Two weeks ago, I attended Collision Conference in New Orleans. Set to the backdrop of Jazz Fest, powdered beignets, and the delightfully raucous Bourbon Street, the tech conference had been top on my list based on location alone.

Thankfully, this year’s lineup also proved impressive — from Al Gore closing out day one to Sophia Bush discussing her initiatives surrounding the Time’s Up movement (I actually ended up chatting with Sophia in the elevator, but that’s a story for another day).

What resonated the most for me, though, wasn’t the big headlining celebrity names; it was the conversations happening on the smaller stages, led by start-up founders, advertising executives, and leaders of global companies. Though their backgrounds, businesses and speaking topics were varied, these speakers echoed one another’s insights time and time again.

 

Listen to Your Consumers

This goes beyond the “consumer is always right” jargon and into a meatier subject matter, riddled with smart thinking.

For example, did you know Marriott geo-fences many of their hotels and actively listens to public social conversation? This allows them to keep a pulse on the mood of the hotels, as well as surprise and delight selected guests. Tweeting about your bachelor party and love for golf while staying at a Marriott? You might end up with a free round.

WWE also pays attention to their consumers in real-time, regularly scouring social and interacting with their not-so-shy, typically say-it-like-it-is audience. That’s why when #GiveDivasAChance started trending in 2015, WWE paid attention. Fans were frustrated by how little screen time the WWE Female Wrestlers (titled “Divas” at the time) were getting. “Our fans were frustrated that our women weren’t getting as much of a spotlight as they deserved,” said Michelle D. Wilson, Co-President of WWE. “Based on that insight, we changed the women’s titles from Divas to Superstars. We started recruiting differently and Ronda Rousey joined us. Now, we have some of the best female influencers in the world.” All because they monitored a social conversation then acted to improve the situation.

Peloton also acknowledges the importance of listening to their consumers. But unlike Marriott and WWE, they don’t need to actively seek out the data; it’s served directly to them via their 600,000 monthly subscribers. “It’s fun to have this consumer-focused model with a firehose of data behind it,” said Tom Cortese, Co-Founder and COO of Peloton. “It allows us to tailor the product and services specifically to the consumer” — everything from the class times to instructors.

 

Tap into Existing Expertise

Far too many companies, including advertising agencies, work in silos, each department responsible for their individual piece of the puzzle, but rarely contributing to the vision as a whole. But what happens when the IT Specialist has the next big creative idea? That voice may never be heard.

Thankfully, it seems many companies are figuring this out. Playstation hosts internal hackathons, technology fairs, and company-wide brainstorms to keep the entire company apprised on the latest and greatest internal projects, as well as to tap the expertise of the entire company on specific projects. In fact, this company-wide brainstorm model worked so well while developing Playstation Move that they replicated the process for Project Morpheus, the codename for their virtual reality headset.

Richard Marks, Head of Magic Lab @ Playstation, discussing his approach to innovation

Walmart is another legend that follows a similar methodology, hosting regular company-wide hackathons. It was during one such hackathon that the idea for Walmart Wallet was born, now the most-used digital wallet in the U.S.

This idea of tapping existing expertise is something we at RedPeg have recently started to push more of. Several week ago, we hosted Pair Eyewear to the agency and brainstormed on how to best take the brand to consumers from experiential and social standpoints. Some of the best ideas came out of IT and Finance, two departments typically cut out completely from the ideation process. Based on this insight, we’ve restructured our brainstorm process to make sure anyone with an interest or background in the client is involved in brainstorms, no matter the department or subject experience.

 

Values – Have Them

Though it should go without saying, company values are essential. They’re not only what brings new clients and customers in the door, they’re what keep your employees happy.

Take Harry’s, for example. The company was formed on the premise of establishing a new form of masculinity. A form that represents most men in America, not just those with chiseled jawlines, with a woman perpetually rubbing their freshly-shaven faces. This down-to-earth value can be seen in the ways the CEOs carry themselves, as well as in the way the brand talks about itself on social media. Take this post for example, or this video. The CEOs don’t take themselves too seriously and that sets them apart from the rest of shaving brands.

As Susan Credle, Chief Creative Officer of DDB Global, so wisely pointed out in a panel at Collision, “When you have values, it’s easier to say what you will and won’t do, what new business you will and won’t go after.”

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Actress/Activist, Sophia Bush, President of ACLU, Susan Herman, and Founder of MAKERS, Nancy Armstrong, discuss Times Up and tackling big issues in Hollywood.

In sum, we’re all out here, struggling with similar questions – how can we create, market, or maintain a product that continues to fill a need for consumers? WWE is competing against sleep, Peloton against boutique spin classes, and Walmart is taking on Amazon. As an experiential marketing agency, our work centers around the marketing piece — creating personal, memorable interactions with brands. We’ve done this through physically building out scenes from Assassin’s Creed, delivering Lavazza coffee to fans via drones, celebrating Pride parades up and down the East Coast with TD Bank and introducing GEICO to gaming. However, like the companies that presented at Collision, we too fight to maintain relevancy. We’ve been working hard since 1995 to make brands mean more, and we’re only just getting started.