SXSW: Coffee With Chick

A Chief Digital Officer, a Chief Technology Officer, and a VP of Engineering walk into a bustling coffee shop at SXSW… and the joke stops there. They actually talk about nerd things.

Paul Brienza, our very own Chief Technology Officer, and Sam Saha, LC’s VP of Engineering, tracked down Chick Foxgrover – yep, you guessed it, the Chief Digital Officer of the 4A’s.

The three talked shop – favorite products, impressive brands, shiny new buzzwords – at SXSW and were kind enough to share what they said with us.

This conversation has been condensed and lightly edited.

LC: What is one product or service out there that made you say to yourself, “I wish I had developed that?”

CF: There are a couple of things that have really impressed me. The great technology that came out last year was around design and the future of advertising. The bold claim (or what a lot of people make of it) was that the core creative capability of brand building for the future is experience design. It’s not messaging or storytelling. Storytelling is important, but if the service doesn’t work or it doesn’t arrive fast enough or it’s not easy enough to sign up or protecting my privacy, then people don’t care. Some of the biggest brands in the world today were built with no advertising. Airbnb, Uber, and Pokemon Go had the same number of subscribers as Twitter within two weeks with no marketing campaign at all.

LC: That’s really amazing to think about. It seems like in our always-on society, the main KPI is about experience – how good the consumer feels about the way they interact.

CF: And think about how certain categories like the travel industry double-down on their apps because going to a hotel or booking a trip is all about the app. Is my room ready? My loyalty program is right here – I don’t have to call, I don’t have to do anything. That’s the loyalty program. We don’t even know the advertising messaging or how their brand performs in the marketplace – all we care about is how good the app is at responding to our needs. Delta, Marriott, etc. all these brands are iterating like crazy. They’re improving those apps the way Apple improves their products and its those experiences that make brands so successful.

LC: Absolutely. Hyatt just completely rebuilt their loyalty app based off exactly what you’re saying because they recognize the loyalists’ value. They know how and when they’re going to engage with the brand through the apps and push offers through that.

CF: How cool is it to get alerts when you walk in the door or when you connect to the Hyatt Wifi and it already knows you’re there? Probably every presentation has talked about this, but it’s true: The key principle today in marketing is “last best experience.” Last Best Experience is an expectation for consumers. If I can order an Uber car in under five minutes then why can’t my bank do that? Why can’t my coffee do that?

LC: I really like that phrase: Last Best Experience. Because that’s exactly what it is. Clients are always comparing themselves to something else – ‘we want to be just like this.’ It’s that ‘me too’ effect. But you almost immediately find that there’s somebody who trumps you very quickly. It’s also nice to be able to tell that story because then we go in and make these pitches and say, everyone expects the Apple experience or the Amazon experience, but the message is actually about the last best experience. Which is why I’m glad you said that because it makes perfect sense.

The key principle today in marketing is “last best experience”

LC: What is a brand or product that you feel is doing something innovative and pushing the envelope in a creative way?

CF: I think the New York Times has done an amazing job at iteratively figuring out how their content can be delivered quicker. They experiment like crazy and that’s been interesting to watch. I also really like Bloomberg’s website – it’s very beautiful and I think it works really well. Warby Parker is also really well known for their model, but what stood out to me is how they went from selling only online to now having stores, and that flip actually made a really big difference. I give them high marks for not being ideological about who they are and always watching for what their customers might want. It’s working quite well for them. What are some that you like?

LC: We like what Amazon’s doing. They started doing one thing really, really well – sold books and then they added another category and another category until they built out the Amazon store, but now Alexa is it. That was the groundbreaking moment. I love their technology and I love the ethos of ‘let’s get things done.’

CF: [Bezos] has a no-accountability philosophy. And it’s funny, I saw this guy from Amazon talking about the way they work and he said that ’we don’t hold people accountable because we wouldn’t get the best talent working on our most risky projects if we did.’ And I thought that was brilliant because if you’ve actually created a culture of real drive and intensity in your work then you don’t need to make people accountable, you don’t need to start grading them. That’s only going to hurt their productivity.

LC: If you look at what Bezos has done with the Washington Post, he has made significant improvement with the delivery of information with the technology that you would see from Amazon in the form of dynamic headlines. They will pit two headlines for a story and whichever one gets the most clicks, that’s the one that will dominate.

CF: Yeah, that’s like the BuzzFeed technology. When I’ve seen them speak about their internal processes, I have to admit that I’m very impressed. Whenever I’ve met or seen a Google person or a Facebook person or a BuzzFeed person speak on stage, they’re almost uniformly very humble and they have a process in place that I fully believe in. They never ever rest on their laurels. They never trust their own instinct, they’re always getting together to discuss how do we do less and how can we do this better and that’s really impressive. They know that that they haven’t solved the problem forever. They understand the need to constantly question. For a creative business, you have to understand this in your bones. You need to recognize when a new tool becomes available and if and how it’s relevant to what you do and if you’re a creative person you’re going to have to interpret and recognize the ways in which your role is going to change. You’ve got to get technology infused into everything you do so that new solutions become apparent to you. I think this is a fascinating topic and really important for us.

LC: Finally, a hot question in our business right now: Where do you think artificial intelligence (AI) is going, and how do agencies like us help our clients use it?

CF: What I think is exciting from a 4A’s perspective is that even a small agency that’s willing to learn about this stuff can do amazing things with AI. You can put machine-learning algorithms to work if you’re willing to learn how to do it, which includes hiring a data scientist with a deep background in statistics. If you’re willing to go that far – and in most agencies that’s a cultural shift – that will allow you then for pennies to actually participate in prototypes and systems of what you may want to do one day. And you should start now.

The conversation went on and on, but we’ll spare you the minutiae and offer instead our own next best experience: The LC Artificial Intelligence Round Table.

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