Defiant 25 Profile: Tricia Nichols
Lessons in marketing learned at Pepsi, Gap, & Estee Lauder inform a thesis for the next chapter.
BY: The Lead Editorial Team
“It’s no longer simply transactional. Brands have to form transformative relationships with their customers.”- Tricia Nichols
If a brand can actually help a consumer make their life better, that’s where you really become a trusted advisor. It’s beyond price point, and about creating formative bonds.
- “I’ve always challenged myself with the question – why should they care? How would I be empathetic to that cause and how can I make it transformative?” – Tricia Nichols
Start-ups create value, drive innovation and rapidly go from new to big. But for the corporate executive, they are especially powerful as decision funnels and test beds.
We first met Tricia in early 2018 when she was nominated, and subsequently selected to, The Defiant 25. For anyone who did not see the full list, The Defiant 25 recognized leaders, risk takers, and visionaries leveraging innovative technology to transform their businesses.
With a career spanning roles at Pepsi, Gap and Estee Lauder, Tricia brings with her a full basket of experiences that inform her worldview. She has taught her craft as an adjunct professor, is active in the start-up community as an investor in early-stage businesses, while also managing her corporate executive responsibilities. These varied angles inform a purview that few have and foster a decision-making structure that truly stands apart. It’s this decision-making structure that has guided the career opportunities Tricia has pursued and also acted as a foundation enabling her evolving worldview. As innovation evolves, new technologies appear, and consumer habits change – so too does Tricia’s perspective. Join us to take a deeper dive into her thesis.
Our team wanted to learn more about what drives Tricia — what is her worldview, what are the core marketing concepts that drive her approach and where does her operating thesis stand? Here we lay out her blueprint for next-generation consumer brand marketing.
“I’ve always challenged myself with the question – why should they care? It’s the driver for everything I do, the driving curiosity. How would I be empathetic to that cause and how can I make it transformative? It’s no longer simply transactional. Brands have to form transformative relationships with their customers.”
It is this desire for empathy that has driven Tricia to develop her own framework of core marketing concepts throughout her career. These concepts helped create a new version of the now out-dated ‘marketing funnel‘ and include brand bonding, micro-storytelling, opening doorways, self-navigation, and the start-up mentality. At the core of these concepts are education, loyalty, and services — as well as the role technology plays in enabling them.
THE NEW FUNNEL
A marketing funnel helps companies visualize the buyer journey, from introduction to conversion (and hopefully beyond). But the new marketing funnel does not look like the funnel of the past. The top of the funnel is now the disruption, the attracting, driven by any number of channels. What does the prospective customer encounter when they arrive?
According to Tricia, it should be an opportunity to learn and grow. We’ll discuss this more below, but this is successfully executed through micro-storytelling and trust building. From there, it’s about permission and asking for the opportunity to provide services. And once these two steps are complete, it’s time to build loyalty and leverage the new relationship to open doorways.
“As you move through the funnel, maybe it’s a bonding funnel, now let’s teach them something new. Let’s focus on learning together and growing together. Maybe after that, it’s driving some sort of action, asking the customer to try something on virtually or share information so we can give them a more personalized regimen. And that last layer is buy and buy again.”
But how do you sustain loyalty in this new funnel? The answer — Stay close to emerging technology and bring it into your flow. The funnel changes from being a channel driven funnel to a content and relationship driven funnel with multiple (opportunities) doorways that are constantly opening themselves to the customer.
THE BRAND’S ROLE
What was once a transactional relationship between brand and customer is no longer a viable marketing model. Today, it’s about a transformative relationship, a give and take. A brand’s job is not to tout itself, but to become a ‘trusted advisor.’ Tricia calls this “brand bonding” and according to her, brands can achieve this relationship by providing educational opportunities to their customers.
“When you’re learning you’re growing. When you have the goal of being a trusted advisor and when you really hold true to this notion of when you’re learning you’re growing, that creates bonds in and of itself.”
You bond more when you are learning, when you are in a state of being helped and that appreciation creates a bond. Think about your strongest personal and professional relationships — your friends from college may still be your best friends because you were with them when you were in a state of learning, discovering, growing and self-improving. A brand that can educate you on how to get a better night’s sleep is a trusted advisor. It is the brand’s role to help customers learn and grow. It is in the moment of learning, self-growth and the unlocking of potential that the client becomes the most engaged.
MICRO-STORYTELLING & OPENING DOORWAYS
Throughout Tricia’s career, the notions of education and brand bonding drove her to think about moving away from what she calls monothematic storytelling. In monothematic storytelling, a brand, campaign or product has one thing to say and they hold true to that only. But in reality, we all have multiple things to say, multiple channels to enter through. When you allow customers to look at your brand, campaign or product through a variety of lenses, that actually helps you create multiple and frequent engagements with your customers. From that directive, the notion of micro-storytelling evolved.
The tools of micro-storytelling are mobile, video and text. And the goal is to use micro-storytelling to teach, thus creating and reinforcing that bond between brand and customer. Micro-storytelling also opens new doorways for customers to walk through.
This new relationship between brand and customer, one based on trust, receiving and growth, still needs to be built, and the mobile form factor is an ideal tool for this. Mobile uniquely offers four functions that enable this new marketing thesis: location-based services, voice-enabled services, 1 to 1 interaction, and virtualized experiences. By leveraging these functionalities, as parts or as a collective whole, there presents an opportunity to build trust, provide value and ultimately serve a call to action. We all know the next step — convert a prospect into a customer, develop an ingrained relationship and repeat a cycle built on giving and receiving.
With a rich brand relationship in place (built on trust and rooted in loyalty) we’ve created space to open doorways — adjacent offerings to the same customer — with the same credibility, care, and interaction that was first built during the brand-bonding phase. Such a relationship is the core of ‘the new funnel’ and new technologies serve to enable it.
THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY FOR MARKETERS
Technology for the sake of technology is a recipe for disaster. Technology solves problems much more often than it creates new opportunities. That’s why we start with the problem and then look for the form factor that can support the solution. Of course, once the problem-solution fit is established, technologies become a powerful tool for brand bonding. In the marketing category, the omnipresence of mobile and consumer tech in general opens avenues for building brand bonds with multiple, positive, frequent engagements.
THE START-UP MENTALITY
Start-ups create value, drive innovation and rapidly go from new to big. But for the corporate executive, they are especially powerful as decision funnels and test beds. Start-ups spend every minute of every day working to exploit a deficiency in the marketplace. Sometimes they get it right the first time, usually, they don’t. But in getting it wrong, they learn what does work. Then, with a proven thesis, they pivot to an adjacent concept – having started in one place and identified the true opportunity. Tricia believes this pivot moment is critical – it’s the moment for unique insight into where the industry is going, thus informing her where she needs to invest her time and effort. Let the start-ups make the mistakes and reap the insights. It was Tricia’s work at Pepsi, managing innovation and incubation that first brought this perspective to life.
THE NEW LUXURY
Luxury is now defined by giving back time and providing convenience, personalization, and knowledge to your customers. If a brand can actually help a consumer make their life better, that’s where you really become a trusted advisor. It’s beyond price point, and about creating formative bonds. And it’s the same customers that thrive on education and growth that also desire this new luxury experience. Brands need to focus on simplifying accessibility and saving time, for both of which the customers will thank the brand and continue to engage.
Recently (and with a heavy heart), Tricia resigned from her role at Estee Lauder and accepted a new post as Chief Marketing Officer for Independent Pet Partners, a private equity-backed (TPG growth fund) company in the luxury pet space. But most importantly, she remains a thought leader who is truly defiant and continuing to chart new paths for the industry. Whatever she is selling, we are gladly buying it.