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4 questions with Chris Bowler - How customer-led marketing and data are changing the game

Chris Bowler, SVP, Social and Content Marketing at Razorfish, helps lead his clients forward in the use of ever-evolving social media and content marketing channels. Chris will be joining us at the upcoming Social Media Strategies Summit in San Francisco, February 7-9, to share how marketers can use Facebook and Twitter audience insights to create personalized ads. He let me pick his brain a bit about how consumer-first marketing and data are changing the game. 

Having worked in the marketing field for over 20 years, you’ve seen traditional marketing blossom into the customer-obsessed, digital, experiential-driven industry that it is today. What are a few of the most exciting trends you’ve seen emerge during your career? What key tenets of marketing have stayed the same?


Well, of course the game-changer in the marketing industry has been the rise of advertising blocking technology which has forced marketers to come to grips with consumer-led marketing, versus top-down, interruptive, “commercial advertising”.

This all started with ad skipping with DVR/video recorders, allowing consumers to skip TV commercials back in the 80’s, and of course has proliferated with ad blocking technology in digital media.   The latest iteration was Facebook’s implementation of “hiding ads” functionality, where consumers can now tell Facebook which ads they prefer not to see in their newsfeed.   The consumer-first marketing approach now requires marketers to embrace content marketing where consumers “pull” content they see useful, versus marketers “pushing” content down. Call it brands as publishers, or brands as a resource – this has launched a whole new marketing discipline and has changed the way marketers will forever connect with their audiences.

The second major change is around data. 

Let’s be clear, even back in the “Mad Men” days, brands always acted based on data and insights on what messaging would work, or which media delivered the right audience.  The game-changer here is the adoption of personalized data versus research-based data.   Previously, decisions were made based solely on focus group qualitative data or survey-based quantitative data.  Take Nielsen people meter data where millions of dollars of spending was based on a projected sample of a few thousand Nielsen households.   While these forms of research are still important today, we now have 1:1 data that power entire marketing programs.   We don’t have to “guess” anymore what messaging, offers, and media a consumer will respond to, because chances are, we have this data at an individual level.  We can truly deliver 1:1 marketing, especially down-funnel, where we have 1st party customer data that becomes completely actionable.   Of course, this trend has raised the issues of privacy and transparency in the industry, which we will continue to grapple with. 

So, despite these major shifts, what has stayed the same?   The key tenet is that we still – and always will – act on consumer insight to inform everything we do. 

The insights may come from different sources today, but we always are focused on understanding what the consumer needs and wants from a brand.  And we’re getting better at it, too, with the advent of new tools and technologies that mine consumer intent and purchase behavior – even moving from historical insights to real-time (in the moment) insights and even to predictive, forecastable behaviors that will allow marketers to predict what their customers will want next.   

You mention many social media experts out there too often live in the land of "strategery". Based on your role at agency Razorfish, what are you seeing as the the missing gap between social strategy and applied social?


Getting to the right social strategy and applying in the right way includes the same key element: what is it that is shareable and talk-able about your brand?

This is a fundamental issue that must be addressed or an entire digital and social program will fall short.   Time and time again, we see brand social campaigns that implore users to participate and share – often times with a contrived hash tag – and then when we don’t see the desired activity (or we put tons of media dollars behind a lame idea), we’re disappointed.   Developing a true “social at the core” idea is hard, but it must be the goal of the strategy. We’ve found that a combination of creative firepower armed with social marketing expertise is your best shot at getting to truly social programs.  

Want an example?   Look at the infamous ALS Ice Bucket Challenge which invited participants to dump a bucket of ice over their heads and encouraged them to get others to do it too.  All told, the campaign raised nearly 100 million dollars for the cause. Simple. Social at the Core. Participatory. That’s the real gap that must be addressed. 

In your talk at the upcoming Social Media Strategies Summit, you’ll be discussing a few technologies marketers should consider to help them execute successful paid media strategies. How do you think the proliferation of marketing technology solutions are transforming the marketing role? 


Back to the theme around the transformation of data and insights, I’m really pumped about new tools that inform paid media strategies more intelligently.

It’s no longer a guessing game around which audiences to target – we have tools that can define the “affinities” (ie interests) of our brand’s customers so that we can deliver more meaningful content and experiences to them.

These tools divide our customer segments into “tribes” that have the same interests around what they are looking for from the brand.  Other tools help us determine the right mix of content – thematically – based on what our customers are engaging with.  What’s more, we can look at competitor data to see what content may or may not be working there as well, and maximize our paid media based on these learnings. 

You mention the key to social media and content marketing is being “you”, along with offering something of value which others will respond to and share. When considering social campaigns and pieces of content, are there a few questions marketers can ask themselves as a quick internal “gut check” to make sure planned initiatives align with a brand’s personality and mission?


Well, not to be too simplistic, but let’s start with the basics.  Do you see yourself participating in the campaign that you have planned?   Or do you come away with the reaction that the campaign idea is “contrived” and not very participatory to begin with?

Another close corollary to this: does the program represent the brand personality and voice? Remember, we operate in a world no longer about “personifying a brand” but a brand operates today as a “person”.   So, are the elements of the program something you would expect a person to say?   Does it pass the authenticity test where it’s natural and human – versus being contrived and corporate?   Using these filters to gauge your planned campaign before it’s launched are good gut checks.

Breanna Jacobs photo

Breanna Jacobs manages GSMI’s conference production team and is the lead for the company’s digital marketing conference portfolio. She produces 8+ conferences per year, working directly with senior level speakers and collaborating with marketing and sales teams to drive event publicity and content marketing initiatives.

She’s researched and launched several new, successful programs from scratch including the UX Strategies Summit, Mobile+Web Developer Conference and the Brand Strategy Conference.

Prior to GSMI, Breanna was an ESL teacher, studied and taught abroad in Spain (Olé!). She graduated with a BA in Global Studies from UC Santa Barbara. She’s a runner, bookworm, and traveler.

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