In this episode with Chevron Corporate Brand Advertising Executive, Andrea Donatucci, you’ll learn about…
“With VR and AR, the technology works really well when you have a story that involves taking your audience to a place that they could not get to themselves.”READ FULL TRANSCRIPT
Andrea, welcome to the Brand Lab Series™. I know we’ve been trying to get you on for the last couple of years, so I’m glad we could find the time, even though we’re in totally different time zones. But I’m super grateful for your time and I’m excited to have you on the podcast today.
Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Like me, your career began in technology, and I believe you were working at IBM. And one of the many projects you probably managed at that time was launching an e-commerce platform and an online gift registry for a retail brand. And to me, I know we’re probably about the same age, it’s pretty fascinating, because that was really unheard of and very unique back then. So talk about those early days and what e-commerce was like back around 2000.
Well, thank you for dating me or making me sound old. But back in 1999, 2000, it was not uncommon for brand websites to be a bit of brochureware. So the fact that retail brands were bringing online shopping or the ability to shop from the convenience of your home was a new thing. We were working with this client, and working through the logistics, not only of bringing their products to a website and what that might look like, but also the back end distribution of how do you efficiently process the order, get it out and ship it to a customer within a reasonable amount of time. This is well before the days of two-day shipping that we all have become very accustomed to.
If you noticed, I didn’t just date you, I did date me ’cause I was actually working in tech around that same time as well. And it is so interesting because it’s something that everyone just sees as part of their lives today. And just in last week’s episode, we had Barbara List from American Pet Care, on. She was talking a lot about how fast and how much branding and CPG has changed between now e-commerce, and obviously, brick and mortar. That was still something super unique back then. But then flash forward just a couple of years, so now around the mid-2000s, ’05, ’06 in there, and then you have social media just starting. Obviously, there was LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and at that point, you were kinda working on the agency side at Digitas, which is known all over the world today for being one of the top global marketing agencies in the area of data and strategy. What was agency like during that time period?
Well, you know, Digitas was one of the few digital agencies at the time. Their roots were in direct mail. So they were very proficient. Direct mail pre-dated a lot of the digital marketing in terms of its sophistication of Test and Learn, segmenting your audience, holding out a control, and then measuring lift. Digitas brought that expertise to the digital space, because a lot of what we do now in digital, in early days, was test and learn, AB testing. So some of that discipline from the direct mail days translated very nicely to an agency, a digital agency. But they were very much before their time. Nowadays, in today’s world, there’s many digital shops of all sizes, some are within large holding companies, some are independent, but they were one of the few back then. And then certainly, in digital marketing, and what we considered sophisticated at the time has certainly evolved in the last 10 to 15 years, at a far greater speed than I even anticipated, and I work in the field.
I would certainly agree with you on the speed issue. It’s crazy how fast things change, even just year over a year right now. And it is funny, as I was listening to you talk about the direct mail world, and I remember having a number of customers. So in the mid-2000s, I was at an agency and yeah, it was so innovative then to be thinking about, “Well, we’re going to mail this particular version of this piece to this audience, and then this to this audience. We’re gonna see what works.” Maybe in some cases, we put in different imaging or a different headline, or different this. And it’s so funny, ’cause I’d never realized until you were talking about that. Well duh, that’s what everyone is doing now across digital, it’s the same. It’s very much the same approach, they’re just taking a different platform at it. So when you think back to that time and we’ve been talking about obviously the tech, is there something that kind of back then, you thought, “Oh wow, this is really high tech,” but now, God, just 10, 15 years later, you can kinda look back and laugh and saying, “Oh that’s not high tech at all.”
Well, it’s funny because I was just talking about this the other day, in that, back then in 2005, 2006, the hottest device that everyone wanted was a Blackberry. I can remember being at Digitas, and it was very much… The culture back then is you went into a meeting, a block of meetings, you didn’t bring a laptop, you didn’t bring your phones, you had face-to-face conversations and then you got out of the meeting about 4 o’clock, and then frantically started writing emails on everything that needed to be done. And so, it was sort of this revolutionary device that you could actually step out of a meeting during a 10 minute break and send an email back or brief your team on, “Hey, this is what happened. I need you to get started on that. And I’ll give you another update in a couple of hours.” That was considered pretty high tech. And nowadays, we have computers in our hands, with our smartphones, that is so commonplace and I don’t know many people that have a Blackberry today. It’s definitely a whole new world when it comes to mobile devices.
It’s interesting that you used that as an example, because I’m kind of obsessed over the fact that I actually never had a Blackberry. I really kind of feel like I wish I did, because they were the coolest thing at the time. And a lot of my friends and peers that had them actually say they really liked them. And as you were talking about the Blackberry, I was also thinking of another device that I didn’t have, that was also kind of in the same genre, although not quite as popular I don’t believe, which was the Palm Pilot. I remember I was working for Giga Information Group, which was a startup founded by Gideon Gartner of the Gartner Group, which was then acquired by Forrester. And I was with the CEO, I think we were in Boston, and he was holding his Palm Pilot, and all of a sudden, he turned this thing that looked like almost like an antenna on it, and he was able to then somehow get some type of what we would now call a WiFi signal off of that. And I just remember the Blackberry and the Palm being two of the coolest devices that I just didn’t have. And now, it’s so funny because I don’t know a meeting where someone doesn’t have their phone with them or their laptop with them at all times, and it’s a bit of a blessing and a curse. So that is interesting that you cited the Blackberry.
Yeah, it was the hottest device. And when you got one, you were like, “Wow, this is so incredible to be able to send an email.” And I think the key is the little keys or something that people really liked, it made it easier to type. Remember back then, it was all flip phones, which were very difficult when you send a text message. So it just that it was a slight innovation. We’ve come a long way since the Blackberry, but at the time, it was one of the hotter devices.
Yes, and I remember maybe it was the poor man’s Blackberry, but a couple years after, it wasn’t quite the flip phones and it certainly wasn’t the smartphones yet, but I got a phone that you could flip over what was actually the traditional keypad, with all your numbers on it, to make a phone call, but you could flip it over and it had a small little keyboard. And it was game changing because we weren’t sending emails then, but we were at least texting back then. That was great. And kind of like we’ve been talking about, there’s this big shift from early years of e-commerce around late ’90s, early 2000s, the rise of social, the rise of tech, and just like we were talking about with even the Blackberrys, in that, it started bringing on now mobile. And so, at that point, then you were also involved in digital advertising at Accenture, so you went across three really well-known and iconic brands at a perilous time where things, like you were just saying, everything is moving so quick. So talk about how technology kinda changed marketing in such a short period of time, and I know you kind of already hinted at this, but it’s almost as if you see it accelerating far faster now than it even was then.
Yeah. For me, my observation, I think there was a time when life at work and life outside of work were a bit more compartmentalized. I can remember a time where I had a desktop computer and I didn’t have a mobile phone or only I had one that I would only use in the car, and then my work it was at work and my home life was outside work. And I think with the advent of higher speed WiFi, more advanced mobile devices, the worlds of work and non-work are blurring. And as a marketer, as you’re trying to reach, at least in the B2B space, decision makers, where you reach them is unclear, whether they’re in that work mindset or they’re… It’s all sort of blurred together. And I know for myself, I can access my work world at any moment of the day, if I choose to do so. This, “Oh, I’m gonna reach a business decision maker when they’re in that work mindset.” Is becoming… It’s a little bit less clear. I think we go back and forth. We have some flexibility these days where we can work when we choose or we can extend our work hours if we need to, if a crisis comes up. There was definitely a point in time when I think work and non-work was much more delineated.
I remember, I think it’s kind of funny that there’s still this fourth quarter holiday shopping day called Cyber Monday, because I remember, one of the big reasons where that even came about was because this was well before smartphones, well before, frankly, often laptops. And I remember working at a tech company, and on that Monday, people would be sitting, and again, it wasn’t anything like today in terms of what you could buy and shop for online, but the whole thing was everyone would be sitting at their work cube or their work office and they would be shopping online off of a work computer. I was probably working for at least 10, 15 years before I ever had my own personal computer or laptop, I used what I had in the office. So yeah, you’d leave work and you wouldn’t be able to see what was happening. So, it is interesting and I do feel like that’s become an opportunity in many ways, and as you described it, it’s kind of a blessing and a curse depending upon how you look at it.
I know it’s something that we had talked about just before the show, you’ve had this great career trajectory, and you mentioned one of the keys to your success has been kind of always having a growth mindset, and I know that that’s a term that’s kinda used a little often, but talk about that through your own lens and why that was important to you. And I think one of the questions I have as someone who’s leading a lot of next generation marketing leaders as well. How do you kinda convey this growth mindset to people that are maybe a little earlier in his or her career?
I think if you want to work in the marketing space, you need to be open to new ways of doing things and have the expectation that things are going to change and they’re going to change at a faster pace than you can conceptualize. And there’s a lot of innovators out there that are coming up with great ideas, new ways of doing things. And as we’ve talked about earlier, even in this interview, the pace of change, you just can’t even anticipate it, and I can only imagine what the next 10 years have in store for us. So I think if you wanna work in a space where you’re marketing a brand to a customer or an audience, you need to stay at pace with the industry and where it’s likely going to head. You need to have an open mind, you need to be open to new technologies, new ways of doing things, and when you move into an uncharted territory or using an emerging technology, everything is not going to go according to plan.
And I think for someone coming out of school, where you’re in an academic setting with very black and white, right answer, wrong answer, it can be a messy space. There’s a lot more gray and there’s a lot that could go wrong that you will get through, particularly if you pick good partners that hire people with good skills and solid background. Our discussion on direct mail, and how it related to digital, there are a lot of basic things that when we approach a marketing campaign, we’re going to do regardless of the technology. So I think you need to learn the basics of how do you develop a good story? And then the next question is, how do you bring that story to life? And the process by which you’re developing the story is going to be the same regardless of the platform. It’s really, how do you activate that story. When you get into an emerging technology space, there’s just more twist and turns of things that you might uncover because it’s a new technology or a new platform.
Building off that, if I’m kinda hearing some of the undertones of that, and I think that that makes a lot of sense. I like how you talked about the sense of being a little adaptable and that things are gonna have some twists and turns and maybe be a little gray. And that’s a challenge for me as a leader, because I feel like when I was a little younger in my career, it was pretty much do this and do that. And you kinda followed a particular set of rules and everything we touched on a little bit earlier from how you were in the office to the type of technology you would use, the type of marketing, it was pretty much, I don’t wanna say cookie-cutter, because it wasn’t necessarily that, but there wasn’t nearly as much unpredictability. So I know one of the challenges that I have is making sure that when we hire and bring people on, that they understand that they have to be able to operate a little bit in ambiguity.
And as I kinda heard your answer, you’re really talking about people need to be comfortable sometimes getting out of those comfort zones, or they need to think about pushing boundaries and not be afraid to experiment and try things that maybe haven’t been done before as well. I really like that thinking and mindset. I think an example of this is some of the interesting work I’m seeing being done by Chevron, your company’s been an early adopter of augmented reality. I’ve seen some really unique things that you guys are doing there. Can you share a little bit about that work?
Absolutely, that was one of my projects. So the idea for the augmented reality came to life, and we had done virtual reality about 12-18 months earlier, and the agency that we used came in to give us an update on augmented reality. And at the time in the moment when they came in to talk to us, it was just that point when augmented reality was becoming native to iOS, Apple’s operating system. So all you really needed, versus virtual reality where you needed a headset, all you needed was an iPad to really tap into augmented reality. So they came in and explained to us, one of the things we had learned with virtual reality that holds true for augmented reality is, it really works well when you can transport the audience to a place that they really can’t get to themselves.
So one of the learnings that we got from virtual reality was, and this holds true for augmented reality is that the technology works really well when you have a story that involves taking your audience to a place that they could not easily get to themselves. As we thought about how could we activate augmented reality, we knew that we had a large trade show coming up in a high priority market that related to natural gas. And so we thought to ourselves, “Do we have a natural gas story that takes place in an area that we could transport people to for this visual storytelling experience?” And we did, it took place in Western Australia. We have operations there that take place on a pretty remote island that most people cannot access.
And so we started to think through what’s the story that we can tell? And so we built a three-chapter experience to bring our audience to Australia to tell the story of our operations, but bring a little bit of the Australian experience to them, to surprise and delight. And so how we did that was we actually built 3D models of elements of our operations, like ships, but also included things like a few rare animals that you might find in Western Australia. And the storytelling really brought an engaging experience that was a little bit different than our audience would typically experience at a gas conference. When I think back on how we approached the storytelling, you would think, “Wow, how do you do that for augmented reality?” It’s not that different than the process you go through to develop a video. We start with a story board, you lay out all of the elements that you would want your agency to build out, what are those visual elements? The difference with augmented reality is you’re building 3D models versus a video.
And so we went through the typical process that you would go through for storyboard development, visual elements copy elements and from there, once that was approved, we then moved into 3D models and reviewing those, and that’s sort of where you get into a little bit of the more complexity and the uncharted territory, that would likely make someone a little bit nervous about taking on an augmented reality project.
Hearing you talk about the augmented reality was super helpful for me, because I think you just did a really great job at kind of breaking down some of the most basic, not that it’s a basic project, but some of the most basic steps that actually begin and implement the AR journey. And I think one of the things that you’ve talked a little bit about is how core marketing fundamentals are critical no matter what medium you’re in, but also kinda getting outside your comfort zone. And I think in augmented reality, people are, they know that it’s hot, that they know that it can create this unique brand experience, but I think they’re intimidated about that; how do we do it? And I think that that was super helpful the way you just broke that down. I know another innovative project that Chevron has worked on has been a collaboration with Amazon Alexa and New York Times. Is that also something you kind of share some insight on?
Absolutely. That just launched a couple of weeks ago. And that’s another example of an emerging space that we actually went through a pretty traditional process to develop. So we were really intrigued with audio, and how do we do some audio storytelling and test in that space? We knew we didn’t have the expertise in-house to take on something as high intensity as like a podcast series, which your team definitely knows the amount of work for that. But we did get some insights that Alexa skills, there’s a lot of them out there and it’s a space that brands are starting to experiment with. So we talked to a number of publishers and the T Brand Studio at New York Times came back to us with this idea that we could build a quiz-based skill. So we have a fairly complicated energy space, is not always that simple narrative. So how do we tell more nuance, multi-chapter storyline using audio?
And so, what we decided to do was we had three categories of questions. And we built this quiz experience, where the audience kind of picks what area are you most interested in learning about first, and goes through a series of questions related to that, and then they get encouraged to explore the other two chapters, let’s say. But how we approach developing a quiz-based skill is you start with a copy document, and we started exploring what are those three topic areas, and then what are the questions using third-party data, would we want it to kind of craft the question and answers? And we went through several rounds of a copy document, back and forth, very similar to any kind of creative exercise. Another critical step in a voice skill is understanding the user flow. So that was something we spent a lot of time on. I’m like, talk me through how this is gonna work. How’s the opening going to work? How is the person going to be guided? What kind of question or copy are we gonna give them if they start to experience problems? So walking through that whole user journey was very helpful for me as someone new to the space, but also helped us explore the trade-offs and decide what we really wanted the experience to be like for someone who decided to engage with the skill.
Well, I’m absolutely interested in learning more. And so, this weekend, I’m gonna go talk to my Alexa, so what should I do?
All you have to say to your Alexa is, “Alexa, play Chevron Energy Challenge,” and it will start the skill for you.
It’s just so interesting to me how so much of what you’re saying kinda is coming full circle though, because again, for being a new sector, energy or even frankly just be to be, in general, AR and voice is I think that’s very innovative for the space. Again, those are both areas where I think a lot of brands are trying to figure out what can we do and how can we play in this space to be more relevant, but I don’t think they know all the steps to get through, and I think people are a little intimidated about doing it. But as you were talking about the voice project, not unlike the AR project, it reminded me of, again, something that you have experience with from a past life is when you were talking earlier about e-commerce and website building, and all of that. Because what are we trying to do in that sense? We’re trying to figure out what’s the user flow, what if the user does this, what if they do that, how does this relate to this, what type of action?
So it is interesting how all those marketing skills continue to be relevant regardless of what direction you’re going through technology, through a new medium, what have you? So that’s really insightful information and I’m eager to kind of learn a little bit more. I read the New York Times everyday and I have far too many Amazon Alexas in my home. Both of those are quite ingrained in my day-to-day life. As we start to wind down, I do wanna kinda hit on one last topic that, again, I think is really something that makes you a unique guest, and that is, as we talked about earlier, you have some really impressive companies that we’ve kinda talked a little bit about. I mean you worked at IBM, you were at Digitas, you were at Accenture, you’re now at Chevron. These are all global brands, and you really have some unique experience. But you also have this balance of client side and agency side, and you’ve actually managed agency teams as well. So, talk about how hard was that transition from one side to the other?
I wouldn’t say it was hard, I think the fact that I’ve sat on both sides gives me an interesting perspective. So having sat on the agency side, I understand the multi-step approach of how you go from having an idea to having a finished product, and the review cycle that occurs within an agency, and all the steps that happen before a client even sees the first round of work. I understand the importance of a good client briefing because that actually is the basis for a creative brief that the agency then will create to bring it to life for the creative team. And so I understand the whole process within an agency of how the agency model works and how they have an entrepreneurial review process and steps that they need to take before work is shared with a client. So, that helps me as a client when I look at a project schedule, understand why there’s various steps.
When I was sitting on the agency side and I had had the past client experience of sitting at the client, at the client, there’s also lots of layers or there’s a whole way that clients work gets reviewed and approved, different stakeholders, different steps in the process of when do you bring it for a legal review or that whole thing. And so, I think it’s important and I think it gives insight into the multi-layers and how work gets done on both sides, and these two parties come together then to create great campaigns. A client, it takes a great client and a great agency or a set of agencies to really bring to life an impactful campaign. And I understand having sat on both sides, the challenges, how does work work well in both of those environments. I think it gives a balanced perspective and I think it makes me a better client having sat on both sides.
And then having that balance, and you said something earlier which I’m a big believer in as well, which is; great clients and great agencies can really do great work together, and it’s hard if one of those two are out of balance. And I know sometimes though, agency-client relationships can be misaligned. So much has been written over the years, especially in the digital age about agency-client relationships, but what advice would you give both sides that kinda create a productive working relationship?
Well, I think a productive relationship is built on trust. I do think some of the best teams I’ve sat on, we’ve had a very open and honest relationship. That means giving, as a client, giving very meaningful feedback. And as we like to say in my current job, we talk about making our thinking visible. So as you’re reviewing creative, if something’s not working, trying to explain to your best of your ability why it doesn’t work. And again, the challenge of the creative world is that it’s very subjective. And I think that’s the biggest challenge an agency faces, is unlike a technology project which is very black and white, the code compiles or it gives you an error, in the world of creative ideas, it’s much more subjective.
So, having a relationship built on trust, I think for an agency having really good active listening skills, where you’re trying to glean from your client what the feedback is, stating that back, and making sure you’re aligned, and then when you bring back work, having an option that at least addresses what the last round of feedback is. Even if you need to show a client that there’s maybe a better way of doing it, the best meetings I’ve been in is when you show the client what they ask for, and then you show them some other options that might tweak and make the idea even better. When I’ve seen that happen in meetings, when I’ve been on the agency side or in the client side, these tend to be the most productive meetings I’ve been in. And usually, you end up with an even stronger idea.
I completely echo that sentiment. I kind of tell a lot of the team around me that sometimes, setting expectations and listening on the agency side are so important. And then if a client has an idea or a customer has an idea, that’s okay, I think it’s our job to then try to take that idea and show them how it could be even better, and then use that opportunity to collaborate and ultimately get to something that’s better. So super helpful advice through the lens obviously, on both sides in terms of client expectations of an agency and an agency expectations. You also said something I think is absolutely true, whether it’s a business or a personal relationship, alright? You have to have trust, you have to have open communication, and I think that’s what’s gonna lead to a good relationship.
As we wind down, I’m glad that… It’s funny that this season, which is our fifth season, there’s a couple of guests on, that I’ve been trying to get on for a couple of years, you are one of them. So I’m glad. We’re all in different time zones. You’ve been traveling quite a bit lately, I’ve been traveling quite a bit, even today, so I’m glad we could make this work. My final question is, how can people learn more about Chevron? Although, I think everyone knows about Chevron, but how can they learn more about Chevron and how can they learn more about you?
Chevron, I think just visiting our website, is probably a great place to start. We’re also really active on social media channels: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, so you can certainly see some of the great work by checking us out on social. And I can send you more information on my various projects, too, Brian, if you would like to check those out on your own time. And then, for me, I’m fairly active. You could find me on social channels and I have a LinkedIn profile, I’m on Twitter, not as active as I used to be, and Facebook and Instagram as well.
Alright. Well, you share some good stuff on LinkedIn. That’s where I see you the most. And I think that’s where I see a lot of fellow peers and executives in the industry. So you’re definitely a good follow across LinkedIn, I would recommend seeing that. And I would love to see a little bit more about some of the things that we talked about today. So Andrea, I thank you so much for being on the Brand Life series with us today.
Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure.
Tags: B2B, Technology, Brand and Marketing, Customer Experience, Technology
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