Since the onset of the pandemic, businesses have been forced to test their resiliency during these wildly uncertain times. For many, the key to survival is adapting to the changing landscape.
Quartz Network Executive Correspondent Britt Erler sat down with Facebook’s Vice President of North America, Nada Stirratt, to discuss what this means for marketing leaders as the industry continues to shift.
Marketing leaders can learn from Nada’s 35 years of expertise as she discusses:
- The changing demands of customers and their expectations
- What this means for marketers as the industry continues to shift
- Leveraging tech to build new relationships and adapt to the future
Quartz Network: Would you please share a bit about yourself and your current role at Facebook for some background?
Nada Stirratt: Sure. As the VP of the North American Global Business Group, my team runs our relationships with partners and companies of all sizes from small and medium-sized businesses and up to the largest multinational companies. Ultimately, what we do is care deeply about getting them the absolute best business outcomes we can possibly get for them. I’m very, very excited to be here and talk about what we’re seeing in the market because so much has changed in the last year and a half.
Quartz Network: In your role as the leader of North America for Facebook, you oversee relationships with companies of all sizes. In that market for Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger, what’s changed for the businesses after this past year and a half?
Nada Stirratt: I think just about everything has changed. Everything from how businesses find customers, how they service their existing customers, supply chain management’s talking, the way that they attract talent, even how they’re financing their businesses. It’s almost like it doesn’t matter the size of the business, no one has been prepared, or certainly left unscathed by this pandemic.
If you think about businesses—think of them two different ways—there’s the large global businesses and then there are those small and medium businesses.
On the large global side, what we saw was: a. having to quickly manage remote customers, b. having to then furlough employees and then re-hire employees all while you’re worrying about keeping product on the shelf. We had to do some really quick pivots to help there as well. We took traditional brick and mortar businesses, and we help them pivot by, for example, buying something online and then picking it up in store.
How do you take customer service – which is go in and have a conversation – to Messenger and WhatsApp very, very quickly. Nowadays, just doing a ton of work on our Jobs API because people just need help on recruiting. People are understaffed, and so that’s a lot of some really basic things to get big companies certainly a lot closer to the digital place.
Then, if you think of the smaller businesses, I mean, they’re the lifeblood of their communities, and they were particularly hit hard. I’m sure where you live, Britt, you’re used to finding a small business because you walk down the street, and you walk in and you see them, and you establish a relationship. Imagine, last March, you never walked in anymore. We had to do a ton of work to quickly get small businesses those resources and tools. We did a whole mentorship program. We did a grant with $100 million in grants for SMBs. We even created solutions so that small businesses could have an online commerce experience. No company was unscathed. A lot of work had to go to invest in the right ways that we can ultimately drive a business outcome during a really hard time.
Quartz Network: What changes have you personally seen in regards to what customers are expecting from small businesses and large businesses?
Nada Stirratt: I think the first part is around the relationship consumers expect to have with brands. Consumers want to be sure that the brands that they are choosing to do business with reflect their own views on a whole range of social issues. This hasn’t always been the case. Companies have been responding in really beautiful ways. Like what Nestle is doing on water sustainability, and then there’s a Canadian lifestyle brand tentree and they plant 10 trees for every item that’s purchased. That becomes something that I think is really important and a point of pride for all of us in this business.
I would say the most important value alignment that we have seen over the last 18 months to two years, has been consumers demanding of businesses to have equitable representation in media. Consumers are expecting people in ads are going to look like the broader cross section of the world. Facebook recently partnered with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and conducted a global research study, and we found that diverse representation has a direct positive impact on the business outcomes. It’s just so clear values alignment is good for business.
Quartz Network: With these trends that we’re seeing, what are some of the areas that you think these brands can make sure that they’re building successful relationships?
Nada Stirratt: Some of these are trends, that while not new, have certainly accelerated over the last year and a half or so. I think the first one is the biggest one, and that is now that consumers and companies have to see every connection as an opportunity for a transaction. The days of brand budgets being on one side, and DR budgets being on the other side, those days are just about gone. Remember that much maligned marketing funnel from top to bottom? It’s collapsed. I mean, consumers want to see a message, and if they want to, they want to be able to buy something, have a conversation, they want to be able to do everything without friction. So that collapsing and that needing to do everything in the same area and container for consumer, in order for it to be easier for consumers is a really, really important trend.
It kind of piggybacks to the second trend that we’re seeing, which is that the entire brand exposure needs to be cohesive. There is no longer the distinction. I’ve been in the media business for a very long time, it used to be paid media versus editorial or organic or earned. That has to blur significantly more so and it actually has a lot. It’s why influencer marketing is just so important. It’s like influencer marketing is that great combination of advertising and culture. This year alone is expected that influencer marketing will be a $14 billion industry, so that is huge and getting even bigger.
I think the one of the most exciting things that you would think is 5 years out, 10 years out, but that is all the really cool stuff that’s happening in AR and VR—Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. Businesses had to get creative against a customer base that just wasn’t leaving a tone.
I love the example that I want to share because it’s a little bit ironic. It’s in the real estate business. During a time when no one wanted to physically go to another place for an open house, real estate company sent Oculus headsets to prospective buyers. You would do a virtual walkthrough in the privacy of your own home. Using AR, you could turn around and see how your own furniture would look at scale in that house. This is just the early days of AR and VR. Each one of those trends. By the way, it’s all going to merge, driving a ton of excitement for consumers and the industry.
Quartz Network: In your experience, what are some of the pitfalls to be avoided and how can executives really make sure they’re prepared for them?
Nada Stirratt: Pitfalls today are magnified because there’s really almost no barrier to switching. Let’s start with the most basic—the technology has to work. There is nothing worse for a consumer than to get engaged with your company and try to complete a transaction and then it fails. Think about when you’re trying to message a company and you get this stock response back that has nothing to do with your answer. Those little things become the big things really, really fast.
Remember, it only takes one click for you to lose your customer and go someplace else—it’s that easy. The barriers for switching are so low. The same thing applies to thinking about the umbrella about authenticity. Brands have to be clear on their values, because consumers are increasingly making decisions based on alignment with those values. Today’s customers are so smart, and they can spot insincerity in an instant, again, and switch in a matter of seconds. It’s not about like going through the motions because you think you have to as a company. You’ve got to be so committed to your mission, and it has to be strong, it has to be genuine, and has to be on display.
Quartz Network: What is some advice that you have for those executives to make sure that they’re growing their careers in the right direction?
Nada Stirratt: The first piece of advice that I give to everyone starting out in this business is learn how to code. This is not about being a computer scientist or a coder, but it’s about having an understanding, even if it’s a superficial understanding of the process, and the art within it. It’s something that I regret, not having that skill myself.
Quartz Network: What are some final pieces of advice that you have for them to make sure that they are moving forward?
Nada Stirratt: I really think that now more than ever, people have to think of themselves as global citizens. With technology, there’s not those geographic boundaries that have been around forever and ever and ever. Think of all campaigns as a global campaign, and then ultimately embrace this love of learning or this continuous student mindset. Our business is changing all the time, and the speed of innovation is just astonishing. If you see yourself as a student of consumer behavior, you’re then going to be prepared to pivot because there are going to be pivots over and over and over again.
I will say that in my almost 35 years in this industry, there has never been a better time and more dynamic time to enter marketing as a field. Changing technology, changing consumer behavior, changing expectations, and just an overwhelming amount of choice means that the ability to influence and create relationships has just gotten more challenging, but it’s a heck of a lot more interesting. Take it from all of us, you will absolutely never be bored in our business.
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