Public Relations Tactics

Collision Conference Recap

June 30, 2017

[photos courtesy of collision conference]
[photos courtesy of collision conference]

The 2017 Collision tech conference took place in New Orleans on May 2–4. Here are some key takeaways and highlights from the event, featuring speakers from Reddit, WeWork, Ogilvy, Amazon, eBay, Grubhub, Imgur, Bitmoji and more.

Ogilvy’s Lauren Crampsie on Branding and Change Management

We live in an age of fragmentation and decision paralysis for consumers, who have more access to brands than ever, said Lauren Crampsie, global CMO, Ogilvy & Mather, in her session on reaching today’s consumers. 

“You must know why you’re showing up for [your audience],” she said. As brands, “we have an increased responsibility — it’s not enough to say something, you must do it” and follow through on your promise to the customer.

Crampsie told Matt Vella, executive editor, TIME, that “we used to think of the most important part of the brand as the consumer, but now it’s the employee.” 

“It’s about inside-out branding — employees must understand more than others” and be evangelists for the brand, she said. You can’t risk your internal audience not understanding what your brand is about — so put employees first and audience members second.

She added that it’s still important to make your primary customers feel special. “Understand and pay even more attention to people talking about the product and spreading your message — the evangelists and the influencers,” she said. “Embrace the loyalists — they are the shoppers.”

Teamwork and transparency

“We must admit when we didn’t hit the mark, own up to our mistakes and learn something from it,” Crampsie said. When asked about the roles of the CEO and CMO, she noted that everything is nuanced. “The CEO should own and articulate the message, be the talking piece and admit when they’re wrong. The CMO should help the CEO get there, better craft messages and help disseminate information.”

Crampsie said that for the CMO, it’s easier to be a “non-new brand because you can focus on the product and utility instead of the audience,” but cautioned that if the product is right but you haven’t fine-tuned your brand, someone else “can take it and run with it.”

Be honest, as the truth is the best safety net. “It’s about harnessing the truth and making it relevant in the digital age and the new digital age,” for the CMO, who is often coming from more a more disruptive culture.

“A company has real equity in brand truth,” so use this to your advantage. Today, CMOs must “take strategy to execution in a much more condensed time frame,” she said, adding that they also have to be able to do more with a smaller budget.

A leader understands what the brand is trying to do and wants change but knows that it isn’t easy. “If everything goes back to customer insight, then ROI is easier to measure,” Crampsie said. “Facebook and Google are just points of entry. You must instill innovative behavior within the organization and go beyond the basics.”

Understand how to collaborate with others. You can’t be great at everything, but you must do a few things well — and you can’t be scared to admit you don’t know something, she said. “Change management — how companies need to adapt and evolve — is the catalyst for collaboration.”

Alexis O’Hanian on Reddit as a Place for Community and Conversation

“Great things can start from humble beginnings,” saidAlexis O’Hanian, co-founder of Reddit, the social news aggregation and discussion website.

O’Hanian noted that cocktail-party conversations are often surface-level with co-workers and college friends. He wanted a place for deeper discussion and advice, but noticed people were often afraid to share personal information.

“We realized that pseudonymity can be the basis of real communities,” he said, also mentioning that registered members can submit content such as text posts or direct links under a handle on Reddit.

“We wanted there to be a sense of trust and safety, and a sense of community,” he said of the idea behind Reddit, adding that security and trust are the key to real, candid conversations.

“The water cooler has never been this big before,” said O’Hanian. “It’s about connectedness. Have empathy, share and learn from others in your community. Provide trust and give people a place to discuss their passions in their unique voices.”

eBay’s Suzy Deering on the New Consumer Experience

“As marketers, we’ve lost touch,” said Suzy Deering, CMO of eBay. “Consumers want us to demonstrate uniqueness. Ask yourself if you’re really making the customer experience personal or just being lazy and letting tech do the work.” 

Do more than send an email, she said. You need to be human, keep it real and be authentic. It isn’t just about advertising; it’s about connecting and engaging.

“You must treat all social networks differently — there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” she said. “It always goes back to community. People have a spectrum of choice. Be human and be a real, authentic marketplace.”

Deering said that eBay tries to create value with the advances in technology, while also adding to the conversation rather than speaking to users in a repetitive way. “The world doesn’t need a new Amazon; it needs a better eBay,” she said.

“Have categories of passion,” Deering said, noting that we can get bogged down by the sea of sameness when a trend hits and is replicated, so it isn’t special anymore. “You can’t just get it right once. You have to consistently work on [your brand] and improve it.” 

Create moments to make discovery much more impactful for your customers, Deering said. So make sure that you:

  • Go beyond the email. Make it personal. Continue evolving your message. Inspire people.
  • Know your customer. Don’t make it prescriptive. Make it descriptive so that you can create experiences and people will want to connect and engage with you.
  • Use your data. Be relevant in your journey and ensure that you’re really creating a relationship with your consumers.

The Empathy Conundrum

Mick McCabe, global chief strategy officer, Publicis Worldwide, on making an emotional connection with your customers and having compassion: 

  • “If your process, policy or procedure overrules common sense, then there will be a problem. Determine your risk threshold as a brand.” 
  • “People can be quite forgiving. Have a culture of empathy, realness and responsiveness.” 
  • “Be authentic. People have more in common than they think they do. They always turn back to good motives. A sense of purpose and execution [leads to] success.”
  • “The best organizations will use VR to reinvent and reimagine. [Those that show] employee empathy with a strong degree of realness will be the most successful.”
  • “The immersive ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes through VR is a fast track to vital empathy.”

Bitmoji’s Ba Blackstock and the Evolution of Communication

Cartoons, as a language, go beyond the written word, with layers and layers of meaning, said Ba Blackstock, co-founder, CEO and creative director of Bitstrips, Inc. (the maker of Bitmoji). We can add words, facial expression, body language and backgrounds, which all create context. And then, color can change the whole meaning of the illustration.

Blackstock, who used to illustrate comics, thought: “What if everyone can talk this way? What if we reinvent comics and the world can speak to each other 100 percent in that way?”

On the road to creating the Bitstrips app (and Bitmoji) — which allows you to send and personalize your own avatar across chat platforms — Blackstock reflected on how the tech revolution has changed the way we communicate and made us more collaborative.

“Tech has become less human but more convenient,” he said. “It brings us closer while also pushing us apart.” 

With the invention of the phone, you could hear a voice, but couldn’t see a face. Then came texting and messaging. Engineers created emoticons because they needed a way to express emotion and clarify when they were joking.

“So we go from talking with symbols to talking with pictures,” he said. “A digital language became a cartoon language— it’s a form of punctuation that is a little more human and a whole lot smarter with just one picture.”

The technology evolved to include apps and chat stickers so that people could understand facial expression, body language, text, color and composition all at once.

“We realized that you are what’s missing,” Blackstock said. “The characters were indistinguishable, so Bitstrips come along, starring you. The avatar becomes a medium of expression. When a friend sees your avatar, they see you.”

Bitmojis were designed with identity and messaging in mind — using avatars, the language of cartoon and media sharing. Blackstock saw a need for emotion and personality to shine through, and a desire to humanize social media.

“Tech is more convenient and more human than it’s ever been,” he said. “But maybe it can be even more human… Is the technology of communication going to evolve?”

Quotable Collision

 “With the new or unfamiliar, primal fear takes over. We need to find a way around it, adapt and do our job to achieve great things. There’s a difference between something being impossible and unlikely. Education is the key to that opportunity.” Mike Massimino, NASA astronaut and author

“Connecting with consumers today is powerful. We must try new things all the time, engage with our audience and wear many hats. Data is the center of decision-making, but the danger is drowning in too much data.”Barbara Martin Coppola, CMO, Grubhub

“A shift in culture must come from the top and flow down. Internal culture is the key for success. Unite around the idea of openness, collaboration and community. It’s about being part of something bigger and having a shared culture. Young people today aren’t going to settle for less — they want purpose and meaning.” Miguel McKelvey, co-founder and chief creative officer, WeWork

“Augmented reality enables the promise of heads-up gameplay. We want people to get their heads out of their phones and have social interactions. The strategic objective [for Pokémon GO] was to have a better experience for players, and to motivate kids and adults to get outside, exploring communities and interacting with each other.” Phil Keslin, CTO, Niantic, Inc.

“People are far more engaged on mobile. You must create value for the viewer with images and add to the conversation. If you’re not on mobile and speaking the language of the platform, then you’re at a huge disadvantage.”Alan Schaaf, founder and CEO, Imgur

“Voice is inherently natural, has been around forever and can be heard from anywhere. We must be getting smarter and more personal. So it’s about ease of use, and lowering boundaries and hurdles. There is a huge opportunity to grow and create a richer and deeper voice experience.  Alexa is about customer experience, and is open to collaboration and feedback.” Ben Shepherd, global head of Alexa Music, Amazon 

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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