Podcast

Episode: 135 |
Alisa Cohn:
Senior Executive Coaching:
Episode
135

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Alisa Cohn

Senior Executive Coaching

Show Notes

Our guest today is Alisa Cohn, an executive coach, a writer, and a member of Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 Coaches.  Marshall Goldsmith is considered by many to be the leading executive coach in the world, and Alisa shares the story of how she got to know him and get selected to join this exclusive group.

You can learn more about Alisa through her website, www.alisacohn.com, and while you’re there you can sign up for her newsletter, which she calls a “barrel of goodness.”  You can also reach out to her on Twitter, @alisacohn.

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman: Hello Ciaran. It is great to have you on the show.
Ciaran Bossom: Thanks. Well, I’m glad to be here today. Thanks for inviting me.
Will Bachman: So, you have had an amazing career in all things digital and I’m really excited to explore that with you. Let’s start with just a basic question. So I’ve seen announcements by various pundits and thinkers and consultants that the next generation of executives, if they wanna be CEO, they need to have digital experience. What does digital mean? It’s more than just eCommerce, right? Tell me what digital means to you.
Ciaran Bossom: Yeah. I think that’s a great question. It’s top of mind for most C Suite executives, boards, executive search firms and others. I think it extends to the entire value chain of an organization, of an enterprise. Digital is basically modes of building, growing, and optimizing your business and your market share capabilities so that, again, you’re maximizing shareholder value.
And digital, which started out in the realm of marketing communications and technology, has grown in it’s capacity to alter the business landscape so far beyond those functional areas, that to be called upon to be a digital leader of an organization means you have to understand how to interpret signs and signals from the marketplace that require you to alter or fundamentally rethink your business model, rethink your operations and where you should place your biggest bets with respect to how you build and distribute products and services, how you staff and develop internal cultures and organizations to basically win in the market place, how you procure products to build what it is that you build or design what it is you design, and how digital informs all aspects of the beginning to the end of your business from concepting and designing new products to automating your go to market strategies and optimizing billion dollars spend in media to keep audience members/customers excited about what it is you sell and loyal to your brand proposition to how you use artificial intelligence or cognitive computing to improve or optimize the manufacturing process, and again, be able to generate faster prototypes of new products, test those in the market and move at speed to scale up those businesses that are considered to be innovators within your organizational portfolio.
So just in that brief paragraph, you can start to see all the different functional and sector areas where digital capability and digital knowledges can become crucial from data, marketing, technology, corporate strategy, finance, acquisitions, legal and governance, mechanics of operation and manufacturing. So that’s where I kind of see the knowledge of being a strong digital leader as being far more advanced and challenging than just “I can market product better because I have these tools that are digital” or “I can spin up an API really quickly because I have these digital resources that help me build things on the fly.” I think it’s a much bigger question.
Will Bachman: That was a real helpful summary to me. So it’s not just about, “Oh, I ran an eCommerce group,” or “I know how to use marketing automation,” but it’s thinking about incorporating digital across all parts of business. So just an example, for example, procuring products, how would a digital leader think differently about procuring products versus a non digital traditional leader?
Ciaran Bossom: Well sure. So an example there might be a brand marketer at Uni Lever. And they’re, at Unilever, like any of these other massive consumer brand corporations, are thinking about products that appeal to an entirely new generation of younger millennials who are interested in healthy, single sourced, all natural, environmentally sound products for their skin, their hair. This is sort of a sweet spot for a company like Uni Lever.
To be able to develop those kinds of products requires a fundamental rethink of how you supply the manufacturing division with the raw materials to actually create those products. If your procurement process is a 6 to 9 month apparatus built around very traditional product development cycles where you get your palm oil from Madagascar, and you get your whatever it is, your lye, from this source, and you’re buying it by the thousands of tons or hundreds of tons at a time, putting that into a very traditional marketing mechanism that’s used to sort of very slow methodical process development and then packaging design and working with outsource vendors to figure out what the bottle shape is gonna be, and going through rigorous testing …
That puts you at odds with a different form of marketing where startups and other companies that can quickly get prototypes out there and come up with alternative forms of procuring products/raw materials. Local vendors, local supply chains are going right to the producer, the agricultural producer, which is definitely happening right now, basically dis intermediates your entire supply chain and procurement process. So I think of digital technology as the means through which you use a platform to access manufacturers, producers, growers of specific core ingredients. And then digital allows you to bid for/acquire the product, transport the product, store the product and have it delivered in rapid time so that you can spin up your products much more nimbly than had prior been possible.
It’s logistics. It’s scheduling. It’s advanced notification of specific supply shortages. All of this is basically digitized information basically aggregated through a number of different integrated systems and services that all could come right down to a mobile app on a farmers phone, that allows she or he to inform distributors at the regional level or the national level of how much supply is gonna be available to fulfill that demand.
Will Bachman: You mentioned the digital leader would be able to detect signs and signals from the market. How would a digital leader process and gather those kinds of signs and signals different than a traditional leader?
Ciaran Bossom: Yeah. Well, I see the cycles of information rolling through the typical business as being kind of a semi annual evaluation of strat planning and looking at current market conditions as sort of a slow moving, semi annual, or periodic process of evaluating customer sales cycles, demand cycles, look at brand health metrics, things that typically in the past were sort of part of a launch and forget attitude among many industries using surveys, focus groups, retail and vendor relationship phone calls and meetings to make sure that the product that you were selling was meeting their needs, getting market basket analyses through third party research providers, to just see if you continue to hit your margins, hit your numbers, and if there’s anything in the sort of the broad horizon that might impede your progress as an organization, that was the traditional method.
Now, the kinds of signs and signals that you can be getting from at a very granular level, again, powered by digital technology and data, can help you on a day to day basis, hourly basis, bi monthly basis, give you a sense of how you are performing in the market place through customer feedback mechanisms, sometimes dozens at a time, as your ecosystem for marketing communications, product distribution, sales success and sales support, all start to integrate. And all of that data and feedback from customers who are offering up reviews, customers who are moving through the marketing funnel, who ask questions as they’re interpreting which product or brand has the best value for the dollar, the longevity of the product, et cetera …
All of that comes back in the form of data that companies that are more effective at filtering, aggregating and making sense of that data, can provide executive level dashboards and views of how their products, how their brand, how their organization is performing in the same competitive market space they’ve been in. But now they’re actually able to make shifts, dramatic shifts, regional national global shifts, or micro shifts, depending on the level and the rigor of the data, that will alter their outcomes, alter the product performance, alter their revenue performance, and ultimately have an impact on shareholder value. Does that make sense?
Will Bachman: It sure does. Let’s talk about your recent experience at Brown. Could you tell us some of the work that you’ve done there?
Ciaran Bossom: Absolutely. So I had come to Brown without much of a higher education administrative knowledge, other than my own journey as an undergraduate and as a graduate student. And Brown, like any other organization with a fairly traditional organization structure, and fairly siloed apparatus for administrating different parts of the school, deans that run various schools themselves, some of them full fledged degree programs, other sort of sub organizations within the school that weren’t fully independent schools so to speak, as well as faculty members, chaired faculty members, adjunct faculty, operations folks, IT folks, marketing …
It looks very much, once you’re inside, like a true enterprise. There is certainly a sense of individuality, and a sense that higher ed is very different from industry as they call it. In fact, it’s not very different at all. The cycle, the development cycle, the process of delivering great academic outcomes is very much in keeping with the way in which companies that provide products and services to people/consumers operate, in the sense that they build a strategy as an organization. And each department is then responsible for developing its own business unit strategy to support the larger strategy.
While there aren’t shareholders in the traditional sense. The head of the school is not really operating in the sense that they’re constantly optimizing shareholder value. They’re trying to optimize the outcome of the school in terms of making sure their students are successful, go through their four year journey effectively, learning as much as they can, graduating at the top of their class, and changing the world, and that their peers in the higher ed space look upon them as a top tier partner. And also, part of their goal increasingly is to build the credentials and capabilities of their graduate level programs, which unlike Brown’s undergraduate program, has a much harder time in certain circumstances attracting students from around the world.
Whereas Brown, like Princeton, Yale, Harvard and some of these very elite tiered ivys, have a dramatic number of applicants every year for undergraduate and can accept anywhere from four to seven percent, graduate school is a very different calculus for them. They don’t always have as easy a time attracting top talent. And they’re sometimes conquested by other schools that either have a deeper bench of faculty, a better known program, or just are more globalized in terms of their offering. And so that’s the challenge for them. And I came in as they were starting to evaluate and kick off what was, I guess, what is described as a transformation.
How did they look at their org design? How do they evaluate and assess their working culture so that they can make fundamental changes in how they operate, and then build capabilities, capacity, and competency in specific functional areas like technology and marketing, to better serve the needs of their broad community of constituents, both students and administrators and faculty internally, as well as the alumni who are to a great degree the source of their revenue, and for whom the connection to the school, as is in the case with most other schools, is fragmented over time? The value proposition starts to fade. Why do I need to give money to this school? What have they done for me lately?
So that’s the driver. That’s the driver. That’s sort of the objective function of transformations is how do we rethink how we do what we do?
Will Bachman: What were some of the digital initiatives that you led there? And I think you were the chief digital officer, is that right?
Ciaran Bossom: Yeah. So that’s the role. This is an interesting role for a university typically if lived within either the communications or the IT function. And sometimes it acts independently. In my case, I acted as a partner to the president and the CIO and the head of marketing. But the starting point for this had occurred about a year and a half before my arrival. And there was some foundational research being done to understand where the biggest gaps were in the relationship that the university was establishing and sustaining with key constituencies, the ones I mentioned, the stakeholders, student undergrads and grads, faculty, alum operations and staff, and which were the thorniest problems that were impeding the progress of the school at the greatest degree.
So what were the most critical drivers? And what were the contextual drivers that were important but not necessarily the core focus? And the early work was basically to investigate and unearth where those gaps existed, and understand more about the pain points within this journey that the student takes, and then the post graduate journey that they take through life, and how the school is successful or not successful in maintaining a relationship with the alum. And the same thing with faculty. Are they good at retaining faculty?
Are they good at acquiring them? Do they have enough diversity within their population of faculty? Is their concentration mix interesting enough to get top level educators and researchers? So you can hear in that sort of a mix of questions that all become part of an analysis and evaluation of where the core challenges lie, and then some hypotheses about where we might focus our energies to make some initial changes to test out ways to improve performance, improve the culture, improve the organization from a design perspective, from an organizational behavior perspective.
The start occurred in the alumni and advancement area. Obviously, it was the shortest distance to revenue, and it’s a very easy case to make in a non profit where there’s a board of trustees who are always thinking about how the school sustains itself and grows over time. Revenue is important. And so the alumni area was the key. The challenge there was they were turning over leadership. They were instituting some new technology that actually proved to be far more cumbersome than they’d realized. So it was very hard to actually start operating in a transformation while they were undergoing all of this upheaval.
So we shifted our focus to look at students, and undergrads in specific, because there was a lot of unmet need there, and a lot of frustration amongst students who felt that they were fundamentally disconnected, and that they’re journey was somewhat hodge podge because they didn’t know enough about this overwhelming number of campus programming activities and courses and extra curriculars that the school provided so much of, but had a hard time communicating to them because their mechanism for communication or for personalization really didn’t exist beyond an occasional email or a frequent email.
And there, you could see an opportunity to do a number of things. On the surface, this was about improving, personalizing, and digitizing communications through some type of a hub so students could find their way through four years of a journey that included all the different opportunities to explore what Brown had to offer academically and culturally and extra curricularly, and then find ways to be present where they thought it would be most interesting through context, through community, and through other mechanisms through which digitization of communications and technology and data would play a great role.
So there, we’re prototyping early hub based solutions, mobile web solutions, so that we could start to personalize their journey, start to serve up content in a more useful fashion. But behind the scenes, there was something larger at foot. And I think the larger piece of this was how do we help optimize student academic outcomes? What is it that digital technology can do to bridge the divide between faculty, who are encumbered for time and have limited resources to do their own peer research that they are required to do, that they are there to do to build their own careers and maintain tenure, or get tenure, and also sign up for and manage the grants, the grant writing, the grant funding process, which is at the core of most of the research that faculty do across this nation, and prepare for student classroom learning, build their syllabus, build their learning plan, sometimes from the peer research they’re doing?
And then how do they elevate their research when they’re on sabbatical or doing their work so that funders of the organization, alums, corporate representatives can see the value of the research as it’s being developed, and find a reason to commit based on these great things that these teachers are doing in brain science and cognitive computing, and personalized medicine? You name it. It’s being done at Brown and it has had great opportunity to elevate the relevance of the work they’re doing to society and also generate great interest and revenue.
But beyond that, student advising, a critical component of keeping students active, excited, and engaged as they start moving through to concentration, and then think about their careers and internships, that’s a fragmented process without a lot of digital connection points to help students succeed and not a lot of time for faculty to help advise in a constructive way. So the early part of the work that I was doing was to evaluate what kinds of systems did we currently have either on prim or in the cloud? What kind of data would we be allowed to proffer data governance rules and standards [inaudible 00:20:22] requirements … per standards, it’s like the TDPR of education, to allow us to bring in the kind of data that would help us help students choose a course wisely, choose a concentration wisely, and then find access points to mentors, alums, and other faculty members that could help them on their journey towards a great career more efficiently?
And so that was some of the early prototyping and experimentation, exploration, we were focused on. Incredibly rigorous really strong work, and it’s gonna be probably something of a five to ten year run before they truly get to that transformation/transformed state. Schools have the benefit to be able to … at least Brown and some of these ivys, they have the benefit of cherry picking some of these products because their disruption is not happening at the extreme pace that some of the other industries that we’re seeing, like retail or network entertainment, Telecom and others are facing, where they have to move fast. They have to be incredibly insightful about future vision. Schools can move a little bit more slowly. And that was what I found.
Will Bachman: I guess I almost have sort of mixed feelings about sort of that centralized hub. I mean, I suppose it’s … on the one hand, it’s a good thing to give a student visibility easily into all the cool stuff that’s going on in campus and the different activities they could get involved in and the different theater going on that evening, and all the different cool debate clubs and famous politicians visiting and all that.
I’m also a little bit feeling like part of the experience for me, I guess going on 25 plus years ago, was kind of just wandering around the science center and you’d see just fliers up or you’d have to read the Harvard Crimson, or you’d just look for notices and talk to people, like “What clubs are you in?” And you’d show up at the different organizations when they’re having the big informational meeting for first year students, and just kind of exploring and figuring it out. So I’m sure I probably missed many things that were awesome, but you were kind of more on your own as in the real world.
So I guess it’s kind of good and bad for making it easier for students. I don’t know if you would challenge that view.
Ciaran Bossom: Yeah. And I … So I see this in a number of dimensions. One, from a functional perspective. Does the physical product have to be a hub or is the personalization a layer of intelligence that lives wherever the student chooses to connect to campus or information points to find out what’s going on? It’s somewhat harder to do that if someone’s posted a bulletin in the hallway or something of an upcoming event. And believe me, that is the majority of where people currently at Brown are learning about stuff. There is a center right by the dining hall, [inaudible 00:23:26] dining hall, but the key point right before one of the quads where the bulletins are there. And the other way they get information is this inundation of email that just overwhelms them.
Now, another dimension to consider is a good number of students and an increasing number of students are first generation, meaning they’re the first generation within their family to actually attend school/college. And within that group, quite a few and an increasing number are coming from other nations and other places where technology is not a native state for them. Having a smart phone, having a phone, is not common. So the connections that these people have to make and the ability to navigate an Ivy league institution just to understand how to get to a classroom, how to structure an education program, is such alien terrain that it’s a high stress moment for them.
So are there ways to alleviate this burden and stress and democratize access to useful information so everyone can succeed? And as campuses increasingly invest in creating greater diversity of their student and faculty body, that the outcomes that those folks feel they’re getting from an institution and the investment of time and money, is actually fulfilling them. So I agree that the sort of ad hoc discovery is important and you can dial up or dial down the ability to have something serve up information to you. Like “Hey, I’ve got an hour here. I’m walking down the street. Why don’t you give me some location relevant stuff that I can be doing with my free time?”
Yeah. This generation of students right now expects a deeper and deeper degree of personalization coming to them from trusted sources so they can pick and choose what they wanna do with their friends, or to make new friends. And so there’s almost an expectation that the campus/the school knows them, gets them, has their back, and will allow them on their choice to provide the right kind of timely information on what’s going on. Or how do I navigate this crazy circus that is four years of undergraduate education?
Will Bachman: Yeah. That does sound better than when I was in school, which was, “You want help picking courses? Well good luck. Just go sit in on some the first week of class and see what you like.”
Ciaran Bossom: Oh yeah. It was a line … I remember Eris Hall where I got, over at Columbia where I got the MBA, you’d line up for course registration. And there was one person there who determined your fate, whether you got into the courses of your choosing or not. And that’s not really practicable anymore. So I think things have progressed. I think there’s a certain layer of Big Brother that we have to be careful to avoid. Students at Brown go to Brown because it’s an open curriculum. And it’s a pedagogy that is designed for you to challenge the status quo. And sometimes when you challenge the status quo, you start to think, “Look, I don’t want you following me. I don’t want you telling me what to do. I’m gonna figure it out.”
So you have to figure out sort of the gray space, the nuance space, where you wanna be helpful and encouraging, and then help them avoid the pitfalls, but not be so present that they feel like they’re being taken by the hand.
Will Bachman: Okay, like introduction to challenging status quo 140 meets at 9 AM. And here’s the syllabus.
Ciaran Bossom: Yeah. Yeah.
Will Bachman: Lets talk a bit about your work in digital agencies.
Ciaran Bossom: Sure. Yeah. Most recently, I started working for a kind of a fire brand, social media pundit, published author, self professed BC, brain child, named Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary came out of New York, son of an immigrant, family from New Jersey, father now runs a very successful wine company or wine store. He got his stripes basically starting early on doing eCommerce back in 1995 before anybody thought there was a way to use the Web for anything other than posting websites, and built a fairly robust agency around media, paid media and social media.
I joined the organization to run the San Francisco agency and build it back. It had gone through some ups and downs as digital agencies tend to. And I had a chance to operationalize some of our expanding media capabilities, data science capabilities, and fast track production abilities, which some digital agencies are becoming well known for, meaning: Can you find an opportunity based on social tracking of audience behaviors, quickly turn that into a brief, and then produce a campaign that will help our brand or our product position itself really well within this conversation or within this group of people’s emerging interest in a specific topic or theme?
Will Bachman: Can you give me an example of what that would look like?
Ciaran Bossom: So when the Cubs won the world series after a hundred plus year drought, ABM Dev, our client, was interested in figuring out a way to create a rapid success story that would be brandable around Budweiser. What could we do that would be intrinsically tied to that incredible moment in baseball and sports history where the world was shaken by the fact that the Cubs had finally ended their century long drought?
That was a situation where we saw the opportunity, basically because it was game seven of the World Series, to craft a brief based on how people were describing or engaged in fandom around the open Web and social media, the topics, the themes, the ideas, the emotions. Could we brief in a way to produce a spot so that if they did win, within a couple of hours of the win, we’ll launch a television campaign, launch an omni channel media campaign, with actual physical assets that describe the feeling of what it was like to be a long suffering fan that is finally finally able to celebrate their team’s success using Harry Caray, who I think was their late announcer, famous announcer in baseball? Can we get a voice over of Harry Caray and some video of that built in to sort of exalt in the unique fandom of the Cubs?
So within 24 hours, we basically got the insight, sold through the idea, built the brief, landed a team in Chicago, shot the footage, did the post editing and the CG, obviously set up the media plan, and deployed it across channels, in basically a 36 hour run. And that kind of nimbleness and speed to market is what differentiates these kinds of fast track, what do you wanna call them, digital agencies in campaign land. The same process would have taken three months for a traditional agency to propose. A, because they don’t accept that kind of risk. B, because their operational process just doesn’t work that way. They’ve gotta research it. They’ve gotta look at the insight. They’ve gotta put together a plan. Their creatives are not as nimble that way.
They wanna think about multiple iterations. They typically go right to TV because that’s what they’re mostly interested in. And so what you end up with is one or two ideas in the traditional agency that works really well on a television spot but is not ideally suited to cut down for a digital channel or digital channels.
Will Bachman: Yeah. That’s an amazing story. Let’s dive into that just a little bit more, if you’re allowed to. So over 36 hours. So walk me through some of the steps in a little bit more detail. So you’re putting together a brief. What’s that deliverable look like? Is it sort of a one page Word document? Is it sketched out? Who created it? I’m curious almost to hear, maybe kind of hour by hour, some of the things that were happening over that 36 hours.
Ciaran Bossom: Yeah. I’m happy to, but please forgive me, as I was not in the trenches with the team that did the physical work, though I know intimately how they came about the work that they produced. I’ll give you as intimate a description as I can.
Will Bachman: Yeah. Sure.
Ciaran Bossom: And then talk a bit about the artifacts and the process.
Will Bachman: Great.
Ciaran Bossom: So typically, the first step in hypothesis is obviously doing some on the fly research and sentiment analysis of live channels, so understanding audience behavior using now what is traditional social media listening tools like Radeon or Crimson brand watch, or others that basically tie into the API, or you pick the channel Facebook over more fast track like Twitter or Snapchat. Typically, Twitter is where news and sports fandom tends to be more rapid fire in terms of the volume of conversation than say a Facebook or some of the others.
So social listening gathers the momentum around what themes are percolating, what kinds of stories are being told, what kinds of videos are being shared, what kinds of content is coming up through the bottom up investigation of core groups of this audience that we’re really trying to target for the product in the first place. So we don’t have to do a whole bunch of segmentation in this case because we kind of know what segment we’re interested in. The tools that we use can help us to segment audience by type, by demographics, by behavior, by psychographics, all the general mechanisms for segmentation.
We can rapidly put that into a dirt brief, which is basically a one page brief that summarizes some of the key learnings, goals and objectives, reasons to believe, and reasons to validate why the brand has a right to play in this particular space. What are the key tone and manner of contributions we need to make within the creative to make sure it sits right with the brand architecture of the product? And the brief itself is, again, predicated on some knowledge of where people are engaging, what media channels seem to be the most robust ones for communicating great stories that people will likely jump on?
Will Bachman: These social listening platforms, do you happen to know, are there any of them that are relatively low cost or free for somebody, maybe an independent professional, who wants to do something, a quick look at what’s going on. You know, what does Twitter think about this particular company?
Ciaran Bossom: Yeah. I mean, there are any number of low cost or free versions of them, Tweet Deck, I’ll give you a few in a couple of seconds. Over time, these have become integrated into Sales Force cloud, Adobe Experience cloud, and other enterprise level automated cloud platforms. So bigger companies, bigger organizations, basically go through those mechanisms to use the same technology that previously had been independent. But there are some small freebies out there. And I’m not sure if it’s gonna be a Tweet Deck or something like that.
You can google them. I haven’t used some of the smaller ones or free ones in a very long time. And you can probably also get demos of things like Percolate or Sprout, or some of these other social content management social tools, on a 30 day trial, just if you had a specific consulting engagement and you needed to fast track some insights.
Will Bachman: Cool.
Ciaran Bossom: And I apologize because it’s been a while since I’ve focused on the quick and dirty ones. I’ve kind of moved up to the enterprise level.
Will Bachman: All right.
Ciaran Bossom: But the cheaper ones probably don’t have the depth of insight, probably can’t do the fine grain segmentation as effectively as some of the more enterprise level tools Adobe and Sales Force and others are deploying.
Will Bachman: What kind of thing would you get with the enterprise ones? Let’s say that I run a, I don’t know, I run a company that makes, I don’t know, some kind of brand of garden nutrients or something.
Ciaran Bossom: Sure.
Will Bachman: And I wanna see what people are saying of mine versus the competitors. Is the volume of activity going up or down?
Ciaran Bossom: Yeah. So yes and yes. Competitive analysis is definitely part of the output and the analysis that you wanna do, the work streams that you wanna produce, as part of the social analysis process, the listening process. You can evaluate sentiment or the quality and quantity of conversations around a competitive product versus yours. You can also start to unpack some of the challenges as people are shopping for products, the questions they’re typically asking each other as they look to peer based recommendations and reviews for different solutions for products for gardening or cultivation, whatever it is that this particular topic that you’ve come up with is vital to.
And look at their purchase path considerations. And start to do some inference, based on that audience members or audience topic, where they are in their process. And start to do some inferring about who is at the awareness stage, who is actually doing a bottom of the funnel evaluation of the product versus product at the store? So you can start to think about ways that you could tailor your messaging, your advertising, your content flow, to satisfy these high performing or high indexing themes and topics, either that are coming because of your product or coming because of the competitor’s product.
And depending on what your strategy is at the moment, use those tools to optimize your media, your media targeting, your media channels, your content that’s rolling out, as well as to your sales force who are trying to take sales qualified leads and convert them into customers, understand what key problems those customers are announcing on social channels, so that they can evolve their script and make sure that they’re solving the right problems to see if they can actually increase their conversion rate. And that’s another key component here is some of this has to ladder up to a KPI.
Will Bachman: Okay. Now that’s fantastic. So I got you off track. I’m actually gonna use this on a current project ’cause this is great. But we were talking about 36 hours. So you do this kind of research. And then you came up with some kind of brief and had to get approval from a client to move forward. What did that look like?
Ciaran Bossom: Yeah. So imagine some of this is parallel path. You have a planning team that’s working on a brief. The planning team is sitting right next to the social analytics team that’s doing some of the insights/research to help with the raw data that builds the brief. The production team is working out a production plan. That’s cost, resources. Do they send an internal team to Chicago? Do they hire local people? So they look at fees, they look at location, they look at equipment, costs, timing. And then they start setting up internal resources for post production editorial. Do they have the bandwidth? Do they have the resource allocation scheduler available to talk about who is gonna be available at this time of night to take the data when it’s being sent and start editing on the fly as the material is being shot?
Who is gonna draft the script? Okay. Get those folks in the room as soon as the brief is produced so that when we have the team together, they understand exactly what we’re trying to achieve, why we’re trying to do it, so they can hit the ground running with concepts. At the same time, you’re reaching out to the client, who has already sort of flagged that they’re really interested in doing something around the World Series and are looking actively for great ideas that are timely to spike media entrance and drive, arbitrage, a lot of that attention that’s living in social around this event.
So they wanna own the media moment, own share of voice, which is sort of this traditional media metrics for performance of advertising. So this is all happening parallel path. Once the brief is written, the brief is an internal document mostly to help align the team. The client business case is basically, “Here’s the idea. This is where we got the idea. This is why we think it will work. Here’s how we’re gonna play it out. These are the key determining characteristics of doing this. These are the risks. These are the opportunities. This is why we feel like this is the right path to go.”
Or we don’t even do that. We just give them some suggestions and say, “We can take path A or path B.” And let them come up with a determination of how they think that they should actually green light the production of this campaign. And then we give them metrics for success. What do we think we can do in terms of moving the needle, in terms of increasing share of voice for this particular product at this particular high media traffic event? How do we cut through the clutter and build a lot of brand interest and brand saliency for this particular moment in time?
Will Bachman: How would you measure something like that?
Ciaran Bossom: I would do brand lifts, I would do share of voice audience, again, amount of volume of conversation around the campaign/the ad, depth of engagement with the ad when it plays on Youtube, or pick the social channel that’s rich for video, number of plays, number of shares, number of views through … in other words, does it have a link to a specific product website? In this case, the engagement is more people who viewed it to completion, people who reviewed it a second time or a third time, people who shared it, comments and shares and likes and positive sentiment, which is more directional than it is deterministic about the likelihood of these folks to choose the product.
Ultimately, net revenue is critical. But this is sort of a brand campaign, so you wanna own the space for media. So it’s how much of the conversation around the World Series and the Cubs win is directed to this great ad spot that Budweiser produces? The same way that they do it at the Oscars or the Super Bowl when they spend millions of dollars to shoot commercials, their goal partly is to generate brand enthusiasm and generate share of voice around that particular media moment.
Will Bachman: This is really cool. As you’re talking about this, I’m imagining the Mission Impossible theme song playing in the background, as opposed to a normal two or three month process to create the ad, very very cool that you say, “All right. Come up with a concept. And tomorrow it’s playing.” It’s getting the green light and going forward.
Ciaran Bossom: I think it’s a really … I find it really fascinating and invigorating because it has such a translatability to the realm of product development and design thinking. So when you’re shifting out of the marketing role into the product design role, or the business design role, and companies are trying to figure out how they iterate quickly and come up with concepts and hypothesize really well and market test these products in near real time, could we do one sprint, One 1 to 2 week sprint, to come up with a prototype that we could then test and get really strong data that indicates that there’s high demand, it’s highly differentiated, customers would pay more for this than for the competing product, and all the go to market stuff that you need to evaluate really fast, and then get that to market as a startup might?
It’s the same process in some sense, that you need to martial resources effectively to do ground level insights gathering, but not so much that you’re encumbering the process. Nimble creative and design practitioners who understand how to problem solve purchase path gaps or pain points in someone’s journey, and quickly spin up something that is functional and feature rich, that entices them to be really excited a brand or a product and buy stuff. And I’m starting to see the connection points much more tightly tied together, which may be what is influencing a lot of these bigger enterprise advisory firms like Accenture, Deloitte and others, to start co mingling these services as one offering.
Will Bachman: It’s so powerful, and so many connections to consulting abilities, something super quick like that. Ciaran, I always like to ask guests on a more personal note, are there any routines that you have, either morning routines or any time throughout the day, that you’ve either been doing for a long time or recently adopted, that you really find work for you?
Ciaran Bossom: Yeah. Some of them relate to work, some of them relate to intellect, some of them relate to physical conditioning, and some of them relate to being a dad. But they’re all part of the same fabric of health, wellness, sense of purpose, sense of being able to share and collaborate and connect yourself to others in a way that is less about me and more about everyone else. It’s just how I’m wired. So my daily routine is typically I either am on the bike very early and doing at least an hour road training, in doors now, because I live in Brooklyn. And outdoors rough riding is just nowhere near as fun as it was when I was living in California.
Getting a meal, making sure my kids are sorted to get out to school, early on I am typically doing some kind of brain enlargement work, whether I’m doing podcasts, listening, taking a course in Ed Ex, or just taking notes from some of the articles that I’m reading from any number of periodicals on strategy or on behavioral psychology, or just general technology, things that are outside of my normal purview, so that I can start to be better at connecting the dots across disciplines more naturally, and just finding out what’s going on in the world.
After that, it’s usually connections like this one with you, emails and correspondence. I have a couple of sort of consulting job platforms that I check in with just to see if there are interesting assignments that I might sign up for. And then before I know it, it’s time to pick up my kids and engage as a dad, make sure that they had a great day, if I’ve set up a play date, make sure that they’ve gotten to that play date okay, and then just kind of find a way to weave back and forth between parenting and doing my work and making sure that I’m accessible to the network that I’m reaching out to for my next thing in life, the career, and for other kinds of help and assignments and mentoring.
Yesterday, I met with the daughter of a very senior executive at IBM who’s a friend of mine. And she’s trying to switch careers. And I spent an hour basically figuring out ways that I could be helpful to her and how she might think about her next year’s journey here in New York as a really productive and wonderful one. And then, I’ll set up some time with her to get her in touch with the right people. I love the ability to help other people connect and become successful. Probably, maybe later on in life, I’ll become a recruiter of some sort, a human capital or executive recruiter just because I get so much value in seeing people succeed.
Will Bachman: That is awesome to pay it forward. Any books that you have regularly gifted or have just meant a lot to you?
Ciaran Bossom: That’s a great question. Other than Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, or Percy Jackson series, which is the evening read for my kids, I think that some of the books that I’ve been reading all fit within our realm. I tend to focus very heavily on strategy books just because I feel like I never know enough. And I always feel that there’s so many smart people out there that can teach me something. So I’ve read recently Vijay Govindarajan’s The Three Box Solution. He’s a Dartmouth professor and an advisor to GE and other great enterprises.
Obviously Kotter writes great books, Leading Change, I re-read that one recently. Thinking Fast and Slow, Dan Kahneman’s amazing book on cognitive research into how we’re naturally biased across a range of different ways of thinking about the world and our place in it, an amazing book that I have already given away to somebody else. Those are some of the few that I’ve been reading over the past few months. And the list goes on. I mean, I also read things like Dana Boyd’s … this one came out about six years ago, called It’s Complicated. It’s all about the rise of this millennial generation.
And there have been a lot of books written. I don’t think they’re all accurate. But I’m always intrigued by an audience in a population size that so big that they literally change the way the world works. The last time it happened was with baby boomers. And now, we have it again with millennials. And it will probably happen again in faster fashion with the Gen Zs. But just understanding how an entire population can be described and oriented toward the world that helps us all rethink how we do things and why we do things.
Will Bachman: Well Ciaran, thank you for coming on the show and sharing a broad perspective that you have on digital and what that means. I learned a ton. It was really awesome.
Ciaran Bossom: Well thank you. It’s always great to connect with you Will. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to chat today.

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