Insights Real Estate

We found out everything you wanted to know about the makes The City Beautiful so great to live in from the people that call it home. Download our Orlando, Florida Research Report to review all of the details.

Orlando, FL: Fast Facts

Orlando is the 71st most-populous city in the US and the fifth-largest city (by area) in Florida after St. Petersburg. Located in Central Florida, Orlando is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Tampa in the west; two hours and a half south of Jacksonville; about four hours north of Miami; and about a four-and-a-half hour drive to Florida’s capital, Tallahassee, in the north.

Orlando is currently growing at a rate of 0.53% annually and its population has increased by 22% since the most recent census, which recorded a population of 238,300 in 2010. Orlando reached its highest population of 290,520 in 2021, making it one of the fastest-growing regions in the USA, and the second-largest growing metro in Florida. The metro saw an increase of 12.8% in population between 2010 and 2019 and nearly 215 people move to the Orlando area every day.

As of 2020, Orlando is considered to be #1 for best cities for tech work, and tech-sector jobs are expected to grow by 10% over the next five years. The Orlando metropolitan market experienced a 30% increase in net tech employment between 2010 and 2019. 

Residents of Orlando are known as Orlandoans and the city is also known as The City Beautiful and O-Town. “The City Beautiful” was adopted in 1908 after locals were tired of the old nickname, “The Phenomenal City.” The new slogan was chosen after a contest. Orlando is proud of its diverse multicultural community and that it attracts people from across the country and globe who want to seek opportunities and call Orlando home. Diversity and inclusion are vital parts of their way of life. The City has a long history of advancing policies and initiatives that embrace diversity and celebrate various cultures, including Equal Opportunity and The Hispanic Office for Local Assistance (HOLA).

Orlando is definitely diverse with activities, but even if you don’t want the tourist attractions, there are so many beautiful natural areas around Orlando that are hidden gems. My friends and I love going to paddleboard in Wekiwa or swim in Rock Springs during the summer.

Kassandra M.

Orlando Neighborhoods

Downtown Orlando is the historic core and central business district of Orlando. There are several distinct neighborhoods downtown; North Quarter to the north, Lake Eola Heights Historic District just north of Lake Eola, South Eola contains Lake Eola Park and continues to the east and south of Lake Eola, Thornton Park in the east, Parramore in the west, Lake Cherokee Historic District to the south, and the Central Business District between Colonial Drive and Lake Lucerne in the center. It is home to residential and commercial towers; local, state, and federal government offices; sports facilities; performing arts theaters; art galleries; retail; restaurants; nightclubs; and parks. It is also the location of numerous festivals, parades, concerts, political demonstrations, and other high-profile events.

Described by some as a small New England village with a European flavor, quaint shops, and exquisite restaurants, Winter Park is as beautiful as it is unique. Located just three miles north of Orlando in Orange County, the City of Winter Park is ten square miles with more than 30,000 residents. It is known for its old-world charm, elegant homes, quaint bricked streets, extensive tree canopy, first-class shopping and dining experiences, world-class museums, and highly-rated schools.

Just two miles north of downtown Orlando is Baldwin Park, one of the most unique neighborhoods in Central Florida. Its traditional, but modern in so many ways. It’s urban, but with all of the high standards families expect to find in a suburban community. It’s close to all of the businesses and entertainment that downtown Orlando has to offer, but you might never need to leave the neighborhood to work, shop, eat or play. Families, retirees, and young professionals have all made this neighborhood-friendly and city-smart community their home. 

Nestled southeast of the Orlando International Airport, Lake Nona features sprawling parks and a business hub for work and play opportunities. This upscale Orlando neighborhood got its start when the Central Florida GreenWay was built through the heart of the neighborhood. Lake Nona also has a great design for those who love staying active. There are numerous walkways, gardens, and playgrounds. They’re all great places to soak up the afternoon sunshine. Recently, Lake Nona has been trading its exclusive “golf” image for a more scientifically cutting-edge one. A Medical City, which includes the University of Central Florida’s medical school, a VA hospital, and a 500-acre science and technology office park can also be found here.

Embrace urban living in the quaint Orlando neighborhood of College Park. Situated just a few miles from downtown, residents know College Park for its mix of cottages and newer developments. It also boasts great outdoor recreation. Water enthusiasts have their choice of 280 acres of lakes. These include Lake Ivanhoe for wakeboarding and waterskiing with views of the skyline. There are also parks, walking trails, and a family-friendly vibe. For a cultural outing in College Park, try the Mennello Museum of American Art and Orlando Shakespeare Theater. You’ll find a wealth of restaurants from Caribbean to Parisian cuisine, such as Les Petit Pleasures. 

Newcomers looking for more diversity in their choice of Orlando neighborhoods can look to East Orlando. Popular with commuters and students, the neighborhood is home to the University of Central Florida. It lies just minutes from the Orlando International Airport. Shop the hubs at Waterford Lakes Town Center. Also, check out the area around Alafaya Trail. There, you’ll find a mix of big-box retailers and smaller brands. It’s also home to eclectic fare.

Charming, residential Thornton Park is known for its boho-chic clothing boutiques, organic juice bars, and stylish eateries, as well as its classic bungalow homes, shaded by large oak trees heavy with Spanish moss. At the neighborhood’s heart, lively Washington Street has a genteel European feel thanks to a decorative fountain and a number of wine bars and cafes with outdoor seating.

Doing Business in Orlando

The Orlando region offers major attractions but it’s also known for the University of Central Florida community, museums, and a modern, international airport.

Key Industries: Tourism and Hospitality, Entertainment, High Technology, Aviation and Aerospace, Biotechnology, and Manufacturing, Warehousing, and Distribution.

Major Employers: Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, Orange County Public Schools, State of Florida Government, Adventist Health System, Walmart, Orlando Regional Healthcare System, Federal Government, and Publix Supermarkets

Major Tech Companies with Offices in Orlando: Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, L3 Harris Technology, Harris Corp, GolfNow, Cubic Corp., Summit Broadband

Major Financial Services and Insurance Companies with Offices in Orlando: Lamco Advisory Services Inc., Resource Consulting Group Inc., Cramer & Rauchegger Inc., Security Financial Management Inc., Ruggie Wealth Management, Brown & Brown of Florida, Baldwin Risk Partners, Insurance Office of America Inc., FCCI Insurance Group, and Statefarm Insurance

A recent report found that the Orlando metro area is among the most affordable areas for entrepreneurs looking to launch startups. The report, which was compiled by Clever Real Estate, ranked Orlando as the fifth most affordable metro area in the U.S. for startups. To determine the rankings, the report evaluated the nation’s top 50 metro areas on different criteria including cost of living, the density of new businesses, and investment in new businesses.

A golf entertainment business that’s partnered with world-famous athlete Tiger Woods is headed to Orlando. PopStroke plans to open its first City Beautiful location at the Waterford Lakes Town Center. Orlando Business Journal first reported in December 2019 that PopStroke was looking to open up to three locations in Central Florida. PopStroke will feature a restaurant and dedicated events space.

Cost of Living in Orlando

Orlando falls just above average on most expenses when compared to national medians. Healthcare is the only major factor that comes in ​at a lower cost than the national average and is even lower than the state median. Transportation, unfortunately, comes in higher than the national median for both the city and state.

For prospective homeowners, the median home in Orlando is about $14,000 above the national median, coming in just over $245,000. This, paired with the average costs of living and easy access to all of the amenities and entertainment venues, makes Orlando an appealing city to call home.

Florida continues to be a relatively low tax state, with extremely low per capita state taxation but considerably higher local taxes; however, its combined state and local rankings are rising. 

Orlando Apartment Living

At the onset of 2021, the median Orlando home price was $285,000 and the median Orlando monthly rent was $1,649 per month. Although this price point puts them above the national median, affordable housing is not in short supply in Orlando. 

The Orlando real estate market has been growing rapidly in recent years due to an influx of people relocating to the area. The city of Orlando has the second most expensive rent in the metro area, at $1,442 on average

According to ApartmentGuide, these Orlando neighborhoods offer a good selection of rental apartments, unique dining, shopping atmosphere, and a sense of community:

  • Downtown Orlando ($1,463/mo)
  • Thornton Park ($1,275/mo)
  • Winter Park ($1,291/mo)
  • Lake Nona ($1,487/mo)
  • Baldwin Park ($1,794/mo)
  • College Park ($1,995/mo)

What Orlando Renters Want

No two renters are the same, but many Orlando renters are constantly seeking features and amenities. Here are the top things tenants report looking for in a property.

  • Large Storage Spaces – A spacious walk-in closet or a large kitchen pantry will certainly draw the attention of prospective tenants. Storage spaces are a most sought-after commodity, especially for renters. Tenants are always looking for properties that offer additional storage spaces. Large closets add appeal to the unit. With additional storage space, your tenants will have a place to store their things and keep the unit clutter-free.
  • Outdoor Spaces and Other Amenities – Having greenery and other outdoor amenities in your rental property will add to its curb appeal, increasing your chances of attracting potential tenants and keeping them long-term.
  • Laundry Facilities – Another amenity that tenants look for is an in-unit washer and dryer. Having to pack your laundry and bring it to the laundromat can be inconvenient especially if your tenants don’t have the luxury of time. Having a washer and dryer aren’t extra amenities that you are required to offer. They will, nevertheless, make your rental more desirable than others that don’t include them.
  • Flexible Pet Policies – According to the National Pet Owners Survey, 65 percent of Americans own pets. Not allowing pets severely limits your property’s marketability. Additionally, it’s been found that most pet owners are generally more responsible and will rent for a longer amount of time. Having a flexible pet policy will allow you to have a much larger tenant pool to choose from. As a result, your chances of selecting a good quality tenant increases because of this.
  • Central Air Conditioning/Heating and Other Utilities – In areas with hotter climates, like Orlando, prospective tenants look for air-conditioned properties. While those in colder climates look to make sure that heating is available. These amenities vary where your rental is located. Having these utilities is an absolute must-have for tenants. Experienced landlords know that there is an extra demand for rentals with air conditioning installed. Basic utilities such as water, electricity, phone, and Internet connectivity should already be in place.
  • Modern or Smart Features – With all the technology available today, it’s no surprise that most tenants are looking for properties that are tech-savvy. In a world where renters are becoming more tech-savvy, apartments have to be up-to-date with the latest features. This could extend from simple features like USB charging outlets to more complex amenities like internet-connected HVAC systems and locks. Also, with the growing need to be constantly online, renters are now looking for places that feature a strong cell reception and wireless/wired connectivity for all their smart devices. Today’s tenants want the convenience of having an online payment and maintenance request option.
  • Parking Space – Tenants in Orlando are looking for safe and secure places to keep their vehicles, such as a garage or covered parking. You can even opt to charge a small extra for tenants who use the parking space. As a landlord in Orlando, to find a quality tenant, you will need to provide the ideal living environment for your tenant. A high-quality renter is one who is willing to pay extra for the amenities that make living at your property convenient, thus, more enjoyable. These upgrades will cost money but will assure you that high-quality tenants who rent on time, cause no damage to your property, and rent long-term, will be staying at your property.

My roommates and I feel comfortable with our monthly rent. It is slightly higher here, but it comes with  a washer/dryer and we all get our own parking space which is a plus.

Gio V.

Arts, Recreation, and Entertainment in Orlando

Orlando offers newcomers world-class entertainment and art venues, such as the Amway Center home to the NBA’s Orlando Magic, along with concerts and events plus the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center and Orlando City Soccer stadium.

The same ideals of creativity and innovation that rank Orlando’s theme parks among the best in the world overflow to the surrounding community, making this a haven for artists and performers. Orlando is also home to hundreds of museums, galleries, theatres, gardens, and historic homes.

Orlando’s LGBTQIA+ Pride Parade began in 1991 but was renamed Come Out With Pride (COWP) in 2005, when it was moved to October, to coincide with National Coming Out Day and better weather. This program covers events of the week up to the parade. With an attendance of over 185,000 guests, this event is a staple in the Orlando community. 

The City of Orlando Recreation Division offers the citizens of Orlando quality recreational, fitness, cultural, and educational facilities and programs.  The goal of the division is to meet the recreational interests and needs of the growing community while providing high-quality service.Ask any Orlandoan about their favorite sport and you’ll hear about everything from football to basketball to soccer to baseball.

Orlando is also home to many sports teams:

  • Orlando Magic (NBA)
  • Orlando City SC (MLS)
  • Orlando Pride
  • Orlando Solar Bears (ECHL)
  • UCF Knights

Read the full research report: Orlando, Fl.. We interviewed the people that live there to find out what makes their city special. Stay tuned for more city research.

Audience Campaign Creation & Development Consumer Insights Insights Marketing/Business Media & Analytics Media Planning and Buying Over-The-Top(OTT) Video Production

This article is part of #TheBigeyeLens series exploring the future of consumer behavior, purchasing decisions, and marketing trends.

Americans first learned to love watching TV way back in the 1950s, and some folks still refer to that time as the Golden Age of TV. Even during today’s digital age, people still spend a lot of time watching dramas, comedies, documentaries, the news, and other kinds of TV shows. At least, Nielson recently reported that the average U.S. adult consumes over five hours of video content every day. OTT advertising offers brand the opportunity to reach niche, captive audiences.

How do People Consume TV Shows in 2021?

Of course, the way people consume TV programs has changed a lot in the past few decades. As an example, in the 1950s, some businesses closed and people stayed home to catch the latest episode of “I Love Lucy.” Today, TV watchers hardly ever need to restrict themselves to “appointment TV” because they can catch shows whenever it’s convenient for them.

In fact, the number of 18-to-34-year-olds who watched traditional TV dropped by over 23 percent in the third quarter of 2020 when compared to the previous year. Viewers, especially younger ones, tend to use over-the-top (OTT services) and connected TV (CTV) services to stream their favorite shows whenever they want to. And judging by the statistics, they still want to watch a lot of TV.

Before discussing how OTT advertising and CTV can benefit advertisers, it’s helpful to understand that they are both similar but not exactly the same. For some quick definitions:

OTT: This stands for over-the-top TV, and it refers to streaming services that serve content directly via the internet. Some well-known examples of OTT TV services include Netflix and Hulu. Viewers might access these apps on their laptops, smartphones, or even internet browsers on their smart TV sets.

CTV: CTV stands for connected TV. It refers to content viewed through internet-connected, streaming apps on smart TVs, plug-in devices like Roku or Chromecast, and even gaming consoles.

How CTV and OTT Services Benefit Smart Advertisers

One might say it’s a new Golden Age of TV for TV fans and marketers. For some examples:

• In the early decades, TV advertisers could only cast a wide net and expect to engage a tiny fraction of the viewers of a popular program. People didn’t have that many shows to watch, so most popular shows attracted large but general audiences. Today, viewers have plenty of choices, so the shows that they watch may attract particular demographics.

• Since viewers often have to play the ads to keep watching their programs, advertisers can also enjoy very high engagement when compared to many other placements for video ads. For instance, internet users may simply mute or ignore the video ad on a website or social network; however, they’ll generally play through the ads included in TV-type programming to resume the show.

Today, more viewing choices and platforms capable of gathering data about viewers mean that a CTV or OTT advertising agency can send exactly the right message to the perfect audience. An experienced OTT and CTV media agency would advise its clients to take advantage of the information they have about their own customers and how it aligns with data provided by  OTT advertising and media buying services in a few important ways:

Gain an Understanding of the Intended Audience and the Media They Prefer

Start developing brand personas from market research, customer information, outsourced marketing data, and/or industry demographics. These snapshots of typical customers should help uncover the type of content they enjoy and how they prefer to have it delivered.

For some examples:

• Is the brand’s typical customer a Boomer who occasionally logs into Hulu, a cord-cutting Millennial with a high-end smart TV, or a Gen Z who mainly streams on a smartphone?

• Are they likely to prefer major league baseball, true crime documentaries, or made-for-cable dramas?

Answering these questions will help determine the best platforms to target and the slant to use when crafting advertising content.

Exercise Creativity to Enjoy the Full Benefits of New Media Platforms

With so much power to understand viewers and the type of content that engages them, marketers should use their information and creativity to craft the sort of content that can also engage users.

As one example, Hulu is a popular OTT platform that displays advertising to members at some service levels. Hulu suggests answering a few questions to help develop the best ads:

Has the brand already generated awareness? New brands need to work harder to educate their audience. In contrast, a well-known brand may need to invest effort in changing the audience’s perceptions.

What’s the typical buying process? Some products may benefit from impulsive purchases, but other products generally need to coax customers through their journey. Either way, it’s important to develop content that will help move customers along in the intended step in the buying process.

Which advertisement lengths best serve goals? On platforms like Hulu, ads can range from 15 seconds to a few minutes. Short, punchy ads can be memorable and help develop brand recognition, but longer ads give marketers time to provide more information. As a tip, Hulu mentioned that their highest performing short ads focused on branding in almost every frame. In contrast, longer ads could focus on storytelling.

A Successful OTT Advertising Example

There’s not one right way to develop an OTT or CTV ad that would apply to every marketing campaign. Still, a CTV or OTT advertising agency will certainly want to gain inspiration from successful examples of high-performance ads.

For instance, like many companies, Bassett faced pandemic-related business issues that forced them to reduce and optimize their overall media budget. At first, some marketers might not think that a 120-year-old furniture company would make a good candidate for new media.

This example of a Bassett advertisement showed how they use a 30-second spot to tell their brand’s story in the words of actual furniture makers. The company replaced their entire traditional TV budget with only OTT ads. This campaign helped them sustain sales and even traffic to brick-and-mortar Bassett stores.

Optimize, Test, and Tune

As with almost any kind of marketing, great CTV and OTT campaigns are typically made and not born. That means that an experienced CTV and OTT media agency will expect optimal performance after periods of testing and tuning messaging and audiences.

On the positive side, sophisticated platforms can help track relevant metrics, even including visits to physical locations and eCommerce websites. Some examples of the metrics commonly provided on self-serve advertising platforms include impressions by network, day, and device, completion rates, click rate,

Work with an Experienced CTV and OTT Advertising Agency

Here at Bigeye, we appreciate TV’s power to inform, educate, and entertain. Of course, we also work hard to maximize TV’s potential to grow our client’s business with the right audience targeting, content format, and media placement. Contact us to tell us more about your brand, and we’ll let you know how we can help optimize your experience with OTT and connected TV buying services.


Coinciding with the launch of Bigeye’s new website and #TheBigeyeLens campaign, this week’s episode explores connections between human eyesight and trend forecasting. We’re joined by two guests: Doctor of Optometry, Dr. Amanda Stebbins in Orlando, and Thomas Klaffke, the Head of Research at TrendWatching, based in Berlin, Germany. With an eye on the future, we hear about the latest advances in correcting vision, and how COVID has accelerated disruptive innovations in retailing.

Episode Transcript

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

Thomas Klaffke: When you look at trends, with the lens of lots of different innovations, you immediately get lots of cool ideas as well.

Dr. Amanda Stebbins: How you perceive the world around you is so unique. And I always tell people, “You and I could have the same length eyeball at the same curvature eyeball. What you think is clear is different than what I think is clear.”

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. A full-service, audience-focused creative agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, serving clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Today we launched a new website at, showcasing Bigeye’s expertise in strategy, creative, media, and analytics. To accompany the website launch, a new campaign, #TheBigeyeLens highlights Bigeye’s approach to audience research. With an eye on the future, Bigeye yields actionable insights that inform communications strategy and accelerate customer-centric brand innovation. The primary visual element that we’ve designed to accompany our #TheBigeyeLens campaign is based on an instrument known as a trial frame that you might’ve encountered at your optometrist office as a child. It’s used during a sight exam to test individual lenses, which an eye doctor uses to determine the exact vision correction required for each eye. As marketers, the language we use to describe a brand’s mission often reflects perceptive and time-based concepts. We talk about having a vision. When we narrow our attention to a specific topic, we describe ourselves as being focused. Hindsight is always 20/20. And when disaster strikes, we ask whether an event was foreseeable. To learn more about vision and forecasting trends, I consulted with two experts. The first, Dr. Amanda Stebbins, is the Doctor of Optometry at The Spectacle Shoppe in Orlando, located on Sand Lake Road. I asked Dr. Stebbins how human vision works.

Dr. Amanda Stebbins: Well, there are two main components of vision. There’s perceptive vision, and then there’s objective and subjective portions. The objective is what I am kind of the expert of. I’m an expert at deciding what I think you need to see. My machinery is good at determining what we think you need to see, but then there’s always the subjective portion, which is what you think you need to see. And that’s kind of how patients and doctors work together to figure out what’s best for each individual person. It’s really up to the brain to decide, it’s not the eyes, it’s actually the brain that decides what you want to see and how you want to interpret that. So we just help you see it clearly or in focus.

Adrian Tennant: Dr. Stebbins showed me the kinds of tools she used to test patients’ eyesight.

Dr. Amanda Stebbins: Here in this office, we’ve got a lot of technology. So we have machinery that can measure the length of your eyeball, the curvature of your eyeball, any kind of impedances you may have along the way, or what we call aberrations or distortions, our equipment can tell us every single thing right down to the fractions of a millimeter as to what your vision and what your prescription should be. and again, that’s the objective sight, that’s what we know it should be. On the subjective side, we’ve got what we call a phoropter, which everybody knows it’s that little butterfly-shaped looking thing that goes in front of your eyes. We ask you, “Which is better one, better two?” We start off with what we think you should be. And then you get to choose subjectively what you think you should be or how your brain kind of interprets that clearly.

Adrian Tennant: On the new Bigeye website, we show an illustration of a trial frame into which loose lenses are placed. Dr. Stebbins explained how it works.

Dr. Amanda Stebbins: So it just holds the lenses. I can put in a lot of the same measurements that the phoropter has such as I can change the PD or the pupillary distance between your eyes, which we set on the phoropter. And the axis of astigmatism – astigmatism means that the cornea is warped a little bit. And so we basically have two prescriptions in two different meridians. Well, this gives me 180 degrees of where I want to put that secondary prescription.

Adrian Tennant: The technological evolution of the trial frame is the phoropter. I asked Dr. Stebbins how other tools she uses to assess patients’ vision have changed during the time that she’s been practicing optometry.

Dr. Amanda Stebbins: Well, one of the things that you’ll notice in this room is that everything’s digitally controlled. So a lot of it’s a little bit less of me manually moving my arms and more focusing on an iPad. It looks great. It looks cool. But really what this digital phoropter is doing is communicating with the machinery across the hall. That’s what we call a wavefront aberrometer. Most people know of one or two areas or orders of blur. We call them aberrations, nearsighted, and farsighted are our big two. You’re the nearsighted or farsighted. And then astigmatism as well, too. So near-sighted or far-sighted astigmatism are the big things that we correct. That’s being, you know, not being able to see up close, not being able to see far away, starbursts in your vision. Well, they’re actually a lot higher order of aberrations. Trefoil coma, spherical aberrations, astigmatism, higher orders of astigmatism. We’re now able to measure them and taking that data from across the hallway, from aberrometer along with what you choose the “better one, better two” behind the phoropter here, we can mesh those numbers together and actually start creating lenses for eyeglasses that fix some of those higher-order aberrations. Now, what that means to you is driving at night with a standard pair of glasses without those wavefront measurements, you might see a light coming at you and go, “Okay, it’s got a little bit of starbursting and it’s got a little bit of shadowing effect.” We can now make it to where we can minimize those. Now, LASIK has been doing that for years but that’s very individualized and we are fine-tune carving that cornea with a laser. You just can’t do that with contacts and with glasses. Now, thanks to the digitalization of how we make eyeglass lenses, we can actually inscribe those tiny, teeny, tiny little measurements into glasses and Zeiss is really the people that are behind it, which is if you notice my equipment, most of it’s Zeiss. And it’s because they’ve figured out how to do that first. That’s advanced a lot. But again, you’ll always go back to a “better one better too.” cause we want to know what you think, your interpretation of it, not just what we know it should be.

Adrian Tennant: I wondered if the advances Dr. Stebbins described in vision testing technology are being matched in eye health.

Dr. Amanda Stebbins: One of the biggest challenges is getting you to sit still while we shine an impossibly bright light in the back of your eyes. Not having you cry or close your eyes or just not want to do it. So everybody knows, and everybody’s annoyed, with having that big, bright, light shine in your eyes. And it’s been probably 15, 20 years, but it’s gotten much more advanced in its resolution, but Optimap came out with a way to take an unrelated pupil, shine two laser beams in that on that dilated pupil, and get a full scan view of the internal retina. So it’s a quarter-second flash of green light that you see and it’ll interpret the entire retina or most of the entire front retina out there with the exception of the far periphery. But that could be assessed otherwise. We can now just see, not straight onto the retina, we’re actually able to see all nine layers of the retina. So things like macular degeneration are caught a little bit earlier. Changes from glaucoma are caught a little bit earlier. Where in your retina, if we see a freckle or a nevus, a little mole, we can start pinpointing exactly where it is. So that’s advanced a lot too. So having to physically sit and shine a bright light at the patient is thankfully becoming a thing of the past. Everybody’s a lot more thankful for that. No longer do you have to be dilated for three, four hours after your eye exam. And even to the extent that the dreaded air puff machine that people hate, we’ve moved on beyond that. We can now use a nice little handheld device called an eyecare tonometer to very gently kind of tickle your eyelashes to get those same measurements. That’s been a major improvement too. Everybody to this day still says to me, “Oh, thank goodness you don’t do the puff of air.? And I tell them, “I hate that thing to that thing is an awful piece of equipment.”

Adrian Tennant: I asked Dr. Stebbins about the origins of that air puff instrument, the tonometer.

Dr. Amanda Stebbins: Veterinarians actually came up with that one because believe it or not, horses will get glaucoma. Some breeds of dogs, a little Shar Pei, the ones with little wrinkly faces, will get glaucoma and the dog’s not going to let you pump air in their face. Certainly, a horse isn’t going to let you puff air in their eyes. So the need was there. Pediatricians saw them using that and thought, “Well, there’s a juvenile form of glaucoma. That’s a great idea. Let’s see if we can use this in humans.” And so, yeah, we even now have take-home versions of that for our severe glaucoma cases who may need to check their pressures throughout the day. We’ve got a little handheld take-home version that they can do on themselves. So, yeah, giant steps, I think.

Adrian Tennant: From instruments that analyze eye health to the common ways we correct vision. I asked Dr. Stebbins what improvement she’s seeing in lens technologies.

Dr. Amanda Stebbins: Blue coats! The blue anti-reflective coats are really kind of our latest and greatest and our driving lenses, our latest and greatest. So the blue and reflective coats eliminate a lot of the blue that’s coming off of these computer screens that we know we’re all behind all day long. It’s going a little bit further down in the spectrum and that UV spectrum blue light has been linked a lot to macular degeneration and degradation of pigment layers. So 85-year-old you will be very, very thankful that you protected your eyes from blue. driving lenses. We’ve had to change a lot of those and they’re really tweaking the wavelengths that they’re blocking for driving glasses. because if you’ve noticed the headlights have changed. headlights are no longer a yellow-based headlight. Headlights are now, I like to think they’re blue, but it’s actually the lack of yellow makes them a little bit blue. But it’s a very bright, clear headlight now, the LED and the halogen headlights. So the manufacturer of those headlights is Hella. Hella has actually worked with Zeiss again, and they’ve kind of created together, you know, this is our wavelength and they’re going “Okay, let’s put that into a more appealing and more pleasing, less bright wavelengths.” As Zeiss has come out with the drive-safe lens, it binds up the corridors of a progressive a little bit, but really gets rid of all that glare coming from those newer, brighter headlights that are very obnoxious. So it’s really all about filtering and finding out what your specific thing is, what you do the majority of your day, and eliminating anything harmful coming off of that. That’s really what we’re getting good at.

Adrian Tennant: Concluding our conversation, I asked Dr. Stebbins why she thinks we use sight and vision-based words and phrases to describe temporal and cognitive concepts.

Dr. Amanda Stebbins: Your perception and how you perceive the world around you is so unique. And I try to explain to people why we always do one and two – “why can’t I do the online test? Why can’t I stick my head in the box? You tell me what my prescription is. I don’t want to do this.” And I always tell people, “you and I could have the same length eyeball at the same curvature eyeball. What you think is clear is different than what I think is clear.” You can even go back to looking at those internet sensations, this, the dress, blue and black or is it black and gold? Well, perception is different between so many people. So I think vision is such an important part of our lives, an important way to experience this world and kind of shapes our experiences and shapes our perception of those experiences that I think we just naturally gravitate towards using that sort of language to describe our experiences. Having hindsight means you look behind you. Well, yeah, we could look back in time, yeah, we wouldn’t do a lot of different things and we’d all know a lot better! Having the foresight. We all wish we could see into the future to kind of perceive what’s going on. I like that everybody thinks with their eyes!

Adrian Tennant: Next we’ll meet someone whose profession is looking into the future. That’s coming up after this short break.

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: Welcome back. We’re marking the launch of Bigeye’s new website with conversations about what it means to have an eye on the future. As an audience-focused agency, Bigeye builds personas, performs qualitative and quantitative research, and cultivates actionable insights to architect marketing strategies that achieve tangible results for our clients. As we’ve seen during COVID-19, identifying trends in consumer behavior and adapting to meet changing customer expectations are key to adopting a truly agile approach to marketing communications. To learn more about identifying trends and translating them into innovative products and services, I spoke with Thomas Klaffke, Head of research for the global insights firm, TrendWatching. Thomas spoke to me from his home office in Berlin, Germany. I started by asking him to explain what TrendWatching does and the types of clients they serve.

Thomas Klaffke: So TrendWatching is basically a trends intelligence firm. So our mission is to guide, inspire, but also empower business professionals to bring to market sustainable and inclusive innovations that benefit all. And we do that really by turning trends into meaningful opportunities. So right now we have around 100,000 people that are receiving our free content that you can see on the website, but also for our newsletters and so on. We have a few thousands on social media as well. And, we have around 800 clients that are using our premium platforms where we constantly, every week, add new innovations and trends and reports and so on. It’s basically all of the content that we’re producing that our clients have access to, including our individual analysts.

Adrian Tennant: Thomas is the head of research at TrendWatching. He explained his role.

Thomas Klaffke: I’m basically responsible for all things regarding our research system. So we bring out lots of content, on a daily basis. So we need a really, strong research system that covers everything that really funnels in all of the content needs that we have. So a year ago we started building a new research system that has basically three elements. One of them is our internal team. So we spot interesting innovations, trend signals, and so on internally. And we actually also integrate people that are not in our core content team, but also, sales unit or in operations, because we just also want to create that kind of innovation, enthusiastic culture. And then the second element here is our insights community, which is called TWIN: TrendWatching’s Insights Network. And here we have around 800 people from all around the world, that are either also working within the trend industry or that are just interested in that. And they’re sharing basically on an online platform all of the interesting innovations that they can find, industry trends, all sorts of signals.. and they’re sharing that with themselves, and also of course with us. And we’re using them basically tapping into that pool of that community as well. And then the third one, which is the most important one is that we’re also tracking websites, blogs, newsletters, ourselves, partly the third-party tools, but using some kind of, algorithms, a little bit of AI that helps us filter through all of the noise, sort of checking around 2,000 to 3,000 sources. And then we’re kind of using that also to catalog all the different things that we get in. And I am responsible for that part of the company basically before then gets to in the analysis where, well also play a role. Of course.

Adrian Tennant: I asked Thomas how he characterizes a trend.

Thomas Klaffke: I can give you a couple of elements that I think are really important when it comes to trends. We’re really focused on consumer trends and where consumerism is heading, especially for our clients.. so the three elements that I think are always really important when it comes to trends is guidance. So a trend should give you guidance with regards to future and what is to come in the coming years. The second element is inspiration, I think. So you should get inspired by that trend. It should kind of trigger new ideas, new thinking basically. And the last one I think is usefulness. So you should be able to kind of directly get some value out of that trend in terms of, building a new product or, it helping you change or improve your strategy, things like that. And at TrendWatching, we always try to have a good balance of these three elements. And we recently also introduced, for us a new element, which is impact, which is really about building a better world through trend-driven innovation, basically.

Adrian Tennant: Thomas holds a Master of Arts degree in Future Studies. I asked him if what he’s learned from Future Studies influences his approach to research.

Thomas Klaffke: I studied Future Studies here in Berlin at the Free University of Berlin. And it’s basically quite a philosophical, degree. So in general, it’s really about asking the question, what is the future, really? What if we talk about the future I’m talking about? One thing that you learn early on in Future Studies is that the future does not exist. The concept of something that is coming, still not there yet, you cannot actually analyze this. So we’re not actually analyzing the future. We are analyzing what we in future studies called present futures. So ideas of the future that are present right now that are discussed within society and politics and so on. So you’re looking at these present futures. That’s the main thing of interest that it’s basically, and that also kind of has something within that, which is that we’re basically all, always looking through a certain frame, through a certain lens when we look at things. So, that means that, when you’re analyzing different people, for example, different businesses, different kinds of societal movements, and what their idea of the future is that really also, shows you, the ideologies and the belief systems that are behind that, and really shows you kind of also yet the frameworks that it uses and that makes you just more conscious about also your own frameworks and, and how, the world is moving forward in general. So it’s really just about Looking at what is being discussed and what is behind that. There’s a lot of systems thinking, systems theory in that as well. and all of those things I think help you just to, be more conscious about yourself and your own lenses and, just, for me, especially when it comes to research, being able to find the exact right sources that I need for looking at certain things. if I’m, interested in, for example, remote work and how this will pan out, I can potentially maybe better understand, where I find these kind of communities or these, people and companies that are looking at this right now and tap into their ideas and then combine that with what we have internally at TrendWatching as the bigger framework.

Adrian Tennant: Over the past decade, many new brands have adopted a direct-to-consumer business model rather than seeking shelf space on retailer shelves via traditional distribution. Due to lockdowns as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, many consumers were forced to purchase essential and non-essential goods online. In response, many retailers implemented omnichannel solutions integrating online ordering with collection in-store or curbside pickup. I asked Thomas what he foresees the evolution of retailing looking like over the next few years.

Thomas Klaffke: Retail is an interesting space right now, I would say, because there’s a lot of things that have been accelerated for COVID. Like you mentioned, for example, online shopping of course is a big one. And it is of course now, interesting to see how things will pan out once people have more opportunity again to go out and shop. But I think, a couple of things that we’ll definitely see over the coming years, and that have definitely changed are that you have a lot of smaller DTC brands that are gaining more leverage over the bigger brands. So we will see, I think, a lot more kinds of collaboration and also acquisitions from bigger brands with smaller brands. Then I think, small offline retailers will actually move even more online. This is something that you’ve seen a lot already, probably like in what you could call developed countries, but it’s actually a much bigger trend in developing countries where you have lots of these very offline mom and pop shops, corner shops, convenience stores, where we’ve seen lots of innovations from Latin America, for example, but also Southeast Asia, where there are new startups helping them go online, basically. So that is, I think, a big move that is coming from these regions at least. Then, also maybe a little bit more in Europe or in the US, North America, you’ll see, I think a lot more within last-mile innovations. So whether it’s faster delivery, whether it’s automated vending machines or kiosks, a new way of picking up your packages. Also autonomous delivery methods, I think, have seen some surge and more investments over the last couple of months. So I think two other kinds of smaller trends within that are ghost kitchens, which are restaurants that are, they basically don’t have any seating you can order food from, and you have the same thing also for dotcom warehouses which are called dark stores. One thing here is that’s kind of split in between carefree consumerism and sustainable or conscious consumerism. And, so I think, on the one hand, we, of course really like the new convenience that these innovations bring with them and the new trends. But on the other hand, it also generates more packaging waste, for example. And so I think there will also see some sort of new trends happening, whether it’s reusable packaging or biodegradable packaging, I think there’s a lot happening in those spaces, which hasn’t really come out yet. It hasn’t come into the mainstream, but also government regulations are shifting in the EU. They just banned single-use plastics, just I think a few days ago. So I think you will see a move there, you know, quite soon. Maybe two more things: one is that, as you see more retailers going online, I think you’ll also get more and more kind of niche and curated online stores and shopping communities because it’s the kind of acceleration created by a lot of supply of new online retail and now we are going again into a phase where there’s curation happening where people are basically overwhelmed by what is out there. And, you’re already seeing what we called kind of “niche Amazons” that are focusing on certain consumer types or certain niche markets, things like that. And in the offline sphere, I think people would just demand more from going to a store. I think the service just has to pick up and be better and, one thing is the trend that we released just recently called Local Change-Makers, which is all about bigger retailers or bigger brands, collaborating with local stores on the ground. This is all kind of triggered by this new way of doing retail, but it is also triggered by a big trend that we call authenticity or became a more authentic brand. And so bigger brands are trying to collaborate with smaller companies, organizations, and communities on the ground. And are using their networks to also ship their goods or sell their services. As it’s much more authentic for our global brand to collaborate with some smaller, more local, companies that really know what it’s like to be on the ground.

Adrian Tennant: You’ll be able to hear more of my interview with Thomas Klaffke in an upcoming episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS. This is the final episode of this season of the podcast, but we’ll be back with season eight on Tuesday, August the 10th. We’ll also be publishing a bonus episode in the meantime, so please watch out for that. Thanks to both of my guests this week, Dr. Amanda Stebbins, the Doctor of Optometry at The Spectacle Shoppe in Orlando, and Thomas Klaffke, Head of Research at TrendWatching. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the redesigned IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights”, just select “Podcast.” And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next time, Goodbye.

Audience Branding Creative & Production Insights Marketing/Business Media & Analytics

Bigeye, an audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, has unveiled a newly redesigned website with an accompanying campaign, #TheBigeyeLens, to showcase its unparalleled expertise of consumer insights.

“After two decades of success, we’ve learned a lot about creating unforgettable brand experiences that drive connections,” said President Justin Ramb. “Our new website showcases how we’re uniquely positioned to completely understand the customer’s changing needs and produce the results our clients trust us to deliver.”

Bigeye launches, scales, and grows revolutionary brands that break the status quo.  Its award-winning teams have expertise in the full spectrum of marketing and advertising disciplines, including research, strategy, and campaign management and optimization. Its creative work includes everything from advanced digital campaign creation and video production to environmental design and outdoor media. 

“The future is driven by vision. We combine insight, hindsight, and foresight to inform all of our decisions,” said VP of Insights Adrian Tennant. “Research is at the heart of everything we do. Without audience personas, qualitative and quantitative research studies, and other forms of consumer research, we would miss opportunities to help our clients reach their target audiences.”

Bigeye’s four core service lines are Audience, Branding, Creative & Production, and Media & Analytics, with a focus on innovative Consumer brands. As an insights-driven agency, each project begins with detailed consumer research to architect strategies that yield tangible results.

“Our creative strategy enables the leading companies we work with to cut through the noise and make powerful, profitable connections with their target market,” said Seth Segura, VP of Creative. 

“This new chapter will allow us to continue creating customer experiences that help bring brands all over the world to new heights.”

In addition to the redesigned website, Bigeye will publish a series of new blog posts exploring the future of consumer behavior, as well as new episodes of their weekly podcast IN CLEAR FOCUS on the same topic. This Fall, Bigeye will also release a proprietary research report on the changing retail industry. 

Follow Bigeye on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and subscribe to the monthly newsletter to stay up-to-date on all agency news. 

About Bigeye

Bigeye is an audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency that crafts deeply compelling brand experiences and the strategies that ensure they reach the right people, in the right place, at the right time. The Bigeye team of strategists, account managers, creative directors, copywriters, designers, programmers, and operations professionals works closely with clients to better understand the needs of their consumers and deliver measurable results.


Dubbed “the busiest man on the internet”, Tim Hwang joins us to discuss his book, Subprime Attention Crisis. Tim explains how and why he believes the programmatic display advertising ecosystem resembles financial markets prior to the subprime mortgage crash of 2008. We talk about security vulnerabilities when sharing ad data, geofencing, and Washington’s increasing scrutiny of Big Tech. Tim also provides his unique insights into the uses and abuses of artificial intelligence in advertising.

Episode Transcript

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

Tim Hwang: There are a number of similarities between the kinds of markets that we see in advertising today and the kind of practices that existed during the 2008 crash, and not just the 2008 crash, but sort of market bubbles in general.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS: fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Today, we’re living in a global economy with virtually unlimited access to the world’s information thanks to the technology and connectivity offered by the internet. Because their business models are based on advertising, many of the largest tech companies offer digital services to consumers at no cost. Certainly, we’ve come a long way since the appearance of the first-ever banner ad for AT&T, which appeared on back in 1994. In his 2016 book, The Attention Merchants, Columbia law professor Tim Wu characterizes consumer attention as the defining industry of our time. Digital advertising is omnipresent today thanks to mobile devices that are always on and rarely leave our sides. To illustrate the point, Google’s Chief Marketing Officer, Lorraine Twohill, recently stated that an individual sees almost 2 million ads per year. That’s well over 5,000 each day. But the attention economy is coming under increasing scrutiny from within the ranks of the advertising industry itself and from federal agencies. Once dubbed “the busiest man on the internet” by Forbes, Tim Hwang is a writer, lawyer, and technology policy researcher. Previously, Tim was Google’s global public policy lead on artificial intelligence and then director of Harvard University’s Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative. Today, Tim is a research fellow at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University. Tim’s book, Subprime Attention Crisis: Advertising and the Time Bomb at the Heart of the Internet, was published last year and investigates the ways in which big tech monetizes user’s attention. Tim suggests that the internet has a precarious future, likening the programmatic ad ecosystem to the housing bubble of 2008. To talk more about this, as well as artificial intelligence and Big Tech, Tim is joining us today from his home office in New York City. Tim, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Tim Hwang: Yeah, thanks for having me on the show, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: The central idea explored in your book is that the digital programmatic advertising ecosystem is at risk of collapsing. Before we dive into your thesis, what was the experience or insight that led you to write subprime attention crisis?

Tim Hwang: Well, it’s funny, actually, Adrian, as you mentioned, I spent a few years at Google, where I was director of global public policy for AI and machine learning. And one of the interesting things that I observed when I worked at the company was – obviously Google is one of the companies that is at the heart of this debate about advertising online and a huge amount of its revenue comes from programmatic advertising – but what’s really interesting on the day-to-day basis is that Google, you know, the culture of the company, doesn’t actually have people talking about ads all the time. People are interested in self-driving cars and artificial intelligence. And what’s amazing is even when you talk to engineers at the company, you ask them, “So how do we make money?” And people will say, “Oh, advertising of course.” And then you say, “But really, how does it happen?” And it turns out that most people, even people at these tech companies, just have a kind of vague sense of how these companies actually make money. And so, you know, the origin of the book was really just attempting to understand this ecosystem and to kind of create an accessible way for people to really get into the guts of this infrastructure that is responsible for some of the biggest companies in the world. And that’s really kind of the spark that led to the book.

Adrian Tennant: Well, in the book, you highlight the fact that the commodification of the internet has enabled significant economic growth, as well as the development and provision of online services that many of us consider utilities at this point. But you worry about the extent to which many services we take for granted are at risk if advertising revenues were to collapse. So Tim, how did we get to this point?

Tim Hwang: Yeah. You know, one of the interesting things about the history of the internet is that I would say nowadays we take for granted that so many platforms and services on the internet are monetized through ads. But this actually really was not the assumption when the internet got started. It’s very funny. If you look at the original business model for Google, they assumed that actually a small, tiny amount of their revenue would come from ads and that they would actually make money licensing their algorithm to companies,  which is such a quaint business model in some ways. And, what we discovered and have discovered over the last few decades is just that advertising has turned out to be such a prolific and powerful way of generating huge amounts of money extremely, extremely quickly. Because essentially, what you’re able to do is offer a service for free, which makes it really attractive to people. They don’t have to pay anything to get the benefit from these services. And, on the other hand, basically, because this company can grow so quickly, they can simultaneously monetize through ads. And so it maximizes growth from a user standpoint but also maximizes growth from a revenue standpoint. And that has just turned out to be a very attractive model, almost to the extent where nowadays the assumption is that you will do an advertising-driven business model. And if you’re trying to do an alternative,  that’s kind of the burden that you have to overcome, right? Investors will look at you and say, “You know, is this subscription business model really going to work? Why aren’t you doing advertising?” And I think that’s mainly the reason that we ended up where we are.

Adrian Tennant: The enabling technology of programmatic advertising is real-time bidding or RTB for short. Tim, how does RTB resemble the financial trading practices that led to the 2008 crash?

Tim Hwang: So I’ve observed this to a few people, you know, it’s very funny. I was talking to a friend who is like, “Oh, you know, usually when people deploy metaphors in a book, the idea is to try to take a complex system and make it more understandable.” But the irony here is basically that the whole core of the book uses a thing that is famously complex. If you read the book, you’ll have to be the judge as to whether or not this is a successful strategy at all. But I do think the core of the book is really to argue that there are a number of similarities between the kinds of markets that we see in advertising today and the kind of practices that existed during the 2008 crash and not just the 2008 crash, but sort of market bubbles in general. And I think that’s a good way of thinking about it without having to get too far into the weeds. Which is basically that there’s always a couple of ingredients that we see throughout history that are really associated with a market bubble. You know, the three components my argument would be is: Opacity – it’s very difficult to see what’s going on in a marketplace. Perverse incentives – you have people who have a lot of incentives to boost the perceived value of a market without really, having to recognize reality. And then finally you have declining asset value – basically, the thing being traded that we think is so valuable is getting less and less valuable over time. And so what you end up with is a market where you can’t really see what’s going on. There are lots of people telling you that everything is great, but the thing that’s actually being sold is not so great. And that creates the bubble, right? Because when people realize that, things are maybe not as great as they seem, there’s panic in the marketplace. And the claim is basically that what’s happening in programmatic advertising has a lot of similarities to the three characteristics that I just mentioned. So one of them is opacity. It actually turns out that it’s really, really difficult to see what’s going on in the marketplace. There’s a huge amount of, fraud. There’s a huge amount of inaccurate metrics. there’s a huge amount of brand safety issues, and these are all really difficult for people to figure out in part because we’ve generated such a massive system that’s just difficult to monitor. We secondly have a group of people who have very perverse interests,  one of the stats is that about 50 percent, if not a little bit more than that of every dollar spent on programmatic advertising is consumed by an ad tech company. Well, that tends to create a huge incentive on the part of the ad tech company to keep this casino rolling whether or not it’s actually really effective for their clients.  And then finally we have declining asset value, which is that there’s been an assumption for a very long time that programmatic advertising works on a fundamental level, that you can direct a message to a person and get them to do what you want them to do either to vote for a candidate or buy a product. And I think there’s increasing evidence that that’s actually not the case. And so when you add these three things together, at least for me, what I kind of squint and turned my head, and I say that starts to look like a market bubble, not just from 2008, but just the whole history of market bubbles kind of suggest that this is same dynamics at work.

Adrian Tennant: In spite of the economic uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, digital ad revenues actually continued to climb. US programmatic digital display ad spending grew 10 percent in 2020 to $66 billion. This year, eMarketer predicts revenues will reach $81 billion. Tim, what do you think could trigger a collapse in programmatic advertising as severe as the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis?

Tim Hwang: Sure. And I think this is actually where I think a comparison to things like 2008 is actually very helpful because just because a lot of money is flowing into a market, it’s a fallacy to believe that that tells us that the market is healthy. I think one of the worst arguments I’ve gotten from people in the advertising industry who hate the book says, “Well, how could all these billions of dollars be wrong?” And I say: look at the 2008 crisis. On the eve of the financial crisis of 2008, people basically said, “Well, look, there’s so much money flowing and how could it possibly be going wrong?” And so I don’t think that’s an indicative fact. All that tells us that there are people spending money – it doesn’t necessarily tell us whether or not the market is healthy or not. Now, I think you ask the $81 billion question, which is “Okay, what could cause the collapse?” And I think one of the things that I’m looking at very closely, is actually what’s happening in the regulatory space. So what we see right now is privacy laws being passed in Europe. California has a law called the CCPA. There’s a bunch of state-level laws in the US that are doing the same. And, you know, the advertising industry has made the argument that you’d expect them to make, which is “Don’t put these regulations into place because it will kill our business. If we don’t have this data to target, then we can’t possibly operate as a business.” I actually think that there might be a very perverse outcome from these laws where the laws go into place, advertisers lose access to the data, but it turns out the advertising is okay. That it actually doesn’t really change the effectiveness of ads. And I think that actually triggers a potential collapse because everybody suddenly says, “Okay, so what have we been doing all these years, collecting all of this huge amount of data about people? What does all this behavioral targeting do? What is all this artificial intelligence to do in targeting ads?” And if it all turns out that that was worthless in the end, that we ran this experiment, it turns out that you don’t really need access to this data. I think that is the kind of a shock to the system that could really cause a collapse.

Adrian Tennant: Digiday published a story about Democratic Senator Ron Wyden’s proposed legislation that could place restrictions on ad-tech data flows outside the US. Magnite and Twitter, among others, have ad tech partners based in countries deemed high risk. In a statement sent to Digiday, Senator Wyden says “There’s a clear national security risk whenever Americans’ private data is sent to high-risk countries like China and Russia, which can use it for online tracking as well as to target hacking and disinformation campaigns.” Tim, do you agree with the senator’s position?

Tim Hwang: I agree and disagree is actually how I’d address this question. Because I do think that my argument kind of cuts in a couple of different ways. And one of the unexpected ways that you might be interested in, how this argument cuts is that basically, it cast some doubt on whether or not disinformation campaigns – micro-targeting – whether or not that all actually works. I thought one of the most interesting things coming out of the Cambridge Analytica scandal was that the British privacy regulators did a post-mortem with an agency called the ICO. And that agency concluded that even though there was a huge privacy violation in the Brexit vote, it turned out that they couldn’t find any evidence that any of that psychographic targeting did anything at all in terms of actually influencing the vote. And so I guess I disagree with Senator Wyden when he says that the risk here is that it facilitates disinformation or influence campaigns. I think we should be rightly skeptical as to whether or not all of this data actually amounts to anything. Now, on the other hand, though, I think that the correct argument is, well, we should still take action because it’s a huge privacy violation. And I definitely agree with Senator Wyden there. There was a great paper that came out of the University of Washington a few years ago that concluded that you can use geo-fencing in the advertising system to basically monitor when an individual person is at their house or going to work or whatever. And a lot of our research suggests that there’s a lot of these data leakages in targeting ads that really are quite privacy-invasive. And I think it actually in some cases of national security risks because it might be really useful to know when are people going to the DOD? When is this person moving from one military base to the other? You can actually turn that you can facilitate some of that through the advertising ecosystem. It’s an unintentional side effect, but I think a real national security risk.

Adrian Tennant: Well, concern about big tech has emerged as a bipartisan issue. This year has seen the publication of both Antitrust authored by Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar and The Tyranny of Big Tech by Republican Senator Josh Hawley. How do you see things playing out for big tech companies over the next two to three years, especially with Lina Khan, who’s been critical of big tech, now heading up the federal trade commission?

Tim Hwang: Yeah, it is actually really interesting how it’s evolving in DC right now because, needless to say, we don’t live in a particularly bipartisan time – probably understatement of the century! But it is interesting to me that whether you are a hardcore progressive or a diehard Trumpist it actually has turned out that both sides agree that something needs to be done about Big Tech. And so I do think that the next two or three years really are the Super Bowl, if you will, of tech policy. That if something big is going to happen, it’s going to happen in the next few years when there’s clearly big public concern and big policy concern about these companies and what they’ve become. Now there’s actually an interesting question about the Lina Khan and her view around some of these things. And particularly relevant to your question, because just today, Amazon actually filed a petition trying to get Lina Khan disqualified from participation in antitrust prosecutions, arguing that basically she’s prejudged the situation given her previous publications. And so I think the fight is really becoming a knife fight, and I think it actually is getting quite dirty in some ways, but I do believe that I think the tech companies are on defense now. And I think really now the question is, can we really articulate what we think is the right way forwards? Like what is the kind of internet ecosystem that we want to live in? And I think this is where maybe the bipartisan consensus breaks down. I think this is the trouble is can we move beyond simply having hearings where we yell at Mark Zuckerberg to actually making real policy in this space? That is the challenge that I think we find ourselves faced with, but I think if there was a time for it to happen, it’s going to happen in the next few years.

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

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: Welcome back. I’m talking with Tim Hwang, a research fellow at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University. Tim, let’s talk about artificial intelligence. We’re seeing AI and machine learning in advertising and marketing contexts more and more often. Cognitiv – spelled without an ‘E’ – describes itself as the leading custom AI delivering adaptive algorithmic advertising. It promises to – quote – “predict consumer behavior and drive full-funnel marketing performance at scale through the power of custom deep learning solutions” – end quote. Our podcast guest last week was Melanie Deziel, the first director of branded content for the New York Times and an expert in content strategy. We talked a bit about some of the AI-assisted writing tools now available, many of them based on technology created by OpenAI called Generative Pre-Trained Transformer 3, or just GPT three for short. Tim, could you give us some background on this technology and why we’re seeing new tools now?

Tim Hwang: Sure, I can definitely do that. I’ll give you the 30-second explanation of machine learning and so you can, bring that hopefully into your work if you’re listening to this podcast. One way of thinking about how we’ve programmed computers in the past has been that we basically program explicit rules into a computer. So imagine a task where we say, “Okay, we want to teach a computer basically how to recognize a cat in a photo.” Well, the old way of doing it basically is that we get a bunch of smart people together. They would stroke their chins and say, “Okay, well, cats have pointy ears, and they’re fluffy, and they fall within these kinds of colors. So let’s program those rules into a computer. And when a computer can see a photo, they can say, “Oh, does it have pointy ears? Does it have these colors? Is it fluffy?” And really for a long time, one of the sort of big ideas in computer science has been the notion of doing machine learning, which is okay rather than us explicitly programming rules into the computer, how about we just show the computer a bunch of photos of cats and have it guess basically. We say “Computer, is this a cat or a dog?” And he’ll say, “Oh, I think that’s a dog.” And you’ll say, “Oh no, you got that wrong. That’s actually a cat.” And it turns out if you do this with millions of images, sometimes even billions of images, the machine actually gets really, really good at figuring out how to do this without us having to explicitly program in rules. And it can do this basic cause it’s really good at identifying patterns in data. Now for a really long time, the reason this was considered a big dead end was in part because we were missing two big things. One of them is that we just didn’t have a whole lot of data lying around. So when they were working on the set in the fifties, you would say, “Oh, I have 20 Polaroids of cats” and it turns out the machine can’t just learn with that small amount of data. The second one is that the kind of computational tasks that need to happen in this process are pretty computationally intensive. And it turns out that in the 2000s, we sort of figured out what was the right kind of hardware infrastructure, the right sort of chips to really make this happen in a really powerful, efficient way. And so, because we have these two things, we’re actually finding that machine learning is really, really good at a number of tasks. So for image recognition, it actually turns out to be a great technology. Now, some of the examples that you quoted are in the advertising space and I think the dream of  AI in advertising is the notion of “Okay. You know, we have all of this data about consumers, could a machine do a better job at figuring out what they want and what kind of messages will be credible to them that a human might not be able to do?” I tend to be a little bit of a skeptic here. Some of the things that we’re finding is that ironically, AI algorithms in advertising find people who would have bought the product anyways. That’s in fact how good they are – is that they have patterns about who bought your products and they just find more of those people. And so one of the big questions is whether or not these AI solutions in ads really end up shifting people’s behavior, or if it’s really kind of correlation rather than causation. “We show you an ad, but you would have bought the product anyways.”  so I think we’re still working through some of these things, but that’s kind of the quick nutshell of the technology, why we’re seeing it, and I think, I guess my view on its application, in the ad space.

Adrian Tennant: Well, I watched a webinar a few days ago in which an influencer demonstrated her process for creating three months’ worth of social posts in just three hours using a GPT-3 writing tool. Tim, as a writer yourself, how did do you feel about an internet filled with AI-generated content?

Tim Hwang: Yeah. And you’re actually touching on a nice little kind of Coda to the explanation that I just gave around AI. As I mentioned, really what you’re doing in machine learning is you’re trying to get the machine to understand a pattern, right? Whether or not that’s a pattern of how cats look or the pattern of the way a stock moves up and down. And one of the interesting things that we’ve discovered is once a machine learns those patterns, you can actually configure it so it spits out more examples of what it’s learned in ways that have never existed. So you basically trained it on a number of images of cats. It can generate infinite images of cats that have never existed before. And this is what we’re seeing with technologies like GPT-3, which is basically you train a machine learning algorithm on all the text on the internet, and actually turns out that it ends up being pretty good at writing articles. And so I personally am really excited by experiments in this space, that I do think that one of the really interesting things we’re going to find out is what are the kinds of writing that is really easy for computers to do, and what is the kind of writing that makes it really, really hard? And then additionally, I think there’s a social question, which is what are we comfortable with machines writing? And at least for me, I have a friend, Robin Sloan, who’s a science fiction writer, who does a lot of these experiments in kind of programmatic writing. And from some of the things I see, I do really believe that we might go into a future of sort of computer-assisted writing, which actually could be really exciting. And actually produce more creative work than a human writer working alone. And I, that doesn’t scare me, I think that’s actually something that’s worth experimenting and exploring.

Adrian Tennant: So you would see these as assistive tools rather than authors in their own right?.

Tim Hwang: I mean, let’s see if they can be authors in their own right. I mean, I do think that, you know, my long bet is in 10 years, we will have a totally programmatically-generated book that hits number one, that actually happens.

Adrian Tennant: Well, McKinsey just published a report identifying 56 foundational skills that they believe citizens will require in order to future-proof themselves for the world of work, defined as distinct elements of talent or DELTAs. Among those with the highest correlation to a person’s level of education are digital literacy, programming, data analysis and statistics, motivating different personalities, and interestingly, inspiring trust. Broadly, what kinds of issues should governmental agencies be thinking about in terms of the relationships between human capital and AI systems?

Tim Hwang: Yeah. So this is a deep question and something that I think a lot about. And it is interesting. Before I kind of launch into my answer, I will sound a note of disagreement with the McKinsey report. Actually, I think one of the interesting things that you should maybe avoid working in is actually programming. One of the interesting things that we’re finding actually is that AI systems are actually pretty prolific at generating code. And we might actually live in a world where a lot of the work that developers do on a day-to-day basis gets replaced by machines. And so you have computers programming themselves, which I think is like a fascinating outcome but it’s also, I think, something that we need to think seriously about. Which is, is this thing that we’ve seen, or thought of as like, “Oh, you really need to go into computer programming. That’s really the growth industry.” You know, in some ways, by the time we are thinking that it’s already too late. People are finding ways of commoditizing it and automating it. And it actually may not be the skill that you really want to invest in in the future. Now, I think one of the big questions actually, you know, to go to your broader point about what should government agencies be thinking about in terms of the relationship between human capital and AI systems? Is that we frequently kind of think about AI systems as just having defined effects in society, right? So people say, “Oh, you launch an AI system and jobs get replaced. That’s just the way it is.” But I do think that we, as a society, have the ability to shape how our systems are designed and how they are implemented in society. There are actually very deep reasons why society says, “Oh, well, either we could have a robot assist a warehouse worker” or, “Well, actually we just want it entirely replace the warehouse worker.” Those are actually political choices and those are policy choices that are being made. And so one of the things I think that sort of governments really need to be thinking about is not necessarily what will technology do to us, but more actually, how do we want to shape technology’s integration into society? And to realize that we actually have an ability to kind of shape what role we actually want tech to play. And I think that’s one of the biggest things that I would kind of urge government agencies thinking about these issues to kind of keep in mind as they craft policy and whatever it is, you know, self-driving cars, labor rights, you know, the regulation of capital markets, right? I think these are all kind of tied together.

Adrian Tennant: Computers writing code without human intervention? Tim, I’ve got to ask, you how close are we to the singularity?

Tim Hwang: So I am a deep singularity, skeptic. I feel like everything that we’ve seen in technology actually is incredibly powerful, but incredibly narrow systems. So for example, the Deep Mind system that beat the Go champion a number of years back – that system’s never going to wake up one day and decide what it really wants to do is drive cars. And so what we do is we have basically is ultimately in many cases, we still set the parameters of the technology and what we want it to do. And so I am very skeptical about the idea of these systems escalating out of our control. More typically, what will happen is that the sort of incompetent deployment of these technologies or the overly optimistic or naive deployment of these technologies is really where most of the harm is going to be versus a Skynet type situation.

Adrian Tennant: Tim, how do you foresee artificial intelligence evolving over the next few years?

Tim Hwang: Yeah. So some of the most interesting things I think that are happening in AI, really, I think there’s two trends that I’ll point out. One of them is I think we’re moving from a phase in which AI was very much kind of like a lab experiment – like something that nerds put together and demonstrated that he can do incredible things with – to the realm of sitting back and being like, “Okay, so what is it actually good for, and how do we actually make it usable by people who don’t have a PhD in machine learning?” And so I think there’s a bunch of really interesting work that’s going to happen over the next few years, looking and thinking about what is the UI and the UX of AI, how do we interact with these systems? How do we make them usable? How do they signal to us that something is going wrong?  These are actually really deep issues that I do think that there’s a lot of really interesting work happening. A second domain that I think is really interesting is that, one of the things that we’ve learned from these technologies is that if you deploy them incorrectly, a lot of bad things can happen. And one of the things that can happen is, AI systems are kind of dumb in their way, right? Like they basically just learn the patterns in the data that we give them. And so there’s been really interesting incidents where we say, “Okay, we train a facial recognition algorithm on only faces that have lighter skin tones.” And it turns out that actually then people are not sort of recognized if they have darker skin tones by the system. And so I do think that there is a whole lot of research work and also in fact, frankly, kind of political work to be done thinking about okay, so how does society really want to create requirements around these systems, right? We’re going to deploy a facial recognition system – A, do we want it at all? And then B, if we do right, like how should it be designed? What are the requirements for it to be designed and deployed? And I think that kind of universe of  fairness in machine learning, but I think obviously it’s a much broader concept than that,  is going to be where a lot of the action is over the next few years..

Adrian Tennant: Let’s switch gears. Tim, back in 2009, you created The Awesome Foundation, which has a stated mission of “forwarding the interest of awesome in the universe, $1,000 at a time.” Tim, can you tell us what the Foundation is and how it awards grants?

Tim Hwang: Sure. So the origin of this project, basically I had a couple of friends who, were applying to foundation grants, you know, they were trying to like get money for their art projects or their research projects or what have you. And all of them would go into this with a whole lot of enthusiasm and basically come back a little later incredibly depressed. And the reason they were incredibly depressed is because if you’ve ever applied for a grant before, you know the process is extremely bureaucratic, extremely slow, and, really raises the question as to whether or not it’s worth the money at all. And so we kind of started The Awesome Foundation as in some ways like a punk rock philanthropy, if you will. Really simple idea: you get 10 people together. They each contribute a hundred dollars a month and it creates a thousand-dollar grant. And that grant is basically just given no strings attached in cash. Sometimes we just give it in a paper bag to someone, To do a project that is awesome. And there’s no other criteria than that. And it turns out when you do that, there’s actually a lot of projects that are just waiting to be done, that are kind of unleashed by this way of giving out grants. And so a number of years later, we’ve given out a few million dollars, there’s chapters all around the world, and it’s really become kind of a network of giving circles around the world that give grants to sort of weird sort of oddball type things, projects. And that really is the case and a core of The Awesome Foundation is a sort of community of people I would say, that are committed to giving these fun grants, often in  their local neighborhood or city.

Adrian Tennant: Do you have some favorite examples of projects that have been funded?.

Tim Hwang: Yeah. Well I think one of my favorites, so the chapter in DC is a very active chapter. They’re really awesome community. And they funded someone a number of years back, who basically converted an alleyway in their neighborhood to a simulation of the Indiana Jones Temple of Doom, with big boulders rolling after you as you run away as part of the experience. That you’d be able to go in, you would get to put on a leather jacket and like a hat and they would push this big inflated boulder towards you as you ran away while, of course, the music played. And it was just so great. It was like a very fun, cheap project. That was kind of a fun thing to have in the neighborhood. And I think really kind of captures in some ways, the sort of like spirit of the type of projects that happen through the Foundation.

Adrian Tennant: If IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you, your work at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, your book, Subprime Attention Crisis, or get involved with The Awesome Foundation, where can they find you?

Tim Hwang: Sure. Yeah. So I’m just @TimHwang. So Tim The .com, I believe, goes to a Korean pop star of the same name, which is not me. And I’m also on Twitter, on the same name. And that’s probably the best way to keep up with my projects.

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

Tim Hwang: Yeah. Adrian, thanks for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest, Tim Hwang, author of Subprime Attention Crisis and a research fellow at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology at Georgetown University. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page, at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


Melanie Deziel is an award-winning branded content creator and author of the bestselling book, The Content Fuel Framework. Melanie discusses how she became the first editor of branded content at The New York Times and shares what she’s learned about the art and science of creating engaging and effective inbound marketing. We discuss Melanie’s framework and learn how individuals and teams can easily generate up to 100 content marketing story ideas on any given topic. 

Episode Transcript

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

Melanie Deziel: Every content idea is really made up of two things: the first part is the focus. So that’s “What are we going to say? What are we going to talk about? What’s the perspective?” That’s really the message. And then the second element is the format. How are we going to bring that idea to life, visualize it, and make it something people can consume?

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. an audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Content marketing aims to provide relevant information that helps brands’ prospects and customers solve problems or address challenges. Content acts as a magnet, which attracts leads. The term content marketing was first used in 2001 by Penton Media, but it’s not a new concept. American businesses have been telling stories to attract customers for almost three centuries. Benjamin Franklin was probably content marketing’s first exponent, publishing the annual Poor Richard’s Almanack to promote Franklin’s printing business starting in 1732. At the very beginning of the 20th century, tire company Michelin developed The Michelin Guide to help drivers maintain their cars and find decent lodging when traveling; that guide is still published today. And a more recent landmark: in 2014, The Lego Movie debuted, making it the first example of a feature-length, major studio film that doubles as branded content marketing. So we’ve never consumed as much content in as many forms and in as many places as we do today. And yet in a 2020 survey, 60 percent of marketers said their biggest challenge is creating content consistently. So how can we fill web pages, social feeds, and YouTube channels with content that people actually want and respond to? Our guest today has some practical answers and advice. Melanie Deziel is a keynote speaker, author, award-winning branded content creator, and lifelong storyteller on a mission to share the power of compelling and credible content with others. Melanie is the Director of Content at Foundation Marketing and the author of the bestselling book, The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas. Prior to joining Foundation, Melanie was the Chief Content Officer of StoryFuel, and before that, the first editor of branded content at The New York Times. Melanie was a founding member of HuffPost‘s brand and storytelling team and served as director of creative strategy for Time, Inc. building branded content strategy across more than 35 media properties, including Time, Fortune, People, Sports Illustrated, and Entertainment Weekly. To discuss her career and share some of what she’s learned about the art and science of creating, engaging, branded content, Melanie is joining us today from her home office in Raleigh, North Carolina. Melanie, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Melanie Deziel: Hi there. Thanks for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Melanie, how do you define branded content marketing?

Melanie Deziel: I think there’s a lot of ways that you could define it and I’ve heard people define it as specifically advertising content that you’re sharing to communicate with your audience. For me, I think it’s not just the advertising content. It’s also the organic content. So anything really that you’re creating that is a means to communicate with your audience and create a connection there to communicate some sort of value or information. I think that counts. So that would be anything from a blog post that you might create, a video you share on YouTube, a course you create, a map that you circulate. I mean, really anything that you are creating to provide value to the audience, that falls in that bucket for me.

Adrian Tennant: Today, you’re the Director of Content at Foundation Marketing. What does your role at Foundation entail?

Melanie Deziel: It’s a really fun role and very different for me. So I’d never worked in an agency environment before, I’ve always worked at a publisher. And so in this role, my job is twofold. On one side, I’m helping Foundation with our own content, right? I’m helping to increase the level of quality and the frequency of content on our blog and on our social channels, some of the info products that we have. But I also work on a lot of our client content as well. So I’m overseeing many of the writers and creators on our team, since we primarily focus on written content: overseeing that copy, helping them improve their writing skills. So basically I like to say that if anyone’s creating content and that falls under my purview.

Adrian Tennant: Melanie, you earned your BA degree in journalism at the University of Connecticut, and your MA in arts journalism from Syracuse University. From there to becoming the first-ever editor of branded content at The New York Times, what did your career journey look like?

Melanie Deziel: It was an interesting journey. I always struggle to connect the dots because I think honestly, a lot of it was just following the opportunities that popped up. It wasn’t necessarily a plan or a journey that I had planned out ahead of time. It was really saying “Yes” and figuring it out later in many cases. So, when I graduated from graduate school, I had a really hard time finding a job, I think like many people around that time. The newsrooms were downsizing, they were going from print to digital. And there weren’t as many journalism jobs as I would have imagined – and certainly not when you try to specialize in either in-depth investigative or arts criticism. Those are generally the first two teams that lose budget. So it was actually a really savvy recruiter who said “I have this role at The Huffington Post and it’s creating content. So it’s like journalism, but it’s for brands.” And at the time I thought, “Okay, well I’ll take a job. And I’ll certainly take a job in New York”, which was part of my goal to get there. So, you know, it wasn’t something I thought I’d be doing for life but what I discovered is that my journalism background was incredibly helpful in a branded content environment. And luckily from a timing perspective, other folks who are on the team moved on to new positions. And so I found myself very soon after arriving you know, sort of leading this team overseeing our interns, overseeing our fellows. And suddenly I became an expert in a thing that I didn’t know existed a few months prior and it’s all gone from there.

Adrian Tennant: Which examples of branded content produced under your leadership in any organization are you proudest of, and why?

Melanie Deziel: So my gut reaction is to talk about a piece we did at The New York Times for Netflix, for their show, Orange Is The New Black. We created a piece for them around what it’s like to be a woman in an American prison. And that piece won a number of awards. It was very well-trafficked, very well-liked. But what’s interesting to me is I actually like a different piece that we made that got a lot less fanfare. It was very similar in its design, its layout, the features that it included, but the topic was the New York City ballet. And so we were working with a shoe company who had sponsored some of these ballerinas to be their spokespeople. So once again, I embedded with the ballerinas for a series of days seeing all the things that it takes – we called it “Grit and Grace” – seeing how much hard work and pain and struggle goes into making something look so completely effortless. And to me, that was wonderful because it was tying back into that arts criticism background that I had to be looking at the arts and talking about dance and the costumes. I think I enjoyed creating that piece the most.

Adrian Tennant: Your bestselling book is called The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas. Melanie, what prompted you to write the book?

Melanie Deziel: So the book actually came out of necessity as well. If you’re noticing a trend here, I guess I’m a “go with the flow” and “follow the opportunity” kind of person! I had been thinking about this idea. It was something I was using in my workshops – it didn’t have the structure and the name that it does in the book, but conceptually, I was working on this kind of thing with clients all the time. And the opportunity that struck was when I was on my way to a conference where I was slated to give a speech. And at the very last minute, while I’m boarding the plane, they tell me that the speaker before me has had an emergency, and could I do two talks? Could I do a completely separate, second talk to help fill the time slot? And so I had this opportunity of, “Hey, I’ve got to come up with a 45-minute talk out of nowhere.” And so I fell back on that idea. I sort of forced myself to articulate it in a new way: to build visuals to complement it. And what happened is after that conference, that talk got much more traction and positive response than even the keynote that I had planned and rehearsed and put all this effort into. And so I realized that you know, it resonates with people, it connects with them, it’s helpful for them. And so I sort of decided I need to further develop that idea. And ultimately it turned into the book.

Adrian Tennant: Well, there’s a couple of themes there. Number one: necessity being the mother of invention and second of all, actually not knowing necessarily when you create content until you look at the analytics to figure out how it’s going to land.

Melanie Deziel: That kind of is true of all kinds of content. I think that’s universal in many ways. If all of us knew the exact recipe to do it perfectly, we’d all be doing it. You know, It is still very much experimentation. And I think as a speaker, you generally get that feedback in real-time. You could see people’s faces if you’re in person, you can hear them gasping or laughing or clapping. So it’s really interesting to be able to take that live feedback – you know, the feedback you’re getting on a human level – and then take a look at the data you get afterward, which would include things like speaker ratings or I like to measure how many people proactively reach out to me, because to me that’s a lot of effort, to track me down or, or send an email. That to me is a good indicator of resonance. And so that is how I knew that this concept that people really are drawn to this idea of “How can I create better content? How can I come up with more ideas? I need some structure around that process.” So I just leaned all the way into that.

Adrian Tennant: As I mentioned in the introduction, one of the key challenges marketers face is producing content consistently. The Content Fuel Framework provides a straightforward process for generating up to a hundred content ideas around any given topic. Briefly, could you explain how the system that you’ve developed works?

Melanie Deziel: Absolutely. So, In short, every content idea is really made up of two things. Whereas our instinct is to maybe say, “I need an idea.” What we really need to think about is the two parts of the idea. The first part is the focus. So that’s “What are we going to say? What are we going to talk about? What’s the perspective?” Right? That’s really the message, when you talk about the focus. And then the second element is the format. How are we going to bring that idea to life, visualize it, and make it something people can consume? And the book really walks you through, “Here are a bunch of options for focuses, for approaches you can take through your stories, and here are a bunch of options for formats.” And it kind of helps you create this system. I visualize it as a matrix with all the focuses on one side, all the formats down the other side, and that creates all these possible intersections, these different ways you could bring stories to life. The goal, of course being, you know, you don’t need to make all of these ideas, but it’s just to help you see the potential and to not feel like there’s nothing to draw from. That when you have an outline like this, you could choose one or the other and see how they match up. It really makes it a lot easier to come up with ideas that fit a prompt versus staring at a blank screen or a blank whiteboard and just hoping something comes to you fully formed.

Adrian Tennant: Now you recommend that content creators start with the focus, then determine the format. Melanie, why that approach rather than the other way around?

Melanie Deziel: I like to answer this best with analogies because I think we see the value of this type of approach in other parts of our lives. So my guess is all of us have received a package in the mail, probably from a big box store that we won’t name, where they undoubtedly chose the box before they chose what was actually going to go inside of it. And it either barely fits and it’s horrible, or most often it’s this tiny little thing in a box that’s far too large, right? So I like to think of choosing your format first the same way. You’re saying, “Okay. No matter what I create, it’s got to go in this container”, and oftentimes, when you do that, just like with your deliveries, you get something that’s not well-suited to the container that you’ve picked. And so if we start with, “What is it that we’re actually delivering to our audience? What are we giving them? What are we telling them?” And then we can figure out what’s the best package to put that in, to bring that story to life. I think it really is a way to make sure that your story shines and that you’re not getting distracted by the various tools or technologies available to you, that you really focus on your message that way.

Adrian Tennant: I’ve certainly been in meetings where we hear, “We need a lead magnet. Let’s do a PDF.” That’s the wrong way round, right?

Melanie Deziel: Right. Cause people don’t download PDFs because they like PDFs. They download the lead magnet because of what’s inside of it. So it’s – yeah, we gotta refocus on the message oftentimes.

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

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: Welcome back. I’m talking with Melanie Deziel, the award-winning branded content creator, and author of the bestselling book, The Content Fuel Framework: How To Generate Unlimited Story Ideas. Within agencies, content marketers typically work in small teams. Do you have any tips for collaborating effectively as a group when generating ideas?

Melanie Deziel: Absolutely. So, we’re in a blessed position at Foundation that we focus only on content and so we have a robust content team, it’s really nice to have that support. But I know that most content teams, like you said, they may not even have a full-time dedicated staff or not more than one. And so that is often a challenge. You often do have to collaborate with folks outside of your team. I walked through in the book, there’s a way you could use this system to give everyone guidance and be on the same page as you work through your ideas. But there’s plenty of other ways too. The most important thing is to follow that focus before format approach when you’re in those brainstorms. Asking questions, like “What are the things we could share on this topic?” Or “What would be important for our audience to know?” And have the group focus on solving those things. Once you’re clear on what it is that you want to share, then have them put their mind to, “Okay, now what are the different ways we could bring this to life?” I have found that as you mentioned, oftentimes the conversation starts with a format and it’s, “We need a video idea” or “A lead magnet” or whatever else. And those situations are often much tougher to get collaboration and to get original ideas. So guiding everyone to put their attention and their mind toward the focuses is a really good place to start.

Adrian Tennant: Melanie, based on your work with publications and clients, which focuses or formats are often overlooked by marketers that could be differentiating their content?

Melanie Deziel: One of the focuses that I think we forget about so often is history. I think, especially as marketers, we’re focused so much on what we’re doing right now, what we’re launching next month, what we’re promoting next year – we’re very present- and future-focused. And I think there’s so much we can learn from looking back at the history of some of these topics, whether it’s the history of a product, of the company, of an industry, the background of a person who’s joined the organization. I think when you pause for a moment and look to say, “What can we learn about what brought us to this point?” there’s often some really great historical content that could be added into the mix.

Adrian Tennant: In The Content Fuel Framework, after introducing each focus and format, you present ways in which they can be applied in a business communications context. What led you to structure the content of the book this way?

Melanie Deziel: You know, one of the things is that I hear very often is some version of “This doesn’t apply to me” or like “My business is special and different” for some reason, right? We all… I mean, not that your business isn’t special, I’m sure it’s wonderful and special… but it’s not an outlier in that you can’t use content as a way to communicate with your audience. And so I felt it was really important to include a large volume of examples like that, even though they’re hypothetical. I’m not naming specific brands, but saying, “If you run a hair salon, here’s how you might use that.” Or “If you run an auto mechanic shop, like here’s how you might put that into practice.” Because I think it’s important to see it in a tangible way, to understand, “Okay, if they can do it, I can do it”, right? “If that works for this type of business, that works for me.” And I was very cognizant of trying to hit on as many possible industries and types of businesses as possible so that everyone can see themselves in the book somewhere.

Adrian Tennant: Melanie, a lot of coffee examples in the book.

Melanie Deziel: You know, I’ve just been a coffee person my whole life. When I was younger I had some lung issues and a doctor had recommended that coffee might help dilate the – I don’t know who knows what? – but coffee was the recommendation, even though I was four or five years old. And so I started drinking coffee at that age because it was medicine. And so we know now that’s not necessarily as helpful, but it’s become a ritual for me. So it’s something that I feel, I don’t want to say my identity is tied to it because that may be strange, but what I will say is it’s my comfort zone. And I find that I get my best work done when I’m in a coffee shop. I very much like that atmosphere, that I drink coffee every day. It’s just I like the ritual of it. And so, yeah, I tend to make a lot of analogies cause it’s something I’m familiar with. Even when I was in college, I actually wrote a column for our newspaper about coffee every week. I managed to find something new to say about coffee!

Adrian Tennant: For a new business or a brand committing to content marketing, it can be really hard to know where to start. How do you recommend establishing a strategy for content creation?

Melanie Deziel: When you’re new to content, it can feel very overwhelming. It can also feel oftentimes to your leadership, that this is a big bet or a big investment on something that we don’t know how to see the ROI on immediately, right? It’s not as clear as a direct-to- consumer campaign or something. My advice is always to start with whatever your version of a customer story is. So if that’s a testimonial or a success story or a case study, whatever makes sense for you, do that. Because starting there, everyone sees the value of those kinds of things. We see them more as a sales tool, right? So if you start with a sales tool, like a case study or customer story, and you present it in more of a narrative way, you’re able to turn that into not just a quote, a first name, and a photo maybe – but a full story about what they wanted and what was at stake for them and why they chose to work with you. And you know, what they’ve been able to do as a result of the success you’ve helped create. You’re taking that more narrative approach and that’s going to help you slowly win over and say, “Look how much more detail we can provide. Look how much more valuable this is when we approach it this way.” Once you get that buy-in, you can then start to explore other types of content: educational content, lead magnets, like we talked about before. But I think those customer stories are usually the best neutral ground to start on because everyone can see the benefit of them.

Adrian Tennant: Prior to your current position at Foundation, you founded a consulting firm, StoryFuel, which taught marketers, publishers, creators, and companies of all sizes, how to tell better brand stories. This also led you to speaking engagements at conferences and events around the world, gracing the stage of industry-leading events including Content Marketing World, Native Ad Days, Social Media Marketing World, and South by Southwest, among others. Melanie, do you find that marketers outside the US prioritize different focuses or formats than domestic teams?

Melanie Deziel: It’s interesting. I think one thing that I do find overseas is that there tends to be more of an emphasis on the people surrounding a product. And I don’t know whether – I can’t say for sure, I don’t have data to back that up – but one thing that I noticed anecdotally is there’s a lot more celebration of the craftsman, for example. There’s a lot of richer history, longer history, of some of these fields. And so we’re able to celebrate the watchmaker whose family has lived in the same town for 200 years. There’s a lot more of that sort of legacy, heritage, people-oriented content that I think is really compelling when you have a heritage brand in that way. We don’t have as much of that here: we’re a little younger in the US, as you know, from a historical standpoint. But that’s that kind of content I think is so rich, so engaging, it’s so brand-aligned, but also so valuable for the audience. They’re always curious you know, so I love that people-focused content that celebrates craft in that way.

Adrian Tennant: Melanie, which country that you visited for a speaking engagement, would you most like to revisit as a tourist and why?

Melanie Deziel: I think I’ve been very lucky that for some of these cities, I have been able to tack on a couple of extra days here and there, and even bring my husband along on a few occasions. So I’ve managed to do my best to turn those speaking engagements into a vacation while I’m there. What I will say is I would love to go back to Paris. Paris was one of the places where we did spend a few days there, but I was feeling under the weather and so I don’t feel like I got to do the full range of exploring that I’d like to do. So if you are in France, feel free to call me up. I’d love to come!

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the most common mistakes you see teams making when it comes to consistent content creation, and how could they be avoided?

Melanie Deziel: I think a lot of us feel pressure that we have to produce content at such a rapid pace that we allow quantity to overtake quality in terms of our preferences, our priorities and I think that’s a place where you can really use a reset to be reminded it’s less important that you produce something every day and more important that you produce something good consistently. So I always tell my clients, “I’d rather see you produce something once a week that is really good than something mediocre four or five days a week.” And that’s going to get you much better results. So, looking for that consistency doesn’t have to mean that it’s every single day or every single hour. One of the best newsletters that I love to read is Anne Handley’s and it comes out every fortnight. That’s how she brands it. You know, that’s fine, it doesn’t have to be every day. I think the consistency and people knowing that they can expect quality from you is much more important.

Adrian Tennant: And for listeners that are unaware, Anne Handley was the founder of MarketingProfs and wrote the book, Everybody Writes.

Melanie Deziel: Highly recommend – one of my favorites.

Adrian Tennant: Based on your experience developing and leading teams, in what ways can learning to think more like a journalist help people become better content marketers or develop more creative mindsets?

Melanie Deziel: One of the things that they teach you early on in journalism school is that it’s really not your job to tell your audience what to think or how to feel. It’s your job to collect information on their behalf and present it in a way that they can make an informed decision on their own. And so I think that type of mindset being of service to your audience, acting in service of them, allows you to provide something that is much more valuable. It gut checks us to say, “Is my brand the best authority on this topic? Or would it better serve my audience to include studies that were done by someone else?” So that kind of mindset of saying, “What does our audience need?” versus “What do I want to tell my audience?” That reset can be very helpful. And the other thing is that there’s no idea of content as scarce. There’s no scarcity mindset around content in the journalism world. For better or for worse, you don’t see a cable station say, “We’ve got nothing to talk about right now. So we’ll be back in 15 minutes or an hour.” Right? They just keep going, they find something to talk about.

Adrian Tennant: You studied journalism in school. Given how the industry has changed in the years since, would you still recommend journalism as a major?

Melanie Deziel: I would. Something that I’ve seen play out many times is that a lot of folks who are on the marketing side would like to make the transition into the content world. They want to be creating. And it is so much more difficult to teach someone instinct around what makes a good story, or resourcefulness on how you can find sources and information about things. Those skills require a lot more practice, a lot more cultivating than maybe understanding the formula for a CPM or understanding how we can position something. I think to have that instinct as a storyteller, you’re gonna have a much easier time fitting into that content world, and being able to study and pick up those marketing bits that you need to know along the way. The best recommendation would be to do both or minor in one, right? You need that basis. But I do think that the resourcefulness and the mindset that you learn being educated as a journalist is very valuable.

Adrian Tennant: Bigeye has an internship program and our current insights intern, Camilla, is actually a journalism major. She was very excited to learn that you were going to be our guest, partly because it’s her dream to intern at Rolling Stone magazine one day. So Melanie, since you also entered at Rolling Stone, what advice do you have for Camila and any other students listening about landing their dream internship wherever it may be?

Melanie Deziel: So, one of the things that I think is overlooked is that you can learn so many skills on your own. We’re being taught many things in school, but a big part of what I did was seeking other opportunities to learn, which is even easier now with Skillshare and Udemy, and YouTube, you can pick these things up anywhere. I think a big part of what helped me stand out in a number of my internship opportunities is having those outside skills. That it wasn’t just what was being taught in school, but I also had picked up other tools, other software, other certifications. So I think that’s one way you could really help yourself stand out. Because anyone who’s applying, they may have the same major that you have, they may have the same minor, they may have the same GPA. So it’s going to be those other things that help you stand out. And the other thing is when you’re given any sort of test assignment or assessment, which is often the case with internships, particularly if it’s writing-based, go above and beyond. That’s my best recommendation. Having been on the other side of it and when we’re bringing interns in, seeing someone who has that initiative to say, “Okay, they didn’t ask for supporting imagery, but I’m going to make something anyway.” Or “Here’s some examples of tweets that could go with this sample article that I wrote.” Just thinking a little bit bigger. I think that really signals to them that you are someone who can thrive in their organization and that you have skills beyond what you might see on a resume.

Adrian Tennant: Melanie, how do you foresee content marketing evolving over the next few years? And I’m particularly interested to know your thoughts on these AI-based copywriting tools that seem to be popping up everywhere at the moment.

Melanie Deziel: Yeah, so I have been paying attention to these such tools as well. I will say, I do feel like I don’t want to panic. I know that a lot of times new technology comes around and we think that everything is dying now, that it’s replacing everything. But to your point, it is evolving, right? I remember it was what, five, eight years ago that the Associated Press started having auto-generated, I believe it was sports reports because it was very databased and they could turn those out with a smart AI. And we all thought, “Oh, no! Sports journalism is dead. There’ll never be any more reporters.” And it’s just not the case. Robots are very good at some things and humans are very good at other things. So as long as you’re focusing on those things that are the human things – the interviews and the human element – that’s where we can keep our cool. I have played around with a couple of these AI copy tools. And I think it’s helpful if you need somewhere to start. But I haven’t used anything that those tools have output exactly as is. So it’s a little bit like getting a prompt in my mind. It’s very helpful for coming up with some little seeds, but it’s still going to be on you to plant those and grow them into something useful in most cases.

Adrian Tennant: Melanie, what’s the one question I didn’t ask you that you wished I had done? And what would be your answer?

Melanie Deziel: I don’t know. I always like when people ask about a hidden talent or a secret skill because I think that’s something that at least from the journalism side, that’s where you tend to pull out really interesting stories from people. When you ask them about a hidden talent or something people wouldn’t guess about you, people light up because it’s not something they get to talk about as often. I would probably talk about the fact that I know how to play the didgeridoo, which is a sort of a long, tube-like Aboriginal instrument. I won’t say that I know how to play it very well, but that’s probably my most random, hidden talent.

Adrian Tennant: If IN CLEAR FOCUS, listeners would like to learn more about you, your work with Foundation Marketing, StoryFuel, or The Content Fuel Framework, where can they find you?

Melanie Deziel: If you happen to be a B2B business and you want to learn more about what we’re doing at Foundation, our website is so you can learn more about us there. If you’d like to learn more about me, my website is You can head over there and you’ll find all the information you need about the book, about where you can buy it. You’ll find my contact information, all kinds of things so that you can reach out and connect with me in whatever way makes the most sense.

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

Melanie Deziel: Thanks for letting me share my story.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks to my guest this week, Melanie Deziel, author of the bestselling book, The Content Fuel Framework: How To Generate Unlimited Story Ideas. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Branding Consumer Insights Insights

Brand loyalty is more important than ever. The eCommerce boom during the pandemic provided digital businesses with an opportunity to engage with a much larger population of online customers. According to Digital Commerce 360, eCommerce increased by 32 percent during 2020 and continued to climb by almost 40 percent in the first quarter of 2021. Even better, marketers expect new eCommerce buyers to continue to shop online as they learn to enjoy convenience, the ease of comparing prices, and other benefits.

At the same time, the boom attracted more sellers and aggressive marketing from existing sellers. Even more, regulations and uncertainty have started to impact the way that companies can track customers. Thus, Shopify’s report on eCommerce trends predicted a surge in new customer acquisition costs and in turn, a heavy focus on building customer loyalty. After all, it’s almost always much cheaper to market to loyal customers than to attract new ones.

Three Effective eCommerce Marketing Tips to Grow Consumer Brand Loyalty

With increased customer acquisition costs and competition in mind, find out how the most successful, growing businesses have encouraged their customers to return for repeat sales.

1. Subscriptions

As discussed in this previous post about subscription boxes, subscriptions can enhance the customer experience with convenience and discounts while greatly improving retention. Obviously, subscriptions work best with the kinds of products that people consume and need to replenish. Since the market for subscriptions has already grown competitive in some markets, businesses might explore niche opportunities and ensure customer trust and satisfaction with flexible subscription offerings that are easy to use, modify, and even cancel.

As an example, Grove Collaborative attracted both customers and investors with their subscriptions for all-natural, home essentials, like cleaning and personal grooming products. They focused narrowly on the growing market for natural home products and offered more personalized services than such giant competitors as Amazon. Besides selling other brands, they also market their own brands. Customers appear to enjoy the product selection and find the service convenient, affordable, and flexible.

brand loyalty, grove collaborative

2. Membership programs

Membership programs can help promote a sense of exclusivity while building a community. Sam’s Club and Costco probably represent the most famous examples, and according to Investopedia, both of these retail memberships help these two companies generate additional revenue and promote loyalty. After all, if the customer paid for membership, they will probably feel motivated to use it.

Thrive Market offers a contrasting example of retail membership plans. The company provides a low-income family with a membership for every fee they collect from a regular customer. They’re also bonding with socially responsible customers by asking for charitable donations at checkout.

According to the Thrive website, they have donated over $1.5 million to such worthy causes as disaster relief and food access programs. Besides, they offer new members their choice of a free gift with a new membership. Unlike Sam’s Club and Costco, Thrive Market appears to use its membership as a way to build loyalty and accomplish their socially responsible mission and not to collect extra revenue.

Customers who seek the sort of healthy, sustainable food that Thrive Market offers will probably not hesitate to purchase a modestly priced membership when they know that the money will help others and entitle them to a free product. Members will probably feel proud to tell others about the opportunity as well, which can help with word-of-mouth advertising.

brand loyalty, membership programs, thrive market

3. Loyalty discounts and rewards

Programs that use discounts to reward loyalty and lure lapsed customers back have proven extremely successful. Harvard Business Review made the point that since it’s cheaper to keep customers than find new ones, loyalty discounts can also serve to help pass some savings back to customers.

HBR also mentioned that these sort of discount rewards programs work best when they offer the most value to the most valuable customers. In other words, the value offered should reflect the customer’s long-term value. A discount and email strategy that helps keep the brand top-of-mind for those most valuable customers aware of discounts, new offers, and other offers should produce the best returns.

How HelloFresh uses discounts to increase customer value

As one example, HelloFresh originally suffered in the U.S. marketplace because of high operational and customer acquisition expenses. HelloFresh has taken various steps to lower operational costs, though some of this might just take time. Since they’re vertically integrated from sourcing food to shipping, they may need years to cover the massive investment in operations and infrastructure.

As for customer acquisition costs, they focus on using discounts to encourage their members to order more. They offer flexible meal plans by subscription. The fee depends on the number of servings ordered. Plus, the plan lets customers choose the kinds of meals, various recipes, and even to skip weeks when they may not need the service. Mostly, the cost of each meal drops considerably as customers order more meals.

For instance, ordering four meals a week for two people costs an average of $4.49 per serving. In contrast, upping that to four servings for four meals drops the average price to $3.74. Customers see that and might decide that it’s worth it to order enough for supper and lunch the next day, even if they only need two servings per meal. They also offer additional discounts to select groups of people they hope to court as long-term customers, like students, military and veterans, and healthcare workers.

brand loyalty, hello fresh

Work with an Experienced Customer Acquisition Company to Improve Customer Loyalty

Subscriptions, membership programs, and loyalty discounts can all work to build brand loyalty, reduce the burden of attracting new customers, increase order sizes, and even to enhance the brand. At the same time, successful companies need to understand exactly what programs will appeal to their typical customers and in particular, how to use their programs to focus on retaining the customers that bring them the most value.

As an experienced eCommerce marketing agency, Bigeye will take the time to learn about their client’s business model, typical customers, and overall goals and pain points. In turn, they can help develop the kinds of loyalty programs that will optimize revenues, profits, and of course, the number of valuable and loyal customers.

Get started today by contacting Bigeye to discuss your business.


Celebrating Pride month, our guest is Graham Nolan, an agency communications expert and the co-chair of Do The WeRQ, an organization on a mission to increase queer creativity and representation within the advertising industry. Graham shares his own coming-out story and explains why Gen Z’s digital natives are the most DEI-aware cohort ever. We discuss some of the challenges still faced by LGBTQIA+ people working in the industry and Graham shares what lies ahead for Do The WeRQ.

Episode Transcript

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

Graham Nolan: This business runs on creativity. We are a creative community. You know, that’s part of what Pride is about. And we’re a very celebratory culture. What word is the hardest word to make fun? Work!

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States. Thank you for joining us. Each year, it feels like more and more consumer brands and companies are celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community by sponsoring or participating in Pride events. June sees many regular company logos transformed into rainbow-colored versions. Just take a look at LinkedIn for some examples. But what happens after Pride month? How consistently are LGBTQIA+-inclusive initiatives implemented year-round? Earlier this month, Getty Images reported results from its 2021 Visual GPS survey. Getty found that only one-quarter of respondents in the US see LGBTQIA+ people represented regularly in visuals and that when they do, depictions are often narrow and stereotypical. Some advertisers are hesitant about proactively depicting the LGBTQIA+ community in any campaign. Last month, Proctor and Gamble announced findings from a study of marketing and advertising executives in which four out of every five agreed that inauthentic depictions of LGBTQIA+ people could lead to a larger backlash than not including them at all. And the same percentage of advertisers agreed that it is, quote, “Difficult to adequately represent the LGBTQIA+ community because the community is complicated and has many new answers” end quote. Other common experiences for LGBTQIA+ people include microaggressions, such as hearing disparaging remarks about themselves or people like them. And for those who identify as trans or nonbinary, misgendering is all too common. Our guest this week is going to discuss a new organization that’s on a mission to increase queer creativity, representation, and share of voice within the advertising industry. Graham Nolan is a PR communications consultant with two decades of experience advancing meaningful brand conversations, working at the world-famous ad agency Grey, brand experience agency Momentum Worldwide, and StarCom MediaVest Group. Graham has spoken on LGBTQIA+ culture and media behaviors at events including New York Comic Con and South by Southwest. Graham joins us today from his home office in Austin, Texas. Graham, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Graham Nolan: Thank you so much for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s start with your background. Where did you grow up? And when did you first develop an interest in marketing communications?

Graham Nolan: I grew up in Lorain, Ohio, which a lot of people don’t know because it’s a relatively small city, but, if you’ve heard of Cedar Point, our nation’s home for roller coasters, we’re not far. That’s where it helps people understand where I grew up. In terms of my interest in marketing communications, it actually goes back as far as high school that I know exactly the conversation that led me down the path of marketing and advertising, which is my high school guidance counselor who told me, “You’re testing well, in all the social studies, math, science kind of stuff, but also, you love art. I have the job for you to pursue.” And I was like, “Okay”, because back then in high school, you’re just like, “Will someone please make decisions for me?” And then it turned out to be a really good path. In terms of marketing communications broadly, I went to Ohio University and it was really interesting to be there from 1997 through 2001. Integration was what we talked about – I feel like it must’ve been hot in the industry then as well. But it was all just about being more tactic-neutral. And don’t just sort of think in one way and make sure that everything connects and is consistent. And that actually served me really well because I was studying advertising management and, “Okay, I want to be creative across the board. I want to make sure everything’s always connected.” And then I ended up not working strictly in an advertising role specifically. I worked for advertising agencies as marketing communications and PR expert. So it was like, “Okay, this is just one more area of communications that I have to tie together for these brands.” So I started working for Leo Burnett and for StarCom, so now I’m promoting these brands, which is interesting because no one ever tells you the brands promoting multi-billion dollar brands also need someone to promote their brand. So it was a job I never would have foreseen and I’m like, “Okay, cool.” And then you see where your work is tied to dinner party conversation, really. The appeal of the work became, “So the things that I’m talking about and the people that I’m working with here have an impact on what’s going on in my friends’ lives. And we can talk about this over a beer.” And so I ended up with the right technical skills to do it, and then the passion for it because it tied to life so relevantly.

Adrian Tennant: You worked in Chicago, New York, and now you live in Austin. All cities with large LGBTQIA+ communities. Graham, when did you first feel comfortable coming out at work?

Graham Nolan: It’s funny. My coworkers felt comfortable with me coming out at work before I realized I was gay – which sounds like a very odd situation. But basically, I didn’t realize until probably a few months after I joined the workforce that I actually was gay. I always knew that there was something different about me. I knew that other people in high school, in a bullying context, usually, called me gay. I was hanging out with people who were very welcoming of gay people. I had LGBTQ friends. I just didn’t realize that was me yet. Bear in mind also that 2001 was the dawn of the metro-sexual. For anyone too young to remember this trend, it was basically just like men can actually dress up and they have to, and it’s clearly like just such a big Capitalist trend in terms of, “We should get men spending money on worrying about their appearance as well.” So if you were a guy that dressed well, there were some people that were just like, “Oh, well, you’re gay.” And I’m like, “Am I?” And then there were some people where it’s like “No, actually it’s really trendy to be straight.” And, when I figured it out, I came out to my friends first. And then by the time that happened, my work friends were part of my social circle as well. And so it just sort of happened organically and they were like, “We kind of guessed maybe, but thank you. And welcome.” And I was very lucky. I knew people at that time whose families really didn’t accept them. I knew people that had real struggles with it. And I did not have those struggles in coming out for which I understand that I’m very privileged and very grateful.

Adrian Tennant: Last year, McKinsey published a report entitled LGBTQIA+ Voices. They conducted a mixed-methods study with 2,000 adults across a number of global organizations. Their research found that people just starting out in their careers are generally less likely than more established professionals to feel comfortable coming out at work. Successful professional relationships like those between creative teams of copywriters and art directors in agencies require that individuals really get to know each other, and if someone doesn’t feel they can be open about their identity, it can be a stressful, sometimes debilitating experience. Graham, did you ever have any misgivings about either coming out in the environments you worked in or observed younger team members struggling?

Graham Nolan: The thing about this as you get older and hopefully get a little bit of wisdom. And just for context, I’m two decades into this business. I’m 42. I have a lot more to learn from people older than me and younger than me. At this point, I have zero misgivings about when I came out or how I’ve come out or the circumstances in which I’ve come out. You start to realize it’s not about you asserting yourself where you should have any sort of negative feelings. Though you will encounter some negativity still in how people respond to that, right? You can’t control other people’s feelings. You can’t control how other people in the world will respond to you. Whether or not they’ll like you, whether or not they’ll take you more or less seriously once they learn something about who you are as a person. My misgivings are that I didn’t understand that back in the day there are microaggressions, that I wish I had spoken up about. I wish I knew what microaggressions were when I was 25 or that I even understood the importance of speaking back on those at the age of 35. How important it is to speak to microaggressions in the moment so there’s no mistake about what just happened and what was said and how perhaps inappropriate that was. Or how perhaps you just need to discuss what was said so that you can sort of course correct for future conversations. So my misgivings are not about my self-expression, but about how I would have dealt with reactions to myself. New talent. It’s really exciting. We keep talking about new talent and next generations in terms of being digital natives and how important that is. They don’t know a life before iPhones, right? You hear calls about how people want change and how young people are changing. But I started because of the digital natives thing to think of them as DEI-natives. This is the first generation where they cannot avoid this discussion. They are the first generation that is growing up with an immersion in this vocabulary of self-respect, of interpersonal dynamics, of systemic dynamics. So it’s really interesting, going back to the question of whether or not I’ve observed younger team members struggling – I haven’t. I suspect a lot of it is people who feel that they’re strong enough to deal with it, but I also think that they will deal with it in new ways, and they will address these microaggressions because they grew up, regardless of whether or not they consider themselves super woke, they know the language. And they know at greater rates what is acceptable and what is professional and what is inclusive. So it’s, it’s really exciting to see that unfold.

Adrian Tennant: Graham, many of the holding company agencies and larger independents have established Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion councils. DEI is all about treating everyone fairly, breaking down stereotypes, and removing barriers for the marginalized to promote open discussion and enhanced understanding. What’s your take on DEI councils within agencies?

Graham Nolan: So I find that they provide tremendous value and the value increases the more closely they’re tied to business objectives. I’ve been a part of a range of these organizations throughout the different agencies that I’ve worked at, and I’ve seen them range from, “We’re asking you for what we should do in terms of business plans and policies” to “This is a group where everyone can get together if they want to get together over Margaritas.” I found that the margaritas group fell apart very quickly. I find that in general, the drinks culture of our agency life does still have a certain amount of building comradery. But then also it’s just like when so much of the discussion is about finding balances … like “I don’t even get to see my family. Why am I consistently having drinks with my work friends, talking about how I wish I could like go out more and have more of a life?” And I know that’s a little bit of a hot take. Some people disagree with that. But when you get to a place where you’re building something together, of course it works. And of course it works for our industry because we are the industry of building something together.  The affinity group is the group where it’s like, “Hey, if y’all people from a certain group want to get together, you can, you can use company space, you are sanctioned to do that.” And then you’ve got the ERGs that are about “You have a budget, and you are able to meet and put together programming. And we’re specifically like setting up the circumstances for you to exist.” And then you get the BRG the business resource group, which is, “We are asking you to dictate policy and to make sure that your work is intrinsically a part of our culture.” So the closer you get to BRG, not only do I find that those groups are able to create more value in the organization and for clients, but they also just hold together better. The dynamics of the group are better because they’re all trying to fix something. 

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the most common challenges you see these groups facing around Pride month?

Graham Nolan: I find that their biggest challenges, and what I sort of saw across these groups continue to be, scale and the seasonality of getting leadership focus. So, you know, Pride is the season before you have to move on to International Women’s Day, before you have to move on to Black History Month, and you do have to address all those cultural moments and you do have to engage with communities during those times. You’ll only ever have a certain scale of budget probably, which is enough to like focus on Pride, and then it’s hard to activate throughout the year. If you have a company of a thousand people, you might have enough people to have real diversity in terms of who is comfortable being there and speaking to their different perspectives. But a good friend of mine is at an agency that is on the smaller side, and she is a straight woman who had to run their Pride programming because they didn’t have any LGBTQ people who were comfortable or maybe not even present to step up to do this. So I found that scale was the most enduring challenge that any of these groups faced.

Adrian Tennant: Graham, you are the co-chair of a new organization called Do The WeRQ. Can you talk about its mission?

Graham Nolan: Absolutely. I love talking about its mission and I talk about the mission frequently. So the mission, which has been the same since our founding, is to increase queer creativity, representation, and share of voice within the advertising industry. Before I dig into what that looks like, we always find that it helps to give a reference in terms of organizations that people already know as established, So for example, a lot of people sort of understand what we are when we tell them we are the LGBTQIA+ equivalent of the 3% Movement for the advancement of women in the advertising industry and the ADCOLOR organization for the advancement of people of color in the industry. That’s where people start to go like, “Okay, cool. I have an idea of where you’re headed towards.” Those organizations have made huge strides. We talk about them all the time in a heroic context because they are making so much change possible and they’ve set forth models for what change looks like. The other organization that helps people sort of understand where we fit in things is to talk about GLAAD. So GLAAD monitors where we show up in the media, as LGBTQ people, across various forms of entertainment and “We are X percent of the population, but we’re only showing up as speaking characters on Y percent of television shows.” So GLAAD looks at what shows up. And then as far as advertising conversations, so if you go to any conference where they would have a panel on LGBTQ representation, all you could really speak to was “Okay, thank you, GLAAD, you’ve armed us with this information that is representative of the fact that this is how we showed up.” And then this is where we have to get a little bit more speculative. So maybe there was an ad that you’re discussing on a panel and it was designed for the lesbian community and maybe it doesn’t hit the mark and everyone sort of goes, “Well, you can tell that they didn’t have a lesbian in the room for that ad. “They never would have said that”, and “We don’t talk like that and that’s not how it happens.” So then, you know, “Go out and hire those lesbians and let them be a voice in the room and, you know, get to it.” And everyone agrees and they’re not wrong. But … was there a lesbian in the room? What are the mechanics of this? Did she speak up very vocally and were her ideas heard, but somewhere along the production process, they sort of get lost or we hit a wall when we get to clients or actually, she chose herself, not to speak up because either she is not out or she is out, but doesn’t think that she’s going to have a good reception to it. So she purposely chooses not to give this idea or this insight. I think about this all the time. If I were in a focus group for families, because we’re talking about selling minivans to families, if I was polyamorous, could I talk about that? But I ended up spending an hour explaining what polyamory was before we got to the whole thing about the minivans and would that be worth it for the brand? So there’s this whole disparity of understanding in terms of what is happening within the creative process. And we’re talking at big agencies, at small agencies, at the growing number of agencies that are springing up within platforms and within brands as in-house, what’s happening with the freelance sector. Consulting is very important for this. Sometimes people are just like, well, “Now it’s time for the gay thing. So we’ll bring in the gay consultant.” What is this process? And we recognize the need to examine that within the entirety of the community. So the mission, when we say it’s to bring queer creativity, representation, and share voice to life, it is to find out first and foremost how these things are even surfaced in the current environment. So we can figure out the ways to amplify them for the benefit of business. This business runs on creativity and it sure is not helped if the people from one of the most creative cultures in the world, their ideas, aren’t making it through to the final product and what’s on screen. So that’s what we’re exploring. And that’s what we’re trying to heighten.

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

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Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Graham Nolan, marcomms professional and co-chair of Do The WeRQ, a new organization that’s on a mission to increase queer creativity, representation, and share a voice within the advertising industry. Anybody looking at the transcript for this interview might be wondering about the spelling of WeRQ. Could you explain?

Graham Nolan: I can explain and you know what? It’s sort of funny. I’m surprised how many people don’t ever question it. Which is really funny because people love to have that kind of conversation and it’s not a common spelling. The naming was how I met co-founder and co-chair Kate Wolf – because I went to a friend named Bevan who works at Grey, and Bevan said, “I know Kate and you two should meet anyways, but let’s get this naming together.” We had already talked about something very action-oriented. And so, you know, “We got to do the work”, something along those lines, and then Kate’s like, “Well, let’s do the work. And then this is the capitalization (WERQ) because we are ‘Q’. Uh? We are queer.” We are, which by the way, I find that within the community and then outside of the community, people are still like “Is that okay to say?” Because it was a word that we’ve taken back and it’s also by textbook a definition that’s evolving the term that’s supposed to be like anything that is not heteronormative. So it’s supposed to be most all-encompassing of the others. One of the things about the name specifically is that when I would tell straight friends that that was the name of the organization, they go “Do the Work” and then they take a pause and they go, “Do the WeRQ.” Yeah. That was the reaction that we wanted because one, it symbolizes the way that once something becomes part of queer culture and by the way, usually started with queer people of color who, you know, who create, and then it becomes part of wider queer culture. And then it becomes part of straight culture to the point where straight people do go “Yeah. Yaaas!” Everyone makes fun of that and memes and stuff like that. But the fact that they’re responding to the name in that way tells our story, right? Like the cultural impact that we have is outsized compared to the impact that we have within the advertising world right now. Also, it drives home the fact that we are a creative community. We changed the spelling on everything. We make everything kind of fun. There’s a lot of struggle and protests we have to do, but we also make things a lot of fun because that’s part of what Pride is about. And we’re a very celebratory culture. What word is the hardest word to make fun? Work! So it’s sort of funny, there ended up being a lot of natural layers to that spelling and the significance of how that shaped up.

Adrian Tennant: The website lists seven values reflective of the organization’s commitment to helping agencies and talent do the work necessary for real inclusion versus rhetoric. Graham, could you walk us through them?

Graham Nolan: I can. I want to preface with one of the most important ways in which we built all these values because I’ve seen corporate values that are a list of adjectives that sit on a plaque or it’s like a screensaver or a mouse pad. But one of the things about corporate values that has always struck me is that they’re not very action-oriented and they’re left to a lot of interpretation. So it was very important for us to spell out our values with an example of the action that might come to life as a result of one of those, versus a description of, any of these, I just want to share an example of what we mean by some of them. So, Fulfilled Creativity. This is like the core of what we’ve talked about here, which is that when I can be myself, I can make my best contribution to business because I can contribute the best ideas. But what this might look like is, in action: “I finally comfortably shared my story of adopting a child with my partner to inspire a new strategy for our family-oriented client pitch.” So again, like more important that you can picture that room. You might even have just put a face to that person. That’s pretty cool. Okay, cool. So, Active Transparency: “I was honest about my struggle to our diversity partner and it sparked a new office policy.” Rival Collaboration – I love this one, because we’re not going to change anything unless we’re working together at the scale that we need to, with people that we consider our competitors in every other way. The example for this is: “I was empowered to connect with people outside my own agency and the immediate community at a purposeful plan meeting, where we launched a website to raise money for homeless, LGBTQ youth.” So, the other values are Confident Discomfort, Determined Education. “When I got someone’s pronoun wrong, I apologized and read up on gender identity and I never got it wrong after that.” Enduring Ambition, and Define Boundaries. So: “At my annual review, I brought up to my supervisor that we had no LGBTQ representation and rules on the accounts team higher than Account Supervisor, and those suits weren’t connected to queer agency mentors.” You can talk about these values and sort of leave them as sort of an open-ended thing, but we have very keen ideas and how they should transform into behavioral change. Because if you’re not seeing behavioral change, we’re just going to have the same conversation every year about how things should be better. What does that look like?

Adrian Tennant: Graham, to what extent, if at all, do you think some clients’ hesitation to engage with LGBTQIA+ audiences is based on a lack of personal connections with the communities, culture, values, and identities versus say more political reasons such as not wanting to be considered liberal or progressive?

Graham Nolan: This is really interesting. This specific question’s got some near-and-dear-to-my-heart value because the time that I did co-present at South by Southwest, the conversation was about how the booming volume of LGBTQ advocacy in social media spaces was being reflected in real life spaces, right? So we got all of our stats together and we prepared all this stuff where it’s “If there are this many more comments and this many more likes, how is it changing into real-life behavior?” And the presentation format that we had was a group discussion. So we presented for 10 minutes and then everyone talked back to us and we moderated the discussion and it just came down to the simplest thing, which is: when you know people in the community, it changes. So it’s less important that a brand puts up a flag, it’s less important that I put up a flag, then the fact that someone from high school can see me grocery shopping and goes like, “Okay, I know a queer person. The grocery shop? That’s cool.” So they just sort of see us as people and that’s the difference. And that’s why I think some of the people who aren’t quite there yet, but throw up “I have a gay cousin.” It’s like, “Okay – because you’ve started to understand that queer people exist in your world and you’re probably as good to your cousin as you can be”, right? I do think that there is probably disconnection that there’s probably – I can’t speak to anyone’s specific personal lives, but – that there’s probably a gap in understanding and that more connection to the community on a personal level can probably help with that. The complications of all this are really nuanced. There’s a Forbes article that listed that “Marketers are aware they do not have the cultural expertise to effectively target this consumer population and believe that it’s better to stay out of the game than to play it poorly.” So, you know, it’s all about this fear is the core of the disparity in terms of including us. But the fear comes from so many different places, it’s really hard to pinpoint. I do think that some people don’t know us personally or worse, because of personal interactions maybe they assume that they know us, or that they can know us all by knowing one of us. Speaking to the stats, I think some people are afraid of getting it wrong in the large number of ways you can get it wrong  I think that the more that we can find personal understanding, reflective of that South by Southwest panel and what everyone told me and what I heard loud and clear from the 80 people in that room is: “The more you know us, however you know, us, the better path that we’ll be on.” I also want to directly address – and this is where I feel the heat turned up a little bit – I want to directly address the point of you mentioning that people are afraid of one of the ways they can get wrong is like they’ll be viewed in a political lens. I find it troubling that so many people, even not in the LGBTQ perspective, in anything – we’re talking gun control, we’re talking reproductive rights – that everyone is so quick to go, “But the work isn’t political.” We brag so much about the degree to which our industry is so connected to culture, and “We know culture, and we are tied to every part of human behavior, but not politics,” but you know, “The work isn’t political.” This is the large-scale version of the person who says, “I’m not into politics,” which only means that they have the privilege of not having politics affect them so they can continue to act politically and vote for whomever they want, and reap the benefits of whom they vote for, then let that not affect their interpersonal relationships. To pretend our work is not at all connected to politics is a real problem because we do we play off of political dynamics and political beliefs and the insights that we generate to connect with people. We have to understand political behaviors and we have to understand political viewpoints in order to speak to people in an authentic way. I think that when we say that we’re not operating political;y as a business is that we hope that people aren’t operating with personal politics as a decision in their policy-making, that they are trying to create a space where people of different political beliefs and of political actions can still work together in the same place. And make no mistake, it is still good when people who have different political backgrounds work together because this industry has always created things where people who are not from a specific community, we’re still able to help make something for that community because they brought outsider perspective. And as long as it’s a collaborative process where everyone has an equal voice, you are able to do that. So yes, let’s keep the tension of the fact that we’re all different people, but let us never pretend that these decisions that we’re not making are political. And I think we’re at the end of the “We don’t get into politics” era because it’s another thing where consumers will decide for us. They will tell you, “I see that as political, by the way.” And then you go, “Well, I didn’t intend it to be political, so it’s not political.” Well, if there’s one thing that Black Lives Matter gave us as a speaking point, loud and clear, was the intent does not matter as much as impact. So as marketers continue to move forward with the best intent they’ve ever had probably, they will still have impact that if people view it as political, then guess what? It was political and it doesn’t matter what your intent was. So let’s talk about how politics are a part of how we create.

Adrian Tennant: Graham, I know it’s early days, but what do you hope the future holds for Do The WeRQ?

Graham Nolan: I love having future discussions about this. What you will see from us in the relatively immediate future is that we will have done a lot of work to crack the code on what is happening within agencies and within culture. And we’ll be able to give advice and guidance and consultants on that. So that question of like, “What did happen in the room when someone queer spoke up about a queer-focused campaign?” We will address that directly. Without those insights, I don’t like to be super-speculative, but I can tell you what we’re looking to explore, and we hope to connect with people that we wouldn’t have met otherwise still, that is the power of community. If you were to have to ask us in two words, what we are, it is platform and community. That is what growth looks like for us. So we want to keep connecting with more people we wouldn’t have met otherwise and to have other people meet in those ways. Because that’s how magical things happen. I hope and know we’ll produce data solutions, database solutions, and experiential solutions for how to crystallize this community and make sure that we can all come together and the various ways that we need to. I hope that and know that we will provide a ton of resources for people who know what they want to create and enable a lot of people to do what they love. And I want to say that in a very specific way. I’m a cynic. My friends do not consider me a cuddly guy. So when I talk about people doing what they love, that is not a refrigerator magnet. This is a volunteer-based organization. I have conversations all week. Kate has conversations all the time with “What do you do?” And “What do you want to contribute? Okay. You want to contribute in that way.” We’re working on this program, do what you love for this movement, for this mission. And when you tell people what the mission is, they go, “Oh, I know what my role would be in that.” Specifically, to say, “People doing what they love is the dream” is not a Care Bears Movie poster slogan. It is the reality of how we grow and make an impact in this business. And I hope that five years from now, the conversation is different at its core, at its very foundation. That we’ll no longer have to assume what specific behavioral challenges that we face. That we’re no longer in a position to have to be speculative. We will know our challenges with greater clarity and what greater industry to be in, to know your problems, and then to have creative people jump in and fix them once they know what the problems are? Like, wow! Advertising is specifically the position that we’re in to self-repair once we know what the real issue is once it’s communicated. I actually hope that it puts us in a position where we grow by leaps and bounds because we’ve finally stopped having to assume what was happening.

Adrian Tennant: If IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you, your work, or want to get involved with Do The WeRQ, where can they find you?

Graham Nolan: I will honestly talk to anyone directly about Do The WeRQ, and so if you think you might want to take part, you can email me directly at and that’s the way to make that happen. The speed with which I’ll get back and maybe like a little bit hindered, but I will get back and we can have a conversation about how to connect. If you just want to find out more and you want to get involved in some of our amazing online digital programming, we’re having some cool discussions during Pride and beyond, the newsletter launches soon, if you want to connect to all those things, you can go to but also finding out about our activities is as simple as following us on LinkedIn, on Twitter, and Instagram, we are @DoTheWeRQ, which again, WeRQ is spelled WERQ.

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

Graham Nolan: Thank you for having me and happy pride.

Adrian Tennant: Coming up next time on IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Melanie Deziel: It’s really not your job to tell your audience what to think or how to feel. It’s your job to collect information on their behalf. And present it in a way that they can make an informed decision on their own. That type of mindset being of service to your audience allows you to provide something that is much more valuable.

Adrian Tennant: That’s an interview with Melanie Deziel, an award-winning branded content creator, and the author of the bestselling book, The Content Fuel Framework: How To Generate Unlimited Story Ideas. That’s next week on IN CLEAR FOCUS. Thanks to my guest this week, Graham Nolan, co-chair of Do The WeRQ. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights”. Just click on the button marked “Podcast”. And if you’d like to ask about something, you heard have suggestions for a guest or a topic you’d like us to cover please email us at We’d love to hear from you. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


Melina Palmer is a Behavioral Economics consultant whose podcast, The Brainy Business: Understanding the Psychology of Why People Buy, is listened to in over 160 countries. We discuss Melina’s new book, What Your Customer Wants and Can’t Tell You, and how advertising professionals can benefit from understanding concepts including framing, priming, and herding. Melina provides practical applications of Behavioral Economics that maximize the impact of advertising and marketing.

Episode Transcript

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

Melina Palmer: The brain doesn’t work the way we think it should. In reality, the subconscious is making 99 percent of the decisions at any given time. Because we are a herding species, we look to others for making decisions. So when we see testimonials and star reviews we feel more comfortable making a decision.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Over the past couple of decades, our knowledge about the relationships between neuroscience, psychology, and real-world consumer behavior has grown considerably. Notable contributions to the literature include Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking: Fast and Slow, Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, and Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely. These works and others collectively provide insight into how social and psychological factors influence us every day and reveal that personal decisions are made at a subconscious level more often than not. With implications for advertising, marketing, product design, and customer experience, the principles and techniques that influence consumers to change their behaviors through non-conscious persuasion are categorized as Behavioral Economics. Our guest today is an expert and practitioner in this fascinating field. Melina Palmer is the founder and CEO of The Brainy Business, which provides Behavioral Economics consulting to businesses of all sizes around the world. With a Bachelor’s degree in business, Melina worked in corporate marketing and brand strategy for over a decade before earning her Master’s in Behavioral Economics. Melina’s excellent podcast, The Brainy Business: Understanding the Psychology of Why People Buy, is listened to in over 160 countries and used as a resource by many universities. And her first book, What Your Customer Wants and Can’t Tell You was published just last month. To talk about the book and how brand marketers and advertising professionals can leverage Behavioral Economics, Melina is joining us from her home office in Tumwater, Washington state. Melina, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Melina Palmer: Well, thanks so much for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Well, I attempted an introduction. Melina, how do you define Behavioral Economics?

Melina Palmer: I think you did a wonderful job with your introduction. And I typically just say that, you know, if traditional economics and psychology had a baby, we would end up with Behavioral Economics. The field really came about because traditional economics assumes logical people making rational choices in everything that they do. And because we’re all human and we know that’s not the world we live in, you end up with a bunch of models that don’t accurately predict behavior. So over time, you had economists and psychologists and neuroscientists entering into one another’s fields or working together on projects to see if there were these themes within the brain that could be used to more accurately predict behavior and what people will actually do instead of what we all think they should do. And Behavioral Economics was born.

Adrian Tennant: Now, prior to establishing your business, you had a decade of experience in corporate marketing and brand strategy. When were you bitten by the Behavioral Economics bug and realized it was something you wanted to go all-in on?

Melina Palmer: Well, it’s actually when I got my undergraduate degree in business administration and marketing, there was just one section of one book and one class had this like little tidbit that was about buyer psychology. And I remember reading it and thinking, “Oh, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. This is so awesome!” And saying, “I’m going to go back and get a Master’s in this someday.” Like at that moment, I knew it wasn’t going to be an MBA, this is what I was going to do. And I spent the better part of ten years calling universities and seeing what schools and options they had available and was continually told, “That’s not a thing, that doesn’t exist, sorry!” And I was a little bit discouraged, but just working in my marketing space and loving what I did and doing some research and innovation and things like that. And I was part of an innovation program for credit union professionals. It’s kind of like a fellowship program and they brought in some people from The Center for Advanced Hindsight to talk about what they were doing in their work.

Adrian Tennant: What is The Center for Advanced Hindsight?

Melina Palmer: Yeah. The Center for Advanced Hindsight is the group out of Duke University. So that’s led by Dan Ariely, and I remember seeing the studies and had that epiphany moment of, “Oh, this is what I’ve been looking for.” And so I like cornered them, like “Tell me everything! What is this?” And so found that it was called Behavioral Economics and got myself into a Master’s program and here we are.

Adrian Tennant: Consistent themes of IN CLEAR FOCUS are developing customer intimacy and using consumer insights to inform strategy. What are some of the ways that a knowledge of Behavioral Economics can help us improve the ways we design and conduct marketing research?

Melina Palmer: The biggest thing to note across Behavioral Economics, and just anything that you’re doing in life is, is that the brain doesn’t work the way that we think it does or the way we think it should. Like to say that “should” is a four-letter word here at The Brainy Business. And in that way, we like to think again, that we’re logical conscious creatures and we’re using these computers in our brains very strategically in everything that we do. And in reality, the subconscious is making 99 percent of the decisions at any given time using rules of thumb, things that have worked in the past that help us to survive as a species: we need to operate in this way. But if you don’t understand those rules that are being triggered and your logical brain is trying to communicate with what you think is your buyer’s logical brain, that’s not what’s doing most of the actual buying and leading people through a grocery store or on a website or whatever it is. So understanding that 99 percent is done using these rules and then having some awareness of some of the most common ones can help you to just be much more effective and efficient in your communications, both internally working with team members as well as when you’re creating marketing materials, presenting prices, putting things on a website, whatever it is to be built out so that it works with the 99 percent instead of only that little bit of logic when you are able to trigger it.

Adrian Tennant: Reflecting on your past experience as a corporate marketer and the need for brands to develop creative messages that really resonate with consumers, which three principles drawn from Behavioral Economics would you say are the most important for advertising and marketing professionals to know about?

Melina Palmer: Well it’s hard to narrow to three, but I shall rise to the task. So the first one that I would say is most critical would be understanding the concept of framing. So the way you say something matters much more than what it is, you’re actually saying. One of my favorite examples of this would be: imagine you’re going to the grocery store and you need to buy some ground beef and you see two stacks. One is labeled as “90% Fat-Free” and those next to it labeled as “10% Fat.” Which one would you rather buy? And most everybody says “90% Fat-Free”. It just sounds and feels better, you know, “10% Fat,” you think, “Ooh, I haven’t been to the gym in like 18 months. Where’s that going to go? I don’t like this at all.” And “90% Fat-Free,” you think, “Oh, I’m making such a great choice for myself and my family.” It’s exactly the same thing. And we know that logically, but the subconscious hears it differently. So looking for places within your business or where your competitors may be are all talking about 10% fat, you know, where can you be the 90% fat-free message that’s going to just easily resonate? Even if the packaging looks exactly the same or the pricing is different, it’s just not about that. The way the subconscious hears it will trigger the behavior in that way. So framing, I would say is number one – there’s a reason it’s the first of the concept chapters. So I think that one is easy enough. The next would be looking, I think, at herding and social proof, they go super hand-in-hand. So it’s one thing there, but because we are a herding species, like cows and sheep and guppies, we look to others for making decisions and especially people who are like us. And when there are many people who are like us. So when we see testimonials and star reviews and long lines at a particular restaurant or whatever it is, When we see others have been there and have done something, we feel more comfortable making a decision. So that has a lot of power. or even being able to say that this particular product is the most popular can increase the likelihood that it’s going to buy it and it will become even more popular when you put that moniker on it. So be truthful, but if you have something that is popular or the best value or whatever, may feel like you don’t have to say it, but when you do it can increase the likelihood that more people will pick it. So that is one more. And I would say a third, we’ll go with priming, which is whether it’s imagery or word choice, something that happens just before the action can be very influential on a choice that someone is going to make. One example being: people were asked to work together on a project, put into a room and in one instance, there happened to be a briefcase that was in sight. The other half, there was a backpack in sight. Nobody said they even saw or noticed it. But those in the briefcase room were a lot more combative and keeping information to themselves on these cooperative tasks they were supposed to be working on. Whereas those in the backpack room were more cooperative. Because when we think about the associations that our brain has with a backpack is when we were, you know, in elementary school or high school and working on team projects. And briefcases are for boardrooms and battling it out over money or whatever it is. So again, everybody said they didn’t see it just like people may say they never notice Facebook ads or “Commercials don’t work on me.” That’s just wrong. Even if they don’t realize it, these things are happening in our brains all the time.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the most common mistakes that are made in marketing communications, which could be avoided if Behavioral Economics principles were applied?

Melina Palmer: So I do have… and this was the second episode of my podcast. And at the time of recording, we’re coming up on three years, so there are many episodes there! But number two was the top five wording mistakes businesses make. So I would recommend checking that one out as it’s the second most downloaded podcast episode, still three years later. So one of the biggest things there is too much. And we like to think that people want tons of choices and they need all this additional information to be able to make a decision, when presented with too many options or features or whatnot, our brain just sort of gets overwhelmed, and the status quo, in that case, is to do nothing. And so “I’m going to think about that later” sort of a deal. So you can always say it in fewer words, whatever it is, if you boil it down,  how can I say this in the least possible amount of words? What’s the fewest bits, I can put here to help someone take a next step? And I do have a chapter in the book that’s dedicated to thinking about things in a series of small steps. We tend to think when we’re building out a marketing plan or whatever it is to say, “Well, you know, we’re going to mail the postcard or we send that email and people either buy or they don’t and we’ll track it.” and in reality, there are a lot of little micro-decisions in that process that are being ignored. That is what we would call a “nudge-able” moment. You mentioned the book Nudge. and so if you think actually with the email, as an example, you have to get through a spam filter. You have to then make sure that the subject line is enticing enough that someone doesn’t immediately hit delete, but they’re actually going to open it that then when they see what’s in there, they don’t go, “Oh, this is spam” and delete it. They keep reading and then they go to the next step of maybe going to click to learn more. And then they’re on your website and you have to not get distracted, especially if they’re on their phone and maybe they decide to open up Instagram and you want them to read something else and fill out a form, like lots of stuff happening. So, the least steps as possible, but think about how do you get them just to the next tiny little moment in each of those points and using behavioral tactics along the way to really just kind of keep them moving through that process.

Adrian Tennant: Pricing is an area that product and brand development professionals often have to consider. While there are quantitative research and statistical analysis tools that can help us find optimal price ranges for new products, as you describe in your book, Behavioral Economics can also be our friend here. Melina, can you tell us about the one word that increased sales by 38 percent, and the concept that’s at play there?

Melina Palmer: Yeah, absolutely. And pricing strategy is one of the biggest things that I do. I teach a course on it at Texas A&M, I also have a DIY course that’s available for anyone to go in and get. And so check those out. There’s lots of stuff for where Behavioral Economics applies to pricing. In the case of the 38 percent, that is another of my favorite stories and one that had a study. So they used grocery store end cap displays. And so one said, “Snickers bars – buy them for your freezer.” And the other says, “Snickers bars – buy 18 for your freezer”. Of which most of us can agree eighteen’s a lot and not really what we would buy in our logical brains. If you were the marketer setting up this ad, you would probably say, “I don’t know that I want to put out 18. It’s a big number and it’s arbitrary. And I don’t want to have to justify why I picked it and them is unlimited and people get a hundred snickers, if they want blah, blah, blah”. All your conscious brain trained to logic, why your subconscious feels uncomfortable and it maybe feels like it’s not that big of a difference. But when the number 18 was used instead of the word “them”, you had an increase of 38% in sales. And so there are actually a couple of things at play here. One is the concept of anchoring and adjustment. So the number that’s presented sets an anchor in the brain via priming, like we’re primed by the number to make a decision here. And in that case, “them” is like a fancy word for zero when we’re logic-ing about it, we’re talking about how it’s like unlimited, but someone going to buy, like “Maybe I’ll pick up two or something.” When we have the number 18, it’s more likely to get through that subconscious filter and your brain is going to then say, “Oh, 18. I’m so much better than everybody else. I don’t need 18. I’ll just get 6.” And you don’t even realize that you adjusted down from the high number instead of up from zero. And you still feel good about yourself and the decision and you move along with your day. The other really critical piece to this is underneath and kind of like behind the statements, there’s an implied question happening with the brain of the customer. So in the case of the word “them”, the question being asked, it’s being framed as “Would you like to buy some Snickers?” In the case where you swap that out for the number 18, the question is now “How many do you want to buy?” So there is this implied sale that’s in that framing of that kind of like subtext underneath the message that can make buying that much easier.

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

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Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Melina Palmer, CEO of The Brainy Business and author of What Your Customer Wants and Can’t Tell You: Unlocking Consumer Decisions and the Science of Behavioral Economics. Melina, what led you to write the book?

Melina Palmer: So I started my podcast while I was actually still in my Master’s program, because when I started, you know, I knew I was sort of early because I had been calling for years trying to find a program like this. And you know, on the academic side of Behavioral Economics, the field is built on decades’ worth of research. But in the applied space, it was surprisingly little that existed in the materials that my teachers were providing for me, just in what you could find. And so, things that were really clear to me as far as how this applies to brand strategy and pricing and communications and all of that, you just didn’t really see anywhere. And so I had gotten some advice to start a podcast and mine, as far as I still know, is the first real Behavioral Economics podcast that existed. Which is why there were so many people finding it from around the world. And in that way to make it really this applied space of being able to say, “This is what it is, and this is how you can do something with it.” And it really resonated with the audience to be able to get what you need without all the extra stuff and not having to go read oodles of academic journals and research papers. I can do that, so other people don’t have to. In the same way with the book, finding from the podcast was still having people reach out from around the world with this kind of common question of like, “You talk about it and it makes total sense. Like I get it, I hear what you’re saying. But where do I start?” And really, it just became clear that being able to put some of the boiled down to the most important, applicable stuff for people in business, to be able to go use without having to go get a doctorate and become an academic researcher because they have some interest in Behavioral Economics. So that’s I guess where the book kind of came from.

Adrian Tennant: Certainly one of the things that I really enjoyed about the book is the use of practical examples throughout the text. So, after introducing each concept, you present the reader with ways in which it can be applied in a business context to solve real-world problems. What prompted you to take this more action-oriented approach?

Melina Palmer: I would say it’s just my style more than anything. It’s – while I’ve only begun teaching professionally recently, I would say I’m a teacher at heart. And I think the podcast – for anyone that listens – knows that. And so, so many episodes of my podcast I have a worksheet, that’s a freebie that goes along with it. And just for me, I really wanted to do anything possible to make it so this book wasn’t something that would just sit on a shelf proverbial or otherwise collecting dust. I really want people to understand and get some comfort in using Behavioral Economics in their business in a way that it can, it just can change so much with really simple tips and tidbits.

Adrian Tennant: Purchasers of What Your Customer Wants and Can’t Tell You also receive access to a companion workbook. Could you tell us more about that?

Melina Palmer: Yeah. So I just can’t help myself when it comes to making everything as applicable as possible for listeners or readers. And so while the book does have a thing to try at the end of each chapter to start applying, there are additional worksheets and things to go about trying yourself in that companion workbook, which is 111 pages long. So lots of great content there for anyone who wants to continue to apply Behavioral Economics from the book and make it just really usable.

Adrian Tennant: You offer an example of how the temperature of coffee can make a difference in how people perceive each other. Can you tell us more about how Behavioral Economics concepts can be applied to our personal lives?

Melina Palmer: Yeah. So that is priming again, and in that study where someone unrelated held a coffee for just a few seconds before doing a study, those who held an iced coffee were more likely to rate people’s personalities as being cold and distant and difficult, compared to those who held the hot coffee and something they had no idea was related to what they were working on. So, you know, I kind of joke in the book of like, “Don’t deliver bad news to someone holding an iced coffee.” But I would say I do a lot of work with people and I have episodes dedicated to mindset and goal-setting. And so if you take this too, this is the same as the backpack and briefcase, there was another study that was just for a tiny fraction of a second people where they were watching a video. And there was a flash of a logo that you consciously couldn’t even pick up on. Half the people were shown an Apple logo, the other half an IBM logo. And then they were working on a project. And those who were shown the Apple logo were much more creative and innovative in what they came up with even though they didn’t notice that they saw the logo. And those who saw a Disney logo were more honest than those who saw the E Entertainment logo, you know, going on. And if you think about the power of a brand for one thing, that where people don’t even recognize that they saw it, but Apple is so impactful on the future decisions and actions that someone is making, if you want to be more innovative and creative in the work that you are doing and the way that you interact with others, you want to be more friendly. Yeah. Think about what’s around you in your office space. And if you have a bunch of, notebooks that say “TGIF” or like, “Ugh, another case of the Mondays, can’t wait for the weekend”, I’m a big fan of sarcasm, but I don’t have a lot of little sarcastic quotes around me when I’m working, because I know that they will impact everything that I’m doing. So if you want to be more innovative, put a big Apple logo on your wall and it’ll be constantly reminding you throughout your day. And if you want to be more friendly, I guess maybe have some Disney characters for when you’re talking with coworkers or other people in your life. But those priming things we don’t realize our eyes are scanning the world around us constantly two to three times per second. And it’s picking up on all of that, even if you don’t consciously recognize it and it impacts your behavior.

Adrian Tennant: In the final pages of your book, you offer advice for readers to help internalize Behavioral Economics concepts. You suggest that we all become curious questioners in the context of reading advertisements, so can you walk us through that?

Melina Palmer: Absolutely. It’s one of my favorite things. I love asking lots of questions and I think just approaching the entire world around you with curiosity is a great way to get started in thinking about things differently. So when you have a postcard in your mailbox. If you just go to throw it away or you go “Nah!” take a moment and go, “Why didn’t I care about this? Like, what does this look like? And how is that different from what I’m sending out to people?” Or if there’s an article that you want to click on a link, or when you’re walking through the grocery store, if your eye is drawn to a particular product, why is that the one you looked at? Why do you think they put it on that shelf instead of somewhere else? Going back to some of the priming, you know, there’s prime real estate in the cereal aisle, where and you’ll notice potentially now that the ones that are targeted for children, the mascots’ eyes are looking down. And there’ll be closer down on the shelf. And those targeted at adults, the eyes are looking straight on to try to have that relationship with the ultimate buying person who wants that particular product. So being able to look and just ask, “I wonder if they did that on purpose and if I was doing it, why would I have done that? Or why might I do something else?” Getting to question what others are doing can help you be more thoughtful about your own products and services and approaches as well.

Adrian Tennant: Another of the things that I really like about What Your Customer Wants and Can’t Tell You is the inclusion of links to episodes of your podcast that offer additional examples and further discussion of the principles you introduce. How many podcast episodes have you recorded to date?

Melina Palmer: 155 is the most recent and within the book, you know, there were a few less, I think we were in the one twenties or one thirties or something. But there are many links to episodes and some I knew were coming and conversations that have been recorded and things. So, really again, it is about being that additional resource. I know from my podcast, I have people constantly say that my show notes are some of the gold standard just very extensive with timestamps and tons of links to articles that I was reading, or the book that this quote came from, or where you can get more information in past episodes. So there’s just tons of stuff in those show notes. And people really value those who do want to dig deeper. It’s nice to have a reference that you can go to and know that that’s where that fact came from or whatnot. So the book itself outside of my podcast episodes, even there are over 200 citations within the book, so there’s lots and lots of past content and additional information for people to go find if they want to dig deeper.

Adrian Tennant: Melina, how does your company, The Brainy Business, typically work with clients?

Melina Palmer: You know, there’s a bit of a mix to make sure that there is kind of something for everyone. We have everything from for entrepreneurs and small business owners, some DIY courses and the books and the podcasts and things that people are able to get. And then also we have for corporate consulting, so that’s more like I would be going in and working with a team on a project if there’s a specific goal. I teach at Texas A&M University through the Human Behavior Lab there. And so having a tie-in, if we were wanting or needing to build out a project, that’s using the research lab to where we’re able to bring in the eye-tracking, and EEG scanning, and facial recognition, and all of that, we have the human behavior lab to lean on for those types of projects. So it’s a bit of a mix, which I enjoy. I like to say I’m kind of like a chameleon that would work best for the business instead of saying, “This is how you work with us and you have to fit within our box” I like to see what is the best fit for a company and what would work well for them in their team. And, we usually just sort of make it work.

Adrian Tennant: Do you foresee a greater adoption of Behavioral Economics in marcomms over the next few years?

Melina Palmer: Yes, and I really, really hope so. There’s so much more buzz and interest in questions and where I’ve been speaking at market research conferences. There’s a huge awareness of the field now. A lot of books have been coming out that are more mainstream. Bloomberg named Behavioral Scientists the top job of this decade back at the end of 2019, and there are programs in universities. I hope that every business school, honestly, Behavioral Economics should be a part of every single business curriculum. So hopefully, resources like my book, What Your Customer Wants, and Can’t Tell You, and those from others will be making their way in to help people to really use the information and have it be adopted across the industry.

Adrian Tennant: Melina if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you, your consulting with The Brainy Business, your podcast, your online community, or your book, where can they find you?

Melina Palmer: Well, the best thing is everything is, easily found at and you can find the book, the podcast, social links, things like that. I am on all the socials pretty much as TheBrainyBiz, or you can find me as Melina Palmer on LinkedIn. And, yeah, if you want to even send an email –, you can find me that way too.

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

Melina Palmer: Thanks for having me.

Adrian Tennant: June is pride month. Next time on IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Graham Nolan: DoTheWeRQ is a queer creative community and platform empowering the ad industry and marketers alike to inspire reward and celebrate queer creativity within the advertising and marketing culture.Adrian Tennant: Graham Nolan, co-chair of DoTheWeRQ, a new organization on a mission to amplify LGBTQIA+ creativity, representation, and share a voice in the advertising industry. That’s next week. Thanks to my guest this week, Melina Palmer, Behavioral Economics consultant and CEO of The Brainy Business. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights”. Just click on the button marked “Podcast”. Please consider following us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.


Our guest, Delaney Doria leads Brand and Product Development for a new skincare brand, Luma & Leaf. Delaney explains the creation of the brand – from an initial idea to market launch. We discuss the role of consumer research, ingredient selections, formulating, product naming, and packaging design. Delaney shares challenges COVID-19 presented, the quality assurance and testing procedures required for skincare products, and predicts how retail experiences will evolve.

Episode Transcript

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

Delaney Doria: Skincare is really confusing. The industry is flooded with so many brands and it’s really hard to know as a consumer, where to turn to, especially if you’re new to the world of clean beauty.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. In previous episodes of IN CLEAR FOCUS, we’ve looked at the growing interest in health and wellness, discussed the challenges of scaling direct-to-consumer brands, and examined the rise of cannabinoids, especially CBD, as ingredients in a diverse range of product categories. Today’s episode combines all three themes as we learn what goes into the launch of an entirely new skincare brand. The skincare category represents domestic sales somewhere in the region of $37 billion annually with a little over one-half of all adult consumers in the US using some form of skincare product on a daily basis. In the last few years, we’ve seen cannabinoids emerge as a popular ingredient in oils, creams, moisturizers, masks, and cleansers. And at the same time, more manufacturers have been developing products that meet consumers’ demand for “clean beauty”: products that have eliminated ingredients that are known to be carcinogens, hormone disruptors, irritants, and generally harmful to humans’ health. The biggest retailers in this space – Sephora and Ulta – enable shoppers to quickly sort and filter for clean ingredients on their websites. And almost one-quarter of US consumers, 23 percent, only purchase organic skincare products. Our guest today leads the brand and product development for Luma & Leaf, which is on a mission to deliver plant-powered, radiant beauty, without harmful ingredients. Delaney Doria has been with Luma & Leaf since the beginning of 2020, and previously held visual merchandising, e-commerce, and digital marketing roles with companies including Anthropologie, Guess?, FULLBEAUTY Brands, Parachute Home, and InstaNatural. Delaney, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Delaney Doria: Thanks for having me!

Adrian Tennant: You’re the Brand and Product Development Manager for Luma & Leaf. What does your role entail?

Delaney Doria: So my role definitely involves wearing many hats on any given day. I can work on campaign messaging, PR initiatives, content creation, influencer management, crafting product stories, and so much more. My main focus is to make sure the brand is well represented at every single touchpoint.

Adrian Tennant: Can you tell us more about the Luma & Leaf brand and the products that are currently available?

Delaney Doria: Sure. So Luma & Leaf leverages the best in clean, plant-powered active ingredients to provide gentle, effective, and uncomplicated solutions that restore skin to its most healthy and luminous state. Our debut line includes a brightening cleanser, a serum, a moisturizer, as well as a clearing serum, and a soothing moisturizer.

Adrian Tennant: Delaney you joined Luma & Leaf back in January 2020. What were the primary challenges facing you 18 months ago?

Delaney Doria: Luma & Leaf was really just an idea when I started, there was definitely an initial concept, but nothing was set in stone. I personally had never worked somewhere that didn’t have set standards or messaging. So in this case, the brand had to be established first. So it was truly working from the ground up, which was a really exciting and new challenge for me.

Adrian Tennant: How did you arrive at the name, Luma & Leaf?

Delaney Doria: We looked at the end results we wanted to achieve with the product, which was illuminated, healthy skin. Then we looked at how we’d maybe get to that end goal, which we knew was thoughtfully formulated botanical blends. So we combined that idea of bright illuminated skin with our plant-powered formulas, hence Luma & Leaf.

Adrian Tennant: Is plant-power a current skincare trend?

Delaney Doria: Definitely. Everyone is really just looking for a less harmful way to treat their skin. Vegan is definitely a big thing in the clean beauty market. So people are looking towards plants. It’s a natural alternative to a lot of these more harsh ingredients.

Adrian Tennant: Luma & Leaf’s brand mission is, and I quote, to “illuminate the skin-obsessed and skin-confused with clean products that make a difference on people and the world.” Now it’s a very inclusive message. How did you approach the development of the brand positioning?

Delaney Doria: We knew we wanted the messaging to be approachable and inclusive. Because skincare is really confusing. The industry is flooded with so many brands and it’s really hard to know as a consumer, where to turn to, especially if you’re new to the world of clean beauty. So we harness this confusion and our confusion, to be honest, into “simple skincare” for all messaging.

Adrian Tennant: Delaney, what’s your definition of clean beauty?

Delaney Doria: So clean beauty means a lot of things. It’s not always what you formulate without, it’s also what you formulate with. So we look to plant-powered solutions, but also sometimes synthetic ingredients that are not harmful. So it’s being able to understand what is okay for the skin and what is not. We look to clean beauty standards of a lot of trusted retailers, like Sephora, Whole Foods, Credo, and even what the EU bans as well. So it’s really aligning with that and not necessarily being all-natural, just finding that base.

Adrian Tennant: Just because something is natural doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not harmful.

Delaney Doria: Exactly.

Adrian Tennant: Right from the beginning, you were keen to take a science-backed approach to product development. How does that work in practice?

Delaney Doria: So definitely doing our research. It means looking at ingredients that are tried and true, innovative, clinically studied ingredients. But also sometimes creating our very own proprietary blends to really maximize those formulas.

Adrian Tennant: Last year, you and I collaborated on several consumer research studies, the results from which informed many of the decisions that you ultimately made about Luma & Leaf’s ingredients, product names, packaging, design, and pricing. Were there any findings arising from those studies that made you reconsider a previous decision, or maybe explore a different avenue?

Delaney Doria: We always found interesting results specifically when asking about product componentry.  One example that we ran into was we found the majority of respondents preferred a glass bottle for their cleanser, which honestly we were hoping would be the outcome. But we just weren’t sure how it would survey as cleansers are sometimes used in the shower. And, we just weren’t sure how people would prefer that bottle to look.

Adrian Tennant:  Insights from the primary research enabled us to develop buyer profiles – or Personas – for the kinds of customers that Luma & Leaf is designed to serve. In what kinds of ways, have you used those Personas during the brand development process?

Delaney Doria: So definitely use them every day and I still do use them, just knowing their preferences on ingredient stories, even collection colors, really went into each and every decision when developing the brand. We could really tailor the messaging to the audience and the platform, knowing this, which makes for a much more personalized user experience.

Adrian Tennant: Tell us a little bit about the three Personas.

Delaney Doria: We have Ashley, we acquaint her as the social activist. She’s 18 to 24. And she really values socially responsible brands, appreciates eco-friendly initiatives, and enjoys multifunctional products.

Adrian Tennant: Our second persona is Jessica.

Delaney Doria: Yeah. So she is a skincare enthusiast and she is 25 to 34. She’s a “canna-curious” beauty consumer, meaning she has maybe tried cannabis oil products but has not necessarily tried them in skincare. So she is the most curious to try it and the most willing to, because of her previous use. She also values products that simplify her life and appreciates brand responsiveness.

Adrian Tennant: And our third persona is?

Delaney Doria: Heather, who’s the value seeker. She’s 35 to 44 and she values word-of-mouth recommendations. She’s conscious of overall product value and she’s really loyal to brands and our specific products.

Adrian Tennant: Those Personas were developed from a segmentation from the quantitative studies that we undertook with consumers.

Delaney Doria: Yep.

Adrian Tennant: It’s great to understand what consumers are looking for in new skincare products, but it takes a lot to transform an idea into a real product. Delaney, can you explain the process of formulating a skincare product and what testing looks like?

Delaney Doria: Well, you’re right. It definitely takes a lot. But to sum it up the best I can, we start with research. So we determine what product is missing, or maybe what’s trending in the market. We then define the purpose and action of that product. And then we move to the ingredient story and what that might look like. From there, we moved to the sampling process, which first takes place with our formulator, and can go through many rounds to get it just right. And then we take it and repeat it with our co-manufacturer, which then again, needs to get it absolutely right and can take many tries. The sampling process, like I said, can be lengthy as it requires panel testing, which involves testing application, color, set, and feel. And we’ll go through that as many times as we need to until we feel a hundred percent about the product from there, even more testing happens with our manufacturer. It’ll go through rigorous testing like PET, RIPT, and stability before it’s ready for the market. So, stability determines the shelf life of a product. So it will be put in different environmental conditions to test that. PET determines if a product can withstand different types of contamination. So think your finger in the jar or heat, things like that, that can kind of get into the product. And then RIPT is a six-week-long panel that tests the product’s ability to irritate or sensitize the skin. And that’s something we do on all of our products to make sure that the product is in fact sensitive-safe, which is one of our core missions with the product.

Adrian Tennant: Well, I mentioned that you joined Luma & Leaf in January, 2020. In what ways did COVID-19 impact the brand and product development?

Delaney Doria: So I really only had about a month and a half before things were impacted. So definitely saw things impacted every step of the way. We experienced delays in componentry, shipments, and even had to switch vendors so we could move efficiently in development still. Although our launch timeline definitely was impacted, it allowed for more time to make smarter decisions in development.

Adrian Tennant: Even though the product wouldn’t ultimately be available until this spring, you started teasing Luma & Leaf on social last year, offering some really cool branded merchandise. How important is social media in the development of direct-to-consumer brands, would you say?

Delaney Doria: So, definitely important in any context, but of course, more so with direct-to-consumer brands. Not being sold in stores means less visibility for the brand so social media can really be used as a tool to tell your brand story and share the legitimacy of the product. All of that, of course, instills trust in the consumer, who then can confidently shop your product.

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: If you’d like to try Luma & Leaf’s clean, plant-powered products, Delaney has arranged a special limited-time offer for IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners. To receive 10 percent off your purchase, enter the code INCLEARFOCUS – that’s all one word – at the checkout at And in case you missed it, I’ll repeat this info at the end of the episode.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Delaney Doria, Brand and Product Development Manager for the new skincare brand Luma & Leaf, which was developed in collaboration with Bigeye’s creative team. Delaney, he has that close working relationship influenced brand development in ways that were unexpected or maybe unanticipated?

Delaney Doria: Definitely. So partnering with the creative team meant I was working with expert designers. So it really allowed us to approach the packaging and website and more in a more thoughtful and informed way. So oftentimes that meant going into a project with one idea and leaving with a million more ideas that could really push it that much further.

Adrian Tennant: Had you ever worked in a place where you had such direct access to the creative team?

Delaney Doria: I’ve never worked that closely with a team like that. All of my teams have been on the smaller side or there were degrees of separation in between. So it’s definitely been a really nice resource to have.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the differences between directing photoshoots for home goods, for example, versus beauty and skincare products?

Delaney Doria: So definitely a difference. In the home space with Parachute, it was really making the space livable from a visual merchandising perspective – so needed to be presentable at any moment someone came in the store and walked in. For skincare, you really have to make the photo tell the story, especially for direct-to-consumer, because we’re not physically in front of them at this point. So you really have to kind of take a small photo and make every inch of it feel engaging and impactful. Where when you’re in a home space, you have the whole environment that can have, you know, the senses attached to it, smell, all of that. So it’s definitely a different experience and you have to think of different things.

Adrian Tennant: How do you feel about using video? 

Delaney Doria: Video’s actually been new to me. I had never done it before in any shoots. So it’s definitely really exciting when you’re able to do that and really engage with the consumer through, you know, use of product or lifestyle footage and B roll and whatnot.

Adrian Tennant: So Delaney, one of the things that I think differentiates Luma & Leaf is the very interesting use of colors and the visual style. Can you tell us something about how those originated?

Delaney Doria: Sure. So the patterns and the colors are definitely my favorite part about the brand. And really that came too, when we were developing the brand story. it was plant-powered, it was bright, it was illuminating. And we wanted to show that on the actual labels and product bottles. So we were inspired by Henry Matisse’s later work of botanicals and more organic and raw illustrations of it. And we took that and really kind of ran with it. And we knew we wanted something bright, playful, and that really inspired us. So on all of our products, they actually feature the ingredients that are within the formulas. They might be a little abstracted in some way, but they’re on there. And we separated our collections by these patterns. So for illuminating, which is our brightening for dull and dehydrated skin line, it’s an orange-based pattern, with brightening ingredients on top of it. Then for clearing, it’s for blemishes and uneven texture, so we have ingredients that can help fight that. Then we also have our soothing collection, so it’s this beautiful purple and it has soothing ingredients illustrated on top of it. So having these really strong patterns really helped define us and define our collections to make it easier for the consumer to shop. 

Adrian Tennant: The names of products – which obviously is something we put through consumer testing – were you surprised by how that developed over time?

Delaney Doria: Yeah, we definitely started one way and went a million different ways as we were trying to figure out our voice. We ultimately landed on straightforward names, but still having a little bit of fun with it. So we have our Afterglow Serum because that serum gives you that glow, that afterglow, that you’re looking for. we’ll have a Golden Hour Mist that comes out next year.  And that one is just kind of that glow you love from golden hour of being able to kind of feel that and apply that to your face as well.

Adrian Tennant: What has been the most surprising thing about developing Luma and leaf sprang so far?

Delaney Doria: So surprising is definitely how much it takes. Like we kinda talked about earlier, it’s new to kind of work on something from the ground up and not have something to reference back to in terms of like set standards and messaging. So it was really been surprising to learn results from our consumer research that we did and really let them help guide the story.

Adrian Tennant: Well, the Luma & Leaf website launched about a month ago. What kind of response are you seeing from customers?

Delaney Doria: So the response has been really positive. Every day we hear feedback on how beautiful the packaging is, which has been really great. And users have really loved our website and how easy it is to shop.

Adrian Tennant: So one of the adjacent trends to clean beauty has been an interest in sustainable packaging and the recyclability of product containers. I know that’s something you’ve paid very close attention to at Luma & Leaf, right?

Delaney Doria: Definitely. I mean, when we started, we knew we wanted the packaging and the bottles to be beautiful, that you’d want to keep it on your counter, like a piece of art. you know, using these beautiful patterns that we talked about before. So for us, that was using beautiful glass bottles that had very limited text and were intentionally tucked away so you could display them on your counter. That kind of led way to the idea of why toss it when you’re done, if it is so beautiful. So, really taking, you know, this bottle and giving it new life by emptying it out, cleaning it out when it’s done, and using as a bud vase, succulent pot, cotton swab holder, any of those things, and really being able to upcycle your product. Otherwise, you can always recycle, but it really gives your kind of product new life and can be a new art piece on your counter.

Adrian Tennant: Delaney, you have a degree in fashion merchandising. What led you to your current position in brand marketing and product development?

Delaney Doria: So definitely a long story, but what really kicked it all off was in college in Philadelphia, I was doing a display and merchandising internship at Anthropologie, which was actually their first-ever store location. And I really fell in love with curating product stories. That internship ended up lasting a few semesters all through college, and then eventually led to being promoted to a visual merchandiser, which actually took place in Beverly Hills, California. So I moved across country. From there, I took those skills to e-commerce merchandising with Guess Jeans which was also in Los Angeles. And then eventually, back to New York, to FULLBEAUTY Brands. So just hopped back and forth a bit. From there, while in New York, I moved to Parachute Home as the visual manager and at the time they had only two stores and were looking to open shop in New York City. They were a direct-to-consumer brand. They still are. They have many stores, but I was brought on specifically to open their Soho, New York city location from the ground up and really develop an at-home experience for their consumers. From there that all led me to Florida with my previous job as a digital marketing manager for a local skincare brand, where I art-directed photoshoots and managed e-commerce and social channels. And then all of that led me to my current role with Luma & Leaf.

Adrian Tennant: What skills from your previous experiences in visual merchandising and e-commerce have been the most applicable to your role at Luma & Leaf?

Delaney Doria: Definitely being able to understand an audience and being able to tailor a product or brand story to them. being able to build something from the ground up. And being well-versed in e-commerce platforms that can help run a business. All of these collected skills and the many hats I’ve worn have definitely prepared me in developing the brand.

Adrian Tennant: How do you use the Shopify platform prior to Lamborghini?

Delaney Doria: Yes, so I used it at the past two jobs at Parachute setting up a point of sale for their store. And then as well at the skincare company, I was at prior.

Adrian Tennant: Now, as we mentioned, you’ve worked in Philadelphia, New York, and Beverly Hills – very swanky! I’m guessing that you find the pace of life in Orlando just a little different. What, if anything, do you miss about New York or LA?

Delaney Doria: So it’s definitely different and when I lived in New York City, I actually found the hustle and bustle to be so stressful, but lately I’ve definitely been missing it. So really excited that travel has opened up so I can visit again.

Adrian Tennant: Thinking about your experience in direct-to-consumer marketing, e-commerce, and now product development – in the future, how important do you think independent brands’ relationships with brick and mortar retail stores will be?

Delaney Doria: I really love in-person brand experiences, as you can probably tell. So I really hope it doesn’t ever go away. And I do think people always crave seeing products in person, being able to touch and feel it. So what’s important, I guess, is adapting. which could mean creating more engaging and purposeful spaces, or maybe even just aligning with a destination retailer, so you can be easily accessible to your consumer.

Adrian Tennant: Who’s doing a really good job of that right now?

Delaney Doria: Honestly, I’ll tie it back to my roots with Parachute Home. They made almost like a living experience in their stores. So there was a living room, there was a kitchen, and we invited the consumers to come in and stay awhile, which I think is really important, especially with materials like home goods, you want to touch it, you want to feel it, you want to envision it in your space. So that to me is a very, purposeful space.

Adrian Tennant: How do you see retail experiences, especially in beauty and skincare, developing over the next few years?

Delaney Doria: For in-store, I think we’re going to see consumers really rely on retailers like Target, to ease their shopping experience. So being able to get your home goods, your groceries, your clothing, and skincare, all in one stop. I think is going to be really important. I think consumers will expect them to build out their skincare assortments much more so they can actually do so. And to be honest, we’re already really seeing that with the expansion of Target’s clean beauty section, and also their future partnership with Ulta.

Adrian Tennant: Delaney, what’s on the horizon for Luma & Leaf for the rest of 2021 and beyond?

Delaney Doria: So we definitely have a lot in the works. We’ll be launching a pro-aging collection later this year. That will be a mask and a moisturizer and those products are amazing. I really can’t wait for those to launch. And we will also be expanding our clearing, soothing, and illuminating collections next year.

Adrian Tennant: Delaney, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about Luma & Leaf, where can they find you?

Delaney Doria: So is a great resource for learning more about our products. On here, you’ll also be able to find our blog, The Greenery, where we run through skincare education, tips, and tricks.  You can check us out on Instagram @lumaandleaf, where we are building a community that inspires skin-positive conversation. And listeners, you can receive 10 percent off your order with a limited-time promo code INCLEARFOCUS. Happy shopping!

Adrian Tennant: Delaney, thank you very much for that offer and for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Delaney Doria: Thanks for having me!

Adrian Tennant: Next time on IN CLEAR FOCUS, we’ll have an interview with Melina Palmer, host of The Brainy Business podcast and author of the new book, What Your Customer Wants and Can’t Tell You. That’s next week on IN CLEAR FOCUS. Thanks to my guest this week, Delaney Doria. You’ll also find a transcript of our conversation on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights”. Just click on the button marked “Podcast”. And if you’d like to ask about something you heard, have suggestions for a guest, or a topic you’d like us to cover, please email us at We’d love to hear from you. 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.