“Marketing Matters:” The Lighter Side of the Dark Side

Our September 13 Marketing Matters show featured leaders in technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and marketing.  WFoA Executive Director and Marketing Matters host, Catharine Hays, had the pleasure of speaking with Andrew Malcolm (Chief Marketing Officer, Evernote), Oren Etzioni (Chief Executive Officer, Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence), Dan Briscoe (Chief Marketing Officer, HCSS Software), and Benjamin Spiegel (Chief Executive Officer, MMI Agency) regarding their insights on finding solutions amid complex situations.

Key Takeaways:

  • There is no playbook for solving challenges; solutions to all tough problems result from a passion for addressing the issue and a drive for continuing despite setbacks.
  • AI technology benefits society if its application is appropriately regulated.
  • During disaster situations, such as during Hurricane Harvey, relief projects should be handled very carefully to strike a sensitive balance between spreading the word to gain organic support and awareness of community needs.
  • Advertisements in disaster regions should be suspended if they do not contribute positively to the situation.

Catharine’s first interview was with Andrew Malcolm, CMO of Evernote, a multi-platform app that helps users take notes, organize ideas, and keep track of information.  Launched in 2008, Evernote was designed to be a note-taking app, with the ultimate goal of becoming an “extension of the brain.” The Silicon Valley startup saw its share of success, but in 2015, Evernote was labeled by Business Insider as the “first dead unicorn,” the Valley term for startups valued at over $1 billion. It was during this time that Malcolm joined Evernote as CMO.

Andrew Malcolm, Chief Marketing Officer, Evernote

Malcolm viewed reviving Evernote as a challenge.  Instead of a customer-centric model, he focused on an employee-centric model, or “marketing internally.” His idea was to “get everyone on the same page internally…before worrying externally” by using a number of methods, including reminding employees about their value to the company, rekindling employees’ passion for the company’s mission, and inspiring employees by demonstrating the impact of their product.

One example used to show the significance of employees’ work is the “Customer Story of the Week,” where an Evernote team member devotes one week to researching how a user has accomplished incredible feats with the use of Evernote.  Malcolm shared that “It’s hard not to feel inspired and connected to [Evernote],” after hearing the stories and seeing the impact Evernote can bring to the world. On the customer side, Malcolm mentioned that they have been actively evaluating customer concerns, and based on feedback, will be moving towards organizing teams and users via AI and cloud-based technology.

After reviving Evernote, Malcolm says the next steps for Evernote will be continuing their mission to be an extension of the brain and evolving Evernote to be capable of connecting and integrating ideas. Malcolm ended the interview by providing an essential piece of advice on identifying solutions amid tremendous adversity: “Find the things that are going to work for your specific situation…do that with a sort of passion for the problem and just loving the journey you are on even when it’s hard…those two things together will take you a long way through even the darkest of times.”

Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, joined Catharine to discuss his recent AI op-ed in The New York Times and his views on AI regulation. With advances in AI technology, the control of AI development has become a controversial topic among tech leaders. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, flamboyantly identified AI as “[humanity’s] biggest existential threat” and urged a need for AI development regulations, but Etzioni disagrees.

Oren Etzioni, Chief Executive Officer, Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence

Etzioni says AI development should not be confused with “science fiction” because it serves as an important tool for the “common good.” For example, self-driving cars using AI technology can significantly reduce accident rates. He also emphasized a critical distinction between regulating AI development and regulating AI application. He supports the regulation of the latter and believes the regulation of AI applications should be organized into three categories:

  • Liability.  He believes we cannot blame AI when problems occur, and we need to take responsibility for AI applications as creators and users.
  • Disclosure.  Etzioni stated that users of AI applications must be informed beforehand that they are interacting with AI rather than a real person.
  • Privacy.  Guidelines should be laid out to determine who has access to private information collected by AI.

Etzioni understands that AI has certain drawbacks, including potentially damaging the job market. However, he highlighted how AI can also enhance employment in other ways, such as improving education and work efficiency. For example, the Allen Institute’s Semantic Scholar helps researchers shorten time spent on reviewing journals by analyzing and displaying the most relevant findings for the topic of interest. For corporations hoping to use AI, Etzioni recommends reviewing the AI’s functionality, the impact AI has on customers, related corporate liability, and the disclosure for users who interact with AI.  He wrapped up his remarks with an optimist’s view: AI development and regulation should not be feared because it is “unknown, [a] Frankenstein,” but be embraced, with appropriate precautions, to bring significant benefits to society.

Next to join Catharine was Dan Briscoe, CMO of HCSS Software, a software company that produces construction project management applications.  Briscoe, the MarketingSherpa 2017 Best in Show recipient, found a solution for providing assistance to the Greater Houston areas recently impacted by Hurricane Harvey.  He recounted how HCSS Software was able to leverage the capabilities of their business to continue operations, shelter dislocated employees and locals, and to connect construction companies for disaster relief efforts.  Briscoe attributed HCSS’ success in continuing operations in the wake of the storm to the company’s culture and the CEO’s announcement to continue paying employees, even if they could not come to work or were dealing with other issues after the disaster.  HCSS’ successful relief project for the Houston community was the result of an employee’s volunteer initiative, which was fully supported by the CEO.

Dan Briscoe, Chief Marketing Officer, HCSS Software

Coordinating the project was a complicated task.  Briscoe remarked that marketing a relief project is skating on thin ice: It is easy to be viewed as “doing [disaster relief] for publicity when you just need to get the word out to gain support.” Instead of traditional marketing tactics, Briscoe used heartfelt video clips of employees and volunteers.  He says his strategy was to have “other people tell the story, rather than the marketing team.” By being very careful about projecting a proper tone and balance in HCSS’ message, Briscoe helped the disaster relief project avoid being mistaken for a publicity stunt.

Benjamin Spiegel, CEO of MMI Agency, a data-driven conversation agency with a focus on digital technology, discussed his op-ed on AdAge.com about advertisements in disaster regions. Thanks to evolving technology, people can whip out their mobile phones to check Google for the latest news or review the tweets from local governments for information during situations like Hurricane Harvey–all while traditional forms of communications are unavailable.  However, technology is not all positive when it comes to disaster regions. Spiegel felt compelled to speak out about advertising in disaster regions when he was forced to watch a “75-second pre-roll” ad before he could browse the announcements for Houston residents. He says too many ads are now running on “autopilot,” and that is taking out the “human element of advertising.”

Benjamin Spiegel, Chief Executive Officer, MMI Agency

Spiegel highlighted the ease with which advertisers can turn off these ads using geo-fencing, a geographical way to target ads. So, why are ads still running? He posited two reasons.  The first: The thought never crossed the advertiser’s minds. The second: The media does not want to stop broadcasting ads–after all, advertisements are their primary source of revenue.

Not all ads are made equal. Spiegel says ads with good intentions should continue to run. He highlighted a few ad campaigns that added value to the brand, such as Tide’s Loads of Hope and AT&T announcing a no-overage policy for those affected by Hurricane Harvey. These region-specific advertisements can be broadcast using geo-fencing technology and are beneficial because they are communicating messages relevant to the audience.

To end this week’s “Marketing Matters,” Catharine reminded listeners to think beyond advertising and to broaden the definition of advertisement to encompass a value exchange of consumer and brand that happens over time. In any challenging situation, there is always a solution and a silver lining to be discovered–it’s about finding the lighter side of the dark side.