there’s a lot in this chapter of interest to pet care brand marketers and advertisers, so let’s start with the ways in which animals are depicted. Andrea, to what extent did you find animals in ads had human traits applied to them?

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: I would say that, especially over even the past 30 years, definitely the past 20, but over the past 30 years, companion animals have increasingly been anthropomorphized, in ads, not only in the images but also in the copy. In terms of anthropomorphization, that is kind of giving these human traits to animals, I think that that’s something advertisers have done for a really long time. You know, I think about like Joe Camel, right? The depiction of the tough, like Navy man smoking cigarettes. Well, you know, they used a camel to depict that and it was a very, very, effective marketing tactic. Right? That spoke to masculinity in the United States. So I think that that’s not new at all. I think that the anthropomorphization of dogs and cats into actual family members, actual social actors is a different level than simply applying human traits. So that as I pulled these ads and analyzed them, yeah, definitely they were applying these traits of, I guess maybe dressing an animal like a person or maybe, having the animal held like you might hold a child. Like one ad stands out in my mind. You can just, it’s a woman and you just see the back of her head and body. And the dog is upon her shoulder peering back at the camera, right? So obviously that’s anthropomorphic, right? Applying emotions so you have copy where there’s a word bubble and the dog says, “Oh, I’m so happy!” Right? Those things we’re applying human traits, but it’s when we get into ads that are very specifically kind of replicating particular identities like the child, right? So the dog looking over, peering back at the camera as if it’s a child – or he or she is a child – or having copy that gives words to the dog or cat like, “Hey mom, we love this dog food!” Things like that are, they’re stepping a little bit more into the realm of actually depicting the dog and the cat as, as a social actor, number one. Number two: a social actor that communicates effectively with their human. Not just through a bark or a meow, they’re actually using language to communicate with their human, and that are, number three, actually aware of and involved in creating very intimate bonds, familial bonds with their parents or their pet parents, right? So when I think about this mother-child relationship, one ad that pops up for me the copy is really informative. It’s a woman who’s out running and she’s got her Siberian Husky with her. And the copy says, “Bella is part of my family.” Okay. So maybe a general family member. But then she goes on to say, “I believe her happiness and health come before anything else.” So, the copy in that is really telling it’s not just that the animal is like family to me. It’s actually that “the animal is like family to me and more she’s like a child to me.” Because they are invoking kind of this verbiage, this intensive mothering verbiage about your children always coming first. Her happiness, her health comes before anything else. And so this particular ad is advertising Natural Balance dog food. 

So it’s a dietary thing. Verbiage like that, copy like that symbolically communicates, I think on the advertisers’ end, that family is changing and that we are, increasingly as a culture, accepting this idea that there are multi-species families where the dog and the cat aren’t just pets anymore. They aren’t just kind of accepted into the family fold. They literally are family members now, like a child, grandchild, or a sibling, or whatever it happens to be.

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

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 Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

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 research. Our featured book for March is Using Semiotics in Retail: Leverage consumer insight to engage shoppers and boost sales by Rachel Lawes. 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 ebook offer. To order your copy of Using Semiotics in Retail, go to – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Dr. Andrea Laurent-Simpson, a Research Assistant Professor and Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Southern Methodist University and the author of the book, Just Like Family, published by New York University Press. The pet care category is a growing multi-billion dollar industry in the US. Andrea, in your research, did you come across any pet-related products or services that you’d never seen before, or that struck you as particularly interesting?

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: Yes. I mean, they’re not, they’re not strange to me anymore, but as I was initially doing the research, coming across products like dog seat belts was something that was interesting to me. Strollers? I’d seen strollers before. What I had not seen was double strollers. So, you know, we have double strollers for twins or kids that are similar ages, but these were double strollers for dogs. And probably the one that stands out the most to me was the high chair. So Ikea, there’s a really neat ad from Ikea. 

And we could sit here and analyze this ad together for hours, it’s so fascinating to me. But there’s an Ikea ad with a blue high chair in it. And there is a Labrador, a golden lab sitting up in the high chair, eating, there’s two bowls kind of recess down on the highchair, eating from the bowls. And the copy is interesting to me. The copy actually refers to the dogs, as family, right? So dinner time is when the family comes together. So it makes sense to include the family’s best friend. So it’s interesting, the copy, right? That it refers to the dog that’s in the high chair as a family’s best friend. And then it also later on in the copy refers to the dog as a dinner guest. These feel very fuzzy to me. They don’t feel like solidly family, right? They sound like visitor. Here’s a visitor. When this visitor comes, put them in this high chair at your table. It’s the image though that’s the most striking and really the copy is almost like it’s not an afterthought. It’s very carefully crafted, but it’s not what stands out in this ad. What stands out is that bright blue high chair, bright silver, or shiny silver bowls in it, and that beautiful golden lab sitting in it. And all you see, looking at it, is a child. A best friend doesn’t come to a house and get put in a high chair. You don’t buy a high chair for your best friend’s baby, right? You buy a high chair for a baby that’s in your household and then you utilize it to have them at the table with the family. They’re not separate from the family, sitting, or anything like it, they’re sitting there at the table with the family. They’re one of the family. and so I think that that particular ad and, and the high chair being advertised, and it was really interesting to me. And I think too, I will add this. I think too, that the reason the copy seems a little counter to what the image is because families today, even though this idea of a multi-species family, even though that is becoming more accepted, I think it’s still stigmatized. So looking at that copy, I think that that was probably the advertiser’s way of walking that line real finely and saying to the consumer that doesn’t buy into this, “Hey, we’re not trying to say anything about, we’re not trying to say that this dog’s a child”, but then also with that image that really stands out saying, “Hey, you guys that see your dog as your child? Look at this product that we have for you!” so it’s really interesting to me, just the line walking, very careful psychological kind of analysis that went into that particular ad.

Adrian Tennant: So I’m curious, Andrea, are there any human and product categories that you think are untapped opportunities for pet product manufacturers?

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: I think Adrian, that that is a million-dollar question! I think that that’s something that if I could come up with the answer to, I maybe might quit my job and go into pet product innovation. But what I would say from a sociological perspective is that there are particular, I guess categories in terms of family and household structure that advertisers need to pay attention to. They need to think about not just the multi-species family with a dog and a cat and whether or not they have a dog or they have a cat, but they need to think about the household structure. So are we like targeting multi-species families with human children? Multi-species families who are child-free, or involuntarily childless? Are we targeting empty nesters? Like who are we targeting? Because in my own research, each one of those household structures had different perceptions and different internalized identities, related to their dogs and cats. So that the family without human children, you could very much so see this kind of parent-child identity pairing present. Sometimes they were aware of it. Sometimes they were not. Like me, if you had interviewed me 10 years, 15 years ago with Chew Bear, I wouldn’t have been aware of it. But right, that parent-child identity pairing or like with the empty-nester, there’s the grandparent-grandchild identity pairing, or with the family that has human children, there is this identity pairing of sibling-sibling, and sometimes like best friends kind of thing that they see in their own children with the family dog or cat. And so that would be the first part of this right? In trying to figure out what else could we do? I mean, because obviously innovating products from the ground up, I think that’s probably fairly rare. I think that most products come from extensions of products we’ve already got on the market. and so looking at those family structures and thinking about the identities that are present within each multi-species family structure is important because you can figure out what the varying needs are based on the family structure. So for me, I have human children now and I’ve got my three German Shorthair Pointers, and I would absolutely love to have a product- I have no clue what it would look like- but I would love to have a product that would really help me cut down on dirt, even more at the entries to my home. Right now, what we’ve got is towels and these innovative pet product cups where you dip their feet. Like they’ve got these little teethy things inside their silicone, you dip their feet down in there in the silicone, but those are disgusting and messy and the dogs are always turning them over. So, you know, something like that would probably be more important to a family with human children and their dogs and dogs in particular. Because I’ve got double the mess coming through the door every time my two-legged and four-legged children walk in, right? Whereas a child-free family, maybe, yes, obviously they want to make sure that their floors are staying clean, but they don’t have double the mess. So maybe it’s not as big of a concern right? So thinking, along the lines of travel. Child-free families travel a lot. They spend a lot of, well at least middle-class and upper-class professional families are traveling a lot and they wanna take their pets with them. So focusing more on that family structure, the identities that are present there, I want to travel with my kid, my pet, my fur baby. I wanna take my baby with me. So what can we do to kind of improve upon some of the products that are available now to help them travel better? So taking like that family who is child-free and paralleling them with the family that has human children. What are the children’s products that are out there right now? And for travel, for example, what do we have for kids that ease parents’ burden? I’ll say that lightly! When you travel with kids, what do they have for kids that we could extend upon and expand upon for child-free families that want to travel with their pets, with their dogs and cats? So that’s part of it. The other part of it is thinking generationally, which I know that advertisers are well aware of, right? But today, millennials comprise 35% of all pet owners. They have just recently become the biggest pet-owning category percentage-wise in the US. So they’re a really important group to pay attention to. When we look at research on real estate and property purchases, a third of millennials have reported actually purchasing a home for their dog. And in that research, the survey questions ask them to rank, “Why have you purchased a home?” And purchasing a home, percentage-wise, for the dog was number one. Under that came just got married, I have a spouse, we want a home. And then after that was, we’re gonna have kids or we have kids. The dog for a third of them was number one. This is a really important piece to pay attention to when people are purchasing their homes, when millennials, and this is only getting more intense with Gen Z, and moving forward, I think they’re just gonna get more and more intense because fertility rates are dropping and as fertility rates drop, obviously this means that there are fewer children entering the population. And the question, interesting research question to me is are people feeling kind of a need to nurture if they’re not gonna have children, human children, whether that’s because they don’t wanna add the population growth or they’re not able to have human children or human children just gross them out- whatever the reason is if they’re not having children, I am wondering if we are, with a desire to nurture, we are filling that with bringing more and more dogs and cats into our lives. And part of some future research I’d like to do is really kind of examining that and trying to figure out what increasing levels of dog and cat ownership and multi-species families, where the dog’s a child, like almost a bonafide child in the family, if that’s reinforcing falling fertility rates not causing it, but reinforcing it. Thinking about things like that as an advertiser, being able to kind of foresee those trends coming, I, I think is the bread and butter of advertising and marketing, right? But I think really having a clear-cut understanding, for example, that rental properties, that home builders are now designing their either rental properties or they’re designing the houses they sell to answer to pet parents. Like, “Oh, look at this perk. Look at this thing we could build into your house. We could have a whole, pet bathing area back here instead of a mudroom.” like a traditional mudroom where the kids come in and throw all their garbage on the floor. You tell I’ve got children. We instead have, you know, this nice kind of bathing area, for your dog to bring in and spray them off and get them ready to enter the rest of the house. Thinking about things like that and understanding how these different household structures see their animals and the way that they interact with the family will be the best way to figure out new extensions, really on human categories of products.

Adrian Tennant: In the book, you cite some previous research studies, some of which have found differences between how dog owners view their pets compared to cat owners. Having reviewed almost two decades’ worth of ads, what are some important considerations you’d highlight for marketers seeking to appeal to dog or cat owners?

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: Well, the research in the past, that I’ve looked at, so from Harris poll and American Pet Products Association, even the AVMA obviously shows dogs and cats with this special family status applied to them. It seems to show dogs as having a greater likelihood of having the status applied to them but cats, cats do too. Cats aren’t so far off of dogs that we should just write them off as bonafide members of the multi-species family in the US. Dogs in particular, it seems, are privileged with things like birthday presents, holiday celebrations, especially things in my mind that I think of as very social, like a birthday celebration is a very social activity. And when you think about the ways that dogs and humans interact with each other, they’re very social. If you think about the way that they kind of evolved and that evolutionary niche, the reason they evolved alongside one another, was because of that kind of increasing, intertwined social interaction that they had. It’s almost like the disposition of a canine is one that makes him or her very social to start with. But I really think that has a lot to do with evolution alongside humans, right? Whereas cats didn’t evolve in the same way, right? They didn’t evolve right alongside the leg of a human or a hominid, an early hominid. They kind of evolved as an independent isolated category of species. And today their personalities are very, so the domesticated cat, the personalities are very similar, right? Very independent, very aloof. And so it’s not unusual to me to see that maybe more social types of behaviors, going out with a dog, walking the dog, taking the dog to dog parks, that just kind of lines up with the way that humans have evolved alongside of dogs. It lines up with dog personality. Thinking about cats, things are a little bit different, right? People also report birthday celebrations. They also report including them in holiday celebrations and letting them co-sleep. Although cats co-sleep more than dogs do. I think probably of everything I looked at, that was the one thing where cats outranked dogs was co-sleeping. Nut again, I think that’s a personality thing. I think that has to do with the disposition of the feline, right? Is kind of claiming areas as their own. It doesn’t really matter what you say is theirs or isn’t theirs. They’re going to tell you what’s theirs, right? I mean, if this bed is their bed, then you may share it with them. It’s not your bed. It’s my feline bed. You may come sleep in it, if you would like, kind of thing, just a different disposition. And so, you know, looking at those ads, I think that if you are a marketer that is wanting to appeal to dog owners, you’ve gotta think about the household structure, and the identities that are present based on what the household structure is. But then you’ve got to think about the disposition of the dog. In your ads, you don’t wanna make the mistake and in your marketing plans, you don’t wanna make the mistake of portraying or depicting the dog in a way that owners are gonna be like, “Oh, I see through this, you don’t get it. You’re just trying to sell me something because if you weren’t just trying to sell me something, you really cared about me as a consumer, you would understand, not only is this dog like a child to me, but this dog has a specific personality. and it is one that maybe is outgoing and gregarious, or is very interested in being social all the time and being by my side. And in this ad, you’ve got this dog that you wanna market a pet product to me with, sitting off to the side while I sit forefront in the ad drinking my beer, right?” That you’re trying to sell me dog beer. And the dog’s like over here on the side or whatever it happens to be right? Now, if it were an ad that you were trying to sell cat beer, I don’t see a market for that right? Trying to parallel it with the same ad. If you were, if you were, trying to sell cat beer, then maybe that would be the way that you might kind of create that ad, right? Because the cat is aloof. And in fact, maybe what you would do there is put the cat in the forefront of that, and maybe put the human off to the side, drinking their beer. but it’s a personality thing, right? And I think that sometimes, and not just advertisers, but I think social scientists, I think researchers, anthropologists, sociologists, I think sometimes they miss that piece of it, right? If you are an advertiser and you are, or somebody that’s trying to innovate and then market new products or extensions on products, only thinking about the human side, the anthropocentric side of this is gonna get you into trouble. Now, it wouldn’t have gotten you into trouble 20, 30, 40 years ago, because I don’t think that this kind of post-industrialized, multi-species, high-income society had emerged yet. It was emerging, but I don’t think it was front and center the way it is now. You have to remove yourself from that anthropocentric focus, thinking of the human as the one that you’re selling this to, and really think of the dog and cat as a consumer and put that in your ads. You’ve got to think the same way you would a child, right? If you’re marketing games, if you’re Milton Bradley or Hasbro or whatever it is, you’ve done extensive research on children’s behavior, what games they like, the way they play with them, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, right? It’s the same thing with a dog and a cat. You’ve got to think about them as a consumer and the ways in which they demand, request, want, need, desire, and make sure it comes through in that ad. Because for the multi-species families that I’m describing today that are very, very emergent and becoming increasingly accepted in this millennial generation, to not do that will be insulting to the person who actually has the money, right? The person who actually lays that money down. You need to talk to my dog, right? Talk to my dog to have them talk to me. 

Adrian Tennant: Andrea if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you, your academic work, and your book, Just Like Family, where can they find you?

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: They could find me on my email. ALaurentSimpson – so just “a” for Andrea, and then Laurent-Simpson @ Or they could also go to my website on So any of those ways would work.

Adrian Tennant: Andrea, thank you very much indeed for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: Thank you, Adrian, for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Dr. Andrea Laurent-Simpson of the Department of Sociology at Southern Methodist University and the author of the book, Just Like Family: how companion animals joined the household. As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at under insights, just select podcast. And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts, submit a review, or tell a friend about IN CLEAR FOCUS. It really helps us out. And thank you for listening. I’ve been your host Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye!

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

Our guest this week is Dr. Rachel Lawes, the author of Using Semiotics In Retail, this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection. Rachel discusses how retailers and brand marketers can use commercial semiotics to provide fresh insights into consumers’ wants and desires, spark revenue-generating ideas, and analyze under-performing stores. IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners can claim a 20 percent discount on Using Semiotics In Retail at by using the promo code BIGEYE20 at checkout.

Episode Transcript

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

Dr. Rachel Lawes: Semiotics is about understanding culture and its effect on the individual. Whereas, instead of asking, “What’s all this interesting stuff inside people’s heads and how can we get it out?” we instead ask, “How did it get in there in the first place? Where did all these attitudes and perceptions and beliefs come from?”

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 at Bigeye. Thank you for joining us today. This month, we’re looking at the role that distinctive assets play in long-term brand-building. Last week, we discussed sonic logos and what makes them effective in creating shortcuts in consumers’ minds that make brands more memorable and impactful This week, we turn our attention to distinctive brand assets in retail settings with the third episode in our Bigeye Book Club series in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page publishing. Today, we’re looking at a little-known and definitely under-utilized research power tool: semiotics. To explain what semiotics is, how it can help marketers identify emerging consumer needs, yield a host of revenue-generating marketing ideas, and create more meaningful shopper experiences, it’s my pleasure to be speaking with the pre-eminent authority on commercial semiotics, Dr. Rachel Lawes. Rachel has over two decades of marketing experience, providing brand and marketing strategy to clients globally, including Unilever, Procter and Gamble, Kraft, Diageo, and Nike, among many others. Rachel is also the author of our featured Bigeye Book Club selection this month, Using Semiotics In Retail: Leverage consumer insight to engage shoppers and boost sales. A regular international conference speaker, Rachel is also a fellow of the Market Research Society and the author of Using Semiotics In Marketing published by Kogan Page in 2020. Today, Rachel is joining us from her home in London, England. Rachel, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Dr. Rachel Lawes: Thank you. Thanks for having me on the show.

Adrian Tennant: Well, your first book published in 2020 is entitled Using Semiotics In Marketing. Barely two years later, your second book, Using Semiotics In Retail is out. Congratulations! Rachel, what prompted you to focus on retail for this book?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: I’ve been practicing semiotics commercially for 20 years now. In fact, this year is the 20th anniversary of my business being started and before that, I used to do semiotics as an academic. So I’ve had a long career and I used to publish prolifically with conference papers and things in industry journals and then delivered a lot of training. But I’ve been asked at various times to write a book and the day finally arrived when I was ready and that resulted in my first book Using Semiotics in Marketing in 2020, which is a great beginner’s guide for anybody wanting to get started with semiotics. And the thing is I’ve got 25 years of stuff in my head that’s saved up, you know? So the first book is a kind of really clear how-to manual for researchers and brand owners alike. Once I had got that down and it was out there in the world and it was like, look, here’s a real simple, straightforward, clear, thorough guide to how to do semiotics, I then felt a sense of freedom where I’m now able to write books about any topic I want, having explained the basics. And so I just picked on retail for the next one, because it is changing so rapidly. And also because I wanted to write about the future, which is unfolding as we speak because retail is largely controlled and directed by businesses rather than consumers. It is very much a part of the future and retail marketers can choose to embrace that or get left behind. And so I want it to be helpful to people in retail, and to talk about the future because it affects everybody.

Adrian Tennant: Great. So, Rachel, how do you define semiotics – and what should I refer to you as? Are you a semiotician or semiologist?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: That’s a great question. People ask me a lot how you define semiotics and the really simple answer is that it’s the study of signs and symbols. So signs and symbols, as you know, Adrian, could be things that are commonly found in marketing, such as brand marks, typefaces, colors, and also when you get into products, we’re talking about materials, product design, and all that type of stuff is meaningful, right? These are what we call semiotic signs. And so the job of a person practicing semiotics is to figure out what those signs and symbols mean. Now that’s the beginning of the story, it’s not the whole story and out of preference, I’d slightly prefer semiologist because, what I’m doing here, and I think that’s clear from the book on retail that you’ve just read, is much bigger than just decoding signs and symbols. And so semiotician to me, implies something like being a technician or even an engineer, where you’re kind of manipulating small components of things, but in fact, semiotics is an entire branch of Western philosophy. It’s so much larger than decoding signs and symbols, although it certainly includes that. And so I generally prefer semiologist because it gets closer to grasping the size of the project.

Adrian Tennant: Well, most traditional market research methods are rooted in psychology. Could you explain briefly how semiotics differs?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: Yeah. So I’d love to do that. So I am a psychologist, that’s what my Ph.D. is in. So I feel confident in saying that the market research industry has, throughout most of its history, relied heavily on ideas and tools as well, which are imported from psychology. So what I mean by that is that psychology, generally speaking, will take the view that we’re all individuals, and we’ve all got our own unique personalities, and we’re all different from each other. And most importantly, there’s a whole lot of interesting, but secret stuff locked away inside our heads. So attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, motivations, brand preferences, and all that stuff, right? And so the project of market research has been to try and get that stuff out of people’s heads. So it’s become known as the inside-out model, and the way it does that is by deploying various tools, borrowed from psychology, such as carefully crafted survey questionnaires, and perhaps projective techniques used in qualitative situations and things like that. That dominated market research for the longest time until very recently. Much more recently a different paradigm has found its way into the system – and I’m glad to say that I’ve been able to be a part of that – which, instead of asking, “what’s all this interesting stuff inside people’s heads and how can we get it out?” we instead ask, “How did it get in there in the first place? Where did all these attitudes and perceptions and beliefs come from?” So the answer usually is taken to be well they come from the surrounding culture of which each individual consumer has no choice but to be a part. So there’s no escape from the supermarket, as I’m fond of saying! So these new methods, which focus on consumer culture as the cause and origin of people’s attitudes, beliefs, and brand preferences, there’s a family of methods here: ethnography when it’s done well, is part of that family, discourse analysis is part of that family. Semiotics stands out in that family for its focus on visual images and semiotics is about understanding culture and its effect on the individual. Whereas, traditionally, human psychology is about the individual, their behavior, in a more isolated way.

Adrian Tennant: Using Semiotics In Retail is organized into four parts. In the first, you provide examples that illustrate how semiotics can be applied to solve real-world retail challenges. Rachel, could you talk us through one case study where you use semiotics to help a retailer who is struggling to attract customers into their stores?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: Yeah. So I’d love to do that. There’s a story, which I included in this book on retail, which is heavily anonymized for reasons which will become clear but it is exciting a lot of attention so here’s the story, okay. I was hired by this company that makes jam or preserve actually to give it a proper name, which becomes important later. So it was a great product. It was a high quality, rich, exciting, range of flavors, really nice brand story as well accompanying the product. So it was all about elegance and European history. And there was actually a pretty good awareness of the brand as well, and people generally liked the product, so it all sounds great. And then, the company invested quite a bit of money in renting a shop. You know how all European cities have an old town quarter, don’t they, where tourists can go and admire the historic buildings? So they’d rented a shop in the old town of this historic European city. And they spent a load of money designing the store to make it look dignified and classy and premium, and to justify the quite high prices that they were charging. And so they might have lots of design decisions based on that ambition. And they used a lot of black on the walls and the shelving and they used some gold lettering, but sensibly did not go over the top with the gold. So it was quite sparing, which is a good sign of premium. The floors were nice creamy stone tiles. And even the sales assistants have an air of dignity about them with their smart black suits. And in the window outside there was rather a dignified arrangement with some jars of jam on plinths, flanked by curtains. And there was even a portrait of somebody who might’ve been the company’s founder. So it was all very careful stuff. The problem was that it just wasn’t performing. This store was just not performing as well as expected. So people liked the product, they liked the brand … there was something about this store that people just didn’t like. And so that’s when the company called me and said, “Can you go down there and find out what’s going on?” And that, Adrian, is quite common and it’s often how people will come to my door is there’ll be some issue that they can’t quite detect what the problem is. And they’ll bring it to me to try and solve it. So I went down there and took some photos and I had a hunch that all was not well as I was looking around. But, what you really want to do with this type of project is take as many still photos as possible, reserve your judgment until you get back to your desk, and you can start to follow up some hypotheses. And so I took my photos and I sat down in front of Google Images and began to ask this question of “Where have I seen this before?” And what do I mean by this? Lots of black, the black wooden shelvings, the gold lettering, the furniture and fixtures in store, which were a pale wood with small brass details, the arrangement in the window, the staff uniform has all of this stuff. And I started to track down where have I seen this before? And the answer was pretty shocking. So what I discovered was that, where I’ve seen this before, unfortunately for the food company, was the funeral parlor, the crematorium, the crypt, and the columbarium. And the result of that was that the whole store reeked of death and that’s not good for selling food. In an effort to make the place look sophisticated, which was a sincere effort – and the individual design decisions in themselves individually were not bad decisions – what they added up to was something really unfortunate. So for example, the front window display followed an arrangement common in funeral parlors, with these thick, heavy kind of floor-length velvet curtains in muted colors. The thing about these jars of jam is that they were shaped like funeral urns, exactly like urns. So where you’ve got a darkish window with not much lighting, very dim lighting, thick heavy curtains, a plinth, an urn, and a painted portrait of somebody who looks like they might have lived a long time ago next to the urn, then we’ve got a funeral in progress, right? Once I’d figured that out, it just got worse and worse, you know? I mentioned the word columbarium earlier, it’s a useful word. So a columbarium is a place where funerary urns are stored on shelves. And so these urn-shaped jars with their very nice kind of minimalist labels, all lined up together on this black, somber shelving, basically recreated a columbarium in the store. And then added to that, the stone floors and the vaulted ceilings made you feel like you’d walked into a crypt – and the staff were dressed exactly like funeral directors. So it was a really bad situation, Adrian, all around. And, so it wasn’t a surprise to me that people lost their appetite when they entered the store. I like to solve problems for clients, so instead of just going to them and saying, “Look, you’ve successfully built a funeral parlor!” I went to look up the brand story, which was this quite nice story about European history. And so I investigated what kind of design, in terms of furniture and clothing and things like that was going on at this point in history that they were trying to reference. And it was very joyful. It wasn’t funereal at all. There was a bit of black, but it was used very sparingly and the point of it was to contrast with the colors of the day, which were sugary pastels and rich jewel tones. Also, at the time, furniture didn’t look like funeral caskets. It was very common in fact for furniture to be painted with pastoral scenes, with shepherdesses and spring lambs and all that type of stuff. People at that point in history do not dress like modern-day funeral directors. They were wearing soft, flowing clothing, often floral patterns, fresh colors. And then if we want to talk about food, this particular point in history that this client wanted to reference was very imaginative with food. They’re doing creative things with pastry, making food in interesting shapes. Food itself was very decorative and nice to look at. And so I was able to prepare for this client a visual library of semiotic signs, colors, shapes, clothing styles, furniture design, images of food. And I was able to provide them with quite a large visual resource of things that they could draw on to combine their brand story more successfully. And so I passed that to them. They were grateful and handed it to their designers. And I noticed then that not too long after that the store was dramatically improved. They let more space and light in. They lost a lot of the black, they introduced many of the things that I’d offered to them. And then surprise surprise! Sales started to go up. Now that’s a very small project in the sense that it just involves one store, which is why it’s possible for me to tell you the story and this amount of time. Most of the projects that I work on are much larger in scope and people will come to me and say, we need to understand a whole generation of consumers, or we need to sell this brand successfully in 20 countries, you know? And so that will be a larger piece of work, but this particular story just focusing on this one store is essentially the same semiotic process, just a kind of more micro version and that makes it digestible, just like the jam!

Adrian Tennant: Marvelous. Thank you, I love that story. Throughout your book, you provide prompts that help readers apply semiotics to their own challenges. That funereal jam store case study introduces the first of these, “Where have I seen this before?” So Rachel, what makes this a foundational prompt?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: So I want to say that this is the beginning of semiotic analysis – it’s not the end. But it’s a great place to start. And the reason why we want to start with this question of “Where have I seen this before?” is because we are asking it on behalf of consumers. Because if you have a new brand or a new product and you put that stuff in stores when consumers encounter it for the first time, the immediate question that they will ask, whether on a conscious or an unconscious level, is “Where have I seen this before?” And so that’s why it’s so crucial because your consumers are going to use their knowledge, their cultural experiences that they’ve had so far. For example, they’re going to use their knowledge of funerals that they’ve attended to make a decision about what this new thing is supposed to mean. Make sense?

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

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 Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

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 research. Our featured book for March is Using Semiotics in Retail: Leverage consumer insight to engage shoppers and boost sales by Rachel Lawes. 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 ebook offer. To order your copy of Using Semiotics in Retail, go to – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Dr. Rachel Lawes, a futurist, marketer, and the author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection, Using Semiotics In Retail. In the second part of Using Semiotics In Retail, you focus on people – or as we prefer to call them in retail market research, consumers – and specifically the things that people want and the ways in which they want them. So Rachel, how can semiotics provide insights into consumers’ wants and desires?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: What we’ve been talking about up to now with the things like “Does this place look like a funeral parlor?” This is what we would call bottom-up semiotics. So bottom-up semiotics is where you start with some particular signs and symbols, like a stone floor or a jar that’s in the shape of an urn. And we figure out what it means using various prompt questions. And that is really useful for improving packaging and advertising and product design. And it’s quite a big part of the work that I do. But there’s a whole other half of this, right? Like football, it’s a game of two halves. So the other half of the game is top-down semiotics or big semiotics. And what does this mean? Top-down semiotics, instead of starting with some individual sign or symbol, like a stone floor, you are instead starting with something like values or abstract concepts. So one area in which I’m doing a ton of work at the moment is diversity and inclusivity. So these are concepts, right? Inclusivity is a concept. It’s not a material object. It’s an idea that is historically and culturally specific. So its meaning will vary around the world. It changes over time. It’s a word which is used now much more than it has been in the past. And so what we’re doing with big semiotics or top-down semiotics is we are tracing the history and current and likely future meaning of those ideas. And the way we do that is by looking at how those ideas are being expressed often in consumer talk, right? Indeed, brands talk in language. So you’re asking me about how does semiotics provide insight into consumers’ wants and desires? Well, one great way is to get online and find some examples of consumers talking about wanting things, and talking about desiring things, and looking at how they’re framing it and how they’re using it. So what you will notice if you start to take an interest in this kind of stuff, is that – let’s just concentrate on the present day – you’ll be able to observe empirically that there are at least two different ways of wanting things. So the first way wanting, or perhaps enjoying things is through immediate sensory reward. For example, you’ve maybe come across people talking about how that first sip of coffee, first thing in the morning is the best thing that you’ll taste all day, or a glass of wine at the end of the working day or something like that. Or it could be found in things like being given a really special gift at Christmas or on your birthday where it’s all wrapped up in shiny, glittery packaging and it’s got a massive bow around that and it’s as exciting to open as it is to experience what’s inside the box. So all of that stuff is about immediate sensation and there are large numbers of consumers who are very focused on immediate sensation and consequently, they like sugar, they like salty food, and really like alcohol. They like music that gets better when it gets louder and so on. But you’ll also be able to observe other consumers who want to enjoy things in a completely different way. And here it’s not about immediate sensation. It’s more about emotion and that emotion is heightened when whatever it is that you want is not immediately available. Now, if that sounds a bit vague, perhaps imagine people going on waiting lists for things, right. Do you know how some women are willing to wait months for luxury handbags, for example, you know, there are only so many of them in existence, you might have to go on a waiting list for a year or so to be able to get your hands on one. That waiting period is really special. And it involves a lot of emotional activity: fantasizing, longing, counting down the days. It’s like being a kid counting down the days until Christmas time, you know? And so that type of desire is where the wanting of stuff is just as rewarding as actually having it, if not more so, and how do brands capitalize on that? Well, limited traditions, things which are only available for a short time, or another way is to do things like teasers, so if you’ve got something new to release, then you can start releasing it in drips and teasing people well ahead of time because some people really enjoy the wait and they really enjoy things that have been slightly out of reach. You can see how different this is from talking about something like stone floors or urn-shaped jars. So this is top-down semiotics where we’re looking at abstract concepts, like what does it mean to want things or what does it mean to be inclusive? And we’re tracking the way that those ideas are being given expression so that we can compare them to the alternatives. Does that make sense?

Adrian Tennant: Totally. In the third section of your book, you turn your attention to the future of retail. So, Rachel, I know this is a big topic, but how do you foresee the metaverse influencing retail?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: Yeah, it’s a really big one. And, so clearly there’s a lot of concern right now amongst, owners serving kind of traditional brick and mortar stores about what the future’s going to hold, and then we’ve also got larger organizations, like the big FMCG companies, who are not themselves retailers, but who depend heavily on retail for their businesses to succeed. And they also are worried about the change, advanced digital culture brings with it. So what’s a threat to them? Well, one threat is direct-to-consumer brands. You know that it’s never been easier to start a niche DTC brand and get it out there in front of people, and that takes market share away from some of the big hitters, you know? And I guess another thing that causes a lot of pain for the FMCG companies is replenishment buying, which I’ve recently started doing myself actually on Amazon. So, you know, I have a particular brand of tea that I like, and I’ve now discovered replenishment shopping. So I’ve now got it on an order and it just arrives on a schedule every 12 weeks. The chances of my switching to another brand now are remote, aren’t they? Because the whole point of replenishment shopping for the consumer is that they just don’t have to think about it any more. So these kinds of things are massive challenges for big brands and small retailers and everybody in between. So there are also, however, a lot of opportunities as well, because, partly thanks to semiotics, we can understand a lot about how things like consumers’ wants and desires and needs are changing over time as we move into the future. And that means that you can stay one step ahead of your competitors and you can adapt more easily to the metaverse. It’s going to be really disruptive in a lot of ways. But, I think the trick is to appreciate that as brand owners and retailers, we’ve always been on this mission to identify consumer needs and meet those needs. And no matter how fast the digital world is changing, people are still people. And if anything, they’ve got more needs now than they had previously. A lot of people are kind of more, let’s say materially better off than their grandparents were. Well, not necessarily their parents, I might point out. But they’ve got a bunch of other things that they’re really unhappy about. You know, there’s a worldwide epidemic of anxiety. There’s another epidemic of loneliness. There’ve been quite a number of scientific studies showing that human relationships are kind of collapsing, people are becoming more introverted. There was a massive longitudinal study at the University of Michigan, where they measured empathy, and they found a catastrophic 40% loss of empathy in the space of a few years, much of it within the 10 years following the introduction of smartphones and social media platforms. So as marketers, we’re in the business of identifying needs and then trying to address them. And I would say that people have bigger and deeper and more complex needs now than I’ve ever seen in my career and that is how we’re going to survive as brands.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. In the fourth section of Using Semiotics In Retail, you share some tools that can help readers explore semiotics for themselves. Which is a really good one to start with, do you think?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: So I really like this question, “Where have I seen this before?” Because I think it’s an easy one to get started with. But you certainly don’t want to stop there and in this book that I’ve just published, I include about 20 or 30 different options, different questions that you could apply. So my second choice then, after, “Where have I seen this before?” is the following: “Where there is choice, there is meaning.” So what do I mean by that? Well, when you look at any consumer product or a piece of marketing, you can take the view that nothing happened by accident. So for example, I like to talk off things, objects that I have on my desk. So I’ve got in front of me one bottle of fragrance, which is actually a miniature, so it’s a little tiny thing. But it comes in a box. And there’s a whole ton of design decisions that have gone on here. There’s a brand name on here Versace, a variant or product name here, I’ve got some technical information about volume. It’s also a kind of pastel yellow color that wouldn’t have been out of place in the 18th century. There’s some elaborate gold filigree design sitting in the background. And when I pull the bottle out of the box, that lid to the bottle, which is shaped a bit like a gem, is almost the size of the bottle itself. Right? So all of these things, they’re not products of the natural world. They’re products of human decision-making. So this prompt, “Where there is choice there is meaning,” tells you that if somebody somewhere made a decision so that this thing could look like this, then that decision is meaningful, right? So in exactly the same way that there’s a difference between a consumer saying “Oh, I could murder a bag of chips right now” there’s a difference between that and “I can’t wait until next year when I go to the Ariana Grande concert that I bought tickets for.” There’s also a difference between this Versace pack, which is elaborately gilded, and heavily decorated, and is dressed up to look conventionally luxurious. There’s a huge difference between that and an alternative product that I have sitting here next to me, which is a Body Shop fragrance, which is perfect. Actually, I think it might be Lush. It’s a perfectly nice, respectable, fragrance. It’s a fraction of the price. It’s a dark brown liquid in a quite minimalist square bottle with a plastic top. The label is a kind of white thing, not quite stuck on, not quite square with some sort of slightly raised lines on it, and all in all, it wouldn’t be out of place if you filled it with perhaps printer ink or something like that. So the prompts then – where there is choice, there is meaning – those things are not casually different from each other. Every one of those decisions is different from a decision that another person made on another day for another brand. And by identifying those differences, you can then leverage them to get hold of some semiotic meanings. So Versace going over the top here with its ideas of traditional luxury and lush heading in a different direction, which says that you want perfume, which gets right to the point, and is unpretentious, and good value for money, and might look nice in your minimalist bathroom from which you’ve decluttered one of your unwanted possessions. 

Adrian Tennant: Using Semiotics In Retail also highlights the work you’ve been doing with Unilever, the consumer packaged goods company, which owns 400 brands around the world. I think for anyone involved in retail packaging design, you’ve provided a goldmine of practical information about what works and what to avoid across a number of categories. So to give listeners a sense of what you cover here, could you talk a bit about a brand that I think everyone’s familiar with, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: Yes, I’d love to do that. And, listeners, if you’re on your phone or near a computer, if you just want to quickly put Ben and Jerry’s into Google Images, so you can get a look at the packaging while I’m talking, that will really help a lot. So perhaps the most distinctive feature of Ben and Jerry’s is its typeface or in fact, two typefaces if you look really carefully. They were both designed by an award-winning designer called Lyn Severance. And the two typefaces here are called Severance and Chunk Style. Now, these were new. They are custom made for Ben and Jerry’s, they haven’t appeared anywhere else. And yet your consumer is going to ask, “Where have I seen this before?” And the answer to “Where have I seen this before?” is another typeface, which is not proprietary, which everybody has seen, which is called Cooper Black. Now Cooper Black has something in common with both of these two typefaces. They’re fat letters. They have serifs, but they’re quite thick and rounded. And so it has a sort of large, chunky appearance, which helpfully suggests large chunky inclusions in the ice cream, and with its fat, rounded, mostly lower case letters, it’s the type of thing that people have used to seeing in children’s books. So that helps to convey an impression of the brand as being sort of innocent, if we want to say that, or certainly lighthearted. But also both of these typefaces resemble, to a large extent, Cooper Black. Why is Cooper Black important? Well, it was designed in 1922, but that’s not what people remember about it. Cooper Black was encountered, for most consumers, in the context of the kind of youth culture of the Sixties and Seventies. So we’re talking the Swinging Sixties, the Saucy Seventies. Tune in, turn on, dropout, hippies, rebellion, flared trousers, massive beards, all that type of stuff. So Cooper Black is a typeface that was huge during those two decades. And it appeared on the albums of people like David Bowie and the Beach Boys, and it was used by the Tate Museum to promote an Andy Warhol exhibition and all this type of stuff. So Cooper Black became very firmly welded to ideas of youthful rebellion and Pop Art. And it has never lost that connection, even though younger consumers today are not old enough to have any memory of what the Sixties and Seventies were like. Nonetheless, their semiotic connotations have persisted as Ben and Jerry’s does – and we’re just talking about the typeface here. There’s so much more I could say, but won’t about that. There are aspects of the packaging design and also about things like the way that Ben and Jerry themselves are depicted in marketing communications, which supports all of this stuff that I’m saying. But overall, when we look at the typeface, we can see that on the one hand, it’s new and proprietary. Ben and Jerry’s owns it. And on the other hand, it’s close enough to Cooper Black that it’s able to activate all these ideas in the mind of the shopper, you know, to do with being a bit of a hippie and it all feels a little bit San Francisco and a little bit rebellious and a little bit, anti-establishment and those are all good things to attach to ice cream, which is a very celebratory product.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Rachel, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about your consulting and training services or your upcoming speaking events, where can they find you?

Dr. Rachel Lawes: LinkedIn is a great place to find me. So my last name is Lawes, my first name is Rachel. I’m on LinkedIn regularly. And, there are announcements there. You could also look at my website, or I’m also on Instagram if you want a quick hit where I’ll often make announcements about events and stuff like that..

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like to obtain a copy of Rachel’s latest book, Using Semiotics In Retail, as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you’ll receive a 20% discount when you purchase online at Just enter the promo code, BIGEYE20 at the checkout. Rachel, thank you very much indeed for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Dr. Rachel Lawes: Thanks very much for having me, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Dr. Rachel Lawes, commercial semiologist, and the author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club selection, Using Semiotics In Retail. As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at under “insights” just select “podcast.” And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts, submit a review, or tell a friend about IN CLEAR FOCUS. It really helps us out. Thank you for listening. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

David Courtier-Dutton, the CEO of SoundOut, joins us to discuss the art and science that lies behind some of the most effective sonic logos in the US today. David explains how consistently using brand music creates a Pavlovian trigger: when people hear it, even in isolation, a flood of emotions that they associate with the brand is immediately triggered in the brain. We also learn how marketers can ensure that a sonic logo maps precisely to a brand’s archetypes and values.

Episode Transcript

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

David Courtier-Dutton: A sonic logo is either a musical or a voice asset that is designed from day one to be a distinctive brand asset. The ultimate goal is to create what we call a Pavlovian trigger or a signpost to the brand itself.

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 at Bigeye. Thank you for joining us. Discussions about brands’ distinctive assets typically focus on visual and copy elements. The name, logo, colors, shapes, typography, and tagline. The idea of Lovemarks, publicized in a 2004 book of the same name written by Kevin Roberts, former CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi, describes how consumers who feel emotionally connected to brands are more likely to be loyalists. Understanding emotions and how they affect consumer behavior are, of course, topics of enduring interest to all marketers. One of the ways that emotions can be induced is through music. Over the past decade, there’s been a growing awareness of the role that music and audio-based assets can play in branding, especially for global brands, who can develop sonic identities that work across different geographies and media channels. Research undertaken by the international audio branding agency, PHMG found that two-thirds of consumers it surveyed believe music used in marketing is more memorable than visuals – and 60% say music helps them forge a stronger emotional connection with a brand. Today, in addition to TV and radio spots, audio is being custom-designed for apps, electronic devices, domestic appliances, and even vehicles. Instead of traditional engine sounds, BMW’s all-electric i4 plays an interactive soundscape composed by Hans Zimmer, piped into the cabin through 24 speakers for a symphonic experience. Our guest today is a pioneer in identifying the emotional impact and marketing effectiveness of audio brand elements. David Courtier-Dutton is the founder and CEO of SoundOut, the world leader in sonic branding research. Trusted by many leading brands, including Ebay, DHL, Toyota, TikTok, GSK, and branding agencies worldwide, David says that the most important benchmark for a successful music strategy is the brand itself. To talk about how SoundOut matches a brand’s personality and attributes to music and how marketing teams can select music that not only triggers the right consumer response to a campaign but also stays true to a brand’s identity, David is joining us today from his office in Reading, England. David, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

David Courtier-Dutton: Thank you, Adrian. Great to be here.

Adrian Tennant: David, could you tell us a bit more about your company, SoundOut?

David Courtier-Dutton: Yeah, certainly. So I founded SoundOut 15 years ago now, really as a music testing company, and we spent the first 10 years or so doing just that. So testing music, principally for record labels and radio groups, and mainly in the US market. So we became the market leader in traditional music testing with online panels. We built up our own panel over those 10 years, to three-and-a-half million consumers, of whom about 2 million were in the US market and we had a wonderful run in the US. And then, of course, Spotify came along and the music streamers and the data exhaust from them actually provided a far larger and more compelling data set for record labels to actually test music and work out what was working, using proxy markets, et cetera. So we then expanded into other areas, one of which was branding. So we started working with some brand consultants and learned a lot about branding. And then we bumped into music psychology specifically with Goldsmiths University, and suddenly realized that we had all the elements to actually move into sonic branding. And so for the last two and a half years, really, that’s where our focus has been in the sonic branding market.

Adrian Tennant: So, David, what led you to the world of sonic branding?

David Courtier-Dutton: It was almost accidental in that we were introduced by a very smart guy called Professor Daniel Müllensiefen, who at the time was working as scientist and resident at adam&eveDDB, which is a large agency here in the UK. He’s also head of the Music, Mind, and Brain Master’s course at Goldsmiths University. He’s a very well-respected music psychologist, worldwide, and talking to him, we realized that between us, we had the recipe for a really powerful personality matching tool, whereby we could get a brand to define that personality, measure music, and actually measure the match between the music and the brand. So we started working with Daniel and then some of his master’s students. And then we had interns from his course, and then we hired some of his students and created this wonderful tool called Brand Match, that matches a personality of music to the personality of a brand. And we excitedly ran off and met some sonic branding agencies about four years ago and showed them the tool and they were all amazed and then nothing happened, the market wasn’t ready for it. Sonic branding at that point was far more creative and subjective. And so we put it on a shelf and then about, three years ago, Daniel got involved in a project with a major supermarket group and pulled us in to do some research with him. And that was the first sonic branding project we did And then over the next year, we did three or four more projects, first with Daniel and then, having met sonic branding agencies, with them. And that has just snowballed to the point at which now we’re probably doing, three or four projects a month. It just continues to accelerate.

Adrian Tennant: That’s excellent. Well, your company published the SoundOut Effectiveness Index in June of 2021, which offers readers a deep dive into what makes a sonic identity effective for consumers and ranks sonic logos in the US and the UK. So David, could you first define what you consider a sonic logo to be, and perhaps what it’s not?

David Courtier-Dutton: Yes, certainly. There’s often a lot of confusion around this. And still when I talk to people about sonic logos, even in the advertising and branding world, you know, they don’t actually really understand it. So I end up having to sing – and I can’t sing! So I sort of sing the Netflix “ta-dum” and they kind of get it then, or the McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it.” But really, a sonic logo is either a musical or a voice asset that is designed from day one to be a distinctive brand asset. So it’s not a soundtrack to an advert or whatever. It is something that the brand decides alongside the visual logo, they want a distinctive brand asset that is an audio asset, and it is typically designed and made to last for a minimum of three, five years. So it’s a long-term brand investment rather than a marketing investment. And it should effectively be added to all audio interactions with consumers. So you might still have your big commercial there with a different soundtrack, but then it should be pumped at the end, or sometimes it’s watermarked through the middle or at the beginning. And the key to a sonic logo is – regardless of what it sounds like – the ultimate goal is to create what we call a Pavlovian trigger or a signpost to the brand itself. So what you’re always trying to achieve with a sonic logo is people hear it, even in isolation and immediately all the flood of emotions that they associate with the brand are triggered in the brain. But you have to create that association. So it’s absolutely a strategic rather than a tactical brand asset. People don’t necessarily understand that at the beginning of the process, but they do by the end. And it is to be used in conjunction with other music, other sounds all the way through a brand’s lifestyle. So you leave that to the marketing department, they work on the music and the sounds that go with the commercials to help do the storytelling. But the sonic logo is always hammered in place at the end or at the beginning to create that brand reinforcement.

Adrian Tennant: You mentioned that if it’s considered a brand asset, it probably belongs to a different budget than a marketing or advertising campaign. Is that fair?

David Courtier-Dutton: Yeah, absolutely. So we hear again and again that in terms of investment in brand and marketing, you know, whether it’s 60% branding, 40% marketing, 50/50, 60/40, it doesn’t really matter what it is, but it absolutely lives in the brand investment department, not the marketing investment.

Adrian Tennant: For the SoundOut Index, you ranked US and UK brands’ sonic logos on a matrix for effectiveness, which you defined as their intrinsic quality excluding any brand association. Can you explain the research methodology you employed to arrive at the results published in the index?

David Courtier-Dutton: Sure. So, first of all, we did the data collection process. So we tested 150 logos across the US and the UK market, with all consumers – so it was 150 logos, 200 consumers per logo, so 30,000 consumers in total, and we tested those logos for things like appeal and recall propensity to buy, personality matching using Brand Match, and then from that data, because we’ve mapped the emotional DNA of music using half a million consumers the year before, we could reconstruct the ratings against over 212 different brand attributes from that data set. And then we segmented the results between people who were aware of the brand association and those who had no awareness of a brand association. So we were actually measuring the intrinsic qualities of the logo with those who weren’t aware of the brand association, and then also measuring ratings where people almost make that brand connection and therefore were polluted in a way by the personality and the identity and the appeal of the brand as well. We then went through a whole load of data science and analytics to actually work out what was driving propensity to buy and what was driving the ability for consumers to better recall the logos and identify what factors, whether it was the melodic nature of it, whether it was particular attributes that drove those logos far more strongly as a brand-building asset or far more strongly as a marketing asset.

Adrian Tennant: What does effective mean in the context of sonic branding for the report?

David Courtier-Dutton: There is a lot of confusion around this, but actually I think it’s really simple. If you accept the fact that the sonic logo’s core goal in life is to trigger the brand association as a distinctive brand asset, effectiveness actually should be 99% defined as how well it does that. Not how well has it done it, but how well intrinsically it is at driving that. Because we start with appeal. People have to like it. If they like it, then it is easier to recall. So recall is a fundamental tenet of effectiveness. If you can’t recall something, you can’t recognize it. It’s just simple logic. If you can’t recognize it, then you can’t attribute it to the brand. So recall, this is really the foundation of her effectiveness. And if you produce something that people find really easy to remember, then that will accelerate your route up to brand attribution and we know there was a very strong correlation between appeal and recall as well. So people really have to like it. Appeal also drives propensity to buy as well. The more you like it, the more likely you are to attribute value to the brand and end up buying it. But, in terms of effectiveness, how quickly, when that goes into the market with a million dollars of marketing budget behind it, will it find brand attribution with a meaningful percentage of consumers.

Adrian Tennant: So let’s talk about the top-performing sonic logos for US-based brands. David, which brands performed best overall?

David Courtier-Dutton: Ah, so again, a simple question, but a complicated answer! So how do you rank the best performing sonic logos? Is it the one that most people recognize? I mean, there’s an argument to say that yep, the best logos are the ones that have achieved mass-market adoption by consumers. Or is it the logo that intrinsically, even though it’s only been released last week, is actually the best sonic logo? So I mean, you can look at the best brand attribution in the US market. The three top ones are Arby’s, Goldfish, and Auto Zone. In terms of the best personality match – so this is just looking at people who aren’t aware of the personality, so this is the intrinsic quality – Colgate is fantastically close in terms of personality match, Pandora, fantastic personality match, Duracell as well. So not ones you would imagine, but in terms of how they’ve been created to resonate with the personality of the brand at the best. Ones that people love most, I mean, some people just want the logo to be popular and everyone to adore it, and that adoration will reflect on the brand. You know, with Goldfish, Farmers, and Netflix, people love the Netflix logo because they love the company, they love the service. And that reflects on the logo. Propensity to buy? Red Robin, Chili’s and again, Netflix. So they’re best at driving purchasing that’s more to do with the intrinsic attributes of those logos. But then overall, if you average all of those four, give them all equal weighting. The top three are Arby’s, Goldfish, and Farmers. And although Netflix does well across most of them, and one would always think of Netflix potentially being the number one spot, the reality is the Netflix site logo is a million miles away from the Netflix personality. If you think of the “Ta-dum”, it’s quite scary, it’s quite downbeat. Whereas Netflix is fun and exciting. And so Netflix is really just held back by a very poor personality match. 

Adrian Tennant: That’s fascinating. Interesting as well that quite a few of those were fast food or QSR brands. Was that surprising to you?

David Courtier-Dutton: No. I mean, another finding of research is that companies in some sectors are far more successful with their sonic logos than others. And the reason for that is that when you hear a sound, it is situational. So if you are buying insurance or looking at an insurance ad, it’s not really exciting, you’re not massively engaged, it’s all quite dull, however exciting they’re trying to make it feel. And the sonic logo, when you’re not in a heightened state of emotional expectation or enjoyment, the logo itself will not be associated with a mood or feeling that actually is conducive to you remembering it really well. Whereas if you’re at the end of the day, you’ve got a beer in your hand, and you click that Netflix button, you’re in a wonderful open “I’m about to enjoy myself.” And then you hear that “Ta-dum” and you go, “Yes! Here it comes!” But in terms of fast food, again, fast food is serving a basic human need, eating, when you hear McDonald’s , you imagine you’re satiating yourself with a lovely burger or whatever it might be. So we find that finance brands, insurance brands really struggle to make a big impact, however good intrinsically their sonic logo is, they do find it hard to cut through because they’re just not well placed as an industry to do that. Whereas, if you look at streaming services, fast food, retailers, all of those have far higher success rates and also the advertising is normally far more so blanket advertising. They do have a far bigger advertising budget and therefore they have the ability to get their logo out there more often, more frequently with consumers. And that helps as well.

Adrian Tennant: So it’s about fame, one of those important brand attributes from the Ehrenberg-Bass school of thought, correct?

David Courtier-Dutton: It is. I think it’s exactly that. Yes, fame becomes a self-serving virtuous circle in a way.

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

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 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 Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time. 

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 research. Our featured book for March is Using Semiotics in Retail: Leverage consumer insight to engage shoppers and boost sales by Rachel Lawes. 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 ebook offer. To order your copy of Using Semiotics in Retail, go to – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with David Courtier-Dutton, founder and CEO of SoundOut about the many dimensions of sonic branding and testing. Well, in consumer research, we typically cross-tabulate quantitative survey data by ethnicity or racial identity, age or generation, gender identity, and region. In your studies, do you see significant variations in consumer response based on these kinds of demographic variables?

David Courtier-Dutton: The short answer is no. And I think we have to unpack it a bit because if you think of sonic logos, you don’t typically get hip hop rap sonic logos and bubblegum pop sonic logos. They all essentially are fairly similar in terms of their style. So if you remove the sort of genre element of sonic logos, we find that music used in the context of brands in terms of sonic identities is really, it’s a universal language, and so if you take away brand association that could introduce bias, brand music is without prejudice. It doesn’t discriminate. And we saw, we cut the data every which way, by sector, by ethnicity, by age, by income, by job, by everything. And in terms of the emotional response, it is the same across the board. And we find that in all our studies all over the world. It does differ by territory, so that we get very different responses for instance, in Southeast Asia than we do in South America. But Europe’s all pretty similar. So you have to remember that sound, you know, it works through an interface that is unique: the ear. And the ear is directly connected to emotion. And so when we’re measuring responses, we’re actually just measuring that instinctive human, emotional response, rather than anything that is impacted by gender or ethnicity or whatever. It acts the same on everyone in the same way.

Adrian Tennant: One of the areas of your research that I think a lot of listeners will find really interesting is your analysis of how musical qualities such as timbre, melody, register, and duration can impact the effectiveness of sonic logos. Could you explain a little about what you’re finding?

David Courtier-Dutton: Yeah. So we haven’t dug deep into all of those yet although we’re currently doing some more work with Goldsmiths on timbre and instrumentation at the moment, but at the high level and using our research with the 150 logos we’ve tested, it’s quite easy to see some patterns in the data. So number one, melodic sonic logos trump non-melodic every time, and although we don’t know why that is, I would suggest that it’s because it’s far easier to like a melodic logo than a non-melodic logo. And we know from our research that if people like it, they can land the brand attributes. It’s easy to remember. So melodic works really well. That said, you can have, obviously back to Netflix, you can have a successful non-melodic logo. Doesn’t mean to say it won’t work just means you’re going to have to spend a lot more on marketing and advertising to fuse that brand logo connection. The other, this is almost up there with “if you put your name in the sonic logo, people will remember it more closely”, of course, but the longer a logo is, the more effective it is as well. So if you have a sonic logo that’s 10 seconds long, it gives people more time to actually feel the emotions and connect with it, and so the longer logos are generally more effective. That said, on a practical level, I don’t think I can’t think of anyone who has a 10 second sonic logo. It’s turning into a sonic anthem at that point. You don’t have 10 seconds in a commercial or whatever to play a sign-off sonic logo, so it is constricted by the realities of marketing, but the rule is, the longer it is, the more chance it is that it will be effective.

Adrian Tennant: We focused on effectiveness for this discussion, but we know that personality is a really important consideration in branding. What does your research reveal about the role of sonic logos in developing or supporting a brand’s personality?

David Courtier-Dutton: You’re absolutely right. Personality is fundamental in branding generally, leave aside sonic branding. I mean, we all know that consistency is a key rule of branding, so consistent brand assets – whether that’s your logo, your tone of voice, your font color – the same is absolutely true for a sonic logo. And the reason is, is because consistency breeds authenticity, authenticity leads to trust in the brand, and an increase of trust in the brand leads to increased brand equity. So it has to be consistent on a personality level. And music doesn’t contain colors or anything. It purely communicates emotion. And so the emotion that you were communicating with your sonic identity, sonic brand, and the personality of the brand must be closely aligned to actually deliver true brand value and to make your sonic logo capable of rapidly being linked to the brand itself. The other thing we’ve found in the research is that the closer you start with your sonic logo, the closer that is to your brand personality on day one, the more rapidly it will actually gain brand attribution. And also the higher the ultimate personality match you will achieve with the brand itself. So on every single project we run with every brand in the world, personality is a large part of that study because they get it. It’s rule 1.1 of branding, really, consistency.

Adrian Tennant: Well, one framework that many marketers and creatives use in brand development is the 12 brand archetypes based on psychologist Carl Jung’s work on personality. Brand archetypes have proven enduring because assets can be designed in ways that are relatable as personality traits that we as humans recognize, either consciously or maybe subconsciously. David, I know you’ve done some work with Massive Music that leverages your research resulting in the world’s first data-driven sonic branding tool. Could you tell us more about that?

David Courtier-Dutton: Data that we collected to create the tool was really quite massive. We involved half a million consumers around the world, and we tested hundreds and hundreds of musical assets, sonic logos, sonic anthems, mainstream tracks, and got consumers to rate each one against 212 different brand attributes. So we ran each track through about 20 times and we asked them to rank against the ten attributes each time. What we then were able to do – using data science – was map the correlations between every attribute and every other attribute. So happy and cheerful always rated up and down in tandem, happy and sad in opposite directions, but then there’s happy and sophisticated and sad and trustworthy and all this. So we ended up with about 40,000 different correlations, and then, from that, we were able to collapse all of those down into a limited number of attributes that mapping back could capture the personality of a brand. So what we have in Brand Match, which is what the tool is called, is effectively an archetype tool, but it enables you to define literally an unlimited number of archetypes because we mapped the entire emotional DNA of music. So, regardless of the personality, we can do that very precisely. That’s great. Works really well when we’re working with brands to actually get them to define their personality and then measure the music against that. But for many brands, particularly FMCG and others, they’re already wedded to their own archetype systems. So whether that’s Jungian, whether it’s NeedScope, whether it’s Ditko, whether it’s Razzers in India, and it’s really useful for us to speak their language. So we’ve used brand experts in doing this. We’ve given them our list of 212 different attributes. And we said, “Just pick three or four of those attributes for each of your, in this case, Jungian personality traits, whether you are the Explorer or the Caregiver, now, which of the three or four attributes within our attributes that you think absolutely belong in that particular segment?” They do that and then, because we know all the correlations between all the other 212, we can automatically – using statistics, data science – map every single attribute to one or more of the brand archetypes and weight them accordingly. So, because we’ve done that for several different archetype frameworks so far, what it means is we can give them all the results, using our technology and Brand Match, but then be able to map them very precisely to their framework, whether it’s Jungian, NeedScope, whatever. So it’s essentially just an extension of what we’re already doing. Then I think that more as a sort of dumbing down, but it’s actually, a way to speak their language and say, “Your new sonic logo is absolutely an Explorer primary archetype with a secondary Magician, or whatever it may be. And this is what we worked with Massive Music to enable them to actually use this with clients and they use it very effectively in every project they do now, this ability to map to any archetype framework has worked really well in a number of projects, and I think will do, going forward.

Adrian Tennant: How does an agency typically interface with Brand Match?

David Courtier-Dutton: In terms of how they work with us, what they normally do is they plot us in as their research partners, especially sonic branding partner. And then we typically then have 45 minutes to an hour directly with the client and we talk them through it and we explain the methodology behind it. And then, when we’re actually running the project, we send them an online link for them to define their brand using 14 Brand Match attributes, that map back to the 212, and that then becomes the benchmark for them. And that’s what we measure all the music we test against. When we test the music, we test the music against the same 14 attributes, and then it goes through all the number crunching, and then we can calculate the match to the brand personality itself. But, yeah, as you say, a lot of brands do like archetypes. 

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. We started this conversation by identifying sonic logos as important assets that can help differentiate brands from the competition. But you’ve written that, based on your research in audio branding, while distinctiveness does increase the propensity to purchase on a standalone basis, it’s not an attribute that represents a meaningful impact, positive or negative on driving recall. Can you unpack this for us?

David Courtier-Dutton: Yeah. So this, this was I suppose controversial is too strong a word because I didn’t think it is that controversial, but it was unexpected and it’s something that flies in the face of common thinking in branding that you have to be distinctive for distinctiveness sake. Otherwise, you can’t stand out. How can you possibly stand out if you’re not distinctive? But sonic branding is different in that, as I was explaining earlier, the ultimate goal is to get brand salience: to hear the logo and be able to name the brand. To get really strong recall – which as we said, is that it’s the first step on the ladder – there are key attributes that drive strong recall and these attributes things like catchy, happy, positive, uncomplicated bundle all of those into a signage logo. It’s really easy to remember, but the attributes that are most closely correlated with distinctiveness are very different. So if you want a distinctive sonic logo, you want to make it courageous, determined, cool, daring. And they are very far away from catchy, happy, positive, and uncomplicated. In fact, they’re almost diametrically posed in that, so the attributes that drive distinctiveness actually act against those that drive recall. So if you create a really distinctive logo, it’s very unlikely to deliver what you need to deliver strong recall, but the attributes that drive distinctiveness are actually quite well correlated by those that drive propensity to buy. So I think what we’re saying is that, on a marketing level – yes, you want distinctive audio assets. But on a branding level, actually, distinctiveness – it’s not negatively correlated, it just has no positive value. 

Adrian Tennant: David, what’s one finding from your research so far that seems counterintuitive, or upsets accepted wisdom as it relates to brand development and strategy?

David Courtier-Dutton: So I think distinctiveness is the biggie. But I think when we look at the results of people that were familiar with the brand association, people who are not familiar with the brand association, we see that the perceived personality of the sonic logo is often radically different between those who make the brand connection and those who don’t. So the personality of the sonic logo is ultimately consumed by the personality of the brand. And I’m going to say Netflix again, because when you ask people to define the personality of the sonic logo of Netflix, where they’re familiar with the Netflix brand association, which about 80% of people are, you got a very different personality than you do if you ask people who aren’t aware of the Netflix brand association, I mean dramatically different. So the purpose of the sonic logo is to create that Pavlovian trigger, and so you shouldn’t get too hung up about whether or not the personality of the sonic logo or the sonic logo itself is going to be in three years. If you do your job right, the sonic logo will become the brand. Just like when you look at the Apple visual logo you don’t look at it and go, “Oh, there’s a juicy apple.” You just think, “Global technology company.” The logo itself is sucked dry of its own personality and becomes that trigger. And so people need to focus on the end goal, which is that we want to create this Pavlovian trigger, rather than completely obsess about whether they like the logo or all the different aspects of the logo. And I think that is lost in a lot of sonic branding work at the moment. People get obsessed with today and how people will feel about it tomorrow – when in fact, they should be obsessing about how quickly is this going to achieve brand salience, and what can we do with it to get to brand salience quicker at less cost? 

Adrian Tennant: Great advice. David, if listeners would like to learn more about SoundOut, explore Brand Match, or connect with you, where can they find you?

David Courtier-Dutton: We are at and a lot of our clients come in through our contact form on the website, funnily enough. It’s a pleasant surprise when they do, but we monitor it closely, and you always get a response from the appropriate person. So, yeah. Do get in touch.

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

David Courtier-Dutton: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, David Courtier-Dutton, CEO of SoundOut. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at 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.

Branding Consumer Insights Creative & Production Podcast

In 2020, Black Americans’ buying power totaled $1.6 trillion or 9 percent of the nation’s total – despite being 13 percent of the population. These consumers are willing to shift around 30 percent of their current spending to companies that better address their needs. Inclusive marketing expert Sonia Thompson returns to the podcast for a lively conversation about Black History Month and offers practical advice for brands seeking to develop authentic, truly inclusive marketing.

Episode Transcript

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

Sonia Thompson: Representation matters. But representation isn’t only about the photography or the talent that you’re using. It permeates through every part of your organization and that includes where your brand spends money.

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 at Bigeye. Thank you for joining us. February was Black History Month and so in today’s episode, we’re going to examine marketing through the lens of Black American consumers. According to the University of Georgia, in 2020, Black buying power totaled $1.6 trillion or 9% of the nation’s total buying power, which was up from $1.3 trillion in 2018. A report from McKinsey and Company found that Black households accounted for just under 10% of the total spending on goods and services in 2019, despite being 13.4% of the population. Their analysis suggests that Black consumer spending power is somewhere in the region of $260 billion, but consumers are willing to shift around 30% of their current spending to companies that better address their needs. The research also indicated that Black consumers will pay up to 1.2 times more for those products, an estimated 25 to $40 billion in net new spending. More than half of Black adults in the US, 53%, say they’ve started or stopped using a brand because of its response to racism or racial injustice compared with just 42% of the total population, according to a 2021 survey by Edelman. To discuss these and other data points and their implications for marketers, making her second appearance on IN CLEAR FOCUS, our guest this week is Sonia Thompson, an expert in inclusive marketing, a customer experience strategist, and a consultant with international experience. As CEO of Thompson Media Group, Sonia helps brands deliver inclusive and remarkable experiences that win customers. Previously, Sonia spent almost a decade as a marketer with Johnson and Johnson, growing billion-dollar brands around the world. Sonia is also a regular contributor to Forbes and Inc. Today, Sonia is joining us from her office in Wesley Chapel, Florida. Sonia, welcome back to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Sonia Thompson: Thank you so much for having me. It’s my pleasure. It’s an honor to be asked to come back.

Adrian Tennant: Well, for anyone that didn’t listen to our conversation last year, what’s your definition of inclusive marketing?

Sonia Thompson: So inclusive marketing is all about acknowledging all the many ways in which people are different. And then intentionally choosing which of those differences you are going to serve as a brand, and then incorporating the ones that you’ve selected throughout all parts of your marketing mix.

Adrian Tennant: Today, you’re a recognized expert in inclusive marketing. So Sonia, what led you to focus on this particular area?

Sonia Thompson: I would say it came a lot from frustration. I’m somebody with a lot of differences. So I’m a marketer, that’s been my background, my experience for my entire career. I focus a lot on customer experience, but as I started talking more about my frustrations, and maybe if you’re a marketer, I feel like you’re always viewing the world through the lens of a marketer. I just kept running into challenges where I felt like brands struggled whenever trying to figure out how to engage people who had quote, unquote differences that made them not so cleanly fit into what was considered mainstream. So I’m a Black woman. I follow a gluten-free diet. I saw things, especially change whenever I started gluten-free, because I just realized how many brands struggled to cater to that. I lived outside the US for a little while. I’m left-handed, so that, you know, my adjustments started early on with scissors back in school. So the more I started talking about that and just exploring it within my columns – and, I went to a bootcamp that was all about public speaking to help prepare me and give me assets to get on the stage. And I did a talk on inclusive marketing and I started to see the responses that people were having to it. I started to receive the responses that people were having to my articles because people talk about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Very few people talk about it from a marketing standpoint. So thinking about things from an inclusivity standpoint, because even whatever people are talking about, diversity and marketing or multicultural marketing, they’re focusing it more so on ethnicity and race rather than all the different types of dimensions of diversity that exist. So if we think about that, that’s where we get the definition of inclusive marketing, because it’s not just multicultural or ethnic marketing, it’s thinking more broadly about all the ways that we’re different. So I got started in it because there was hunger in the market. People were latching onto the information because there wasn’t a ton out there. There’s a little bit more now than there was previously. But, yeah, I just started leaning in heavily where people were clamoring for information.

Adrian Tennant: Yesterday was the last day of Black History Month. Which brands do you think do a really good job of engaging with Black American consumers?

Sonia Thompson: I think Target consistently does a good job. Every year, I have people sending me photos of their Black History Month display, that they generally start showcasing in January. Because people are excited about it. And that’s the cool thing about celebrations that you’re doing for Black History Month or any other cultural group, or, just a specific group of people who are underrepresented and underserved. Anytime they see something that you’ve done to celebrate and honor them, and they’re excited about it, I generally feel like that’s a good sign that you’ve done a good job. How did Target get to the point where they were able to consistently deliver good experiences for Black History Month? One: they spend a lot of time getting to know their customer. They co-create with their internal teams. They have employee resource groups. They work a lot with their employee resource group for Black people and they help them curate the different merchandise that they’re going to be using, they help them find Black-owned suppliers that they’re going to be featuring. So because they spend so much time connecting with the community that they’re looking to serve and partnering with them, and co-creating with them, they’re generally able to deliver experiences and celebrations that make people feel seen.

Adrian Tennant: Sonia, what are some of the most common misconceptions you find marketers and brand managers have about the Black community?

Sonia Thompson: This is a pet peeve of mine: whenever people assume that the Black community doesn’t have any money – so whenever they feel like they want to reach out and engage the community, sometimes the default is what types of programs do we need to do to offer some type of financial assistance or scholarships or other types of things that have an economic solution to them. There are groups of the population that may struggle economically, but that exists with all groups, all racial and cultural, ethnic groups, across the US. And I think that while there are systemic challenges that have impacted the Black community in particular, that hasn’t allowed us consistently, collectively to advance in as many areas, the assumption shouldn’t be that we’re all poor and economically starved. I remember I was having a conversation with some girlfriends and there was something that came out that had kind of had that air of it. And she was, “Am I poor?” Right? Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but we just don’t think of ourselves in that way. That’s not our lived experience. And it feels insulting that’s what people immediately equate with people who are from this community.

Adrian Tennant: Last time we spoke, you shared some of the ways that you typically help brands get to know customer groups with whom they may have no connection in terms of their cultural identity or ethnicity. Sonia, what have been some of your most interesting projects in the past year?

Sonia Thompson: I worked with two healthcare brands and did something similar where I helped them develop a deeper degree of customer intimacy for the people that they served and that included doing some in-depth interviews, one-on-one interviews where I was the moderator. And that was significant because in the process of seeing me, and someone who looked like them, we were able to develop a very clear rapport very quickly, which allowed me to dig in deep on some of the topics that we were exploring. And they shared things with me that they probably wouldn’t have shared with somebody else who didn’t look like them. So that was interesting in particular because we explored the role race played in their decision-making and their perceptions and how they felt they were treated. And ultimately that was going to impact their experience with the brand later on. Now we’re exploring the role of race, not just with the brand, but just overall within healthcare, but knowing what role race played, and exploring what role it did play gave the team a deeper degree of customer intimacy and cultural intelligence that would allow them to better tailor their programming and their support for this community because they had a much deeper understanding of who they were. So that was one thing. And another project that is newer, that I’m excited about, is I’m helping another client also in the world of healthcare –  I do work with companies outside of healthcare, but because my background is in healthcare, I think sometimes that’s where people reach out – and we are helping them with their Spanish engagement strategy in particular, from a customer experience standpoint. So that includes helping them with their translations, of course, but beyond that, engaging Spanish speakers isn’t just about translating content that already exists. It’s about how can you develop a full-on experience with them in mind that makes them feel seen and they belong and that delivers a stellar customer experience that isn’t diminished because they speak or prefer a different language from English.

Adrian Tennant: In October of last year, Bigeye published the results of a national survey of shoppers aged 18 to 55 called Retail Disrupted: What Shoppers Want From Brands Today. Reflecting their experiences in physical stores, we asked respondents if they typically pay attention to visual signage and photographs of people modeling clothes or using products. Among respondents identifying as white or Caucasian, 79% said they sometimes, often, or always pay attention. But among Black consumers, 92% said they do so. We also asked about the models featured in store displays and photography. Among respondents identifying as white or Caucasian, 48% said they are noticing greater racial diversity more or a lot more often compared to before 2020. But among Black consumers, it’s a bit higher at 55%. Sonia, you and I talked about a bias towards lighter-skinned Black models in advertising last year. So I’m curious, are you seeing more beauty and skincare brands representing a wider range of skin tones and ethnicities and their marketing?

Sonia Thompson: A little bit, right? So there’s a Fenty effect that’s happening from a beauty standpoint, from makeup. Rihanna’s brand Fenty Beauty launched with 40 shades of foundation, they kind of rocked the industry because they were super inclusive and took into account people who had a broad variety of skin complexions all over the world. As a result, 40 shades of foundation became the gold standard. It became the barrier to entry for other makeup brands. So other makeup brands have started to showcase that they’ve got all these different shades and that has then translated into a broader degree of representation and showcasing models of those different shades. Outside of that, there are more high fashion brands and brands that tend to have more well-known models that have in the past had a range of colors. Victoria’s Secret is one that they generally tended to have a good range of skin tones and complexions with their models. There is still work to be done for more brands that aren’t high fashion, that aren’t specifically connected to makeup to do a better job with that representation, particularly of darker-skinned people. This happens because I think that people feel like when it comes to representation, if they’re putting a person of color that seems to be racially ambiguous, they feel like they’re, for lack of a better term, killing two birds with one stone, right? They’re feeling like they’re checking a couple of boxes or covering a broader base of people by having racially ambiguous people. However, because in many cases they don’t have the cultural intelligence to know that skin color and skin complexion has long been a topic of conversation, and one that causes a lot of dispute and communities, particularly communities of color, whereas Black and darker-skinned has often been viewed as less than those who have lighter skin. So the idea is that people think, and people feel that only showing racially ambiguous people of color is harmful. So more brands can lean more heavily into this of both men and women and showcase a broader range. But knowing that it’s not just about putting a Black person or a Brown person or a Person of Color, you definitely have to think about the layers and the dimensions of the skin colors and that representation isn’t just about an ethnic group. There are a number of other factors that are important to consider like skin color and complexion. When Amazon Alexa did a commercial last year for the Super Bowl and they had that dark-skinned woman with natural hair, I still love it. I still have a visceral reaction thinking about it and how much that meant for people, including me, to see someone like that featured in an ad.

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

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 Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

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 research. Our featured book for March is Using Semiotics in Retail: Leverage consumer insight to engage shoppers and boost sales by Rachel Lawes. 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 ebook offer. To order your copy of Using Semiotics in Retail, go to – that’s K O G A N P A G E dot com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Sonia Thompson, CEO of Thompson Media Group, an expert in inclusive marketing. A 2021 survey by McKinsey and Company found that more than 60% of Black Americans have experienced racial discrimination inside a retail store. So Sonia, could you explain what the phrase “shopping while Black” means?

Sonia Thompson: Yeah. There are a number of things that people say in the Black community that feels like a bit of a tax – that we don’t start from equal footing because we’re treated differently without people even knowing anything about you, aside from your skin color and they make negative assumptions about you. So sometimes that may mean being followed in the store. We saw that happened in a Nordstrom Rack a couple of years ago with some young kids. They were followed, police were called, things like that. There are other times when there are people who assume the worst. There was a situation with Arlo hotels, where there was a consumer who accused a 14-year-old child of stealing her phone and was allowed to accuse him, talk down to him and even try to attack him. There are times when the store does it or in the retail situation where they are keeping their eyes on people. They’re following them. They’re assuming that they don’t have the money. Sometimes it’s that. Other times it’s not even having the products that will meet the needs of Black consumers. I remember going into a makeup store when I was traveling and going into three stores. The first two stores didn’t have anything that matched my complexion. So finally, undeterred because I needed the makeup, I got to the third store and they had something. That’s another instance of it just not having the products that we need or that cater to our specific needs. And then one other is just how other people relate, besides the employees, sometimes it is the consumers who are there shopping and experiencing the same store or retail environment and they behave badly. They behave negatively because of their preconceived notions about Black people that have an impact on the way people are treated as well. So, it would be lovely if we were all treated the same and that these biases didn’t exist, but there is, unfortunately, a bit of operating while Black, right? Living while Black. Shopping while Black. There are additional hoops or additional burdens that exist. I read something yesterday about a couple who was in California and they went to get their house appraised and it appraised lower than the value than they thought it would. They were able to go to their bank and get another appraisal. This time they took down any photos of them, of their family, they moved any hair products that were in the home. They tried to strip it down so that no one could possibly know that there was a Black family living there. And the second appraisal, after them doing that, came out $500,000 more. So that’s an example of shopping while Black. That was in real estate, but it’s just, you see the impact of different things that exist, unfortunately, still.

Adrian Tennant: Also in 2021, the beauty retailer Sephora commissioned a study to examine the scope of racial bias in retail. A majority of BIPOC shoppers who participated in the study believed skin color and ethnicity were the primary lenses through which sales associates judged them. Studies like these suggest that racial bias is entrenched in the shopping experience. Sonia, it’s a big topic, but what are some of the key implications for retailers and marketers, do you think?

Sonia Thompson: Some of the implications here are that you cannot assume that these biases and disparities and how people are treated don’t exist. You won’t know if these disparities exist and to what extent, unless you start asking the question. So going back to the research that I had done with a few clients last year, where we were doing some voice of the customer, particularly with Black consumers and we asked race-based questions. So I think a lot of times brands will do research and they’ll try to learn, but they don’t necessarily ask race-based questions to understand: are there differences in the experiences that some people have versus others? So, from what you just mentioned, and some of these studies, and from what came out of the Sephora study, is that every industry needs to spend some time figuring out how people are feeling because the feedback doesn’t always come, right? We hear every now and then – we hear anecdotal things, we hear stories – but you don’t know what is actually happening until you go and specifically try to find out what’s going on. Not to say that you’re actively looking for it and you’re expecting to find it, but if you go and you find out that, “Hey, we’ve been performing really well across the board”. Wonderful. But if you go and you do the research and you find out that there are some disparities, then you know that you have the opportunity to evaluate how to begin to close those gaps. Also, it’s a reminder that brands are made up of people, and people, by the nature of people, are flawed, and everybody is on a different journey with regards to diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, systemic racism, anti-racism. Everybody is on their own path and their own journey. And just because a brand establishes existing values that support and uphold these principles doesn’t mean that everybody on the team automatically does. Sometimes they do it unconsciously. They’ve got unconscious biases that caused them to treat people differently and they don’t even know that they’re doing so. But it’s incumbent upon the organization, not to just say, “Hey, these are our values. We don’t tolerate discrimination. We don’t tolerate these things that cause people to be treated differently and in a negative way.” The organization needs to figure out how we can train people to make sure that they are on an ongoing basis, because one training doesn’t do it, right? How can we train and equip people on an ongoing basis, so that they are delivering a uniform experience to the customers that they’re serving so that they can give people what they need and identify? Old Navy last year introduced their BODEQUALITY initiative, which was all about size inclusivity. And they did a number of changes in their stores and online, collapsing plus size from regular size quote unquote and you know, merchandising all the sizes together. But they also were planning on implementing extensive training for their in-store employees, to then ensure that they’re delivering a remarkable experience for everybody, no matter what their size, because they identified that sometimes those experiences were different. So don’t just assume that people will get it right. Don’t just assume that people are all on board. Find a way to bring everybody along with you through very specific and intentional training and programs.

Adrian Tennant: Following the international protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the 15% Pledge started as an online campaign that asked large retailers to commit to allotting 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned brands. Now, it should be noted that Sephora was the first large retailer to sign onto the pledge. How do you think Black American consumers view retailers using their purchasing prowess and turning shopping into a form of activism?

Sonia Thompson: Positively, right! Representation matters. But representation isn’t only about the photography or the talent that you’re using. It permeates through every part of your organization and that includes where your brand spends money. So that can be with the talent that you hire. A wonderful sign or marker of how inclusive a brand is, is basically how representative their team is. It’s one thing to say, “Hey, we value the Black community or People of Color, or the LGBTQ+ community.” But if you don’t have any of the people from that community on your team, it doesn’t feel like you are as genuine about it, or you haven’t put your money where your mouth is, right? The same goes for supplier diversity. If you say you value diversity and you value other communities that are traditionally underrepresented and underserved, that isn’t just about reaching out to engaging people who can buy from you. It’s also about making sure that you are buying from people who are parts of these communities, you are investing in people who are parts of the communities, and you’re being very intentional about doing it. That is a sign of a company that is serious, and they are committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. So there’s always going to be a positive, not only because it showcases the commitment of the company, but it should help these brands serve their customers better. So in the case of Sephora, having this 15% Pledge and investing in making sure that 15% of their suppliers be from the Black community makes a lot of sense if the Black community is, you know, just under 15%, right? So, it allows them to better have products and services, and resources that meet the needs of the customer. So it’s a win-win-win all around. 

Adrian Tennant: Sonia, in practical terms, how can teams that design products or are responsible for crafting in-store experiences, ensure that they’re taking an inclusive approach?

Sonia Thompson: Bake inclusivity into the process from the very beginning. I think a lot of brands do what they’re going to do. They build their plans, they build their materials, they build their campaigns. And then the last 10% they start thinking about how they can make sure that it’s inclusive. It’s like they’re doing a check at the end and figuring out, “Okay, we might need to make some tweaks!” versus starting from the beginning of the process and baking inclusivity into it from the very beginning. For instance, my husband is from Argentina and he’s a new immigrant here to the US, and he still very much operates in Spanish. So whenever we moved, we had to get a new car. We had to get two new cars, of course. And so I have mine. He has his. His car operates – like, everything is in Spanish, right? The dashboard where you’ve got the radio, all the other controls and different things. The control panel, it’s all set up in Spanish. His cell phone whenever we got here, we had to get his cell phone. It’s all configured and set up in Spanish. Whenever we watch TV – if we’re watching Netflix, for instance, we watch it in English, but there are Spanish subtitles. These are all brands that didn’t think about inclusivity at the end, they baked it into their product development process. Each of them has done it in different degrees, but they thought about who are all the different types of people who have the problem that our brands solve. How might they be different? So how can we deliver products, services, and experiences that allows them to participate, that allows them to be successful, that allows them to solve the problem that we help them with, even with the differences that they have? And you have more leeway to figure out what are the right solutions to bring more people along when you plan for it at the beginning versus doing it at the end and figuring out how can you retrofit or even if you can retrofit it at the end.

Adrian Tennant: Sonia, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you, Thompson media group, and your articles, where can they find you?

Sonia Thompson: You can find me at There I’ve got articles if you want to get on the list, I share a lot of my articles from my columns there. I’ve got new podcasts, and coming very soon, new YouTube videos coming out on a variety of topics from inclusive marketing and building an inclusive brand.

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

Sonia Thompson: It’s been totally my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Sonia Thompson, CEO of Thompson Media Group. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under insights. 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.