In this series of articles Ian Truscott goes backstage with a marketing leader, to learn what influenced their career, what gets them rocking about the industry today and what kills their buzz, picking up any useful tips that we can all use from their journey in a quest for marketing rock stardom.

It’s very hard to summarize my guest this month into a single paragraph, but I’ll try.

Dallas native, L. Michelle Smith, a classically-trained mezzo soprano is an author, speaker and marketing leader with over 25 years of experience as a communicator and integrated marketer.

Honing her marketing skills at global agencies, her own boutique agency and a Fortune 10 technology, telecom and media company (yes fortune TEN, not 100 or 500), she has launched a series of media, content and tech brands including the podcast Cultural Soup and her 30 Minute Mentor program, and is in constant demand as a keynote speaker, facilitator, panelist.

So hello Michelle, on with the questions…

What would be top of your rider for your next marketing gig? 

  • A fully integrated marketing department where PR/reputation and brand/marketing/advertising collaborate daily and both sides of the house have a rich understanding of the other and the impact they can have together.
  • A team that has a fully developed cultural lens, that is aware of the data that shows that our nation has swiftly shifting demographics, and is multicultural and intersectional. I’d like a team that considers everyone when they market and communicate, and does not separate ‘diversity’ initiatives from ‘general market’ initiatives.
  • A team where everyone ‘gets’ social media and leverages for their business and their own personal brands.
  • I think there should be complimentary Topo Chico and freshly popped popcorn for everyone, every day.
  • I’d like a mix of agencies, large and small, that are generalists and specialists across the 360 marketing mix, again with a keen cultural lens and the budget to support them.

What or who are your marketing influencers? 

  • I’ve always been intrigued with how people are influenced by the media that they consume, and that started for me in graduate school at Texas Christian University. I can’t say that there was any one ad that inspired me but I was intrigued at how people can shape information, place it into targeted channels and have a distinct impact on the audience and how they view the world. It was even more fascinating that paid advertising wasn’t the only way to do it. In fact, the most credible way to do that was through earned media, where one leverages the credibility of influencers (and at this point, this was pre-social media influencer) to carry a message to the audience. With the onset of social media in the early 2000s, we saw that phenomenon open up in ways that we never imagined.
  • The people who inspire me are Ted Rubin, Seth Godin, Bozoma Saint John (think Apple days) and Sheryl Adkins-Green, CMO, Mary Kay. 

If I was Spotify, what would I play for you first thing Monday morning to get you going?  

Mama Said Knock You Out, L. L. Cool J.

The curtain pulls back, you step out on the stage of your new marketing gig – what do you open with?

I would open with walkup music that tees up a compelling story that demonstrates an rich insight. This is typically how I open all my keynotes and it applies to most forms of great marketing and communications. A cultural tie, great storytelling all driven by a solid insight – it is the formula for needle-moving marketing and communications.

The audience is dancing in the aisles, it loves that track. What keeps the house jumping? 

What keeps people moving and sustaining the groove is certainly about how you listen to their responses, read their ‘body language’ and respond to those responses at every turn, with richer insights and messages that resonate. Great marketing is a moving target that adjusts with the human to human connection. Lose touch with your audience and there is no more winning.

You’re playing a huge stadium; how do you know the audience can hear your tune?

The qualitative measures are usually the most powerful, but they are also the most elusive, especially where budget is concerned. Engagement measures such as likes and shares on social media, for instance, only get you to the surface. As much as people like to stay out of the comments, as in real life, its important to hear out how people are feeling, and that takes focus groups and surveys after the initiative. It also means you may hear something you probably don’t want to, but that is course corrective and the dose of reality we as marketers need. Few brands commit to that type of deep dive measurement consistently, but it is definitely needed.  

What would you throw from your hotel window into the Rockstar CMO pool?

I think that while omnichannel has its place in some consumer experiences and can be effective, sometimes I feel that this surround sound approach can be super-sensory overload, and in some cases, borderline creepy if not executed with care. Still, some targeted audiences aren’t tuned in to every channel and prefer their messages in particular ways and spaces, and become endeared.  If you can hit one or two channels with just the right message, creative and nuances that audience will keep returning for more.

I’d also throw out the idea of total market… is spaghetti at the wall. Inclusion marketing is more like it, and it does not deny segmentation, in fact, it embraces it in order to inform a new approach to a swiftly diversifying mass market.

What’s got you rocking today?

Technology today has sped up every process and approach, and it is so exciting. Micro-creativity and micro-innovation has unleashed the individual and especially under-represented groups to accomplish some amazing things on their own and swiftly, and it has caused big brands to step up and pay attention. Ultra-tech savvy consumers are demanding their content the way they want it, when they want it and how. It is exciting time to be on both sides of the process as an “extraprenuer.” I own my own media, content and tech company. In what other era could this have been even fathomable?

If there was a marketing hall of fame, who would you induct?  

The people that have inspired me from your earlier question – Ted Rubin, Seth Godin, Bozoma Saint John and Sheryl Adkins-Green, CMO, Mary Kay. 

Any final words before you drop the mic?

As companies become bigger and bigger, attention spans and consumer tastes are becoming more refined, individualistic, bite-sized and intersectional. The tendency is to market bigger, when we need to have a more distinct and deliberate approach to humans and what makes them unique. That actually mandates that big brands think smaller and more local. It seems counter intuitive, but it really is about the human-to-human connection.

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