Integrated Marketing that’s Built to Adapt: Delivery Sessions Interview with David Schwartz, Digital Transformation Leader & Digital Acquisition Strategist

The world of content generation is spinning faster than ever before, and keeping up is a challenge for many marketers. Creating and launching dozens of assets as soon as the latest trend drops is just another daily to-do. So how are digital teams supposed to get ahead of these fleeting deadlines? According to David Schwartz, it’s all about adaptability.

Throughout his 20+ year long career working with companies from the likes of Coca-Cola USA, Allstate, McDonald’s, Home Depot, FedEx, and more, the Digital Transformation Leader & Digital Acquisition Strategist has learned a thing or two about adapting through digital evolution. Now, he’s sharing with us how marketers can make the most of the data and tools they have now to prepare for tomorrow's unknown.

Tell me about your background / experiences in the digital and social media world.

My career started on the agency side, working for a variety of small boutique agencies before moving onto larger brands like Grey Advertising and regional shops like Bohan Advertising in Nashville. In 2012, I made the decision to dive into consulting full-time, specializing in helping brands build their digital foundations. This was at a time where CRM was just emerging on the scene. We were learning how to pivot from typical action ‘batch and blasts’ and ‘spray and pray’ tactics to building true loyalty programs based on consumer needs and interest.

Working largely in hospitality, these emerging POS system data gave us a newfound understanding of how consumers were using their products and allowed us to start segmenting our messaging to create more personalized experiences for the very first time. We could offer incentives based on products that would be far more likely to drive action from that specific person. And if that meant one more visit per customer a month, that was huge from a sales standpoint.

At the same time, websites were changing from simple landing spots to marketing tools. We had to start focusing on things that would differentiate their marketing assets and provide a more memorable customer experience. That included thinking about things like SEO and mobile that were all new layers.

This is when I really jumped headfirst into digital. But it was in the last seven years working in direct to consumer (D2C) insurance for the auto industry that really got me into data-driven marketing. The amount of data we have available when a customer quotes for auto insurance really opened up a whole new avenue of how to leverage your data and how that could evolve in the future.

My career followed a path led by my curiosity. As the digital world evolved and consumer expectations changed with it, I wanted to be where the next opportunity might be. And it’s really a fun environment to be in. We all know more about our customers now than ever before, but it’s the smart brands that know how to take advantage of it to deliver more customized and convenient customer journeys.

How has integrated marketing changed recently? What are the expectations of today’s consumers online?

One word: Adaptability. A lot of times, changes are forced upon us — just look at COVID. Companies had to adapt everything from their business models to how they served their customers and distributed their products. It was the brands that were able to pivot were the ones that survived.

And a huge part of that is being prepared. How flexible are your assets? How do you have things ready to go to market quickly? How do you build out ready-to-go, legally approved messaging that you can go to when you need to? Whether it’s an evergreen or a canned offer, equip yourself with the content and assets to jump when the opportunity presents itself. Because it’s these situations where there isn’t time to sit and have a brainstorm. Consumers are moving quickly, and you have to be ready to move even quicker.

But how exactly do you prepare for what you don’t exactly know? Whether it’s the next trending Tik Tok dance or an unprecedented cultural phenomenon?

I’ll say this off the bat: make sure you have legal approval up front. As you’re building out a Digital Asset Management (DAM) system, have everything in there approved in advance. If you have licensing and rights on certain assets, look for opportunities to mix and match, thinking through the various legal lines or send offs that need to happen before they can go live. If you build a culture that’s reactionary — one that’s based on trust and minimizes handoffs — you’ll be a lot better off.

The next thing is getting buy-in on what you’re trying to accomplish. Strategy is such an important piece of what we do, but it’s the execution that constantly deviates and changes within it. You don’t have to jump on every single trend; make sure you’re still following that guiding light. As brands, we’ve learned not to leverage every holiday and movement that doesn’t feel natural or authentic. Understand where you can inject yourself in a way that’s helping, but also know when it’s ok to sit it out.

But if you are getting in on the action, the good news is that marketing is all about disruption. As marketers, we’re fighting for eyeballs, so we’re aiming to distract you from whatever you’re currently doing — whether it’s an SMS text as you’re reading emails or an ad break while you’re streaming a show. And that means that not everything is always planned out and perfect. Stick to your brand principles, but allow yourself to be playful and have fun with it.

How do you stay on top of the latest technologies and trends in content generation?

You have to be a consumer yourself! Recruit your friends, your family, your coworkers to offer their input too. Be curious about what the people around you are consuming. I have two high school teenagers, so I’m always asking what they’re doing, what platforms they’re on, and how they’re using them.

Just this past week on the night of her planned album release, Taylor Swift shocked everyone by dropping a second one — to which I woke up to my 15-year-old daughter screeching with joy at 1AM. But that’s a great example. My thoughts immediately went to the business strategy behind this, thinking about the way in which she put this out there and capitalized on already having her audience’s attention. Be aware of what your competitors are doing, and don’t be afraid to copycat in a way that’s built to your unique brand.

Don’t be stagnant or complacent. Test and learn. Status quo is a death sentence for marketers.

What are some tips for marketers to be successful when creating a digital strategy and staying ahead of today’s rapidly-changing landscape?

  1. Get some outside perspective. It’s important that as a brand, you don’t fall too much in love with yourself. Too often, we’re not comfortable with external feedback or input, but that’s so important to understanding your customers. Conduct surveys and listen to what people have to say. It’s ok to not be perfect, as long as you’re showing people you’re listening and being authentic to you.

  2. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. This is the luxury a lot of startups have over established brands. They’re coming into the market fresh and agile. But it’s all about mindset. Use your strategy as your North Star, but give yourself the freedom to try new things. Tip toe in the waters to see if certain things are right for you or not. I believe you should allot 10-20% of your media budget to testing because you learn a lot more from failing than sitting on the sidelines.

    I’ll use newspapers as an example. Many of these publications are convinced their business is selling paper, so they’re reluctant to give that up. But really, their business is knowledge; knowledge of the local area, businesses, events, etc. And they can bring that to a different medium if they’re willing to adapt.

  3. Surround yourself with diverse and passionate people. Keep a network of people that you can go to for feedback when testing new ideas and tactics. Today’s media environment can be a challenging one for bold ideas, but it also craves it. And the more perspective you can have internally, the more ideas and opportunities you can bring to the table. Speak to as many people as you can and listen to your customers, and you’ll be more confident in exploration.

  4. Keep assets flexible. That means following all platform specs and best practices, but considering templates or components that make them more easily duplicated and distributed across multiple channels. And if a platform is offering new ad features or placements, experiment with them!

What do you think the future of digital marketing and media looks like? What can marketers do to prepare?

The main thing I'm focused on is this formula: segmentation + automation = customization.

We all know AI is the new sexy term everyone wants to throw around. But it all comes back to segmentation. How are you taking advantage of your customer data? This is so important to understand what audiences are right and appropriate for you to leverage. And then modeling off of these high values to find more of the same type of people you’re trying to target.

From an Automation standpoint, there are so many different ways we can take advantage of the technologies to drive efficiencies and allow our teams to focus on the creative side. But the human brain power has to be part of the equation. Using a data creative optimization tool (DCO), build out all these different asset scenarios that you can mix and match and then deliver in real time.

The way the future is headed, I believe the best way to approach it is to be smart with your media dollars and don’t waste them jumping on every high-level new trend. Use your data that’s out there and take advantage of the frequency gaps to work toward multi-touch attribution. That’s the unicorn every marketer chases, and I think going back to that initial formula is how you get as close as you can in today’s digital world.