Leading Boston marketer Jim Speros energized a large and appreciative crowd at the British Consulate in Cambridge on Wednesday night. He shared personal experience and campaigns from the dawn of the Internet to the present, discussing how technology has changed, the promise of big data, the importance of focus and insights, and the future of marketing.

Built around the Greek tale of Ariadne helping Theseus navigate the Minotaur’s labyrinth, the Golden Thread today describes how gaining customer insights can help marketers navigate today’s complex technology-driven maze. Even with rapid changes wrought by the web, vast telecom and cable networks, social media, and many more elements, consumers remain driven by powerful emotions that are inherent to the human condition.

Jim, EVP and CCO of Fidelity Investments and previously top marketer for AT&T and Ernst & Young, provided illuminating insights from his career as well as videos of four marketing campaigns that vividly presented his main themes. The primary takeaways were based around four main ideas:

  • The effects of technology:
    • Did you see the first banner ad on the Internet? Jim created that. We now take the web and its related capabilities for granted, but it has been a seismic two decades.
    • Ads Jim’s AT&T team developed with Bell Labs about ?ÛÏyou will?۝ were amazingly prescient back in the mid-90s. Where would we be without wireless data, the heart of today’s smartphones, GPS, video conferencing, on-demand movies and electronic toll collection (OK, that’s not a necessity, but it reduces aggravation for tens of millions of us and improves the environment).
    • Disruptive technologies have spread beyond social media to music, video, pictures and and many other areas.
    • Jim sees video being most successful in 15-second or three-minute spots.
  • Promise of big data:
    • Big data is not about processing power, storage technology or algorithms but it is about rapid experimentation, smarter decisions, and powerful predictive insights, which have now become ?ÛÏtable stakes.?۝
    • The three Vs of big data: volume, variety, velocity.
    • There is often too much of a good thing, e.g. in predictive analytics: Jim cited the infamous Target example of the 15-year-old girl getting bombarded with ads for pregnancy items before her family knew of the situation (she was actually pregnant, but the backlash caused the store to change their strategy).
    • Data benefits include timelines, geographic targeting, relevance and personalization; some issues are control, access, privacy, silos, excess, lack of analytics, and lack of alignment.
  • Importance of focus and insights:
    • We live in “the attention-deficit era” (Jim phrase) in which focus is a major problem.
    • There has become a divide between digital immigrants and digital natives; teens and young adults are relentless multi-taskers, as depicted in some great charts about how many different devices the new generation uses simultaneously.
    • Marketers often spread ourselves and our campaigns too thin; the goal of “focusing on one point will break through” the clutter is even more true today, as shown in the slides of legendary marketer Steve Cosmopolous driving one nail through a frying pans in front of stunned clients.
    • But focus alone is insufficient; we need insight to change behavior, and this is the unique understanding of the human condition.
    • Of the three primary appeals, emotional, rational, and visual, emotional is the deepest connection but also the hardest to achieve.
    • Four of the most insight- and purpose-driven companies (though they are also ace product marketers) were discussed, supported with stunning video clips:
      • Nike, with the insight that “everyday athletes can achieve greatness,” depicting a large young man jogging.
      • Dove, whose insight is that marketing to women has been unrealistic, causing low self-esteem, as shown by women describing themselves and having others describe them to an artist.
      • Coke’s insight is that happiness is a global aspirational value; Coke is an enabler of happiness- and proves it by bringing Indian and Pakistani citizens together over interactive video screens.
      • Fidelity’s insights is to help people create a better life by saving, as presented by a woman saving to skydive at 90 years old.
  • The future of marketing:
    • Stay way from silos – digital is not a separate channel.
    • We must engage our total organizations.
    • Inspiring and empowering are more effective than controlling.
    • Ensure brand consistency throughout.
    • The full suite of marketing capabilities is required: analytics, video, database/targeting, digital and print
    • Don’t lose site of GROWTH

Jim then noted that CMOs are acting as orchestrators, staying longer and having a bigger role, “brand purpose” is critical, and internal partnerships are growing in importance. He then ended with a family tale about the importance of taking pride in your name and in every endeavour you – and your team – commit to.

A lively Q + A followed, about the ROI of “softer” ads and the importance of benefits to your “brand bank,” the evolution of marketing tactics (but ongoing value of emotional resonance), and how Jim tries to “inspire” the people he hires, and expects them to inspire customers in return.

AMA Boston would like to thank Jim, all our members and guests who attended, and sponsors for their participation in this exciting event. We look forward to seeing you at the next AMAB event – prospective volunteers, please join us!


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    The New England chapter of the American Marketing Association, AMA Boston, was formally founded in 1940. We are dedicated to being the essential resource for advancing the practice of marketing and the professional development of marketers. AMA Boston is the 4th largest chapter in the world and continues to be the number one resource for marketing professionals throughout the greater Boston area.