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Interview

Interview: Extracting Business Value from Data, with Julie Bernard, Global CMO/Board Member in Retail, Ad Tech, and Home Services

As more and more brands go direct, it is critical that they get the most value from their new data asset. Julie Bernard has spent a career making data speak truth to power at organizations like Macy’s, IAB, and Authority Brands. Peter Crosby sat down with Julie for an in-depth conversation of lessons learned, advice on pitfalls, and the mantras of leadership that drive change.

TRANSCRIPT

Peter:

So, Julie, thank you so much for joining us. I think the only place to start here is with the circuitous path of your career because once you go through the breadth of that, it really adds up to a view from really all angles of commerce. So tell us where you've been and what you've done. And yeah, I'd love to love to hear that.

Julie:

All right. Well, uh, thanks, Peter. Um, and circuitous is definitely the word that best embodies the nature and the pathway of my career. It is certainly non-linear and it's hard to kind of define very quickly. Um, so maybe I'll do it by sharing one of the mantras that I live by. I live by many mantras. I think you're going to hear about some of them today. And the first one that I'll use to set this up in terms of defining my career journey is: just say yes. I've always loved this idea that so many of the opportunities that we have in life are presented to us. And we may not think we're right for that opportunity, yet if we open our mind to the fact that oftentimes people pursue us for things where they are observing that we have strength or skill for a particular opportunity, and we should just say yes to it and to kind of trust the strength that others see in us. And so with that, I've had, um, many stops along the way, um, in retail, mostly yet in luxury retail and very, very high-end luxury retail, Saks Fifth Avenue, and working with the very high-end apparel brands there, the Chanel Gucci is Dolce and Gabbana is of the world. Then also dollar stores and outlets. So outlets in a lot of different capacities, dollar store formats, and quite honestly moderate retail in between with department stores, um, experience as well, and also stops in that journey in retail, along all the dimensions of retail stops along the way and merchandising, which is actually where I started my career. And I loved being a merchant. I completely respect and honor all merchants because I think their job is so much harder than anybody gives them credit for, yeah, I have high empathy. I started my merchandising experience at Saks and I wasn't in the high-end designer world.

Julie:

And I'm one of those that had the great privilege of traveling to Europe and going to Milan and Paris and London and attending the fashion shows and, you know, going to the Armani showroom and the Dolce and Gabbana shows and all those types of things. And the reality is I was the worst merchant in the history of retail. I thought everything was beautiful and I could hardly edit and carry an assortment because in fact, in luxury, everything is beautiful. I just wanted to bring all of it because it was magical to all consumers all the time. Um, so that was definitely one of my most fun experiences. And I did it for quite some time yet from there in the spirit of just saying, yes, I had other leaders around me that offered me opportunities in other areas of the business that I would just say yes each time.

Julie:

So I moved into merchandise planning, which brought me into finance and strategy, which brought me into a stint, both in retail, at Saks, but also in a consultant capacity in supply chain, warehouse, and foreign imports, um, and distribution, and also in technology. Uh, and as I mentioned, I had a stint in consulting, so I've done a lot of different things yet really for the past decade or so has landed in my, my passion, um, which is really customer strategy. And since customer and consumer data and research and insights have traditionally been held captive by the marketing function by default, I've been in marketing yet. I really see myself more as a consumerist. Um, and if right now marketing still holds captive that data asset to leverage as a strategic asset on behalf of organizations, then that's where I am. Um, but yeah, it's, it's been an amazing journey and I, I feel I've benefited from that nonlinear approach because I really do have not only perspective and actual experience in those functions, in my marketing and customer strategy perspective. Now I have high empathy for the work that those leaders are driving.

Peter:

Yeah, you mentioned, I mean, it's a fascinating journey and the breadth of it is amazing. The last part you were talking about, which is really this consumer customer mindset, can you talk about how important data is to do that at scale, of course, you know, if you're dealing with six customers, you can write them all handwritten notes, but things have to change at scale. Right. And so you talked about marketers holding it, captive to their bullets. Tell me a bit about that and where, where do you think the function or the data, or how should it live to make it useful to the entire company? Is that where you're going?

Julie:

It is a little bit, um, and then there are so many other thoughts because you went down to the data rabbit hole and everybody loves to talk about data and it's such a rich topic and you can go down so many different pathways. So I'll start with one and maybe use that to kind of migrate into another element of it that I think is really important. So yes, they, I will always think, um, a company that I had the great privilege of working with when I was at Macy's and the department store space called Dunnhumby, uh, quite famous for, um, groundbreaking work. They did initially in the eighties and nineties for Tesco, and then for Kroger here in the United States that has morphed over time into another entity. Yet I've worked with them for about eight years and I'm not, um, you know, shy to, well I'll, I'll give them credit for it to steal a mantra from them.

Julie:

They had a lovely phrase that I've used for the past decade now, ever since I first heard it from one of their founders. Liberate the data and socialize the insight. And the very first time they said it to me, it resonated deeply because it was that idea that there's such great insight that can be gleaned from the customer database well beyond direct marketing activations, well beyond personalization on the site, well beyond email customization and so many other things. And yet we, we don't really let the rest of the organization see their business through the customer lens. We have all of these functional metrics. So a merchant, as an example, can see of course, product performance. You know, how many widgets did I sell? And at what price did I sell the widget in the supply chain, they have their own functional metrics that can be about delivery and, um, you know, trucking and shipping efficiencies.

Julie:

And in, you know, I.T, It could be uptime and other technology, performance metrics and functional metrics are certainly important yet. I feel like we have such a powerful asset available to all of us to unify us in the business with looking at not how many widgets did I sell yet to think about it as to whom did I sell the widget to whom did I ship the widget and to think about it through that lens, because now we have something we can all be bonded by, which is this consumer truth. And I really do think it's not also about a single $5 billion idea, which, you know, somebody sitting there, you have a data science team trying to crank out this amazing insight. I really do think it's about the cumulative impact of thousands of decisions that are made daily day in and day out by hundreds of people throughout our organizations that ultimately delivers the $5 billion revenue impact.

Julie:

If we really empower everybody to be their smarter selves through this customer knowledge, that's where I think we really start to see the change happen. And, and I just don't think that we do that. I think that we're kind of waiting for this little group of, you know, maybe 10 statisticians and applied mathematicians, setting it around, trying to find this blazing insight. And I don't know if it's necessarily always such a blazing and insightful thing. Sometimes it is. We can talk about that later, but sometimes it's not, it's really just about everybody doing their role, doing their jobs smarter every day.

Peter:

So, uh, the sentence that I picked up on, and as we were talking earlier, was marketing, holding data captive to their benefit that you tell me, did you, did you mean that in that they are actively hugging it to themselves for some organizational or process reason? Or is it just that, you know, they're focused on their own function and therefore aren't sharing it out. So, and I asked that only in that I would love you to, like, let's say you were plopped down in, in a brand today and needed, and you, and someone said, fix this, make this data thing work, and the vision that you're talking about come to life, where would you put it? How would you think about that? Is it a separate organization? What does that process that you've put in place to, to have that wider impact you're talking about?

Julie:

Oh, okay. So that's a big one that gets started to kind of activate these data assets and start to position them more strategically versus practically speaking. So for the first part of your question, in terms of marketing, holding the data captive, I don't think it's for any malicious intent. Certainly. I think part of it is the gravitational force of just prior operating practices. That's where it started out. Um, actually if we go back in history, a lot of that was for direct mail and, you know, keeping a database for, you know, postage, um, efficiency and, and some of these different things. And being able to communicate with people in that capacity makes me think about the old catalogs, right? The Sears catalog and that type of thing. And so it just, it grew up there out of a tactical execution. I don't know if that was very strategic, as much as it was a tactical activity that worked right.

Julie:

It worked, and that has morphed into other direct marketing, um, activations today. Yet, if I were plopped down into this imaginary company, starting to think about how I would approach it, the first thing I like to think about is what are the consumer experiences we're trying to create. Again, I kind of come back to, let's not worry so much about my functional area. Let's think about the consumer experience. I'm trying to create the product and service commitments I intend to uphold and back into the data that are necessary to affect that change, to activate against that desired state. And, and yet the consumer experiences I want to create. Some of them might be ideated in a room with, you know, five or six smart people just thinking about from there, you know, what they think might intuitively be better for our consumer yet. I also would be inculcating a kind of a culture of informing those consumer experiences with, uh, based on an insight and that that insight hopefully can be drawn from the customer database. Um, and

Peter:

Do you have an example of where you've seen that?

Julie:

Yeah, I do. So, you know, an example, and this is another great example of my partnership with Dunnhumby back in the day is when I first, well, I was actually consulting to Macy's as an organization for about a year before I joined the organization. And, and when I joined, it was very much for this express purpose of, um, extracting greater value from their most amazing customer data assets. When I joined, I was fortunate to have inherited an amazing customer data management environment that already had online and offline behavior melded against a unified customer record. And a lot of progress had been made in that regard. And the organization at the time was still very much going after acquiring net new customers to further expand that database, which is, you know, certainly everybody always wants to acquire new customers. That's not new in retail and marketing and in business, frankly.

Julie:

And yet, as we looked into both the customer database, as well as some overlaid with traditional consumer research, we actually found that seven out of 10 households across the United States, shocked in Macy's at least once a year and seven out of 10, which was amazing. And the three out of 10 though, that were not shopping at Macy's likely, never would. Right? So one of those three was more towards the luxury end of the spectrum and would probably never be caught dead in a Macy's. And two of those three were on the lower end. Um, typically they are underserved and, you know, make us Macy's would have been a stretch for them. And so while a lot of the focus was on acquiring again, as I said, net new customers, it was really about deepening the relationship and expanding the relationship with the customers who already knew them.

Julie:

And so we came up with another mantra, again, there's lots of mantras, but they help synthesize the point, which was: love the ones you're with. Seven out of 10 are already visiting with you on an annual basis. And yet the vast majority of them are only shopping three or four times a year with you. And yet we know they spend a lot, a lot of money elsewhere. So how can you get them to take just one of those shopping visits, those purchase visits from another retailer and consolidate it with you. And if we could get just 25% of that customer, um, database, frankly, to shop just one extra time a year with Macy's, that was actually a $5 billion opportunity. And so we did create this mantra of love, the ones you're with let's focus on studying the behaviors and the need States of the people with whom we already have a relationship.

Julie:

And from that, think about things we can do to, to better serve their needs. In other categories, with new promotions, with new price points, with new assortments, with new offerings and capabilities, things like buy online pickup in store, different dynamics with offline and online and, and just improve that experience so that we get that one extra shopping visit and we can drive that by billion dollars. So it became this overarching strategic positioning of love, the ones you're with. We're going to focus on really loyalty and showing our loyalty to the customer, not expecting them to show their loyalty to us, us showing our loyalty to them. And it's not just a play on words. I think it's a nuance yet an important one that when we show our loyalty to them, they reciprocate, but we shouldn't be formulating just programs to force them to show their loyalty to us.

Julie:

That's not what it's about, it's our job to demonstrate the other effect, um, and then drive the visit. So two little mantras that became organizing themes that you could use to focus on. Um, but there is a second part of that, which is, you know, making sure that to activate you have to move quickly. And I think, you know, one of the other things, if I was dropped into this imaginary business would be careful not to try to capture everything and not to try to create this imaginary view of the 360 degree view of the customer, which everybody is always aspiring to. I would submit that that's somewhat academic and it is imaginary. And also somewhat in some ways, unnecessary new data are being invented every day. And so you would be in a perpetual state of having to learn about the new data that are being created and how to think about them in the context of your business. And it tends to slow us down. And so I think about if we've designed customer experiences and we've defined these experiences and journeys, we want them to have with us then think about the data that is necessary to enable that experience. It's also frankly, just more ethical and privacy sensitive, um, and enables us to move more quickly. So I think it's really important to think about what data we really need so that we can move more quickly and moving more quickly helps with adoption.

Peter:

Yeah, it resonates with me because, you know, I've spent the last three months at the digital shelf Institute talking to brand manufacturer leaders who are stepping into direct to consumer many of them for the first time in their careers, or certainly for the companies that they're out at the moment. And, they're beginning to discover the data that they're getting from their DTC operations are, can be really powerful, um, and also powerful in their partnerships with their normal, more traditional retailer customers. You, you experienced that kind of realization that Macy's, can you walk us through that? Yeah,

Julie:

So I, this is where I think, um, I get so excited by this because I think, you know, I'll, I'll start with a broader theme, um, another mantra, uh, and then I'll give a couple of specific examples. I have a few that I think will kind of bring it to life. Um, I think so many organizations, because they do go down this rabbit hole of capturing data, create this amazing master data management environment. And Oh, now I have my MGM all set up with great customer data, but then I need to have a CDP because I want to liberate my marketers to not require it. And then we get into the acronym soup, the alphabet soup, if you will, of all the acronyms of technologies. And we get distracted, frankly, by the technology and the implementation of what should be enablement and powerful tools instead of, and then the data and we're in a perpetual state, frankly, in many ways of just reporting on the data, right?

Julie:

So we're organizing all of it. We're making sure everybody has access to it and then they can download it, format it and distribute it yet. We don't frankly create enough time to say two things that matter. So here's my new mantra for all of us to think about what, so what, now what, and I would submit again, um, mostly people focused on the, what's happening and of that's a backward view by definition of reporting on the watch. And I would ask people to have the courage, frankly, to have a point of view and to step up and to say, so what does it mean? And even more courage to have ideas about now, what do I do with it? What, so what now? What, because the reporting on the, what doesn't drive revenue, even having an opinion about, so what do you think it means doesn't necessarily drive revenue, doing something with it, drives revenue. And I know everybody loves to talk about actionable insights, yet It's often just talk. We just have to get going. And, and of course followed through with, did the watch work, did the, now what work

Peter:

Say that, um, that courage is an important part of being able to do this? Tell me why that's true, because when you say it, it's like, well, of course, cause that's the only way you're going to do something interesting with this, that you're only going to do something that has an impact, but what do you think holds people back from going to that third stage of, you know, what do I w okay, so what, and then what, what now? Okay.

Julie:

Sometimes honestly, I think it's, um, I think there's so many different challenges on this one. Sometimes I just think it's a time constraint. I think we're so busy, you know, hamsters on the wheel, if you will produce and work that we don't give ourselves the luxury of stepping back and thinking and having time to think and to reflect on what this all means and what I should do with it. And then some of that courage is I think because we perhaps haven't developed the necessary relationships and the business so that we can have totally forthcoming open and honest conversations, not only with our peers within, as an example of the marketing function yet with colleagues in other areas of the business. Um, and so, so thanks for that lovely setup here, because I'll, I'll, I'll use this as an example, right? And so, uh, let's use this as a courage moment and, and the courage came from a good relationship.

Julie:

I had with the chief merchant of the beauty division, again for this large department store, moderate department store chain, um, there in looking at the data, we found an insight and the beauty division for certain brands, you know, we're doing this comprehensive analysis on beauty customers. And, uh, the reason we launched the analysis doesn't matter, cause I don't want to go down that for a moment to stay focused on the actual outcome. But we found for one of the particular beauty brands, that there was a very high percentage of that customer database that appeared to be store only customers. So we did not see them ever go to our website, to our mobile app. In fact, never even, you know, engage with the call center. They were store only customers. Um, and it was close to 60%. This was back in 2014. So I need to give you the timeframe to give some context for the story.

Julie:

Um, and thinking that store only people saw this one data point. And by the way, it's one data point in, uh, you know, at the time of PowerPoint, presentation of insights, it's 300 pages long of beauty insights about the beauty customer. Yet they got caught on it and they're like, Oh my gosh, 60% of our people are stored only and coming to some incorrect conclusions. And so there were many people in the room discussing the different data points and they said, well, this person's not digitally savvy. They must be older. I bet they're, you know, older people and they're not comfortable with tech and they're not comfortable with laptops and mobile devices. And I remember sitting there thinking, well, we're going down the wrong pathway. It's not that these people are not, are not digitally savvy. It's not that they're not online. It's not that they're not digitally influenced.

Julie:

And I had, again, the car I'm like, I, my hypothesis is they're digital. They're simply not digital with us, which comes back to the 360 degree view of the customer is always an academic exercise because in your own database, in your PII and your personally identifiable database, you can only see the behaviors they have with you, right? Again, offline, online, we can do all sorts of magical matching of all of these different dynamics. It's easy. It's not even hard nowadays if you, if you're thoughtful and design it upfront, but you only see that small slice, you don't see what they're doing with other businesses. Um, of course you can do consumer research. There are third parties you can go to. Um, but for that actual customer, you're not actually seeing their purchase behavior and their digital behavior with others. So in this example, the head merchant for the beauty, um, business, uh, total innovator and open-minded, um, change agent herself.

Julie:

And that's definitely, I think part of how she drove success. Who's an amazing leader, very inspirational leader. I said, you know, I would submit our store. Only customers are digital somewhere else. And I know this other brand and I want to, you know, give them some anonymity here, but it was one of the top three. And so a very important brand to our business and had been for decades and was a great partner. And very much was one of the partners that was also an innovator and open to change and testing and trying some new things. I said, I'd love it, and she's the merchant. So I'm an architect and I'm running this experimentation group. I said, I would love it if you would arrange an introduction for me to their main innovator. My role in that company find me, cause I know they must have an experimentation group and R and D or an innovation group, whatever everybody calls these, these kinds of groups, if you could find me my counterpart so that I can have a conversation with her and arrange that introduction, production, and frankly support the idea, right.

Julie:

That we want to do something together, um, kind of sponsor me if you will. And she did. So she's amazing. She found me the right person. I, you know, we went to their office, we went to their tower, had a great ideation session and we agreed to match our customer data, our PII data, which is sensitive. So we mutually agree to an independent third party, a highly respected that does this for a living, one of the, actually the top one in the U S at the time, so that it was a privacy sensitive, safe Haven environment to do an actual customer database match. And we found that the 60% of our customers that were on our database appeared to be store only non-digital consumers. Over half of them were spending time on the brand's website before in the 72 hours before they made a purchase at our store.

Julie:

And in fact, the other more amazing insight on that is that they were spending in some cases, in many cases, upwards of 30 minutes on the brand's website, which is an extraordinary amount of time. When you think about, um, the exploration education and inspiration stage of a purchase, and when we saw what they were doing on the site, right? Because we were matching and these were PII data assets. So this was our customer on their site, right on the brand site, right. They were looking at reviews, tons of reviews, reviews, reviews, reviews, lots of reviews, scrolling, watching a lot of videos, how to tos the smokey eye and how to select a foundation based color and all those types of things, which make total sense. And yet they would then come into our store to make the final purchase. And so that customer was very much digital.

Julie:

They just weren't digital with us. And so from that, that, from that truth, frankly, we were able to do a lot of different things, right. We were able to go back to our own e-commerce merchants and say, what can we do to make our own website more magical? Because if you look at us, we're just a grid of a bunch of beauty products. There's nothing inspiring, educating or interesting about it at all. We have some how to content, but it's so deeply buried. It would take you 20 minutes just to even find it. So how can we rethink the customer experience on our own site? Let's just, you know, be humble and, and, and, you know, admit that, and then there's a cost after they'd come back and say, well, we can't afford. They're the brand, they're the beauty brand. They have such a margin, which is not true, but they're like, Oh, they have so much money to create all that great content.

Julie:

We're just a retailer. Well, then let's just use their content. Right. And then that's the gravitational force of the prior thinking prior thinking was, well, we need to create our own asset because we want to look different from the other retailers that also sell that product. So if we use the brand's assets, we're no different than the other distribution points for that product. And I'm like, who cares? Consumers are over that. They're not exploring all those different points. If they're shopping with us, they're not shopping with some of those other competitors. So they're not seeing the con the same content there. And also we can surround it. So it still feels, it looks and feels different and we can still do other things without a brand to create a unique experience. And so just challenging. This is the courage piece, right? You have to challenge some of these deeply held beliefs that people have.

Julie:

And, and then similarly with the brand also think about ways we can activate with them differently. Um, you know, so it's not just a one-way thing to say, Oh, do this data match. And now it's only to benefit us and we're going to change our own website yet. How can we think about different activations with our partner also, um, to truly have a scenario where a rising tide lifts all boats, right? We have to have that approach that I'm trying to, I want us both to win. And when we do the right thing by the customer, we all do win.

Peter:

I'm hearing that theme a lot. Now, you know, now this is what's six years later, the consumer journey has become even more complex. They can do whatever they want whenever they want, and they expect to have their journey fulfilled wherever they want to. And so what I'm seeing, and I'm wondering if you're seeing the same as just the birth of a new partnership between retailers and brands in, uh, more than ever before in a it, because, and I think part of that is driven because now brands are, and the word omni-channel has been so overused and in some ways, um, I've started thinking about it as the digital first omni-channel that that's the shift. And now, because brands are becoming truly omni-channel for the first time being able to now do DTC that is changing their view of, of that relationship with the customer. And therefore they want to drive those relationships, you know, improve those relationships across all the channels that they're selling through. Not just the ones they absolutely control.

Julie:

Yeah. Does that resonate with you? It does yet. Can I, um, can I challenge us a little bit on, even though I'm with you on the word omni-channel. By definition, it's Omni channel, we're not talking about Omni customer, the consumer we've defined even the very word by a supply chain channel definition, which is already not on me. It has been about optimizing assortment and product availability across channels. It hasn't been about understanding a consumer and the different, right. Again, it's like, it is a point, but these nuances matter because it changes the perspective shift makes you think differently about the business problems we are encountering. And so I do know that the partnership spirit is alive and well, and yet one would probably go back and I've been in retail for a long time and say, we always had a spirit of partnership with our manufacturer partners and vendors and, and we would collaborate and have all of these conversations.

Julie:

And we would go to Europe or we'd go to shows, or we go to market and we'd kiss kiss on the cheek, even though we were in New York city on seventh Avenue, um, I think we were pretending we were more than we were. Um, and yet even then there was a deeper relationship tug of war that we were having when you went back to, to run the business. Um, so, you know, again, it's that, that comfort zone of doing things the way we've always done it or having these old rules of upgrading models. And an example could be one of the insights back. The what, so what now, what that we had is, you know, kind of the combinations in the department store context, the combinations of products that people buy to create a unique look for themselves. People don't want to be with all due respect to the Ralph Lauren organization, Ralph Lauren, head to toe.

Julie:

They don't want to wear a Ralph Lauren shoe pant, top handbag, fragrance, hat, coat sheets on my bed. You know, whatever that that's not, I know they would love to be a lifestyle brand. Think that everybody only buys that one brand, maybe 1% of humans actually do that. Most people want to have a unique sense of themselves and feel differentiated. And like they had their own sense of style in this one example and they mix and match. We all do. We all go to lots of different places to put together our own, you know, I don't know our own personality and what works with us and resonates. And yet to do that properly than if we had a consumer view of this insight, we should start showing on model different brands and how, in fact, a consumer might mix and match the array of content in the assortment that we're bringing together for her or for him, um, and show them how to put it all together across brands.

Julie:

And yet the brands would absolutely melt down when we would test and do that. And then the tough part of it as a brand, as a retailer, we would have to test in a top secret way, right? Like I would pick a tiny market and it was, it felt sneaky. And I don't want to be doing that. Right. I want to be testing with you supporting this test, right? I want to bring the brands together to say again, a rising tide lifts all boats. If we can deliver a more meaningful and relevant experience for the consumer that resonates your brand is going to do better. Your brand is going to do better and we'll do better. Right. So we'll all do better together. But these artificial restrictions that we put on the business just didn't make any sense at all. Right. And so another example would be, let's go back to beauty.

Julie:

Consumers hate having to see everything by brand at a time when they're coming in. And they say, Oh, I have oily skin. They want to say, Hey, all of the oily skin treatment options across brands, that's the benefit in that context of a department store. So imagine having a treatment area that just brings all the brands together, and they can start to explore the benefits of the different products for their particular need, instead of having to make them walk from counter to counter, to counter, to counter. And by the way, online, you have the same experience brand, brand, brand, they're just digital counters. And so we haven't made it easy for people to shop in the way that matters to them versus the way we want to organize by brand by manufacturer. And I think we have a lot of room to change there still, um, when we think about how we, how we truly are customer centric, we've been talking about it forever. Look, I've been in business for a long time. I've been in retail for a long time. No one ever said we didn't want to be customer centric. Right. You know, and I was very fortunate to grow up at Saks Fifth Avenue, my professional career, and to their credit. They were customer centric before that phrase was a thing we truly did have meetings where back in the nineties, the conversation very organically and naturally, and authentically would be, is this okay for the consumer? Is this going to be a good experience in store? Is this going to be a good experience when we launched our site and all of those different things, even the warehouse, you know, uh, systems were thought about in terms of how it would improve consumer experience. So it's not a new idea. It's just that we really do have to challenge these rules of engagement that we've had for, for decades.

Peter:

Julie, when you think about, when you think about that, um, what you're describing is kind of fresh thinking leadership, right? End. Uh, and I'm not saying that necessarily needs a people change, but it doesn't need a mindset change. And, and what do you think the qualities of leadership are that are, you know, are you seeing that out there? And, you know, I've sort of have a theory that, that, uh, these, these leaders of digital that are working this today that are kind of, uh, being the digital first sort of inspires within their organization are the future CEOs. I don't know whether you, you know, whether or not you might agree with that, but, um, where do you, what, where do you think this leadership is going to come from? Where will that change be driven from or by, by what kind of person?

Julie:

Okay. So, um, I love your questions because you set me up for my mantras. So this is a, this is even my, my Peloton handle. If anyone wants to follow me, hashtag champions adjust. I had a boss, um, about 10 years ago. Oh gosh, 12 years ago, maybe longer who, um, I was trying to drive a particular change initiative and had all the data to support the, so what now, what, what to do differently, how to think about it all, et cetera. And it didn't quite go the way I expected in a particular meeting, right? So not everything's perfect and rosy can't hold these insights, courage and all that, um, all that jazz. And we went back and we had our little, you know, you have your, your hindsight meeting recap, you, you huddle after the big presentation, how about what, what could we have done differently?

Julie:

And he said, um, champions adjust, right? No one when they are, um, training for the Olympics continues to do the same thing over and over again, if they're not doing better, um, winning and winning, right. So how can we adjust? And then we can still get to the same effect, just different pathways. And so think about, you know, different ways to get to that same end state or to encourage people differently, to inspire them differently. And definitely think about how new data and new insights might illuminate an issue in such a way that people are more comfortable adopting and embracing that change. Um, and so kind of be the leader that shows confidence in changing your mind and adapting to it, um, and adjusting accordingly. So I do think we have the ability to, we love to talk about agile and all that. And I think it's true, right?

Julie:

Champions adjust. And we have to be open-minded, to change our mind and do something differently when we know it's the right thing to do. And when we have an insight that in fact supports that change. Part two, and this'll be a three-part answer, we have to empower and trust our teams. Everybody loves to talk about organizational development and design and support. And particularly in the, particularly in these challenging times where distributed teams working remotely have all sorts of burdens and pressures. Um, if we say we trust our teams, we really have to establish a desired outcome and ensure everybody knows what we're seeking to achieve and let them go do it, do not let bureaucracy and process and all of that get in the way of achieving something. And we need to empower them to go get it done and to remove those hurdles, remove those obstacles and just let them go.

Julie:

And I think there is still a tendency for a lot of people to micromanage. And I don't even know if it's micro-managing as much as it's micro judging that people are so judgemental with every single decision or approach that somebody took. And yet back to champions adjusting, there are many different pathways to get to that same outcome. So, give them some room, give them freedom to figure it out because most people will, right. People want to be successful, no one wants to fail. So go let them do it and leave them alone. And I hope if I had people I've worked with in the past, and I've built a lot of teams from one to 200 and done a lot of growth. I hope my folks would say the ones I've worked with and had the privilege of working with, I let them do their thing.

Julie:

And of course I was there to help them if they needed me to yet, we spent a lot of time agreeing with the outcomes we were seeking. We were trying to, you know, measure against what we were trying to achieve. And then frankly, leaving them alone to go do it. Unless of course they needed me. And we would talk, I mean, we talked all the time and, and a part of that team pieces to love them and power them be loyal to them. But also to realize you have a responsibility to your team, you are, there's just a power dynamic. It's the reality of a supervisor, you know, in a, in a team member, you're, in some ways in con you know, in control of their livelihood, right of their income to support their families, their loved ones, whatever themselves, their healthcare, their retirement, whatever their college education for their kids, if that happens to be the case.

Julie:

So you need to show your loyalty to them and your commitment to help them be their best selves. And I do think that's an, a critical piece of leadership is the piece of your responsibility to them. It's not always them showing you, they can achieve that goal when they need help. You have to show, show them that you're there to train and coach and mentor them in a spirit of making them successful versus a spirit of holding them back or shutting them down. And so my third piece is curiosity. We have to up the curiosity quotient as leaders and, and encourage people to be curious and encourage people to think about. "Hmm, what else, what else could I be doing?" So let me give you an example of something that inspired me a couple of years ago, 18 months ago, when it's still not being activated in most retailers across the country.

Julie:

I had the great privilege of partnering with a company called acuity brands. They are one of the largest lighting manufacturers. Um, they're one of those 4 billion, $5 billion. I don't even know what their revenue is. Companies you've never heard of down in Atlanta yet. They basically have the light bulbs installed in every retailer and mall in the United States. Uh, okay. Um, they're light is now vegan enabled and has been forever. So they're smart, right? The world of IOT and, and yeah, they're doing nothing with the beacon signals, which is such an unbelievably powerful signal, even if you only have a sample of it because it required Bluetooth and all sorts of things. We don't, I don't want to go down kind of a technicality road yet. It's such an unbelievably powerful signal that can be anonymized to understand consumer behavior and need and want States to not only enhance an in store experience yet also to create more engaging and magical digital experiences.

Julie:

A lot of retailers, I don't know if it's disclosed on their site because I don't know I'm going to just, um, I may need to anonymize it. I want to be sensitive to the fact that I had some inside baseball knowledge on this yet acuity has their beacon enabled smart bulbs in the vast majority of retail in the United States States. And yet the people who are installing these bulbs, which makes sense were a lot of the facilities management people, right? So it's a bulb they're trying to, it's an efficient PLI. I need a better light bulb. And so, by the way, the old bulbs, I don't know how to live two or three-year life. These new ones have like a 10 year life. So the acuity folks were just trying to figure out innovation because they think about their revenue cycle. If I don't have to change out these bulbs now every two to three years, but it's every 10, I need to be generating revenue some other way, because my bulb is so darn good, which is where having an IOT device makes it, or, um, product makes it so much smarter, but the insights are dominantly being used for wayfinding.

Julie:

So a lot of the apps that do in-store wayfinding for a lot of retailers, um, is through these beacon enabled lights. That's great. That's a great activation. And also for staffing optimization again, totally sensible. That's great. Yeah, both of those have traditionally been held captive. I would argue that the store organization leaders came up with some of these experiences for staffing optimization, wayfinding. Imagine what the marketing team, if that, if those data were brought into the marketing customer data asset environment, the different activations that could be, um, ideated and, and created based on those insights. So, you know, even just time spent looking at a particular product category and then not buying, right, because they could close the loop on, did you purchase or not, or you went into the store, you were in fact, in a particular aisle studying a product for X period of time.

Julie:

Yet you then did go buy online or you went and bought online, but not with us and some of these different things. So I think the openness to, you know, sharing some of these data assets and having curiosity and an imagination, an imagination spirit, um, to think about the potential of these new technologies and to tap into them is important. And I think in some cases we just get bogged down with a project we started three years ago and we're still working on it. Right. And so in this case with the acuity brand beacon enabled lights, these have been out there for a while and no one's using them. It kills me. I'm like, Oh my gosh, there's this amazing asset that no one's tapping into. Um, I mean, I would love to, I tried to trust me. I tried to do what I spoke a lot, shop talk and grocery talk. And, um, I mean, there's so many unbelievable things you could do, even from a loyalty program activation standpoint. I mean, the potential is I feel like I'm an advertising, I'm a commercial drip for them, but I'm so passionate about this title.

Peter:

Gotcha. And, and I would add, you know, to, to close out because this conversation has been inspiring and detailed, and I love it. I would say if there's a fourth one to add to your list of three, and it's something you talked about at the beginning, it's the time for creativity, the creativity, curiosity, all those take time. And, um, just from our own, my own experience right now about, I dunno, about eight months ago or so, um, you know, driven by the top leadership that I work with, we added focus time to our schedules, like blocked hours of a few hours, like three days a week where no meetings could be had, no one could get on our schedule and you have time to think. And I know that I'm sure I thought you, you know, you think, Oh my gosh, how was that going to work? But if you prioritize creativity and then people get curious, they have the time to do that, curious, and then they can do the, what, you know what now, you know, why, thank you. I knew I'd get it wrong, but I had the spirit.

Julie:

I agree with you. And you know, it's funny it's, um, that is, I so agree with you that that's another leadership mandate because you it's back to giving people, empowering them and giving them the freedom and, and trusting them to do the right thing. And I did when I worked in advertising tech, uh, most recently at Berg, my creative director did come to me one day. Um, he had a bunch of patents that were approved under his name for mobile innovation, mobile ad unit innovation. And so this is a terrible metric. I was like, I'd love to have another mobile ad concept quarterly, right? So four year that we could patent and own as a proprietary product, um, based on his history, right? This guy was cranking stuff out. He was amazing. He's an amazing now creative director at a very, very big creative agency. And he came into me one day and he's like, all right, here's the deal again?

Julie:

I love my team members. He's like, I'm with you. I think I can, with my team, I have a great team crank out one a quarter. Um, that'll be our target. We'll, we'll go with you there. You need to let me have Fridays for ourselves. And Fridays need to be our day to have innovation Friday, and we're going to go underground on you. And we're going to do our thing. Um, both the developers and the designers. And so that was our agreement. So one day a week was their innovation day and they went underground. I wasn't allowed to ping them. And we, of course, if we had a client emergency, because we did develop, you know, of creative for our clients, yet only in an emergency, would we reach out to him and we never had to, because when you plan around it, you can, you know, you, you plan accordingly, right?

Julie:

And that's, that's what people do. The other thing, I think though, in that spirit of the innovation at the time, to be curious and to think creatively is also about, um, two things I would answer that you need to network and you need to have almost a personal advisory board of people outside of your day in and day out interaction with him. You interact periodically to, to get reactions, to get input, to get someone, to hear you from a different perspective and, and, you know, give you some thoughts. Um, and I have those folks that I connect with them all the time. In fact, all of my prior direct reports in many of my different, uh, career pathways, I, I still stay in touch with, and I ask them for feedback all the time and they do the same for me. You know, one of them is a very senior executive at MasterCard.

Julie:

Now we just did a demo of a beta product that they're launching in their company. And he's like, can you look at it confidentially and give me feedback, right? I mean, that's what you do for each other. Um, and the second piece is attending virtual events, seeking knowledge and inspiration from outside your industry. I still do find great inspiration from all the usual places of HBR and the McKinsey newsletters and the newsletters, frankly, of all the top consultancies yet also, you know, from other places, you know, my other favorite newsletter I love to throw out there is the newsletter for the world economic forum. It's so global and so smart and so challenging. I've often read things about, you know, I don't know, um, renewable energy that I can apply to retail. I mean, you really do think about the world in a broader sense and bring it back to and translate it to your own business. And so I think it's important to find that inspiration and keep yourself current, um, from, from seeking knowledge all the time from other places.

Peter:

Well, Julie, this has been a fantastic sort of a mantra driven train through your brain, and I'm so appreciative of you for sharing this and, and, uh, and your experience with our listeners. It's, it's really generous of you. Thank you.

Julie:

Oh, thank you so much, Peter. It's been my pleasure and I, um, I hope it's helpful.