Dentsu Aegis Network

Newsroom Editor

Below is a transcript of an interview held at Advertising Week New York 2019. Melissa Bell, Vox Media Publisher, spoke with Dirk Herbert, Chief Strategy Officer at Dentsu Aegis Network Americas, about consumer attention, brand purpose, and more.  

Bell: I am so excited to be here tonight; I love this space so much and I love conversations like this. One of the things we really believe at Vox media obviously since were based off the Latin word for voices, is intimate conversations, bringing people together to learn from one another. And tonight, before we start the big event with Peter and Craig, I wanted to bring up Dirk Herbert, the Chief Strategy officer of Dentsu Aegis Network, we’re going to spend some time together.

Herbert: It’s great to meet you, thank you for having me.

Bell: I am so excited to sit down and talk to you, I spend most of my time at work sitting down with our Editorial networks, and something that that we really strive to do is have a defined and recognizable brand. I know that’s something you guys really care about at Dentsu Aegis Network. It’s something you guys think about in the terms of the way you work with your clients. But a thing you guys have been focusing on lately is the thing that’s been really keeping me up at night. How do we make ourselves worthy of our audience’s attention? And I wanted to ask to spend a little bit of time thinking about this thing that is probably as important for us as editorial organizations, as it is for you and your relationships with our brands. So, to kick us off, I’d love to just know what you think of attention. How do you define it, why does it matter, what is it that really is powerful about attention in today’s environment?

Herbert: I think there are a number of ways to think about attention. The way I think about it, is that attention is the consumer’s reward to the brand for being interesting or noteworthy. I think we’re talking about the notion of a reward because we live in a time where attention has to be earned, it can no longer be demanded. The time of forced exposure and captive audience is either completely gone or on its way out the door. We now live in a consumer led world that’s defined by an optive culture so the notion of connecting with consumers around things that are relevant to them and around their agenda rather than the marketing agenda that is really what attention is all about.

Bell: I like that you use the word reward rather than a transactional relationship. It is really something that they are giving to us. In today’s environment in a digital space, that is just overwhelming for a lot of people, on a day to day basis, how do you think marketers should be really thinking about gaining people’s attention? How do you think they should think about gaining it in a way that is actually deserving of an audience’s reward?

Herbert: We think a fundamental shift has occurred. We’ve moved from a brand-led world where marketers led and consumers had to align around the marketer’s agenda, to a consumer-led world where consumers lead, and marketers have figured out how to revolve around the consumers agenda. With that I think has occurred this mind-set shift and what we see consumers asking of marketers is this notion of “stop marketing at me as a transactional buyer of products”, and instead “matter to me” as an individual and as a member of communities. So I think this notion of “stop marketing, start mattering” is really what modern branding is all about. And figuring out what does it mean to matter to a consumer in general and across the consumer journey I think that’s where brands find success if they figure out how to do that well.

Bell: I know that, and we’ll hear from Peter and Craig in a little bit about some of the major threats that journalism faces today. But, journalism is not the only thing going under a transformation, so I’d love to hear when you look at some of the seismic shifts that have happened over the last few years, particularly in marketing, what are the three things we should be thinking about in terms of change and in terms of almost preparing ourselves for future change.

Herbert: Well I think there are a number of things. There’s been a shift from this notion of interrupting what people are interested in, to intersecting what people are interested in. It’s around this notion of marketers aligning around consumers passion points, moving away from demographics and instead understanding that the most effective way to connect with consumers is around communities and fandom. I think it’s also the idea that we know consumers have much higher expectations than before, they want brands to mean more and be more, they want to be inspired, they want brands to drive social change, so I think this movement of brands thinking about connecting profit and purpose together to have more compelling platforms is one of those things. I think another major shift is the move away from exposure thinking and instead about delivering experiences, we know that modern brands are no longer built from the advertising down, they’re build from the experience up, and for brands to think about what that means. I think you see the changing role of what used to be the CMO transforming to the chief growth officer, from somebody who used to be a guardian of a brand and communications platform to somebody who is a growth driver, who has a much broader remnant, and is less concerned about changing consumer behavior and is much more focused and actually changing brand behavior. Figuring out how to transform the brand, the way they work, the way they operationalize business models, or things along those lines to adjust to what modern consumers are looking for.

Bell: I love the idea of not interrupting people but intersecting them, and I think one of the things we think a lot about with our audiences because we have as Polly mentioned a myriad of topics, because we know people want to go deep on different topics. They have everyone is sort of unique and wonderful in their own way, but it also can be very difficult for a marketer to get their message across many different interests and audiences, so when you’re thinking about helping brands and marketers think about that intersection, what are some of those things that have really stood out to you as ways or examples that shown that brands are thinking more about consumer needs rather than their own brand needs.

Herbert: Well again, I think it’s going back to this notion of aligning with consumers passion points, the idea of profit and purpose, a great example I think is what Nike did with the Colin Kaepernick campaign, really understanding your audience and connecting your brand in meaningful and authentic ways to those things. It still has to feel authentic, it has to feel relevant. But then also sort of flipping to the other end of the spectrum from broader platforms that might be socially relevant to the idea of personalization. At scale, the idea of being contextual and relevant and increasingly personalized. We know that personalization gets consumers to engage. There was an interesting statistic, I think from Epsilon that said that consumers are 80% more likely to engage around personalized experiences and services. We know that consumers actually now no longer just appreciate personalization but demanded that consumers are switching to brands that deliver personalized experiences and punish and penalize those who don't do it. So, it's this idea of on the one hand being connected to broader themes. On the other hand, knowing how to bring into life in a personal and relevant way, a way at scale, which then also requires obviously the use of data, which opens up a whole other can of worms, the discussion around privacy and respecting of consumers, you know, so it's, it's an interesting and tricky and nuanced territory to navigate.

Bell: Yeah, definitely. And I think that the Nike example is an example of something that's a company really taking a risk and establishing a point of view and really saying to them, saying to their audience, this is something that we believe in, this is something that we stand for.

Herbert: We know consumers are asking for it, right? I mean, we talk about consumers being value driven and not just in terms of price for the product, but they want to understand what the philosophy of a brand is. And I think that's where a lot of the direct to consumer brands have succeeded so well, right from the very beginning. We're inspired by a particular philosophy or point of view. They brought it to life, not just in their communications, but through their experiences. And I think we're seeing a broader range of brands now adopting that.

Bell: Yeah, I think that one of the things that we're sort of facing up ahead is definitely a slowdown of the economy. Potentially a recession, and it always is difficult to take risks during a time when the economy slows down. But I still think that there's reasons for us to be optimistic and, forward. Do you have, sort of three areas that are either advice or just things that you're thinking about over the next couple of years that you really want people to pay attention to as they face a potentially tumultuous time?

Herbert: Well, I think with the change in economic dynamics, the notion of investing into the recession is a really important thought. There are a lot of studies out there that show that being smart about investments rather than just taking the hatchet to the marketing budget is the best way to succeed and come more quickly out of the recession as well as sort of cementing the competitive advantage coming out of it. I think another issue to keep an eye on and think about is this notion around privacy. On one hand, we know consumers want personalized experiences. On the other hand, there is this trend around greater regulation, consumers having a higher level of awareness and expecting marketers to justify what they're doing with the data that are being collected from consumers or showing how it adds up to a value exchange. I think the final thing, we talked about that a little bit as well, the changing role of the CMO’s moving from becoming chief marketing officers into chief growth officers.

Herbert: I think that we'll have different perspectives and different requirements of the marketers and partners that will have them working on the more upbeat side of things. I think the stuff that we're really excited about personally is about five G. I think that will open up a whole new world of creativity and ability to connect with consumers. A whole new world of measurement, biometric and human measurement, not just click through. So, I think that's really exciting. The move towards profit and purpose, not something that brands just paid lip service to but are actually starting to manifest and act on. I think there was just recently an article a week or two ago, 192 companies putting a stake in the ground and saying, yes, we're accountable to stakeholders, but also to customers, employees, and local communities. That's really exciting, and I think the upswell of direct to consumer brands has sort of set a new standard for how marketers now think about the need for real disruption. So not just optimization, but true innovation of business models, of experiences, of communications, of creativity overall. And as somebody who works in an idea driven kind of industry, that is exciting to me to not just sort of move the needle a little bit, but truly rethink how we act as brands and how we connect with consumers.

Bell: I love that. I want to end on a positive note and that's a motivating note as well. Thank you so much for sticking with us tonight.

Learn more by listening to the entire interview.