Scott Stockwell is the Editor-in-Chief of IBM Europe with significant experience across brand management, digital strategy, design thinking, customer experience, employee engagement and sales, Scott is a real industry heavyweight. He’s also one of the most creative and engaging minds in marketing. So we’re incredibly lucky to have him with us today.
In today’s interview, we’ll be talking to Scott about designing the perfect customer journey, the impact of technology on forward-thinking marketing functions and the reason why every marketer should gain experience in at least one customer-facing role. Scott will also be putting me through a practical exercise involving flowers and post-it notes in which he’ll demonstrate the power of design thinking while I demonstrate my staggering lack of artistic and visual creativity.
Scott, thank you so much for joining us.
Dan: So Scott, you’ve got an astonishing CV and list of achievements. Perhaps you could just start by giving us a little bit of an overview into the kind of work you’re currently focusing on for IBM?
Scott: Yeah, sure. So, I have what I think is my favourite job title of the many I’ve had, which is Editor-in-Chief. And for anyone that changes their job title on LinkedIn, it’s a great way to attract lots of interest from particular parties to openings of envelopes, webcast recordings and stuff like this, really.
I look after content across all of IBM’s brands, business units, offerings and services across all of the markets in the EMEA region. So it’s two production hubs, it’s the markets in all of those territories, it’s every piece of content, every format. I don’t look after the website, but everything else that’s coming through from elements of social, anything that is what you would call an asset, all of that comes through myself and my team.
Dan: Awesome. Now a bit of a general question first. So, IBM, of course, you’re representing a huge global brand that does so many things for so many different people in so many businesses, presumably an easy trap to fall into therefore is trying or needing to be all things to all people.
I just wonder, how do you ensure that your content strategies are sufficiently targeted so that you are in fact able to really cut through?
Scott: Brilliant question. Not an easy solve. And I think the biggest challenge particularly large organisations like IBM face is getting out of ourselves way so that the right message is getting to the right person about the relevant product or service at the right time in the right format. You know, all the things we aspire to do.
Email marketing is just going from strength to strength. Certainly, over the next decade you’re going to see more of it and it’s just going to continue to improve itself.
So, we do try to manage that in a number of different ways. We have a content production method called the 3x3x3, which is three briefs. So there is an input brief, which is the campaign level. There’s a creative brief, which is the creative, what do we want to actually express? And there is a content brief or an asset brief, which talks about physically, what’s the thing we want to make? There are three sessions, a SWOT session to kick the tyres around that. A ‘green light’, which says, have we amalgamated all of this? Does this look good? And a ‘go live’ which like, is all the hygiene in place? Is it SEO optimised? Is it ready to rock and roll? And three outcomes: content strategy, content plan, and an asset plan. All of that lives on one enterprise platform, which everybody involved in content has access to. So having one place to talk about and manufacture everything is a real enabler. And a lot of meetings.
There’s definitely a sense of weft and warp, so that you’ve got services and business units, the sort of what are you going to do? Then there are the geographies, which is the where it’s going to happen? So the geography people – which is where I come in – talk to all of the business units and brands. So we have a really good view of everything the company is offering and wants to get out there. We then contextualise that with: “what does the market need?” Or “What’s the business we want to make?” And make the selections of what actually gets deployed and the journey that happens in a particular market. So one platform, one standard process, lots of meetings is how we try to do that.
Dan: A big part of your role, if I understand correctly, is actually defining, mapping out the customer journey so you can ensure that you’ve got the right content that corresponds with that customer journey in order to nudge them down the right path.
I just wonder to what degree should B2B marketers map out those kind of journeys, you know, should it include every last detail? Or is it about defining a small number of key moments within that journey that have the greatest potential to really impact the buyer?
Scott: So yeah, I think the first thing they can learn is really nuanced messaging. For instance, salespeople are talking to prospects once they’ve committed to learning more about your product or service, whereas marketing is creating messaging oftentimes for people who are completely unaware of your product or service, sometimes unaware of the problem that your product or service exists to solve. And so as a salesperson, especially if you’re someone doing prospecting, I think understanding that message in how you can get folks who are unaware or unwilling or unlikely or not in the right position to come in and actually learn more about your product, how you can create messaging that moves people further down the funnel.
I go for map out the entire journey in as much detail as you can knowing no one is going to walk on it in the sequential format you’ve penned it out in, hoping that as you sprinkle your amazing assets and touchpoints through that journey, you’re going to be the right thing at the right place at the right time.
I do a bit of industry judging and one of the things I particularly look for are customer journeys where somebody has planned for when someone falls off the journey or wanders off track. Have they got a way of catching them and bringing them back in?
So I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a TV show called One Man and His Dog? Sheep herding thing that as a parent, you would watch to force your children to go to bed because it’s terribly dull if you’re a kid. It’s a great lesson in terms of thinking about how are you going to guide your audience to your final destination but know you’re going to get people that are going to break from the flock. Have you got a different whistle to get your dog working? Have you got a dog in a different place? Do you have a staff that’s going to be more attractive to some sheep than others? And it’s planning for the ideal journey knowing you’re going to get some people that are going to wander off and trying to find a way to corral that.
Dan: That’s really interesting, really interesting. I love that. I love that analogy as well.
So as Editor-in-Chief for one of the world’s largest tech companies, you must have a far better sense than most of how technology is impacting, or has the potential to impact, marketing over the coming years.
I just wonder, where does the hype outrun the reality? And where are – from your perspective – the most exciting developments that really will impact marketing functions?
Scott: Yeah. Sure thing.
So have you heard of something called Fubini’s Law?
Dan: I have, it does ring a bell. But I can’t access it. So please explain.
Scott: Yeah, so it goes to the fact that people use new technology to do what they’re currently doing today with something new. Eventually, they work out that the new tool isn’t the best way to do the old thing, but the new tool will actually gives you something that the old tool didn’t. So you start to really learn what you can do with the new tool and eventually things change and another tool comes along, or another technology comes along, that replaces it.
So, first advertising was print advertising. You read something that told you about a feature or benefit. Then comes along radio. And the first radio adverts where people reading out print adverts, not really getting the advantage of what radio is giving you that print didn’t. Eventually, people understand what radio does different. Along comes TV, which is filming people sitting, reading out printed adverts. So again, you’re not really getting the benefits of what TV is bringing you. Internet comes along. First internet advertising is TV advertising of people reading out print adverts. Again, not really using what’s coming.
I think technologies that fail are the ones that are in that first stage. They’re just doing something in a new-ish way but not doing something that really uses the benefit of the new thing. They’re just doing the old things slightly differently. Those things tend to wither pretty quick. Also, people that something but don’t really move it forward materially, and those things again, generally don’t last too.
Then you get some really interesting things to come along. And you start to look back and think: “Have we seen this before? How is this going to be different?” So the latest one of those for me is the Metaverse. So we’re starting to hear bubblings of the Metaverse, a multi-person place, environment. This is where marketing is going to move. And it reminds me of Second Life.
So I’m interested to see is the Metaverse the latest version of Second Life? You know, what’s going to be different? So that’s interesting.
Another thing I’m really interested in at the moment is Salesforce Plus. I think that is really something to watch. Is that going to be the place that commands the audience and therefore content is going to move to where the audience is? Are they a first mover in the B2B world, and we’re going to see lots of Salesforce Plus equivalence, where each company thinks they need to build a platform and that’s the one-stop shop where everybody wants to go? I think super interesting.
I haven’t seen the big agency world getting into the Salesforce Plus space yet. But maybe advertising and the advertisers and the agencies, this is a space that they’ll start to move into. So I think that is a big changer.
In terms of technology, the biggest thing that we’re all, actually we’re consuming already, but we’re going to really touch on a lot more in the future, is AI. It’s the thing that lets us do things beyond humanly possible. So a little bit like Superman, faster than a speeding bullet. AI gets you to outcomes quicker than humanly possible. So we’re going to start to see lots more of what AI can do.
We have a phrase – I don’t think IBM invented it, but it’s one we talk about – which is no AI without IA. So you need a good information architecture in order to have AI. And the latest thing that we’re talking about, and I think other people will start to as well, is Data Fabric.
So Data Fabric is that find the insight in those myriad current silos of data, contextualise it with data from other places, still keep it all secure, still make sure that it’s got the right privacy and it’s being managed well, but it’s that collaboration, the ecosystem of information, that’s going to really start to realise the benefits of AI.
Dan: So presumably the most important role of any sales lead is hiring and nurturing the right team? After all, I guess everyI mean, how far away do you feel like the implications of true AI are within a marketing context? Because from my experience, which is, you know, not even a percent of yours, I often feel like a lot of what is positioned as AI is maybe more accurately described as a kind of robotic process automation or exists within quite a rigid framework. And it’s fantastic at executing highly repetitive structured tasks, but it is not necessarily what I feel most of us mean when we talk about AI. And because obviously so much of marketing, we would hope, is innately a creative process, it strikes me as maybe one of the last functions that is really benefiting from a lot of the current technology.
Scott: Yeah. So going back to Fubini’s Law again, at the moment, I think we’re still in the new technology, doing an old thing with a new technology, sort of doing what we were doing before, but just slightly differently. But the capability and the opportunity it has got, we’re starting to see new technologies eke out that use it.
So little ones that we’re seeing, we’re not on WebEx at the moment, but WebEx recently you’ll start to see a little assistant that pops up in the corner. It will listen to you talking and it will take notes for you. You can give it some fairly basic commands. It will help you with your meeting. It will transcribe in real-time what you’re saying. So you’re starting to be able to communicate with lots of people in different languages, in different places concurrently, with a shared or quicker understanding because of that speed of translation. So that’s sort of the start of where those AI capabilities are going.
I got invited to help teach an AI some marketing capability a couple of weeks ago, and sat on a call with a couple of developers out in China. One of them was acting as the chatbot, and the other one was just guiding the code that was being written in real-time. And they gave me a problem and said: “As a marketer, this is what you need to ask the AI to do. What would you say to it?” And literally they gave me on the screen, you’ve got a set of people that have been invited to an event you want to find out what they want to order for breakfast. You want to find out if they’ve subscribed to a mailing list and add them to it if they haven’t. And literally, I would just say something like: “Check the people that are coming, ask them if they’ve had breakfast, if they say yes order the breakfast from the catering company, if not ask them what they would like, find the menu, give them the menu.” And real-time, the code blocks for that were all appearing on the screen in the sequence that the AI was interpreting it needed to structure the program to actually perform the task. And then when it didn’t quite get it right, the developer was asking me clarifying questions and you could see the blocks moving around whilst it learnt the quickest way for me to achieve what this person’s asking me to is now this bit of code. And it got to the end and they said: “It’s an interesting way that you asked the questions. Have you ever done any coding yourself?” And I said, “Yes, I’ve got a bit of a weird life. I did do mainframe programme writing hundreds of years ago. So I tend to write in the way I think it wants me to tell it to do something.” This is really interesting. She said, “You’re the only one that we’ve seen do that.” And I said, “How many people are you talking to?” She said, “We’ve got 60 people at the moment that are on this panel just with this question, different languages, different cultures, different experience. So that the AI really understands how someone is going to ask this question in so many different ways.”
Dan: And did the way that you structured it, did that help it to arrive at the destination faster?
Scott: I haven’t seen the output of the tool, but I am guessing so.
Dan: Right. Okay. So there’s clearly an educational piece required in that respect.
Scott: Absolutely. Yeah. Sort of assume that when AIs first come out are three or four years old in terms of a human development. So there’s a lot of: “Why is it like that? Why do you do that? And read it to me again, read it to me again.” There is a lot of learning and a lot of, how much similarity and difference am I seeing in what I’m hearing. And from that, how confident am I in the intent of the instruction? And when I know what the intent is, if this is my outcome, how accurate was that in meeting the original intent?
And they’re doing that all the time.
Dan: That’s awesome. I don’t want to make this all about AI, so we’ll move on to just one final question: should marketers be at all worried? Is this still just a question of enabling and accelerating and helping people to do their jobs more effectively? Or are there certain areas of marketing where actually it’s like, well, give it a couple of years and Henry the robot is, to be frank, probably just going to do your job a little bit better than you are.
Are there certain areas where we should be worried?
Scott: I think always go back to the fact that it’s there to help you do what you want to do faster than you can humanly do it.
So it’s your Robin to your Batman. You just need to know that you’re going to have more time to do more of the Batman stuff because the tools and the technology are going to take away the stuff that currently, you know, you’re crunching away an Excel spreadsheet, you’re trying to find a box of folders, all that stuff that’s taking your time, that’s the stuff that will get done a lot quicker
Dan: So we will move on from AI, but still a question relating to data, which is of course, an integral part to that AI piece, but now for more of a kind of performance analysis perspective. So of course, data is now really the lifeblood of any marketing strategy, in terms of that constant analysis, constant iteration based on what we were getting fed back to us. So I wonder from your point of view, when you’re overseeing these strategies that are covering so many different channels by the sounds of it, I wonder what your top two or three metrics might be, that you would look at when determining the performance, the impact of a particular strategy, and is this changing at all? Are there certain new data insights on the horizon that may force us to rethink how we analyse the impact of our work within marketing?
Scott: Sure. So the data that we’ve got is exponentially growing. We know we’re all surrounded by it. How do you filter it? How do you find the relevant stuff? How do you see the trends? Depending on the products, depending on the platform, depending on the time the location, the data points will change.
I think for me, it always comes down to did your audience find it? Did they do anything with it when they’d found it? Did they engage with it? Did they like it? You know, did they do something with it? Ultimately, if you planned a call to action for it, a step forward or something else, did they follow it? Those will always be the fundamental things you want to measure. The type of data point you use, or the touchpoint you use will change. But at its heart, did you get what you wanted into your audiences hands? Did it solve the problem they had at the time they had it in a way that they positively responded? Felt good about your brand, felt good about your company or product and did something with it.
Dan: But presumably that process of narrowing it down and saying: “Let’s not get stuck in a data quagmire here. Let’s avoid analysis paralysis and all the rest of it.” Presumably, that’s even more important for an organisation like IBM than it would be for maybe a medium-size organisation or a small entity that may have more limited data sets?
Scott: Yeah. So each person, depending on the campaign or the area of the business that they’re working in, will have the particular data points or the insight that they’re particularly looking at. Until that time, PET data points, PET platforms, PET dashboards, PET reports, are always going to be there to meet the particular need. But I wouldn’t say there’s any one particular measure, they’re always going to change.
Dan: So moving on to LinkedIn for a moment. I’d just love to understand or get your thoughts on some of the things that you think you’ve done that have developed that audience and how impactful that’s proving to be for your business given that your proposition is quite specificYeah, so slightly different question now. So while working within the global content strategy team for Watson, one of your goals was to bring enterprise design, design thinking and agile marketing experience to help build out the content strategy. I’m interested to hear about what that all meant at a practical level and the impact it may have had.
Scott: Sure. So, I would like us to try something kind of unique on a podcast. Which is using something visual, but we will describe it and see how this goes. So I want you to imagine that you are in a flower company and you’ve got to design a new vase. So on a post-it note and with one pen, draw me a new vase. You got 30 seconds.
Dan: I’m famously bad at drawing.
Scott: We’re not looking for a Picasso. You’re sketching this out to give your production company what they need to know to build a new vase.
Dan: It’s more like a slightly wonky jug.
Scott: Now, describe to me the key features that you’ve got there.
Dan: One side is rounder than the other. That was designed to give a bit of unique personality, bit of a Holt trademark, bit of a signature piece.
It’s quite a bit broader than intended. And I’m struggling to think what else to say about it. I guess, quite a broad neck, you could get quite a few flowers in there.
I’m not really too sure what else to add.
Scott: Still a container that holds water. Still the place that you would put the flowers probably in the top so that the stem is in the bottom. And probably something you would stand on a surface.
Okay. So we now have a new vase.
What I want to do now is ask you the question why five times.
Why do you have a vase?
Dan: Because that was the brief.
Scott: But why do you want to put flowers in a vase?
Dan: It’s an aesthetically pleasing way of showcasing them and it holds the water so they can stay healthy.
Scott: And why do you need an aesthetically pleasing way to contain flowers?
Dan: Because flowers themselves are about aesthetics.
Scott: And why do you want to have aesthetics?
Dan: Because it makes me feel happy in my surroundings.
Scott: Perfect. So what I want you to do now is design a new way for flowers to make you feel happy in your surroundings. So you got 30 seconds on a different post-it note.
Dan: I’m really struggling. I’m a bit terrified about what my lack of achievement so far says about me.
I don’t have a vase. I definitely don’t have a vase.
Scott: So purpose of the example, and normally you would do this with a group of people. So you start to see in round one, when you say to people design a new version of something that exists, you just get an iteration of what is already there. And sometimes you get vases with one opening and two openings, and sometimes it’s a bowl, but generally you get a thing that holds water
When you examine, why do you have a vase? And you get to the emotional payoff for having a vase, when you suggest to people, right? What’s the new way of flowers making you feel good indoors? You’re inviting people to design for an experience, not redesign an existing product. And you get things like indoor greenhouses, scratch and sniff flower wallpaper, doors that open so gardens that are outside can come inside. You get much more breadth of solution than you do when you constrain it down to a product or service. Design thinking is really all around, “What’s the emotion you want to drive? Now, start to think about how you do that.” And the five whys is a great technique to start to get you thinking about.
Dan: That makes so much sense. I didn’t know if it was a stupid suggestion, but I was just starting to draw a bed of flowers on the floor, but I was quite concerned about my hay fever. And I think that may have acted as somewhat of a constraint. But no, that makes absolute sense.
And I’m guessing you could do that with all sorts of things, right?
Scott: Absolutely anything. And the other thing that I would encourage in the sessions is uncoupling editing and creating. So when you create, you just create, you don’t think about the costs, the implications, you just create. And know that you’re going to create a lot and very little of it will actually get used. Do editing separately so that you start to filter. Be informed by other ideas and things that are adjacent or completely different. This is why working on these things in groups is much, much better because the variety of different suggestions. Very rarely does one idea become the very final baked idea. Iterative and diversity always get a better result.
The other thing on the agile side of things is agile software development has a very particular methodology, there is a manifesto, there are certain behaviours, there are practices. There were some key things in it which I think are really great at enabling, marketing teams particularly, the autonomy for the outcome and self-directed teams are really important.
And to give you a practical example, we had a team who had the target of increasing trials to an online cloud experience. So if we had sort of said: You need to do this particular activity to get more trial signups.” The team would have had a very particular way that they went about it. Using design thinking within agile, if we just said: “These are the number of increases of trials we’d like, you go figure out what is going to be a good way to do that.”
The team actually came up with, why do people sign up for trials? What is it they really want to do? What’s the experience of signing up? What do they want to get out of it? The solution they came up with was a pop-up shop in Shoreditch, with IoT connected foosball tables and a scoreboard which you could sign up to whilst you were in the popup shop. So they’re getting people to sign up for the trial, but it’s because they’re interested in what you can do with the capability to trial gives you in a location that’s got the audience that’s likely to sign up and it’s in an interesting way.
Interestingly, it didn’t achieve the target. So it didn’t actually get the number of signups in addition that the team wanted. But the marketing team had spent a lot of time with developers in the popup shop and because they knew their customer much better, they actually exceeded the target in the next thing that they tried, because they had much more insight about the prospects.
Dan: That’s all absolutely fascinating stuff. Thank you, Scott.
I’m going to launch us off in a totally different direction to finish off. So one of the things that really struck me and interested me about your backgrounds is the experience you had in BD and sales.
I just wonder how that shaped you as a marketer? I often think that all marketers should do a couple of years in a sales environment. But I’m just interested in your thoughts on how that may have influenced you as a marketer?
Scott: I totally agree with you. I started life at Marks and Spencer, hundreds of years ago, and they drilled into you as a new sales assistant, one word, which was ‘spacer’. Stuck with me today: security, performance, appearance, comfort, economy, reliability. And as a sales assistant, you were expected to know what the answer to those things were for any product in the store, so that when somebody came in looking for something, you would listen for those little sales triggers of, do they want something that’s really washable? Do they want something enduring? Are they going to an event where this is going to be something that’s a good thing to wear? Spacer, spacer, spacer. And I think that stuck with me ever since.
The best thing is when you’re actually using the product yourself. You’ve got firsthand experience, you know what it is. But we’re not always marketing the things that we are the user of. I think you definitely need to experience it. Certainly the buying process, if not the product or service itself. And I think that’s sort of number two. Number three, obviously spend as much time as possible with customers because they’re going to tell you what they think about your product or service. Sales is then one removed from that because you’re obviously a little bit closer to the customer than marketing. Then marketing is one level behind that.
So the closer you can get to firsthand experience, the better.
Dan: Yeah, I totally agree. I mean, I just think if you’re always completely removed from that customer experience it’s an impossible task, whether it’s creating content, distributing the content, mapping out the experience, like how can you even begin to do that if you don’t have firsthand experience of it from the other side?
Thank you so much, Scott. I’m conscious I’ve taken this in all sorts of directions, every one of which you’ve just provided the most fascinating answers for. I’m definitely going to use that exercise myself in the future, but I will be the one giving the instructions and not embarrassing myself doing awful drawings.
I’ve really, really enjoyed this.
Scott: You’re welcome. I enjoyed it, too. What I would say is, design is iterative. You’ve done the first prototype. Keep going.