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A POSSIBLE Publication


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POSSIBLE is a creative agency that cares about results.

We back up every idea with real-world insights to create work that makes a difference—and makes a measurable impact. With more than 1,500 employees around the globe, POSSIBLE brings results-driven digital solutions to some of the world’s most dynamic brands, including Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Shell, and the Coca-Cola Company. POSSIBLE is as adept at design, user experience, and technology as we are at leveraging data to drive insights, inspire creativity, optimize performance, and drive ROI.


We help clients create for and navigate the entire mobile ecosystem. We combine deep experience in mobile app, game, video, and content development to deliver in a user-first world.  




Rage Against the Machine

Digital Marketing in the Age of Consolidation

Think Small

Brandon Geary Originally published in Campaign.

Andrew Solmssen

Originally published in

Originally published in Mediapost.







Long Live the Creative Gut

The Company I Keep

Amy Vaughan

Why Every Brand Needs an Amazon Strategy

Originally published in The Huffingrton Post.

Shane Atchison

Originally published in Advertising Age.

Originally published in Contagious.




We use data to predict what will work and to measure what matters. As the volume of data continues to increase exponentially, we have found most organizations fail to connect data to their creative and activities in a meaningful way. We combine classic modeling techniques with world-class reporting to help clients achieve superior results.

Martha Hiefield





Digital Transformation of a Global Agency

Time Is the New Currency

Size Matters

John Simpson

Thomas Stelter

Isaac Golino & Sean Boutchard


Originally published in Advertising Age.

Originally published in Campaign.






Value vs. Message

Why VR Matters

Paul Soon

Jason Brush

The Dirty Little Secret of Marketing Tech

Originally published in Campaign Asia.

Originally published in Recode.

Jason Burby




We create content that makes an emotional connection. We aim to uncover the emotion in data and the human truth in research to inspire creative development and make a meaningful impact on brands.  

Justin Marshall

Originally published in Advertising Age. TECHNOLOGY




Respect My Hustle

Questions Are the Answer

Jason Minyo

Daniel Carlson

Conversation & the Future of UI


Originally published in HOW.

Originally published in Admap.

Alex Whittaker

We help clients sell more in the environments that matter most. The continued rise of Amazon and new commerce models can be an opportunity or a threat. We combine deep knowledge of the commerce landscape with data-inspired creativity to help companies maximize their sales while maintaining control of their brands.   



Originally published in VentureBeat.


We help companies improve customer experience. More than ever, marketing is inextricably linked with the product and service. We have a long history of inventing interfaces, retail environments, and interactions that create competitive advantage for brands.





Retail Power to the People

Connecting the Dots: Culture & Profit Martha Hiefield & Diane Holland

Data Dashboards Are Only the Beginning of Insight

Originally published in Campaign.

Harmony Crawford


Originally published in The Guardian.

Frank Kochenash COMMERCE


25 The Near-Future State of CRM Thomas Stelter COMMERCE

POSSIBLE is a WPP Digital agency.


©2016 by POSSIBLE. All rights reserved.


Rebecca Bedrossian, POSSIBLE Portland

Design & Art Direction

Paz Ulloa, POSSIBLE Costa Rica

Bridgetown Printer

& Tony Aguero, POSSIBLE Portland

Over the last few months we’ve talked with many of you across our global offices in search of what’s top of mind for our clients, our strategists, and our creatives. No small feat, as data and technology keep things moving at the speed of light. And though dynamic content optimization, artificial intelligence, programmatic ads, cost-per-views, and real-time bidding surfaced time and again, a tidy package of “How does creative meet automation?” sums it all up. From business journals to trade publications, the headlines tell a foreboding story: machine learning looms, threatening our jobs as creatives and strategists. While this makes for sensational headlines, it only tells part of the story—as you’ll soon read on the following pages. The magic happens when you add creativity, the human factor, and emotion. Data and creativity are “stronger together”, to borrow a line from Hillary, than they are on their own. Read Amy Vaughan’s “Long Live the Creative Gut” [p. 7] to learn more.

Yes, storytelling for brands is changing, and agencies must now handle creative in a programmatic world. Understanding this new era in digital became paramount for POV—and its feature: “Rage Against the Machine” by Brandon Geary [p. 3] looks closely at what it takes for creative to thrive in an automated world, ultimately advocating,“If you understand the data and technology available, your creative ideas will only benefit.” In“The Dirty Little Secret of Marketing Tech” [p. 17], Jason Burby gives us straight talk with regard to ad-tech and programmatic ad buying, where the prevailing perception is that we’ll be able to buy a new marketing automation program, sit back, and watch the growing results. “You still need to do most of what you were doing before,” writes Burby. “Having great tools often requires more work, not less. And because these tools often add capabilities rather

than replace existing processes, the rest of your job must go on.” As we think about these tools of ad tech, we mustn’t forget that consumers expect more from brands—and marketing. In this rapidly evolving landscape, it’s more important than ever to deliver commerce that truly understands the customer journey. These touchpoints will make or break brands. They cannot ignore the omnipresence of Amazon to succeed in today’s marketplace, as Shane Atchison’s “Why Every Brand Needs an Amazon Strategy” [p. 8] demonstrates. In“Retail Power to the People” [p. 21], Frank Kochenash posits applying long-term thinking to fast-moving commerce and looks out to a place where the customer journey becomes the number-one priority—where the consumer is in charge and reigns supreme. Thomas Stelter explains how CRM—traditionally a sales tool—combined with automation makes all touchpoints count in “The Near-Future State of CRM” [p. 25]. While commerce and automation play big in this issue, culture, mobile, creative, VR, and more round out the curated offerings. Together these POVs represent POSSIBLE’s collective voice and reflect our thinking.

POV is nothing without you. I am continually surprised and delighted by each and every one of your ideas and our conversations. Thank you for your time—and your enthusiasm.

#WeArePOSSIBLE Rebecca Bedrossian Global Content Director, POSSIBLE Portland


Several years ago, Marc Andreessen said that software

eats the world. And now that we have things like chatbots, Watson, and driverless cars, many are worried that their jobs are on the menu too. The problem is particularly acute in advertising, where I work. You might think a creative industry would be the last place where people would be worried about robots, but like many businesses, we’re seeing a massive move away from traditional workflows towards automated tools, like programmatic buying, dynamic creative optimization, and data-driven decision making. The stats are chilling: • Google’s dynamic mobile ad unit, dubbed the Magic Banner, can accommodate 23 pieces of dynamic content from five different APIs, making it 95% dynamic. It’s real, data-driven creativity. • Creative management platforms (CMPs) like Flite and Thunder provide self-serve tools, allowing clients to create, target, and optimize tens of thousands of versions of an ad automatically. • Facebook has reported that 10,000 developers are building chatbots for its Messenger platform.


• IDC projects that CMOs will drive $32B in technology spending by 2018. Marketing automation software alone will be a $5.5B market by 2019.


Brandon Geary Global Chief Strategy Officer, POSSIBLE Seattle

All of this is producing great angst—AS WELL AS A RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE. Creative agencies are dismayed to find themselves answering many more questions about targeting, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) than about the things they know best, such as design, storytelling, and cultural insight.

IT BEGS THE QUESTION, DO WE REALLY NEED CREATIVITY ANYMORE? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In the first place, the companies that sell these tools tend to exaggerate their capabilities. That has led to a persistent myth that marketing automation comes cheap and drives outsized results. In fact, it costs a lot, and the results are solid but unspectacular. You’ll never get a 10x lift from a machine that produces and optimizes dreary assets. You won’t get a video with 10,000,000 views, or a campaign that touches people in a deep way. No wonder nearly half of marketers aren’t satisfied with their marketing automation purchase.

Still, it’s risky to pretend that automation and AI won’t impact creativity’s perceived value. Creatives must adapt to the new automated future. TO DO SO, THEY HAVE SEVERAL TASKS AT HAND:

LEARN NEW SKILLS. Data science is so common in modern marketing it’s easy to forget that it didn’t exist in the industry five years ago—and it evolves fast. The good news is that you don’t need an advanced degree to understand it all. With inexpensive online course at EdX, Coursera, and Udacity, creatives can quickly get up to speed on the basics. UNDERSTAND THE WHOLE LANDSCAPE. Agency staffers have long tracked developments in digital platforms. Increasingly, we need to look at the new technology stack that powers companies and marketing organizations too. Content management systems, demand-side platforms, and data strategy inspire or shape creative ideas—and provide new opportunities for reaching customers. If you understand the data and technology available, your creative ideas will only benefit. COLLABORATE LIKE A CREATIVE TECHNOLOGIST. We’ve been talking about collaboration for some time. But as technology companies (think Google, Facebook, and Oracle) grow their service offerings, they are competing with more traditional marketing teams. While your natural inclination might be to compete back, collaboration is still a better idea. Working together with these platforms, agencies and clients will learn how to be more creative on them, while accelerating digital marketing progress overall.



Unfortunately, the debate pitting data against creativity masks the real problem for the industry today. If brands can plug assets into an automated tool that uses data to select the best option, the value of creative thinking falls. In the old days, you only had a few shots at success, and those required seasoned creatives to help you evaluate your choices. Now, you can throw up thousands of assets in dizzying combinations, and whatever comes out on top wins.


Andrew Solmssen Managing Director, POSSIBLE Los Angeles

Companies merge—IT HAPPENS. And when it does, we typically get a lot of cheery press releases touting the improved efficiency and strength of the new brand portfolio. Much less discussed (and consequently lower on the list of priorities) is what to do with all of the digital

marketing properties that are suddenly living under one roof. No matter how great a merger is for a company, it’s always a mess for the marketing and IT departments. Every digital property a brand owns needs to be thoroughly audited, from campaign pages to mobile apps—even presences on chatbots. Invariably, we find big mismatches in technologies, content types, and even the tone and design of imagery.

No two brands ever make the same decision about how to spend their money and where to focus. As a result, you end up with everything from state-of-the-art commerce platforms to Flash microsites that haven’t been updated since the second Bush administration.


Unfortunately, this leaves you with two choices, neither of which is 100% wonderful. The first is to stick with the legacy systems and maintain them independently. Because this option costs less money (and is certainly less work) in the short run, many companies end up making this choice. The second is to solve the problem permanently: to make a blanket technology decision and adopt an enterprise platform that serves all brands together. If you want to see what this looks like in practice, start on the brands overview page of P&G or, then follow the links to the different brands. If you ignore the content, you’ll see the pages themselves have a lot of structural similarity. Menus and carousels tend to be in the same places; overall formatting looks similar, and yet, each is perfectly able to support the unique identity of its brand.


Different priorities mean different levels of uniformity or variety, but the most sophisticated enterprise systems achieve scale by creating a set of themes, templates, and content.

A theme is a collection of templates for a particular type of site or page, such as brand discovery or commerce. A template is a layout designed for a particular purpose, such as a product page or search results. And a feature is an item that sits inside a page, like a video player or quiz interface. Once you create all of these things, they serve as reusable building blocks that allow you to efficiently construct a large number of websites and other properties for your brands. Needless to say, this also makes it easy to add new brands to your system and support additional mergers. Of course, adopting an overarching enterprise solution is certainly not as easy in the near term as leaving everything as it is. Commitments are scary, and you’ll need to make sure that your CTO and CMO get on the same page to make the right choice. But once you do, the benefits are numerous: UNIFIED DATA. This one advantage is reason enough to go enterprise. While data is critical for every company, it’s even more important when you manage multiple brands. With a single platform, you can compare metrics across individual sites and look for patterns of users who visit multiple brands. That way you’ll get a richer information set about your customers and unlock cross-marketing opportunities as well. BETTER CREATIVE. You might think an enterprise system reduces creativity, but having a library of features means you can implement functionality easily. Rather than reinventing the wheel, you can devote more energy to coming up with better ideas and new ways to drive traffic to the platform. EFFICIENCY. With a template-based system, you merely have to build functionality once and then adapt it to a suite of properties. A store locator widget, for example, can be rolled out across brands with minimal investment. REDUCED LONGTERM COSTS. Maintaining legacy systems usually means dealing with different technologies. As a result, you’ll have to manage multiple teams, often across different locations. With a single set of technologies you significantly reduce the number of people who keep everything running and focus your investment on improving the experience and features of the site. RELEVANCE. Increasingly, owned digital marketing properties need to integrate with other technologies. If you can’t interoperate easily with ad tech, social platforms, distribution networks, and so on, you’re more likely to get disrupted and disintermediated. In addition, unifying your digital presence can provide a big lift in search authority and cross-linking. STABILITY. This may seem surprising, but it’s not. Legacy systems are often more broken than they appear. Under the microscope, they usually demonstrate that they are not just old, but non-functioning—with broken links, pages that appear strange on certain devices, and sign-up processes that get stuck in the middle. A single, new, enterprise system eliminates this problem and stays up to date as you move forward. Imagine the difference of only having one server that can go down.

In other words, while it may seem easier to kick the can down the road, you’re simply buying yourself more work, less data, and less flexibility in the future.


Justin Marshall

VP, Emerging Partnerships, POSSIBLE Seattle

In September of 2014, Apple Pay launched as a “revolutionary” way to pay for purchases. It carried the promise of allowing us to ditch those pesky wallets cramping our skinny jeans, and, well, make it easier for us to buy more skinny jeans. With almost two years in the books and 1 billion iPhones sold, only 20% of iPhone 6 users have used Apple Pay once.

When people simply want a damn good cup of coffee, Starbucks delivers, removing obstacles to streamline the experience. This is why Starbucks is succeeding where Apple—one of the most valuable companies in the world—is failing. The global coffee company is relentless at uncovering the simple solve for micro-friction points in a customer experience, and building features that fix the annoying: Hate waiting in line for your triple-grande-soyextra-foam latte? Order ahead through the app. Forget your Starbucks Gold Card? Open the app and pay. Don’t want to load your card or even open the app? THEY MAKE THAT HAPPEN AS WELL.

→ → →

Starbucks is winning in the mobile wallet space because they focused on winning at the point of purchase (a small, but mighty moment)—not over-engineering a tech solution in search of a problem—and delivering big benefits to those who use it. Does this mean that every brand should emulate Starbucks and not Apple? For brands looking to use technology to improve their customer experience, yes. In the new mobile universe, it’s important to not think big. Instead, think of the small, functional ways you can enter peoples’ lives and deliver big benefit. Uncovering the simple solve to big consumer obstacles is what will keep your customers happy—and coming back. Brands must keep the following top of mind as they embark on the mobile commerce journey:

USE TASK-BASED DESIGN. Task-driven behavior is highly emotional. Look for the emotional spikes in your customer’s daily tasks that involve your product, and then build on those moments where delight shines. Make sure the design supports your customers as they research, purchase, and use your products. It’s a good idea to set out functional scenarios for each key touchpoint, and then create solutions for them. ENABLE SEAMLESS COMMERCE. If they want to buy, enable a purchase in the moment. A client recently saw an 80% bounce rate in those interested in purchasing their product through a Facebook ad. Why? Because it took an average of six seconds for the site to load in the app. I repeat, six seconds! Take heed: if you’re looking to capitalize on mobile payment, focus on creating native experiences in the apps they’re already in, using lead-gen features in Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest to reduce friction in a simple purchase path. LOOK TO CHAT. This has become especially relevant with the arrival of messaging platforms. With Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp gaining scale in the US and UK, everyone is racing to create one-to-one engagement. As chatbots enable brands to build experiences that meet simple tasks, messaging apps will force a shift in mindset toward helping your customers get shit done in a quick, low-bandwidth way. Embrace the unique, little scenarios in which customers will seek out or welcome convenience, and build a chat experience around that. Successfully reducing friction through mobile requires both insight and empathy: 73% of consumers prefer to do business with brands that use personal data to make their shopping experience more relevant. As technology moves forward, personalization will become more automated. Until then, brands need to think small, cultivate an insatiable curiosity for what their customers need day-in and day-out, and create experiences using new technology to deliver them. Customer Service 101—for brands.


WHY ISN’T Apple Pay CATCHING ON? To answer this question, let’s look at one company that is killing it in the mobile wallet space: Starbucks. Today, Starbucks manages 15 million monthly active users who use the app at a furious rate. How furious? To the tune of $1.2 billion in money loaded in Q1 alone. That’s more than most banks.


Amy Vaughan Creative Director, POSSIBLE Cincinnati

Look at any industry publication and you’ll find an abundance of articles touting ad tech, automation, and programmatic. And then there are the start-ups and software experiments using AI to generate content, creative, and even taglines. It’s enough to make most creatives swoon. Add to this our growing capacity for data mining, and advertising has gone from a seemingly creative exercise to an almost scientific one. There are times when it might feel as though the era of the creative gut is gone—but fear not, dear creative. We human beings have some things that automation, data, and all of the strategy in the world can’t ever replace: intuition and a knack for human connection. Data and strategy can get us far, but to make brilliant creative,

we need each other and we need to take heart. COME TOGETHER

There’s no algorithm for a gut feeling. You can’t solve

ALL THE FEELS Our creative gut is more than intuition; it’s a collection

for it. It’s something to which the human mind and heart can guide you.

of current and past experiences, and these are a valuable resource. Where strategy is based on past data, our experience is based on emotion, memory, and influence.

What’s even more stunning about intuition is how accurate it is at helping us do the right thing. It’s a lot more scientific and less hippy-dippy than you might think. Psycholog y Today provides three studies as examples, which show us that our intuition is capable of recognizing patterns before our rational brains, and that, in turn, it can help us predict outcomes and keep us safe from harm.


These kudos for intuition are unlikely to surprise creatives like myself. When it comes to making great work, trusting your instinct is a powerful tool. Be it a hunch for design, or a powerful feeling about an amazing tagline, your gut can get you there. Of course, every campaign is different. In many ways, data has enabled us to act on our intuition with greater confidence. Data often sets up the strategy before the project has even begun. For others, creative intuition sets the tone and pulls the trigger. Together data and intuition are powerful and impactful.


Believe it or not, data can solve for basic human emotions. But it can’t recognize, replicate, or understand the power of true human connection. As humans, we are hardwired for connection; therefore, the most effective work requires a creative mind to connect in a way that breaks through all of the noise. Tools are great for making our ideas and visions more concrete from an emotional standpoint, but how

they come to life still requires a creative mind. THE MORAL OF THE STORY With AI, VR, and every algorithm imaginable working hard to replace what we humans have always done, it’s no wonder people feel threatened. And it’s true that jobs are being replaced by computers in increasing numbers. But that’s what makes the life of an agency creative so exciting. We bring something raw and real to the work because we are human. Our unique experiences and insights bring subtle beauty and truth to the work. (Yet another reason for getting diverse perspectives). You can sleep better tonight knowing that computers—or even strategists—won’t replace creatives. Keep trusting your gut and pushing your ideas to not only be the biggest ideas, but the right ideas to get the job done. Substantiate your creative gut with strategy and data, but ultimately know that you’re the one with the sixth sense. Acknowledge there is subjectivity and accept that it’s not about being right—it’s making sure that the work is right.

If you ask anyone what they think Amazon is, they’ll tell you it’s an online retailer. And possibly they’ll tell you it’s the online retailer. While that may be true, it’s not the whole story. Amazon helps just about every kind of brand and—if you don’t have a strategy for it—you’re missing out.

Shane Atchison Global CEO, POSSIBLE Seattle

But even if your brand isn’t on Amazon,

your customers are. One of the remarkable things about the company is how widely its properties are used. Consumers of luxury goods may not be buying perfume on it, but they could be buying electronics, checking out camping gear, or ordering groceries through Prime Pantry. Quite likely, they’ll be watching content on Amazon Prime or Fire TV. All this activity generates data that provides insight into your customers’ preferences for advertising, content, and context. In other words, all brands have either direct (selling) or indirect (branding and advertising) opportunities on Amazon. It’s not an e-commerce platform, like, but an ecosystem like Google. It knows not merely what your customers buy, but also what they watch and what kinds of other activities they enjoy.

HERE’S HOW TO STRATEGIZE FOR THIS Audit your opportunities. The first thing you want to do is to understand how your customers use the Amazon ecosystem—not merely what they purchase on it, but what they do on it. This involves everything from media properties and shopping preferences to things like Your Garage, where people list the cars they own. These opportunities can be quite rich. For video alone, you have Kindle, Fire TV, Amazon Instant Video, Amazon Shorts, Amazon Video Direct, and Twitch, a recent $1.2B acquisition that streams e-sports. Of course, every brand will have different opportunities for these properties. A perfume brand probably doesn’t care too much what people are doing on Twitch. But it might want to know if its customers are athletic or not. It would definitely want to know what kinds of content they consume on Amazon Prime. All that informs marketing strategy going forward.

PLAN FOR DATA Amazon, of course, does not reveal all of its data. But it does offer two different sources of pure insight: Amazon Retail Analytics (ARA), and Amazon Marketing Services (AMS). They tell you everything from content preferences and purchase categories to lifestyle information, such as the kinds of hobbies or activities your customers like to do. In other words, they highlight the orthogonal interests your customers have. Any Amazon strategy should state how that data will be used and shared throughout your company. STRATEGIZE FOR MEDIA Amazon should also be a part of your media strategy; use Amazon data and ad tech to target users both on and off of its platforms. Some brands will want to advertise within the platform to drive purchases today. Others may target the Kindle lock screen, which offers one of the few uninterrupted spaces for digital advertising today. And still more will want to use the customer data Amazon generates to target people off platform. UNDERSTAND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SEARCH AND REVIEWS If you do sell on Amazon, its importance cannot be overestimated. Thirty-nine percent of online shoppers start product searches online. Moreover, the majority of Amazon searches eventually result in a purchase. And thus, paying attention to your product reviews is critical; 90% of online shoppers read and are influenced by product reviews. Amazon is by far the biggest forum for them online. SEE THE BROADER IMPLICATIONS The strategic challenge—and why you need a full strategy for Amazon—is that it does not structure its ecosystem like your business. For example, an Amazon product page is comprised of elements driven by three different Amazon systems: retail, merchandising, and paid media. How the consumer landed on that page (Amazon search) is run by another Amazon business unit. Most brands, however, do not have all of these functions in the same room. Search and merchandising typically belong to different teams with different objectives, not to mention budgets. Yet, an Amazon strategy requires all of them to work together for maximum effect.

So you’ll need to form a working group to find ways your organization shares data so that it can optimize its opportunities. LOOK FOR PARTNERSHIPS Here’s where you can get creative. By now, you probably know that Amazon Echo has a partnership with 1-800-Flowers to make it easy for you to order some new blooms. However, you may not know that Mountain Dew has partnered with Twitch for live-event streams. Many of Amazon’s media properties provide interesting opportunities for brands today.



HERE’S WHY Let’s imagine you’re in the luxury scent business. Obviously, you’re not going to sell a $200 thimbleful of perfume on Above all, the site is a discounter, known for low prices and razor-thin margins. Having your products on it would be inconsistent with your brand.


Martha Hiefield Global Chief Talent Officer, POSSIBLE Seattle

It used to be that jumping around to different companies was a telltale sign of a bad candidate. Training can be expensive and employers weren’t interested in risking short-term talent. Many still don’t. But an influx of younger generations into the workforce has brought about a change of opinion. Short tenures are suddenly in vogue. There are a lot of people who now believe that changing jobs more frequently can actually help your career. The thinking goes: 1. Switching things up shows employers that you’re not complacent or lazy; you’re willing to take risks and learn new skills. 2. You’ll have a much better shot at a higher salary when you apply for a new job, rather than waiting on a raise. The math behind that latter point is hard to argue against. A 2014 Forbes article reports that “staying employed at the same company for over two years on average is going to make you earn less over your lifetime by about 50% or more.” That’s an alarming stat, especially for people just beginning their careers, and one that Fast Company recently referenced again. But do we really need to switch it up all the time to succeed? And is it really a new quandary? To me, career advancement is about so much more than the number on your paycheck or the title on your business card. And deciding to leave or keep a job is a dilemma that’s always existed, for all generations—an age-old question—should I stay or should I go?


No two scenarios are the same, and each person must decide for themselves.


But as someone who just celebrated 17 years with the same company, I offer a counter opinion to the job-hopping frenzy.

Here are a few things I’ve learned that have kept me happy—and growing—in one place: PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE. You are your own best advocate, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Speak up about your goals and interests and defend your self-worth and interests. Even the best manager will be too busy to make it happen for you. ALIGN YOUR GOALS WITH THE NEEDS OF THE BUSINESS. Business challenges take priority in the workplace. If you want to move ahead, you have to be able to tie your own personal strengths and passions to a business need. Your skills and interests go nowhere if your company doesn’t have a need for them. CHOOSE AN INDUSTRY THAT’S CHANGING AND A COMPANY THAT’S GROWING. Our business has transformed countless times since I started. Realities shift constantly, but our own size and structure has changed, too. We sold to a parent company. We merged with other agencies. We added more than 15 global offices. No two years have been alike, and new opportunities inevitably come from that. KEEP PERSPECTIVE. I’ve always believed that life is 10% what happens and 90% how you handle it. Our careers and relationships present ongoing challenges, and this year I’m reminding myself to celebrate the moment. Daily achievements are what make up the bigger picture. Don’t underestimate them. LOVE WHAT YOU DO. Finding joy in your job and the people you work with counts for a lot. Good leaders, advocates, and mentors do, too. Through all of the change I’ve encountered, I’ve found that my career has always been about people and building relationships, and I’ve made some of my greatest friends through my company.




John Simpson Global Chief Marketing Officer, POSSIBLE Portland

Emiliana Torrens, CEO, POSSIBLE Buenos Aires, and Christoph Bauhofer, General Manager, POSSIBLE Germany, share a unique perspective on the new shape of virtual agencies. For ten years, they helped build a multi-continental company with a unique twist: each office had distinct capabilities, and only with all three working together could they complete a project. They are now working to integrate parts of the broader network of capabilities at POSSIBLE . They believe that while many agencies are trying to bring multiple capabilities into one big room, a distributed approach may offer a nimbler way to respond to a fast-moving digital world. WHAT MADE YOU MOVE TOWARD A DISTRIBUTED AGENCY MODEL? Christoph: Fundamentally, I feel the traditional agency model has a real problem with scaling to meet customer needs. Customers today always want more now— and they deserve it. But if you look at the typical agency office in the US or Europe, it relies heavily on a core, multifunctional team that expands and contracts via freelancers as talent is needed. For example, if you suddenly have a very copy-heavy project, you hire a dozen copywriters. The trouble with this approach should be obvious. In bigger cities, you eventually reach a natural limit, where it’s impossible to find enough good people to fill those roles. Talent simply isn’t available, so projects get delayed, costs go up, and quality goes down. WITH A DISTRIBUTED MODEL, IT’S DIFFERENT? Christoph: It can be, especially if you find places where talent levels are high, but local opportunities are fewer. In that situation, it’s usually easy to find people to scale up for larger projects. If most creatives in an area work mainly on local projects, they’ll jump at the opportunity to work for a globally recognized brand. As a result, distributed agencies are often a first choice for talent in many places.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE TIME DIFFERENCE? Christoph: Actually, the time difference can be a big advantage, if you’re used to working with it. In the first place, meetings aren’t always productive. So the fewer meeting opportunities you have, the more intense those meetings are going to be. Second, you have a longer workday. In Germany, for example, we could meet with a client and discuss a project. Then we’d have plenty of time to get organized and present any changes to our teams in Brazil and Argentina. Then they’d have a full day to work on them. If you manage the time differences well, you get more done in a day than other agencies. HOW DOES IT WORK CULTURALLY? IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE TWO COUNTRIES AS DIFFERENT AS ARGENTINA AND GERMANY. Emiliana: Too much is made of this issue. Having different cultural backgrounds works in your favor. In the first place, creative people pick up culture fast. We have people in Argentina who really know the German market now. Maybe better than most people in Germany. And yet they have this other creative, cultural perspective that allows them to bring new ideas that wouldn’t occur to a German living in Germany. That kind of cultural friction really opens up the field for creative ideas. WHAT KIND OF WORK CULTURE DO YOU NEED?

Emiliana: Another advantage with this approach is that you can go where the people are. For example, if we need a lot of coding support in Munich, the people just won’t be there. But in Pelotas, Brazil, it’s much easier to find ones who are not too busy. And if you can’t find them in Brazil, chances are, we find them in Buenos Aires, Argentina. ISN’T IT HARDER TO ALIGN SUCH A TEAM? Emiliana: As anyone who works globally can tell you, it’s a challenge. No one would say it’s easier to work with someone five hours behind you. It really takes time to work out the processes you need to make it seamless. You have to adapt and develop multiple project management and tracking tools to ensure that everyone stays on track.


WHAT IS THE MOST CRITICAL ELEMENT FOR TEAM SUCCESS? Christoph: It’s particularly important to have a good project leader. Too often, project management simply becomes an exercise in updating spreadsheets and emailing people about assignments. A global team project leader needs to be super inspiring and a great communicator. Management must also support these people and make sure they’re not overloaded. They need time to keep the team together and whole.


Christoph: Culture is critical. Working across different countries requires you to develop a culture of appreciation. Too often, companies expand and then they treat their overseas people like a production line. You must make sure everyone feels like they’re appreciated and have a stake in the outcome. They have to have the same opportunities for advancement and career development. If a team feels simply like a workbench, they’re going to get demoralized and never do great work, especially not great creative work. WHAT ARE OTHER ADVANTAGES OF THIS APPROACH? Christoph: Well, one thing that’s great about having dedicated offices that work in specific ways is that they are much nimbler when change comes. Think of it this way: suppose you have six omni-functional offices. They all have creative, code, UX, and more. When VR comes out, all six offices have to figure out this new technology. In a more distributed model, only one office has to get up to speed. Then they can tell everyone else what they need to be doing.

Emiliana and Christoph acknowledge that the demand for digital is bigger than any one office. They’ve learned firsthand that virtual teams—a distributed office model—adds benefits to clients, through scaling creative and talent. While the Mad Men model remains alive and well in today’s world, they understand it must evolve to keep up with today’s ever-changing digital landscape.

Thomas Stelter VP, Emerging Solutions, POSSIBLE Chicago Given that time is at such a premium, you have to wonder why so few brands (at least those not named “Amazon”) are focusing on it. The ones that do, of course, perform very well. With Dollar Shave Club, razors simply show at your doorstep—a huge convenience for most of us. Not surprisingly, its sales are soaring. Printer companies can now send you ink when you’re running low. And that helps. None of these services are necessarily cheaper than the alternatives, and some are much more expensive. But they sell well because they save time. Brands need to acknowledge that time is a new currency. Instead of merely looking at price and quality, they should start thinking about how they can stop wasting their customers’ time—and even give some back. Today we have at least five major ways we can do so: 1. DON’T BE SHY WITH “BUY,” especially on mobile. We need to get the simple things right. You may think it’s rude to put “buy” buttons everywhere, but if someone is shopping, they shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get to their cart. This is doubly true in mobile, where shopping behavior differs radically from on the desktop. Small-screen consumers often know exactly what product they want and are only on their phones to buy. You need to support that process. 2. SHORTEN THE SHELF. One of the biggest barriers to making a purchasing decision is the endless digital shelf. The more options we have, the more time we spend evaluating them. Brands have many ways they can cut this back. A smart use of data can winnow offerings down to the ones that make sense for a consumer. If traffic patterns indicate a preference for Hondas, by all means don’t show Vespas. Longer term, brands should consider a simpler product strategy. Food provider Blue Apron, for example, has two choices for your eating plan, and it offers a range of options for each week’s meals that is narrow enough to make choice easy, but wide enough to make you feel like you’re in control. 3. CAST THE RIGHT NET. We typically use the word “targeting” as though we’re precisely connecting messages to individuals. Instead, you need to hit separate groups with a message that will work for most of them. Casting the right net primarily means that you’re tailoring experiences based on data to try to gather the right people. For example, because media is relatively inexpensive, some brands hit a wider range of people than are likely to be interested in their products—and provide them with a generic link to a homepage. Instead of this, try putting out a message that hooks them into a more custom experience that makes sense for them.

4. CONSIDER ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. Amazon’s Alexa and Echo may be the first major shots over the bow on AI-enabled commerce in the West. But in China, chatbots are already a huge driver of e-commerce. Any brand that wants to save its customers time should look into the possibilities of messaging or voice-enabled commerce—in particular, solutions such as Operator that do research for you. 5. ACTUALLY SAVE TIME. Blue Apron and Dominos seem to have little in common, but they both strive to work around this problem. Dominos has inserted its technology into every possible digital property. For example, you can order a pizza from Amazon Echo or do so with the press of an app button. And, of course, you always get it in 30 minutes. Blue Apron takes care of finding a recipe, shopping for ingredients, and making something healthy for dinner. Neither is your cheapest option for dinner, but both make up the difference by being extremely convenient.



If you look at life-hacking sites, you’ll find that people today will do just about anything to regain a little time. The reason is simple: We’re busy. The average full-time worker in America is on the job 47 hours per week, with much of the rest of the time spent on our phones: 4.7 hours a day on average. And the average working mom has only 36 minutes of free time every day. Yikes.



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Paul Soon CEO, Asia Pacific, POSSIBLE Singapore

Did you know that you can only make a limited number of good decisions in a day? After too many, something psychologists call “decision fatigue” sets in and you start making mistakes. That’s a big reason successful people like Mark Zuckerberg and Albert Einstein (yes, him) wear or wore the same outfit every day. No closet decisions, no energy wasted. Decision fatigue is a paradox for companies today. They are creating more and more products, and those products create choices. Meanwhile, marketers and others are providing more and more information that consumers have to sift through. The unintended result is that we’re not only giving them too many decisions to make, it’s stressing people out. Part of the problem is that we’re often missing the point of the data we have. Instead of targeting consumers with ever more precise messages, we should be using it to generate real-time value. To understand how this can work, let’s imagine you’re a man in your 40s who wants to eat healthier. You research the possibilities and learn there are dozens of suggested programmes, each with its own competing and mutually incompatible suggestions. How can you narrow your choices and come to a decision? At that point you get a message from your healthcare provider. It tells you that, given your age, family history, and the medications you’re taking, you should eat more of some things, less of others and less overall. This advice is not for everyone. It’s just for you, at this moment in your life. It gives you something you value very much: peace of mind that you’re making the right choices.

Believe it or not, this isn’t pure fantasy. Where I live in Singapore, the Ministry of Health has envisioned just such a system. It’s not online yet, but when it comes, it should use its wealth of data to anticipate our needs and deliver real value to us. In a world where choices are increasing, brands will need to provide value like this if they want to stay top of mind for consumers. To do that, however, we’ll need to keep a few things in mind. OUR CURRENT DATA-DRIVEN EFFORTS WORK BACKWARDS. Right now, we are all trying to harness the immense amount of data we have. But we’re using it largely to target consumers more precisely with more effective messages. This programmatic advertising is not necessarily providing value; it’s much more like a jazzed up version of a general food recommendation. It’s creating as many problems as it solves for consumers. VALUE COMES FROM THE INDIVIDUAL OUT. The Singapore healthcare system will work in the other direction. It will look at our genetics and condition, and offer trusted recommendations for us. That will make life—and our decisions—easier. Of course, it won’t make eating healthy as tasty as the alternative, but at least we’ll understand our choices.

REAL TIME MEANS ANTICIPATING NEEDS. Real time does not necessarily require you to be nimble and respond in the moment. It can simply mean getting on your customer’s timeline. Rather than a campaign schedule, the messages from the Singapore healthcare system will come based on age and condition. They will be real time and data driven, too. VALUE TRANSCENDS MESSAGES. Of course we need to have the right messages, but value often comes in a more tangible form. Under Armour apps, for example, look at your recent performance and sleep patterns to make suggestions so that you can work out more effectively. That’s something you can use, not merely read.

You might think, “This all sounds great, but only a small number of brands can generate value in real time.” Maybe, many more have the opportunity to do so than currently are. For example, it’s easy to imagine a financial institution providing more personalised and timely recommendations—or for transportation and airline apps to support us in a more individualized way. And the Internet of Things should soon provide a massive opportunity for brands of many different kinds to deliver value in real time.





Jason Brush Global EVP, Experiences & Innovation, POSSIBLE Los Angeles

Every medium that permeates our lives was once attacked as being, at best, impracticable, or, at worst, immoral. Every now-pervasive medium succeeded solely because of dedicated advocates and acolytes who fought to prove the merit of what others said was folly. They saw past technical challenges, low fidelity, and—perhaps most crucially—beyond the status quo’s preconceptions of what was possible to investigate the potential of something unproven. AS A NEW MEDIUM, VIRTUAL REALITY (VR) IS IN A PECULIAR PREDICAMENT

Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Sony, and others are making significant, high-profile investments in VR, with VR on center stage at their industry events, and featured prominently in their company roadmaps; it’s regularly hailed as a new multibillion-dollar industry. But, at the same time, VR is in its creative infancy. There’s some remarkable content—just look at the amazing VR showcased at the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals—but VR content creators are really just in the early stages of understanding how the medium works. There is no “blockbuster” VR piece yet—if you make an investment in a headset today, you’d be able to watch the majority of the best work in a weekend. Because of this, VR faces many critics who decry it as a bubble waiting to burst. So, what makes VR a medium with potential? Why should consumers, brands, content producers, and artists alike take a chance on its future? Every popular medium was built upon its early advocates’ fervent belief in its unique potential. The early advocates of cinema saw its potential to bend time and transform space magically; the pioneers of recorded music saw the potential to immortalize sound, which was previously just ephemera. The early advocates of the web saw the potential to connect people to information and make it universally accessible. These are the reasons why those mediums mattered.

SO, WHY DOES VR MATTER? WHY IS IT SO REVOLUTIONARY? The most common answer is presence: VR has the promise of making you feel present in another place, another time, or to have a perspective that you couldn’t have otherwise. This is perhaps why so many of the best VR experiences thus far have been documentary in nature, and why companies interested in telepresence, like Facebook, have invested in it so heavily. If presence is the defining attribute of VR as a medium, then the key to shaping meaningful, impactful VR experiences will be found in shaping presence. Manipulating presence is a wholly new creative challenge. There’s no prior art or technology that is quite analogous. When making VR, we can certainly build upon knowledge of how cinema successfully manipulates time, architecture manipulates space, theater manipulates performance, and so on. But the language of shaping presence, and its attendant creative potential, is a new frontier. Consider what it means “to be present” in our lived existence: it means to be focused, thoughtful, empathetic, and aware of one’s self and surroundings. If this type of experience is VR’s defining attribute, think of it in contrast to every other medium: none demands so much of its audience. There’s no channel surfing in VR. Falling asleep in it is hard to imagine. In contrast to the way in which we flit through social posts, websites, and apps in our always-on mobile existence—often twitchy and unfocused—to use VR is to engage mindfully in an experience. The result is that VR experiences, even unsuccessful ones, are almost never unmemorable. VR has the potential to become our most mindful medium, an antidote to the continuous, noisy invasion of our lives that so much digital media, at its worst, can be. There are massive, thrilling creative challenges ahead to discover and realize the full creative potential of VR. What does it mean to have the viewer operate the camera? How do the familiar building blocks of cinematic visual language—the close-up, the cut, the travelling shot—translate into this new environment? How can performances be blocked and staged for best effect? How can interactivity be meaningfully added in a way that audiences can readily understand and use? How does storytelling work in a medium where the audience has agency? Likewise, there are significant practical concerns. Google, Facebook, Samsung, and others are investing heavily in building development tools, distribution platforms, and the overall technology infrastructure of VR—but navigating this evolving environment requires content creators to thoughtfully consider not just what goes on inside their VR experience, but how people discover and access those experiences. Whether it’s worth it depends on your faith in technology to be a positive force in our lives. VR—like the web, TV, cinema, radio, and recorded music before it—is simply another technology, with no greater or lesser inherent virtue or vice.



Once upon a time, every medium in our incomprehensibly vast modern media landscape—photography, recorded music and radio, cinema, TV, videogames, the web—was once just somebody’s impossible dream; a laughable absurdity. Movies, at their inception, were hand-cranked carnival attractions; TV, an expensive, blurry, furniture-sized indulgence.


Jason Burby President, Americas, POSSIBLE Portland


that Microsoft Word is good for writing, but no one has ever claimed it could write a novel for us. If we can’t do that with pen and paper, we certainly can’t do it with the product. THEN AGAIN, at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, we typically see an analogous pitch being made to marketers. The pavilions and La Croisette overflow with technology companies brandishing marketing tools. Collectively, they claim to fix all of your problems and help you achieve perfect customer interaction. In other words, they’ll be sold on rosy scenarios rather than hard facts. You hear how once everything is in place, you’ll hit your customer with exactly the right message at precisely the right moment. Sometimes, they’re even called “automated” , which gives you the distinct impression that you’ll be able to sit back and they’ll do everything for you. In the end, that’s just a story, and we have good evidence that it’s not true: Nearly half of all marketers are not happy with their technology investments. I don’t mean to criticize the tools themselves. Many are, in fact, powerful solutions and deliver great results. But calling them “automated” and listening to the stories rather than paying attention to the reality has led some down the wrong road. To see why, let’s start with what they do. Some of them do, of course, automate or streamline repetitive processes, such as ad buying. But many do something else: They add capabilities that allow us to do things we couldn’t do before. They are much like a new filter in Photoshop that enables you to complete a task that was once so cumbersome, no one bothered with it. With dynamic content optimization tools, for example, you can build, place, and optimize 50,000 versions of the same ad. But before we had such tools, we weren’t creating 50,000 versions by hand. We weren’t doing that at all.

The flipside is that a great new Photoshop brush won’t make me much of an artist. That takes a lot of work, both with the software and without it. My facility with Photoshop and the new brush may allow me to do great things, but only if I had a wide range of other skills and experience, too. And all these principles apply to the new wave of marketing technology. 1. ANY GREAT TOOL REQUIRES FLUENCY. The great stories we hear belie a simple fact. None of this is plug-and-play. Getting up to speed requires serious learning, analysis, and integration with existing workflows. In addition, because the tools require care and feeding, we have to have to make decisions about how to shift resources to them. 2. YOU STILL NEED TO DO MOST OF WHAT YOU WERE DOING BEFORE. Unfortunately, having great tools often requires more work, not less. And because these tools often add capabilities rather than replace existing processes, the rest of your job—and especially the hard work of creative strategy—must go on. 3. TALENT DELIVERS INSIGHT, NOT TOOLS. With data tools, you need a smart scientist, one who can get insights from a data set mainly because she knows what questions to ask. The insight you’ll get is highly dependent on her instincts—a fact that is often conveniently left out of a marketing brochure. 4. YOU STILL NEED IDEAS. You can also have the best insights in the world, but unless someone sifts them correctly and merges them with a deep understanding of cultural trends, you might as well forget it. Data can tell you where and when to place your seven-second video, but it will not pick the right seven seconds of content for you.


In other words, the secret to marketing with tools is that you still have to do all the basics well. Technology vendors may promise the moon, but just because something can deliver a particular set of capabilities does not mean we’ll make the most of them. For that, we still need to do what this industry has always done.



Jason Minyo Executive Creative Director, POSSIBLE New York

Creativity is contagious. Admittedly it is a bit of a cliché, but like most good clichés, there’s a lot of truth in there. We have creative capital, the rise of the creative class, the creative economy, and even a new noun: “creatives”. As creativity drives innovation, it is increasingly recognized by business leaders as the new cultural currency, and an essential ingredient to unlock a competitive advantage in industry. IBM has famously announced that it will hire 1,000 designers in an attempt to drive creativity and build a culture of design in the coming years.

WALKING THE WALK. “Side-hustles,” as a good friend calls them, fuel culture. They also ensure that we are living the hustle and not just talking about it. A great example is a project we created called ART 140. Starting with the question, “Why should art critics be the only ones whose voices are heard when it comes to art?” ART 140 democratized art criticism by letting participants comment on six paintings from MoMA’s collection in 140 characters. Our goal was to ask what people thought about those works of art and capture the results in their own words.

It’s encouraging to see how IBM has figured out that if you want to build a creative culture, you begin with the people. But

We then created an algorithm that examined their tweets to parse for sentiment to create a B.S. (or Stream of Consciousness) Index as well as a Cerebral Index, and posted the results online. When I speak at conferences or schools and show the range of work we have created for our clients, invariably, it is this small, purely creative side project that provokes the most response from students and creatives.


Look for people who have their own thing going: an art director with his own line of streetwear, or the project manager who is challenging herself by drawing an illustration-a-day, for a year. These are the types of people who get excited about creative opportunities. They are people bursting with so much inspiration that they develop their own passion projects, so they can better stoke their creative fire. Because, when you are a creative person, client work can only take you so far. It’s no accident that people with side projects influence and inspire the rest of your office and, more importantly, the work. Culture works as hard at recruiting as the talent team. Develop a culture that celebrates creativity, and that culture of making becomes contagious. As a natural by-product, you create a self-sustaining cultural feedback loop. The positive thing for agencies is that side projects act like a magnet to attract like-minded people. And when the vibe is good, word of mouth is powerful.

THE POWER OF SIDE PROJECTS. Mikael Cho, founder of, believes Unsplash, the free photo site that started as a Crew side project, saved his company from oblivion. San Francisco-based designer Jessica Hische thinks her side projects jump-started her career as a typographer and letterer. And famously, Google’s 20 percent time, that lets engineers dedicate a fifth of their working hours to side projects led to Gmail and Adsense. That’s not a bad track record.

When push comes to shove, staying curious and participating in creative opportunities, such as Lil’ Sebastian, support the ability to do the big, heavy lifting for multi-year, multimillion dollar institutional clients. It’s exactly that range—from fashion lines and string art to brand campaigns and product design—that keeps creatives from burn-out and boredom.


MAKE CREATIVITY A HABIT. We host monthly creative events lovingly called “Lil’ Sebastian” (think “mini horse” on Parks and Recreation), and have found that it has become a power tool in building a culture that sustains itself. When the doors open, a creative exercise begins. Themes range from writing a comedic sketch, making some cinemagraphs, or creating a string art piece. No matter the challenge, these sanctioned, tangible, and regular events make our space a vibrant place to work. They are also fun. By creating a stimulating, exciting, and frequent opportunity, creativity becomes a habit. CURIOSITY DRIVES CULTURE. Creatives are always looking to do new things: work at a new agency, find a new project, or take on a new client. Inherent in that is an appetite for new experiences. And so I’m interested in designing new cultural experiences.


creative? ASK

And at the end of the day, it pays off. We find individuals who are creative, more than capable of delivering smart client work for a multitude of brands. In other words, the creative capacity to take on new projects grows.


Daniel Carlson

Group Director, Strategy & Planning, POSSIBLE Seattle

Agencies don’t win business when you think they do. We might burn candles at both ends preparing for pitches, but the pitch just clinches the deal. When we connect with prospects at a Q&A session—inspiring them to reflect on challenges in a new light—we invariably win the business later. Initially, I’ll admit, this seemed like a fluke. After all, the Q&A session? No part of a request for proposal is given shorter shrift. But I kept an eye on it. Turns out, this was a pattern I couldn’t ignore. The opportunity for introspection—even for businesses—is a luxury. And

brands value and need it.

COULD QUESTIONS BECOME OUR COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE? Actually, it seemed they already were. As group director of strategy, I only needed to harness them consciously, creating a culture of inquiry. It somewhat defies client expectation. Clients retain agencies with a sense that they’ll get fast talkers with ready answers. Historically, agencies have created ‘say’ solutions—TV and print campaigns in which we say something that imprints onto culture. With that legacy, it stands to reason that we’d cede control to the smoothest talkers.

TODAY, however, clients need us to help them transform their businesses not only with communication, but also with technology solutions. They’re asking us to solve more complex problems, devising not just say campaigns but build and do solutions. In ‘build’ campaigns, we help revolutionize products and services. ‘Do’ solutions rally people around brand causes and concepts, inviting consumers to be part of something bigger than buying. For this, there is no prefabricated answer. “New challenges have no history,” says innovation guru and author Idris Mootee. “Given the speed of change today, extrapolating from the past could lead companies down a dangerous path.” Instead, I’ve learned we must extrapolate forward. We’re diagnosticians, since the problem may not be what it seems. This requires that we stay in a state of inquiry for longer than we’re used to. The difficult part: we’re consultative experts with vast category and brand knowledge. Suddenly, we need to lean back and zip it? Yes. For a time. It’s good for us—and better for our clients. An answer to a problem we don’t understand is no answer at all. When we use curiosity and questioning —and we listen between the lines—we shine a light on problems and solutions that might be buried under layers of false notions. “Questions are places in your mind , says innovator and author Clayton Christensen. “If you haven’t asked the question, the answer

has nowhere to go. It hits your mind and bounces right off.” That said, we’ve been stuck for too long on the same tired questions: What’s your biggest business challenge? Who’s your audience? What does success look like? It falls flat, given the new dimensions of problem solving.

Strategic processes should incorporate deeper lines of inquiry. Start with an Inquire stage, and look back to understand the problem’s root cause and what needs to transform: How did we get to this place? What happened leading up to this point? Why are we here? Why did we make the choices we made to get here? We want questions to start one step deeper than the “what” and “who”. We also spend time on the obvious—asking questions to which, in the past, we’d have had all the answers. Long-held truths, in the course of becoming obvious, often turn out to be just so many fictions. The truth is elsewhere. We inquire until we find it. The second stage, Improvise, moves from the past to the present. We explore ways to make the transformation: What if we...? Who says we can’t...? What would be the weirdest...? How might this brand disrupt itself? No one’s right or wrong. We don’t have the answer. We’re open to big and small, weird and square—just as in an acting studio. We expand on ideas as actors do: we play. As I see it, Improvise is the missing link for strategists. Currently, in crafting briefs, they take blindfolded leaps from the fact-finding side of the mountain to the strategic insights side—and it’s a long way down. Since problems need to be solved in new and multiple ways, the gap is widening. This footbridge, Improvise, allows us to try on possibilities for size, moving forward on sure footing. Finally, during the Imaginate stage, our questions look to the future. Aware of the needed transformation, we determine the way forward: What will transform? How will it transform? The three stages shape a more expansive brief and broader solutions. It’s one way we’re embracing the power of questions. We need to cultivate the habit. It takes practice. Restraint. We


have to turn down the volume on the clamorous need to be right long enough to see the problem clearly.



Alex Whittaker Head of Strategy, POSSIBLE London

In the 2013 film Her, Spike Jonze offered his take on a near-future society in which peoples’ closest relationships are with technology, not humans. The movie tells the story of a lonely man who purchases a voice-controlled AI operating system that evolves to meet his needs. Samantha, as she’s known, eventually becomes so simpatico with him that the two fall in love. Oddly enough, the technology in Her is not as far away as you might think, though there are some hurdles to overcome. At the core, Samantha is an interface capable of interpreting needs through conversation and contextual cues. Today, we have chatbots that are similar in form. They are conversational systems, but not as advanced. We use them to play music, tell us the weather, order a cab, and much more. One of the more intelligent examples is Pana, a travel chatbot that monitors your flights and rebooks when there’s a potential delay. But while these bots are ambitious, they’re not quite Her. In fact, the way they work is not really all that different from the primitive, text-based adventure games of the 1980s. They continue to rely on heavily scripted, command-response interfaces, which can quickly get things wrong.

If advanced, intelligent conversational interfaces become customer favourites, there will be opportunities for brands. And some have already taken advantage of the possibilities. Facebook’s Transportation, for example, recognises conversations around travel and offers to book an Uber to take you where you want to go.

Not surprisingly, PEOPLE DON’T SEEM TO LIKE THEM. Google “Facebook chatbots” and you’ll find headlines such as, “Please, Facebook, don’t make me speak to your awful chatbots” or “Facebook Chatbots Are Frustrating and Useless.” It’s hard to see a silver lining in that.

The first is relatively easy, at least for service-related brands. If Pana can book a flight through a conversation, why can’t American Express Travel or KLM? If Uber recognises the right time to offer a taxi, why can’t banks recognise and facilitate money transfers between friends? The opportunities here are huge.

So what has to change to make lifelike interfaces a reality? Part of the answer lies in natural language processing—the ability for machines to understand what we say in context. Most chatbots simply match words to functionality. As humans, we don’t do this. We read and interpret everything surrounding an entire conversation to determine what to say.

For other brands, the challenges may be trickier, but one thing is certain: It’s never a good idea to sit back and wait to see what happens. In advanced chatbots, UI as we know it today may be replaced by something more intuitive and powerful. The brands ahead in this game will have massive, first-mover advantage.

Of course, it is, but it will only get us partway there. Technologies are only as capable as the programmers who build them. That’s why the key to unlocking the true potential of AI lies in machine learning. Here, we’re seeing big moves too. In February, for example, John Giannandrea, the head of Google’s artificial intelligence efforts also took a position as Head of Google Search. This reflects a larger trend in which digital players are shifting their focus from traditional engineers to machine-learning experts. Rather than teaching humans to understand machines, we’re now teaching machines to understand us.

As you jump in, be aware of the second challenge: controlling your brand voice. Typically, AI platforms belong to big technology companies such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook. When you book a flight through Google Assistant, you’re talking to Google, not the airline. That makes it difficult to maintain a differentiated brand. Fortunately, we shouldn’t expect that to continue. To succeed financially, these platforms need buy-in from the brands and, in order to get that, they must evolve to support individual brand voices. Until it happens, we will be forced to rely on traditional communication channels to support our brands. But once that piece of the puzzle is solved, we’ll unlock the commercial potential of this new and exciting technology. So let’s keep our ears to the ground for now, and start working on the future. Someday, Her will walk off the movie screen, and we want to be sure to say hello as soon as she does. MOBILE

Work is underway to solve this problem. Recently, Google opened up access to SyntaxNet, its AI for understanding language. Similarly, Facebook announced its own DeepText AI, described as a “deep learning-based text understanding engine that can understand with near-human accuracy the textual content of several thousand posts per second, spanning more than 20 languages.” Sounds impressive.

Still, most brands have yet to take the plunge. To do so successfully, they will have to overcome two simple but related challenges: providing useful services that are voice-activated, and controlling their brands on voice platforms.


Frank Kochenash Global SVP, Commerce, POSSIBLE Seattle

Over the last 10 years, THE DYNAMICS OF RETAIL HAVE FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGED. We’ve now entered a new era, one where the consumer reigns supreme, resulting in far-reaching impacts on retailers and brand manufacturers. Companies in the retail and shopping industries—retailers and product manufacturers alike— need to understand these changes and act promptly in order to stay competitive. In the steep part of the adaptation curve, digital technologies—led by the PC, then the internet, and now mobile devices—have given consumers new abilities to learn and choose. The ultra-informed consumer gets information on any product or service nearly instantaneously and makes purchases from practically anywhere at anytime. Consumers evaluate brands no longer just as trust or status marks, but as mechanisms of self-expression. These same digital technologies accelerated production and supply efficiencies, which has multiplied assortment and purchasing options, resulting in massive selection available to consumers. The supply side has exploded (e.g., more stores, more brands, more products), while the demand side has grown about 2-3% per year (i.e., population growth). Technology has empowered both, but the winner is the consumer.

Thus, to win in this new retail environment, a company (brand or retailer) needs to do at least one of four things exceptionally well:


1. CREATE THE SCALE TO CONSISTENTLY WIN ON PRICE. Low prices and good value will always matter. This will be tough for most retailers as only a small number truly have the scale and operational excellence to be price leaders in national and global markets. Examples: Amazon, Walmart.


2. CURATE/SELL UNIQUE PRODUCTS THAT CONSUMERS WANT TO BUY. Products and brands that allow consumers to differentiate and define themselves allow retailers to compete beyond price and availability. Examples: specialty retailers, Nordstrom.

3. PROVIDE AN EXPERIENCE THAT IS DELIGHTFUL AND PLEASING IN ITS OWN RIGHT. Consumers have come to expect experiences as well as inventory. Retailers that develop delightful, even somewhat addicting experiences, can excel. Examples: Whole

Foods, Cabela’s. 4. DEVELOP AND NURTURE DIRECT RELATIONSHIPS WITH CONSUMERS. Some brands have nurtured relationships to the point where the consumer trusts the retailer beyond the gratification of immediate needs. These relationships create value for consumers and companies without the need for explicit kickbacks or rewards. Examples: Costco, Amazon.

IMPLICATIONS FOR BRANDS Nike has transformed shoes from mere clothing items to an experience and set of services that help athletes perform better. Cars used to be devices used by drivers. Now they’re expected to park themselves. Soon they will drive themselves. Not far into the future, cars will be evaluated on how well they make it through traffic rather than by horsepower and gas mileage. In short, all retailers are brands. And brands are retailers—whether they know it yet or not, at least in the sense of engaging more directly with consumers. Successful brands will need to engage with consumers and compete on the same criteria as retailers, a different set of ground rules than the manufacturebrand rules of the past.

WHAT BRANDS SHOULD KNOW While it’s tempting for brands to focus strictly on developing unique and compelling products, it’s shortsighted to rely on this alone. Consumer brands should certainly continue to innovate their products (in an attempt to remain indispensable to retailers, allowing them to harness above commodity margins), but product innovation alone doesn’t address the importance of delightful experiences and relationship development to winning today’s enlightened consumers. To succeed beyond product innovation and costefficiency improvements, brands must consider three strategic exercises:

Brands must also consider the continued rise of private labeling. Retailers are leveraging scale, experience, and direct consumer insights to produce and grow alternatives to legacy brands. While not a new phenomenon, what is new is the amount of consumer insight available to develop products. Private-label sales currently represent ~20% of grocery sales in the US, but Amazon’s data-fueled expansion into private label and Aldi’s success deserve careful consideration. Retailing has shifted from a business primarily about product distribution to a business primarily about value delivery services. Consider how Apple, Amazon, and Nike have transformed their markets. Apple turned computers and task specific devices into services that entertain us and assist us. iTunes and the App Store allowed Apple to solve consumer needs in ways that devices alone could not, and in so doing Apple transformed itself from a consumer product brand to a hybrid brand involving aspects of product, retailer, and lifestyle. Selling books used to be about providing selection recommended by the shop owner. Now it’s an experience to discover new topics of interest and a way to learn what others have said about books. It’s about having access to a book in several devices, synchronized. Amazon doesn’t simply sell books. It enables discovery and reading.

ADD VALUE BEYOND THE CURRENT PRODUCT. Expand the brand promise to more broadly solve consumers’ needs, and develop your product and related digitally enabled services to deliver on this promise. The “product” needs to be more than what is in the box, because what is in the box will likely be commoditized. What you can do now: Consider the consumer problem solved by your branded product and develop a service concept that solves that problem better. Build the basic digital tools to make such a service and pilot with consumers. For example, go beyond making doing the laundry easier; eliminate the need to do laundry. BUILD AND DEVELOP ONE-ON-ONE RELATIONSHIPS WITH CONSUMERS. This doesn’t necessarily mean selling directly to them, but often it will. Brands need to fill their consumer databases and develop capabilities to nurture those relationships. It’s important to realize that this doesn’t necessarily mean creating conflict with retailer customers of brands. Getting to know consumers better and developing products/ services to meet their needs is in the best interests of both traditional retailers and consumer brands. It’s not a zero-sum game.

What you can do now: Leverage your online sales channels (e.g., as vehicles to learn about consumers and to engage with them via media. Opportunities for digital engagement exist beyond immediate sales. For example, target complementary offerings that give consumers a reason to engage directly with your brand. What you can do now: Use customer service and support channels, as well as product packaging, as mechanisms to build your consumer marketing database. For example, ensure all consumer records in services databases are available for marketing. For multi-brand companies, link all brand databases together to build out more complete consumer profiles. ADAPT METHODS OF MEASURING SUCCESS. While it’s always been prudent for brands to measure and incentivize store sales, channel sales, and web sales for managers, it does create internal conflict and organizational silos that hinder success. To avoid creating barriers, service-product hybrids should assess success in terms of consumer metrics, such as revenue per user and lifetime value. For example, in the healthcare industry, care providers are often compensated based on capitated rates and healthcare outcomes of their assigned populations. This creates incentives to improve healthcare among the population, while judiciously using resources. Like the healthcare industry, brands should assign general managers to define consumer segments (e.g., by geographic region) and incentivize the total segment penetration and sales per consumer, regardless of channel. Tasked to maximize consumer revenues and loyalty within their assigned populations, managers could then judiciously apply whichever channels, products, or services that are most effective. What you can do now: Create measurement programs to report against consumer goals holistically. The new data systems will shed light on how goals and incentives could practically be applied in the future—and help create the data pipes necessary to engage one-on-one with consumers.

These retail times are a-changin’ with ultra-informed consumers in the lead.

TO SUCCEED IN THIS NEW ERA, BRANDS MUST THINK BEYOND THEIR PRODUCTS AND SOLVE BROADER CONSUMER PROBLEMS WITH DELIGHTFUL SOLUTIONS. None of the recommended actions are quick wins because no such quick wins exist. What is at stake, however, is which brands and retailers will survive and which will go the way of the general store or the Sears Catalog. COMMERCE

To thrive in the consumer-empowered economy, we expect companies to refine their value propositions to meet consumer needs and to develop closer, deeper relationships with consumers. The biggest implication for consumer brands and manufacturers is that they need to invest more in experiences and services as part of their “product” and they need to better nurture direct consumer relationships. Few have the scale to compete on price and even fewer products are truly unique. Success requires more closely engaging with consumers and solving their needs more completely. In fact, over the last 30+ years, the concentration of market capitalization among the top 100 firms in the S&P 500 has been shifting toward companies that either provide a consumer service and/or directly engage with consumers. This demonstrates the shift in power (and shareholder value) from producer to consumer has empowered both, but the winner is the consumer.


Martha Hiefield

Diane Holland

Global Chief Talent Officer, POSSIBLE Seattle

Global Chief Financial Officer, POSSIBLE Los Angeles

With competition for talent at an all-time high, office life is not what it used to be. Employees now choose from a multitude of perks; everything from ping pong tables and posh workout facilities, to catered lunches, wine on tap, and parades of dogs. The bill for these perks can add up for an agency, and at the end of the day, is there any real correlation between

1. HIRE AND LIVE BY YOUR VALUES. Skills and experience are undeniably important, but attitude counts for as much. We hire candidates who are already living and working by our agency’s values. Knowing and promoting our values goes a long way in finding people who fit our culture, and that goes a long way in minimizing turnover.

what’s on tap and your quarterly earnings? In an era where “CULTURE” is much discussed and loosely defined, agency leaders are wise to question what serves their bottom line versus what serves as a distraction. We’ve found putting culture first does make us more profitable. HERE ARE SIX THINGS THAT ARE KEY TO MAKING SURE THAT CONNECTION HAPPENS

2. INVEST IN PEOPLE. Culture is much more than a series of Instagrammable perks, and investing in people means more than what’s stocked in your kitchen. As of late, it even means more than just what you’re paying. Flexibility, work-life harmony, training, and mentorship—these are hugely important in building a people-first culture. And they’re becoming more and more standard as younger staff enter the workforce. 3. SHOW YOUR APPRECIATION. An often-overlooked part of a healthy culture is employee recognition. Studies show that one of the most common reasons Americans leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated. It doesn’t cost a lot to engage with people and show your gratitude, so it’s amazing how few companies take the time to do so. Especially considering that organizations with mature recognition approaches are 12 times more likely to have strong business results. Your employees work hard on your behalf. Take time to recognize and thank them.

4. BE TRANSPARENT. It’s no secret that management plays a huge role in shaping and maintaining culture. A fascinating 2013 study by MIT, “The Value of Corporate Culture”, found a strong correlation between management’s perceived integrity and “good outcomes” for a business. In short, the more integrity employees felt management had, the more profitable and productive the business often was. We work to be transparent with our employees about our numbers, the state of our business, and what the leadership team is working on. Everyone has a stake in what’s happening. In a big, global agency, open communication is one way we build trust and accountability. 5. BUILD KPIS (and conversations) around more than just numbers. It’s hard, especially in a publicly-traded company, to get away from numbers. Agencies are often measured largely by their returns for shareholders. But working in a place that’s driven by profit alone doesn’t inspire people. And there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that it’s not good for your bottom line, either. Your entire leadership team—including the CFO—is responsible for making quality of work and innovation an integral measure of success. 6. MEASURE AND COLLABORATE. The CFO used to be a more segregated role, more concerned with compliance and numbers than the overall strategy. That’s changed a lot, and for good reason. Collaboration with other business leaders is necessary for a CFO to make decisions based on more than dollars and cents.

LOOKING AT FINANCIALS IS ONE MAJOR SUCCESS METRIC, BUT IT’S NOT THE ONLY ONE. Nor are the numbers always indicative of the long-term health of an organization. That’s why we work together to look at other measurements: employee satisfaction and exit surveys, retention, referrals, productivity, and customer relationships. All of these are important indicators of how we’re doing. Tracking these helps us make choices about how to invest in our people for the long haul, while still delivering on our short-term KPIs.


CULTURE doesn’t have to be a nebulous or mystical part of your company. Nor is it a box that you check off through a series of perks. It’s much bigger and more important.


Think of it this way: If talent is your agency’s potential, then culture is what sets your talent up to reach that potential. It’s a direct link to sustainable growth and profitability.


Throw a life-ring to a marketer drowning in data these days, and it’s likely she won’t even notice it. While many companies have amassed huge troves of data and automated dashboards, they are sometimes blind to the true path to actionable information. Part of the problem is that data companies have long made a sharp distinction between data and insight—and continually promise to deliver the latter rather than the former. That has given marketers the impression that insight is something that should drop out of the sky and show up in neat, multicolored rows. The tools they buy, they think, should make it easy. Unfortunately, THIS ISN’T TRUE. A good data solution does have the potential to deliver insights faster and easier than ever. But no matter how much data you have, or how gorgeously arranged your dashboards are, you won’t get meaningful insight from them alone. That requires something else: the active use of a human brain. To see why, we have to acknowledge some key truths about the relationship between data and actionable information.

ROI comes from people, not tools. I’m not beating up dashboards in general. They’re an essential tool that can provide a unified view of your business. They track progress and help you understand what’s working well or not. But they are also only the beginning of insight. They’re merely the place where the real work begins.

It also comes from discovery and iteration. Insight leads to insight. Once you start asking questions of data, the answers will suggest further questions. You may run a test to determine if something works, and then run follow-ups to deepen your knowledge. Eventually, you’ll iterate to a true understanding of your business and your customers.

You’re probably underutilizing your analysts. Analysts in the marketing industry typically spend the bulk of their time aggregating data sets and creating spreadsheets and dashboards for executives. That’s important work, and yes, it requires sharp minds and good instincts. To merge disparate data sets, you must know how to balance their importance and create processes that are repeatable for future analysis. But again, the end result is the beginning of insight, not insight itself.

Compound data is gold. Of course, the best questions involve not just a single KPI, but multiple data sources. For a simple example, it’s a common practice in marketing to use data to target segments. To do this, we survey customers up front to determine what we think works. But oddly enough, we never go back and compare those initial predictions to data about what people said they did. The survey data, in other words, is just the start. The behavioral data shows the real results. When you compare one to the other, you get real insight into why people are acting as they are. Granularity is the goal. Insight also increases the more specific you get with data. You can learn a little about your customers from a generic data set. But you learn more if you focus sharply on a specific platform, like mobile, or look at usage in the evening versus the morning. By digging into this level of data, you learn what people want and when.

IT’S TIME WE STOPPED USING DROWNING METAPHORS FOR WHAT DATA IS DOING FOR US—AND NOT. Insight is available for those who are willing to go out and get it. It’s not available if you expect it to magically appear in a spreadsheet. Only if we invest in the analysis we need, will we get the true picture of our customers that everyone so desires.

Harmony Crawford

Group Director, Marketing Sciences, POSSIBLE Seattle


Insight comes from asking questions. When a good analyst looks at KPI, it isn’t merely a piece of information. Rather, it prompts her to ask a question: Why? Why did something happen? What produced this result? Then, she dives into the data, pivots the numbers, and researches other correlations to find out the answer. That kind of analysis, not passive data consumption, is what delivers true insight.



Not anymore. With the success of disruptive business models built on customer relationship management—think Dollar Shave Club, Uber, and Airbnb—customer expectations are rapidly evolving. We are now seeing the dawn of


holistic communications strategies that unify email, social, chat, paid media, and customer service. Connected together, these touchpoints provide a unified view of a customer’s journey with a brand. Put simply, CRM is changing—and could become a critical force in the success and failure of brands.


Thomas Stelter VP, Emerging Solutions, POSSIBLE Chicago

WHAT HAS BEEN THE TRADITIONAL ROLE OF CRM? CRM rose out of a need for management to make sense of a chaotic sales process. Originally, it enabled salespeople to track high-touch sales and handle a greater number of contacts with a human touch. Over time, however, CRM has largely become synonymous with automated email generation.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MAJOR CHALLENGES FOR TRADITIONAL BRANDS? We’ve seen a number of brands purchasing these solutions and then using them to emulate old CRM practices, such as email. Needless to say, buying technology to do exactly what your existing technology already did is not a great move. WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES? Where traditional CRM took you from contact to sale, you now get unified insight across what formerly have been silos. Before picking up the phone on a sales call, you’ll know whether or not the client had a serious service issue. If someone has bought a product, visited your website, or mentioned your brand in a social channel, you can message them differently than someone who hasn’t. In other words, you rely on activities in one area to influence responses in another—and all from one place at scale.

WHAT DOES THE NEXT GENERATION OF CRM LOOK LIKE? Like many technologies, CRM tools are undergoing a vast and rapid expansion. Companies with leading solutions, such as Salesforce, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, and Marketo, have recently made many acquisitions in areas not typically associated with CRM technology. These areas include marketing, advertising, social media, customer service, and app development. By integrating these siloed technologies around a core CRM platform, they are able to encompass more of the customer journey—and open up one-to-one marketing possibilities at scale.

WHY ARE KEY PLAYERS CHANGING SO RAPIDLY? A number of trends are driving these moves. First, mass marketing effectiveness is waning. Consumers are tuning out irrelevant content. In addition, social media is overtaking email as a tool for customer support and engagement. As a result, CRM vendors, like everyone else, are trying to provide more personalized experiences. Customers today expect to have more individualized interactions, and CRM vendors are now trying to amass the data needed to provide them across the entire customer journey. As the current wave of integration continues, it is enabling brands to have an intelligent understanding of the customer and to respond appropriately at all touchpoints.

To take advantage of the next wave of CRM, brands will have to overcome a number of challenges: Organization. It’s easy to say, “share data and play nice” but in reality, getting databases aligned to a unified view is always a challenge. In addition, breaking down silos is easier said than done, and requires as much human alignment as technological integration. But if you want a unified view of your customers, it has to happen. Segmentation. The more data you have, the better. Once you have sufficient first- and third-party data integrated into your platform, the challenge becomes a big data one. How can combinations of these data sets be used to create unique segments that you were not previously able to identify? Once that happens, you can enable various types of hyper-targeted communications and triggers for engagement.

HOW WILL THIS INTEGRATE WITH MARKETING AUTOMATION? This is where the rubber hits the road. With CRM data and automation, we can get much more granular in our response to customers. Salesforce, for example, now creates many different combinations of consumer journeys and variations of communications based on customer actions. In one example, 4,000 variations with multiple touchpoints were created in one week.

Creative execution. This may sound a bit self-serving from an agency, but good content will still be the key to success. All of the relevant targeting in the world matters little if your message falls flat.

HOW DO I GET STARTED? Understanding the possibilities is the first important step. Once you do that, set an overall vision and goal for your efforts long term. Finally, outline the steps necessary to make the change. This will involve both technology implementation and organizational integration to enable you to get the best view of your customers possible. Remember, even a partial embrace of the new CRM is better than none at all. The important thing is to get started—before your competitors do.



Many of the world’s biggest brands only know their customers as groups in audience research reports.


POSSIBLE is a WPP Digital agency.

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