Ask the expert: Growth, brand/consumer collaboration, and melding art and AI

An interview with Wunderman Thompson's James Burr

A truth for marketing and technology consultancy Wunderman Thompson is that “brands always face the challenge of growth.” As almost every coach ever has said, you’re either getting better or you’re getting forgotten. So, when it’s time for your brand to grow big enough to touch the sky, you want a growth partner like Wunderman Thompson feeding you raw eggs and getting you to the weight room on time.

Phrasee has been fortunate enough to speak with Senior Director, James Burr about a variety of topics pertaining to marketing and tech. It’s the kind of stuff we love so much as at Phrasee, we do it every day.

We cover how marketing can sync with emergent technology, the shifting late-pandemic mind of the modern consumer, and how a client of theirs uses “empathy and restraint” to run a “buy now, pay later” service by offering some responsibility with their instalments.



Here’s what James had to say…

Phrasee: Which of your clients is doing a good job at leading with empathy right now? Can you give us some specific examples?

James: Klarna launched its Responsible Shopping program in 2020 in direct response to feedback from its customers. The program combines the customer transactional history with key financial indicators and soft metrics such as time of purchase; to help Klarna decide if a customer is in financial distress or is making poor purchase decisions. Klarna can then automatically reduce marketing pressure on the consumer and instead direct them to resources that help inform and educate on how to better manage their finances. Loyalty programs are reduced or paused to prevent FOMO messaging from being sent or shown.

In a time where Buy Now, Pay Later services are growing by 39% (Worldpay Global Payments Report), Klarna is showing empathy and restraint to ensure fewer consumers overstretch their finances.

 

Phrasee: How is the current atmosphere (still pandemic, but more hopeful) affecting the tone of ad campaigns? Are we still doing “in these unprecedented times” or is it becoming lighter?

James: From the end of last year there has been a renewed tone of hope and optimism present in ad campaigns. Even before Christmas the mood was shifting to one of “when we see each other again” instead of “looking after yourself”.

Brands have found room to be more convivial and conversational. We have seen a significant increase in fun and experimental campaigns in 2021 vs last year where brands worried that experimentation would be viewed as frivolous, non-essential and tone-deaf.

Brands also have learned to be careful when choosing influencers and ambassadors for their products as the divisive politics of the pandemic allowed individuals to drag a brand down on the back of a single tweet. In 2021 we expect brands will be more focused on developing a direct connection with their customers instead of relying on third parties.

 

Phrasee: How do you think consumer expectations have changed for brands in the past year?

James: It has never been truer that consumers expect brands to understand and “know them” before engaging with them. Consumers who are mistargeted, misrepresented or feel offended by a brand are instantly vocal on social platforms and swift to change loyalties.

Brands must focus on ensuring that communications are highly relevant to the consumer and continue focus on identifying issues before they happen.

Consumers also expect greater levels of transparency and as more brands adopt service and subscription models it is increasingly important that customers understand the value exchange being provided. Last year’s revelatory documentaries such as The Social Dilemma and The Great Hack threw a harsh light on companies that provide services and how they use your data. Brands need to focus on bringing back trust into digital relationships and educating and informing users on how they use the data that is shared with them.


"Brands must focus on ensuring that communications are highly relevant to the consumer and continue focus on identifying issues before they happen."

James Burr, Wunderman Thompson

Phrasee: What do you think is the most urgent thing that marketers aren’t paying enough attention to right now?

James: In my opinion, marketers are still not focused enough on the identity challenge. After years of continued reduction in the effectiveness of cookies and other tracking techniques the reliance on tracking to identify a consumer has finally run out of road. Brands who aren’t investing in building their own profile databases and having active conversations with their consumers will struggle to identify new audiences and detect their existing customers.

Verticals that have traditionally relied on 3rd party targeting such as consumer goods and healthcare must look at adopting strategies for reaching their audience that were previously pioneered by the retail and technology sectors.

 

Phrasee: What do you think is the exciting new frontier that marketers should have their eye on?

James: With the increased visibility of Augmented Reality and Deep Fake video we are seeing technologies that are capable of both putting the brand in the room with you and pulling the consumer into the marketing campaign. The promise of “dressing you in the product” or have you “test drive the car” through a virtual interface has never been more real than it is now.

Digital marketers have an opportunity to develop experiences that enable customers to participate in the brand without visiting a physical location. Consumers in 2020 collaborated with Marvel, HBO and the NFL in Fortnite, flew first person drones on their PC with DJI and docked SpaceX Dragon to the ISS in virtual experiences. In 2021 these virtual experiences will continue to play an important part of the marketing lifecycle.

Even more established channels such as email are seeing a surge in innovation such as AMP for email and the increased use of AI to produce highly tailored content without overburdening creative and copywriting teams.

 

Phrasee: Imagine a future where AI is fully integrated into marketing and automating everything it can. What do you think that world looks like for marketers and customers?

James: As consumers demand more and more relevancy in every interaction, marketers are left with the impossible task of testing, learning and optimizing over a growing number of variables and variants. The promise of AI is to guide marketers when building campaigns to maximize business returns. The hard work of attributing customer actions and reactions to decisions in the campaign process can be left to AI while marketers can focus on creative experimentation.

In the future this guidance will extend further and further up the toolchain, allowing creative teams working in creative tools such as Adobe Photoshop and Final Cut Pro to be informed on how their decisions might positively impact the marketing campaign. Imagine AI guiding the hand of the photographer or digital artist as they frame and create an image while showing them how it will be received and responded to by the different customer.

For customers it promises brand experiences that reflect their own priorities, passions and life choices. Subtle changes to images and copy will ensure your experience on websites and email are unique and relevant.


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