Advertising Hall of Famer Shelly Lazarus shares lessons every startup founder needs to know

A Q&A between Anne Busquet, managing director of Golden Seeds, and Shelly Lazarus, chairman emeritus of Ogilvy & Mather and a member of the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame

July 3, 2018

The present and future of marketing was the topic of a recent Golden Seeds fireside chat with Shelly Lazarus (left in photo), the chairman emeritus of Ogilvy & Mather and a member of the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame, and Anne Busquet (right in photo), managing director of Golden Seeds and a former senior executive at American Express and IAC. Below is an edited version of their conversation.

SL: The transformation has been extreme. When I came into the business, marketing was a simpler proposition: you could advertise on the radio, on TV, or in print. Today? You can basically start to create an audience of one, which we’ve always talked about. However, there’s been an incredible fragmentation of media, and there are a million ways to reach people. The explosion of digital and social media has created an enormous opportunity, but it also presents challenges to make the right choices to have real impact. It’s more fun than it’s ever been, but you have to put together a cocktail of communications efforts in a targeted, thoughtful way to be effective.

SL: Brands are great organizing principles. When you’re trying to start a new business, the ability to put together a cohesive set of values and beliefs, and think of your brand that way, is valuable. Great brands have points of view. You know what Nike thinks about things. We all want to know right now what Starbucks thinks.

Take the example of Dove. For women, it has tapped into the whole conversation about real beauty and being proud of who we are and how we look. At its heart, it’s soap and lotion — and there are hundreds of options out there. But, when you listen to focus groups, it’s very clear that Dove has differentiated itself as embracing this idea of real beauty.

Here’s another example of how companies live their brands. I was at Google one Monday morning when I saw people, every 10 minutes or so, walking across the campus holding a bouquet of primary color balloons. It was like something out of a Fellini movie. But it’s actually the way the company welcomes new employees — with balloons on their desks that let everyone know there is someone new to come say “hello” to. More traditional companies are less likely to do that.

For new companies, branding is an instinctive effort. It’s what you believe, what you want to stand for as people and the kind of environment you always wanted to work in.

SL: Customers are exposed to so much advertising that it’s easy for messages to get lost. TV watchers simply fast-forward through commercials. Internet browsers come with pop-up ad blockers. Let’s not even talk about the challenges the print industry faces. That’s all before even mentioning the competitive companies fighting for customers’ attention.

How do you break through the noise? Just over a decade ago, when you bought a TV spot, customers watching the show almost had no choice but to consume your ad. Now? No customer is going to watch or read anything unless they want to. That puts the onus on you to deliver content in a way audiences will stay receptive to it. You have to go big or go tight and targeted. I worked on a project that involved 25-minute videos, which would seem far too long for modern attention spans. But it was successful because the content appealed to customers, and they actually sought out the videos.

Also, corporate citizenship matters — especially the younger your customers are. A lot of companies aren’t paying enough attention to this. Brands become known as the white hats or the black hats, whether that’s accurate or not. Companies need to manage that proactively.

SL: Targeted marketing has become so ingrained that we almost take it for granted. Knowing everything customers have bought, where they’ve gone, and where they’re planning to go has enabled companies to personalize messages to an extreme degree.

You can sense the “but” coming here, right? As privacy concerns continue to dominate the news, and people become more wary of exactly what information they’re sharing, and what information they want to share, the ability to personalize could get more difficult — especially when you’re using third-party data.

Companies have to think through the privacy concerns, and think about how they can personalize if, for example, their customers opt out of sharing their social media data. There are still ways to personalize, but it requires a more concerted effort — both in data collection and messaging.

SL: The marketing opportunities for startups today are exciting. It’s not an exaggeration to say every startup, no matter your budget, can afford to have some sort of real, meaningful campaign to support your business. Take the time to figure out what message and campaign is going to fit with your values and help you stand out from the crowd.

Learn more about Golden Seeds companies and how women entrepreneurs are achieving success with Golden Seeds.