67. Damien Sterbecq on Strategic Planning & The Collision Between Uber and The Parisian Taxis

Business Director of Brand Activation and Digital for Cb’a, Damien Sterbecq has 20+ years experience helping brands succeed in product packaging, retail and digital: the three main consumer touch points.

How does your job fit into the branding process? CB’a is the brand activation and design agency specializing in the three consumer relationship touch points: product packaging, retail, and digital. As the Business Director, I am the one who guarantees the success of our agency’s work. Over the past 20+ years I’ve worked in customer experience, digital, customer relationship management, advertising, and currently brand activation and design.

How do you define brand activation? Brand activation boils down to entering the consumer’s life and creating a deeper engagement between the brand and its consumers. The end of brand activation is the beginning of the traditional marketing and advertising methods and techniques brands use.

Yes, brands can use marketing and advertising, but it’s important to recognize that consumers don’t share “advertising;” they share content that is entertaining and that has an impact on them and that they find interesting. The goal of brands today should be to increase top-of-mind by creating useful, engaging, and high-quality content that consumers want to seek out and, by extension, share.

Begin by creating a real consumer insight that leads to a unique idea that can become the foundation of a brand activation campaign.

What are some brands that you have worked with? LCL, Banque Populaire, Unilever, Pepsi-Co, Edition Francis Lefebvre, FMCG

As a small startup, should I invest my limited advertising budget on an advertising campaign or on a brand activation campaign? Strategic planning is the first and most important aspect of any campaign, brand activation or otherwise.

Advertising is reminding consumers that you are still in business; brand activation is pushing consumers to buy your product instead of your competitors at the crucial time when consumers are in the market to buy what you have to offer.

If you’ve a limited budget – and especially if nobody knows you exist, then I’d recommend investing your budget in the sales and customer service experience and bring in profit and revenue. Then you can begin focusing on advertising and brand activation.

Today, your brand’s clear, unique and decisive value proposition is what persuades consumers to purchase your product or service over your competitor’s.

What are a few misconceptions brands commonly have about your industry? That television advertising is still the most important means of staying top of mind with consumers. If your target consumers are older, then yes, television plus web is the most important. But with the younger generations, the internet is your best bet for reaching them and staying top of mind.

Further, ways of staying top of mind with your target consumers are constantly changing. This is one of the reasons why I love what I do – it is never boring!

What can you tell me about user experience design? You have customer experience, which includes each and every touch point between the customer and the brand. The brand user experience refers to the experience as it pertains to a specific digital interface – i.e. on your website. This user experience is very important because if your customers have a bad experience on your website, it’s your responsibility and your customers will hate you for it.

But if you sell a physical product then online user experience is but one part of the experience. Customers will likely have more experience with your product packaging design than your website user interface.

It can sometimes be complicated for agencies when brands have such strong convictions about who they have to be and the opportunities they have to take that they don’t take full advantage of our expertise and experience.  They meet with us and explain that:

  • “We HAVE TO be like this.”
  • “Why do you HAVE TO be like that?”

Often times brands and their agencies don’t always agree with each other and most times agencies have a difficult time explaining their ideas to their clients about why we disagree with how they “HAVE TO” be.

How long can a good branding strategy last? Bill Bernbach said that “A good branding strategy can remain untouched for decades.” Well, that statement was said in the 1950s before the internet and digital. Today’s branding strategy lifespan is less and less than it was before. You don’t want to rebrand your branding strategy every year, but I would recommend taking a serious look at your branding strategy every three years or so.

The Parisian taxi services have had the same strategy for over 20 years. Why would they change? However Uber’s business model and branding strategy has been met with an alarming success and has become a serious threat to the entire industry – revealing how antiquated and outdated their service has become.

If the Parisian Taxi Federation had been paying attention to what was going on in their industry, they would have seen Uber as a potential threat back when it was originally founded in 2009, and then an imminent threat when they launched UberX. Today the taxi federation’s success depends on how quickly and effectively they can update their branding strategy and business model to compete to this threat.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: As of 19 December, 2014, UberPop will be banned in France for ‘unfair advantage.’]

This is also happening to smaller and unknown snooty bars and restaurants who depend on a steady stream of tourists who have no way of alerting other tourists to stay away from the restaurant. Sites such as Trip Advisor is making all businesses and restaurants rethink their branding strategy.

What are some problems brand have distinguishing themselves from their competition? First things first, define your brand promise and selling proposition that ONLY you can offer people.

I have a small marketing budget, any advice? If you truly believe in your brand’s success, but lack the budget to advertise it, then seriously consider bringing in investors who are willing to put the necessary money into your marketing campaigns.

I want to do your job, any advice? Build your social network. It’s easier to find employment and move up in a company when you have other people recommending you.

63. Samantha Bilodeau on Data Mining Techniques & How To Predict Consumer Behavior

Data Miner for Ogilvy Paris, Samantha Bilodeau has +10 years experience analyzing data and helping brands discover their consumers on a deeper level.

How does your job fit into the advertising process? Data mining is typically one of the first things brands want done, either as a prerequisite to an advertising or marketing campaign or as an audit of the overall health of their brand. I work mainly with account planners and strategic planners. I don’t normally work with creatives, however that is something I would be open to doing.

Data mining is the study of monitoring consumer behavior. I begin by uncovering:

  • Descriptive statistics: developing a snapshot of the consumer’s current behavior – age, gender, demographic, which of your product(s) consumers purchase and how often, how many coupons do consumers cash in, etc.
  • Predictive statistics: using probability to anticipate what consumers will do, what, when and how they will buy your product next and assessing your brand’s position in the minds of your consumers.

For example, if data mining reveals that your brand’s typical consumer goes shopping every week, but only purchases your product once a month, the brand must address the problem and then encourage consumers to return. For example, perhaps:

  • Your package size is large enough that they only need to buy your product on a monthly basis
  • Your brand is considered a parity product and consumers don’t actively seek out your particular brand

In my experience, brands usually have their own data and it’s my job to organize that data, combine it with other available information such as questionnaires or online information and then interpret that data into actionable solutions for the brand. For grocery stores it could be your purchase history. With tele-communications companies it could analyzing the amount of time you spend talking on the phone and communicating via text message.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Refer to the book Emotional Branding by Marc Gobé for more on how brands collect information about you and how you can use it to better meet your consumer’s needs.]

For example, I once worked with a large hypermarket that wanted to create a personalized mailing list catered to each ‘type’ of consumers who were shopping at their store: Single? Married? With children? If yes, their children’s ages? Etc.

For predictive statistics, the company had data from several questionnaires as well as a fidelity card program where families could register in exchange for discounts. With this data I was able to determine the family status of each individual customer in their customer base:

  • How often they shopped
  • Which products they purchased and in what quantity
  • Which products they bought faithfully and which they bought periodically
  • The hours during the day they usually when shopping
  • If they cancelled their fidelity card, was it due to bad service or through a competitor’s marketing
  • Etc.

This snapshot then allowed us to personalize the brand’s mailing lists by predictively anticipating the best products and promotions to offer each consumer category, when to schedule more cashiers to meet the influx of consumers, and so on.

For example, if your business is run on a contractual or a subscription model, then understanding who is unsubscribing and why will give you an indication as to who is likely to unsubscribe in the future. If you’re a tele-communications company and you notice that an unusually large number of consumers who typically use their phones more to send written communications than they do to talk to a person directly, then you might be able to deduce several things:

  1. The consumer didn’t use all of the services that came with the contract, either because the consumer didn’t care about the services, or perhaps because the consumer wasn’t sufficiently informed when they signed the contract.
  2. Disruptive mobile applications (such as the free Facebook messenger) may have diminished the tele-com’s current offers to the point where those consumers now want the least expensive offer available.
  3. A competitor, having conducted their own data mining and already uncovered the profitability of this developing consumer behavior may have launched a special offer aimed directly at that demographic.
  4. That your competitor’s special offer is so appealing relative to your current contractual agreement that consumers are willing to end their relationship with you for your competitor’s offer.
  5. That unless you act now, that identified percentage of consumers within your target demographic who prefer text messaging may soon be enticed to leave you as well.

Can you walk me through the data mining process? First, we sit down with the brand and create a brief to uncover the objectives of the company and the data mining process. I need to understand all of the problems the brand wants to solve. Typical questions we could ask include:

  1. What target(s) specifically does the brand want me to address? To be more efficient? Because a lot of customers are leaving for an unknown reason? To follow up on an advertising campaign and determine the campaign’s conversion rate and profitability?
  2. What does the brand think is the cause of the problem they’re having? This question is particularly important as a hypothesis to determine if the brand has any deeper underlying problems that need to be addressed such as brand mission or another internal inconsistency.
  3. What data mining have they already conducted and what were the results? This helps us compare with the previous results, know if we need to present the data in a particular way congruent to the previous data’s layout and could save time by not re-analyzing data.
  4. What data is available? How old is the data? In what format is the data?
  5. Who at the brand is in charge of the project and who else in the brand’s company might be interested in knowing the results of our analysis? This question is important at the beginning when I am determining the different variables because if later it’s discovered the Sales department could benefit from the analysis.

Step two is retrieving their data, either via USB key or through access to their online database, and configure it for my statistics software. There are many different software available for analyzing consumer data which can come in the format of: .txt, .xls or .csv files, for example.

Reliable data mining software include:

For step three I confirm that all of the data files sent to us can be correctly configured into my data mining software. If their data files were incomplete or corrupted, then I try to salvage what data I can before contacting the client to explain the problem and discuss possible solutions.

I then follow up this step to ensure that the values are correct and that there aren’t any important values missing. With all that correct I am now confident I can data mine and answer the objectives outlined on the brief.

Step four is analyzing for the descriptive statistics.

Step five is analyzing for the predictive statistics I mentioned earlier.

Step six is turning my findings and recommendations into a PowerPoint presentation that answers the brief for the brand to understand and act upon.

And finally, step seven involves incorporating the model into the brand’s database for future use.

From there, the findings may go to the strategic planner who incorporates the findings into his branding strategy or to the creative directors and copywriters who then create an advertising campaign.

Typical data mining models include:

  • Scoring – the probability a consumer would do something such as purchase a particular product, unsubscribe to a mailing list…
  • Text mining – analyzing open-ended answers and customer comments against a dictionary of words to determine positive and negative feedback.
  • Percentage – percentage of consumers who are happy with a particular product
  • Classification – regrouping people who have similar behavior and profiles and sort and adapt them according to each grouping.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The books Consumer.ology by Philip Graves and Buy*ology by Martin Lindstrom as well as my interview with Peter Spear discuss the risk of including questionnaires in your data mining models, notably how questionnaires subconsciously influence the consumer’s decisions, thus potentially rendering the data gleaned useless.]

What is the importance of investing in data mining? Understanding your consumer is the fundamental building block of a brand and absolutely crucial to a successful communications campaign. Imagine spending all your money creating an advertising campaign or paying a public relations expert to communicate the wrong message to your consumers and potential consumers!

Secondly, basic problems such as a low conversion rate or a mass customer exodus with no apparent reason are often symptoms of a larger problem(s) that data mining can help detect shed light on.

At what point should I consider investing in data mining for my business? Data mining can be quite expensive, but like I said understanding your consumer is crucial. So monitor your global statistics: conversion rate, rate of consumers joining versus leaving, etc, and when you get to the point where you have so many consumers that you can no longer monitor everything they are doing, then is the time to consider periodical data mining analysis just to stay on top and in touch with them. You could run probably some pretty good statistical models with as little as 1,000 consumers.

What are some misconceptions brands commonly have about data mining? « Tu peux faire tout ce tu veux aux chiffres ! » Translation : “You can say anything with numbers!” Meaning, some brands may approach data mining with a preconceived outcome that they want the data miner to validate, regardless of what the actual numbers indicate.  Like I said, it’s good to have a hypothesis so we can test your expectations against the actual data, but the objective should be better understanding your consumer, not making sure the numbers prove your point. If that’s what you want, then you’re wasting your time and money.

Another misconception is that data mining can be done quickly and easily. Rule number one is ensuring that all the data has been transferred correctly. That is the most important and time consuming step. If your raw data isn’t correct, then your results won’t be correct.

Another time consuming step is actually translating the results of the data mining into actionable information the brand can take and use.

How often should a brand conduct data mining on its consumers? It’s important to begin slowly and overtime invest more deeply.  The thing about data mining is more you learn about your consumers, the more questions you’ll have and the more you will want to learn about them.

62. Eric Auvinet on Visual vs Text-based Ads, The ‘Perfect’ Woman & Consumer Testing

Copywriter for JWT, Eric Auvinet has +15 years experience mastermining the ideas and copy behind advertising campaigns.

What’s your creative process for coming up with an idea from the brief? The first thing I do is to find a nice quiet place to compare ideas. Many agencies have a ‘creative room’ specifically reserved for idea generation. When Julien Chesné and I worked at Saatchi & Saatchi they had a glass room on the top floor of their building that overlooked all of Paris. It’s really a beautiful view and a great place to come up with ideas.

A good starting point for me is to begin by recounting memories, stories and associations – related or unrelated – from my past that pop into my mind as I’m thinking about the product.  And then brick by brick my art director and I construct a framework on potential campaign ideas. During this brainstorming time expect to jump quickly from idea to idea, so it’s imperative you jot down notes so you can remember your ideas. Doing so allows you to:

– Reconstruct your idea’s logic in case the client or your creative director asks you where you got the idea from
– Helps you keep track of your good ideas so they aren’t forgotten during the brainstorming.
– Allows you to step away from them and then look at them again in the future with fresh eyes and new information and experiences.

How much time do you have to come up with ideas for the client? When I first began in advertising we would have upwards of a week. Nowadays clients typically give us 2-3 days.

Why do you think that is? Many factors, I believe… because of the process, time, increasing competition, technological developments, and profitability of the agency… At any given time art directors and copywriters may be working at various stages on multiple creative briefs.

What are some campaigns you have worked on? Toyota, Reporters Without Borders, Universal, Bouygues, Yoplait, Opel,  BMW, Nestlé

Ads are either prominently visual or prominently text, how you decide which should take the lead? You shouldn’t necessarily go into the idea creation campaign having already made this decision. Doing so would only limit the amount of ideas you come up with. That being said, experience has shown me that visual advertisements are more effective than text-based ads.  Simply put, visuals evoke stronger emotional reactions more quickly and register are remain longer in the consumer’s brain than printed text.

So being a copywriter in a prominently visual media, what is a copywriter’s responsibility? To clarify, the term ’copywriter’ in and of itself is officially defined as “a writer of copy,especially for advertisements or publicity releases.” But in the art director/copywriter team role, a ‘copywriter’ is much broader than that: in this sense a better definition would be “concepteur/redacteur” (loosely translated from French as: Designer/Editor). In this team setting, the principle is: Idea first, then format.

That being said, I work with my art director to find the right campaign idea be it a scenario, picture, sentence or copy (text), and secondly we come up with the best way to combine those ideas. You cannot have a visual without text to add sense to the photo and relate it to the brand or product being advertised.

What are some misconceptions brands commonly have about advertising? Some brands can believe that the agency doesn’t care about the brand and are only doing what the agency wants to do or to win awards. So agencies must be comprehensive and thorough in their creative process so the brand understands the reasoning behind the advertising. I would not show the brand the notes I took during the initial brainstorming process, but explaining to them how we came up with the idea lets the brand know that we in fact do care.

A second misconception could be for brands to find a balance between ideal and real. Society places greater value on the ‘perfect’ male or female form. This is why there are modeling agencies that create a collection of the ‘model’ human for consumers to compare themselves to and to aspire to. It is for this reason that brands prominently use models in their advertisements, that the sun is always shining in their advertisements, and that even the most beautiful landscapes are further photo shopped to look unbelievable.

Fashion brands use models because they want to inspire their consumers to be better, and more down-to-earth brands such as Dove use everyday people to accentuate the message that it’s okay to be who you are.  There really can be a great branding advantage to using ‘real’ people in your advertising. This decision, I think, comes down to your branding strategy.


What trends have you noticed in advertising? Advertising budgets are getting smaller, more and more brands are depending on consumer testing before an advertisement is officially launched ‘just in case’ the advertisement isn’t well received. This is due in part because on the company side each person has their own responsibility, they want to be safe and prefer not to sign off on anything until they are absolutely sure that it will be successful.

The brand has undoubtedly put a lot of time and money into this one campaign, and understandably wants to be sure they are going to minimize risk and guarantee success, but this kind of thinking actually kills creativity.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Refer to Peter Spear’s informative interview on the benefits and consequences of consumer testing.]

What are a few of your favorite advertising campaigns?

I have a small advertising budget, any advice? First invest your time and money into building a product with at least one strong quality that you are proud of and are willing to stand behind. If you don’t believe in your product, how can you expect anybody else to? Once you have that, advertisers can do the job of creating the idea or key insight around your product’s strong quality that you can market to your consumers.

Also, once you have that product, be patient and cautious of the advertiser(s) you choose. Nobody is perfect and art directors might lead you down a wrong direction. Nobody is perfect.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Refer to Akim Zeraouli, Art Director for Y&R’s interview for excellent advice on how to tell good creatives from the bad.]

Secondly, know who you are. How can you tell others who you are and why they should buy your brand if you don’t know who you are?