Has the pandemic forever changed how we live and enjoy cities? It's a question we won't know the answer to for a while. But until we can find out, our guest on this a recent episode of CMO Convo, Esther Raphael, CMO at Intersection, told us us about the exciting opportunities for how brands can evolve their out-of-home marketing experiences to adapt, survive, and thrive in the future.

In this article, you'll find:

Prefer to listen? Check out Ether's appearance on the CMO Convo podcast 👇

Esther's background and approach to the CMO role

Before we get down to changing consumer behaviors, Esther, could you introduce yourself to our readers, go into a bit of your professional background and your current CMO role.

My name is Esther Raphael, I'm the CMO of Intersection based in the United States. And Intersection is an out-of-home media and technology company.

We have advertising products in cities, transit systems, airports, and key destinations so that brands can speak directly to consumers as they go about their daily journey. So very appropriate to think about timing now.

But what that consumer journey is today is different in some ways than what it was in 2019 and I know we're going to talk a lot about that so I'm looking forward to delving in.

It's going to be very interesting. When you approach your role as a CMO, do you have a particular philosophy in mind of how you develop marketing strategies, how you develop your team? Do you approach it in a specific way?

I'm a new CMO, I stepped into this role in September of 2020. So in the thick of the pandemic. My philosophy about any role I've ever been in is to be fearless. It's often easier said than done, but that's how I'm approaching this one too - try new things.

I just heard this 60-second clip of Gary Vaynerchuk on TikTok actually talking about something very similar to how he approaches marketing, and the success versus failure ratio and how he's totally okay having 98 successes and like 95 failures, as long as your successes are higher than your failures, keep going.

That's kind of been my method to my madness. Let's try everything. Let's see what we could do that will be magic. And that's the only way you figure it out.

How has the pandemic changed how people behave in cities?

It's what's needed in the current circumstances, particularly in the industry that you're in with out-of-home advertising, we're in uncharted waters. Retail and city centers, the high street, were already struggling before the pandemic, and now it's at critical mass pretty much, are people going to be heading back to stores? Are they going to be going back to cities or has the pandemic changed how consumers consume, for lack of a better word?

For those of us who live in cities, we know that people never left them. So even though your journey and I know none of us want to remember the thick of 2020. So we'll touch on that quickly. We'll talk more about where we're going. But we might have had different journeys, we weren't going to the office, we weren't necessarily going to go visit our friends and have a party. But it didn't change the fact that we were out and about in cities.

In fact, in many cases, being outside of your home was one of the few moments of your day that you felt happy, you felt released from the four walls that now you were spending... I remember in the very beginning spending so many hours in my bedroom, which had now become where my office was, where I ate my lunch, where I slept, it was a little room that I spent my entire day in and it was such a different feeling.

And when I was happiest was when I went for my walk. I went outside I got a breath of fresh air. And you started to see consumers saying that, they felt happiest, more engaged than ever before when they got to go outside.

Not only that there were moments where... and I can't speak on whether or not it is safer out-of-home, but people feel safer out-of-home. So there were moments where you saw people living their lives in a completely different way outside their home. So no one left cities, you were still doing errands, you were still going shopping, you were still taking walks, working out, curbside delivery.

And in many places, I know not in the UK for a while, outdoor dining. So definitely taking to living your life outside. As you fast forward, I would like to believe we are now in a period that I would like to think is revenge. So every moment that we have missed, you're going to get to relive for the first time.

You're going to get to hug your parents for the first time, go to a restaurant, get on a plane, go to a concert, my friend just sent me a video of them seeing Christina Aguilera playing in California, and acknowledging what that feels like, how that felt the first time to go to a live musical performance and how different and amazing it feels.

So you have a chance to relive all your favorite moments one time. And I know I've made a commitment to myself to relive them with gratitude and appreciation and to do them better.

And I think that that's what experts are saying, we're all going to do. That's this concept of having post-COVID Revenge. When you look up what revenge means in the dictionary, one of the descriptions is demanding satisfaction.

I think that's the piece, the definition of revenge, that we're all looking for - the satisfaction for the things that we have missed greatly. So if everyone is trying to get revenge, all of a sudden, you see this boom in shopping, in activities, in concerts, in all sorts of entertainment. In fact, there are some interesting stats about how people plan to spend their money, exact their revenge.

According to a recent Harris poll, consumers are indicating that their top planned purchases are for shoes, smartphones, going out clothes, concert tickets, and sporting events. So there's obviously a theme there.

And it continues with another study by McKinsey, which is linking vaccination with a higher spend intent, particularly for out-of-home activities such as restaurants, entertainment, and travel. So that theme continues in every piece of research that's coming out right now about how consumer behavior will change, again, all tied to this revenge concept.

Then there's that piece of it if you take it all the way to travel, revenge travel, and how that has a potential to completely revive tourism. Consumer behaviors are definitely going to be pointing towards spending and getting outside their home and getting back to all the things that they missed most.

Are they going to be doing that spending in the same way that they did previously? The number of people actually going into stores to buy things has dropped massively, even before the pandemic. Is this revenge spending going to be a resurgence of the high street, of retail in city centers? Or are people just going to continue with ordering online?

I don't shop that way. You're going to see people spending either online or in-store. I'm someone who still wants to go in-store. I've been thinking a lot about consumer behaviors and of course, you put your own feelings into it as well and how you want life to come back.

But when you think about the different senses that we've all used during COVID, there's one that we didn't get to do, which is touch.

Touch, going into a store and touching every little trinket in your travels, or trying something on. For a while stores were open, but you couldn't try anything on. That's a big piece of a shopping experience that will drive people back in stores, maybe not today, but definitely 2.0 as things continue to have a positive turn.

Speaking of tactile experience, experience is a good thing to think about in terms of what people want in the post-pandemic world. Is experiential shopping going to be the big step?

A recent article was about how fashion retail is looking into developing stores in community hubs. It's not just a retail experience you're getting, you're getting something extra, getting some added value by being in-store that you wouldn't get from shopping online.

Is that a big step that you see happening in the next few years as a response to the pandemic?

I see that happening, but it also started pre-pandemic. So when you think about what brands were doing to get people in-store, it was trying to create more of an immersive experience and they're gonna have to double down on that to get people to continue back in store. But also there's this thought around exclusivity.

And if everyone wants everything, and everyone can get whatever they want now, you can have whatever experience you want, you can all go to the same restaurant, you can all go to the same concert, how do brands differentiate themselves and maybe create moments that are different?

For a while, right post-pandemic, you saw a bunch of luxury brands delete their social media and there was talk about the why.

Why would you delete your social media, when you have millions of followers? There's a trend possibly that we can watch out for. Brands wanting to offer true exclusivity. Not everyone can see what we're doing. Not everyone can have what we're doing.

Our true customers, our true loyal fans can be a part of something that everyone else cannot. So yes, I do believe that retailers will continue to create immersive experiences, not only retailers but brands, things that drive you closer, bring you in, make you more attached to the brands or the product.

And that goes back to that revenge moment, if you have all these consumers looking to spend, looking to have experiences, looking to have shared moments, how do you grab them? Anyone can have them, how are you going to be the brand that gets them? And that's going to be through offering something different.

Then there's also that trend to watch of what luxury brands do with exclusivity, how do you differentiate yourself? How do you make yourself different, and maybe not accessible at all?

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The new generation of consumers

This extra step in a purchasing journey adds a narrative, a story to how you got that item and where you went and got that item from, where you found that perfect coat, that perfect pair of shoes. That ties into a lot of consumer insights about millennials and Gen-Z.

They're all about building their personal brand, their personal narrative, and communicating that on their own social media channels. Basically adding the story and then creating advocates who want to tell that story to other people.

Is there a way that CMOs can encourage that attitude? What strategies can a CMO make to help build that story with their consumers?

I am so fascinated. I love that you brought this up. I'm so fascinated with what Gen-Z is doing. First of all, I feel like I should have been born a few years later so I could participate in this moment.

You're on TikTok.

I am on TikTok, I'm watching what everyone is doing. And what I find so interesting that speaks exactly to your point is that this generation is creating brands for themselves - exactly what you said.

When you look at some of these famous TikTokers, Addison Rae, for example, she's a brand, she's far past a brand, she's a business, and why people are looking to this group of people as influencers as opposed to who we thought as influencers when I was growing up.

When I was growing up, you were looking to pop stars, movie stars, this generation is looking to people who have created their own brands telling you about their day. The reason behind that is the authenticity of it all. Addison Rae is a person, she's a person just like Bryce Hall is and all of these other TikTokers who want to let you into their life.

And you as a viewer find it fascinating, you find it interesting because it's true. It's not the glitz and glam of Hollywood that I was accustomed to watching this is someone's real life, the good, the bad, the ugly. And generations of people are watching what these influencers or the new influencers are doing. I find this whole moment incredibly interesting.

There is a lot for brands to learn about that. And it's that desire for something authentic. It's the desire to say I no longer want this fake fluffy version of a person or thing to look up to, I want something real. A brand is going to have to create a very similar authentic experience for the consumer, especially a Gen-Z'er, to attract them.

Authenticity is a very good word because it's quite well documented how millennials sort of started the trend, but Gen-Z, they're very driven by the values of a brand when it comes to their purchasing decisions. They're very driven by what values a brand stands for, and they've got to be authentic, they've got to practice what they preach.

You can't get away with just changing your logo to a pride flag during Pride Month, you have to stand by those values all year round. What responsibility do CMOs have in driving those values, building those values, because that's got to be something that all Gen-Z targeted brands have got to be focusing on?

As the CMO, I think your responsibility is to make sure you as a brand are being authentic. So it's very easy to do exactly what you just said, change your logo, change your logo every month for whatever initiative is important that month, that is not authentic.

So as the CMO, it's your role to put your foot down and say people are going to see right through that, we're not actually doing right by our consumers or doing right by anyone by putting out something that isn't true to who we are.

So pick your causes, hold firm on them, and promote what's real to you as a brand and for what you're offering.

That really ties together everything that we're talking about, it's these real experiences, this authenticity. Is that something that has been spurred by people's waking up overnight during the pandemic, or was it a trend that we were moving towards already, and the pandemic's sped up this process?

During the pandemic, you definitely saw brands wanting to do better. So you saw a lot of advertising and a lot of messaging on TV or in any media format that you were looking at, especially in out-of-home, for brands who were promoting access to vaccines, for brands who are giving back in a real way.

One of the out-of-home campaigns that strikes me, it's such a beautiful creative, I will not forget it is the Dove campaign that ran, of course, including on Intersection and out-of-home, where they showed all of these essential workers, specifically in the medical field, with what their faces looked like when they took their PPE off and just thanking them.

These moments of respect and wanting to do right by the people who were helping us get out of the pandemic, but also by the people affected by it. So that piece of it, obviously, is exclusive to the pandemic. I think it kickstarted this continuation of what people were doing before, you always want to do right, you always want to do good by the environment, by the people who support your products, for important causes.

But we just spent a year and a half, seeing and living through a very, very challenging period for people, when you come out on the other side of that, do you want to come out better? Do you want to come out touched by something? I do. Brands are going to think differently about how they speak to people, what they speak about, and what causes they support.

And that's what people want to see, it all goes back to the theme of real which wasn't even what we planned on talking about today. But I love it.

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New channels of communication

We were talking about consumer behaviors and consumer behaviors are attracted to these kinds of experiences, this open communication between brands and consumers. It's an important topic we've got to cover and speaking of that conversation, what channels have brands got to be enable them to speak to consumers in this new post-pandemic world? What technology is coming out that's allowing brands to have these two-way conversations?

You talked about TikTok, and these videos that are very unfiltered and a very authentic way of having that conversation. Are there other channels or other technologies that are going to enable that kind of thing in the future?

Well, the QR code definitely has made a huge comeback and it is allowing you to have, again, this was the goal of it in whenever it started in 1990 something - fill in the blank - but it's made a real difference today with everyone embracing it in a different kind of way.

Because now you see ads also on out-of-home in a big way that have QR codes on them that allow you to experience the brand in a different kind of way. So in many ways, you're seeing augmented reality off of a QR code, you're seeing the ability to purchase right off of the street, if I'm walking past Link NYC in New York and I see and add that has a QR code, with the ability for me to buy that product right away, that's a new way to interact with a brand.

And it's new because we are accepting of it now. It never quite got the take that it wanted in 1990 whatever year that was. But today we've all accepted it. When I go to a restaurant and they don't have a QR code I am bothered, you want me to touch your dirty menue that everyone touches, where's the QR code?

Now we all not only expect it, but we also want it. That's a very easy and not super technologically heavy thing that a brand can put on an ad in any media format to engage and have a second moment of interaction.

It's a lot more seamless as well because we went through that period where it seemed like every brand had to have an app. It doesn't matter what you're selling, you have to have an app. But a QR code is seamless, you don't have to download anything for that.

You were saying it's annoying when they don't have a QR code. It's annoying when you have to download an app to be able to purchase, just use a QR code, and boom, there's the menu on your phone.

We never went for QR codes when we needed to download an app and that's why no one would do it.

So yeah, there's one bright spot from the pandemic, it's saved the QR business. Augmented reality you mentioned as well, that's going to be interesting because, again, that was a bit of a thing before the pandemic, people were talking about it as being the next big step, particularly when it came to wearable augmented reality, the Google Glass and stuff like that. Is that going to see a resurgence?

Those did look really cool. I don't think you necessarily need that anymore and I am not an expert in this. But you can use a QR code to create augmented reality experiences that are just as cool as that without requiring you to wear a device.

So a friend of mine actually owns this innovation agency and he did, I think it was for the MTV Music Awards, and a fast-food brand it's called Coffee Labs but I'm forgetting the brands he did it for.

Right off the commercial in the Music Awards, you were able to scan and a rapper was in your bedroom or wherever you were in my case, as we all know already now my office, my kitchen, my whatever's now in my bedroom, and the rapper from the commercial is in my room, singing to me, no glasses required

Wow. That has really interesting applications for retail, for pretty much any out-of-home experience, you could enhance it with some kind of AR capabilities, you could put together an outfit in a store or something then use AR to put them all together.

Like Clueless when she's going through the screen and matching the outfits up, that's a very cool moment, even today. But you could actually do that in-store with AR experiences if the technology allows.

We have that going on right now on our Link NYC screens. We have Comcast XFINITY for the Olympics with QR codes where they bring the athletes to life. So there really is so much you can do especially in out-of-home to again transfer that moment to a secondary experience.

The technology for billboards as well, is improving massively. In Tokyo, they just put up their first big 3D billboard on Shibuya crossing and they had a giant cat there for a few days, it was quite adorable. Completely 3D with no glasses required.

So these kinds of experiences you can't have just looking through a screen, you wouldn't be able to get that full experience of seeing the 3D cat on Instagram, you have to go to that place and actually experience that. So it's a way of marketing activations that can actually drive people to go out and experience them.

Do you think that's got to be an important role for CMOs, not just retail experiences but marketing experiences?

We've done some really amazing executions on our out-of-home not only on our out-of-home assets, not only in digital, I'm going to give you some interesting ones that definitely created people completely stop and create social moments out of it.

But in Chicago, we have these head houses which are kind of like entry points to the subway. And on top of them, we're able to put props on many of them. We have done a couple of executions that are so fascinating, one was we put a new Range Rover, a full-size vehicle before it launched on top of them, which people loved.

We've done mechanical props, so Mike's Hard Lemonade having rotating lemons moving on top, for Seamless we did sushi with chopsticks moving all over the head house. So think about these life-size experiences that you would never be able to do on any other medium.

And then also in Chicago, we have done a complete takeover of a subway station, turned it into an ice cream parlor for Blue Bunny. So out-of-home gives you such a beautiful creative platform to use. You can talk about that 3D billboard which now I'm going to have to Google, learn something new every day.

You could do something on our digital screens that uses the innovation, the same technology that you would online so you could have the same experience, you can hyper-target, but then also you have the biggest creative canvas you could ever ask for to do something for your brand, that is more than likely going to create social buzz because you have these lemons spinning around on top of the street corner.

Or you're doing something really powerful like creating moments where Olympic athletes get to come into your home through QR codes.

So we've noticed that during the pandemic, one of the things that people, that brands wanted from out-of-home vendors, specifically Intersection was the ability to help them with their creative. When you think about the out-of-home platform, there are so many different media formats.

They're all different sizes, and there are all these different possible executions. It's a lot. So we launched our first in-house creative agency, it's called Creative Labs. We are able to now help brands with that and help them ideate, execute, we design all the way from A to Z.

That's been a wonderful thing that also came out of the pandemic, this realization that there's so much to do, there's so much to create, how could we create that extra layer for brands where we can actually help you not only take your creative and run it across our beautiful network, but help you bring it to life, help you ideate, help you execute? So that's our newest piece of the pie.

Understanding your space

A big part of being creative in these outdoor spaces is to really know the area that you're marketing in as well. You talked about putting those executions in somewhere that's very unique to Chicago.

Getting that understanding for the feeling of a place, again, leads into authenticity, if you show that a brand has got a connection with the place that it's marketing, with the people it's marketing to, then that must add that extra level of authenticity.

Yeah. We pick the cities that we're in very carefully. We love the cities that we're in, we think about the audience's that we're speaking to and we do that for our clients too. So we're able to use all different tools that help you reach specific demographics, psychographics within a neighborhood, again, to create real moments, to talk to people that you know want to hear from you.

And going back to your retail point, there's been a lot of brands that we're seeing that are direct to consumer that some don't have storefronts, so you can use out-of-home to either drive them to your one location if you have one, or none, or drive them online to have that kind of experience. And then you're out-of-home ads become a replacement for a proper storefront.

If you've done that research, if you know where your consumer is, that's where Intersection can help you marry your consumer, marry their location, try to perfect that message so you deliver to them, the experiences, the conversation, the offerings that are going to help them exact that revenge, get those moments of satisfaction that they want for the rest of the year.

A lot of people are probably suffering from screen fatigue at this stage, people have got to be sick of experiencing the world through the screen. So having these outdoor experiences that encourage you to go out and do the experience, it's a relief to see something out in the real world and be surprised by it and enjoy it and to see it on the street.

You might get that little rush of serotonin when you're scrolling through your Instagram feed and see something cool. But when you see that on the street... people stop and stare when they see a cute cat on the street. If you do a really cool marketing activation, it's got to have a bigger effect on people's connection, it's more memorable, surely?

Absolutely. My background is exclusively in publishing before I came to Intersection so only magazines.

And I always say to people that the reason I went to magazines is that I thought it was so cool to see a brand's ad in a magazine that was on a newsstand and going through the airport I pick up a magazine, this idea that I just talked to XYZ brand with is live and in color. And when I was making a transition out of publishing, what would be even bigger than that?

How did I all of a sudden not reach a small audience of whatever the demographic of the magazine was, but the whole city? That's what out-of-home offers you and there is definitely something about the moment in time right now and the experience that you have when you're at home.

The same Harris poll I was talking about how people are spending their money referenced something like 68% of consumers are experiencing digital fatigue. Obviously, even without that number, we could have guessed that, I probably would have guessed higher.

We are on our Zoom all day long, I'm going to just blame myself, then we shut the Zoom and I'm on my TV. Even with my two kids screaming in the background, something's going on on my TV.

I'm on my TikTok trying to see what these Gen-Z'ers are doing. I'm on Instagram. At some point you say to yourself, I always like to reference when that report comes in on your iPhone that says your screentime report is available, I feel terrible about myself.

But on the flip side, 69% of consumers in that same survey were saying that they're noticing out-of-home ads more now than pre-pandemic. So that feeling of a breath of fresh air, that feeling of walking away from the screen, finally looking up, looking at the world around you, is more welcome than ever before.

Is it going to continue? Or is it just a flash in the pan, a little burst of "Oh, we're out of the pandemic, let's experience the world". But then it's all back to 'normal'?

I hope none of us go back to normal. I say that because I do feel that people are appreciating the world in a different kind of way, appreciating each other in a different kind of way. I'm not so quick to give that back.

Have you seen any big changes in how your customers are behaving as a result of the pandemic? How are you addressing them? Share with the CMO Alliance Community!