Martha Pease Marketers Forget Silver Bullets

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Martha Pease has spent more than two decades as a marketing, media and strategy executive, building brand value and promoting growth for companies in competitive categories. So she has the experience to recognize that the digital experience has radically changed advertising. 

Thirty years ago was a simpler time, she told CMSWire. "Now, forget about a silver bullet. Even if you could find one, there’s not just one target," she continued.

But that doesn't mean companies and brands should stop trying. Instead, it just means they have to work harder, think strategically and plan carefully for optimal outcomes, she said.

As CEO of New York City-based DemandWerks, a company that advises businesses on marketing strategy, Pease said she tries to help companies create demand and reduce risk while generating value for shareholders, employees and customers.

What a Job

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It's a challenging task, especially in an age when authenticity is such a valued but misunderstood characteristic for both individuals and companies, she explained. As Pease noted, authenticity is one thing. But "authentically nice" is quite another — and the two are often mutually exclusive.

How marketers resolve such dichotomies and still create brand- and personal value is just part of the challenge of modern marketing, she explained in a recent interview with CMSWire. 

Sobel: How did a Dartmouth College graduate with a BA in English Literature and Film History end up in advertising?

Pease: It’s funny — thirty years ago, there weren’t these direct channels from certain colleges to advertising agencies as there are now. So when I was an undergraduate, it wasn’t as though there was an advertising degree that I could have pursued. Nevertheless, when you look at what advertising is all about — connection, narrative, communication — a liberal arts background, specifically one focusing on English lit and film, is probably one of the most relevant ways to prepare.

In the study of both literature and film, you’ve got analysis and construction of stories. You’ve got culture. You’ve got images. You’ve got creativity. Most of all, you have the narrative.

Everything about creating a relevant position for company in a marketplace is about the narrative: the narrative of products and services you offer and how they line up with demand.

Sobel: You spent many years with some of the biggest names in the advertising business including Lord Geller, BBDO, JWT and McCann Erickson. You also worked on the client side, including a stint at Neutrogena as senior vice president of global marketing and product development. How does the advertising business of the past 30 years compare with today?

Pease: Obviously 30 years ago was a simpler time in terms of the media channels available. Television guaranteed that we’d reach 30 million people or so on a weekly basis. We knew we had that. We knew where to make a splash in print.

Now, forget about a silver bullet. Even if you could find one, there’s not just one target. Because of this, there’s been more fracturing in the business. Where you used to have an agency really integrated into an organization and able to be really involved in product development, testing and so on, agencies are seen more as vendors.

So an organization will have multiple companies working to help them with marketing: PR agencies, a digital agency, a social media agency, a general agency of record … it goes on and on. Where there was once a full 360-degree viewpoint, there’s now a really siloed and stratified approach.

What we’ve found, going back to narrative, is that it’s nearly impossible for companies working this way to first identify with, then address the needs of and finally communicate with consumers.

There are brands that still do this and Neutrogena is one of them. They’re really transcendent brands, largely because they’re able to build and tell those stories. At DemandWerks, we really want to bring that kind of thinking back and build something really round and holistic.

Sobel: In 2006 you joined Lifetime Television as executive vice president overseeing marketing and enterprise development. That was big change for you. Or was it?

Pease: It’s one of those things that on the surface, to some, might seem like a big change, but it was really anything but.

First, I think that my career in advertising really prepared me to understand any market and product: how it’s built, how to assess quality. This applies to television programming as much as it does to computer systems or beauty products or any commodity. But with both Neutrogena and Lifetime TV, I specifically was looking for a different perspective. I made a conscious choice to move to the operating side, where you really start to observe first-hand how enterprise structures function and the challenges there.

You’re really behind the scenes in the kitchen so to speak. The fact that I was at Lifetime — I had also made a conscious choice to work with companies that had a specific target demographic of women, and Lifetime definitely fit the bill.

More than that, though, Lifetime is another one of those brands that absolutely needs to be consumer-accountable. Lifetime has to be all about putting its customer first and reverse-engineering programming and products around that customer need. And it's generally been successful at executing enterprise-wide sensitivity to that need and promoting real empathy and connection to the consumer. Both of those places were really perfect crucibles for honing my appreciation and understanding of the business value of empathy.

Sobel: Empathy is a big theme in your new book, “Think Round: How to Own the Future by Focusing 100% of your Company on Customers and Consumers 100% of the Time.” What do you mean by empathy as is relates to strategy and why is it so critical today?

Pease: I want to reference a study that we’ve been pointing to a lot to frame this issue. I think, unfortunately, when C-suite people hear “empathy” they are primed to tune out whatever follows.

But it’s not just some touchy-feely concept. It’s very real and actionable and very, very connected to the bottom line. The Watermark Customer Experience Study showed that for 2007-2013, the average annual total stock market returns for companies that are accountable to their consumers’ experience were 8.6 percent, a substantial 2.5 percentage points better than the S&P average returns of 6.1 percent.

Companies that lagged in accountability had a negative 0.4 percent average annual return. So when we talk about empathy, we’re talking about this idea of accountability. We’re talking about the idea that a company not only relates to and understand its customers —who are the ones writing all of the paychecks, essentially — but that everything that company does and creates comes from a place of true empathy, true understanding.

Companies that aren't empathetic create products that speak to their assumptions about needs and their own internal brilliance. Maybe they ask for feedback from customers, but if it doesn’t fit what they had in mind, it’s not happening.

Companies that are empathic really listen to the consumer and build everything around the answer in a strategic and systematic way. It’s authentic and it’s actionable, all at once.

Sobel: You recently made some interesting observations about millennials, authenticity and Hillary Clinton. What do you view as some of Hillary Clinton’s missteps and, more importantly, how does that affect marketers?

Pease: Hillary Clinton’s general missteps revolve around a couple big marketing issues.

One is that she’s not transparent, and people don’t feel like they really know her, so they can’t trust her. This is linked also to likeability issues, which for a lot of segments of her market — millennials among them — aren’t working in her favor right now.

I see these issues as really being built on two problems. The first is that the fashion lately seems to be confusing being authentic with being authentically nice. So you have an unfortunately incongruous proposition from the start. What if your authentic self is aggressive? Hard-edged?

I’d argue that describes Hillary Clinton pretty well. She’s capable, she’s confident and she can also be caustic. So she has advisors telling her she needs to soften up the image, but the millennials can see through that.

As humans, we’re wired by evolution and instinct to understand when someone isn’t genuine, when his or her laugh or smile is faked. Millennials can see that to the nth-degree.

It’s ultimately a cautionary tale for marketers that authenticity can’t be faked. If you aren’t being true to yourself, and if you don’t really care for your consumers, all of the smooth messaging tactics and big advertising budgets in the world aren’t going to make what you’re saying sound less hollow.

Sobel: Finally in Think Round, you ask: “Why can’t your company be just like Apple, Zappos or FedEx?” I’d like to ask you “How can they?”

Pease: This is a really great question to close on because it cuts to the core of what we’re talking about in “Think Round.” You’ve absolutely got the right frame of mind here. A company absolutely can be like Apple, Zappos or FedEx if everything you do and everyone in your company — from the person who answers your 1-800 number to the foreman on the factory floor to the chairman of the board — is focused on the consumer 100 percent of the time.

If you think of it geometrically, we’re really talking about thinking “round” in terms of bringing the consumer into the process, weaving accountability to that consumer in with everything you do.

In a consumer-accountable or “round” organization, the organization itself sits in the middle, surrounded by the consumer.

They are, effectively, situated within the consumers’ world. Not the other way around. It’s a fallacy to think that a company like Apple is just creating brilliant products without any demand from its consumers.

On the contrary, consumer demand drives everything that Apple does. Apple, along with other gold standards like FedEx and Zappos, are immersed within that circle of consumer needs. They are truly thinking round.