Adweek and Bloomberg Media Group spotlight people and ideas in a tech-led world

Jen Robinson

“Brands underestimate how rapidly the customer journey evolves,” said BlackRock Senior Managing Director and Global CMO Frank Cooper III, speaking at the third installment of Adweek and Bloomberg Media Group’s ongoing event series examining the future of marketing in an interruptive world.

His comment underscores the importance of making human connections in an era when daily experiences – at work, at home, and everywhere in between – are being ever more rapidly redefined by technology.

Bloomberg Media Group Global Chief Revenue Officer Keith A. Grossman and Adweek Editorial Director James Cooper kick off the “Focus On: People and Ideas” breakfast, held November 14 in New York. Photo: Jamie Watts for Bloomberg

To help marketers understand this critical territory, Adweek Editorial Director James Cooper and Bloomberg Media Group Global CRO Keith A. Grossman welcomed brand and agency guests to a morning that included a briefing from Bloomberg Intelligence Sector Head, Consumer Retail Analyst Poonam Goyal and a leadership conversation with BlackRock’s Cooper, Betterment Vice President,  Brand Elyssa Gray and Xerox Vice President, Global Brand, Advertising & Media Barbara Basney.

After years of disruption, observed Adweek’s James Cooper, brands are now transforming to operate more nimbly. “The fact that data and technology are making businesses more agile is freeing up marketing leaders to create content and storytelling in fascinating ways,” he said.

Bloomberg Intelligence Sector Head, Consumer Retail Analyst Poonam Goyal gives a briefing on future consumer experiences. Photo: Jamie Watts for Bloomberg

Bloomberg Intelligence’s Poonam Goyal offered objective insight into why that kind of innovative storytelling is more important than ever. “Competing today is about connecting with the customer,” she said. “Emotionally, through your marketing, and through product.”

With mobile commerce doubling in the last three years alone, the future of retail lies in tech-powered personalization, innovation and experiences, Goyal added. Consumers are still spending, she said; what’s different is how people seek out value – and how much they value experiences over things.

Goyal cited Nike’s custom shoe offering as a prime example. “You’re not just buying a sneaker, you’re not even just buying a sneaker that’s endorsed. Now you can create your own shoe, have something different, have something to share – that’s revolutionary.”

Nordstrom Local, a new store in California, provides another key example of how retailers are innovating to draw shoppers in, Goyal said. The space is small, and it’s a showroom more than a store. You can try on clothes, have a glass of wine, get a mani-pedi – and your purchases are delivered to you later.

“That’s the future of retail – the consumer is changing, and you have to change with them,” Goyal said. “It’s about being able to move as fast as customers do.”

Left to right: James Cooper, Adweek Editorial Director (moderator); Frank Cooper III, Senior Managing Director, Global CMO, BlackRock; Elyssa Gray, Vice President, Brand, Betterment; Barbara Basney, Vice President, Global Brand, Advertising & Media, Xerox. Photo:

The panelists that followed Goyal agreed – connecting the dots beyond retail consumers. Business decision-makers, employees and professional collaborators are moving just as fast; brands that can make human connections across all will be best positioned for success.

“People continuously shift their behaviors based on the experiences they have, based on the options they have in front of them,” said BlackRock’s Frank Cooper III. “The decision-making journey is constantly changing, because you’re constantly getting a feedback loop from your experiences with a product, what you hear about it, your perception of a brand. It’s not a static thing.”

BlackRock's Frank Cooper III shares insights as Betterment's Elyssa Gray looks on. Photo: Jamie Watts for Bloomberg

That idea is integrated into the way Betterment’s marketing and product teams work together, said Elyssa Gray. “It always has to start with the consumer – what problem are we solving for?” she said. Starting with what they hear from customers, the product team builds a roadmap; then marketing tests those concepts with people who use Betterment.

“The marketing team can help shape the product with the product team, but it really is all coming from the customer,” Gray said. The process is one of constant iteration, with user testing and feedback all along the way as new products get developed, launched and refined.

Such a process demands a very different kind of workplace from the “assembly-line” approach that proved successful in previous eras. “Communications and marketing are inherently integrated, interdependent, interlinked,” with business efforts, said Xerox’s Barbara Basney. “You can’t even begin to function in silos anymore.”

Xerox's Barbara Basney shares key marketing insights with guests at the Adweek and Bloomberg Media Group breakfast. Photo: Jamie Watts for Bloomberg

Xerox, she said, used that team-based approach in collaboration with agencies Y&R and Wavemaker to launch “Set the Page Free.” The program tapped more than a dozen internationally famous creative talents to collectively produce stories designed to illuminate the modern working world – and also benefited global literacy efforts.

Xerox tech enabled the project from workstream to website to app. “We created an enveloping experience embedded with our capabilities,” she said. “The idea was unexpected, culturally relevant, humanly engaging. Because guess what – business decision-makers are people, too.”

In a world that’s increasingly business-to-human over B-to-B or B-to-C, the art and science of connecting is critical for the future. Adweek’s Cooper concluded the conversation with an exploration of what the next ten years could look like as culture and technology evolve.

Creating relevancy, evolving at the pace of culture and technology, and tech-powered personalization stood out for the panelists – especially as lines blur between work and life. “The traditional demographics no longer serve as a proxy for how people think and behave,” said BlackRock’s Cooper. “That will be a massive unlock in the next ten years.”

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