Samsung CMO: Breeding Next Gen Of Storytellers

Samsung CMO: Breeding Next Gen Of Storytellers
April 6, 2017
Marc Mathieu, CMO of Samsung Electronics North America


Our team of experts from the Forbes CMO Practice conducts regular in-depth interviews with leading CMOs to provide insights about the evolution of the marketing function. Marc Mathieu, the Chief Marketing Officer of Samsung Electronics America, has been at the forefront of marketing innovation and experimentation his entire career. Below, I asked him to provide insight into how Samsung is empowering people with its technology and how the rapid adoption of immersive technologies like VR and 360-degree videos by consumers, entrepreneurs, and innovators will impact brands.


Stephen Diorio:  The adoption of immersive technologies is accelerating. Thanks to the smart phone, millions of consumers now have access to advanced camera and video technology. And spending on VR hardware and software alone will likely exceed $20 billion in the next three years. One of your key insights is that these technologies will democratize content creation by putting an entirely new medium in the hands of the consumer. Can you explain what you are seeing?


Marc Mathieu: When you think about the needs and wants of this new generation of consumers, makers, creators, and innovators – they have unprecedented access to technology and tools that enable “multi-dimensional” content creation and storytelling.


Traditionally, the tools to create and produce video and stories used to be in the hands of a limited few. The major studios. Large production houses. Because they were expensive, sophisticated, or inaccessible. But today we are putting a whole new form of media in the hands of everyone that can be used in everyday life. With nearly ubiquitous access to the smart phone at the center of our product ecosystem– and tools that surround the phone like our Gear 360 Camera and Gear VR - consumers have an incredible ability and confidence that they can do things that previous generations couldn’t. They can text. Take pictures or video. And share them. This generation grew up being content creators, because these days, there are limited barriers to entry. Everyone can be empowered to be part of defining how these tools are, and can be, used.  As a result, we’ll see that the great majority of the innovation, storytelling and content will come from a “grass roots” level – not from the traditional professionals or the studios.  This is what we mean by the democratization of technology.


Diorio:  As a leading provider of many of the enabling technologies underlying this movement towards democratization, how do you see Samsung’s role?


Mathieu: In my view, our role is helping people to have access to the tools and technology that before didn’t exist – allowing them to unlock the traditional barriers to create stories, content, or even a business. If you think about the trajectory of our company – relentless innovation is what drives us at Samsung. But more importantly, it drives our customers.


Technology as we now know it is changing society. People are accomplishing things in everyday life in ways that were not possible just five or even three years ago.  I like to look at the continuum of communication from a historical perspective. Centuries ago, hunters started with cave drawings. Over time as technology advanced, people told stories using text, pictures, and then video. To me, three-dimensional video and virtual reality are just the next step in that evolution.  A way for people communicate their experiences by using new technology to tell a story in a more powerful and truthful way.


Diorio:  Most (87%) of the CMOs we work with are wrestling with ways to apply the principals of design thinking and human-centered-design to create experiences that inspire their customers. You own a broad portfolio of leading-edge products and technologies – devices, 360-degree cameras, immersive technologies, home entertainment and smart appliances.  How are you helping people “connect the dots” between these tools to create experiences, innovations, and stories that have meaning in their personal lives?


Mathieu: I’m lucky to run marketing at a technology company where the products are the tools and technologies that contribute to the ecosystem that is enabling this new generation to innovate.  Most CMOs have to rethink the way they market their brands so they are centered around the needs and wants of this new generation. They need to find ways to fit into the technology ecosystem to be relevant.


We aspire to offer a portfolio of technology that equips and empowers consumers to push the boundaries of what is possible and unlock their potential.  This is what inspired the “Do What You Can’t” theme of our new mobile brand platform. We feel we make the products that allow people do to things that could not be done.  We felt “do what you can’t” was the embodiment of a generation of creators who fundamentally use technology to express themselves and tell their story.  To us, it’s about inspiring people to be able to trust that if they come up with a concept – they will be proven right, and materialize their dreams.


Diorio:  Beyond supporting creators, one of the things you’ve done to accelerate this movement is to partner with like-minded, progressive CMOs who share your vision for unlocking the creativity in people to reinvent media, travel, sports, education, journalism, communications, gaming and the arts. For example, in the last year you’ve’ partnered with the NY Times to reinvent journalism with 360-degree video, FOX to bring entertainment experiences into the home, and Six Flags to create a virtual reality roller coaster experience.  What other industries do you envision participating in your movement to create experiences that expand the boundaries of what is possible?


Mathieu: It’s a great question, because we cannot do this alone.  Take the example of the New York Times. When you look at the whole notion of the newsroom, journalists started out using a pencil and paper to tell their stories.  As technology evolved more and more they went on to take pictures, use audio and video.  In effect journalists, have been little by little using technology to tell their stories in a more impactful and truthful way.  People say a picture is worth a thousand words. Clearly when journalist is trying to describe a situation, attaching picture to the story can convey it more clearly or truthfully than text.


So, to us, the question is always, “how can new technology tell the story even better or more powerfully?”  This is what we have been able to accomplish by working together with the New York Times, bringing the new 360-degree camera into the newsroom. Not everywhere, rather only in places that would make the story more compelling.  One particularly powerful example was the way the Times used a very simple idea to cover New Year’s Day. They created a 360-degree montage of January 1 sunrises from around the globe to showcase a simple piece of news - that it’s a new year. The medium made the story much more interesting and immersive. It really transported me to those places.


Another example that is less intuitive is the partnership with Six Flags.  You wouldn’t think an amusement park would be the first to embrace the potential of VR given all of the experiences they have to offer. But, their genius when you think about it, was to see the potential of immersive technology to add new dimensions to a ride that’s been ridden for several years. Without a huge capital expense.


So the potential applications or places to use technology to enhance storytelling are limitless.  Movies, music, and journalism are a more logical starting point.  And the gaming and sports industries are natural places to tap into the potential to tell stories create new experiences.  But the sky is really the limit when it comes to the possibilities to innovate.


For example, I always say there are two things that have not been invented yet: time travel and teleportation.  With immersive technology, we’re empowering people to explore those possibilities. The travel and hospitality industry (by definition) are also logical places to explore that potential. Luxury brands are, too. They are essentially in the business of transporting consumers to another place and time - allowing consumers travel in an imagined world of luxury and experience the emotions that come with it.


Diorio: You’ve got a track record for marketing innovation, going back to your work creating the Innovation Foundry at Unilever, extending that to the Marketing Center of Excellence you lead at Samsung, at your newer offices at Samsung 837.  What can you share with other marketing leaders about how to put in place a culture of innovation?


Mathieu: It goes back to the genesis of the Foundry. It was not about a place.  It was really about encouraging marketers to innovate, experiment, and do things differently.


That’s what we’re trying to accomplish at Samsung.  We want to walk the talk by fostering a culture of innovation - both internally and externally.  Internally, that means we created a space for our marketing team - Samsung 837 - that creates unique working conditions designed to spark creativity. The bottom three floors represent a physical manifestation our brands – including consumers actively engaging with our technology on the ground floor and marketers collaborating in a cross functional space on the floors above. This proximity to consumers allows us to observe, evolve, and innovate our marketing approach in real-time. Even the neighborhood, the Meat Packing District, is being reinvented by combing art, fashion, and technology in unprecedented ways.


Diorio: Last week, you guys announced the Samsung Galaxy S8 smart phone with a series of events, including “An Evening for the Rest of Us” featuring Casey Neistat and a host of other creators like Shantell Martin and Franchesca Ramsey.  What can we expect from Samsung down the road?


Mathieu: In my experience, great brands don’t create or lead movements, they recognize and participate in them. We recognize that millions of consumers are using technology to create content and tell stories in new and compelling ways. We believe in what people are doing with our technologies and want to inspire, enable and support them to express themselves.  In my view, our role is to accelerate, amplify, and celebrate the creativity of the new generation we’ve been talking about. That was the purpose of last week’s “An Evening for the Rest of Us,”  We celebrated what content creators like Casey Neistat are doing with our technology and we’ll continue to do that.  We also aim to take a more contextual approach and engage in two-way dialogue with consumers.  Our goal is to ultimately empower them to realize their ambitions. After all, if the technology at your fingertips can do anything, then so can you.


You can learn best practices and research about the evolution of the marketing function and the role of the CMO at the Forbes CMO Practice web site


Marc Mathieu is the Chief Marketing Officer of Samsung Electronics America. He has been building “brands with purpose” for leading marketers including Unilever, Coca Cola and Danone for more than 30 years.

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