By nickjohnson - February 5th, 2014

This week's interview is with Bob Stohrer, the Senior Vice-President of Brand and Creative at Yahoo! Bob has been at Yahoo for just over a year, and previously he was Chief Marketing Officer at both Clear Channel Digital and Virgin Mobile USA.

Bob Stohrer, SVP of Brand Creative at Yahoo! Bob Stohrer, SVP of Brand Creative at Yahoo!

Bob is joining us at the Incite Summit:West - and will be participating in our keynote session entitled "Customer-Centricity in Action: Use proximity to your customer to deliver more effective marketing". We spoke to him about customer-centricity below, as well as other major trends he sees for marketers in 2014.

Welcome to the Incite Summit, Bob! To kick things off, can you describe your role at Yahoo?

Of course. I started at Yahoo just about a year ago to head up brand creative for the company.

The group that I oversee is focused on the stewardship of the brand globally – which involves everything from ensuring that we’re represented consistently across experiences to driving programs that build brand awareness, affinity, and predisposition.

We also have a core creative team that includes designers, art directors, writers and engineers who together build campaigns and experiences that support our products and brand.

A good way to think about us is as an internal agency that is built to function in many ways like an external agency.

To that point, our team includes ‘Planners’ - a function that’s common in the agency world - who work into the organization to make sure our creative teams are fully nourished with all the necessary information and insights to build great campaigns.

I was speaking with Ivan Wicksteed, CMO at Old Navy a few days ago. He will be speaking at the Incite Summit:West about the trend of brands taking creative in-house - as opposed to having it managed by an external agency.

Evidently that chimes with your own work at Yahoo. Why have you made the decision to bring creative in-house?

Nowadays, it’s critically important that marketing and creative teams are in a position to move rapidly and intelligently to take advantage of insights and emerging opportunities.

There’s an increasing trend among many marketers to move away from building big, traditional seasonal campaigns.

Having an internal creative center of excellence means that we’ve always got teams invested in the business that are ready to roll. That said, we also want to have a few electron agencies around our nucleus and we typically look for creative shops that can move in parallel with us and are able develop and execute ideas without having to go through a big learning curve.

Our own research very much echoes your comments. This move towards a leaner, quicker, and more agile marketing department has been mentioned by plenty of Chief Marketing Officers over the last couple of months. Many executives link this transition to a focus on ‘customer centricity’.

Is that a term used internally at Yahoo? Is it a popular concept there?

It is. We’re incredibly focused on customer centricity. It touches on our business in a plethora of ways - but here are three examples:

Customer Service
Our Customer Experience teams (care agents) are readily accessible to customers over the phone. Many other companies have moved to online solutions that can further frustrate the customer, but we’ve bucked that trend, and staffed up with highly qualified employees who are equipped to handle a broad range of customer needs and issues. We see that as a real opportunity to turn an issue into a customer who is ‘ignited’ about our brand, so we’ve put a lot of emphasis here.

Another good example of our customer-centricity is our segmentation study. We spend an incredible amount of time looking at how our users are interacting not only with individual products, but also with all of Yahoo’s services and apps. Our goal is to always be moving users on a continuum from casual to avid Yahoo users who are engaging with many of our products across multiple platforms.

Our own services
We as a company have got an incredible platform, one that reaches 800 million people every month.

As we continue to roll out new products we have incredible cross-marketing opportunities on our network.

More importantly our cross-platform scale and ad solutions offer an incredible advantage for our advertisers and partners as well. We are able to take a view across different platforms, with different ad solutions, and come back to them and say “We can objectively look at all the things that you’ve done with us - whether that’s search, video ads, native ads, and we can tell you what is working really well, and where to strengthen - and where you might want to trim back”.

So the customer-centric insight we have are not only vital to us, but to our partners and advertisers as well.

Customer-centricity is obviously a powerful approach - but any sensible company knows there are limits to the power they should hand over to their customers.

The “30 Days of Change” campaign around the design of the new Yahoo! logo is something where you didn’t actively go out and seek customer feedback. Could you explain the reasoning around that?

Logo choices from the Yahoo '30 Days of Change' campaign Logo choices from the Yahoo '30 Days of Change' campaign

While we didn’t open the logo design to crowdsourcing, we did conduct a number of focus groups on the logo before launching the '30 Days of Change’ campaign. So as we started to close in on a final logo design, we had really good consumer feedback.

We also actively engaged Yahoos (employees) across the world when the logo was in development. When you’ve got 12,000 people to weigh in who have both history with the brand and sight lines into the future of the business - you have an incredibly valuable resource.

On ‘crowdsourcing’ specifically, our take was that we had a really good sense of what we wanted the logo to represent, and a big part of that was where we were going. We wanted the logo to represent - not only today, but tomorrow as well. It’s challenging for everyday consumers to look beyond the here and now.

I’m sure the last year has been an exciting, challenging and interesting one for you. What’s the biggest thing that you’ve learnt along the way?

I’ll give you four things:

The power of mobile
Mobile is more powerful than ever as a marketing channel. It has become more contextual, more targeted, more personalized, and is able to deliver an experience for both the publisher and the advertiser that just wasn’t there a couple of years ago.

Contextual brand experiences
As a marketer, the ability to augment your brand with advertising experiences that are in context is incredibly important. In a fragmented world, one of the things that marketers have really struggled with is “How do I keep my brand narrative alive?”.

We are providing advertisers with experiences that create adjacencies to content that bolsters and strengthens their brand. I think the creative canvas that’s now available to people, and the content that they can align with, is a really important component of keeping the brand flame burning.

The power of insight
Insights are incredibly powerful and potent. While you should always balance insight with big ideas and a powerful brand proposition, at the end of the day, the intelligence that you have access to every day is an incredible tool that you’ve got to put to good use.

The old methods don’t work
Marketers have to be ‘programmers’ nowadays. The old marketing playbook of how to construct a campaign, and what works, needs to get thrown out of the window.

People need to be thinking about how they can be nimble, opportunistic and how they can ensure their brand is appearing at the right time, in the right places with the right message. Good advance planning is still essential but marketers also need to be ready to continually refine and adjust their plans.

What do you see as the biggest shift, trend or opportunity for a marketer in the coming year?

I think that whether you’re a marketer, or you’re building products every day, big ideas still win the day. There’s so much noise out there and so many choices and options for people that the validity and integrity of your idea or your product is more important than ever now.

That concludes the interview with Bob. For more on agile marketing, check out our article on the topic here. And to learn more from Bob (alongside many other CMOs and SVPs of Marketing from large brands) then check out the forthcoming Incite Summit:West, which is taking place in San Francisco on May 13 -14.

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