Q&A with Ron Pynes, Senior VP at Merkle | Axis41

Topics: Axis41, Brand Strategy, Branding, Customer Experience, Digital Experience, Featured, Merkle

After more than a decade of experience in media planning and account services, Ron Pynes co-founded Axis41 in 2001. Today, as Partner and Senior Vice President, Pynes leads customer experience and strategic services at Merkle | Axis41. Throughout his career, he has worked for corporations like Ogilvy & Mather and Novell, and clients like Mattel, American Express, Intel, and Microsoft. We sat down with him to get his thoughts on the importance of strategy in marketing and advertising.*

CREATIVE IS ALWAYS CHANGING. TECHNOLOGY IS ALWAYS CHANGING. WHAT ABOUT STRATEGY? HAS IT CHANGED SINCE THE DAYS OF MAD MEN?

PYNES: I would say the mechanics of strategy as a whole have not changed much. That’s because the essence of strategy is simple: it’s a plan of execution. It gives you direction like a compass to determine where you want to go and how you will get there. The difference today is that how you execute your strategy has to be more disciplined, more technical, and a lot more thorough. Think about the game of baseball; it hasn’t really changed over the last 100 years, but the players are a lot bigger, faster, and more specialized than they used to be.

SO THE THEORY HASN’T CHANGED. HOW HAVE THE TACTICS?

PYNES: At Axis41, we use three components as we develop strategy for our clients—brand, technology, and data. Today, how a prospect or customer experiences a brand is more important than ever. The brand is not just about what you make, but about what you make possible. Marketing technology has become the distribution channel for how you get your message to your audience. And the data piece can inform you exactly who your audience is, and what message is most relevant to them at any point through the sales or loyalty journey.

These three elements create relevant and meaningful customer experiences. But they all have to work together equally. If you use just data and brand—you can come across as creepy and annoying. If you use just technology and data—you lose that human touch and the emotion of your brand. That’s why, when it comes to these three balanced elements, it’s an all or nothing deal.

THAT SOUNDS LIKE A LOT OF WORK.

PYNES: It is, and it’s much more complicated. You have to think in a multi-dimensional marketing space now. When I started my career in advertising, you would begin with a fairly generalized message, design cool creative, build a media plan with some TV, print, and maybe a little direct mail, and then wait around for the next three to six months to see what happened. That kind of implementation doesn’t exist anymore, because it doesn’t work. There’s no accountability attached to a strategy like that.

When I planned media for Mattel’s Hot Wheels, we’d target mothers between 25 and 35 who read Redbook or Better Homes & Gardens. Our targeting was just that simple and that broad. Today, say you’re Dodge Ram. You can target owners of seven-year-old Ford F-150s with 150,000+ miles, and that have had mechanical issues in the last three months. Not only that, you can narrow it down even further to these same owners that have watched a YouTube video about hauling capacity, visited an aftermarket parts website, and live within a 10-mile radius of a Dodge dealership. Throw in some neuro-analytics and neuro-content research and you can see why we say “anonymity is dead.” It’s just a different world we live in now.

HOW ARE MARKETERS DROPPING THE BALL WHEN IT COMES TO STRATEGY?

PYNES: Like I said, your game plan is critical. Nowadays people are oblivious to how much information they give up to marketers. And on the other side, marketers are just as oblivious on how to best use that data.

A friend of mine was telling me about how after she bought some shoes at the Nike Store, she was immediately bombarded with Nike ads on her phone about the shoes she had just purchased. That’s not a smart strategy. Too often marketers think, “Oh I have all this data and the tech to distribute it, so I’m just going to hit them with a random message or campaign because I can.” That creates apathy and distrust. That’s why a balance in brand, technology, and data is the correct approach.

 

What Strava (an app that tracks cycling, swimming, and running stats via GPS) has done is really smart. They, of course, have their own brand, but when I log on—I’m the brand. Strava is just in the corner providing an experience. It has my pictures, my data, and every ride I’ve done. It has become the brand of Ron. Not only is Strava creating a great experience, it is creating an experience of my experiences. That’s smart.

 

Successful brands of the future won’t force their message or their brands on people—they’ll embrace the brand of their customers. And using a great multi-dimensional strategy to create relevant and meaningful experiences is exactly how they’ll make it happen.

 

*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.