Algorhythms for Marketing Transformation

June 24, 2016

We all understand that digital media, data, and analytics are driving transformations in society and business. Most marketers are now armed with case studies of what can be done differently, but many are still challenged with how to truly develop new ideas and execute new strategies to grow their business.

Mitch Joel, President of Mirum Agency and successful author of CRTL-ALT-Delete and Six Pixels of Separation, spoke to our BRITE ’16 audience about the “three little piggies” he sees as necessary for marketers to stay ahead:

  • Transform – your internal processes and strategies
  • Innovate – not just communicating in new channels, but creating new revenue streams
  • Transact – measuring and attending to all of the little interactions a person has with your brand

Mitch Joel
In order to execute on these three pigs, Joel notes that marketers must be constantly paying attention to the small changes that consumers are making in their interactions with the world. Think, for example, of Snapchat, which created an ‘impermanent internet‘ that is much more closely aligned with how we historically socially communicated; where every detail of every interaction isn’t recorded in perpetuity. Another example are changing consumer expectations to pay merely for access rather than ownership, e.g. streaming video and streaming music.

Joel stressed that we are at an inflection point where, “technology has removed technology from technology.” It sounds confusingly circuitous, but then Joel asks, “Where do you keep your instruction manual for your smart phone?” and it is clear that he means that technology and design have allowed our digital experiences to become intuitive and marketers must craft their communications and initiatives to feed such an experience.

As Joel concludes, “The true opportunity you have in digital is not just to pump out impressions, but to make an impression.”

Watch Joel’s talk at BRITE ’16.



Thinking with AND: Insights from KIND’s story

June 24, 2016

“I’m a confused Mexican Jew.” So says Daniel Lubetzky, Founder and CEO of KIND Snack, in his very personal interview with Columbia faculty member David Rogers at BRITE ’16. Their discussion touched on the many ideas behind KIND Snacks, from the beginnings of the company, to the strategic thinking that forces Lubetzky to stay away from false compromises, to his thoughts on brands and purpose.

After studying law at Stanford, Lubetzky had planned to become a Mid-East Peace negotiator, “That was my path and that was my dream and I ended up feeling that the power of business to drive change may potentially be more impactful in bringing neighbors to work together than diplomacy.” As the son of a Holocaust survivor, the common threat in everything he does is, “building bridges between people because that’s my commitment: to prevent what happened to my dad from happening again.”

It was precisely his intention to create business opportunities for neighbors in conflict regions what brought him into the natural food industry. Ten years after his first attempts, he identified the need for a healthy and tasty snack, and KIND was born.


Lubetzky went on to share some insights on how to maintain creativity when bringing ideas to life: “To challenge conventional wisdom, which says you have to choose between this or that, think creatively and try to do this and that, and make a business that’s both socially impactful and economically sustainable or a product that’s both healthy and tasty. In any such venture there is a tension and you need to use creativity to generate that extra value.”

When asked about KIND’s purpose, Lubetzky explained that he was looking “to have a company that was going to have a social impact and that was going to be economically impactful and successful, combining the social and the business objectives. The social impact [being] inspiring kindness, celebrating kindness, finding a way to increase kindness in society, while also selling healthy snack foods.”

He also warned entrepreneurs that having a social mission doesn’t guarantee success, the product has to shine through for the social mission to be relevant, Lubetzky said. “We need to be careful about assuming that because you have a social mission suddenly things work. Ninety-nine percent of the people [who] have tried KIND bars -or maybe 90%- don’t even know about our social mission. […] It is by design that we lead with our product and our taste. The social mission adds loyalty and meaning to [me] and to [my] team, and hopefully passion to [the] consumers. But the fundamentals have to be there, they’re really what drive the business.”

Watch the full interview with Daniel Lubetzky.


Reflections on Business, Leadership, and Branding: Shelly Lazarus ’70

February 22, 2016

Much has changed in the world of advertising from the picture painted by Mad Men. Shelly Lazarus ’70, Chairman Emeritus, Ogilvy & Mather, was one of the women helping pioneer these changes. Making the journey from ‘the only woman in the room’ to CEO and Chairman of Ogilvy gives Lazarus a lot to reflect on in the world of business, branding, and leadership.

“Being the only woman in the room in an industry where most of what was being sold at the time was to women was remarkably powerful,” Lazarus notes. This was a dual power, driving value both in the workplace and for the client by providing more accurate perceptions about a target audience at a time when decision-makers didn’t have the breadth of data in front of them that exists today.

At the time that Lazarus entered the advertising world, typing was in many ways the only skill that was expected of women. Having been inspired by the women’s movement of the time, this expectation was disheartening to her. “I must have looked so crestfallen at some interview, when some recruiter was telling me this, that she said, ‘You know, I bet if you got an MBA, they couldn’t make you type.’ Frankly, I didn’t even know what an MBA was. But I found out.” After enrolling at Columbia Business School in 1968, as one of the very few women in the School at the time, she took great pleasure in her marketing classes, and that kicked off her future career.

A lack of women in the business side of the ad world also impacted Lazarus’s leadership style, as she recalls, “I really didn’t have any [women] role models… that turned into something wonderful for me, actually, because I just was myself from the beginning.” She says this focus on authenticity has always been crucial to being a strong leader, and it will be increasingly important as the Internet and social media further drive people to expect and demand transparency from their leaders and corporations.

Authenticity, Lazarus remarks, is also key to becoming a leading brand. “If people ask me what’s important when you think about branding,” Lazarus told AdAge, “it’s understand your essence, figure out who you are, and then consistency — maniacal consistency — is really what makes for strong brands.” Sadly, despite growing attention to exactly this point, companies still don’t always fully value the strength of a brand and its associations. “[I’m] flummoxed when a company buys another company because they believe in the brands, and then, within the space of six months, they fire all the people who have been there forever.”

Oglivy & Mather is renowned for building long-term relationships with both its clients and its employees. Lazarus believes developing these types of relationships can help agencies play the role of brand steward at times when changes within a company may drive it to lose focus on the perceptions of its brands.

As for where the future of brand building is heading, during her recent Marketing Hall of Fame speech, Lazarus highlighted a huge contrast from her early years in the ad world, “[Back then] you could run two campaigns per year, and the only choice was which magazines would get to run the campaigns—Ladies Home Journal, Better Homes and Gardens,or Cosmopolitan … I used to start presentations with, ‘Imagine if you could engage a customer as an individual.’ And now you actually can.” The marketing world is abuzz with the concept of personalization, but most would admit that there is still a long way to go before consumers experience such a relationship with a majority of their favorite brands.

We are delighted to be hosting Shelly Lazarus ’70, at a special panel at the BRITE ’16 Conference honoring Columbia Business School’s Centennial. She will be joined by Lew Frankfort ’69, Chairman Emeritus of Coach; Russell Dubner ’00, CEO of Edelman US; and Nt Etuk ’02, Founder of YourGuru to examine “Is Past Prologue? The History and Future of Brand Building.”

Register now for BRITE and join us on March 7–8, 2016, at Columbia University.


Can a Company be pro-regulation and pro-commerce? Gregg Renfrew from Beautycounter thinks so

February 19, 2016

It’s the middle of an election year and, according to the Pew Research Center, the country hasn’t been this polarized since the Civil War. In such a climate, it would seem to be an oxymoron for a company to push for both financial growth and tighter regulations. Gregg Renfrew, CEO & Founder of Beautycounter, wouldn’t agree, however, and she is on a quest to “put safe cosmetics into the hands of everyone.”3dfa42f7c2b2ffd9468fd94bec859b22

In 2012, a federal analysis showed that 400 popular lipsticks contained trace amounts of lead. As reported in The Washington Post, “in 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 33 red lipsticks and found that two-thirds of them contained lead — and that one-third exceeded the FDA’s limit for lead in candy.” Since 1938, when the FDA was given authority to oversee the safety of cosmetics, the agency has enacted almost no regulations on the use of ingredients in cosmetics. In fact, cosmetic labels list known toxins linked to cancer, reproductive issues, and hormone disruption without warning their customers. (The Environmental Working Group has built an extensive database to compare ingredients listed on cosmetic labels with databases on chemical toxicity.)

Before launching Beautycounter, Renfrew had already established herself as a retail leader. Regarded as a serial entrepreneur, she is known for turning concepts into thriving businesses. Prior to founding Beautycounter, she sold her successful bridal registry company, The Wedding List, to Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Renfrew also served as CEO for the legendary children’s retail group Best & Co., which she reinvigorated through design, traditional retail, and hundreds of national trunk shows. Renfrew has led new-concept, brand, marketing, merchandising, and operational consulting engagements with Bergdorf Goodman, Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson, Intermix, Sugar Paper, Lela Rose, and Jessica Alba, among other high-profile corporate and entertainment clients.

beauty-counter1In an interview with the Huffington Post, Renfrew explained the reason behind her company: “I started Beautycounter because I wanted to create a safer and healthier place for my children, family, and ultimately everyone in the world. My decision to start a company was initially rooted in emotion, but being the serial entrepreneur that I am, it translated into an incredible vision for a business that is filling an existing void in the marketplace.”

Because Renfrew knew that Beautycounter had a story to tell, she decided against creating beauty counter displays in department stores. Instead she committed to an ecommerce platform and selling via independent consultants, thus allowing the company’s mission to be shared online and friend to friend. In addition, Beautycounter strategically partnered with Gwyneth Paltrow’s and J Crew.

In the fall of 2015, Renfrew joined a group of industry experts on a trip to Capitol Hill. “At Beautycounter, we are leading a movement for better beauty. We are a company who is pro-commerce and pro-regulation. While we have shipped close to two million products, we know it’s only the beginning – there is a lot of work to be done. We are radically transforming the beauty industry by introducing safer, high-performance products into the marketplace,” said Renfrew.

Join us on March 7-8 for BRITE ’16 and see Gregg Renfrew talk about how Beautycounter is aiming to transform the beauty industry. REGISTER NOW.


The Digital Transformation Playbook: Rethink Your Business for the Digital Age

February 17, 2016

Every business begun before the Internet now faces the same challenge: How to transform to compete in a digital economy?

This is the leadership challenge examined by BRITE founder and Columbia Business School faculty member David Rogers in his newest book, The Digital Transformation Playbook (April 5, 2016; Columbia Business School Publishing). In the book, Rogers argues that “digital transformation” is not about updating your technology but about upgrading your strategic thinking. To grow in the digital age, businesses need to rethink their underlying assumptions in five domains of strategy—customers, competition, data, innovation, and value.

5 Domains of Digital Transformation diagram

Rogers applies his model of customer networks (introduced in his last book, The Network Is Your Customer), to show how brands need to shift from mass markets and broadcast messaging to a dynamic two-way interaction with customers. That means rethinking the marketing funnel, treating customers as the key influencer on your brand, and creating omni-channel experiences to match customers’ lives today.

Competition must also be reimagined, according to Rogers. Traditionally, businesses have thought of competition as a zero-sum game, defined by industry, where competitors look just like them. In the digital age, we are often faced with “frenemies”–a company’s biggest competitor that is also a critical partner (think of Apple and Google). Rogers explains the rise of platform business models, and how they enable companies like Airbnb and Uber to compete with traditional firms in radically different ways.

The third domain of digital transformation, per Rogers, is data. Where businesses traditionally used data to optimize processes, today data is becoming a key strategic asset, much like your brand. Rather than residing in functional silos (sales, marketing, operations), data today needs to be integrated to provide a complete picture of customers and unlock new sources of value for any business—through insights, targeting, personalization, and context.

Digital Transformation Playbook diagram

The process of innovation is also changing. Thanks to digital technologies that allow businesses to learn in real time, innovation is moving towards a process of constant and rapid experimentation. Rogers distinguishes between “convergent” and “divergent” experiments—explaining how AB testing and minimum viable prototypes each play a crucial role in innovation. Innovation requires a shift in leadership as well, from top-down decisions and high-cost bets, to leaders who know how to pose the right questions and drive a learning organization.

The last domain of digital transformation is a business’s value proposition for customers. To succeed in the rapidly-changing digital era, every business must be ready to adapt early, and to continually re-think how it creates value for its customers. With case studies ranging from Facebook to The New York Times, Rogers argues that continuously evolving your value proposition is essential to every business today. Rather than seeking to defend yesterday’s business with barriers to entry, firms must look to understand why customers will still need them tomorrow, and adapt to meet their changing needs.

The book concludes by examining the threat of business disruption—updating the classic theory of disruption to account for the new dynamics of the digital age, and dispelling the notion that disruption is inevitable and irresistible. Despite the fall of companies like Kodak or Blockbuster, the lesson of Rogers’ work is clear: no business is doomed to distinction. With the right strategies and leadership, any company can adapt to grow for the digital future.

The Digital Transformation Playbook+head

REGISTER NOW for BRITE 16 to hear David Rogers talk about The Digital Transformation Playbook. Attendees of BRITE will also get an early pre-release chance to buy the book, thanks to Columbia Business School Publishing. Join us for BRITE, and take home the Playbook 4 weeks before it goes on sale anywhere else!


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