Introduction: It’s another season of Planner Parley, a show where we come together under a flag of truce to talk about small agency planning. We’re back and ready to tackle the world we live in today, it’s not the new normal, but the new strange. The last few months have been a learning experience from transitioning to remote work, to changing the way our industry is talking about, relating to, and being a part of society. In this week’s episode we’re mapping this new landscape with Rishad Tobaccowala, author and advertising futurist out of Chicago, Cathy Taylor, US U.S. Commissioning Editor ar WARC in New York City and, of course John Roberts, CSO of Truth Collective in Rochester New York, as they provide insight into how planners can thrive under these terms, and what it means for small agencies. Pull up a chair and listen in.
John Roberts: Welcome to you both, and thank you for making the time.
Cathy Taylor: Thank you.
Rishad Tabaccowala: Thank you for having us.
John Roberts: So, as we talked about earlier Rishad, we’re going to coin your phase of, the subject for today is really to think about the world of the new strange not the new normal, but the new strange that we all live in now and will continue living in the future. Both in term of some of the pit falls and lessons that particularly from your experience, you’re seeing and learning, both from an agency side and client side. But, before we get into that I’d love to know, how’ve the past couple of months been for you and what have you learned about yourself? Cathy, let’s start with you.
Cathy Taylor: That is a really interesting question. It’s funny, because in a way I’ve gone back in time, which is to say that I was a consultant for 18 years and I worked from home, and then I took this great job with WARC about a year ago excited to go back into the city, and now I find myself working from home, again, all the time. So, it’s really caused me to look at what I vale, and while I value working from home, I’m one of those people who is also itching to get back into the city, at least partly.
Cathy Taylor: And also, I think, has made me really reassess how I go about my work, because this is a really full-time, intense job, and a very intense period for WARC. So, I find myself constantly sort of reevaluating how it is I go about my work and balance everything out, so I can spend more time with my kids, who are both here right now. And spend time with my husband and kind of value this interesting time for some of the good that comes out of it, and not all of the sad and tragic parts that are coming out of it.
John Roberts: Great way to think about it. And how about you, Rishad, what did you learn about yourself?
Rishad Tabaccowala: What I learned about myself is that, if it was not for the circumstances that have caused this, which is, as Cathy mentions, the tragic outcome of COVID-19, which continues. This has probably been the funnest three months of my life, and there are two reasons for it. One is, I used to travel a lot on planes, and did about 140 flights a year, and at the beginning of this year I did 27 or 28 until March 12th. I began to realize that I don’t need to fly at al, actually, to do what I do, because I’m now a staving author, which is big business person. So, that was one.
Rishad Tabaccowala: And the second is, and that has given me a lot more time than I ever had before. The amount of time you spend switching between things, going to places between meetings, is a big deal, And the second, which is also unusual is, I now am in total control of my days. So, I have a routine, it’s not even a routine as much as a ritual, and that has allowed me to both, I think, physically be healthier, I’ve lost 15 pounds because I don’t I don’t eat outside as much, and when they stopped the restaurant I didn’t go drinking my craft beer.
Rishad Tabaccowala: And I learned lot of more stuff because I have much more time to read and create, and watch movies. And my wife and I always got along for the last 40 years, so that wasn’t a problem, so that was good. So, all and all it’s turned out to be actually relatively positive, and because I was going from a business career to a writing career, the fact that everybody’s at home has turned out to be an advantage, because the disadvantage of me being at home and everybody at the office has also been off-set.
John Roberts: Very true. It seems to me like both of your learnings, it seems to me, shift a common feel concern of the world of COVID that we’ve all lived in, and suddenly dramatically working from home, as you both talked about. But, instead of it being constrictive or restrictive, it sounds to me you’re both talking about it becoming expansive?
Rishad Tabaccowala: Yes.
Cathy Taylor: Yeah, I think one thing that’s really been interesting is that I’ve discovered a lot more about this area I’ve lived in for 20 years, than I ever had, and I live in a town that borders The Bronx, and my husband I have gone on these great bike rides not only to Orchard Beach which is fairly close by, but also all these other parts that I just never discovered in those 20 years. So, that’s really kind of fascinating, and I hear those stories repeated quite a lot, actually.
John Roberts: So, worlds of exploration, the mental and the physical, or the geography.
Rishad Tabaccowala: Yeah, I actually wrote a piece called Constrained Growth, some times-
John Roberts: So, go ahead Rishad, tell me more.
Rishad Tabaccowala: So, sometimes when you are constrained to what Cathy mentions, and there are sort of limitations. It allows you to sort of build focus, think what’s important, why would you do certain things. So, once I’m allowed to roam free, which I have been allowed to because Chicago’s open faster than anybody. So, for instance, today restaurants are open, inside restaurants are open to 25% capacity, external restaurants have been open for three weeks, a whole bunch of stuff is open.
Rishad Tabaccowala: What I’ve begun to realize is, there were things that I was really missing, one of which was craft beer and eating great food. But, there was a lot of things that I had sort of started doing through almost habit, and one of my beliefs is, when you start or stop doing something for 60 or 90 days, you change your habit. So, in some cases I say, “Why do I want to do this again? I was just doing it from a force of habit.” So, it allows you to focus, decide what’s important, what isn’t important. And when I was a account person and was helping write creative briefs, people would always tell me, “The more constrained the brief the more we can roam free.”
Rishad Tabaccowala: And, therefore, I basically believe that a lot of people should take these 90 days or the next 90 days, because I don’t think the world’s getting back to normal until 2021, to significantly think about how they reinvent themselves, what’s important, what isn’t important. And one of the key things that I’m suggesting to people who have the option, now we have 40 million people without a job, we have a lot of people and a lot of fragility, a lot of pressure. But, for those who can, I am suggesting strongly that they consider massively cutting their cost of living, because I said, “It’ll give you degrees of freedom.” Obviously don’t [inaudible 00:07:30] your house but, for instance, we are traveling less, obviously we are shopping less, we are going out eating less.
Rishad Tabaccowala: And, oddly, it’s opened up those funds to do other things, interesting things. So, in many ways one can look at this and say the world has come to an end, and unfortunately for a lot of people it has, both from a health and a financial perspective, and it’s a huge portion. But, for other people who have fortunate that may have some flexibility, don’t complain that much, think about this as a time of reinvention and be grateful that you’re healthy and you don’t have to worry about food.
John Roberts: Yeah, it’s a great way of thinking about it. In fact, it ties into, Cathy, you were talking earlier about bike rides are free, and it’s a great way of actually exploring and thinking about what matters to you. This notion of reinvention, I feel, is clearly a common theme in terms of what you’re both learning from your writing perspectives. So, Rishad, in terms of the book with Restoring the Soul of Business, there has to be a level of reinvention and new focus in that. And, Cathy, similarly with, you and I were talking about the new CMO study from WARC, about understanding about what is, how to turn leadership into action during and, I imagine, post-pandemic and the new strange we’re going to be in.
John Roberts: Cathy, talk to me a little bit, if you would, about, I’m thinking about the CMO report, but just generally speaking, from your editorial perspective and understanding the world that we’re in now. What do you think are some key points about this notion of reinvention, for leaders, in our world?
Cathy Taylor: Well, one of the things that led o that report was being able to sit in on a lot of meetings, thanks to a partnership we have with the ANA, with a lot of CMOs, and really talking to them a lot of the time off the record, frankly, about what their concerns were and what they were finding. And one of the things that has really stood out to me is, that to a person they all mentioned how quickly their organizations can move, and it’s really surprising to most of them. They didn’t realize that they could in fact act like a startup, even though I think for quite a few years, there’s been a lot of talk about how traditional companies have to act like startups. Well, guess what? A pandemic will do that for you, partly because you’re in, many cases, in a kind of desperate place.
Cathy Taylor: All of a sudden people can’t come to your restaurant, but you have to reorient around a totally takeout business, and things like that. And so, that has been really surprising, and if there’s anything that CMOs seem to want to take from this experience and continue once we are back in the blissful world where there is no pandemic, it’s that they want to be able to keep up this speed with which they can reinvent. And that just stands out to me every time, because it doesn’t matter what category you’re in, what country you’re from, that is just something that we’re seeing that is a real kind of reinvention for these companies that may persist over the long term.
John Roberts: That’s funny, because we all know in the world that we predominantly live in, in terms of marketing and agency client, brand relationship. This notion about agility has been on forefront for many of us in discussions for the last few years, but now has been forced, like you were saying Cathy. And it’s refreshing to hear that actually it’s becoming really, really evident to, as you’ve said, the CMO drivers. That it isn’t about coping with now, it’s about that new habit, Rishad, that you talked about, about the future. Rishad, does that reflect well, when you think about how, in some ways, how [inaudible 00:11:21], because the book came out before COVID was even a thing. Are there elements from your perspective, in the book, that reflect well in terms of what Cathy was talking about, that notion fort agility and reinvention?
Rishad Tabaccowala: Absolutely, and one of the chapters in my book is about change, and how difficult it is to change unless you basically have certain pressure points and realities, and urgencies, which to Cathy’s point, we basically have had. And in many ways one of the resistance in change sometimes within organizations, not the only resistance, but sometimes a place, tended to be upper senior management, upper senior middle management and lower senior management. And, to Cathy’s point, over the past three months all of them have been zoomed into the future.
John Roberts: Yeah. So, do we believe these, as you mentioned earlier Rishad, these new habits are… How much of that is going to remain?
Rishad Tabaccowala: So, it’s hard to tell, but fundamentally I believe that there are human needs, and those human needs, the need for interaction, the need for connection, the need for being part of a community, those don’t go away. And it isn’t that people aren’t going to go to baseball games, and they won’t want to do other things, et cetera, that’s going to happen. I think what’s going to begin to happen is, people are going to do three big behavioral changes. One is, like in my case, there’ll be certain things that they were doing just through inertia, and they’ll say, “Do I want to restart those things?”
Rishad Tabaccowala: And it might be anything from eating, or going to certain place habits, et cetera, so they may think about that. So, it’s just that, “Hey, these certain things we were just doing by habit, it was not a human need we’re just doing it.” So, they’ll revisit, some they’ll continue some they won’t. Second is, there are certain things that they underappreciated, which they will actually end up doing more of, because they’ll basically say, “This, I can’t do this anymore, and I didn’t realize that these small things gave me great joy, and sometimes the big things won’t give me great joy.” So, my particular belief is that there’s going to be less business travel, not that there won’t be business travel but there’ll be less business travel, and there’ll be probably less going to offices. And this will be probably a long term change.
Rishad Tabaccowala: Again, I’m not saying there will not be business travel and there will not be going to offices, but I would anticipate that there’s a likelihood that between 20 to 30% less of each, and in some industries maybe 50%. Which is pretty dramatic.
John Roberts: Yeah, absolutely. Cathy, how does that reflect on some of the things you’ve been learning and thinking about, from WARC’s perspective?
Cathy Taylor: Well, I think we’ve obviously, and maybe not so obviously, we’ve been thinking a lot about what marketing’s role really is. Which is not to say this isn’t a topic that we could’ve discussed five years ago, or 10 years ago, but one thing that also keeps coming up in all these meetings that I’ve been on, is sort of the role of the, I don’t even want to say the consumer, I would say people in all of this. And how insights on how we are changing ass people, in regards to a lot of things, some of there things that Rishad just mentioned, other very specific things like how we feel about what safety means to us, and how to reassure us to go back there.
Cathy Taylor: I think so much of that is really on our minds right now, and what are those habits going to be that are going to continue, and what things will we go back to? Now, I do think people are going to be very anxious to get out into the world a bit but, for instance, some of the fast food companies we talked to see older people, finally using the mobile app to order. And once that habit is ingrained, they’re probably not slip back to not doing that ever again, it’ll probably continue.
Cathy Taylor: And so, to me, I think the most interesting nexus in this whole thing is going to be, what persists and what things habits we had that we’ll end up going back to, and where that intersection will be.
John Roberts: Great perspective. Can I touch on something because, again, Rishad, it’s a course of powerful theme in the book about restoring the soul of business. And the discussions that I’ve been having a lot recently, as I’m sure Cathy, you and Rishad have about brands. We spend many year thinking about what’s a brand’s purpose, its deeper more powerful value to the world, than purely delivering on a functional level. But, what we’re seeing more and more, particularly, and I’d love your perspective on it and, Cathy, particularly whether this came out loud and clear from the CMO study, perhaps, we’ve dived in there. We’re seeing that we think brands need to be less about purpose and more purposeful, a deliberate move not just about in terms of what we believe, but also how we’re backing this up with actions. So, Cathy, is that something that came through? Have you seen that as well or, of course, correct me in terms of what you’ve been seeing and believe.
Cathy Taylor: Well, there’s a popular phrase, actions not ads, and I’m not at all sure that the industry lives up to that. There are individual marketers that do, but I think people kind of realize these things now, and especially when it come to Black Lives Matter, it gets even deeper because the thing I think people are waking up to is that this is so far beyond, certainly, advertising and purpose. It really is everything to do with how you manage your business, so if your Nike you can certainly come out with a very powerful advertising around Colin Kaepernick, but how well are you living up to everything behind that?
Cathy Taylor: And I’m seeing quite a bit of research that says that consumers are going to begin to vote with their wallets when it comes to all this, whether that will map out I don’t know, but that’s a lot of the type of thing that we’re noticing.
John Roberts: And, Rishad, of course there’s the ulterior purposes you talk about in the book, but also from your personal perspective, as you light in the book, and we’ve talked about the growing need for diversity. Talk a little bit more about that Rishad.
Rishad Tabaccowala: So, I yesterday wrote a piece, again building on what Cathy mentioned, that the new ESG is also ESG, but ENS and GR different. So, a lot of companies who talk about purpose and value is eventually linked to environmentalism, not society but social and governance. Governance is making sure that they don’t have things like cheating inside the way they runs their organization, and social is very broad, it’s a very broad fabric, it includes everything from community to employees, and environmental is environmental.
Rishad Tabaccowala: And I believe that because those have become so broad and so much what, as I say, are ideas that wander freely on people’s websites and that’s where they stay, that they should be replaced by a new ESG of which it is employee, society and government. And the first is, if you can not look after your own employees don’t tell us about anything else, that’s number one. Second is, think about how you are both hurting or helping society. So, for instance, one of my big beliefs has been Facebook is not an advertising operating system, it’s a society operating system, and it’s sucking at the society role. And it’s already-
John Roberts: And we start to see the negative impact of that part is people who are moving with their actions- [crosstalk 00:19:22]
Rishad Tabaccowala: Exactly, and the third one is government. And what I mean by government is, we’ve now understood that government and proper governance matters. And many of these companies who talk a good game go out of their way to avoid paying taxes. Okay, so [inaudible 00:19:37] is, if you’re doing a whole bunch of loopholes, you can’t look after your employees, and you’re basically pilfering society, I don’t want to hear about your ESG, I don’t want to hear about your purpose, I don’t want to hear about your values. And guess what? Everybody’s sick and tired, and people are saying, “Enough.” THat’s the big thing which is to this whole idea of acts start ads, but primarily I’ve been, increasingly there’s this major shift where sometimes even the boardrooms are not completely understanding, and then some boardrooms are.
Rishad Tabaccowala: And sometimes the marketing people in the boardrooms don’t understand. So, literally, this morning I spoke with two CEOs of fortune 500 companies who called me, and I was speaking to them, and among the things is, they said, “It’s kind of interesting that we get it and you get it, and sometimes our marketing people don’t exactly understand how different the world is today, compared to what it was 180 days ago.” In almost every front, and to get this point, I had this big issue, for instance, where is the ANA in all of this? Hiding. Again and again, every time when things get tough the marketers go hiding. What’s that about?
John Roberts: So, tell me. Cathy, you’ve spent time with the ANA, what do you think that’s… One is, do you agree? And two is, why is that do you think?
Cathy Taylor: Well, I don’t totally agree but, again, you have to see how this is going to map out over the long term. I think they were more forthright in their statement after the murder of George Floyd, about they just had not risen to former occasions concerning diversity where they could’ve. So, I’m hoping that that is a kind of progress that we’ll begin to see, but I think one thing is, and this year certainly sums it up, is that pretty much all industries tend to run from crisis to crisis. So, all could, on this call, name three or four crisis that happened before we got to where we are today, but if the crisis during the end of last year was privacy regulations, or early this year that Chrome no longer is going to accept cookies.
Cathy Taylor: Well, that pretty much pales in comparison to what we’re going through right now. So, you don’t know, it’s too easy to get your eye off the ball, so I really hope things are different. But, it’s just very hard to say, I don’t have a great answer for that.
Rishad Tabaccowala: Yeah, and I’m, by the way, a fan of the ANA and, if you’ve notice [inaudible 00:22:35], so love my book. But, what is basically beginning to happen is, it’s very, very important right now, I use the ANA not as an organization but as basically, that this is where marketers need to come together and speak up. We’re basically in a world where I truly believe that the major platforms, which are monopolies, are behaving as if marketers are their suppliers, and that the marketers are not the clients. The way the marketers go tippy-toeing around these people is incredible.
Rishad Tabaccowala: If it was my money id say, “Come on,” but here it’s like all tippy-toeing nonsense. And I think that’s what a lot of people, including inside organizations are saying to their management, and it’s the reason I think, for the first time, that a company like Facebook might change, is primarily because their own employees are rebelling against their management, like, “What the hell are you people doing?”
Cathy Taylor: Well-
Rishad Tabaccowala: And that’s one of the key things. Go ahead.
Cathy Taylor: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting because I have been able to sit in again off the record on some meetings this last week, and even though some of the thing during LINEs Liver or Virtual Cam, whatever we’d like to call it, have been public. I think there is a lot of angst that you see within the ANA and its membership, about hate speech in particular and, of course, we come to this conversation knowing that, what, two hours ago, the word is that [Unileverse 00:24:12] is going to cease advertising on Facebook, at least, in the US for the rest of the year.
Cathy Taylor: So, I think these things are, to Rishad’s point, it ‘s sort of like some of them are getting their power back I think, and that is a really, really welcome thing, not about these issues but just in general, that you can’t just seed your power to Facebook and Google and sort of kneel at their feet.
John Roberts: So, one of the things I was wondering when you guys were talking about, and it’s building I think on this point you both are making so well, in terms of the change in relationship between the platform and the marketers, Cathy, you were just talking about. You both mentioned and, Rishad, you picked up on it, how the marketers don’t really understand, what is it you think that’s a barrier to marketers today, climb marketers, in terms of understanding and then acting? When the-
Rishad Tabaccowala: So, obviously I’m thinking that-
John Roberts: Sorry, because one of the premises I had, sorry Rishad, but one of the questions or hypothesis I had is, because it’s very, very hard for a marketer who is focused and challenged and rewarded on short term metrics, to be able to have a better understanding about significant change. And I might be wrong, but tell me more. What do you think?
Rishad Tabaccowala: So, I think, first of all, there are many marketers who do get it, so a sort of blanket statement, many of them get it, but not as many as used to. I’ll tell you there are four challenges, and one of them is obviously, they have to deliver the numbers this year because I think it’s, what, two or three years is how long they la, 40, X number of months. So, they have to do that, so there is that short term long term thing, but there are three other fundamental challenges that they face. One is that their job has become very different than communications, that the original marketing job was about communications and promotions, and now it’s about everything from business models to corporate communications, and all of these things in the digital world had blended.
Rishad Tabaccowala: So, what you could keep separate have all sort of come together. So, the complexity and speed with which they have to move is much more harder than it’s ever been before, so they’re grappling with a much harder and a much more broader job than they had, and many of them were not trained for this. And that’s where you’ve seeing many companies actually replacing the CMO with a different type of skill set, and calling them either a chief growth officer or something of the sort. So, that’s the second one which is, the world change so you actually aren’t good at what you’re potentially doing.
Rishad Tabaccowala: The third challenge that they basically have is a very simple one, which is, I don’t think they have the ability to truly inspire, or get the respect of their board. That, over years, what I began to understand is, marketing has become a second class citizen just when it’s become extremely important. Almost no major company has a marketer on its board. Because I think, over the years it was seen as a cost center, and it was basically seen as not fundamental, but now when your partners, supplier, or whatever you call them, happen to be Google and Facebook and Amazon, who in addition to taking your money, are going to basically come up with competitors to your business models. The board should recognize that the conduit to that is the marketing department.
Rishad Tabaccowala: But, what is basically beginning to happen is that for many years that sort of the marketing department is the people who bought spots and ads, and design, sort of what a brand logo would look like in a positioning statement, but now this is about marketing and business transformation. And the biggest challenges that are facing any company today in America, are not basically their IT infrastructure, or how they raise money from credit markets. Those are pretty easy to do outside of, obviously, cyber security. They’re pretty easy to do. It’s one of the reasons the consumer in the financial world has figured out that most of the people in the financial world who are sort of the experts, aren’t.
Rishad Tabaccowala: The S&P 500 beats Warren Buffett. So, the whole idea basically is, so but remember who is on the board of these companies, not only don’t we have people who have diversity of [inaudible 00:28:50], we don’t even have a diversity of backgrounds. Almost everyone is legal and financial. So, these marketing people can’t talk to them, and so the world of marketing is changing, reinventing companies, and the CMO can’t get the board’s attention, or the board doesn’t respect the CMO at the board level. And the last and the fourth one is, we have a talent crisis, which is, talent does not come into an industry when the industry basically cannibalizes itself. This is an industry that lives on reducing prices, which therefore means it doesn’t generate wealth. So, all the people go to Facebook and Google, and one of the reasons why I think CMOS don’t call out Facebook and Google, because that’s where they think their future jobs will be.
John Roberts: But, it’s an interesting perspective. Cathy, tell me more because, again, from your world, are you seeing similar threads from what you’re learning?
Cathy Taylor: Yeah, and you go back to sort of the long term short term argument, just with ad spend. So I’m going to sort of drill down into maybe a more specific thing than what Rishad just mentioned, but we all know what the guidance is about, how you should advertise during a recession, and focus on the long term, and all the good reasons for doing that. And that guidance, pretty much holds in this recession, although there are some industries like travel that really can’t think of spending in the same way right now, but the thing I always wonder is, we know that’s the guidance, but when the CMO has to go to the CFO and the CEO and say, “Look, we really should keep spending through this because we’re going to come out of it better a year from now.” I mean, I just don’t know how that conversation goes down, it feels like most of the time that’s not treated as a successful argument.
Cathy Taylor: And I know that gets sort of deeper into the weeds than what Rishad was just mentioning, but I think it sort of speaks to the broader problem of this focus on the short term. And so, we would all love to know how many advertisers really do continue to look at long term during a situation like this.
John Roberts: Perfect segue, because it is an incredibly troubled conversation, I know, for all agencies today about, “How do we help our clients manage the immediate?” But, also start thinking about, and Rishad let’s turn to you in terms of the conversation you and I have had about history may be lying. History says the brands that actually manage well through recession come out exponentially more stronger on the back end, they become more profitable, they more vibrant quicker than brands that just cut and try and hold the course. But, Rishad, you and I talked last time about how history may be lying, because the events we’re going through now aren’t really true of any other historical event. So, talk a little bit more about that Rishad.
Rishad Tabaccowala: Yeah, so what is different this time around is, we have both a financial crisis and economic crisis, a social crisis, and a health crisis, I mean, financial, economic, social and health, all happening at the same time. And this is global, this is not happening in one country, and everybody basically is forced to change their behavior for 90 days.
Rishad Tabaccowala: So, as a result, what is starting to happen and the advice that at least I am providing people is, don’t think about restarting your business think about starting your business. So, the last time something like this happened, I think 2008, 2009 recession was big but not as big as this, but when it happened we also had a changing of technology with the birth of mobile phones and the birth of social media, which I call the second connected age. And so, when companies came back, they basically looked backwards when they should have been looking around them and forward. So, General Motors and Ford did not pay attention to Uber and Tesla.
Rishad Tabaccowala: PNG and Shake did not pay attention to Dollar Shave Club and Harris. So, I truly believe that what is different now is the following. A, I truly believe that advertising, and I’ve said this on the record for the last four years and I’ve been so right, the people still think I’m drunk, even though I’ve got four years of data that prove I’m not, which is advertising is in circular decline, period, over and out. In the Western world, it’s never coming back, it’s circular decline and declining 5% a year, year after year.
Rishad Tabaccowala: So if you’re in the advertising business defined as interruptive messages, commercial messages, you are in a business that is at 5% decline. And that’s why some about the past is potentially lying to you, however marketing as understanding and meeting customer requirements and the broad swath of marketing, is in a Renaissance. It’s the reason why you know the McKinseys and Accenture’s and Deloittes are growing and are coming into this particular field, and so that’s the big shift that is starting to happen. And when you combine that with COVID-19, where your customers’ behaviors are going to be different moving forward, you have a new category, a new competitive sets, you need to think differently. And that is the biggest challenge, I’m trying to get folks to say, “Look, instead of having all your Zoom meetings about yesterday or today, let’s imagine tomorrow,” and it’s very easy to imagine tomorrow. The way that imagine tomorrow, is think of three things that every person in business does, travel, going to the office, and going to conventions.
Rishad Tabaccowala: Tell me how, this is to the point that Cathy has mentioned, tell me how you think in a world where you’re looking for safety, and for security, and for a lot of other things, travel will change, how will the office change, and how will a convention change? Just think about that, people brainstorm amazing ideas and they say, “Oh, my god, the world is change completely moving forward.” And then I said, “But, it hasn’t changed for your category or for your product, why?”
Cathy Taylor: Yeah, and even it gets down to sort of a very drilled down way, and that I just think of, say, a lot of CPG companies now that are selling direct to customers and finally picking up on some of the models that have been out there for a while, and at that point it’s not really advertising it’s marketing. And so, it’s just interesting to, say, see the shift of a company that has opened a D to C stored through all this, and that’s just a different kind of relationship with their customers than they have had before. So, and maybe some of that will just shift back when we can all go dancing down the aisles of the grocery store without a face mask but, again, some of this is for the long term.
Rishad Tabaccowala: And that is, by the way, a sequel to Cathy’s original dancing down, which is her famous first video was dancing down the grocery store, so it’ll come back now.
Cathy Taylor: Yeah, exactly. I just, actually my husband is the one in our house who does most of the grocery shopping, but it’s interesting to think about these very mundane experiences like going to the grocery store, and now it’s not fearful experience it’s a cautious one.
John Roberts: Yes.
Cathy Taylor: And that’s not going to change anytime soon, and our feelings of safety, again, are going to be changed for such a long time through this, even after COVID itself is over and done with we hope.
Rishad Tabaccowala: Yeah, in fact, I think you know there was a… I wrote this between the last time we spoke and now, I’ve written these series of blog posts called The Great Reinvention, which I may have sort of mentioned. And they were so popular that a lot of people asked me to compile them into like one piece, which I did, it’s unfortunately a 12 page PDF or it’s a 12 page post, but it starting to be very popular because it starts really to the point that Cathy mentions, which is, it says, “Let’s start addressing the biggest human need that right now is happening, is that human society and business is fragile.”
Rishad Tabaccowala: And they’re fragile because they’re anxious, they’re uncertain, and they’re fearful. They’re anxious about their health, fearful about their jobs, their future, they’re uncertain about what this world will look like. And when that happens, what do people look for? They look for safety, they look for security, they look for positive signs of what you’re doing with a regard to society, and if fundamentally brands and marketers and planners don’t start with that human truth that we’re coming out of, in this particular world, then almost everything else doesn’t resonate to Cathy’s point.
Cathy Taylor: Well, one thing just to follow up on that, one of the interviews I did recently was with the US CMO of McDonald’s, and we got talking about what they need to do as an organization to communicate safety to their customers. And just as an example of how fast things move, the CMO Morgan flatly said, “Well, at the beginning of all this we didn’t really think we were going to feel any need to do this really strong messaging around safety. And fast forward two months, and we just shot this beautiful video that shows exactly what our crews go through every day to open the restaurant for you.” And to say to somebody a year ago that, that would have been something McDonald’s would have been interested in doing, you wouldn’t even understand it. Completely out of context, but even in this two month period it was like, “Wow, we have to communicate about how we clean the floor in our restaurant.” So, that’s just one of these things that is going to… These types of things are just going to persist for a very long time.
John Roberts: That’s some real… For me, the gems of the connective threads in terms of what we’re seeing on a macro level, and then Cathy what you’re talking about in terms of the change that we’re seeing on micro. I’d love to think about, I’d love your perspective, the part we think about that Planner Parley is about ways for any agency strategist, particularly those in small agencies, to live and learn and get better at what they do, both in terms of their skills within their agency, but also of course for their clients. Rishad, you were talking earlier about how we’re an incredibly fragile environment societally right now, and yet I want to connect that to the future of marketing as in a Renaissance.
John Roberts: What would be three tips you have for strategists in agencies to help overcome the fragility that we live in and our brands do, and start to think about the Renaissance of marketing? Is that a fair ask?
Rishad Tabaccowala: Yes. So, I would basically say number one is to understand what customers or consumers are likely to stop or start doing, or do more of, or do less of. So, to combine all kinds of research analysis, insights on that, which is getting a picture of, reasonably, what would we expect more or less, stop and start, that’s number one.
Rishad Tabaccowala: With that being said, number two is to look at the fragility of your business, your brand. So, what are some of… And your own, so it’s like an earthquake, I say, to your business. So, what are the four lines that have been revealed? On the other hand, certain things have been very resilient. There maybe new opportunities have been opened as well as new threats, so it’s like a SWOT, but the SWOT built around this event, if that makes sense. And study that, so that’s like looking inside.
Rishad Tabaccowala: And then to work together with your teams to brainstorm what you would do to either meet those customer or consumer needs, which you have now decided are important, or second is having finished the first two, just put together an approach that can destroy your own brand or service. So, what would you create that could destroy your product, your brand, or service? And do that with only three constraints in mind, which is, it has to be legal, it has to use today’s technology, and it has to breakeven in three years. And as a result, what people will come up with are amazing marketing and business ideas.
John Roberts: Which you can then leverage to the brand and the world that we’re in today, to think about how do they shift, as you talked about.
Rishad Tabaccowala: Yes.
John Roberts: Excellent.
Rishad Tabaccowala: Yeah, so it starts with the customer, looks at your staff that puts constraints that are only about legal technology, and three year breakeven, and none other. And so, then you’re actually talking at the consumer level, the business level, and the idea level, and not either at a media level, a creative level, or communication level, which [inaudible 00:42:01].
John Roberts: Great perspective. Cathy, how about you?
Cathy Taylor: Well, I lean towards businesses pursuing things that are illegal, but that’s just me. Well, I think one thing that I would just add or adorn among Rishad’s points is, that I think one thing that we’ve really noticed is how quickly consumers are really changing in terms of trending topics, much more quickly than they were before the pandemic. And while I think that will slow down to some degree, the need to stay close is really, really imperative and on a super ongoing basis and, again, I’ll share another anecdote, so I did another interview with the CMO of Kohl’s. And they partnered with Pinterest and Facebook, and noticed that the trending kind of topics on those platforms went from changing every month or two to every day or two, during the pandemic, which led them to have to reevaluate a lot of their internal processes, and a lot of their creative, and how quickly they were producing it, and all that. But, that was clearly something that they had not seen before.
Cathy Taylor: So, I just think that communicating and keeping very close to your customers on a really, really day to day basis and being able to respond to that, is something that may be very well necessary. And one thing that has also come out of these CMO interviews is that, kind of the meetings between upper layers of management, the marketing team, and other parts of the organization, that activity seems to have shaped up a lot, which also has actually sped up a lot, which gets back to the whole thing again about staying close to your customer and the insights, because they’re changing maybe much faster than you realize.
John Roberts: Because that of course, I guess, ties back to what you said earlier about the fundamental point for marketers to really understand about the law of agility, to change their organization and that decision making, as you were talking that earlier.
Cathy Taylor: Yeah.
John Roberts: Cool. So, Cathy, let’s stay with you. Is that, based on the board nature of the conversation we’ve had, is there something else that I haven’t covered, that we should? That you feel would matter, again, thinking about helping agency strategists.
Cathy Taylor: I do think, and not to say we haven’t really touched on this, but is really to realize what we’re in here for the long, long term. And I think entering this whole era, when we went into kind of lock down, it first to happen very rapidly and I think everybody thought, “Oh, we’ll be working from home for two months and then we’ll go back to the office.” And it takes, for as fast as the initial shock was, it’s only now that I think people are kind of realizing, “Wow, this is, I’m coming out of this in a whole different place than I went into it in.” And the only thing that I can equate to this, really, is 911, in that at some point there were things that just fundamentally changed.
Cathy Taylor: And you might not even think of them as tracking back to this moment, but in fact they do. That it’s just a ripple that goes out, and out, and out, and out, and I don’t know if that’s life advice or a strategist advice, but it’s just to realize how long term and significant this is in terms of ourselves and our lives, and what we buy, and how we prioritize things. So, I don’t know if that at all answers the question, but that’s the answer.
John Roberts: For sure, it does. Yeah, for sure. I mean, honestly, the way I hear your answer makes me, we appreciate again that this is, as Rishad talked about, the new strange. The new strange is not a temporary action, this is a new way of recalibrating. And I think, I always believe, by the way, that the role of agency strategist is to create belief, a permanent sense of optimism, that we can empower and we can create better change. And I think sometimes we just need to have the context of, this is not a temporary thing we need to overcome, this is a long term, as you’ve said, of now we need to find ways to add back in that level of optimism, and a belief of change.
Cathy Taylor: Well, it is very optimistic, I will say, to contemplate how quickly people can adapt. And that, in some ways, is really heartening to see that we think we’re stuck in our ways, but if we’re forced to adapt we will.
John Roberts: And that brings me all the way back to where we began, Rishad, at the beginning of talking about the dramatic change that suddenly we had to. So, all of the talk about change was suddenly upon us, and we’ve adapted really well, Cathy, like you said. Rishad, closing, is there a topic or thought that perhaps I haven’t teased out well enough yet?
Rishad Tabaccowala: I think you’ve covered every element of it. I would say that it is extremely important for everybody who is a planner to also recognize that at some particular stage, to Cathy’s point, doing and putting stuff into market, is as important as overthinking it, because things are changing so fast-
Yeah, great perspective.
Rishad Tabaccowala: … that at some particular stage you’ve got to get going. And I think there’s a bias towards action, and that bias towards action filter will also be used to evaluate the planning departments.
John Roberts: It’s very true, all the conversations we’re having today across the agency world are about, how do we manage the agility and speed with some level of depth or vigor, because gone are the days of months to determine what’s right. And I think we’re going to see a lot more action, trial, learn, optimizing and carry on, try again.
Rishad Tabaccowala: Yes, it’s the infamous Beckett of fail, fail again, fail better.
John Roberts: Uh-huh (affirmative), and it’s either going to be a really scary road, or if you grab it with both hands, Cathy like you’re saying, it’s an optimistic, it’s a fantastic opportunity, first of all.
Rishad Tabaccowala: And there is one trick, it’s not an overall thought, but it’s a one little planning trick that I would suggest, that if every time everybody uses it and finds it sensible, they should buy a copy of my book, But, this is what the planning trick is, that for the first time, and I remember William Gibson said, “The future is already here, but not evenly distributed.” That is actually happening today, so if you want to see what COVID-19 opening looks like. You should Google South Korea and COVID-19, and see what the restaurants there look like, and see what the malls look like, and see what schools look like.
Rishad Tabaccowala: So, in an odd way, we are going to be living in multiple timelines, because even though everybody’s gone through this in different world, but because of different cultures, government systems, and physical geography, literally, we’re going to be living in different types of zoos, and so you can actually see people in action in different zoos from one country by just googling and looking at that.
Cathy Taylor: Yeah, that’s a really interesting point. I was just talking with my son, an hour ago, about the bars closing down in Texas and Florida, and it’s really weird because I said, “I feel like they’re all where we were here in New York two months ago.”
John Roberts: That’s right.
Cathy Taylor: The sad part being like, “Couldn’t you learn from us?”
John Roberts: It’s peculiar, what you do is look at the news and think, “What are you doing? You saw us doing the same thing and implications that had, months ago.”
Cathy Taylor: Yeah, but it is very strange because it does feel like, you look at the headlines and you look at the problems, and they’re the exact same problems we had two months ago and, God forbid, we won’t see them again, but it’s sad that people have to learn it in their own backyard instead of learning it through all of the different outlets available to learn these things.
John Roberts: Guys, this has been absolutely fantastic. I really appreciate you making the time. And as ever, I love just listening in and being a tiny part of a very vibrant conversation, a lot to learn from. So, thank you very much.