Tery Spataro is passionate about digital marketing. For 20 years, she's been providing strategies that define the role digital and technology play with the brand and in the life of the customer.

Her current title is director of research at ATOMdesign/STREAM Research in Scottsdale, Ariz., a product development and design firm. She oversees the method, strategy, identification of insights, analysis of data for product and marketing research to aid in the experience design process.

But if you ask her what she does, she's likely to put things much simpler.

"I bring digital and tech to life in the physical world," she explains on Twitter.

Digital Marketing – and More

Spataro, a marketer, author, professor, collaborator and futurist, uses digital and technology to create a relationship between the brand and consumer. To accomplish that goal, she's created strategies for brand promotion, product creation, innovation, dashboards and apps, digital experiences in-store and out of home, and environment.

Spataro has more than two decades of experience in digital and traditional marketing communications. She has served as a senior executive at R/GA, Siegel & Gale, Ogilvy One, Blue Dingo, Wundermanand Edelman.

She co-founded one of the earliest digital marketing agencies and founded two others — an online retail business and an e-voice greeting card company.

In addition to her work at ATOMdesign, Spataro is the founder and president of Curiosity to Innovation and co-founder of the Confluence Project, runs Daily Eats and is an affiliate professor at Regis University in Denver.

I met her almost 10 years ago when she was planning director at Interpublic Group's now defunct Sandbox unit. I was fortunate enough to reconnect with her recently — and have the opportunity to share her insights with CMSWire readers.

Sobel: You've worked at some of the biggest names in the world of marketing and advertising. Can you share a bit about your journey and how it led you to your work at ATOMdesign?

Spataro: I love innovation and future forward thinking. I believe in technology, but not as the risk of losing our humanity.

I started in digital and technology back in 1994. I was convinced the world would transition to online only – that we would be fixated on the screen. I know that was a narrow view, and I’ve grown so much through the past 21 years by carefully observing the behavior of consumers their connection with the things in their lives.

That’s what interests me and why I am at ATOMdesign. There is a joining of physical with digital. I have a great team of researchers, who are incredibly curious about the human condition. Without answering these tough questions of who, what and why the design process is just guess work and there will be a lack of human consideration in the design outcome. Product should be created to connect an experience with the consumer to ensure loyal usage.

Sobel: A few months ago you posed an interesting question after attending CES 2015, the big consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. You noted, "Every few seconds Twitter (was) buzzing with enthusiasm and wonder for automating routines and tasks will improve our lives… My observations cause me to conclude: This is the year the connection is made between human reliance on smart devices.” Can you share your thoughts?

Spataro: CES 2015 is a turning point in the purpose a product has in a consumer’s life. You don’t have to run over to the coffee pot anymore to see if the coffee is ready you can get a text on your mobile. Connection is the new term for convenience. In some cases this is exciting news through it makes me ponder two questions:

  • What if we become so reliant on our devices that they take away freewill?
  • What if these simple machines become smarter than me, will they make decisions for me that I am unaware of?

Sobel: Let's discuss your views on the digital future of retail. Can you give us a brief overview and explain how to plan engaging integrated experiences?

Spataro: Retailers need to innovate the physical space to get customers to come into the store.

Because of the recession, most shoppers have become time strapped and budget conscience. Retailers like Target were able to benefit and gain new buyers through their in-store contemporary design and the addition of top designers who wanted to venture into mass merchandising. These changes catered to customers who formerly shopped at higher end merchants.

It is unfortunate that Target couldn't continue with this type of customer strategy in its stores in Canada. (Ed. Note: In January, US-based Target announced it was closing its Canadian operation, laying off more than 17,000 employees and liquidating 133 stores.)

Learning Opportunities

Target spent time understanding the motivators and behavior of the US shopper, but there is a difference between US shoppers and Canadian shoppers. Ethnographic research methods are very helpful in providing insights into cultural differences in shopper segments.

Also, from a business perspective, growth by real estate is becoming an outdated means of increasing the business. It's not sustainable.

Retailers haven't realized their responsibility in building a community. When a retailer moves out of a community they contribute to societal decay.

We have seen this trend by retailers on and off. Borders Books closed 200 stores in 2011. We are expected to see additional big box closings this year. This is unfortunate, but it's also an opportunity for retailers to think from the other side of the box and consider retailer innovation.

Sobel: Can you discuss the difference between “The Connected Human” and “The Internet of Things,” if there is such a comparison?

Spataro: The Connected Human is about self-management: our psychological state, health and wellness, routines and habits, medical inclinations. The Internet of Things serves our personal needs and serves many other things. For example, sensors can let you know about a water leak, a blind spot in your car, a break-in at your home.

Sobel: Can you tell us a bit about Daily Eats?

Spataro: Courtney Pulitzer and I founded Daily Eats. We did our first post in 2004. Daily Eats is about the celebration of all types of food and the experiences with those foods.

Sobel: You're also the founder and president of “Curiosity to Innovation,” an independent research and strategy consultant for marketing, branding, innovation, communication, experience planning and tech-product design working with well-known brands, start-ups, small and medium size businesses. Can you share your thoughts here?

Spataro: Research is the most valuable weapon marketers can have in their tool boxes. It helps validate an idea and verify the market. When focusing on consumer insights, you begin to create the connection between your brand the consumer. Identifying the needs of your consumers is the best way to start to understand your consumer. Solve their problems and then you will be able to define the brand experience. My three favorite questions: Who, Why and What.

Sobel:  Any final thoughts for our readers about the optimal use of their organization's digital information?

Spataro: We are living in fascinating times! Technology is changing quickly. Keeping up with human behavior, and understanding consumer needs will be key to innovation.

Don’t be afraid to ask your consumers or customers what they think about your products or services. Keep your product human. The real connection is between the brand and consumer, rather than just the stuff. As we become more emerged with technology we run the risk of becoming less human. I don’t want that to happen.