Episode 25 – Interview with Nicola Smith

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Episode 25 – Interview with Nicola Smith


My guest on the show today is Nicola Smith. Fascinated by new forms of communication and technology, Nicola drives thought leadership around innovation and serves as a pivotal educator of emerging technologies, participant behavior and digital trends. In her 15 years focusing on innovation, emerging technologies and customer experience, Nicola has led strategy around first-to-market opportunities in social media, mobile marketing and content development, gestural, voice and touch-based interfaces, augmented reality, virtual reality, DOOH, and more. Her innovative client work has included projects for Verizon Wireless, Maybelline, Coca-Cola, PUMA, Microsoft, 20th Century Fox, Nestle, GE, Carter’s, Chick-fil-A, Cisco, Toyota, AT&T, Nike, Pepsi, Turner, Mondelez, Cox Enterprises, L’Oreal, IHG, Newell Rubbermaid, P&G, HP, Visa, The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and others. Nicola is an active public speaker, regularly sought for her expertise in innovation, emerging technology, customer experience and emerging trends.

Highlights from this Conversation

Related to Digital Marketing

  1. What has worked well for you?
    1. Brands who understand their customer and are thinking about marketing from an omni-channel perspective
    2. All channels are aware of each other and influenced by each other
  2. What hasn’t worked well that we can learn from?
    1. Paid media will be disrupted
  3. What are you excited about?
    1. Marketing is a test bed for technologies that will then roll out to other areas of business.
      1. VR / AR

Interview Transcript

Adam: [00:00:09] Hi, and welcome to the Good People Good Marketing podcast. A podcast about non-profit digital marketing and how to make it better, so that good people and good organizations can have good marketing as well.

I’m your host Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways Eight, a digital marketing agency that specializes in non-profit work and 48in48, a non-profit dedicated to hosting events that build forty eight websites for forty-eight non-profits in forty-eight hours.

My guest on the show today is Nicola Smith. Nicola is fascinated by new forms of communication and technology. She drives thought leadership around innovation and serves as a pivotal educator of emerging technologies, participant behavior and digital trends.

In her fifteen years focusing on innovation, emerging technologies and customer experience Nicola has led strategy around first-to-market opportunities in social media, mobile marketing and content development, gestural voice and touch based interfaces, augmented reality, virtual reality, DOOH and more. Her innovative client work includes a number of very well-known Fortune 500 companies. But I will pick out Coca-Cola and Chick-fil-A since they are Atlanta based, and I love those particular brands, but also the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and many many others. Nicola is an active public speaker, regularly sought after for her expertise in innovation, emerging technology, customer experience and emerging trends and is also fascinating to have coffee with and talk about Sci-fi. So Nicola, thanks for joining the show.


Nicola: [00:01:33] Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.


Adam: [00:01:36] I’m a little surprised that your bio did not include anything about Sci-fi, I think you need to rewrite it now.


Nicola: [00:01:42] It’s usually something I bring up when I meet people in person and then I’ll delve into things like time travel and sentient robots.


Adam: [00:01:51] Yeah I love that. That’s really what we should be talking about on this show is time travel, the multi universe theory and sentient robots.


Nicola: [00:01:58] Ya, that’s the whole podcast for you right there.


Adam: [00:02:02] I think I’d get left in the dust really really quickly, but I do enjoy it. Well this is great, so thank you so much for joining me. You’re a good friend, and I always enjoy chatting with you and feel like you always have really insightful things to offer and share. So I think our listeners are going to have a lot of fun today.


Nicola: [00:02:16] Great. Well, I’m excited, and I feel like you and I always have great conversations so I’m excited to share that with your listeners.


Adam: [00:02:26] Yep. Me too. Well here we go. So related to digital marketing, tell us something that’s worked well for you.


Nicola: [00:02:32] So you know my background really started working on the agency side and, as you mentioned, I worked with a number of Fortune 500 brands, and one of the things that I see working really well right now is brands who have a real understanding of their customer and are thinking about marketing and engagement from an omni-channel perspective as opposed to being siloed. And I think that that has become a consumer’s expectation these days is to really be able to have multi-channel and omni-channel experiences.


Adam: [00:03:12] I totally agree. So I guess have you seen in the past where it’s been more siloed and now people are kind of coming out of the shadows in a sense and realizing, “Oh wow, we need a full campaign that has to go down all these different paths, e-mail and Facebook and Twitter”, and all that sort of things?


Nicola: [00:03:26] Generally the evolution that I’ve seen is that people have been playing in multi-channel, where they have a message in all of the relevant channels that they should be, and to reach their consumer. What’s shifted in the past couple of years, largely due to technology, mobile, social and integration, really at the brand level from a broad Sass technology perspective, is brands are now able to make sure that those messages are aware of each other and that those channels are aware of each other. And all of a sudden it starts to create a really seamless experience for the consumer and starts to provide real value to them. And so the shift has really been more in that capacity as opposed to suddenly brands jumping into new channels.


Adam: [00:04:22] Okay. Okay that’s great. And give me kind of a broad, more boots on the ground overview of what an omni-channel perspective would look like from your… So for example for a non-profit marketer listening to this podcast that’s not, you know, been in agency space, what is omni-channel in kind of a simple definition from your perspective?


Nicola: [00:04:40] Omni-channel is where all of your marketing channels and even customer experience channels… So think maybe you have a physical retail space or you’re doing an event, all of those channels are aware of each other and they’re influenced by each other. So the message may adapt depending on how someone has already engaged with your brand. So I’ll give you an example of places where I see brands missing the mark on this and where as a consumer this is really annoying. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of going to a website, finding a product you like, purchasing that pair of shoes or a dress or whatever it may be, and then the next time you’re online you see that brand serving you paid advertising, marketing the product you just purchased. That feels really lazy.

I came to your website, you know who I am, you know I just bought this product because I bought it from you, and yet you’re not taking the extra step to connect those dots when it comes to your paid media. Because theoretically what you could be serving me is, if I just bought a pair of shoes, you could be making a recommendation about a dress that would go really well with those pair of shoes. Basically it’s an ability to start to up-sell or kind of cross-sell products that brands are missing out on. And I think the same applies to non-profits, if you know someone just donated, don’t hit them up with another donation message but maybe you can then build on that with, “Here’s a way to get involved at the local level. Or here’s one of our events where you can actually participate with us in a different way.” And so it’s really about again thinking about it from the consumer or the donor perspective. And how do you connect the dots between what you’re doing as a brand, to create a seamless experience that isn’t just about selling a product or driving a single donation or whatever that first action might be.


Adam: [00:06:51] Right. Yeah, that’s really smart I mean tying everything together integrating everything together so that you have a more complete understanding of who it is that you’re marketing to, what they’ve done, and then how you can drive them to that next level of deeper engagement with your brand. I mean that’s key right.


Nicola: [00:07:08] Exactly.


Adam: [00:07:09] That’s fantastic. I love that. Ok, so now related to digital marketing, can you share something that’s not working well that we can learn from?


Nicola: [00:07:18] Well, coming from a trends background, I see some pretty massive disruption coming down the line specifically as it relates to paid media in the digital space. We’re already seeing signals from some of the big brands like Unilever who are really starting to question the real value of digital, and the transparency, or lack thereof, within the paid digital media landscape. So I think that there’s clearly a lot of work that needs to be done there, and I would expect over the next, really six months to 18 months, that we’re gonna see a pretty massive disruption across the paid media space. I’m not entirely sure what those solutions are going to look like, but I think you’re going to see a lot of the big publishers start to think about transparency in a really different way.


Adam: [00:08:16] Interesting, I’ll have to… Is there anything we should be looking out for in particular, or any publications we should be looking out for maybe to stay on top of that?


Nicola: [00:08:24] I mean, you’re already seeing it with changes in Facebook’s algorithm and the way they’re thinking about publishers and published content. Clearly Twitter is dealing with this in the wake of some of the things that have come to light, politically recently…


Adam: [00:08:43] Right, that shall remain nameless but everybody’s thinking about.


Nicola: [0:08:48] And from an industry perspective regardless of where you fall on that political spectrum, there are some clear issues with transparency that we are dealing with the repercussions of, and I do think it’s going to force some stronger guidelines. I mean Facebook just announced that they’re doing a program now where, if you are trying to run paid media against anything politically related, they’re going to send you a physical postcard in the mail with a code you have to use, in order to purchase paid media.


Adam: [00:09:17] Ya, I saw that.


Nicola: [00:09:18] All of these things are interesting steps in, theoretically the right direction, but there’s clearly no silver bullet. And I think you’re going to see a lot of publishers and platforms grapple with this over the next few months.


Adam: [00:09:42] Yeah, I totally agree. I think it seems like Facebook is taking some good steps. It will be interesting to see where those steps land them, what effect it has on their business as a whole, and how locked down they can really make it. You know it’s pretty difficult to do.


Nicola: [00:09:57] Yeah, and you know in addition to that of course there’s always new platforms, there’s new spaces that people, especially youth, are really exploring or spending their time. So it’s an interesting time to be in digital marketing that’s for sure.


Adam: [00:10:14] Yeah that’s right it’s always changing, always growing, always adapting and always iterating, so I totally agree with you there. And I do enjoy the challenge of it, but man it’s a lot to keep up with. And that’s why I’m doing this podcast really, is because it’s a lot to keep up with and hopefully by talking to really smart individuals like yourself, I can help all of us stay a little more current.


Nicola: [00:10:34] Absolutely. And I think that’s one of the best ways to learn is to look at what people are doing outside of your own industry.


Adam: [00:10:44] Exactly.


Nicola: [00:10:45] I think for the most part brands should be less concerned about what their competitors are doing and should be looking at other verticals for best practices and really ideas that they could apply to their own business in their own vertical.


Adam: [00:10:58] Yeah, totally agree. That’s one of the best things we can do as marketers is always look at other disciplines to understand where they’re coming from, why they’re doing that, how it’s effective, and then begin to see what we can begin to implement in our space to make ourselves more effective. And again, that’s why I try to interview a cross-section of people, even on this podcast, because you’ve got a ton of experience with brands like Coca-Cola and Puma and Microsoft and Fox and Nestle and these major brands and you can bring a perspective to digital marketing that somebody that’s a VP of Marketing at a smaller non-profit would not have. But then, the one non-profit can also share information for another non-profit and it just kind of goes in circles from there. But I think we can all learn a lot from one another.


Nicola: [00:11:42] And I think it’s important especially if you’re a smaller non-profit to remember that oftentimes the case studies that you see and the best practices that you see coming out of very large brands, are also accompanied by very large budgets. And one of the things that I tell the entrepreneurs that I work with and when I’m doing workshops with individuals, is take some of that stuff with a grain of salt and also understand that as a smaller company or a small non-profit, you don’t have to jump into the deep end with everything the way a Coca-Cola might right at the beginning. It can be a phased approach that grows with you as you grow your business. And that’s one of the things that’s great about digital, is that you can dial it up or dial it down depending on your bandwidth, your budget, how many initiatives you have running at a single time. There’s a lot of flexibility there in being able to shape it to what you need right now.


Adam: [00:12:45] Absolutely. And that’s really my favorite thing about digital is how customized it can be, how testable it is. To know, “Is this working, is this not working”, I can spend fifty dollars and find out. And really, we can produce tangible results for smaller amounts of money, and I love that. So next question, last question, awesome question is, tell me something you’re excited about related to digital marketing?


Nicola: [00:13:13] Gosh, there’s so many things I’m excited about.


Adam: [00:13:16] [laughs] What are you most excited about? I guess that’s the question right.


Nicola: [00:13:20] You know, I’m really excited about some of the emerging tech that I’m seeing that is more on the immersive side of the business. And what’s fascinating for me is marketing as a whole, and especially when we look at bigger organizations, is often the test bed for emerging technologies that have other applications across the business and so-


Adam: [00:13:49] Well, that’s interesting.


Nicola: [00:13:50] -You know I’ve played a lot and experimented a lot with things that honestly aren’t really that emerging, but are emerging as it relates to brands and business. But technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality are really really interesting to me because of the way that, on one hand they create fully immersive environments in the case of virtual reality, and with augmented reality, the ability to overlay information over a real world experience; is a fascinating opportunity for brands.


Adam: [00:14:29] Absolutely.


Nicola: [00:14:30] So those are probably the two that I’m most interested in just in relation to what I’m seeing brands start to do with them right now.


Adam: [00:14:38] Yeah I totally agree. I think AR in particular is going to be really fascinating and to see where it goes; I think we’re just in the infancy of that but it’s going to have huge implications for everyone. And I think what you said was really insightful, that marketing really is kind of a test bed for technologies that will then roll out into other areas of the business and have other broader applications; I think you’re right. I think marketing has a tendency to want to adopt things early, test things out, figure things out, and then we can begin to then take those technologies into other spaces where they can make huge impacts. So that’s really insightful.


Nicola: [00:15:09] Yeah, and honestly I mean VR and AR are great examples because for the most part if you look at the way brands started experimenting with them they very much were gimmicky marketing executions. Back in the day, when I worked at Moxie one of the local agencies here in Atlanta- giving some local love- but we actually did the very first execution of augmented reality for a brand in the U.S. and at the time phones didn’t even have cameras yet. So the question we were asking in regards to implementation for that was, “Do enough people have attachable webcams that we can legitimately execute this campaign idea?” Because we didn’t even… And so again these technologies are not new, but what’s interesting as I look at augmented reality, certainly tons of marketing applications, but I actually think the real value to brands is thinking about it in relation to things like logistics.

Imagine every person in your warehouse wearing a heads up display that means they’re completely hands free and are still able to scan shipments or packages, figure out where they need to go or what they need to be combined with. Think about it for training within your organization. So there’s a lot of business applications for these technologies that go far beyond marketing, and marketing is a great place, especially if you’re an emerging tech company, to actually start and get your foot in the door with big brands.


Adam: [00:16:56] Yeah I totally agree. I think that’s great. So let me let me see if I can summarize our conversation up to this point and see if I can paint a picture and give some takeaways to our listeners here. For what has worked well for you, you said, “Brands that understand their customer and are thinking about marketing from an omni-channel perspective not a siloed perspective.” So an omni-channel, we defined it as marketing channels that are aware of each other and are influenced by one another, and I think your example is great. If you buy a dress you shouldn’t get an advertisement for the dress that you just bought five minutes later or two days later. I mean, they should know that you bought the dress and now they should offer you a pair of shoes to go with it. Not that I’m necessarily buying a lot of dresses but I think that was a great point. There’s a lot of marketing being missed when one hand is not aware of what the other is doing, and I think that was really key.

Under what’s not working well that we can learn from, you mentioned that you think paid media is being disrupted and will continue to be disrupted and we’ll need to be just aware of that and sort of have our eyes open to see how that affects different channels like Facebook or Google AdWords and different channels like that. And then, of course, what large brands are going to do with that. This is going to set the stage for future advertising for everybody else, it’ll sort of trickle down from there. And for what you’re excited about, you mentioned that, and I thought this was really insightful, that marketing is a test bed for technologies that will roll out in other areas of the business and have huge impacts on logistics and operations. You mentioned VR and AR, and I totally agree. I think they are going to be major, major factors moving forward in the technical landscape for businesses. So, does that about summarize it and do you have anything to add to that?


Nicola: [00:18:40] Yeah, that’s about it. You know I could talk about the stuff all day long but yeah, that’s a great summary.


Adam: [00:18:50] Fantastic. So do you have any final thoughts then for our listeners that you’d like to share with them before we roll out of here?


Nicola: [00:18:55] Just that, I guess the one thing that I love about digital marketing is that it does really give equal opportunity to the big guys and the little guys. And if you’re one of the little guys I really would push you to get out there, experiment, and see how you can use the technologies that are available to you to create amazing customer experiences.


Adam: [00:19:21] I could not agree more. I think that’s a perfect ending to this episode. Nicola, thanks so much for joining us.


Nicola: [00:19:27] Thanks so much for having me.


Adam: [00:19:30] And thank you to our listeners for listening to the Good People Good Marketing podcast. To get more resources about non-profit digital marketing make sure to go to goodpeoplegoodmarketing.com, where you can find more podcasts blogs and other fun resources. Also if you want to find me, Adam your host, you can find me on Twitter at AJWalker and on my blog at adamjwalker.com, where I talk about leadership, productivity, habit building and the craziness of having five kids. Thanks for listening and tune in next time.


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