Samsung CMO To Marketers: Empower Creators And Don’t Be Afraid Of Data

Marc Mathieu, CMO of Samsung Electronics, America, knows his job is about more than just promoting devices.

He’s marketing a lifestyle.

From smartphones to smart watches, smart appliances, cameras and health apps, the purpose of Samsung’s marketing is to demonstrate how the brand’s products and features can integrate into people’s lives and help them do more.

“We give people the tools to create, share and experience digital content,” Mathieu told AdExchanger. “We’re living in a world where super-users are important and serving them and helping them grow is important.”

That’s why Samsung is taking a less traditional approach to creative rather than leaning exclusively on agencies.

“We still rely very heavily on agencies for ideas,” he said, “but because of the importance of using our devices in the campaigns we do, bringing in creators is essential.”

After 13 years with Danone, Mathieu moved to Coca-Cola to lead its global brand repositioning in the `90s. He went on to become SVP of marketing at Unilever before joining Samsung in 2015.

Mathieu spoke with AdExchanger about Samsung’s marketing approach.

AdExchanger: How does Samsung use data in creative marketing?

MARC MATHIEU: I find it interesting that we sometimes look at them as opposites. We make our lives complicated.

One of my favorite examples of data-driven marketing was simply partnering with The Weather Channel. We used ambient data to tell people when it was going to rain where they lived. We also have a camera that captures low light like no one else. So, we sent messages at the [right] time of day saying, “The sun is about to set in your city. Are you ready for the night?”

That’s not sophisticated data, and it’s not a very sophisticated creative idea. It didn’t require high production costs, but it was incredibly effective.

Are marketers embracing data more on the creative side? 

A couple of years ago I talked to a group of young marketers and one of them asked me, “What would you recommend I do if I want to be a great marketer in the future?” I said, “Learn coding.” What I meant was not that he should become an engineer, but to understand and not be afraid of data and algorithms. Understand how they can be used to connect with people.

CMOs are changing their titles to things like “chief growth officer.” Is that a sign that branding is becoming less important than performance? 

I believe that marketing is, and will always be, a balance of pure marketing and business. But, at heart, I’m a brand person. I believe in brands and I believe in people. The essential part that is never going to go away is [that] it’s about the people we serve, not just our products or marketing.

You were at Coca-Cola and Unilever before Samsung. What’s different about marketing a technology brand versus a CPG?

Tech shapes the way we live. It has changed not just the way marketing is done, but the way brands get built and the way we engage with people. As a result, the role of the CMO comes with great responsibility and ethics. If the marketing we do doesn’t enable digital wellbeing, we miss the mark. Each of us have the ability to choose a couple of battles that we believe are important for the industry. That’s one I’ve embraced.

How do you think about ethical responsibility in the context of buying media on platforms like Facebook and Google, which are dealing with ethical issues of their own right now? 

We have very close relationships with the platforms. We all [marketers] are working with them [the platforms]. Nobody had foreseen the immense growth and power that would be in those tools. Today, everybody is internalizing that and taking actions.

Which media channels are most important for Samsung? 

One of the things that strikes me is [that] because of the attraction and power of digital, we have left behind product and brand experience. The reality is, especially in today’s world where most products can be ordered online, giving people the chance to experience the brand firsthand is really important.

In New York, we have Samsung 837 as our brand experience center. We’re rolling out [experiential stores called] Galaxy Studios in several cities. We put some on wheels that go three weeks at a time through different cities, or three days at a time. Experiencing the benefit of products firsthand is really important.

What role does programmatic play in your media strategy? 

We use the whole array of tools available to us, including programmatic. We’re trying to balance the right approach between marketing and advertising our products and their features – [which is] where tools like programmatic can be extremely helpful – and engaging with the audience as users of our products.

A lot of brands are trying to launch direct-to-consumer plays. How is Samsung pushing closer to the consumer? 

The way brands used to be built was you had advertising, you shared a message and tried to get people to purchase. The way brands are built today is through micro-interactions multiple times a day on people’s terms [and by] being in direct contact with people, serving them and not just selling them.

When I think about our products and services, I think about the phone, but also the watch, and how Samsung Health connects to the watch and the phone and enables certain choices about wellbeing. It’s the connectivity of these components that are making the brand and also are enabling marketing that’s not just about telling or selling but serving and engaging.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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