In a meta moment during the two-day streaming edition of Signal, Nick Tran’s audio suddenly went on a loop, in a technical glitch that resembled the style of a video on TikTok, where Tran is head of global marketing. “I wish we had some TikTok videos we could run,” joked John Battelle, Signal co-founder and host, while the audio was fixed.
As the 10th annual Signal 2021 aimed to celebrate “Always Learning, Always Leading,” the event itself was a first, streamed to the more than 6,000 attendees around the world from a soundstage at P&G in Cincinnati with remote guests. Speakers from across the globe and across industries, from Google to General Motors, spoke about challenges they faced in the last year and how they were overcome.
In case you were away from your screen, or just want to revisit the experience, here are some of the speakers’ insights you may have missed:
Scott Galloway, Professor, New York University: Ditch choice, open stores
“The biggest fallacy in marketing is that we think that choice is a good thing. I think choice is an attack on consumers. Consumers don’t want more choice, they want to be more confident in the choices presented. This is a way of saying reinvestment out of traditional advertising into product, discovery and innovation pre- and post-purchase, and verticalization is a good thing. P&G should absolutely have stores and partner with other great CPG companies, and that is no crazier now than it was for beauty brands to open the floor and bypass the industrial department store complex.”
Noubar Afeyan, CEO, Flagship Pioneering: Take chances, block out the naysayers
“It’s not that we had confidence that this would work. We just couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t work. Except everybody told us that it wouldn’t work. And of course history suggested it wouldn’t work. And so what we needed to do is block some of that out and just do the best we could do. We didn’t need to win the war of prediction. We just needed to win the war of demonstration, and if we were not successful, frankly, we were hopeful that other people would be successful so we could benefit from their work.”
Mary Barra, CEO, GM: Listening and learning to be better about diversity
“Any time you receive praise or criticism, I think you need to step back and objectively ask, How can I be better? What can I learn? Why does someone have this perception? So as we specifically looked at our diverse media spending, specifically Black media spend, we recognized we could be better. So we started with listening. I personally participated in eight sessions with different companies, and with the question being, how can we be better? We listened, we made the changes they suggested. And I think we’re a better company for it. We also set a goal that by 2025, we want 8% of our ad spend to be with Black-owned media. Any time you’re on a journey, you have to listen to criticism, and you have to learn from it. I think we have work to do. So we’re gonna continue to listen and learn.”
Joy Buolamwini, Founder, Algorithmic Justice League/MIT: The harms of algorithms
“If we think solving for problems around algorithmic bias, or algorithmic risk, just are focused on accuracy, we miss the point, because how these systems are used is just as important as how well they work. When we look at the companies stepping away from selling facial recognition technologies, even if you had accurate systems right here, now you can create a world with mass surveillance, right? You can think of drones with guns, with facial recognition, the question isn’t just how accurate is it, it’s should we have it in the first place? We do have to be thinking about what questions we’re addressing and why.”
Malcolm Gladwell, Author & Co-Founder, Pushkin Industries: Teams v. individuals and what younger employees are socialized to do
“We’re in the middle of this society-wide shift from the hierarchy to the network. From vertical organizations to horizontal organizations and the younger generation are people who have no familiarity with, or patience with, hierarchies. They’re much more interested in openness, their notions of organizations are very participatory, and they’re distrustful of centralized leadership. We have been moving in the business world more and more towards the team being the center of business activity. And yet at the same time, we have a generation coming up now who has got one foot in the team world, because it’s obviously how they connected, but one foot not. Social media expression is the opposite of teamwork. It is the elevation of the self as principal components of conversation and interaction. There’s a divergence between what companies want from the younger employees and what young people are socialized to do.”
Chloe Kim, U.S. Olympic Snowboarder: Partnering with brands
“The coolest part about the Olympics is that you get to work with all of these brands and you really get to branch out. I love it. It comes around every four years and sometimes, I get a little nervous because I don’t know how to act, necessarily, with all these big big brands. But at the end of the day, I feel like I love meeting new people. I love working with different brands. I love learning about how they approach the business side of their companies and how they want to do all that. So I learned a lot, and I’m excited to continue to learn and I actually love sitting at all those meetings where you’re brainstorming ideas for an upcoming shoot. I think it’s really interesting, and it’s an honor that brands are interested and are excited to work with people like me. At the end of the day, I’m just so grateful.”
John Legend, Entertainer, Advocate, EGOT: The power of corporations to change the world
“Corporations have huge amounts of resources, and they have huge reach, when it comes to advertising and storytelling and communicating with the entire country the entire world. Why not use that reach, why not use that influence, why not use the creative power of the advertising folks that are working with you. Why not use that to try to make the world a better place. And I think it’s a natural thing to do. It’s not sufficient to bring the kinds of change that we need in the world, but I think it is important.”
Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google & Alphabet Inc.: Tracking in a privacy-preserving way
“Users do not want to be profiled or tracked, individually. Many people are building models of that and I don’t see the reason it needs to work that way. As an advertiser, you’re just trying to make sure the people who really need to know about your products, or whoever your intended audiences is, is receiving the message. And you want some feedback that it’s all working. I think we can engineer and solve for it in a privacy-preserving way. I think it’s where the world is heading and the changes will be beneficial to everyone in the long run.”
Janey Whiteside, EVP, Chief Customer Officer, Walmart: Be a friend to your customers
“We want to have a functional relationship with our customers in terms of trust, but more than ever, we want to have an emotional relationship with them. When you think about customer relationship management, you think about loyalty. I think emotional trust is like a friendship. When you have a friend, if they’re late to dinner, or they say they’re gonna call you back and they don’t, we might be annoyed, but you’ll get over it. But if that friend was to forget to pick up your kids from school when they said they were going to and left them stranded, you really struggle to get back to being a friend. And so, when you think about loyalty in those terms, it starts to feel different.”
Videos of their sessions will become available over the coming months. Keep reading Signal360 for updates and more on these topics!