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Adobe Summit, Day 2: Storytelling Is Marketers’ Most Powerful Tool

According to John Mellor, Adobe’s vice president of business development and strategy, storytelling is the most powerful tool marketers have at their disposal. “It’s that human touch that helps us connect with customers,” Mellor told the 10,000-plus attendees at the Tuesday general session of Adobe’s 2016 Summit. “It’s those personal connections that transform the experience because stories evoke emotions and emotions drive change.”

Richard Dickson, president and COO of Mattel, soon followed Mellor on stage to talk about reinvention. He said that many people probably think working at a toy company is just fun and games all the time—and it is. But Mattel is a “70-year-old-company in a 1,000-year-old industry, with a portfolio of legacy brands” that has had to work hard and fast and creatively to move into the new digital world.

“How do you stay relevant?” Dickson asked attendees. “It’s a challenge. There’s a remarkable transformation that is taking place.”

According to Dickson, finding the way forward starts with understanding what made you special to begin with. The founders of Mattel, Ruth and Elliot Handler, thought of their business as a “creations company,” not a toy maker. They founded Mattel in their garage as a design-led operation, before anyone even knew what that meant.

The first big idea for Mattel was a conviction that taking bold risks would delight children and build a business. The Handlers took a simple, paper fashion doll—which is what little girls played with back in the days—and made an iconic representation of a woman: Barbie was born.

“Barbie was a breakthrough brand,” Dickson told the audience. “And the Handlers looked beyond traditional marketing to tell people about her. They bet everything on TV, which was a new medium at the time. They believed in the power of the medium, and they developed a content strategy long before anyone talked about a content strategy. Mattel was one of the first consistent national TV advertisers.”

There came a day when Mattel outgrew the garage but kept its futuristic mind-set. The Handlers, according to Dickson, where obsessed with creating the future. At some point, however, Mattel became nearsighted.

“We missed how the world was changing,” Dickson admitted. “The competition was expanding. Everyone was competing for time, and the world had evolved into an omnichannel universe. Play was changing.”

Indeed, toys, media, games, and content had converged seamlessly in kids’ minds. But instead of taking that into consideration and coming up with a big, bold idea, explained Dickson, Mattel repeated what had worked for all those years, out of fear. The company’s ideas lacked purpose, he said, and it “devolved into a CPG company that just made toys.” Everyone noticed.

Mattel’s biggest brands—Barbie and Hot Wheels, for instance—lost relevance, and company performance suffered as a result. “We were forced to think of a new way forward,” he said. The reinvention began with Barbie. Step one was listening to moms, kids, and the culture at large. Step two was a diversity revolution. Mattel released new Barbie dolls, with various skin tones and hair textures. “Barbie now reflects the wonderful, diverse world we see today,” Dickson said.

Mattel also introduced a flexible foot, liberating Barbie from high heels. This contemporized the brand and added a whole new form of fashion and play. But the No. 1 request girls made about Barbie was, “I want her to talk back to me.”

The launch of Hello Barbie further contemporized the brand. The media called her “the most advanced of a new generation of artificial intelligence toys.” And to spread the word about her, and all the other developments with Barbie, Mattel leveraged content like never before.

“We sought to engage moms about what Barbie is really about and the value of play with Barbie,” Dickson said.

The success of this short film had a dramatic impact on the perception of the Barbie brand. However, there was one more problem to deal with: Moms had a big issue with the figure of the doll. As a result, today, Barbie now has many different body shapes—tall, curvy, petite, full-figured. This sparked conversations in the media, on television, and, of course, online. Time Magazine featured Barbie on its cover with the question: “Now can we stop talking about my body?”

“This is the type of content that money just can’t buy,” Dickson said.  

Celebrities went to the social sphere to praise the brand with #TheDollEvolves, expressing their joy and pride in the Barbie brand for moving with the times.

Following Dickson, Adobe’s Mellor chatted with Alma Derricks, VP of sales and marketing at Cirque du Soleil. Who better to talk about experiences than the marketing chief of a 30-year-old show that amazes audiences time after time?

According to Derricks, people tend to think that marketing a brand such as Cirque is easy, since the shows are so full of creativity and wonder. “But it’s actually a double-edged sword,” Derricks said. “We’re held to a higher standard. And, frankly, we are challenged with what happens beyond the footlights. How do we come down from the heights and interact with you?”

Today, Cirque’s priority is being more intimate and getting closer to audiences by bringing them behind the curtain. To that end, the company has a digital content strategy focused on exposing the inner working of what Cirque does.

“People want to know the performers and what happens behind the scenes,” Derricks said. “We are turning the volume down and having smaller conversations with people on digital. We’re telling stories, and it is a very different territory for us.” (For the full CMO.com Interview with Derricks, click here.)

More: Adobe Summit 2016: CMO.com Team Coverage

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