Taj Alavi, Global Head of Marketing at Spotify, and Andréa Mallard, CMO of Pinterest, are two of the marketing industry’s top women leaders. They are mothers, friends, storytellers, and brand-building team leaders. In our conversation, they discuss how they motivate their consumers and teams to have creative confidence, make room for playful discovery, and dream for the future. They also touched on the core experiences that helped shape their careers, namely, being a part of a community of industry peers and becoming close friends with their C-Suite counterparts, especially the Chief Product Officer.
Here is what they had to say on Visionaries and how it could influence your team, talent, and future.
- The Importance of Community & Building Professional Connections
- Marketing for Interactive and Inspirational Brands
- Using Data to Fuel Creative Vision
- Befriending the Product Team
The Importance of Community & Building Professional Connections
How did you two first meet?
Taj Alavi: Before meeting Andréa, I heard of her through shared friends, and through emails, I told her I hope one day we could meet. We were both at Cannes Lions Festival, and I proposed the idea to her—Pizza, Wine, Cannes, can you do it?! She said yes, and it turned into a three-hour dinner at a little pizza shop. We had so much fun and found that we share much in common.
When people ask, how do you build your career? Is it one mentor? Is it one person? No, it’s 100% the village you surround yourself with, and sometimes that means getting out of your shell to make connections.
Andréa Mallard: Connecting with peers in my industry has been critical for my growth, success, and mental health. Sometimes you need someone to whom you can say, “I need some advice,” “Have you dealt with this?” or “Can I scream into a pillow with you?”
To that end, when Taj reached out and said, “Hey, I’m in Cannes. Can we meet up?” The only answer was yes! What was most amazing about our time together was that while we talked business, we ultimately talked about life.
It was a pleasure to speak to someone who is not only an amazing marketing leader and visionary like Taj, but who also juggles a lot outside of work. As a leader, it has been vital for me to build those networks and get what I call 360-degree advice that goes beyond work.
Marketing for Interactive and Inspirational Brands
What are some fun things you are working on today that reflect where we are headed as a creator and consumer-driven industry?
Andréa Mallard: The two things that excite me about Pinterest are how we stand to protect the emotional well-being of those who use our platform, and how we build a community for Creators to not only like what they do but to do what they do.
This emphasis on doing is critical. Research proves that traditional social media can lead to mental health issues because it gives you an illusion of having done something when, in reality, you’ve only drained yourself.
At Pinterest, we want our Creators and content to inspire action in the offline world, which is good for business and even better for humanity. We want our users to interact, learn about themselves, get inspired, and feel motivated to act.
So, we recently launched Shuffles, an app that aims to inspire creative exploration and confidence. It has gone viral since day one, and there is an infinite waiting list to try it out. It’s a beautiful app that encourages you to dream, imagine, remix images and ideas, and spend time in creative play.
The way the app has taken off has signaled to me that people are needing a place for themselves. We want to protect our users’ selfhood and enhance their lives; we do not want to drain them or keep them glued to their phones. We want them to feel a deeper connection to themselves and the things that matter so they have the creative confidence to start building.
Taj Alavi: Building off Andréa, I would say that creating interactive experiences is one of the things Spotify is spotlighting. We are moving from this one-way platform where passive listening is everything, to a two-way creator platform where people do things together; whether that’s a creator creating, a creator connecting with fans, or fans connecting with each other.
We want to create a more playful experience for our users, for example, through our recent launch of “Spotify Island,” a virtual island within Roblox. Spotify is the number one brand on Roblox, and we have another island launching soon. We want to create spaces that drive more interactivity; moving from passive to active is my priority as I lead our brand.
Using Data to Fuel Creative Vison
Pinterest and Spotify have consistently had a forward-focused vision, how do you both mobilize at the speed of creativity?
Andréa Mallard: Pinterest Predicts is one of my favorite things we do every year because it feels like you have a front-row seat to the future. The notion harkens back to why people use Pinterest; to plan for their lives and what they will do in the future.
With Pinterest Predicts, rather than doing a year-end wrap-up where we’re looking back on trends that have already passed, we can tell you what a trend will be before it is one.
We make around 100 predictions each year, 80% of which come true. As a result, both advertisers and creators see the future first and, therefore, can create content proven to get enormous organic reach.
The trends we pick up on vary from the absurd to the divine. We predicted the Dopamine Dressing, Japandi, and Cloffice (closet/office) trends, and as soon as we predicted these, we saw them show up on all sorts of retailers’ websites because they know how accurate this data is.
Taj Alavi: When it comes to creating interactive experiences, it’s not merely that you have data-backed insights; it’s about what people can do with them.
For example, as a part of our 2021 Wrapped experience, Audio Aura (which was huge with youth culture) analyzed how you listened, and it provided your “energy signature” with a combination of colors corresponding with your mood (ex., a purple audio aura means you’re a passionate listener, and a green aura pairs with calm personality traits, etc.). The lesson here is, what can you do with the data? You must connect with people and motivate them to do something, and in this case, Audio Aura helped our users build a tighter connection to themselves.
“It’s about using data, not for data’s sake, and insight, not for insight’s sake, but for how it relates to your consumer.” – Taj Alavi
Befriending the Product Team
How do you find the data to get to the next level of creativity? Do you work with partners, or is this coming from your in-house teams?
Taj Alavi: Product and marketing teams have historically been separate organizations, but when you connect the product team to the content and marketing team, they all start to work together. The head of Freemium product at Spotify and I concluded that we need to start with our teams to collaborate and think about things differently if we want to connect more people like we are doing with Spotify Island.
To make those shifts, we must provide psychological safety for things to go wrong and allow the opportunity for the product leader and the marketer to problem solve. That safety will enable people to get to the next level of creativity.
My role as a marketing leader is not only about campaigns; it is to provide a safe workspace to help my team reach Spotify’s creative goals, and to sit with stakeholders and ask, what could we do to grab people’s attention, engage them, and win their hearts.
Andréa Mallard: In the traditional business model, marketing was relegated to a soft-shoe-tap dance at the end of the sentence. However, as the business model becomes more sophisticated, it is apparent that marketers need to be an essential player from conception to the deployment of a product.
“Great marketers are not mythmakers; they are truth-tellers. For marketers to tell the truth and live out their mission, the product they are talking about needs to deliver the ambition of the story they aim to convey.” – Andréa Mallard
How can insights from marketing inform the product, and how can some product folks come up with marketing stories? When creating new features, we like to say we never create for someone; we create with somebody.
For example, we have been working together to create more inclusive search features on our platform. Historically, if you came on Pinterest, especially in the US, and searched “braids,” the results might be an image of a Swedish woman. Chances are, that’s not what a Black woman is looking for when she searches braids; she’s likely looking for a protective hairstyle.
Therefore, as we developed features to ensure we are diverse by default, we worked with creative director, Naeemah LaFond, Editorial Hair Stylist and Global Artistic Director of Amika, who helped build how this feature should work for the Black and Brown community. That was a perfect example demonstrating the importance of working together. We must work with the experts and come together differently to be a 21st-century team in a 21st-century company and certainly as a 21st-century marketer.
Whenever a marketer asks me for advice about joining a new company, I say, first, ask if you work closely with the product team. The number one career mistake I have made in the past was not making the Chief Product Officer my best friend on day one because the product you build and the stories you tell should be mutually reinforcing from the start.
Visionaries, hosted by Nadine Dietz, airs every Tuesday at 9 AM PT and is brought to you in partnership with The Wall Street Journal. Each week, two new visionaries share their game plan and how that impacts today’s teams, talent, and hybrid work environment.
Andréa Mallard, CMO, Pinterest: Andréa is Chief Marketing Officer at Pinterest where she oversees the global marketing, insights, and creative teams responsible for telling the Pinterest story to Pinners, Creators, and Businesses all over the world. As a published author and in-demand speaker around the globe, she speaks and writes enthusiastically about brand strategy, entrepreneurialism, product innovation, and design thinking. Andréa has been named Ad Age’s 2021 Marketer of the Year, a 2021 Ad Age Leading Woman, and a 2021 Brand Innovators Top 100 Women in Brand Marketing.
Taj Alavi, Vice President, Global Head of Marketing, Spotify: Taj Alavi is responsible for how the Spotify brand delivers its mission to unlock the potential of human creativity for consumers and creative artists, connecting with new and existing listeners in 183 global markets with culture-defining marketing activations, including Spotify’s annual Wrapped campaign. Taj was named one of Ad Age’s Leading Women in 2022, recognizing women who create opportunity and drive transformation within the industry, and AdWeek recognized her as a Brand Genius. She is also an advisor to Outdoor Voices, Lunya, and Plenty’s executive members and is on the Board of Advisors at Boston University.
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