Agency-side marketers are unique in their bird’s eye view of the trends, challenges, and opportunities across multiple industries, products, and services. In fact, many a brand-side marketer has gone over to the agency world to obtain that breadth and depth of knowledge.
Deb Boyda, who joined global digital agency Isobar as U.S. CEO in April, has extensive experience on both sides. Her background includes executive-level positions at SapientRazorfish, Ogilvy and Mather, Beam Global Spirits, and Miller Brewing.
CMO.com caught up with Boyda to talk about digital transformation, emerging technology, consumer trends, and more.
CMO.com: Which emerging technology are you keeping the closest eye on and why? And what opportunity do you see with it?
Boyda: AR and VR are important to keep an eye on, in particular. I think there are a lot of dynamic things that can happen with those technologies. This is one of those emerging areas of technology that is only at the beginning of showing its business value for clients. I also see a big opportunity in AR and VR analytics. Soon brands will feel comfortable with AR and VR, and the analytics capabilities will allow them to prove the real business value in immersive technology.
AI and machine learning are hot topics today, as well. From my perspective, everybody’s saying that they have AI capabilities or they are using machine learning, but it is very much still a black box. I don’t think that anyone has completely cracked it yet.
That said, AI and machine learning are incredibly potent tools to allow us to get to a point where the experience that a human being has with a business or with a brand is deeply, truly personalized. It’s a one-on-one kind of experience. And there’s some distance to go between where we are today and where we can ultimately get to.
CMO.com: How do you define digital transformation?
Boyda: There’s so much throwing around of the term “digital transformation.” What has become really clear to me is that there is no one singular definition of it. I think that that’s one of the biggest challenges.
Every client is confronting the fact that it is now a digital economy, a connected economy. We know many of them are anxious about being disrupted. It’s happening consistently, and the victors are not only those with fat wallets. The victors in the disruption game are the ones that are able to think about business models completely and totally differently—business models that are powered by what technology can do.
At Isobar we believe in the power of experience-led transformation. It’s about putting the human being at the center of the discourse and creating the experiences for those human beings that are going to make their lives better in some way—simpler, easier, more convenient, more delightful. We know that better experiences for customers and consumers drives business value. Better experiences mean better, more profitable businesses for our clients.
CMO.com: Which consumer trends do you think are going to have the greatest impact on marketing and customer experience strategies over the next three to five years?
Boyda: Progressive companies are coming to terms with the fact that placing value on humanity and the human experience is essential to success. People used to be more the centerpiece of the marketing world before, and then we got away from it as we shifted focuses to data and automation. I’m not suggesting any of those are bad. Those are all very essential parts of the overall marketing and experience world. But there’s definitely been a return back to the essential value of the human insight and the human experience.
CMO.com: What do you expect for the future of advertising? Will it be more measurable? Interactive? What else?
Boyda: I think that in order for it to be successful, it’s going to need to be more immersive, and it’s going to need to be more interactive. And it all goes back to the re-emergence of the human experience, which I mentioned before.
Obviously, there will always be a lot of discourse on measurement. There should be. It is critical. I think that the reason for that is it’s a heck of a lot easier to have a boardroom- or CEO-level conversation about facts and figures. But in order to inspire people to do something, to take action, to buy a product, engage with a business, or sign up for a service, it’s going to be all about how immersive and engaging the experience is.
CMO.com: Mary Meeker’s “Internet Trends Report” shows e-commerce is on the rise, with online sales up 16%. What’s your advice to brands in terms of how they should be rethinking their e-commerce strategie? How can they differentiate themselves from the Amazons of the world?
Boyda: People no longer “go shopping.” They are shopping constantly, continuously. Every interaction that you have with a person is an opportunity for a transaction to happen. And I feel brands shouldn’t be thinking about e-commerce, specifically, but commerce more broadly. At the end of the day, commerce is just a set of experiences that lead to a sale.
You have to think about every interaction point as a potential transaction point and see where that takes your commerce strategy and plan.
CMO.com: Isobar was awarded the Grand Prix in Digital Craft at the 2018 Cannes Lions Festival, honored for Aeronaut, a fully immersive virtual reality experience. Can you tell me a bit about this experience and what makes it innovative?
Boyda: “Aeronaut VR” is a three-and-a-half-minute room-scale experience designed for Smashing Pumpkins’ William Patrick Corgan’s single “Aeronaut.” The unique content was not only designed as a fully immersive and participatory VR experience, but a 2D video was filmed within the VR experience using Cinemachine, a new software tool from Unity. The 2D video filmed inside the 3D VR world was imagined by San Francisco artist Danny Bittman using Tilt Brush and Blocks from Google, and brought to life by our team and co-directors, Rob Ruffler and David Liu.
What makes this experience so unique is not only the way it was shot—with 106 cameras at Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Capture Studio—but the way that the team was able to work inside of the VR experience to make the final product a reality. They actually spent time in the Aeronaut world, collaborating, reviewing designs, and discussing interactions.
Aeronaut has the potential to completely revolutionize the future of content—and not just in the music industry. Emerging technology gives us an opportunity to reinvent the way we express ourselves and interact with fans and consumers. The future is here, and we can’t wait to start working on the next big thing.
CMO.com: As an agency person, you have the unique position of working with clientele across multiple industries. Which industry do you believe is furthest along in its transformation journey?
Boyda: Retail is ahead of the game. The gap between retail and the other industries is pretty pronounced.
We have many aggressive, prolific companies to thank for that. Those retail organizations that haven’t fully embraced transformation are rushing to play catch-up so that they don’t become obsolete. There is a huge desire—although I don’t think that there’s necessarily the same level of progress—in the financial services industry to come up with interesting, progressive solutions that are a lot more transformative than they ever used to be. The regulatory environment holds them back from moving with the same swiftness that retail did, for example. But there is interesting, transformative work bubbling up in that industry.
CMO.com: Isobar has a tool that helps clients track how they stack up against competitors. So what are you finding? Are clients typically surprised about how they stack up against competitors?
Boyda: Our Digital Strength Index [demonstrates a] correlation between a company’s digital savvy and acumen—the strength of their digital work—and the revenue and profitability of the company. I think most clients fall in one of two buckets. Either they’re overly confident, and they think they’ve got it all figured out and are surprised to learn that they’re don’t. Or they think that they’re woefully behind—and sometimes that’s true and sometimes that’s actually not true.
But I don’t know that anybody feels like they’ve “got it”—that they’re right on the money.
CMO.com: If you can go back and give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be and why?
Boyda: My advice would be: Don’t be afraid to take a risk on something that looks like it’s going to emerge and bubble up as the next thing, even if it’s not fully baked at the moment. It’s emerging innovation that keeps your work life intellectually stimulating and interesting.
It is very easy to get locked into the safety zone of a job that’s secure with a nice paycheck and routine that serves your personal life, particularly for those with young children at home. But those jobs can get boring really fast.
CMO.com: What is the most important question that I did not ask you? And could you answer it?
Boyda: You didn’t ask me for insight into how CEOs and CMOs could be more effective at capitalizing on experiences to inspire consumers to act. I believe the solution starts in the boardroom and around the executive table. The critical question must be, “Do the executives you have at the table reflect the diversity of your consumer or customer?” We need to think very hard about that. There are unique, innate skill sets and competencies that diverse leadership teams have that make them uniquely successful. In addition, it will not come as a surprise that I believe women, in particular, are well-suited for leadership.
I’ve seen, over the course of my career, a lot of incredibly successful leaders who were successful because they were women. They had a set of skills around collaboration and transparent communication that made them exceptional leaders, but they never really quite made it to the top with all of the different dynamics in our society that exist. I believe that if agencies and the consulting organizations don’t rectify that, they will not win client business and client confidence.