The Shifting Landscape of Marketing and Advertising with Deep Focus CEO Ken Kraemer

04.05.18
Interviews

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Ken Kraemer is the CEO of Deep Focus, a premiere creative advertising agency based out of New York City.  Deep Focus has a deep set of capabilities ranging from research and strategy through distribution strategy and delivery.  The firm’s work has been used by some of the top consumer brands in the world, including Lays, Starbucks, Microsoft, Samsung, IKEA, HBO, and others. 

 RJ: Could you tell us a little bit more about the two organizations you lead and your role (Deep Focus and Moment Studio)?

Deep Focus is a digitally focused advertising agency.  We have been around for almost 15 years now.  Deep Focus is all about trying to help brands connect with consumers in places where they like to spend their time digitally.  A lot of that these days is in social and distributed media, things like the Facebooks, Instagrams, and Twitters of the world.  We work to help brands fit into and shape unique digital cultures on those platforms.  Most brand marketers are still not used to that sort of a format and that sort of a forum for getting brand messaging across.  And that’s really what our specialty is.  That’s kind of where Moment Studio came from –  Moment Studio is a part of Deep Focus. It’s a unit specifically focused on creating social content in a nimble way that can be efficiently produced and yet still relevant.  Content that can really help brands broadcast an authentic voice in social channels.  My role there is obviously helping create an environment where great work can happen with leading brands.

RJ: Is there a particular project that you could highlight that demonstrates the power of effective marketing communications?

We’re really proud of the work we do for all of our clients.  We have a fleet of clients that we’ve just started working with over the last six months that we’re really excited about.  A lot of the work is starting to find its way into the market.  We’ve recently worked with HBO on a number of their titles, work that really does a great job of cross-messaging through traditional media into channels like Facebook.  We have also used exciting new “wide marketing tactics” like Facebook Wide and Instagram Stories to help give events and marketing messages more dimension.  That’s some of our favorite work that we’ve recently done.  Specifically, it was for “Night of Too Many Stars” with Jon Stewart where we partnered with HBO to create a big cultural movement on behalf of autism charities.

RJ: You work with brands across different sectors, including financial institutions and some charities.  Is there a difference in how you approach these different verticals and their associated audiences? 

There definitely is a difference.  Every initiative we work on with a brand has its own unique challenges.  We really try to understand how to bring value and interest to a consumer who’s gone on to a social platform or their phone to connect with a friend and see what’s going on in the world.  If you want to intercept that interest and create a brand message, it better be really valuable.  The way we work with most brands is by figuring out what’s going to be valuable or interesting or entertaining to the consumer.  How are we going to help fill a gap in their lives?  We use this to back out an opportunity, which we actually call the human opportunity.  How can we back out an opportunity that a brand could fulfill?  That may be one thing for a bank, for example taxes given what’s going on politically.  Is there some value, or utility that a bank could provide around the political conversations going on right now?  Separately, is it a food brand or CGP brand?  Is there value in how someone can make a different meal solution for their family or a different beauty solution for unique personal beauty goals?  There are a lot of different ways you can use modern digital channels to meet consumers where they are.  But it all starts with the question of how can we help a consumer and how can we fit into their world versus interrupt it.

RJ: Could you explain how you use data to improve the way you reach target audiences and monitor the effectiveness of campaigns? 

That’s a good question.  Most marketers view data as an output of their work.  For example, we collected this information, or we reached x people with y in a click through.  That information is very important and interesting—we call it the management information part of data.  It’s important to be able to say with certainty what happens during a marketing initiative or a campaign.  However, we believe that the other thing to think about is how to use data as an input and not all brands are ready to do this.  We try really hard to use the same data that you might use to plan, manage, and execute a media campaign to actually inform the creative process.  Media agencies have done a really good job of painting an interesting picture of opportunity based on the data that’s available.  For example, you could have a view of the potential success with a customer segment that exhibits certain behaviors and has done specific things in the past.  That’s interesting information that can shape the message format and content that you create.  That’s the first kind of data that is really interesting, growing, and useful.

The second is using data to optimize work.  For example, running concurrent tests on social platforms with different kinds of creatives.  Then optimizing the creative frequently enough that you’re actually getting a noticeable uptick in performance.  To do this well, and where most people fail, is that you need to define what success looks like. What are the KPIs we are solving for? You have to understand the data proxies that point to success early enough so that you can optimize the work.

RJ: What are some of the tools you use when working on behalf of ecommerce clients?  How do you drive as much traffic towards ecommerce channels as possible?  What are some of the things you think about or differences in the way you create your content and the mix of mediums utilized to distribute it?

I think what’s really interesting about the ad industry, and specifically digital advertising, is the fact that decision making around what brands to consume or to purchase is evolving very rapidly.  The human decision-making process isn’t changing very much, but the speed and the way in which people make decisions is changing rapidly.  Let’s take Amazon Prime for instance.  Amazon Prime has become almost a first filter for some consumers, whether they recognize that or not.  If they decide there’s something they need or want and if it’s not one of the first three results on Amazon it may not have the same consideration level as a marketer desires.  That’s a really complicated shift for most marketers to cope with.  We have to think about patterns of decision making on behalf of consumers.

The fundamentals of ecommerce haven’t changed much beyond that.  We’re trying to deliver a very highly qualified lead to a purchase point.  Now the purchase point is usually an intermediary, it’s not necessarily delivering someone to “brand.com” anymore.  Many of our clients struggle with a methodical way to make the decision of whether or not they should spend media dollars on driving traffic to Amazon or Jet or to their own property.  That’s a tough decision to make.  Helping clients make those decisions is part of what we do.  We also work to create what we call “shoppable creative.”  Creative that not only leaves you with a brand message, but also a product focused message or a call to action that takes you right to an experience and maximizes the consumer’s ability to purchase.

For example, I saw an ad, I feel good about the brand, but not only that, I know what product to buy to have that brand experience.  Of course this decision making process happens in a consumer’s mind in a couple of milliseconds or seconds versus the minutes it takes me to describe it right now.  These are the kinds of thought processes and tools we’re trying to think about.  Your media mix definitely changes, but it’s been quite a journey to get brands to not think necessarily in a direct response way, which is how ecommerce advertising used to work, and more in a storytelling and shoppability way.

RJ: I guess a lot of the creative work and content that you produce is focused on the “build up.”  It sounds like you have to work in parallel with the content you’re producing and the content that one might see on Amazon.  Is a lot of the work you’re doing focused on the build up to get the consumer bought in?

There are certainly different shopping modes and certainly different decision-making modes, but what a model like Amazon has done—and I think most consumers don’t even realize this has happened—is it has actually removed the concept of a shopping cart.  You no longer have this need to let me have a fully considered shopping cart to decide whether or not it’s worth the shipping costs, because you’ve taken that barrier away.  There is no efficiency in the shipping, which in the early days of ecommerce was really important.  Shipping for all intents and purposes is free.  Now you have a much more lubricated path to purchase than we used to have.  You can literally sit there and think, I really need this, before I forget, let me just purchase it.  You go to your one click and you say purchase and it’s on its way.  Of course on the back end, Amazon does its good work of saying, okay, if there is x purchases within y hours we’ll lump them together and save ourselves some shipping costs.  But that’s on Amazon, as a consumer you don’t have to think about it.

To your question, that is a very different shopping mode than the mode of I am going to spend some time, sit down, pop open Amazon and fill up a cart and what are the nine things I need right now.  The onus is on brands and partners like us to intercept people at the right point, understand what they need and provide them with a very lubricated and frictionless path to purchase.

RJ: You mentioned earlier the concept about whether or not marketing is interrupting people or providing a more thoughtful message depending on a consumer’s receptivity or shopping mode.  How does a brand not interrupt people and instead utilize a more appealing approach?

There’s no silver bullet unfortunately, but there are a few philosophies and tactics we use.  There’s a whole segment of marketing that’s focused on less intrusive methods.  Everything from branded content, like having product placements and “brought to you by” messages.  They all work and they’re all relevant and versions of those methods do work in social as well.  The more affordable, measurable, and effective ways of doing it are really focused on understanding how consumers are using social and digital platforms and what their mindset is when they’re encountering a message or an opportunity from a brand.  The key is making sure that the content is additive to their experience versus detractive as an interruption.

I’ll give you a great example.  I’ve been using a free weather app for years.  The only money they’ve made off me is whatever they’re getting for the low-cost advertising that shows up in the app.  Just today they introduced a feature so that when you swipe between screens, video ads show up. They’re full frame, vertical mobile videos and if I can’t get around that ad I’m going to be picking a new app, because I’m in a very specific task oriented user journey to check what the weather is today.  I’m trying to see the weather and no way do I want to watch a video that’s for a game download.  So that’s a highly, highly interruptive ad strategy that isn’t providing any value.  Now, if it provided an ad or a video experience around three things to do in preparation for a snow storm brought to you by Home Depot, I might be interested.  I might actually sit through it and say, “Wow, they know that there is this crazy snow storm hitting my area right now.”  That’s the difference.  It’s very hard to automate, it’s very hard to make programmatic or buy programmatically.  But it is the difference between effectiveness and interruption.

RJ: You’ve been in this field for quite some time and you’ve obviously seen it evolve.  How exactly has the industry changed over time with all these new technologies?  What are you excited about going forward?  Where do you think the industry is headed and what are the new techniques or tools that you think are going to be the most impactful?

If I knew the exact answer I’d probably be leading a company that handles change in the space.  I’ve always been in digital marketing, but I started out in an agency that was an incubation of a very traditional advertising agency, one that made its name in television and print advertising, so really early days stuff.  It’s still a really a creative force in the industry.  Being in a digital agency at a company like that was really super interesting because you learn the fundamentals of media and creative, but you’re also posed with the challenge of trying to adapt or reject those fundamentals given the fact that digital media and how people consume digital media is completely different than analog.  My career has been an interesting cycle of helping clients learn the fundamentals, but also helping clients adapt to new technologies.  Never was that more clear than when Web 2.0 made the jump to social.  The fact that there was easy to use, widely available, and free platforms for anybody to connect with and communicate with anybody was a big change.

Suddenly the whole idea of paying to reach a certain consumer, which is the entire proposition of paid media, was changed.  Now you could earn your way to exposure and to reach.  The models of social platforms have evolved quite a bit, but brands and marketers have had to really learn that they can no longer just message their way through their budget and force people to believe what they want them to.  Instead, we have to earn that belief through truth of product experience and truth in messaging.  Brands need good products that live up to the standard of what consumers with buying power want.  You’re seeing this in CPG.  Nobody wants frozen food anymore, or not the frozen food that we grew up with anyway.  Marketing is the emotive extension of a brand product experience, no matter what channel you encounter or utilize.  Brands that live and believe in that concept are more successful than brands that don’t.

Looking forward, I think what’s most exciting and interesting to me are the changing thoughts around programmatic ad buying.  The science and technology half of me wants to believe that you’re really trying to buy an audience in digital.  So wherever they’re playing, whatever they’re doing, as long as you can deliver that audience it shouldn’t really matter.  On the flipside, the creative part of me really understands the consumer journey and meeting consumers on their terms.  It’s really interesting to see the shake out of programmatic and rise in brand transparency and brand safety.  Some of the more progressive brands are starting to engage with what we call creative media.  The idea is presenting an opportunity to buy reach with specific audiences using bespoke content or creative that really resonates.  It’s going to be more of an orchestrated experience than a programmatic machine-driven buy.  We think it’s going to have better KPIs.  Some brands are beginning to understand that there are not a lot of shortcuts left and I think that’s going to bring more talent back to the industry.

Hear the full conversation with Ken on iTunes at the GrowthCap Insights page. 

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