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Beth Ann Kaminkow: New Creative Commerce Canvas Is Disrupting Marketing as We Know It


CEO of VMLY&R COMMERCE globally and VMLY&R New York tells LBB’s Ben Conway about why ‘e-commerce’ is too narrowing, why the ‘everything app’ isn’t coming to the US, and how different brands can have their “commerce moment”

Beth Ann Kaminkow: New Creative Commerce Canvas Is Disrupting Marketing as We Know It

Beth Ann Kaminkow is the global CEO of VMLY&R COMMERCE and the CEO of VMLY&R's New York office. A leader with a track record of reimagining retail, she drives growth at the intersection of physical, digital and social and is a force of innovation in WPP’s creative commerce offering, with a belief that commerce holds the most untapped creative potential to grow brands and people.

Beth Ann has touched every aspect of marketing communications in over 20 years, bringing agency and consumer-side experience across consumer-packaged goods, retail, finance and more to her work. Prior to VMLY&R, she was the global CEO at Geometry and before that, the first female CEO at TracyLocke - with some stops at Westfield Corp and Kantar Consulting in between. A strong advocate of insights-inspired marketing programmes and effecting social impact through creativity, she is a prominent voice on DE&I issues and a member of WPP’s X-Factor programme, which helps develop female leaders.

Recently, Beth Ann has been interested in the evolution of ‘e-commerce’ - a topic that the industry at large has been discussing. Namely, asking: ‘Is the ‘e’ redundant?’. Speaking to LBB’s Ben Conway, she discusses how the world of creative commerce has changed in recent times, how the Western marketing world can learn from commerce leaders in Asia, and which brands are already writing the sector’s future - without an ‘e’.

LBB> Let's just talk about the ‘e’ in e-commerce. People say it’s becoming redundant… What are your general thoughts on that?

Beth Ann> It's somewhat similar to the time and inflection point within digital when everybody was like, ‘Why even use the language of ‘digital’? Everything is digital now!’. ‘E-commerce’ was too much of a ‘digital’ mindset… it almost became a narrowing word versus an expansive way of thinking about it. From a commerce point of view, ‘e’ is really narrowing it to one subset, one channel, one way that someone is consuming or creating commerce today. But the space is so much bigger than that. Elevating the language of this idea of ‘commerce’ is actually, in so many ways, disrupting marketing as we know it today. 

LBB> And how far has that distinction been blurred?

Beth Ann> We obviously see remnants of it in a lot of places still. I think it's more unhelpful than helpful if it becomes so siloed. E-commerce was a newer capability, so you brought in e-commerce specialists, creating an e-commerce team because your business didn't have that skillset yet. Where ‘e-commerce’ maybe has value is in recognising the constantly evolving newer capabilities and skills that companies need to adopt and adapt with. I still think the ‘e’ itself is limiting, but it does kind of signal that you need to constantly be evolving your skillset right now and at a really rapid pace.

The reason I call it more unhelpful now is because it's not a division - it needs to be integrated. You need to have integrated thinking in everything, from how you build capability in your organisation to how you work with external partners, and how you think about it in a really holistic view… But I get it - it's gradual! 

LBB> Lots of brands are adopting this more holistic approach to commerce - how are marketers beginning to drop the ‘e’ and work in a less siloed way?

Beth Ann> The experience that we deliver for the consumer is going to be across touchpoints still. But they do need to add up in a way that feels linked to the brand, and that delivers an action the business requires (conversions, sales, repeat subscription…).

Internally and within an agency partnership, you need to look at things holistically and really understand the consumer journey through the signals and data that we have - and to start delivering both engagement from those brand experiences and drive conversion as quickly as possible. That’s our new MO. 

From the data we look at, consumers are very open to creative experiences and deeper engagement, but also, when they are triggered or inspired to buy something, they want to be able to buy it as easily as possible. You’re seeing that come through a lot of the social commerce capability that is out there right now. 

That thrills me because, for a long time, we had been looking at the behaviours in Asia and trying to predict when exactly that would become more prevalent in places like the UK, the US and other markets. A lot of that is always technology-enabled and -driven, but we're seeing that take place right now. It's going to open up a world of excitement and creativity in more markets.

LBB>  What are some of these influences that you’re starting to see make their way from the marketing and commerce industries in Asia? Will we see the rise of the ‘everything app’ that has been popularised in places like China?

Beth Ann> I think the ‘everything app’ is tougher here because we don't have the Alibaba platform that was the dominant leader [in China] with an incredible vision, that could easily integrate everything vertically into its platform from the very beginning. Then with everything it’s acquired since, it's had the ability to start integrating them and make it really seamless for the consumer. They don't even necessarily think of it all as Alibaba… it’s so simplified, integrated and smooth there. 

Here, we have multiple different players in those different parts… PayPal is there but Apple Pay is taking the leadership role from a digital wallet standpoint… Amazon and Walmart are both leaders - Amazon in digital commerce and Walmart really leading in full commerce - so I don't think we have a single player or a single platform that is well positioned to merge it all. The same goes for LATAM and the UK, there are still going to be multiple players.

Amazon has typically been a company that was much more about getting people to the transaction and out as quickly as possible. I do think they’re re-thinking that now, which is a smart thing that Alibaba has done from the very beginning. They realised how important entertainment and consumer engagement was going to be. So it was about keeping people on the platform and all the different methods that they were building into the capability and the mechanics [to do that]. 

Above: VMLY&R COMMERCE's 'Trust Drive' campaign for Volkswagen

LBB> Other technologies making waves in the commerce space include AR and VR - blending traditional commerce with digital and interactive experiences - and not to mention AI. Are these big focuses for you?

Beth Ann> All these things, in my mind, are tools for creativity. The real power unlock is the idea of creative and creativity, which is why we put ‘creative commerce’ out there as the best way to define the space. 

What I love about any kind of augmented reality space is that it's making us rethink and reimagine the shopping universe. A lot of people say the metaverse was overhyped but in retail, we've seen really great luxury brands leverage it well and I think there is a massive role for it in the commerce world. We’ve seen it in the gaming industry too - the buying of goods and services in the virtual world is a huge space. That growth is still very much ahead of us, and for all brands. From a shopping perspective, there are real use cases and incredible experiences that can be designed in that way. Even platforms like TikTok, and other yet-to-emerge social environments, hold real promise to develop those kinds of storefronts. 

In terms of AI, some of it will be fully invisible to the consumer - that ability to augment capability; to understand and learn from people's behaviours; help brands anticipate better and exceed expectations more. So whether it's virtual shopping assistants or enhancing customer support and supply chain management - simple things that happened in the e-commerce environment that were really annoying to consumers - companies are going to be able to address that now. They are going to have smarter engines and the ability to, in real time, align the systems that help them deliver for the consumer differently. Some of it is going to be enhancements that are visible to the consumer, and some are going to be behind the scenes, just making the whole shopping experience that much better with less friction and pain for the consumer.

LBB> What specific pain points have consumers been feeding back about the current ‘e-commerce’ process?

Beth Ann> Too many steps in the buyer journey would be one. And when you just get pinged constantly by a brand when you put something in your cart. A misunderstanding of when to promote and discount has been a real challenge for different brands - knowing how to follow up with consumers with the right message at the right time. 

It's the same thing in terms of understanding search behaviour. If someone has concluded a purchase but then you keep sending them examples of the same thing that they've already just bought, it's really annoying. Certain retailers end up losing people because of that feedback loop… versus really understanding consumer behaviour. It’s about being able to follow somebody in a way that's constantly ahead and anticipating, rather than [being] annoying and behind purchases that have already been made.

LBB> Gen z is now entering the workforce and becoming a significant consumer base too. How is this generation affecting the commerce world - both as customers and as creatives or marketers in agencies and brands?

Beth Ann> It's really exciting because they are recognising that commerce is everywhere in their lives. They've already grown up that way, so there is less resistance - and I don't mean that in terms of manipulating them into constantly buying. [They recognise] the idea that you are getting inspired to buy things and try things that you wouldn’t normally if you hadn't had that environment to exchange ideas, engage and learn. Even people of older generations are seeing the value in that. 

Take a category like beauty or apparel and look at these influencers - or just your everyday people - who are out there telling their own stories about their routines; how they get ready in the morning and how they get ready for bed at night. There is a lot of genuine interest and curiosity to learn from others in that way, to hear that the problem that you are suffering from isn't different from what other people suffer from, and hear what they're doing to fix it. That's putting products in our lives in meaningful ways, at the time that matters. When you do it well, it's highly valuable and highly influential.

Sephora is one of those brands that’s doing it really well. Their shelves are now opened up to so many new products and new creators behind the products, because they understand where there's still gaps and white spaces, and what the consumer is demanding. 

What does that mean in the agency world for new creators coming in? I've always said that in times of cool evolution, it's sometimes hard for creators to think of themselves as consumers. So I think it’s really key to not separate out who you are - as a consumer and how you're living your life, what works and what doesn't work, what turns you off and what turns you on. 

Commerce is opening up, and is this incredible canvas of creativity. So many of the newer expressions of creativity - which brands are going to be leveraging to drive both brand equity, consumer engagement and, ultimately, sales - are going to be in the commerce space. It's disrupting marketing as we know it, and in a really inspiring, incredible way.

Above: Case study for VMLY&R COMMERCE's 'I See Coke' campaign

LBB> Which brands and projects do you feel are encapsulating the future of commerce right now? 

Beth Ann> Well, I can't not mention Coca Cola, which was a big WPP win [in 2021] and one that we're very deeply involved in from both COMMERCE and our full capability across VMLY&R. The amount of experimentation that they’re doing right now is incredible. They're seeing immediate payoff in terms of brands having more meaning, living within culture in more relevant ways, and just becoming stronger within new generations. Everything from format size - like the mini cans - just speaks to understanding how consumers are getting value from your products in a way that's relevant to their lives. You had a generation that was almost not drinking soft drinks anymore, but they’ve introduced mini cans - it's the right size, it fits into your life, and it's been hugely valuable. Those are all pieces of marketing, and marketing that matters. 

All the things that we've been doing [with Coca-Cola] in terms of AI and creativity too, in understanding back channel systems of routes to market, new places where people are going to be buying and trialling, thinking about sampling differently, creating the music studio platform. And owning sporting events and music! Coca-Cola is back in culture in a way that the consumer is receiving well and responding to. All of its brands are strengthening - Sprite, Fanta, Minute Maid… the whole portfolio is finding its way into people's lives, with relevant stories, action and things that are engaging people to buy in the right ways. 

I really admire Coke’s single KPI for everyone in the organisation… this idea of ‘weekly plus’. It just signals this understanding that they need consumer loyalty, a consumer routine and ritual - that you have some Coke product in your life every single week of your life.

The other thing I love is this idea of, ‘What are our recruitment factories?’. What are the places where people will come into contact with the brands which are different? Those ‘recruitment factories’ live online, they live in experiences, they live in festivals, they live in your gas station. It’s understanding how your brands come to life in people's lives in meaningful ways. I love those constructs of thinking. 

Above: VMLY&R COMMERCE's Oreo 'Stuf Scan' campaign

LBB> Any other recent success stories?

Beth Ann> Oreo has driven huge success for us this summer. ‘Stuf Scan’ recognised that Oreo was a nickname for the black and white colourway in sneaker culture, and attached the Oreo product to that during a seasonality, driving [people] to retail. It was a really fun mashup and a way of getting a ‘coolness’ element and driving a very different type of engagement to get the conversion we were looking for. That led us to ‘Oreo Codes’ this summer, which was the big Cannes winner. When you look at the idea, you think, ‘How did this not happen before?’. Then we have another one launching for the Super Bowl, which I can't tease out completely yet! 

What I like about that is that these are not just one-offs. This is becoming a campaign; there’s an extended conversation happening and actions taking place with the brand through the lens of creative commerce. 

LBB> Any final thoughts?

Beth Ann> I will leave you with this about the [commerce] space: these aren’t one-off tactics. These can be campaign-able, bigger platforms with always-on ideas that surround a brand. They elevate brand experience but also drive conversion at the same time, and can happen for any kind of product. 

There's just so many different use cases across sectors now for that ‘commerce moment’ - whatever that may be and wherever that transaction may ultimately be - that brings you deeper into a brand story and an action.

view more - Trends and Insight
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VMLY&R COMMERCE Worldwide, Mon, 18 Sep 2023 16:48:00 GMT