How COVID-19 Is Impacting Sport

Kara Baker, Director of Digital Partnership at the Golf Channel, discusses TV coverage of sports disrupted by the coronavirus.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: COVID-19 and sport. Every major US sporting event has been suspended or canceled because of the coronavirus. Our guest this week is Kara Baker, Director of Digital Partnership and Operations at the Golf Channel. Hear how her team is responding to shifting priorities and changes to signature events as a consequence of COVID-19. Kara shares practical tips for keeping remote teams connected and productive while maintaining a work-life balance.

In Clear Focus: How COVID-19 Is Impacting Sport

In Clear Focus this week: COVID-19 and sport. Every major US sporting event has been suspended or canceled because of the coronavirus. Our guest this week is Kara Baker, Director of Digital Partnership and Operations at the Golf Channel. Hear how her team is responding to shifting priorities and changes to signature events as a consequence of COVID-19.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS: A unique perspective 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 going to be talking about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sport, and what it means for marketing and advertising. Fifty-nine percent of Americans follow a sport or consider themselves sports fans. Yet, every major sporting event in the United States has been suspended or canceled because of the coronavirus. The N.B.A., the N.H.L., M.L.S. and Major League Baseball have all suspended play. The N.C.A.A. canceled all of its championships, including the men’s basketball tournament, which supplies most of its annual budget. Even the Boston marathon, usually a staple of the spring sports calendar, has been postponed until September. And the cancellations are not limited to the US. This summer’s Olympics in Tokyo are being postponed until 2021, UEFA too has postponed the Euro 2020 football competition until next year, and numerous marathons, including those in London, Paris, and Barcelona have all been postponed, as has the French Open tennis tournament. All of these cancellations have an enormous economic impact. Sports sponsorship is worth around $55 billion a year. There are the revenues that come in from people watching the games live, but also from television rights. For example, the revenue for the National Basketball Association is around $1 billion; Premier League Football brings in around $2.7 billion. Fans spend money traveling to games, on hotel stays, and buy merchandise. So it’s a big industry. I’m joined today by a marketing professional who is dealing with these changes to key sporting events as a consequence of the coronavirus on a daily basis. Kara Baker is the Director of Digital Partnership and Operations at the Golf Channel, a television network owned by the NBC Sports Group division of NBCUniversal. The channel focuses on coverage of golf, including live coverage of tournaments, as well as factual and instructional programming. Kara’s career has been centered around operations and partnerships. While she started in the non-profit sector running operations and project management, she ventured over to the sports media industry a few years ago and hasn’t looked back. Being a competitive golfer since she was a teenager, finding a career at the Golf Channel has been extremely rewarding and fun. She now oversees digital partnerships for both the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup digital products. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Kara.

Kara Baker: Hi, thanks. I’m super happy to be here today and kind of share a little bit in this ever-changing world right now that we’re living in sports and COVID-19.

Adrian Tennant: So Kara, what does your role entail?

Kara Baker: Okay, sure. Yeah. So I help oversee the digital products for the Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship events. And so just to paint a little bit more of a picture, PGA Championship is one of the four majors in the golf industry. There’s also four events that are under the PGA Championship: there’s the senior PGA, the KPMG Women’s PGA, as well as the Players’ Professionals Championship, which kind of leads into this team of twenty that gets to play in the PGA Championship. But most people that are probably listening today will know the PGA Championship and that it’s one of the four majors. And then additionally, the Ryder Cup, which is a competition between Europe and the US that happens every other year, that is also a really big golf tournament, probably one of the best that there is in the sense of just camaraderie and country and team spirit. And so with both of those PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup, I’m helping with the digital products as well as the partnerships that these media kind of deals and rights hold for us at the Golf Channel. We’re building out the website and the apps that go along with these products and then the partnerships perspective are the governing bodies that are putting on these events. So that’s the PGA of America and the European Tour.

Adrian Tennant: So before COVID-19, what did a typical “day in the life” look like for you?

Kara Baker: So we have a small team that’s a hundred percent dedicated to these digital products and day-in, day-out project management, product management, the design, and a whole slew of different things. And then we have a partner that we’ve sourced from a development perspective that we’re constantly working with as well as what we call our shared resources within the Golf Channel and NBC Sports. And so when you look at those three buckets – our own team, our dev vendor, as well as our shared resources – we are in constant communication with all of those teams and ensuring that we have put together all the different moving parts. This is a new partnership for us that started that we signed the contracts for in 2019, so 2020 PGA Championship and Ryder Cup will be the first year that we actually are the ones producing these digital products. And so this is a big year for us. It’s an implementation year. And so we’re working with a lot of different people on ensuring that we get everything right and we get it all built from the ground up, the best way possible for year one. 

Adrian Tennant: Now, in what kinds of ways is COVID-19 impacting your work at the Golf Channel?

Kara Baker: Yeah, so like many companies around the world right now, we are working from home but I think it’s been really a pretty amazing testament to see how quickly we can go virtual. Our team specifically started doing an 11:30 standup call where we all are on video calls. And you know, before, I think there was a lot of reluctance to turn on that video screen, where now it’s, “no, let’s get personal, let’s, let’s make this humanize as much as much as we possibly can.” And so we turn on that video screen and we all share laughs about what our background noise is. My boss’s kids are coming in and out – and it’s great, I think it’s really cool. And so I think that the biggest way it’s been impacting us is by making us go remote. But I think it’s been really amazing to see how it’s almost become more humanized and it’s the new norm. There’s some kind of funky background noises and kids are coming in and out in meetings and dogs are barking and that’s okay. And so I really think, again I go back to it’s humanizing where we all are and that we’re all on this journey together and we all have lives at homes that we’re now bringing a little bit more into work than we probably ever thought we would.

Adrian Tennant: The Masters is the first major golf championship of the year in the US and has been played every year since 1934 – except from 1943 to 1945 when it was canceled because of World War II. Yet it has also been postponed this year because of COVID-19. How has that impacted your plans?

Kara Baker: So the Masters is the first of the four majors and it’s about five weeks prior to the PGA Championship. So when the news hit that the Masters was postponing, it was a foresight or was it a foresight – you know, in April, everyone knows right now with COVID-19 it was within the 30 days was then so many different warnings that the government was putting out with large groups of people. And so the question was, was the postponement of the Master’s going to be a domino effect for all the other majors? And we were the second one up with the PGA Championship. And so that was the biggest thing is that wasn’t foresight or was it that it just fell within a window of time that kind of made it obvious and that everything would stay as it stands right now with the PGA Championship. And so it was about three to five days later, I think, because I think the Master’s was announced on Friday that it was postponed and then by Tuesday, so four days, five days later, a PGA Championship was announced that it was going to be postponed. So I think that, I don’t know if they were absolutely correlated. I think it was just really the way the world stands right now. The Masters was just the first given that it was literally the first of the four majors to get started.

Adrian Tennant: In the wake of these cancellations, are you having to reevaluate your on-air and online promotional campaigns?

Kara Baker: Yeah, so you know, we have a programming department within the Golf Channel and they have been working around the clock and still ensuring that we’re giving good content. And, and one of the ways of doing that is that when these tour events get canceled, which would have been your typical Thursday through Sunday or Thursday and Friday, kind of watch cycles, what we’re doing now is we’re taking old content. So in 2018 at the Valspar, which was a PGA tour event that would have been played last weekend, we showed the 2018 one instead, which was a really good one to show. Tiger Woods performed quite well in it, Jordan Speith performed quite well in it. So from a ratings perspective, if we were going to give someone good television, we felt like the 2018 version of it was the best one to show.

Adrian Tennant: As the situation is changing so rapidly, to what extent are you constantly having to review the appropriateness of creative messaging, digital media placements or elements built into your websites and apps?

Kara Baker: In my role, you know, we’re representing and so in relating to PGA Championship, it’s important that we have just updated information as soon as it’s given to us. And we’re essentially a new source. We’re putting up the press releases and at the end of the day we’re all going to the different news channels and outlets for our first take. But then we’re going to the source and in this case is the source. And so people are asking like, “what’s going to happen now?” And so it’s really important that we are aligning with PGA of America and whatever decisions they’re telling us and we’re getting that content updated as soon as possible so that we are giving that end user, that consumer, that this is potentially affecting, the answers to their questions.

Adrian Tennant: In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen some unexpected moves by big brands in response to the pandemic. Tito’s Vodka has announced that it will begin the production of hand sanitizer, as has Anheuser-Busch. Chipotle Mexican Grill is trying to put an uplifting spin on the situation by offering “Chipotle Together,” which are virtual hangouts on Zoom. But we’ve also read about ads that got pulled. Hershey Company said it had pulled two ads that featured human interaction replacing them with spots featuring only chocolate bars, text and a voiceover, I guess in response to social distancing. And Molson Coors halted a planned campaign called, “The Official Beer of Working Remotely,” because it didn’t want to appear insensitive, as many companies like your own have now adopted work from home policies to deal with the coronavirus. How well do you think brands are doing to ensure their creative elements are appropriate and not tone deaf?

Kara Baker: I think a lot of brands have responded really well to this, whether that’s pulling down advertisements that maybe the world would never know that were actually going to go up or by creating new advertisements. And so, like you mentioned earlier when you were introducing me, I’ve come from a nonprofit background and so I know for me, my heartstrings are always a little bit pulled when you directly are impacting people and what their livelihood is. And there’s no doubt that COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on the economy, for some losing their jobs. And so I think that the companies that are really shifting their stance in the advertising world and not just advertising, but actually advertising that this is something new they’re going to be offering as a byproduct of some of the economic downturns, I think that’s really amazing. And so Ford has done this as an example. You know, they created a new advertisement, I think it was in only three days, where they were specifically announcing that they are going to have some payment relief during the coronavirus crisis. And for all those people that have financing specifically with Ford. And so I think that that is really, really important in these times. 

Adrian Tennant: Have you seen or heard any examples that you think got it completely wrong?

Kara Baker: There’s a company, Mint Mobile that – I’m not sure a lot of people have even heard of them – it’s actually a wireless company that Ryan Reynolds owns part of. But they did an ad specifically with putting their fingers in their mouth and at a party and this whole double-dipping aspect. And it got a lot of poor, negative attention on social media because in today’s world, like you said, are we going tone deaf to certain things? You have to make sure that you’re being sensitive and it doesn’t matter how much money you put back in an advertising campaign, but you gotta make sure you hit the mark and you’re not ignoring or making fun of something that is causing just a huge impact on the economy, on our lives. You just have to be careful of that. So I think that they did not do the best job with that ad.

Adrian Tennant:

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

Erik McGrew: I’m Erik McGrew, Designer at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as advertising and design professionals. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers. By conducting our own research, we’re able to capture consumers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations.This data is distilled into actionable insights that inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – and guide strategic, cost-efficient media placements that really connect. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused, creative-driven 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. We’re talking to Kara Baker of the Golf Channel about the impact of COVID-19 on sports coverage. Now, I mentioned in the introduction that sport brings in big revenues here in the US, but money isn’t the principal reason that people take such an interest in sport. Many fans have a real emotional attachment to their team or their favorite players. Do you think, Kara, at a time when many of us are staying at home – with obviously no access to movie theaters or concerts – we especially crave connections through sport that can give our collective morale a boost?

Kara Baker: Yeah, I think it’s been unique to be part of the sports industry and to see how the stories are still unfolding and it’s still like I’m part of sports. So part of it is there’s a postponement and that’s a story right now and it’s just keeping me updated. It’s like, “Oh man, okay, the Olympics just got postponed.” Like that’s giving me something to read. The other stories, “Tom Brady’s now a Bucs – a Buccaneer,” and as a Florida resident, that’s a big story. And so it’s so interesting that even in the midst of all this, there’s a story that me as a sports fan, I constantly want to read and even, I’ve seen so many things about just higher activity from athletes on their social media platforms showing what they’re doing to help or what they’re doing to stay entertained. But I think that what I love even more than all this, and obviously I’m part of a media company, a sports media company, but I love that when we don’t have our favorite sport to potentially watch on television, maybe the current year, I should say 2020 – we can go back and watch 2019 and 2018 – what we do have though is the ability to get outside and to actually play. And so think this is a really great way that in the midst of that, we don’t have our team to cheer on, we can still be practicing ourselves and getting out in this really gorgeous weather right now, at least in Orlando, and get a chance to kind of put ourselves in that athlete’s shoes and get to be with family and really kind of embody that athletic team, sporting comradery that exists even when we’re just playing with our family.

Adrian Tennant: In what kinds of ways do you see COVID-19 impacting the coverage of sports and channels focused on sports, longer-term?

Kara Baker: I think it’s going to be creativity, um, in technology and innovation. I think I’ve already been amazed at the amount of things that are being produced in the most unique ways and in ways that we’ve never done before, whether it’s at the Golf Channel, NBC or any media company. And so I think NASCAR did a virtual race last weekend and it had great ratings. And so it’s things like that, we’re getting really experimental and what can we do? I mean, Ironman is actually doing virtual races starting very soon. And so there’s no doubt that we’re willing to film things with our iPhones now, we’re willing to get on Zoom and put a production piece together, and we’re willing to virtually have a race. And these are all things that were maybe not off the table, but were highly unlikely, kind of back- back-, back-burner ideas that now become a reality. And so I think that that will help in the future when we are past the COVID-19. I think we’ll go back and we’ll say, “remember when? And look how creative we were. And look how resourcefully we worked with what we had, and look how we put perfection aside, and we went back to humanizing something, and realized it was better to just see Jimmy Fallon on a screen and laugh a little bit. It didn’t matter that his wife was holding the iPhone and laughing in the background.”

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. “Deadline” reported last week that TV ratings have shot up as people rediscover live, linear viewing. The prevailing conventional wisdom has been that streaming services like Netflix would be the major beneficiaries of the current mandate for staying home, but viewers, many of them younger, are also checking out traditional TV. Viewership of NBC’s The Voice went up 38% and Ellen’s Game of Games, also an NBC show, jumped an eye-popping 44%. Do you think these viewing behaviors could become new habits – our new normal, if you will – post-pandemic?

Kara Baker: I think that’s, that would be the hope. I mean it’s hard to see and know how much of these percentages in these trends, how stable they are and what we’re going to see post-pandemic. But I think from a cable perspective, these are great numbers and it’s good television. Ellen’s Game of Games is hilarious and The Voice is talent. And so I think that these are all positive things that NBC and other media companies will just continue to leverage as we move past this. 

Adrian Tennant: So Kara, how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you personally?

Kara Baker: The biggest thing is getting back to your roots, slowing down a little bit and really holding true and holding close to things that matter most to you. Um, I think that that’s something that my husband and I really, really looked at in this past week and a half. My family’s safe, which is amazing. And um, continuing to pray for everyone’s safety. But I think that you never know what things can happen and you never want to take things too seriously. So I think from a personal perspective, it’s reignited the things that I think matter most. Helping to kind of refocus, you know, the ability to slow down, the ability to spend time with loved ones and ultimately just even care for them even if it’s virtually a little bit more often than maybe I was before.

Adrian Tennant: What, if anything, is proving challenging?

Kara Baker: I would say, working too much. It’s so easy to just get out of bed and just grab your laptop. You forget the morning routine of shower, makeup, commute to work, all that goes out the door and there’s one part of it that’s kind of nice that it goes out the door. But then there’s the other part where we don’t want to be on our laptops for 12 hours and I don’t want that for my employees. I think there are seasons where we work hard, but I very much am an advocate of work-life balance. And as are my leaders, frankly, as well. And so I think that the important part is making sure that we still stick to routine and we still stick to relatively standard work hours because like I said, it’s easy – the laptop’s still there. It’s in your living room now and there’s not that official closing of the laptop and then jumping in your car to drive home. So it’s important that I even help my team say that like, “be done, like, you’re good. You know, it’s all good. It’ll be here tomorrow,” and really stop it. Stop at work at whatever time that may be. But I think it’s important and I know that’s something that I tried to do even last night. It got to a point where I just kept working cause it’s very easy to, and then all of a sudden I was like, “I can be done,” and I just shut my laptop and it was done.

Adrian Tennant: Do you have any personal tips you’d like to share with our listeners for staying productive when working from home?

Kara Baker: Yeah, I think one of the most important things is facetime – communication with people, making sure that you turn on the video when you are doing a conference call so that you get the interaction – it forces you to not multitask and actually be present in that moment. And don’t be afraid to have fun with that. My team just scheduled a Friday Happy Hour – Virtual Happy Hour – and we’re really excited about it. We’re actually going to dual it as a product roadmap session as well. And it’s like, “this is fun. Let’s do it.” So I think there’s so many different things where don’t be afraid to push virtual things the same way that you would in a normal, everyday setting: the happy hour, a yoga session, a stand-up meeting, and push those through some sort of video conferencing and calling to connect with people and to keep yourself sane. And so I think that would be this. The second thing is we all have different ways of finding joy and finding balance and kind of being rejuvenated. And I think it’s important that each person soul searches a little bit and makes sure that they’re getting… that gets very easy to have your workstation at work and just go in. Like once we start working, it can be hard sometimes to stop, but what happens is with that it can be three or four days and that same thing and all of a sudden you realize, “wait, I haven’t gone outside enough. I haven’t called my best friend and I could use a non-work-related conversation right now.” So I think it’s important just to hustle, but then also stop and make sure that you’re keeping yourself sane, whatever that looks like. I think that’s different for everyone. For some people it’s a run, it’s yoga, it’s a walk, it’s a TV show, whatever that looks like, just make sure you’re inserting that in.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. I think those are great tips, thank you. If listeners want to learn more about the Golf Channel, where can they find resources?

Kara Baker: is a great place to go. You can sign up, you can see all the different brands that we have in our ecosystem, and you can sign up to be part of our newsletters, and you can sign up for Golf Pass. If you’re a golf fan, it’ll give you access to so many different um, golf instructional tips, really cool like Golf Channel television shows as well as discounts on golf. 

Adrian Tennant: Kara, thank you very much for being our guest today. Really appreciate it.

Kara Baker: Absolutely. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself. Thanks so much Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Kara Baker, Director of digital partnership and operations at the Golf Channel. You can find our show notes with links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at, under “Insights,” just click on the button marked, “Podcast.” Consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. And if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening toIN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, stay safe. Goodbye.

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CBD Use in 2020

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: A sneak preview of Bigeye’s upcoming 2020 National Study of CBD Use. In the US, around 15% of adults regularly use products containing CBD. Year-on-year sales of CBD products grew by 706% in 2019. To examine this booming market, we hear from three experts with unique perspectives on the CBD industry. Learn how the retailing and use of CBD-based products is evolving and why the category represents such a significant opportunity.

In Clear Focus: CBD Use in 2020

In Clear Focus this week: A sneak preview of Bigeye’s upcoming 2020 National Study of CBD Use. In the US, around 15% of adults regularly use products containing CBD. Year-on-year sales of CBD products grew by 706 percent in 2019. To examine this booming market, we hear from three experts with unique perspectives on the CBD industry.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, a unique perspective 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 the current situation, we especially appreciate you choosing to spend your time with us. Cannabidiol is an ingredient in a growing range of consumer categories. In addition to products intended to relieve conditions such as anxiety and arthritis pain, you’ll also find CBD in beauty products, food and beverages, sports supplements, and even apparel. And its uses are nor limited to humans – there are CBD products especially for pets, as highlighted in Bigeye’s 2019 US Pet Industry Study. Consumers’ receptivity to CBD use has been growing rapidly since the 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp production. Here in the US, around 15% of adults age 21 and older use products containing CBD. Earlier this year, Bigeye undertook a national research study to really understand CBD use and to help identify opportunities to tap into this dynamic market. We’ll be publishing the results of our study soon, but to contextualize the findings, today, we’re going to hear three perspectives on the market for CBD products and how purchasing and consumption is evolving. As we were analyzing the 2020 Bigeye CBD study results together, I asked Dana Cassell, our senior strategist, about some of the findings from the report. So first, Dana, can you give us a sense of what the market for CBD products here in the US looks like?

Dana Cassell: Sure. The popularity of CBD-infused oils, tinctures, creams, food items, and drinks, along with a host of other products, has exploded since December, 2018 when, as you mentioned in the intro, the federal government legalized regulated production of hemp with the Farm Bill. An estimated $5 billion was spent in the US on CBD products in 2019 – an eye-popping 706% increase over the previous year. That figure is set to grow to $24 billion by 2023 the increase in sales of CBD products is explained in part by broader distribution and availability in mainstream retailers such as Walgreens, Kroger, and Bed, Bath & Beyond. But the rise in popularity of CBD products has also brought greater scrutiny from the US Food and Drug Administration, which in November of last year issued warning letters to 15 companies for illegally selling products containing CBD. The FDA has since announced that it recognizes the potential opportunities that CBD-based products may offer and acknowledges the significant level of interest among consumers. So it’s a fast-growing market full of opportunity, but there’s also uncertainty around its regulation.

Adrian Tennant: Last year we discussed CBD regulation with one of Bigeye’s go-to experts. Joe Englander. Joe is a shareholder in the intellectual property practice group at Fowler White Burnett and leads the firm’s cannabis law team. Joe works with industry clients in the fields of hemp, medical marijuana, and affiliated businesses. When he joined us via phone from his office in Miami, I asked Joe what the legal status of CBD is here in Florida.

Joe Englander: There are two sets of regulations. There’s the federal set and then there’s the state set. The federal set has the Farm Bill of 2018, which has made hemp and CBD products legal. And there’s an interim regulation with the USDA, which is now in effect, which is helping States come up with plans and frameworks for regulations. In Florida, there is the Florida Hemp Act, which also makes hemp and CBD products legal and also provides for pilot programs for the universities to test different varieties of hemp. And there are new regulations which are being promulgated by the Florida Department of Agriculture, which have not yet been finalized, but are expected to be finalized soon.

Adrian Tennant: So Joe, how fast is the market for CBD and CBD-infused products growing?

Joe Englander: Very rapidly! Right now the only hemp that’s growing in Florida is with the university pilot program. But the interest and the businesses which are showing up to Florida showcases and seminars, it grows more each year.

Adrian Tennant: Could you tell us a little bit more about that pilot program?

Joe Englander: Well under the Florida state law, the university of Florida and other agricultural colleges are allowed to begin growing hemp to see what types of seeds are viable here in Florida. The thing about hemp is it can only have a certain low percentage of THC, so they’re confirming that the seeds which they are testing are in fact hemp seeds and not marijuana seeds.

Adrian Tennant: Right now, what should manufacturers include on CBD product labels to be in compliance with legal rules?

Joe Englander: That’s an interesting point there. You’ll find that in the regulations with both full regulations and the interim regulations that you have to say that there is CBD on them and the amount of CBD, but you can’t make any medical claims with regard to the CBD at this point. But you have to show what the percentage is and what I guess what you would say the dosage is, like what is recommended. For example, whether you’re supposed to take one edible or two out of a package of 50 edibles.

Adrian Tennant: It is a little confusing, the interplay between state regulations and the federal level. Do you see a path forward for greater clarity here?

Joe Englander: I don’t think that there’s going to be clarity until there’s legalization of marijuana in some way and then it would probably be similar to the types of regulations that go on with cigarettes or perhaps liquor. As far as Florida goes, I think there should be no general limitation as far as the CBD trademarks and protections of naming and branding, as long as the restrictions regarding age are are taken care of.

Adrian Tennant: While regulations on hemp-derived ingestible CBD products vary from state to state, the Food and Drug Administration has approved all topical CBD products at the federal level. This includes analgesics, joint relief, lotions, and creams. One person with direct experience of manufacturing topical products containing CBD is Michael Law of Eagle Labs, based in St Petersburg, Florida. Michael was also a guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS last year, and with his background in the production and marketing of consumer packaged goods, it was interesting to hear Michael’s take on the booming CBD market. First I asked Michael how Eagle Labs got involved in CBD product manufacturing.

Michael Law: So Eagle labs had been making skincare and nutritional products for private label clients, large national retail clients for about 10 years. The company was owned by a chemist with 40 years of experience formulating and Eagle Labs was purchased by an entrepreneurial pair of brothers that wanted to get into the CBD category, but in a way that would ensure that their finished goods would be nothing but the highest quality. So they purchased a very good quality manufacturer with chemists, as I said, with a lot of experience. And then they set about ensuring that their manufacturing processes were going to be ahead of any potential regulations. Our batch records, for example, are over 20 pages long for both the cosmetic products that we manufacture. Anything that might be a nutritional supplement with CBD, there’s extreme rigor. We qualify any new raw material vendor with three separate batch tests. We get certificates of analysis to ensure that the potency of the raw material for CBD is accurate and that the safety is also assured: that there’s no heavy metals, there’s no bacteria, there’s no pesticides and so on. So very rigorous on testing anything that comes into our facility. Any new raw materials that come in are quarantined until they’re tested. And then they’re moved into the area where they can be used for manufacturing. As we’re manufacturing – actually filling the tincture bottles for example – we’re testing from the top of the mixer, the middle, and the bottom to ensure that we’ve got a consistent level of CBD across the entire batch. And then when we get to the finished goods stage, we send out our samples from our finished goods to third-party labs for final testing. And we get what’s called a certificate of analysis or a C of A that shows the potency or if it’s a 500 milligram bottle, we want to make sure that it’s got 500 milligrams in it and that it doesn’t have any pesticides or any heavy metals or bacteria in it. So, I would say, a very, very strong focus on quality as you mentioned. And in fact, we believe that it’s in our best interest and our customer’s best interest to actually be ahead of what we think the FDA will decide in terms of manufacturing regulations. So we’re moving towards OTC qualification, which would essentially mean we could make a drug in our facility and we would have the processes for making drugs. I think when the FDA does regulate, there will be a lot of smaller manufacturers that either haven’t or aren’t willing to make those kinds of investments in quality that will disappear.

Adrian Tennant: We’ll be right back after this message.

Lauren Fore: I’m Lauren Fore, and I’m on the operations team at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as agency professionals and reflects the way that Bigeye puts audiences first. For every engagement, we develop a deep understanding of our clients’ prospects, and customers. This data is distilled into actionable insights that inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – and guide strategic, cost-efficient media placements that really connect with our client’s audiences. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email Bigeye. Reaching the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking today about Cannabidiol ahead of the publication of a national study of CBD use conducted by Bigeye. CBD quality and certification are clearly important considerations for consumers, but how is spending distributed across the different categories of CBD products? Back to Dana Cassell for some answers from Bigeye’s study.

Dana Cassell: Yeah, so I mentioned earlier that the market for CBD was estimated to be worth $5 billion in 2019. With CBD gaining in popularity – in line with the trend towards health and wellness – and with product availability and variety increasing, the market is on track to grow to around $24 billion over the next three years. We asked users how much on average they spend on CBD products per month, in total. In the full report, we break the results out by condition, but the key data points are that over two thirds – 67% – of CBD users spend up to $99 per month on products containing CBD. Over one quarter – 26% – spend between a hundred dollars and $199 monthly. For the most frequent indications consistently around one-third of CBD users spend between $50 and $99 per month.

Adrian Tennant: Staying with purchase data, we asked respondents where they had purchased products containing CBD within the past six months, both in-store and online. CBD products purchased from physical stores are primarily bought from cannabis or medical marijuana dispensaries or from health, vitamin, or supplement stores. One-fifth of users report purchasing from drugstores, and another one-fifth from vape or smoke shops. Respondents identifying as male are almost twice as likely to purchase from a drugstore and more than twice as likely to purchase from a grocery store.

Dana Cassell: We’ve talked previously about CBD products making their way into supermarkets and grocery stores, so it’s interesting that this appeals to shoppers who identify as male.

Adrian Tennant: Over half of our study respondents never purchase CBD online and of those that do, was the most cited retailer. Right now, it seems CBD products are purchased primarily from physical stores. Michael Law of Eagle Labs offered some advice for store merchandisers.

Michael Law: If you’re a retailer and you want to be in the CBD business, I would say be in the CBD business. Have a significant amount of assortment. My advice is that you should have all CBD products in one central location. If you move them into their various subcategories, I think it’s going to be art for the consumer to know that you’re in the category. My recommendation would be to have all of the CBD products in one location. You can have secondary locations, for example, in the pain relief aisle for the appropriate products. But I would still have a home location that has got everything together. That way, you’re concentrating on the opportunity for education. I think that you should have in-store signage and pamphlets and other forms of consumer education that are going to address the most frequently asked questions that consumers might have either on a new brand or on the category itself. I think having it all in one location allows the opportunity to have an in store educator nearby. There are some great best practices from smaller natural food stores and health food stores where there’s an in-aisle educator that comes right to you immediately when you enter the aisle. They come right to you and ask if they can answer any questions for you in the category. That also, retailers are going to be very concerned about shrink. And shrink is a term for lost product that leaves the store without being paid for. Retailers, if they have an in-aisle educator, they’re going to have eyes on the product and they can ensure that they keep shrink to a minimum. Some of the larger retailers that are now entering the category have got a very limited assortment and they’re putting everything in a lockup case similar to what you may see in some retailers for expensive razor blades where you actually have to get somebody from the store to come and unlock the case for you to access the products. I think that retailers like that will sell some product, but they’re not optimizing the opportunity. I think the profit potential in this category is massive and I think it would be worthwhile investing in in-store educators, certainly in high-volume stores, so that you can have a broad assortment and have somebody that can drive consumer education – and that’ll help drive conversion. Because once you get that consumer, once they make their first purchase at a given retail location, that retailer becomes the destination where they go for that product.

Adrian Tennant: Great points there from Michael Law. In Bigeye’s upcoming CBD study, we report in detail on the attitudes that characterize different groups of CBD users and identify which factors are most influential in the decision to purchase and use each category of product. We also examine how respondents rank the relative importance of ingredients, product design, and on-pack information – and what prompts CBD users to try new products. Back to Dana and some findings that surprised us.

Dana Cassell: We asked survey respondents how likely they are to continue using products containing CBD long-term. So drum roll please…

Adrian Tennant: Okay. It’s very clear that existing CBD users are true believers in its efficacy. 88% are somewhat or extremely likely to continue using CBD longterm.

Dana Cassell: This is huge. Only 15% of the US adult population is currently using CBD. But of those, 88% plan to continue doing so long-term; the other 85% of the US market represents an untapped opportunity.

Adrian Tennant: Our research data highlights a correlation between the length of time consumers use CBD products and the number of indications they use CBD for. The number of indications rises the longer a consumer uses CBD. This points to CBD’s unique proposition as a multifunctional ingredient. In practical terms, a claim that CBD helps treat specific skin conditions can be augmented with a claim that it also calms the user and lessens the anxiety that a person may have as a consequence of their condition.

Dana Cassell: The study results show that some consumers are either supplementing or replacing the use of over-the-counter pain medications in favor of more natural solutions like CBD. Consumers using CBD to treat medical conditions were among the most likely to spend between $200 and $249 per month on CBD products. Pharmaceutical drug spending is a major concern, so it’s perhaps not surprising that consumers, faced with higher copays or exclusions from their medical insurance plans, are looking to CBD based products as alternatives to Big Pharma’s offerings.

Adrian Tennant: Watch out for an announcement about Bigeye’s National Study of CBD Use coming soon. Next week, IN CLEAR FOCUS will have a special episode exploring changes in consumer behavior and attitudes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A reminder too that you can find links to resources we discuss every week on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” And if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, stay safe. Goodbye.

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Audio Branding: How Sound Can Build Brands

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Transcending language and cultural barriers with audio branding. We’re joined by Laurence Minsky, an expert and co-author of the book, “Audio Branding: Using Sound to Build Your Brand.” Larry discusses the theory and practice of creating entire sonic languages and how they can be leveraged for long-term brand-building. The show notes link to the case studies discussed in the episode.

In Clear Focus: Audio Branding – How Sound Can Build Brands

In Clear Focus this week: Transcending language and cultural barriers with sound-based branding. We’re joined by Laurence Minsky, a marketing expert and the co-author of “Audio Branding: Using Sound to Build Your Brand.” Larry discusses the theory and practice of creating entire sonic languages and how they can be leveraged for long-term brand-building.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, a unique perspective 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. While all marketers are likely familiar with visual branding, a growing number of marketers are using palettes of unique sounds and music to support long-term brand-building. Product designers too are leveraging the possibilities of audio to give consumer technology devices friendlier personalities. Researchers have found that music is a language that people all around the world can understand. Certain types of instrumentation and rhythms convey consistent meanings often subconsciously working at a symbolic rather than an explicit level. Audio branding is employed by many companies that compete internationally such as tech firms, Apple and Intel, beauty and skincare giant, L’Oreal, German car manufacturers, Audi and BMW, and their French competitors, Renault and Peugeot. But audio branding is less prevalent among domestic brands, which of course offers a novel way to differentiate from competitors. Our guest today is Laurence Minsky, an expert and co-author of the book, “Audio Branding: Using Sound to Build Your Brand,” which describes in detail the theory and practice of creating entire audio languages for brands. Laurence Minsky is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and Media Innovation at Columbia College, Chicago and the author of many books on advertising and marketing. He’s also an award-winning marketing strategist, creative director and copywriter focused on creating innovative and effective branding and cross-discipline marketing solutions for many leading brands. Professor Minsky, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Larry Minsky: Thank you for having me. And by all means call me Larry while we talk.

Adrian Tennant: Will do, Larry, thank you. What’s your definition of audio branding?

Larry Minsky: Audio branding is the use of sound that’s ownable by the company, by the brand to reinforce brand attributes. 

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the main reasons marketers need to consider audio branding today?

Larry Minsky: I’ll give you one reason why every marketer needs to consider audio branding today. And that is because of the growth of voice assistants. Right now it’s still in its infancy, but do you really want to leave your brand when there’s no picture, no visual, no colors, no fonts, no anything of the traditional branding sense representing your brand? And you’re leaving your brand up to Alexa or Siri? In Europe where audio branding is much more advanced. You know, the countries are smaller, there’s more languages and it gets really expensive to have a brand in every country and you want something consistent and you want to be able to convey it consistently. In America as we continue to diversify, our populations, that will become an issue as well. But Audio branding is a much quicker way of communicating your brand; sound communicates much faster and sound also helps direct visuals. 

Adrian Tennant: So you mentioned that the practice of audio branding seems a lot more prevalent in European countries than here in the US. Is there any other reason for that, do you think, beyond the language issue? 

Larry Minsky: You know, US marketing maybe is a little bit more hard-sell traditionally, “Buy now!” “Do this!” – all that kind of stuff. European marketing tends to be a little bit more indirect, a little bit more elegant. So, there’s probably an aesthetic area that helps bring it about quicker in Europe. But you know, practically, you do want your brand across cultures, cross borders and sound is much quicker and easier to do that than language.

Adrian Tennant: Now, when hearing you and I talking about audio branding, I’m guessing some listeners may think about jingles, that is advertising slogans that are put to music. But I know you don’t think jingles really qualify as audio branding. Why is that?

Larry Minsky: A jingle was written to carry the words. It goes back to what we just said that in America it was a lot harder sell. So, you know, “call 1-800-whatever,” and they sing it out is a jingle. And so the music was secondary. The sounds were secondary. A lot of those sounds don’t seem to be ownable. Some of them are like Nationwide. That is starting to become an audio brand simply by how they use it. And they’re starting to play around with how they use, “Nationwide is on your side.” But essentially that did start as a jingle. So a jingle can evolve into an audio brand but it is not the same thing. The NBC chimes started as a way to align things and it was a more technical issue but over the years it became part of the audio brand. So, there’s different ways in but the best way is the way you do any kind of branding and that’s to be strategic about it and think about what your brand attributes are and what do you want to convey and then develop the sounds that actually convey it.

Adrian Tennant: Mmm. Now, some brands of course do have sounds associated with them which advertising often supports. So, I’m thinking about, say, the roar of a Harley-Davidson’s engine, there’s the pop of a Snapple lid, and of course, when you start up your Mac computer, there’s a sound that accompanies that. Do you think these qualify as examples of audio branding?

Larry Minsky: Yes. Anytime you use sound to help convey an attribute, it’s an audio brand the snap of a bottle for Snapple pop. You know, you hear it, you’d get reinforced when you’re opening the bottle. So there’s positive reinforcement there, but you could use that in your advertising. You could use that on TV, on radio, on your website, eventually on your voice assistant applications. So anytime you’re using sound to help build your brand, it’s part of audio branding and really should be thought through strategically.

Adrian Tennant: Right. Now, one US brand that has consistently employed music as part of its brand is United airlines, which has used George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” since 1987, I believe, at an annual licensing cost of $300,000. Larry, I know you’re based in Chicago, which is United’s home base. What do you like or dislike about United’s approach?

Larry Minsky: What I like is Gershwin’s song is very adaptable to multiple situations and you still get it. It still reinforces and there’s a lot of positive emotion attached to that and movement and energy and things that convey United Airlines. What I don’t like is really, it’s not ownable by United. Anyone can license that song. It’s now gone into the public domain I believe. And so anyone can use it. It’s better to start with “what do you want to convey?” “who are you?” and then create something that you could own, basically permanently.

Adrian Tennant: In the book, you mentioned Intel as an exemplar of successful audio branding. Those four notes have been around for 25 years and while Intel has modified the instrumentation over the years, those four notes have remained the same. Do you think all brands should aim for this level of discipline when it comes to their audio identities?

Larry Minsky: All branding should be disciplined and if you’re doing it right, strategic and thought through. A brand is not solid where you don’t tweak it over time, you know, the, the best way to maintain a brand is to evolve it slowly, imperceptibly, so it stays up to date and it works in multiple areas, but still conveys values and, and the enduring attributes that you want to convey. Good brands, brands manage or companies that manage their brands spend a lot of time thinking about it and doing it visually. You should do that the same way with sounds. And do think of it as a long-term investment. You don’t see Intel chips when you’re buying, but it is a proof point for all the computers you buy with an Intel chip inside it. And that branding has helped Intel make a name and make it a proof point. What other chips are out there? What comes to mind really quickly and you could see why Intel is so effective because I don’t think a lot of people are going to come up with other chip makers that, you know, give them as much reassurance as an Intel when they hear that little sound.

Adrian Tennant: So Larry, I’m sure you encountered many examples of audio branding as you were conducting your research for the book. Do you have any favorite examples? 

Larry Minsky: One of the examples, for Royal Air Maroc from Morocco really captured the essence of the country. And there’s a lot of different musical styles in Morocco. So they had to bring them all together. And I thought that was a very, very interesting kind of audio brand from the French Open and, and how they use it, I find very interesting as well. It’s not just they have their audio brand that they use when they award the trophies at the end. And then they have whole environments for where you park when you go in retail settings. They even have an audio brand playlist for the athletes when they pick them up to drive them to the venue. So I found that kind of interesting. La Roche-Posay, it’s just an elegant kind of sound and, and really gets the feeling down. So, there are so many different examples out there of audio branding. MasterCard just came up with an audio brand not too long ago. And I do know on at least one scale, the value of their brand increased proportionally because of it. And that was the only thing they changed in their branding was their audio brand and refine their logo a little bit. And it’s just helping the brand differentiate itself today too. MasterCard did it after the book came out, but you could easily Google it or search for it and you could see the success that it has helped them.

Adrian Tennant:  Larry, I believe your introduction to audio branding came from your co-author Colleen Fahey.

Larry Minsky: In a way it did, but my exposure to it actually started earlier than that. I was a chief creative innovator or chief creative officer of a small agency and we had a publicly traded company as a client that had a pickle brand that was falling fast in the marketplace and the company was afraid that that would hurt their stock price. So they brought us in to stop the decline. And in our research we found that our pickle brand tends to get eaten up. A lot of people buy pickles, they eat a few, they put in the refrigerator, they might grab a few more, but eventually the pickle jar makes it to the back of the refrigerator. Pickles get soggy, they throw them out and then eventually maybe a back to school or some other kind of occasion, they’ll buy another jar and the cycle starts over. So we decided to promote the aspect that people love our pickles so much, they’ll eat the whole jar as our benefits. So we positioned it as the emptiest jar in the house. And how do you dramatize empty jars on radio was we decided to use a fork in a glass jar to hear the “ting” of it going in because it’s empty. And our campaign not only stopped a slide of the brand, it turned it around and made it the number one in the markets where it was sold most of its markets and in one market and in fact achieved a 40% share. So I started to get curious about the sound and how it plays in terms of building a brand and I thought that was an audio brand. Then I was working on another book and a collection of essays and Colleen and I, we come from the marketing services promotion firm and she had written an essay a long time ago about considering that as a career. And my publisher suggested that we use it in the book. And so I met with Coleen to modernize that article and she started talking about what she was doing with audio branding. And I learned that it was so much more than just a little logo at the end. It is a whole sound system. And one of the ways, in terms of how to use it, even for a package goods even for or, or any brand, even for a business-to-business brand, about half of Coleen’s agency’s clients – Sixième Son – are business to business firms. And you think of all the different touch points and it’s not just, you know, a consumer radio spot, which is where jingles end up. But think of the sales meeting. You bring all of your people together and, you know, you introduce the CEO with one type of music, you introduce the head of marketing with another type of music and you come across as disjointed to your employees and your employees need to understand the brand just as much as your consumers. And so you could bring a language to this that has full flexibility and, and, but still brings back the core notes so it conveys what they’re about. So you could use it even in an internal setting, such as a sales meeting. You could use it as a ringtone. You could use it on the website and voice assistance eventually, all sorts of things. So it’s really a comprehensive solution. And that’s what I learned when I sat down with Coleen and I said, “we gotta write about this.” And Colleen was doing a lot of writing. She’s a writer unto herself and that’s her background as well. And we collaborated on an article for Harvard Business Review where we looked at one of Sixième Son’s clients and that was the French railroad SNCF, which is one of the most recognizable sounds in Europe is their audio brand. They use it in stations, they use it on the trains when the doors are opening and closing. They use it in their advertising, you name it, it’s used and it’s highly, highly recognizable. And David Gilmore liked it so much he licensed the use of it for one of his songs and so every time that song gets played at reinforces SNCF. So there were so many different uses of it. So we wrote an article for Harvard Business Review on it where we actually went through the evolution of it and you can hear the different sounds in that article if you go on the online version of that article, if you go to it. And from there, we continued writing and you know that there needed to be a book on the subject because people understand it.

Adrian Tennant: One of the things I like most about the book, and I read a lot of marketing books, is the inclusion of pieces authored by branding practitioners such as Michaël Boumendil, who’s the founder of Sixième Son, the first sound design firm dedicated solely to audio branding. Plus you have articles from ad agency, veterans, Ben deSanti and Ken Hicks. But you also include contributions from academic experts, including professor Charles Spence, a cognitive neuroscientist based at Oxford University who explores people’s associations of musical notes with particular aromas. And his article describes really fascinating experiments that pair music with food often with some surprising results. Can you speak to that?

Larry Minsky: Yeah, I’ll give you a very basic thing, but cause audio branding is much more than just being in very tactical sales generating kind of thing. But there was research done in a grocery store chain where they had French wine displayed next to German wine. And on one day they would run German music and people would buy more the German wine. And other days they ran French music and the French wine’s brand would sell more. And people were asked, “well, why are you buying it?” And so, “well this one, this wine is going to pair better with my meal,” and all that kind of stuff. But what they were really doing was being influenced by the sounds, but they weren’t cognitively processing the information and saying, “well, I’m buying this wine because I heard this French song or this German song,” or whatever. It just helps set the mood for that kind of product. And so that was enough. That example might sound a little manipulative. That’s not really what audio branding is about. We’re not here to say, “okay, today you’re going to buy more French wine or more German wine.” But it’s really about reinforcing the brand attributes because if the brand attributes are what make people want to buy the product, they will buy the product or they like it better or I’ll talk about it or they’ll feel better about it. Whatever you need to have done and reinforce the qualities of the brand – it’s why you trust it. And  audio branding can help contribute to the trust factor.

Adrian Tennant: Many of our listeners are familiar with the creative process of designing a visual brand identity – for example, using visual mood boards and then refining designs based on some combination of client feedback and consumer research. Can you briefly explain what the creative process for audio branding looks like?

Larry Minsky: It’s very, very similar. It is. I’m first sitting down and figuring out what, what do you want to convey? What is the brand DNA that you want to send out to the world? And then from there you go into sound moodboards. It could be existing stuff, but you put it together and you hear, well, here’s one direction, here’s another direction, here’s another direction. What’s conveying, what’s working? And then you start composing those kinds of things and for mood boards and it becomes unique. And then you start researching it and you’re saying which one is working and what, what does it say to people when they listen to it? And, and then they refine it. It’s exactly like doing a visual brand. Doing a sound brand, you walk through the same steps except you hear it instead of see it. Really it should be just like figuring out what the visual brand is and what the visual brand promises and how you bring it to life in different aspects should be thought of upfront. In many ways, and this is another benefit is the licensing fees overall are lower. When you have an audio brand, you have all the development. And sometimes it depends on what you do in terms of how you get it, whether it’s licensed from name, audio, branding firm or whether you, you own it all clear out, but you need to make different iterations. But overall it becomes cheaper and easier to manage. So you’re saving money on one end because if you’re doing a lot of TV or doing a lot of radio and you need a lot of sounds, you know, you gotta pay for it.

Adrian Tennant: So do you have a couple of audio branding do’s and don’ts that you’d like to share?

Larry Minsky: I would guess the number one DO is create one and start bringing your sounds together and making them consistent and aligned and working for your brand instead of helping communicate that your brand is disjointed. Do follow a disciplined process. Go do it. Like you would do a visual brand, think it through, do the research, do, do the hard work upfront. Those would be the, in a, in a very short way, the very main dos. DON’T think of it as a jingle thing. Don’t think of it as one-offs. Think of it as a system and do think of it long term. Don’t think of it as a short term solution. It’s an investment in your brand, just like your colors, your fonts, your logo.

Adrian Tennant: Larry, you balance real world advertising practice with a parallel career in academia. In what kinds of ways does one inform the other?

Larry Minsky: Great question. My research, my writing, helps me inform what I do. I hope it helps inform other people, what they do. My teaching keeps me on and my consulting, my working in the field helps bring back, well what are the issues out there today and what can we look at? So what I do research-wise and writing-wise, they all work together.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. We will of course include links to the examples that we’ve discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS webpage. But if listeners would like to know more about your work, Larry, and either this book or the many other books that you’ve written, where can they find you?

Larry Minsky: You could just go to Amazon and put in my name, Laurence Minsky and go to my author page and there is the complete list of books. My two current books are on Kogan Page and then I have another one on with that just came out on Global Brand Management. So how do you manage a brand that crosses borders? What are the issues, and or crosses cultures? I have another book, The Activation Imperative on how do you align all of the different disciplines to drive people down the path to purchase? 

Adrian Tennant: Larry, thank you very much for being with us today on IN CLEAR FOCUS. It’s a really fascinating topic. Thank you very much for sharing your insights about audio branding with us.

Larry Minsky: Thanks for having me. I enjoyed the discussion. Hopefully, you found it just as interesting and enjoyable as I did.

Adrian Tennant: Thank you. My thanks to our guest this week, Laurence Minsky, co-author of Audio Branding: Using Sound to Build Your Brand. You can find links to resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked, “Podcast.” Consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player, and if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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Multicultural Marketing

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Hispanics make up around 18 percent of the total US population, yet there’s a disparity between the proportion of ad spend allocated to Hispanic media and the number of Hispanics living in the US. Multicultural marketing expert George Zwierko of Rumbo Marketing joins us to explain the characteristics of Hispanic consumers, where they spend their time, and how they engage with advertising. We discuss popular misconceptions, dispel some urban legends, and identify what influences Hispanics’ estimated $1.7 trillion in purchasing power.

In Clear Focus: Multicultural Marketing

In Clear Focus this week: Hispanics make up around 18 percent of the total US population, yet there’s a disparity between the proportion of ad spend allocated to Hispanic media and the number of Hispanics living in the US.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, a unique perspective 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. Within the next couple of weeks, homes across the United States will begin receiving invitations to complete the 2020 census on April 1st – and on November 3rd, Americans will vote to decide who will become the next president of the United States. Census data suggests that people aged 18 to 45 years old will represent just under 40% of the eligible voters this year and it’s expected that more than 30% of them will be non-white. This reflects an increase in the numbers of voters identifying as African American, Hispanic, and Asian since the 2016 Presidential election. A report from Horowitz Research published late last year showed that diversity in advertising can have a positive impact on the purchase decisions of multicultural consumers. Ads that show mixed-race couples and families had a 31% net impact on brand perception. 38% of respondents said that advertisements that portray diverse multicultural people in them are reflecting the true essence of the United States. Although Asians are the fastest growing demographic group, Hispanics make up around 18% of the total US population and currently command an estimated $1.7 trillion in purchasing power. The amount that brands have invested in Hispanic media has been rising over the past few years, but there’s still a disparity between the proportion of ad spend allocated to Hispanic media and the number of Hispanics living in the US. Adobe’s research found that 40% of Hispanic respondents have walked away from a brand for representing them in its advertising. The Hispanic market is clearly an important one for brands to engage with. To help us understand the characteristics of Hispanic consumers, where they spend their time, what platforms they prefer, and how they consume branded content, I’m joined today by a pioneer and expert in multicultural advertising. George Zwierko is the Principal of Rumbo Marketing with offices in Tampa, Florida, and Nashville, Tennessee. Since graduating with a degree in art direction from the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in New York, George has had an illustrious career in advertising, holding senior creative positions in agencies. In 2005, George founded Grupo D, the Hispanic marketing division of the Dutcher group, the success of which led George to launch Rumbo in 2008 as an independent multicultural firm. With over 20 years as a creative professional in general market and multicultural marketing, George has garnered multiple local and national Addy awards in a variety of disciplines as well as several Telly awards. In 2018, George was recognized with the American Advertising Federation’s Silver Medal for advertising excellence and service on behalf of the advertising industry. George is also a partner with Three Chairs Productions, a video production and marketing company based in Tampa. Welcome to In Clear Focus, George.

George Zwierko: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Adrian Tennant:  I mentioned during the introduction that the expansion of the Hispanic population accounts for almost half of America’s population growth since 2000. What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions brands have about Hispanic audiences?

George Zwierko: I think that there is a barrier that’s put up by certain advertisers because there’s just a lack of understanding of what the capability of these audiences have regarding spending or regarding usage. There needs to be a level of education when it comes to how we can best communicate and connect with diverse audiences. I think the misconception is that you might have a product, brand or service, and you feel that if I’m spending money and I’m targeting my general market audience that somehow, some way I’m going to touch my ethnic audiences, or that my ethnic audiences represents such a small population of the folks that would utilize our service or product, that to give it any weight regarding, let’s say a media spend or any creative execution is just not worth the effort.

Adrian Tennant: Twenty-six percent of all children in the US up to the age of nine are Hispanic and more than half of the Hispanic population is under the age of 29. How do you think the growing strength of this population will impact, , popular culture and by extension, the kinds of creative developed for advertisements?

George Zwierko: I think there’s an opportunity to look at our Hispanic audience and see that, um, a good majority of our audience is bicultural, bilingual, because they do skew young. I think there is a greater opportunity for us to create campaigns that are more relevant and are more relatable. The problem that we run into is that in the past a lot of brands and many advertisers would strictly translate their ads, and I think that was because of lack of understanding of the Hispanic audience as a whole. The problem in translation is that if we create advertisements that are meant to be funny, witty, clever, highly conceptual, and then you translate that, those things don’t always translate correctly. And then what we’re left with is just a very bland advertisement. But what we like to do is really hone in on what we can create, what type of creative can we do and original content could be made that still keeps the essence of the original messaging. 

Adrian Tennant: So brands should think less about translation and think more about transcreation?

George Zwierko: That’s correct. And transcreation is just what that is. It’s taking your message or your content, your visuals, everything that you put into your campaign. And then developing an execution that’s going to be relevant to this new audience.

Adrian Tennant: Now, the amount of total ad spend brands have invested in Hispanic media has been rising in the past few years. But eMarketer has reported on the disparity between the proportion of ad spend allocated to Hispanic media and the number of Hispanics that are actually living in the US. Why doesn’t the Hispanic audience receive its fair share of ad dollars, do you think?

George Zwierko: It’s sad to say, but think there’s a lack of understanding of the value these audiences bring to the table. I think many people in a variety of different positions just take a stance when it comes to communicating to other audiences, I don’t think they personally recognize the value. So therefore it won’t exist in any strategy moving forward. So I would say it’s narrow thinking or just missed opportunity. I do agree that the spend is going up incrementally. I don’t think it’s anywhere near where it needs to be. And I think there’s a great opportunity for us to just reevaluate what our spend does look like. And to us it’s a very simple formula: we’re doing a local campaign and we’re going to communicate it to our local audience. And we look at the local population as being a certain percentage of  non-Hispanic, a certain percentage Hispanic, and so on and so on down the line. And we look at those audiences. And we start to look at our customer profile within that population and we identify that, you know, within the non-Hispanic market, we’re going to be speaking to this demographic. But then a very similar demographic exists within our Hispanic population and in our African American population. So taking those new percentages, let’s reevaluate what our spend will be and then also look at what is going to be the best avenues and the best channels for consumption based on those consumer behaviors, based on what we know non-Hispanics do and, and Hispanics will do and African Americans will do and then target appropriately and spend appropriately. So that might mean that I’m not going to take 100% of my budget and throw it toward one audience and then hope that if I pepper in some folks that look Hispanic in my TV ad or I pepper in some people that look African American and my billboards, that I’m going to be effectively touching those audiences. We’re going to miss something, whether that’s going to be in the message or in the execution of the creative. Somehow, some way, we’re going to miss the mark. And what by missing the mark, we’re just doing an injustice to the brand. We’re not communicating that brand as effectively to other audiences as we did to our general audience

Adrian Tennant: Google has undertaken multicultural research and reported that more than half of Hispanic audiences are more likely to use English when conducting searches or consuming content online, even if they generally speak Spanish at home. So when you’re developing advertising designed to reach Hispanic audiences, how do you determine which language to reach them in?

George Zwierko: That’s a very interesting question and what we do is we understand that our Hispanic audience, because they skew young, more than likely a good percentage of that population is bilingual, bicultural. So that gives us a great opportunity to effectively reach this one audience on two sides of the fence, we could run English language ads, we can run Spanish language ads, because we know the consumption of this audience will be going back and forth. The ability to naturally go from English to Spanish is very fluid with a lot of Hispanic households. And we recognize that. Now that’s not to say that we don’t have an opportunity to just run Spanish ads. We might do that, but we’ve run campaigns that have been strictly English, strictly targeting a younger bilingual, bicultural household or audience. And we’ll run that ad in English, but we pepper in some cultural nuances, things that we know are relatable – that could be a phrase, it could be if we’re running a TV commercial, it’s a gesture. It’s just these little things that we know are culturally relevant and are relatable to the people that we’re speaking to. It just makes it more real to our audience. Even if it’s in English. It’s just a better reflection of how they live their lives. I think it really humanizes the message. 

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. I really like that idea. So the inclusion of some elements of Hispanic culture in advertising, even if an ad is in English makes audiences feel a little bit like the brand is understanding them with a kind of a cultural nod or wink?

George Zwierko: Correct.

Adrian Tennant: Right. While Hispanics own smartphones in similar proportions to the rest of the US population, our research suggests that they spend, on average, two hours more per week on their mobile devices, the non-Hispanic audiences. Why is this, George?

George Zwierko: It’s interesting. When it comes to smartphone usage, I think what we’re finding is that there’s, there’s two things. We have Hispanic households that could be multigenerational, you know, more folks in the household compared to non-Hispanics. So you look at just the devices someone would have on their home. So you have a desktop or you might not have a desktop. And so I think the access to the internet today with things like 4G, 5G, the affordability of wifi enables us to use our smartphones more as a way to consume and to gather information, and to live our lives online, than just being chained to a desk. So I think it’s the affordability of providing internet access to multiple people within a household, which I think lends it to the stat that more Hispanics are on their smartphones than non-Hispanics, for example.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. That makes a lot of sense. A study from Viant in 2017 showed that Hispanic millennials – also known as Gen Y – is the cohort most likely to interact with brands on social media. And the study found that almost 50 percent of Hispanic millennials said they had talked about a brand online with others or use the brands hashtag compared to just 17% of non-Hispanics. So to cultivate brand loyalty, it seems like social media might be an even more important channel for Hispanics than say, for the general market. Do you agree?

George Zwierko: I agree, I think the opportunity to use social media to, to cultivate brand loyalty is across the board, I think you’re starting to see that uptick across multiple generations, everywhere from Baby Boomers to Gen Z. I think across the board, social media is just becoming more relevant in our lives and advertisers are beginning to realize that putting more money toward a social media platform just makes better sense for building brand loyalty or creating awareness. I think it’s identifying the social media channels also that are used with one generation over the other or one particular ethnic group over the other. I think you’ll find some stats that support that one platform gets more usage, when you start to look at certain demographics. I think there’s always going to be an opportunity for us to use social media to attract our younger Hispanic audience to create that loyalty. And I only think that that’s going to continue to grow. We’ve run many campaigns where we stay away from any advertising in the traditional sense and put more money into a digital space. Sometimes that’s 100% of our spend when it comes to targeting Hispanics. Just because we see the uptick in an online usage between Google searches and programmatic and retargeting. I mean, the numbers are just skewing so high. And, and that could go back to the last question we talked about when it comes to smartphone usage I think that where we’re identifying who has the most devices and the best way to talk that audience. 

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. Yeah, that makes sense. So let’s switch gears a little bit. Can you explain how Rumbo typically works with partner agencies like ourselves to develop a multicultural campaign?

George Zwierko: Absolutely. You know, for us, partnering with ad agencies has been part of our model since our inception. It always made the most sense. It goes back to why, when we had our traditional agency, we created a Hispanic division, which was Grupo D, which you introduced earlier. It just makes sense for us to provide a multicultural service to agencies that don’t offer that. Now we can come and partner with agencies on multiple different levels and provide a variety of different services. For some agencies we come in on the creative side – but sometimes we come in as just purely as consultants and help guide their creative team or their strategy team or the accounts department just to kind of help them better understand or identify opportunities with their existing client base. And so we help clients identify the best clients on their list that would benefit from doing a multicultural campaign or developing a multicultural strategy. 

Adrian Tennant: So George, what does your process look like?

George Zwierko: Sure. So, for example, we do a lot of work with financial institutions. Over the years we’ve partnered with quite a few credit unions and banks. And with that relationship, the process always begins with us looking at their existing customer base or their member base. Usually we’ll launch with a campaign that communicates to their existing customers, showing that the credit union or the bank provides the types of services that our Hispanic customers are looking for when it comes to finances. I think the approach to how you sell bank products, financial products is a little different. There are certain nuances to the Hispanic audience that are very different from your English-speaking non-Hispanic customers. So what we do is we help the bank or credit union identify those things and actually see them. What we’ve known and what we’ve seen in the past is that you’ll have a Hispanic family come in and they want to speak to a teller who speaks Spanish. They would prefer to speak in their own language. And so the bank or credit union from an operational side may only have one teller available that speaks Spanish. And so that teller might be occupied and maybe the availability of that individual that they’re trying to reach, that person may not be available for about another 30, 40 minutes. But surprisingly, you’d find the Hispanic family will wait. They’ll wait 40 minutes, they’ll carve a lot of time out of their day because they really prefer to speak to this one individual and build a relationship with this one individual. And then every time this, this individual, this Hispanic individual or the family comes in, they’re always looking to talk to that one person. So from an operational side, you know, we’re advising credit unions and banks to staff up on Spanish speakers. So maybe then that graduates to a recruitment campaign, how do we staff appropriately to handle our Hispanic, Spanish-speaking customers? Then we also look at products. What products are you offering? What products resonate better with our Hispanic audience based on their financial needs? We notice that the financial needs might be different – certain products will resonate well with certain Hispanic households and others may not even be top of mind. But then how do we cross-sell those other products? And it’s always going to be a little different than you do your non-Hispanic audience. Even how you talk to these customers, your approach, we found that when it comes to talking about your finances, for many Hispanic families, it’s a very private, intimate thing. It’s something that’s not lightly shared. There’s a sense of privacy that needs to be taken into account so we have to be sensitive to those things.

Adrian Tennant: How have you seen really cringe-worthy, creative designed for a Hispanic audience that completely fell flat? 

George Zwierko: You know, that’s, that’s an interesting question because I think what we’re starting to see is that mistakes isn’t happening as often. And the reason it’s not happening as often as, because advertisers are getting wise to not relying on things like Google Translate or trying to ask their next door neighbor if they can help copywrite an ad. I think advertisers and agencies are starting to realize that they either need to hire professionals or bring in a professional to develop a messaging and strategies and copy and so forth. So a lot of the mistakes that were made are the ones that we’ve always heard in our marketing classes are really almost urban legends. Like the big one that was always talked about was Chevy’s Nova campaign where you take Nova and if you translate Nova in Spanish, it sounds like “No-va” – “doesn’t go,” but that campaign launched, they were selling Chevy Novas and in central America and Mexico and around the world without any problem. And actually there were upticks in car sales all over the country, all over South America, and central America. So there’s really no weight to this urban legend that that was an actual problem that consumers in those countries were looking at the brand name or the name of the product, Nova calling it “No-va” and then ridiculing the brand. And Chevy took a nosedive and sales that never actually happened, but yet it’s one of the sample examples that is used in multicultural classes and in classroom instruction to this day. I think what we can do to avoid, we can look at this, this story, even though it’s an urban legend and, and realize that what it really takes is us truly understanding our audience and not thinking that all Hispanics that make the Hispanic population are all pigeonholed into the same silo. I can’t assume that if I’m using cultural references that are very Mexican, that that’s going to appeal to every Hispanic in the population. Everyone comes from someplace else and there’s a variety of different traditions and cultures that accompany these populations. I think it’s just truly understanding, “who am I speaking to?” and, “how do I make it relevant to the people I’m talking to?” For example, if we’re running campaigns in Orlando there’s a large population of Puerto Ricans that live in Orlando, Kissimmee and that in Central Florida. So I’m going to rely on the cultural references that resonate with that audience. You know, what can we include in our messaging that is going to resonate with that particular group? But let’s say I’m in Houston in Texas where there’s a large percentage of Mexicans that make up the population, well then how am I going to address that audience? But if I live in a melting pot, like let’s say Tampa or New York, you know, there we’re going to take a different approach because we want to make sure that we can communicate across the board to our entire Hispanic population because they come from a variety of different countries. So I think we learn from these stories we hear about campaigns and brands that got it wrong. There was the “Got milk?” campaign that used the headline, “¿Tiene leche?” which can be understood as, “Are you lactating?”

Adrian Tennant: (Laughter)

George Zwierko: But that has never been proven to be true, you know, and a lot of promotional campaigns run locally. So sometimes it’s hard to prove if something was said wrong or if something was said right, but these are the stories that exist out there. And I think it’s just like any story, there’s a moral to be learned. 

Adrian Tennant: Now, George, I understand that your family has both Latin and European heritage. In what kinds of ways – if at all – did that influence you growing up? 

George Zwierko: That’s an excellent question because I grew up in a household where I was totally confused, I think! My mother was born in Puerto Rico and I grew up in the Bronx in New York, and we lived in a neighborhood that was – the majority of the folks in that neighborhood were a Spanish, Puerto Rican, Dominican. It was about 99% of our neighborhood. And my mother, which I always say was the head of household, regardless of what my father might think, we grew up in an environment where we lived on Spanish food. We listened to Spanish music. Spanish was spoken in the house. All our friends spoke Spanish. We just grew up in an environment where the influence was very Latin. And then my father, unfortunately, was the odd man out. He didn’t speak any Spanish – loved my mother to death. But I had very limited access to my dad’s side of the family. Occasionally we would do the family reunion thing or go visit my grandmother. And my dad being European, was born in Poland. There was a big Polish influence when we would go to those types of events. But it was interesting for me as a child just to see both sides and appreciate what both sides had to offer. The language, the food, the traditions, the values, the superstitions were always really interesting too. There was always a little bit of similarity between the two. But then, you know, you’d find these major differences. And so I think growing up, it just made me aware of that, you know, we all come from different backgrounds and we all bring amazing things to the table.

Adrian Tennant: George, we have a very active and engaged internship program here at Bigeye. For students or young professionals just starting out in their careers, what advice would you give to help them apply a multicultural perspective in their work?

George Zwierko: I come from a general market background. Most of my career was in the general market side of things – full service, fully integrated agencies. And I chose to get into multicultural marketing. It’s not easy. I think multicultural – it’s almost like there’s a science to it. I always like to say that we’re kind of like anthropologists, we really enjoy being multicultural because we love learning about the essence of people. How do people think? And why do they think a certain way? And how do they behave a certain way? And what causes them to behave a certain way? Is there some type of traditional influence or some cultural influences that are steering them in a direction to make a decision to purchase or use something? And how does that make them tick? And that fascination is what drives us to be on the multicultural side of things. But it’s a lot of work, but I think if you’re interested in learning about people or you have an interest in understanding people and the psychology that goes into consumer behavior, I really do think multicultural is the place to be.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. That’s great advice, thank you. If listeners are interested in learning more about developing multicultural marketing strategies or your work at Rumbo, where can they find resources?

George Zwierko: Well, you could always start at our website, which is I think if you go online and just Google “multicultural marketing,” you get to see some amazing national international work. And then I know a lot of the universities are offering or beginning to offer classes on diversity inclusion, multicultural marketing. I think that’s becoming more relevant and at the university level just because we’re watching the landscape of this country completely change and just globally how we’re starting to become more interconnected. And the planet is much smaller than it used to be. 

Adrian Tennant: George, thank you very much for being with us today on IN CLEAR FOCUS and thank you for sharing your insights into this really dynamic market.

George Zwierko: Absolutely. It’s been my pleasure. This has been fantastic. Thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, George Zwierko, Principal of Rumbo Marketing. You can find links to resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked, “Podcast.” Consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player, and if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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The Grocery Wars

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: the $800 billion grocery wars. Amazon announced this week that it is opening its first full-size, cashierless grocery store. Bigeye’s Senior Strategist, Dana Cassell, joins us to examine the current state of grocery shopping and key challenges facing the industry. We look at the ways traditional grocery chains are employing technology to engage with shoppers, experimenting with new store formats, and testing delivery options.

In Clear Focus: The Grocery Wars

In Clear Focus this week: the $800 billion grocery wars. Amazon announced this week that it is opening its first full-size, cashierless grocery store. Bigeye’s Senior Strategist, Dana Cassell, joins us to examine the current state of grocery shopping and key challenges facing the industry.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, a unique perspective 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 going to be talking about something we probably all have to do: grocery shopping. A five point 7 trillion dollar business globally, based on 2018 data from, the top grocery chain in the US is Walmart – and it’s way ahead – with $514.4 billion in sales. And the number two position is Kroger with $121.2 billion. In addition to its own name, Kroger operates under 16 store names including Harris Teeter, QFC, and Ralph’s. Coming in third is Albertsons with $62.2 billion. Florida-based Publix comes in fifth with $36.1 billion. The German-owned chain, Aldi, which also owns Trader Joe’s, comes in ninth with $16 billion, which is just ahead of Amazon, owner of Whole Foods; that’s in 10th spot with $15.8 billion in sales. A 2019 report from the Food Marketing Institute reported that 92% of shoppers have a favorite store where they do the bulk of their grocery shopping. This is a place they know by name and where they spend the majority of their grocery budget, most commonly a supermarket. Today, the vast majority of grocery shopping still takes place in traditional brick and mortar stores, but this pattern is beginning to change as more retailers offer grocery delivery options either via their own services or in partnership with companies like Instacart. The online grocery market generated sales of $28.7 billion in 2019 with sales forecast to reach $59.5 billion by 2023. The biggest players in this space are currently Walmart and Amazon. Of course, marketing plays a significant role in how supermarkets offline and online position themselves relative to competitors. The industry is also known for having razor-thin margins, so there is significant incentive to optimize every aspect of the marketing mix to maintain the most profitable formula. To talk about the current state of grocery shopping and some of the challenges facing the industry in 2020, I’m joined here in the studio today by Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Welcome back to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Dana.

Dana Cassell: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Adrian Tennant: So why are you interested in following grocery store marketing trends?

Dana Cassell: It’s really the combination of my personal and professional interests that make the Grocery Wars so interesting to me. There’s a lot in there about consumer behavior and experience. You mentioned the razor-thin margins in this vertical, so really experience and um, consumer behavior have to be optimized. So I just love that. Um, it’s a super competitive field and it combines food and local culture. So there’s always something regional about groceries and the way that regional grocers expand into new areas I find really fascinating. And then there’s also a fairly broad target as you mentioned in the intro. Everybody needs to grocery shop at some point. So I really am interested in the idea that it’s not a brand that can usually differentiate itself on its target. And then also just how much of our life grocery shopping takes up. An average household makes 1.6 trips to the grocery store every week, spending $113.50 every week. And then this part, this is what I get so excited about. The average household makes trips to 4.4 stores each month. So while someone might have their grocery of preference, they also probably have a place that they swing into that is more convenient, maybe a place where they buy produce or meat. And I just think that’s fascinating that really a mix of brands make up one category for a house. I just love it. This is an industry I really like to watch right.

Adrian Tennant: The buzz in Florida lately has been about the closing of many Lucky’s Market stores and also the news that Earth Fare, which is a health and wellness-focused supermarket chain, will be closing all of its stores. What’s the deal with these beloved brands going out of business?

Dana Cassell: So kind of two different stories actually for Lucky’s and Earth Fare, but we can talk through both of them. You might know that Lucky’s started in Boulder, Colorado in 2002 and their mission was to be organic for the masses. So they were trying to broaden access to organic food. And in 2012, they opened their second location in Colorado. And then there was a turning point for Lucky’s, which is that in 2016 it was invested in by Kroger. You mentioned earlier that Kroger has many stores under which it operates. Well, it invested heavily in Lucky’s in 2016. And at that point they had 17 stores in 13 States and Kroger started pushing Lucky’s to younger, more price-conscious shoppers. And then they made a strategic move into Florida. So in 2017, there were 11 Lucky’s in Florida. You can see how quickly the growth happened for this store. At the same time, though, we saw the growth of chains like Sprouts, Fresh Thyme and Earth Fare. And during that expansion, we also saw major brands like Walmart and Aldi start to double down on organic and natural foods. And even Kroger did. So the way they did it was with a private line in store, which is the way we see many major brands address natural and organic. So while Lucky’s was growing, the general market for organic was growing as well. And that message of organic food for the masses was not a point of difference any more because if Walmart has doubled down on organic, that’s a difficult place for Lucky’s to differentiate. So really, Lucky’s grew too quickly and then Kroger just decided to pull their funding. We know that Kroger is focusing on tech. It’s my assumption that the focus on tech leaves Kroger no option but to refine their strategy. So they’re really transitioning, transitioning to an omnichannel retailer, focused on store delivery, pickup and ship. And I think as this more strategic focus is happening, Lucky’s just is not a profitable element for the company. So I’m interested to see what happens with Lucky’s over time. I think the Kroger pulling out – obviously, it makes a major impact in this area of the country. And then Earth Fare is just a kind of a totally different story in and of itself. Earth Fare started in 1975 in Asheville, North Carolina. And their niche was organic natural foods and over time, as we just mentioned, that niche really disappeared. So grocers either have to compete on price or they have to compete on customer experience. Earth Fare was clearly too small to be able to gain the price advantage that larger retailers have. And while they invested heavily in local communities and had a really local feel for every store, the customer experience wasn’t enough to help the brand thrive. So their niche disappeared. Kind of two different stories for those two.

Adrian Tennant: Now, you mentioned Kroger pushing investment in technology. Is that a trend you expect to see across the industry?

Dana Cassell: Of course. You mentioned earlier about online grocery and the percent of sales that it’s taking. Absolutely. If a grocer wants to succeed, their online strategy has to be in place. I certainly expect to see that expand across the interest industry. I’m interested to see what Kroger does because of course their investment in technology impacts many of the stores that we all shop in, whether they’re named Kroger or not. But for sure we’ll see a technology push.

Adrian Tennant: And what other grocery trends are you looking towards in 2020?

Dana Cassell: Hmm, that’s a fun question. I see the trends break down into two different areas. They’re either experience or behavioral trends, or trends based on personal values. So the values trends that we’re looking toward in 2020 are things like plant-based foods and the availability of those in your average grocery store. The trend towards zero-waste cooking, and we’ll see that pop up in prepared foods as well. And then also this is one that we can be interested in as marketers: the story behind foods is a trend that we’re seeing – people really being interested in where their food comes from and how it’s grown and how it’s produced. My favorite current example of this is Vital Farms eggs. I also love that they’re a heavy podcast advertiser. So I love hearing about them just through my own media habits. But the way that they’re telling their story is they have the name of the farm where your eggs came from on the side of the carton. And you can go on their website, type the name of that farm, and they take you on a video tour of the farm. So you might have this image of dairy – of a beautiful farm, and a red barn, and sun shining on green grass. And that’s not true, as we know, in a lot of food production. And Vital Farms is not just dispelling that myth, but just saying, “Come take a look. Here’s the name of your farm, take a tour and see what it’s about.” So that storytelling behind foods I think will only be getting bigger. And then on the experience or behavioral side of trends, a few things that I’m interested in. Obviously, as technology grows and online ordering grows, grocers are able to have more access to habit tracking. So this is when you see, like in your grocery app, if you’re going to order for the week, you might see between when you finish your order and submit for payment, you might see a screen that says, “Did you forget your orange juice?” Because they notice that I’ve bought orange juice every week for the last three months and I didn’t this week. So that habit tracking is a way to optimize people’s experience. It’s also a way to optimize sales. We’ll also see a trend toward convenience foods. I think the first wave of this was really at home delivery and meal kits. And then groceries have gotten on board with this. So you can walk now into a Harris Teeter for example, and you’ll see meal kits prepared, ready to go home. So all of those herbs, chopped veggies, diced meat, prepared and you just need to go home, combine and cook. So we’ll see an increase in convenience store foods like that, but also things in more prepared foods like sandwiches over in the deli. You know, chicken ready to eat, to-go foods, those meal kits. We’ll see that growing this year. And then the delivery method is obviously an experience and trend that we’re looking toward and really living in right now. The different ways to get your groceries. If you’re going to come in store, we’re going to be focused on a speedy checkout process. You can order online, have it delivered home, or you can come drive up. We’re going to see groceries optimizing each one of those delivery methods.

Adrian Tennant: A couple of other tech innovations that I’ve been tracking: if you have a mobile phone app for the supermarket, it’s typically going to understand the layout of the store that you shop in most frequently and it can potentially guide you through the store to ensure that you get all of the items on your list in the most, time and footwear-efficient manner. But I’ve also seen things where, for example, freezer cabinets have got small cameras installed that look at the facial expressions of consumers as they approach the cabinet and might actually suggest products based on the emotion that’s being elicited by the facial characteristics of that moment. That’s a little Minority Report – but I know that Kroger is one of the supermarket chains that’s, I think, working with Microsoft on the idea that the shelf talker or the labeling along shelves can be personalized to the individual consumer. And even with the prospect of having personalized, dynamic pricing back to that loyalty scheme idea – so a lot happening in supermarkets, it seems, technology-wise.

Dana Cassell: It is interesting. On those digital tags. I also like the idea of the tags being able to talk to the phone. So as you pass by something being, you know, being reminded or if you have your list on your phone, the geo-locating in the store, I think it’s all really interesting. And as a consumer, I feel a couple of ways about it. You know, you just mentioned the Minority Report aspect, but also I’ve been in a store – I haven’t done this in grocery yet because I’m such an online order of grocery – but I was in Target recently and couldn’t figure out where something was in the store and went into the app and was able to find the aisle in the app. And I think that is super useful. So when you mentioned a phone being able to guide you through the store, especially if you’re new to an area or a new store is opened, you know, that you haven’t shopped in before. I think it’s gonna all optimize the consumer experience and at the same time deliver data to the brands that they can use to increase sales and you know, just make really the experience of shopping better.

Adrian Tennant: Now what are the lessons about consumer behavior marketers can learn from these Grocery Wars?

Dana Cassell: That’s really the question that gets into why I follow groceries in general because I just think that the trends that we see there can apply to a wide variety of brands. So the first is the digitally-demanding environment. Obviously we’re talking about this huge tech investment that grocers are leaning into right now and will continue to lean into. And the lesson that’s taught us is that stores have to have a promotional plan, a media plan, and an e-commerce plan in place, digitally. These are just the three baseline mandatories that we’re learning from grocery. A digitally-demanding environment means that you have to be up to speed. We also have in grocery the sea of sameness. You know, if you take a step back, they’re all selling food. They’re all in my neighborhood. So they have to figure out in this sea of sameness how to stay stand out. And I mentioned earlier two tactics that we see groceries use for that either price, competition or experience. And I’m really most interested as a marketer and the stores that choose the consumer experience as their point of difference. And we can learn a lot from that. I think, in general, there are four questions as a marketer that I would take away from the Grocery Wars and what we’re seeing here in early 2020 that I would encourage brands to ask themselves. And if we don’t have solid answers, you know it’s time to bring somebody else in the room that can help with these answers. So the first is, “what is our point of difference and how will we compete?” And then, “What technology do we need to invest in to meet our customer’s expectations?” I am so pleased that Kroger sees the need to do that rather than limp along with whatever technology they have. And we all know we’ve worked with brands day-in, day-out, that at this point have legacy technology infrastructure that has sort of been Frankensteined together to make things work. And sometimes there’s a moment where you have to pause and re-invest. So, “What technology do we need to invest in?” The next question is, “What’s the customer experience of doing business with our brand and is it exceptional at every touch point?” This is a hard one to answer if you are emotionally connected to your own brand. So I would encourage you to find somebody newer or less emotionally connected if it’s not exceptional at every touch point, what changes do you need to make? And then the last is, “Is our business model modern and evolved?” Meaning – is it values driven? We talked about people wanting to hear the story of their food. That question applies to all brands and that is not coming from one particular niche of consumers. As in the evolved business model, “Are we environmentally aware and do we have a customer-first mentality?” We’ve seen healthcare talk about a customer service mentality for over a decade. They’ll use the phrase, “Patient-first.” And I think we’re seeing grocer start to say, “Shopper-first mentality.” So these are kind of the lessons I think we can walk away with.

Adrian Tennant: Do you think we’re going to be looking at smaller footprints going forwards or do you think size still really kind of matters?

Dana Cassell: That’s really interesting. So we see Walmart’s Neighborhood Market being an answer to that. It’s a much smaller grocer that is only focusing on groceries. So all the things that you see at the Super Center are not there. And even Aldi, Lidl, Trader Joe’s, none of those are mega-footprint stores. I think you’re right. As online increases, I think the store experience is going to need to be optimized. And that does not necessarily mean a massive store that takes me an hour to get through. We saw that in the delivery trends for 2020, if we’re not doing drive up or delivery, speedy checkout is a big deal. And getting through the store quickly is too, so I expect that we’re not going to see an increase in mega-footprint grocery.

Adrian Tennant:

The average supermarket carries something like 36,000 to 40,000 SKUs compared to an Aldi or Trader Joe’s, which typically carries 3,000 to 4,000 max.

Dana Cassell: Right.

Adrian Tennant: Very different in terms of potentially being overwhelmed by the SKUs in a typical supermarket. But I believe most people probably only stick to 150 SKUs, habitually. So it seems like there’s a lot of choice out there. Do you think we need all of that choice, particularly with direct-to-consumer becoming a more viable option?

Dana Cassell: I think that’s interesting because I do think sometimes people find new brands to experiment with through their favorite grocery store. So I think it’s important that we continue to offer a variety. It’s a great place for trial. It’s obviously a wonderful channel for promotion as a marketer and the habit tracking. So the grocery delivers us a great experience as a marketer to say, people who like this, this, and this are typically buy this, this, and this tend to like our new product. So I really think that the in-grocery experience will continue to grow for trial brands, but certainly direct-to-consumer. I mean the world is our oyster with how we get our things. I also want to mention that the customer satisfaction score for Trader Joe’s in the latest survey, the 2018 one, it’s the number one highest grocery for customer satisfaction. So if a smaller grocer that has their own items, their own brands, it has is leading in customer satisfaction, I think that’s directional for where some of these larger grocers may be heading. Now obviously, two is Wegmans, three is Publix, and those are not smaller smaller footprints like Trader Joe’s. But that customer experience at Trader Joe’s just really turns the needle for them.

Adrian Tennant: Well it’s retail as theater, obviously and because they are their own branded products, there’s not really the ability to compare. And as you can probably tell, I’m a bit of a Trader Joe’s fan.

Dana Cassell: Right.

Adrian Tennant: And I’m not alone.

Dana Cassell: No!

Adrian Tennant: One of the top rated podcasts on Apple Podcasts is called, “Inside Trader Joe’s,” – it actually topped the charts a couple of times. So people are pretty passionate about their supermarkets.

Dana Cassell: No doubt.

Adrian Tennant: Great points. Dana, thank you so much for joining us today to discuss the Grocery Wars. It’s a fascinating topic for marketers.

Dana Cassell: Thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Dana Cassell, Senior Strategist at Bigeye. You can find links to resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked, “Podcast.” Consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. And please rate and review the show. And if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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Digital Consumerism: Connecting the Dots

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: as new research reveals consumers’ growing desire to be compensated for sharing their personal data, we evaluate the viability of the business model that underpins the Internet. Virna Sekuj, Strategic Insights Manager at GlobalWebIndex, joins us to discuss digital consumerism. We learn how evolving attitudes towards personal data are raising privacy concerns and why the premiumization of in-real-life experiences is a growing trend.

In Clear Focus: Digital Consumerism – Connecting the Dots

In Clear Focus this week: as new research reveals consumers’ growing desire to be compensated for sharing their personal data, we evaluate the viability of the business model that underpins the Internet. Virna Sekuj, Strategic Insights Manager at GlobalWebIndex, joins us to discuss digital consumerism.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, a unique perspective 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. Today we’re going to be talking about digital consumerism, our evolving attitudes towards personal data, privacy and the premiumization of in-real-life versus digital experiences. These are themes highlighted in new research from GlobalWebIndex. An international market research company established in London in 2009, GlobalWebIndex now has offices in Prague, Athens, and New York City, which is where our guest today, Virna Sekoj, is based. Virna is the Strategic Insights Manager for the Americas and uses GlobalWebIndex data to help clients with strategic business goals and decisions. Additionally, Virna contributes to GlobalWebIndex reports, infographics, thought leadership, blog series, press interviews and podcasts – like this one. Virna’s interests include consumer psychology, gender representation in media, and the relationship between society and technology. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Virna.

Virna Sekuj: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Adrian Tennant: Before diving into the topics I mentioned in the intro, could you first explain the research methodology that GlobalWebIndex uses?

Virna Sekuj: Sure. So as you mentioned, we’re an international digitally-focused market research company. We are the world’s largest study into what we call the connected consumer. So essentially internet users all around the world and we conduct our core survey across 46 different countries, soon to be 47. And our objective really is to provide a full 360-degree view of the digital consumer and their lives online. And we do this by covering all sorts of different data points on topics that range from attitudes and lifestyle, media consumption, brand engagement, how people are interacting with brands, online marketing touchpoints, and everything in between.

Adrian Tennant: Perfect. In your report, “Decoding the data economy,” you make it clear that you believe the business model that underpins the Internet is really being challenged. What led you to that assertion?

Virna Sekuj: Yeah, so probably the most popular business model that really underpins the Internet now is this idea of free services that are funded by advertising revenue. And advertisers ultimately get value out of this because they’re able to tap into the personal data of users who were on these free services and free websites. So if you think about all of the social media platforms we use: Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram, and everything, we as consumers get to take advantage of all of the functionality that they provide to us and all of the amazing features. We can stay connected to other people and consume content and all these types of things without actually giving the providers our money. But they have to make money somehow, right? And it’s actually based off of our data. So the exchange is that we give them access to all of this data that we produce our data footprint online and on social media. And they’re able to sell it to their advertisers who can then use it to better target us at different touchpoints in our whole online journey and our purchase journey with personalized ads. So this has been really successful for a pretty long time now and it’s allowed for all of these free services, these great services that we use to grow pretty rapidly. But that’s being challenged now particularly. And there are a few reasons why. So first of all, I think a lot of people are probably aware of some of the scandals we’ve seen in recent years around data breaches or fake news and Cambridge Analytica and all of these companies that are really in the limelight for not properly protecting consumer data. So there’s a lot of attention on that and there’s also the legislation side of it. So the legislation and the governments are starting to catch up with where technology has been for a while and things like GDPR, or the California Consumer Privacy Act are starting to really put some accountability on service providers to how they protect and store and track our data. So it’s really coming to the forefront of consumers’ minds and they’re starting to become more aware of it, more concerned about it, and are starting to challenge this model that has been very functional and successful for a long time.

Adrian Tennant: We’ve talked about this phenomenon on IN CLEAR FOCUS before – that is, that consumers often say that the really concerned about personal data privacy in the abstract, but then the actual digital behavior sometimes suggests otherwise. And you’ve coined a phrase for this, you call it, “The Privacy Paradox,” which I really like. What kinds of consumer behaviors exemplify this paradox?

Virna Sekuj: I think when people are faced with this idea of privacy and data protection in an abstract, they’re very pro-protection and very conscious of it. But then when it comes to their actual behaviors, they’re less likely to be going out of their way to do things that would, in the long run, protect their own data. So some of the things that we track in our global research are very high-level attitudes towards privacy. Like agreeing with the statement, “I’m concerned about the internet eroding my personal privacy.” So when you ask, “Do you feel this way? Do you agree with this?” we get really high levels of agreement. It’s something like two-thirds of people around the world, say that they’re concerned about the internet eroding their personal privacy. But then when you start to look at what people are actually doing to protect their privacy and whether they’re willing to give up a level of convenience or whether they’re willing to pay for services in order to not have their data tracked, there’s not the willingness to actually follow through. So people want the convenient use of social media. They don’t want to have to pay for things like that. They like having brands give them personalized recommendations off of what they might like based off of their internet history or what else they’ve purchased and all of these things. You have to give up a certain level of convenience and ease and I guess the quality of using internet services in order to really maintain an ironclad grip on your own data privacy, which people are not as willing to do.

Adrian Tennant: What types of personal data collection and use typically make consumers most nervous do you find?

Virna Sekuj: Yeah, so all data is not created equal is what we like to say. There is definitely a spectrum of sensitivities as to what different kinds of data people are pretty comfortable sharing versus what they’re really not comfortable sharing. And this is important for brands that operate online and especially those that are considering tapping into trends like data monetization or asking people to provide their data in exchange for different types of access to goods or services or even money. And what we found in our research is that things like your location, your address, your mood, even to the extent of things that you’ve bought online are pretty safe areas of data. People are fairly comfortable giving away some of that, but what is probably the most highly sensitive is anything related to health or medical records – anything related to financial data, income, household spending is quite sensitive. And then browsing history is really sensitive so people are not willing to share data like that in many cases.

Adrian Tennant: Now in the report you write about the widening gap between data collection and management players within the digital ecosystem and the consumers whose data it is that’s being brokered. To what extent do you think consumers feel a loss of control over their personal data?

Virna Sekuj: I think it’s definitely growing, this idea of having a loss of control. So a lot of the research that we’ve done into data privacy and protection has been specific to the US and the UK and one of the big stats from the report that you’ve referenced a couple of times especially is that around 40% of internet users in these two markets say that they don’t feel in control of their personal data anymore which is pretty significant. And I would even argue that that’s a little conservative because, at the end of the day, I think as much as even some of us who work in the data space feel like we have a little bit more knowledge or a little bit more awareness, ultimately no one’s really that much in control and that’s kind of part of the problem.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. That’s fascinating to me. I mean, you had mentioned obviously GDPR in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act, that one went into action just at the beginning of this year.

Virna Sekuj: Mmmm.

Adrian Tennant: Obviously the objective of these regulations is to give consumers the right to protect their data and personal information online. In what kinds of ways do you think the introduction of these regulations have maybe affected consumers’ behaviors or attitudes?

Virna Sekuj: Yeah, so at the moment, I think that the probably most positive impact they’re having is on businesses and companies that operate in the data space. So they’ve introduced a lot more accountability and transparency. And a need for just better protections around how consumer data is stored and gathered when it’s deleted. All of these types of things, which ultimately protects consumers in a way that previously they hadn’t been. For consumers themselves, I think it’s brought the issue more to light and people are becoming more aware and a bit more suspicious and may be careful about what they think about when they want to share data. But generally, the picture is still quite complicated and confusing for people. You’re seeing more and more of these opt-in messages that come from whatever website or app that you’re using and people don’t really know what to do, sometimes. There’s this massive list of terms and conditions that nobody really reads. And it just adds to this whole environment of uncertainty around, “Who has my data? Oh, did I opt into that? Do I have any rights around this?” So the framework isn’t entirely clear yet. It’s becoming better but there is this kind of muddy waters for people to work through at this point.

Adrian Tennant: As you mentioned in the report, Governor Gavin Newsome has proposed the Data Dividend for Californians, a bill that would mandate tech companies to pay users for their digital data. In what kinds of ways are companies rewarding consumers for use of their personal data right now?

Virna Sekuj: There’s a couple of early examples, almost experimental ways that companies have started to do this. I think the Amazon one from last year is a good one. So they tried to see if people would sell their data by offering a $10 credit during Amazon Prime Day last year if they let some of their behaviors and browsing behaviors be tracked, essentially. So that was very obvious, “Here is a certain amount of money for us to be able to access your data.” Facebook has been doing this on some level in order to test how users who are on Facebook use other competitive services too. So they have apps that pay users to basically allow Facebook to track how they use other apps and competitors’ sites. This has been a bit contentious though and I know that Apple doesn’t allow these types of apps to be downloaded and used on their devices because it violates Apple’s terms for one app collecting data on another app. So it’s been complicated but we’re starting to see experimental efforts by companies to tap into data monetization. And as people become more aware that their data has value and they’re not necessarily the ones benefiting from this value, it’s going to become a more and more common occurrence.

Adrian Tennant: So your feeling is that we might well say the introduction of products that help consumers take back control of their data. What could such solutions look like, do you think?

Virna Sekuj: Yeah, it’s definitely going to be an interesting sub-industry that comes out of the whole data economy. You can’t necessarily control your data as well as you would like to or you don’t have the time or the expertise to read all of these legal documents and opt-out of this and opt out of that. So for a fee, a service provider will probably help you navigate the whole world of T’s and C’s and data sharing and which websites you should trust. And can you delete your data and they’ll be able to help people get rid of their data footprint and remove some of the personal information that they have just floating out there on the internet that doesn’t necessarily need to be out there. So we’re in this data economy but we’re just at the beginning of it. This whole industry of data monitoring as you kind of hinted too, data management for the user is probably one of the next waves that are going to crop up because it’s just become so complicated for the average internet user to really manage their data footprint. And people are becoming, as I said, more aware of it and more concerned and they probably will be willing to pay for something like that in the future.

Adrian Tennant: It’s a fascinating prospect.

Virna Sekuj: Mmm.

Adrian Tennant: I want to turn now to the recent report entitled, “Connecting the Dots,” in which several contributors at GlobalWebIndex predict consumer trends that will shape 2020 and beyond. This is a very thoroughly researched report and it is also a great read. And Virna, your section is entitled, “Can I speak to a human please?”

Virna Sekuj: Yes.

Adrian Tennant: What data points led you to write this piece?

Virna Sekuj: So this is an interesting one and it’s probably one of my favorites, just like topics that people are discussing this year. And what led us to look at this as a theme was some of the trending data that we have tracked for a number of years and the changes that we’ve seen in it. So we’ve tracked in our global survey user attitudes towards technology and the internet for a while now. And one of the trends that we’ve started to see is that there’s a growing discomfort or uneasiness with how much technology has really permeated into our lives. So agreement with certain attitudes like, “Technology makes life more complicated,” has grown, for example, by about 27% between 2014 and 2019. So essentially, people are more than a quarter more likely now versus five or six years ago to say that they think technology is making their lives more complicated. But at the same time, people are more connected than ever before, which is another data point we track. So people feel like they’re constantly connected, that’s growing, but at the same time there’s this increasing rate of uneasiness with it. So technology is everywhere. We use it for everything. It’s part of our lives and like there’s a resistance towards that. So it’s a bit of a cycle. And it’s interesting that that’s really kind of coming to a head now.

Adrian Tennant: You also identify an emerging trend in the premiumization of in-real-life experiences in contrast to technology-driven experiences. Can you explain that?

Virna Sekuj: Sure. So as I said, technology has really permeated like every aspect of our lives now, right? So it’s not just in how we work or you know, how we go to school and how we communicate, but it’s becoming more and more a part of things like healthcare. It’s a part of our transportation systems, our entertainment, everything. So many of our experiences really are just mediated by screens and there’s a reason for that. So technology not only makes things more convenient and more efficient, but it makes things a lot cheaper as well. So it’s cheaper to put in a bunch of self-service kiosks in a grocery store, for example, in the long-run versus pay human workers and give benefits to human workers and train them up. It’s cheaper to put in e-learning systems and laptops in every classroom and only have one teacher oversee a whole group of students versus just have more staff and more one-on-one learning experiences. And technology as well is cheaper now than it ever has been before. So if you look at how much a computer cost 30 years ago, it’s just an astronomical difference. Versus now when everybody in developed, mature markets essentially – no matter your income levels – will have a smartphone. It’s just like it’s mass culture. So what is the more expensive and difficult thing to get at is to have a person work with you one-on-one: a person actually provide a service or enhance an experience for you and give you that personalized, one-on-one attention or to get something that’s handmade and slightly imperfect because it didn’t go through a whole automated, mechanized mass production system. So what is becoming more exclusive and difficult to get because it’s inevitably more expensive is having that human contact and the human element in all of our services and experiences. And that’s driving this whole idea that the human touch, the human element is becoming more of a premium.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. Now, in the report, you discuss some of the ways that technology itself is becoming more human, like replacing jobs and services previously performed by humans. You also cite research from Capgemini that suggests consumers are about as likely to trust product recommendations from voice assistants as they are to trust human salespeople. So what does the rapid adoption of voice assistants on mobile phones and dedicated smart speakers tell us?

Virna Sekuj: Yeah, voice is really interesting. It’s one of the device trends that we’ve seen grow so rapidly over the past few years and a lot of it is driven by younger internet users who are very, very comfortable using voice and automated services and bots and all of these things. So much so that I think it’s a little bit worrying how comfortable people have become, especially younger people with interacting with technology over perhaps interacting with a person. And that really points to a lot of potential questions in the future as to how adept or comfortable are people going to with picking up a phone and speaking to someone in an unprepared way or advocating for themselves to an actual human when they have to like look for healthcare solutions or something. Expecting the unexpected when you talk to a human is something that you don’t really get when you’re used to voice assistants and bots and all of these types of things. So there are a lot of questions and implications around – will people be able to do that? Are they going to be prepared for human-to-human interaction? And are there going to be implications around social anxiety and discomfort and all of these types of things when dealing with the basic, everyday function of just talking to people? Are we getting too comfortable just to go to voice bots and chatbots for everything?

Adrian Tennant: In an increasingly digital world then, you believe we’ll see human interaction become more of a premium commodity. And what kinds of implications will this have for commerce?

Virna Sekuj: Yeah, so everything about commerce is going online or becoming automated in some way because that’s just the easier, more efficient, cheaper way to do it. But I think this whole concept, that human interaction and the human element is going to become more of a premium, has a lot of implications for brands that want to differentiate themselves and position themselves potentially as luxury or as a bit more up-market and upscale. And there are other people and analysts that have been predicting that the future of the luxury industry is really going to be shaped by how much of this human element they can integrate into commerce and experiences and provide things that are a bit more back to basics. So luxury is not necessarily going to be shaped by how beautiful or expensive or exclusive these material things are as it typically has been – although that’s always going to be an element to it – but how humanized, how unique, how much one-on-one attention you’ll be able to get is going to be part of what makes something luxury. And brands that want to kind of integrate that whole element into their positioning and into how they speak to consumers and how they offer something that’s different I think can tap into that and be really successful with it.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. It’s a fascinating hypothesis. Thank you.

Virna Sekuj: Yeah.

Adrian Tennant: Virna. We have a very active and engaged internship program here at Bigeye. Could you tell us a little bit about how you came to be working in research?

Virna Sekuj: Yeah, of course. Um, so I’ve been working in research pretty much my whole career. Um, I started off doing a research assistant job when I was in college. Um, and I studied Sociology because I had a real curiosity and interest in human behavior and what drives people to make the decisions that they do and how our collectivist society impacts everything. So I was a natural person to flow into research. I’m a very analyst-focused kind of mentality and I think that for anybody who has similar interests, it’s a good place to be because there is a need for analysts and researchers right now. As we talked a lot about the data-driven economy, everything is going to be around data. All of the decisions that businesses make now are fueled by some sort of analytics, so it’s a good place to be, I think.

Adrian Tennant: It also speaks to the fact that you still need human beings to really interpret data sets and to find meaning. 

Virna Sekuj: Exactly. Yeah. You have to be able to make connections and tell the story from the data and fortunately, computers are not there yet. So you definitely need to have both a creative and technical skillset I think to be really successful in insights.

Adrian Tennant: Great points Virna. Thank you. If listeners are interested in learning more about GlobalWebIndex or your reports that we discussed today, where can they find resources?

Virna Sekuj: So you can check out our website, where a lot of our case studies and reports are shared or follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. And a lot of the new content that we produce is updated there as well.

Adrian Tennant: Perfect. Thank you very much for being on IN CLEAR FOCUS, Virna. 

Virna Sekuj: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. It was great to chat.


Adrian Tennant: My thanks to our guest this week, Virna Sekuj, Strategic Insights Manager for the Americas at GlobalWebIndex. You can find links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” Consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. And please rate and review the show. And if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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