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“Quickly gives us an idea of content that will resonate with our audiences and the most efficient channels to deliver it on”

Gabriel Authier

Global Brand Manager

“Continuously informs our social and advertising strategies”

Jaime Parson

Director of Marketing Insights

“Pivotal in improving our client's media strategies”

Gemma Philpott

Assc. Director of Strategy

“Mind blowing! Helped surface a lot of great insights”

Chris Mikulin


“Strategic insight that helps my team move fast without hesitation”

Martin Brueckner

Global Head Spots Communications

“Lots of actionable insights. Very Impactful.”

TJ Walker

Founder & CEO
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What's Working In Marketing™: Customer Centricity in The Age of Technology with Nicole Kealey, Chief Strategy Officer at Vision Critical

August 1, 2020
Marketing & Advertising

What's Working in Marketing™ is a podcast where we uncover what’s working across the digital landscape by tapping into the world’s best data-backed research and through candid conversations with industry experts. Join us if you're ready to learn what's working when it comes to your marketing efforts.

On this episode, we spoke with Nicole Kealey, Chief Strategy Officer at Vision Critical. Nicole discusses how customer centricity intersects with technology, why your entire organization needs to be customer-focused, and provides examples of companies that are excelling when it comes to satisfying customer needs.

You can listen to What's Working in Marketing™ – A Podcast by RightMetric wherever you get your podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Tune In, iHeartRadio, and Pocket Casts.

Here's a full transcript of my conversation with Nicole:

Charlie Grinnell: On this episode, I'm joined by Nicole Kealey, Chief Strategy Officer at Vision Critical. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today, Nicole.

Nicole Kealey: Hi Charlie. Thanks for having me.

Charlie Grinnell: So, I'm really excited about this episode because when I took a look at your background, you just have such an impressive resume. I'm just going to start with that. And so, what I like to do with these episodes is go back to the beginning so that we can give the audience some context about where you've been in the past, what you've done, and how it's culminated into what you're doing today.

Charlie Grinnell: So, could I just get a background on your career journey to date, and how it has contributed to what you're doing today at Vision Critical?

Nicole Kealey: Sure. And thank you for the compliment. I'm honored.

Nicole Kealey: So, I will start by saying that I have had a lot of good fortune and luck in my career. And a lot of this has been being at the right place at the right time, and walking through the right door or the right window. But first of all, I'll start by saying that I live and have always lived in Ottawa, Canada. I studied here, and I actually studied in marketing, which is in some cases in our field a unique trade unto itself.

Nicole Kealey: And growing up in Ottawa, my career choices were either to join the public service, or to go into tech at the time in the late '90s. And I didn't want to be a public servant at the time, and so I chose tech by process of elimination. And at the time, there were a number of small companies in Ottawa. We were calling ourselves the Silicon Valley of the North, and I was able to join a few small companies. One that eventually got acquired by Adobe. And that just opened up a completely new dimension of my career.

Nicole Kealey: I have to say that, depending on how you want to do the math, but the nine or the 13 years that I spent at Adobe was truly a highlight of my career. It's a company that truly appreciates the strategic importance of marketing, that values their employees, that is obsessed with their customers. And so, that was a really powerful experience for me to learn from, and I learned a ton working in that company. I got to work with some amazing people who are still very close friends of mine today.

Charlie Grinnell: I feel like the one thing I just want to add to that is everybody who I've had on this show has something similar where they're like, "This is the one thing that was a really big turning point for me." I think about that with myself when I started working in marketing at Red Bull. It was the same type of thing where they're colleagues, but they've turned into mentor, lifelong friends, that sort of thing. So, it's interesting to hear you say that.

Nicole Kealey: Absolutely. And you may not realize it when it's happening, but when you look back you come to appreciate how pivotal that time was in your career, for sure. And so, I was and remained very grateful for that experience.

Nicole Kealey: Adobe was, while a fantastic company to work for, was not always an easy company to work for, right? The expectations were high, and for you to make it through the cut year, after year, after year meant that you were delivering results, and that you were well respected within your organization, which is great.

Nicole Kealey: And then, made a switch to SAP, which was also fascinating and super rewarding in terms of the more global nature of SAP, and the fact that it has such a strong presence in Europe, but also just in so many different countries around the world. And there was just really exciting for me to be able to apply a lot of the things that I thought I knew from Adobe, but then you went [inaudible 00:04:06] a new company and a new set of markets, sometimes you have to pivot [inaudible 00:04:10].

Nicole Kealey: And so, that was also just a fantastic experience. Very different. And I think one of the things was understanding that in every organization, the role of marketing is different. And that role evolves over time, and it ebbs and flows, but that was something that I had to come to understand what was expected of me as a marketer at SAP as opposed to what I'd experienced earlier in my career. But again, a fantastic experience, and one that I will forever be grateful for. I got to see some very interesting corners of this world through my roles at SAP.

Nicole Kealey: And then, late last year, earlier this year, an opportunity presented itself for me to join Vision Critical, which I'll just say a couple sentences about us. So, we are a customer experience management and insights provider. We're a Canadian SAS company. And when the opportunity presented itself for me to join and go back to working for a Canadian company, which frankly I hadn't done in almost 20 years, I was really excited to be able to have a direct role in shaping the strategy, shaping the role of marketing as part of that strategy, and really helping to take this company to its next level, which is super exciting.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, absolutely. Because I believe you guys just recently closed another round of funding.

Nicole Kealey: Correct, yup.

Charlie Grinnell: Congratulations.

Nicole Kealey: Thank you.

Charlie Grinnell: That's really exciting. I think obviously Vision Critical has been doing its thing for a long time now, but it's really interesting to see obviously another round of funding bringing in people like you to lead things. I believe there was a new CEO recently, correct?

Nicole Kealey: Yes. He's a large part of the reason I'm here because we worked together at SAP.

Charlie Grinnell: Ah, okay.

Nicole Kealey: So, that's Ross Wainwright, and then we've also brought in recently a new president of products who is just doing an amazing job with a really impressive team, as well as a new COO. So, there's been a lot of change for the folks at Vision Critical this year, but I think in general everybody's excited about what we've been able to achieve, and some of the potential that we have in front of us.

Charlie Grinnell: For sure. So on that note, I want to dive into the topic, this idea of customer centricity in the age of technology. And this is a topic that I've wanted to dive into with a guest, and then when we got introduced I was like, "Perfect. This is the person that I need to talk to about this thing."

Charlie Grinnell: One of the things that I think about is it's no secret that business, and specifically marketing, has gone through a massive shift over the last decade with the rise of technology. And there's plenty of brands that use technology to create better experiences for their customers, but there's a pretty clear divide in who's doing it well and who's not. And so with that in mind, from your perspective, what do you think is the key in that differentiation? What's driving good and bad?

Nicole Kealey: I think we could spend an hour on that question alone. But I think it's a few things. One of the reasons I love working in tech is because it does have such an enormous impact and potential on a business's ability to grow and achieve its goals. But tech is not the solution on its own. It is about people, processes, and the technology. And I think when we talk about applying technology specifically as it relates to customer centricity, there has to be not only a deep dedication and commitment to doing the right thing for the customer from the start and from the top down, but there has to be a deep understanding of what that means. And subscribing for a SaaS platform doesn't answer that question.

Charlie Grinnell: Doesn't scratch the itch necessarily.

Nicole Kealey: No. Not the magic pill, or the magic bean, or whatever you might want to call it. So, it is about having that strong organizational ability and muscle to be able to recognize the business changes that need to be made within the organization to become more customer centric, and have a deep understanding of your personas, and your segments, and your markets, and what you're trying to achieve.

Nicole Kealey: And then, understanding the technologies that are available, and having enough permission, courage, risk appetite, if you will, to try some things out. And I think that's the biggest thing that I've seen is that a lot of times people will put something in place, and they mistakenly believe it's a one and done, and it's never going to be a one and done. It's a continuous cycle of setting the goals and objectives that you're trying to reach, figuring out what you think is going to be the way to get you there. Once you implement it, then continuously measuring, and evaluating, and testing, and poking holes in it to see whether it's truly helping you achieve those goals.

Nicole Kealey: And then, you have to continue to refine it. And all the while, the market, our offerings, the customers, their behaviors, those are all going to continue to change. In no period of my career have we ever seen that more so than in the last four months.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. I think about the one step that comes to mind with the last four months. I think this was from a guy named Ben Thompson, he's a writer for The Atlantic I think, and he showed, what was it? It was a chart about e-commerce penetration. In the US, they've had 10 years of e-commerce penetration growth in 12 weeks. So, just speaks to yeah, this last little period of time with this pandemic, and with how markets are reacting, and how consumers are reacting, we're seeing things that we've never seen before.

Charlie Grinnell: Now, that's not necessarily new, right? Like to your earlier point, things are changing. But I think what's fascinating is we've never seen swings like we're seeing right now in terms of how big and seismic the changes have been in such a short period of time.

Nicole Kealey: Absolutely. Yeah. And I keep saying as horrible and challenging as this pandemic has been for every single person on this planet, right? It's incredible to think there have been very few world events that have truly impacted every single human on this planet. There have been some really exciting silver linings coming out of it, and this is one of them is understanding, as businesses, and of course we're parents, and siblings, and all that good stuff, but we're not working, but as businesses, how do we remain agile enough and in tune enough with what our customers are asking us for to be able to respond as their needs change? Whether those are B2C or B2B customers. Whatever they are, the guarantee is that they're going to continue to change.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that we've been talking to a lot of our customers about is, well, there's two things. One, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That's just the nature of the business. And if you thought you were agile before, or you weren't agile before, you are now. Whether you like it or not, you've been pushed into the deep end.

Nicole Kealey: Yes. And I think we have seen some great examples of organizations who may not [inaudible 00:11:22] consider themselves agile, or rising to the occasion, if you will. And surprising themselves, and surprising customers in the process.

Charlie Grinnell: Yep. Absolutely. That is something that I think has been encouraging, right? You've seen some brands probably that thought they were well prepared for this, and maybe have floundered. And then yeah, vice versa.

Charlie Grinnell: There was a previous guest gave an example of a company that she was following on Instagram, and she made the point that before the pandemic happened, they were a flour company, and I mean like flour for baking. And then throughout the pandemic, they've now turned into just baking everything. And so, it was very, very interesting where they listened to their customers. They were super agile. They've been around for years, and years, and years, but they completely rebranded in the middle of a pandemic because they were like, "Hey, we've learned a ton about our customers and our audience." And I think this is with the rise of everybody baking sourdough bread, and that sort of thing.

Charlie Grinnell: To watch small, nimble companies like this that may have not necessarily considered themselves agile, because if they're a smaller company. But what they did, when you go through a brand transformation during a pandemic, and shifting your whole exterior and probably interior as well, that's pretty amazing. Right?

Charlie Grinnell: And so yeah, I think there are tons of examples out there of companies that have been forced into doing that. And whether it's been uncomfortable or not, I think most people in those companies would probably say it's going to be a net benefit for them, while it's hard going through it.

Nicole Kealey: Absolutely.

Charlie Grinnell: There's a guy who I got to meet when I spoke at a conference last year with Red Bull actually. His name's Stephan [Olander 00:12:58], and he was the former vice president of global digital innovation at Nike. And when I got introduced to him, I was introduced to him as Mr. Nike Plus. So, he was the guy at Nike who I guess came up with Nike Plus, or led the team around Nike Plus.

Charlie Grinnell: And one of the things that he spoke about in his talk then, and I've thought about it in terms of customer centricity and that sort of thing, is he thinks that a lot of brands approach things backwards in that they're trying to solve problems with technology first. And it's kind of like what you alluded to earlier, as opposed to deeply understanding humans and their behavior, and then using and picking the right technology to enrich the experience. Do you agree that that's a mistake that you're seeing out there, or is it kind of mixed bag, or what do you think about that?

Nicole Kealey: Yeah. I thought about that question a little bit. In my opinion, I don't think it's a sequential thing. I think it can be a parallel thing. And I think that technology can help organizations better understand their customers [crosstalk 00:14:01] all that stuff, too. Right? That's part of what Vision Critical does.

Nicole Kealey: But if there was such a thing as a perfect equation to address that, I would say it's starting small with some hypothesis, hopefully some well-informed hypothesis about what your customers want, and as well with some hypotheses around the technologies that are going to allow you to deliver that.

Nicole Kealey: And then, it's more about the concept of pilot and scale, right? So, test it out in a smaller environment, shoot some holes into it, get some of your hardest customers, some of your easiest customers. Going through that journey, whatever that might be. And then, learn from that, iterate, and scale it. Because if you wait to feel like you understand everything, you might actually miss an opportunity as well.

Charlie Grinnell: You run the risk of analysis paralysis. And that pilot and scale, that's such a great framework. I'm writing that down because that's a great way to verbalize something that just ... I feel like I've done that in the past in other roles, or seen people do that, but that's just such a great way to explain it.

Nicole Kealey: And sometimes the pilot fails, and then you start over with another pilot. But it's definitely worked.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. I want to dive in a little bit deeper about marketers, and them being able to build their insight capabilities. And so like you said, obviously you can use technology to help you understand humans, and customer behavior, and that sort of thing. And there's no shortage of tools available, including Vision Critical and many others.

Charlie Grinnell: Are there specific elements that you'd recommend to marketers that they should be keeping top of mind as they build those insight capabilities? What I mean by that is when you sit down and strategically approach, "Okay, I need to better understand my customers," are there certain aspects where you're like, "Yep, we're going to need this. We're going to need a bit of this." It's almost kind of like the recipe, so to speak.

Nicole Kealey: Yeah. I don't know that there's a single recipe. There's definitely some patterns that we're seeing based on customers in different industries. As an example, one of the big ones is that we've been talking a lot about lately is what we like to refer to as the power of and. There are some larger organizations, and you mentioned Red Bull, who's actually a great customer of ours as well.

Nicole Kealey: But you can have a lot of information about transactional behaviors that your customers are having, whether it's in your CRM system or your customer information database, whatever it might be, but that might tell you the what. It probably won't tell you the why. And coupling the what with the why is really important, and you may not be able to understand the why for every single customer, right?

Nicole Kealey: So, if you have the what, and I'll just use a broad example here, you can have a what for 1,000 customers. Well, maybe you need to go try and understand the why for 100 of them. Right? And dive a little bit deeper, and dig under the covers, so to speak, to understand the reasons that they're making the purchase decisions that they are, the usage decisions that they are, whatever it might be.

Nicole Kealey: The other is the larger the organization, and this is true of marketing insights, customer insights, and pretty much anything else you can imagine, the larger the organization, the more likely it is that there are multiple small pockets and silos of almost the same information. And nobody really knows how many pockets of information exists, and nobody's actually trying to leverage them as a goal. So, I think that's a big missed opportunity.

Nicole Kealey: And then, I think the last piece I'd say is it's one thing to have the insight. And if you cracked the secret code, and you could perfectly understand your entire customer base, it's one thing to have the information, it's another thing to act on it. And so, coming back to one of my earlier comments about it's not just about the technology, but it's about the people and the processes, too. The organizational culture has to be one where teams are being encouraged, and maybe even held accountable, to acting on that insight. So, what are you going to do with that information?

Nicole Kealey: So as to not only just improve the customer experience, but hopefully also help to drive other benefits back to the business, whether it's increasing revenue, reducing cost, or whatever that might be.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think it is, to your earlier point about how there's sometimes this illusion of technology being the bandaid that's going to fix it all. And yeah, technology can really help, but to your point, do you have the right people, the right butts in seats who can use that technology, and interpret meaning from that technology? And then going a step deeper, do you have buy in from the organization to actually listen to that sort of stuff, and act on it, and believe it? I feel like it's like an onion, right? You just start peeling back the layers, and there's a lot there.

Nicole Kealey: Yeah. And I've certainly been in these meetings, and I'm sure a lot of your listeners have been in some of these meetings, too, where the customer insight data gets presented, and somebody with a big paycheck and a big title says, "Oh, I don't believe that."

Charlie Grinnell: Yep. That hits home.

Nicole Kealey: And then, everybody's frozen. It's like, "Well, I don't know. Don't ask me, ask our customers. That's what they've just told us." And it's hard to dispute that, but yeah. The stronger the customer centricity within your organization, the stronger that customer experience program, hopefully the less frequent that sort of experiences.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. I want to dig into that a little more because I feel like I personally, when I said that hit home, I've been in meetings like that before, when I worked on the brand side for many years, where something like that would happen. And I've been asked by friends, colleagues, customers, "How do you deal with that? What is the way?" And I don't know if you necessarily have an answer to that, but I find that that's a question that a ton of people or a ton of marketers are faced with today.

Nicole Kealey: Yeah. Unfortunately, it's a situational sort of thing, right? Where it depends on the person who's not believing it. If it's the CEO, then maybe you have a bigger problem.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Then maybe you need a new job.

Nicole Kealey: If it's not the CEO, then at least the way I would approach it is to find a peer level equivalent or another leader at that same level that you can convince, that can be your sponsor in fighting that fight.

Charlie Grinnell: Absolutely.

Nicole Kealey: [crosstalk 00:20:36] I think that brings us back to the fact that it's not just technology that's going to be the magic bean for all of this, right? If an organization doesn't have this commitment, from top to bottom, end to end toward customer centricity, then these initiatives are going to be difficult.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Well, and it makes me think back to, and this is something that I've mentioned a lot on previous episodes of this podcast, and I feel like it sends people for a bit of a loop with the podcast being called Measure What Matters, but I always ask a lot about the balance of art and science within marketing. And it's been said that the best marketing is typically a balance between art and science. And it seems like what we've spoke about today with balancing, understanding customers and behavior, that's a very artistic side of it, but there's also the scientific side of it with tech. And so, what do you think about that balance between art and science in marketing? Do you agree with it? You disagree with it? Why or why not?

Nicole Kealey: Wholeheartedly I agree with it. And the way that I've described it, and you're bringing me back to a interview I actually had about 10 years ago with a business stakeholder, it was this is the job interview, and the person I was speaking to was not somebody who does marketing day in and day out. And the way that I explained it was it is an art and science, but they're two sides to the very same coin, right?

Nicole Kealey: And on the art side, it's about being able to craft relevant, compelling messages, and the brand, and the personification of the brand. Those are all things that tend to be a little bit more intuitive and creative in nature.

Nicole Kealey: The other side of that very same coin though is as you're starting to execute, and deliver that brand into the marketplace, and touch customers, and manage your funnel, and create demand generation programs, you have to be able to measure the impact that you're having, and whether it's the right impact with the right customers. So that you can, again, iterate on it.

Nicole Kealey: So yes, the marriage, if you will, of art and science is absolutely how I would describe what's necessary for marketing.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. And I think that it's so fascinating because that's also what makes marketing so powerful, but that's also I think what makes marketing so hard to wrap your head around it. Because on one hand, there's aspects of marketing that are scientific, and I'm using air quotes here, but performance marketing, that side of it. But then to your point, messaging that can be informed by some of the data side of it and the insight side of it, but it also has to be on brand, and match the tone, and all those different pieces. And I think that my hypothesis is that's what makes it difficult for non-marketing people to understand, or to really wrap their head around it. What do you think about that?

Nicole Kealey: Yeah. I might take it one step further, which is, and I won't paint a broad brush, because it's not everybody who's a non-marketer that would think this way, but I've known several of them throughout my career, that this preconceived notion that marketing is bubblegum, and unicorns, and random t-shirts, and pens, and just [crosstalk 00:24:00], and make sure it's a good party, and then you've done your job.

Nicole Kealey: And that is more than frustrating because to me, in addition to marketing being this art and science, to me it's this triangle of understanding the market, the customers, and what you're trying to sell. Right? And how those things need to come together for success. And that requires critical thinking, it requires strategic thinking, it requires strong partnership across the entire organization, from sales to the product organization, to the operations team, to the customer success team, and beyond in order for marketing to be successful at their job.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, absolutely. And I think what has been unique in this period of time where we're at today in this pandemic is one of the things that we've noticed in looking at working with our customers, talking to friends of ours who work in marketing, reading different things, it feels like marketing is going under the microscope. And that's kind of a hypothesis that we've really leaned into as a business.

Charlie Grinnell: And the hypothesis has formed on, okay, there's stuff happening with the economy. I think a couple days ago, the UK just declared an official recession. I think the US now is in recession. We're seeing that, right? So with that, CEOs and the C-suite are looking at, "Okay, where can we trim back things?" Because if there's less revenue coming in, and if we need to trim things back, historically it feels like marketing is usually on that list. And marketers now are being put under the microscope, and it feels like a lot of them who don't necessarily have the sophistication, or the data side of it, or can't necessarily speak to all of it are struggling. Do you agree with that?

Nicole Kealey: I think in certain kinds of companies, absolutely. But I've also heard the same being described for many other kinds of functions in organizations unfortunately, right?

Charlie Grinnell: Interesting, interesting.

Nicole Kealey: In companies that have seen unprecedented negative impacts on their business over the last few weeks, everybody is being asked to basically justify their existence. And it's not surprising to hear that in some cases, marketing has had to justify their existence.

Nicole Kealey: And at the end of the day, whether it's the customer experience team, or the marketing team, or the IT team, whoever it might be, it comes down to the leader being able to express the value of their team and their team's impact in terms of impact back to the business. And this is very much the science of the marketing. Of being able to demonstrate the impact of marketing on demand, the impact of marketing on customer loyalty, on customer life cycle, or lifetime value. And some of those things, frankly, are really hard to measure, and we're still struggling with some of those things.

Nicole Kealey: It is a science, but getting to a number that you feel confident you can represent in front of your CEO or your board takes a little bit of art, too. Right? It's understanding what you're looking at, and being able to interpret it.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. I feel like what I would add to that, or what comes to mind is the topic of just countability. And not accountability, countability. And so, I feel like that's another episode in itself where this idea of just because it's easy to count doesn't mean that you should. And vice versa, just because it's hard to count doesn't mean that you shouldn't. And it is like finding that balance, so to speak, of all those different inputs. Whether it's different stakeholders, the industry that you're in, the type of product that you sell, how tedious is it to count those things? Is that the most important thing that actually matters to the success of your business? And that sort of thing. So yeah, that's interesting to hear you say that.

Nicole Kealey: It's hard. It's definitely hard.

Charlie Grinnell: And there's no right answer. And I feel like as you continue to get closer to an answer, something changes.

Nicole Kealey: Guaranteed.

Charlie Grinnell: And that's just the nature of marketing, right?

Charlie Grinnell: I want to switch gears here a little bit. I think you've worked at so many amazing companies, and seen so much with either the work that you're doing or customers are doing. Do you really have any good examples or bad examples that you could share of brands that use a customer centric approach to cut through the noise?

Nicole Kealey: Yeah. I'd love to maybe share a couple just general examples of all of our Vision Critical customers.

Charlie Grinnell: Sure.

Nicole Kealey: So first and foremost, I am forever an Adobe fan girl. And so, I cop to that right off the bat. But I think Adobe does a supremely good job of always understanding the very diverse set of customers that they serve, right? So, you've got your creative professionals, you've got your enterprise customers, you've got a bunch of stuff in between, but they are always committed to starting with the customer and everything that they do, which is something that I admire.

Nicole Kealey: Sephora is a great ... I'm a customer of Sephora, and through the pandemic they've kept my credit card warm. But they do a great job of just understanding, based on the fact that I'm a repeat customer, as I continue to come back the site, their ability to almost anticipate what I'm coming for is pretty astounding.

Nicole Kealey: In terms of some of our customers that we've gotten to work with, one is GoDaddy. We talked about the advent of eCommerce. Well, GoDaddy in the last few months has seen their customer base be impacted, these small business and [inaudible 00:30:03] shops, right? And they pivoted on a dime to create some really amazing programs to help promote those mom and pop shops and those small businesses to the wider GoDaddy community, and the digital community as a whole. So, that was really amazing.

Nicole Kealey: I'll give you another example, Charlie, which is unfortunately a brand I can't name, but I'll describe it and maybe you'll get a sense of who I'm talking about. But a very large fashion retailer in the US who has multiple brands. Again, as soon as the pandemic hit, they were reaching out to their customer community that they run on Vision Critical to ask, "What is it that you need from us? What is it that you expect from us?" And that was the first thing they did.

Nicole Kealey: And within a couple of days, which is the other impressive thing about this story, and I'll come back to that, within a couple of days they got an enormous amount of data, resoundingly feedback around two things. They said, "Make sure you're protecting your employees, and divert your production to making masks." And they listened to those customers, and they did as well as they could by their employees, furloughed them instead of laying them off, and all that good stuff. And then, they started making masks. And as soon as they were available online, they sold out within less than a day.

Nicole Kealey: So, I'll come back to the point that they were able to get that feedback within a couple of days, right? When the world falls apart overnight basically, and an organization already has an active customer insight community that they have nurtured and that is an active community, they're in a much better position to go ask those kinds of questions and get quick responses than an organization that's not customer centric. That would then have to start from scratch, figure out what they need to do, build it up, and then go ask the customer, and then figure out how to respond to it.

Nicole Kealey: So, these customer centric organizations really do have that competitive advantage in terms of being able to respond to how our world is changing from day to day or week to week.

Charlie Grinnell: For sure. And the thing that comes to mind there is it sounds like it was all of a sudden the Titanic got the turning radius of a sports car.

Nicole Kealey: Absolutely.

Charlie Grinnell: Right? Like taking a big organization, and giving it that competitive advantage or that unfair advantage to be like, "Oh, nope. Boom, we can turn this." And I always find that's what's so impressive because when you've worked in big companies, like you and I have, you understand how sometimes, no offense, things can be big, dumb, and slow. And that's just the reality of it, but that's what happens when companies grow.

Charlie Grinnell: And so, I'm always impressed by companies that are able to, okay, yes, on one hand they might, with business as usual, they might be more slower, more methodical, or that sort of thing. But to your point, things happen, and things get real, and they're able to pivot quickly. So, that's a really interesting example.

Nicole Kealey: For sure.

Charlie Grinnell: The next question that I want to jump into is 2020 has been a rough year for everybody, and one of the things that I like to ask people about is what gets you excited? Right? There's been a lot of negativity I feel like in the world. And so, when it comes to marketing in general, what are the things that get you more excited for, whether it's Vision Critical itself, or for some of your guys's customers. What are the things that really get you fired up in where marketing's going?

Nicole Kealey: Yeah, it's a great question. So, I think the thing that excites me the most right now is that the game is being rewritten. And over the last few years, and I've been doing this 23, 24 years, it kind of felt like, "Okay. Well, we'll have a customer summit, and we'll kick off some demand gen programs, and we'll do some paid advertising, and yeah." The ingredients to the recipe were known.

Nicole Kealey: But now that we're having to reach our customers digitally, and our customers are having to reach their customers digitally, pretty much almost solely digitally, and the way that all of us are ready to consume information, and offers, and promotional materials, whatever it might be, is completely different. I think the game is being completely rewritten.

Nicole Kealey: And so, that excites me on a couple of levels. I think we'll see probably some harder ways of remaining relevant, and cutting through the noise. I'm excited about the fact that more and more it is going to rely on companies that are able to do that successfully through digital channels.

Nicole Kealey: I'm excited to see some companies that have been maybe a little slow to embrace the digital world, which seems ridiculous to say in 2020, but it's true ...

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. It is what it is.

Nicole Kealey: ... finally figure it out, right?

Nicole Kealey: Not only in terms of attracting customers, but servicing customers. Are we actually going to finally be able to send people information on their cell phones on an on-demand way, because that's what they want, versus sending them 17 nurture emails that they don't want? Or whatever it might be. I think it's a new world that's up to all of us to jointly redefine.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, absolutely. I completely agree. And changing the game, that's what makes it so exciting I feel like, right? It can create stress for people professionally, but I don't know. At the same time, I feel like that's what draws me into marketing, and that's what draws a lot of people into marketing is the constant change. It's never going to the same.

Nicole Kealey: That's why I'm still doing it.

Charlie Grinnell: Fair enough. Another question that I always ask people, and as we start to wind down this episode, what do you do to stay up to date on business and marketing? Who are you following? What are you reading? What are you listening to?

Charlie Grinnell: And the reason why I asked this is when I first started getting into marketing, and a lot of the really smart people who have been influential to me in my career, I always found that that was such a great question to ask them. "What are you consuming?" And a lot of them were always very well read or well versed in different things. And so, yeah, I'd love it if you have any sources that our audience could listen to and tap into.

Nicole Kealey: Yeah. And I wish I had some specific pearls to share. I would say that my tendency to absorb information as it relates to business and marketing is similar to how I listen to music. Because I like pretty much every single genre of music, with the exception of country. Sorry country fans.

Charlie Grinnell: Same. I'm the same! Anything but country, I'm down.

Nicole Kealey: I will listen to just about anything, and I will read just about anything. So, I read Forbes, The Economist. I have been recently doing a lot of reading of some industry analyst research, whether it's Gartner or Forrester. I am very, very active on my LinkedIn, and fortunate to have a pretty large network of people that I respect a lot. So, I'm following their groups, and their posts, and different things.

Nicole Kealey: And then every once in a while, I'll just start Googling different topics, and see what I find. And I'll go down some pretty deep rabbit holes. But it's just this innate curiosity. And I don't wait for information to cross my desk, or to be published by a certain publication before I start exploring that topic or that thought.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. And I think that's super great advice. Having that thirst for or that curiosity for knowledge is an important attribute to possess.

Nicole Kealey: Absolutely.

Charlie Grinnell: Cool. Well, where's the best place for people to find you online or get ahold of you?

Nicole Kealey: Yeah. So, I kind of referred to before. I'm a LinkedIn I would say almost as much as I am on Adobe fan girl. I think it's a super powerful platform for networking, and it's the one place that I can be found multiple times a day. So, that would be the best place for people to find me.

Charlie Grinnell: Fantastic. Well Nicole, I want to thank you so much for taking the time today. I really appreciate you chatting with me. And I learned a lot, and I'm sure everybody else did as well.

Nicole Kealey: Well, this is really fun, Charlie. Thanks so much for having me.

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