Marketing Your Brand For A New Era with Shannon Washington
January 20, 2022
Shannon Washington is Group Executive Creative Director of R/GA New York where she co-leads creative teams and opportunities for Google, Uber, MailChimp, Cigna, ESPN, and more.

 Labeled a 'Next Gen CEO' by Refinery 29, she is an award-winning creative who has a solid reputation built on visionary insight, and an obsession with culture. In her 12+ year journey as a professional creative, Shannon has crafted integrated brand and consumer experiences for a variety of industries, from finance to beauty, culminating in accolades from a number of organizations including The One Club/One Show, ADCOLOR, and The Emmys. Shannon joined R/GA after a brief stint in Los Angeles with Media Arts Lab where she helped launch Apple TV+ and build a foundation for original content marketing in the Apple ecosystem, starting with Oprah Winfrey and HARPO, and Deutsch Los Angeles, where she is crafted a new look and language for H&R Block with their 'Block Has Your Back' campaign. Previous to Deutsch, Shannon was a Creative Director at Droga5 where she drove the successful, culture-driven “I Am What I Make Up” relaunch of CoverGirl and sharpened her wit on Chase Bank and their You Invest product launch. In the below discussion, she shares how brands can successfully market themselves in the post-Covid Era.

Can you give us some deeper insight into your role as a Creative Director and your approach to leadership?

I'm a partner for creative problem-solving, I'm a partner for problem-solving, period. My role at R/GA is a bit twofold, I work through the lenses of a creative director and a creative educator.

On the business, creative director side, I identify new ways of thinking about old concepts and push clients to think about themselves differently. I get them to think about what they say, and what they do. That's the collaborative cheerleader aspect.

With my teams, I take the role of being an educator as a personal responsibility. It's my job to help create some of the best creative leaders of the future. I enjoy helping to craft and get the best out of creatives, especially young creatives navigating a culture that's very new to them. Whether they're my clients or my teammates, I work to get the best out of people.

How do you generally move a client from talk and ideas to action?

The brand-client dynamic is a partnership. A partnership is based on trust and trust takes time to build. It takes a level of empathy to understand where someone may personally be in their career and to understand where they are coming from. Conversely, it takes time for a client to learn about a brand. When both parties have mutual ownership of where they are, that's when you start to see trust established and action taken.

The pandemic shifted priorities. What mindset shifts do brands need to adopt to drive successful campaigns?

A shared trait between brands, companies, and creatives, that did well during and after the height of the pandemic is an instinctive desire to pivot. They were able to look at situations that arose and assess them through a lens of opportunity versus adversity.

Do good, and sell good things that work. I can't tell you how many brands I have seen, especially small brands, that invest so much on the label and have trash inside the bottle. Brands need to put that effort into the product.

What advice do you give your clients about having a voice?

Number one is to figure out what you want to say. Number two is to ensure your voice matches your action. Today's younger consumer is so savvy. It's not okay to say nothing. You need to say something. Whether useful or meaningful or impactful or entertaining - the tone of voice has to be super authentic. You also need to be very aware of what's happening in the world. You don't want to over self-police, but you do want to have enough self-awareness to be clear on where you fit on the consumer's hierarchy of needs.

How is today's customer changing in terms of what and how we're consuming online?

The learning curves that kept the youngest and oldest among us off the internet pre-Covid aren't there anymore. Necessity has driven people of all ages to be well versed in various technologies and various platforms. That's something to keep in mind when we think about segmenting our consumer base. Everyone is playing on everything right now, making it an interesting circus.

It's impossible to predict where the world may be headed next, but it is a helpful exercise to take some time to sit and observe trends. Take time to observe the sentiments of how others are dealing with life's changes by analyzing the social media timelines of your target audience. Doing so gives you a pulse on how to communicate with them.

You work with a major Fortune 500 companies but what advice would you give to earlier stage founders about customer acquisition?

Think about things 100% through the scale of need. Be super honest about where you fall on that spectrum, and set your expectations based on that. Also, diversify where you invest a bit more because people get fatigued on platforms. We over-consume on all of these platforms so I would advise thinking about everything through a lens of willingness to invest in new target audiences. Everything has shifted, and so you have to shift with it, and maybe blindly put some effort into a space or even into a consumer you would have never thought of.

The world has navigated some major shifts economically, culturally and politically over the last five years. How you are planning for the future with your clients?

We've been talking about the cultural shift that's happening in society. We won't be returning to normal life pre-pandemic. Individual behaviors, societal behaviors and community behaviors are all changing. So a lot of our conversations have been around mindset and how we can be most useful and less attached to our expectations while still moving towards clear business goals. My clients may need to pause some things and accelerate others. They have to be open to it all because we are building a new culture as we go.

As you evolve, invite your community to evolve with you.

How do you build a passionate community around your brand?

Sell good things.

It's really that simple. Do good, and sell good things that work. I can't tell you how many brands I have seen, especially small brands, that invest so much on the label and have trash inside the bottle. Brands need to put that effort into the product. The product has to work.

For business owners transitioning from one community to a different but related one, what is your advice on how to communicate the pivot?

Reach out to your desired communities and communicate what's in it for them. How can they benefit from this pivot? How did they inspire it? Be really honest. Your business is on a journey, take people on that journey with you, help them understand the transition so they can see themselves in where you're going. Clearly, if you have a community right now they see themselves in your content somehow or they see themselves in the brand.

As you evolve, invite them to evolve with you.

The nation is diversifying fast. How do brands evolve and adjust to the changing demographics?

This is a tricky one because it depends on where you are, where you come from, what your message is and how in-tune you are with certain communities. If you are a guest, be a guest. Figure out who the key players are and which communities need to be uplifted. If there is a way that you can use your offering to benefit a certain community be very transparent about your intentions.

When you have a valuable offering honesty is key. It's like when someone is learning a new language. We've all listened to someone whose native tongue is different from ours and have been appreciative when they try to speak our language. When brands come in trying to learn and it's honest and not transactional that authenticity is felt. It's all about how you approach it.



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