6 lessons on effective marketing from Will Smith

Actor and musician shares his focus on the consumer's emotions and needs and the impetus for authenticity

Will Smith might not be the first person marketers would think to go to for strategic marketing advice, but the musician, actor and philanthropist had plenty of insights to offer during this year’s Marketo Marketing Nation Summit this week.

And at the heart of all his efforts is connecting with the end consumer.

“I consider myself much more of a marketer than an entertainer,” Smith told more than 6000 attendees at the first day of the summit. “Part of what I do is create that emotion for people to be excited about a product.

“It always starts with aspect of a person’s life they’re feeling bad about, and what I can do for them to improve it.”

Here are some other highlights on how Smith connects with audiences, the importance of authenticity, and why you simply can’t afford to have a fear of failure.

1. Staying relevant

Smith celebrates 30 years in the music and acting business in June this year. For him, the key to staying relevant is to tap into “universally relatable emotions”.

“If you create something, what is that emotion that becomes the centre of it?” he asked.

As an example, Smith pointed to his film, the Pursuit of Happyness, which at the core is about a father trying to feed and care for his son.

“Who can’t relate to that pain of looking after your children?” Smith said. “An emotion that everybody understands is a good foundation to begin with.”

Another example was one of Smith’s early album, entitled Parents just don’t understand.

“Start with something that from the inception people get, and that everyone has experienced as an emotion,” he said. “From that point, you start to bend the creative endeavour around it.

“The worst thing to start with is: ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if”. That doesn’t start with consumer in mind. For me, it’s always about getting into people’s hearts.”

2. Building consumer insights

Digitally driven data might be the holy grail for many marketers today, but Smith said nothing beats going and sitting amidst the crowd you’re trying to reach.

“I go with my kids to shows and see it for myself,” he said. “I get to blend in and feel what’s going on and what’s happening. I’m connecting to it, and creating from my heart rather than thinking. It’s hard to think your way to connections.”

3. Digital’s impact on interaction and engagement

The rise of technology and the connected consumer is forcing us all into being transparent. With that comes a demand for authenticity, according to Smith.

“In the 1990s, you’d put explosions into terrible films and before people knew it sucked, you’d made what you needed to in the first weekend,” he said. “Now, people will tweet 10 minutes into the movie that it sucks. It means I have to make good movies now. You can’t hide anything.”

Smith said his current focus is the concept of “complete authenticity”, or identifying the truth at the core of the product, service, and working from there.

“The time of smoke and mirrors is over,” he added.

4. Embracing change

Smith commenced his career in music, before shifting to TV then movies. The key to knowing when it was time to move comes down to paying attention to the bell curve, he said.

“I was always certain things would rise and fall, and have paid attention to when was the time to move to the next thing,” Smith said.

But he admitted it has always scary to be open to the possibility of failing miserably.

“You have to fail early, fail often, fail forward,” Smith said. “I’ve gotten used to failing – it’s the way I’m going to succeed. Just want to fail rapidly and move to that next space. Train myself with being comfortable about missing.”

5. Work/life balance

Work and marketing are also no longer separate to marriage or parenting as authenticity becomes the core line throughout your life, Smith continued.

“It’s the basis for all interactions, and opens you up to being able to connect the way you want to connect,” he said.

6. Your long-term brand legacy and promise:

One of the major shifts Smith said has occurred in his life is being constant and considerate around the happiness and well-being of everyone he comes into contact with.

“Sitting here on stage, I’m not thinking about how can I be cool, I keep my mind on how can I help you achieve the thing you want to achieve,” he told attendees. “If I do that well, I’ll make money, be invited back and have all the things I want. It’s a subtle shift, but has meant everything in my life.”

Smith’s advice for brands is to go beyond selling and take on the customer’s needs and wants.

“You need to take on a broader, global, spiritual purpose of helping and relieving the suffering of those people you’re dealing with,” he added.

  • Nadia Cameron attended the Marketo Marketing Nation Summit in Las Vegas as a guest of Marketo.

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