Innovator Insights: VMLY&R COMMERCE’s Beth Ann Kaminkow On Bringing Greater Creativity to Buying Experiences

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Plenty of CEOs talk about reducing costs, driving revenue and enhancing operational efficiency. Beth Ann Kaminkow prefers to talk about falling in love. 

Plenty of CEOs talk about reducing costs, driving revenue and enhancing operational efficiency. Beth Ann Kaminkow prefers to talk about falling in love. 

The Global CEO of VMLY&R COMMERCE is not discussing her own romantic life, of course. Instead, she sees falling in love as the ultimate objective for marketers whether their brand produces gum, soda or a line of luxury handbags. 

And while a good ad campaign can start the courtship, she has learned first-hand the real moment when sparks begin to fly. 

“Oftentimes we think of buying as transactional, but the reality is that buying is core to how you get brands into people’s lives,” Kaminkow told Brand Innovators. “Without that it’s like admiring something from afar.”

In that sense, VMLY&R COMMERCE is not only playing matchmaker between brands and consumers. Kaminkow and her team are also helping to foster deeper relationships across sales and marketing teams so they can deliver stronger overall results for the business. 

VMLY&R COMMERCE formally launched at the start of 2021 after WPP merged its seven-year-old shopper/promotions/experiential agency, Geometry into a new commerce venture under VMLY&R. 

Geometry had been best known as a brand experience agency when it was formed in 2013 by merging Ogilvy Action, G2 and JWT Action. However Kaminkow, whose background includes a stint as an executive at Kantar, as well as CMO and years at Omnicom, has repositioned the organization around putting consumers at the core of brands’ commerce activities.

“Our job to be done is getting into that sales side of the business. That isn’t typically where agencies would have created their foundational relationships with a client because they don’t perceive it as the sexy, cool place to support and get budget and to think about building brands in marketing,” she said. “However there isn’t a marketer on this planet that doesn’t have business performance as a core KPI on which they’re being measured.”

Kaminkow said VMLY&R COMMERCE has been able to translate for marketers more about what is actually happening in the sales and trade side of their own business. That leads to better decision-making and judgement across the brand. 

In practice, that means VMLY&R COMMERCE has assisted with brands who felt their “e-commerce muscle” isn’t strong enough to helping those with sophisticated e-commerce capabilities optimize and extend their abilities to meet customer needs. This could include enabling buy-online, pick up in store (BOPIC) options, home delivery and more. 

“We do everything from those execution and implementation elements all the way to the strategy and then the creative aspects of commerce,” she said, noting that the latter has usually been seen as the domain of sales teams alone. “I think those things have to be more merged today — that process of having people to admire, covet, demand, buy. To the consumer, it happens all at the same time.”

Consumers Fall In Love — Not Down Through A Funnel

Marketers and their agencies like to break down the phases of when consumers are in “awareness” mode before doing their research, considering multiple brands and eventually making a buying decision.

Kaminkow suggested they should consider her vision of “creative commerce,” where technology and data can be used in a more holistic way that recognizes the real journey many consumers are actually on.

“Marketers thinking about it in terms of, ‘I have brands I love and that I want to be able to buy from, or learn about them or extend the relationship that I have with them in some way,’” she said. “Or they might be looking to learn about and discover new brands and are open to that process. They might know the category they want, or they may be open to new impulses.”

The reality is with conversion unique to each person, a non-linear journey opens innumerable touchpoint opportunities to make buying more engaging, personalized, and importantly, fun.

Salespeople Are Creative People, Too

Marketers may be in charge of developing TV spots, online ads and myriad other campaigns, but Kaminkow pointed to all the promotions, sweepstakes and other content salespeople use to drive conversions. 

Creative commerce is part of a strategic approach that looks at how sales teams can inform the broader experience consumers have with a brand. 

“That value chain is now shifting into a question of how they can create deeper engagement through the mechanisms and the levers that they have,” she said. “I think the possibility of building brand equity at the same time that you’re driving conversion is something that a lot of salespeople care a lot about. It is this canvas that presents new sources of growth as both sales and marketing functions elevate the potential in commerce channels.

Digital And Physical Aren’t Just Blurring; They’re Coalescing Into A Creative Whole

Kaminkow said she has been speaking with a number of Gen Z consumers lately, and that they are living proof that we are not going to be a mobile- and digital-only world.  

“There’s nobody that wants to be in physical stores and wants physical experiences more than their generation. I think there is a sort of level-setting that is going to be happening. The real inspired brands and companies are recognizing that they do need to step up that game, just as they did in terms of transitioning to e-commerce.”

Kaminkow predicted even greater use of QR codes, augmented reality, kiosks and touchscreens as brands learn to leverage each channel for the real value it offers and having them orchestrated in a unified way.

“People seek stimulation, they seek wonderment and things that are going to be Instagram-worthy. They want shareable currency with their communities that has influencing power,” she said. “It’s now understanding what is the right footprint, what is the right use of space.”

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