Face off: I am a non-traditional chief creative officer says Donald Chesnut, SapientNitro

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Published: May 24, 2016 6:49:13 AM

In his new role as SapientNitro’s global chief creative officer, Donald Chesnut leads a diverse set of creative teams, with a focus on building brands through innovative campaigns, digital experiences and responsive environments.

In his new role as SapientNitro’s global chief creative officer, Donald Chesnut leads a diverse set of creative teams, with a focus on building brands through innovative campaigns, digital experiences and responsive environments. Chesnut, who is also the global leader for SapientNitro’s Brand Experience and Innovation practices, talks to BrandWagon’s Ankita Rai about applying people-centred thinking to a wide variety of creative business problems and the impact emerging technology will have in transforming consumer lives. Excerpts:

You have worked for over two decades as an experience designer. What are the learnings that you bring to your new mandate as a global chief creative officer?

My focus is on great work which breaks boundaries and building capabilities. In a constantly changing world, what are the capabilities we need to have to keep us a couple of steps ahead of the clients? Because that is why they hire us. For example, we need to figure out how deep we want to go in exploring a new channel such as virtual reality (VR), digital or artificial intelligence etc. My background has always been very consumer focussed.

As an experience designer, my focus is on the end-user experience. I am constantly putting our creative team in the shoes of the end consumer.

How can technology aid creativity, in terms of fostering a good culture in an agency?

I am a non-traditional chief creative officer. I am a technologist in my roots. In fact, creativity and technology is what SapientNitro is about. It is the merging of the two that makes us different. Innovation is not about technology. Innovation is about customer behaviour. Technology is the fuel that powers the engine. But the end result has to be about experience.

How can technology help brands connect and engage with today’s always-on consumers to stay relevant?

You need to think about how the brand can be a part of the consumer’s life at every stage of the journey. Technology gives us a huge amount of information. So if a consumer is thinking about taking a trip, right from the destination to her stay at a hotel, she will do the research long before the trip actually occurs. For example, consider the work that we did for Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces. The experience of Taj begins long before you actually go the hotel. It is about using technology to tell a story and enabling the brand to build a strong relationship with consumers before, during and after the trip.

Earlier, brands were thinking about technology as an afterthought. Now they need to think on how to engage in a technology-driven world. So when the client brief comes in, we first understand what the client is trying to do strategically. If you immediately start thinking about technology, you might end up on the wrong foot. Technology is one of the things you need to consider. True insights come in when you think about the target consumer first and then look at technology.

With proliferation in high-end devices all set to take virtual reality marketing to the next level,

how can advertisers and agencies ride the wave?

We now have a new set of ingredients — artificial intelligence, VR etc — for creative experiences that many brands have begun to experiment with. My personal favourite is VR. My advice is to innovate and find out what type of experience can be very immersive. These technologies are no longer very expensive to produce. For example, we did a campaign for The Apartment store that shows how people will shop in the future. The world of retail has been very transactional and the impressiveness around storytelling has not been easy to do digitally. The project that we did for The Apartment let you step into a real world store. It combined VR and online shopping and helped consumers see products in context to how they actually exist.

Virtual reality is better for a deeper level of storytelling. It allows you to be in the environment and go deep, interact with items and navigate through. Travel, automobile and high-end luxury brands are fantastic categories to implement VR. So, for example, if you plan to visit Goa, VR can bring Goa to you. Agencies are more skilled than in-house brand teams to try out such new ideas.

Brands want to know the RoI of every digital dollar spent. How can one ensure effectiveness of digital campaigns?

Whether or not we have made a deeper impression on the consumer, whether or not we have gone further down on consideration, with digital there are very clear ways to measure it. For example, measuring how much time a consumer spends before buying an item depicts deepening consideration. Second is shareability — whether someone reviews and shares the experience with friends. This is a fantastic metric, which only digital can measure and no other medium.

Awareness is a big metric that we have been using as an industry for years. But it is one-dimensional. Any medium can talk about awareness.

The days of banner ads are limited; people are viewing ad videos and sharing them. The world of digital promises a new level of analytics that we can draw upon.

Emojis and Graphic Interchange Format (GIF) videos are changing the way brands communicate in the digital age. What are the lessons here for digital agencies and brands?

We are very visual as a species. Brands are leveraging Instagram and GIF videos to bring the product to life and tell stories. Just think of how many times we use emojis for short-hand. We did a campaign, Speakemoji, to help parents communicate with their children through an emoji translator. We are also putting this out for other brands to convey messages through emojis and vice versa. I saw some brands actually have transactions through emojis, for example ordering pizza through emojis. While a part of all this is a bit gimmicky, that is how brands stay relevant today. It is not going to be the only way people communicate, but it is one of the ways to take the pulse of how people are talking today and still be part of the communication.

Earlier, we had brands and their communities. Now it is people and their communities, and brands need to be a part of that. Brands should be part of the consumer ecosystem. The tables have turned.


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