Regardless of the industry, best-in-class customer experiences share a few key attributes – they’re informative, they’re engaging, and they’re fun. These attributes directly align with our approach to strategic customer experience development, so we’re always on the lookout for ways to check these boxes.
Over six years ago, we met Mark Nelson through a Business Leaders group and were immediately impressed with both Mark and the innovative work that his team was doing in empowering brands to take their customer experiences to the next level. We had a shared passion for customer-centric growth and innovation, so we’ve kept in touch over the years to follow each other’s progress. After recently reconnecting, we learned that significant growth and service expansion led to a brand evolution resulting in their new identity; EWI Worldwide. While the same passion for best-in-class customer experiences drives the business just as it did 40 years ago, a variety of forward-thinking experiential touchpoints have taken EWI to new heights.
It was great catching up with a good friend and inspiring professional, so we thought he would be a perfect fit for our Thought Leader Spotlight. We are fortunate he accepted our invitation and we are excited to introduce our Thought Leader for May 2019; President of Retail, EWI Worldwide – Mark Nelson.
What life experience(s), either personal or professional, do you feel best prepared you for a leadership position?
For me, there were so many things that I think helped prepare me for leadership. Being a father with three kids very close in age has forced us to get very good at time management. Working in an industry with constantly changing deadlines and priorities has reinforced that. However, more than anything, I think its confidence in yourself and a desire to take control. When we start our careers, we are all in a learning position where we transition from knowing very little to being much more comfortable with our skills and expertise. I think that is a natural transition. If you continue to learn and improve, at some point you become more knowledgeable than many, so it is the determination on whether or not you want to use that skill and expertise for a larger goal that makes you a leader.
Who had the biggest impact on you throughout your professional development?
I have been fortunate to have several leaders with a common trait – they never give up. In a good way. We all get to a point where we want to throw up our hands and admit defeat. However, it is that desire and ability to always keep pushing and working to find a solution that is what was most impactful to me, and it has made me the way I am.
Recent studies have projected a rise in the popularity of retail pop-up shops as Millennial and Gen-Z consumers gain spending power. How do you see ewi contributing to the growth and development of this retail space?
This is an area that we are very excited about. Working in retail, we hear many stories about how retail is dying. In addition, we’ve all personally transitioned to purchase more online – it’s often easier and more convenient. But depending on what we’re buying, we still want to see the product in person or we want to interact with the brand.
Historically when retailers opened more stores, they would get more business. This led to retailers to continue to open stores in as many locations as they could. But store saturation, non-stop competition and consumers gaining acceptance (and preference) for shopping on-line, changes need to occur. And they are.
Consumer behavior is forcing retailers to conform to consumer preference. It’s no longer acceptable that a retailer force a consumer to come to their store when and where they decide their store should be open. Retailers and brands need to know their customers and be there when and where the customers want to interact with them. That’s not quite the norm yet, but the good brands realize this and are moving in this direction.
The conversation we’re having with our clients, is how can we determine when and where that brand engagement should occur. And what should that look like? What should the experience be? It’s no longer a transaction – it’s now an experience. Millennial and Gen-Z consumers expect an experience and they want their brand to stand for something. It’s really forcing some exciting thinking on our side.
New and innovative experiential technologies create new sources of consumer and experiential data. How are brands using the data produced by your activations to improve their brand experiences?
The use of data is very interesting and is changing things significantly for us. But the data comes from so many sources, and our activations are one of those sources. There are lots of really exciting, and perhaps somewhat scary, changes happening now. The technology we’re using is very good and seamless. We can push content out to hundreds of screens at the same time and have the interaction be totally different for each consumer. In some activations, when you approach a monitor, it is determining your age, sex, ethnicity and sometimes mood and tailoring the experience for you. So if you are a consumer that is shopping for a shoes, and you walk up to a monitor to learn about the product, it can modify and suggest things that are more likely to appeal to you. The data from those interactions can then be used in ways that allow the retailer to make the experience better or more effective. If they are seeing success or failure from the current interaction, that interaction can be quickly and easily modified to make it more effective.
At the same time, you have retailers and brands with an immense amount of data on you. Anything from your purchases with them, to you interactions on social media, that can be used to market to you. Just think of everything that you do online and think about a world where the retailers have this information. They know what you buy and when you buy it. The ability to use data to anticipate your needs before you have them is pretty impressive. While this amount of data collection can be intimidating to consumers, the brands and anyone who works with them, are required to be diligent in using and protecting this data.
On-line brands are also seeing that consumers want to have a physical experience, so many of them are either opening pop-up activations or testing with stores. Those brands know where their customers are, they know when they want to shop and they know what they want to shop for. So using data, they can be effective and very targeted defining and executing brand experiences.
There’s an impressive list of case studies available on the ewi website; including Audi, Coca-Cola, Amazon, and our shared client Great Park Neighborhoods. If you could choose, who would be your next partner brand / Industry and what type of activation(s) would you recommend?
I’m going to plead the fifth on specifics. But honestly we’re seeing a great deal of change in all of our business. We’re seeing many changes in retail – many of them outlined above. But we’re also seeing changes on the Exhibit and Event parts of our business. The brands that “get it” are moving to create meaningful and impactful brand experiences. At the core, that is what we do and we’re very good at it. So any brands that are wanting to have that conversation really excite us.
Do you have any advice for a business professional looking to elevate their performance and rise into a leadership position?
First and foremost, find something that you love. Because to get really good at it, and to become a leader, you will need to work very hard to achieve leadership. Your odds of succeeding are directly related to your effort. You really need to enjoy something to want to do that in the evenings or on the weekends when all your friends are out doing other things. I would also say that you need to be humble. Especially when you do move into a leadership role. Give credit to your team – you are nothing without a strong team. Don’t ask people to do what you would not do yourself. Lead by example.
What is your favorite quote?
I don’t know that I have a favorite quote – there are so many great ones. But Thomas Edison said “vision without execution is hallucination” and that really resonates with me and my team.