By Maya Kotwal
This week’s speaker for the Dean’s Speaker Series was Andy Donkin, Questrom MBA alum (class of ’93) and the Chief Marketing Officer of Under Armour. He joined the company in August 2016, and previously worked at Amazon, where he led promotional campaigns for FireTV, Kindle, and Prime. Mr. Donkin was recently named one of the 50 Most Innovative CMOs in the world by Business Insider.
The event followed the same format as all Dean’s Speaker events, with Dean Freeman asking some questions, and then hearing questions from the audience.
When speaking about careers and career paths, Mr. Donkin echoed two sentiments that are often passed along to college students: to seek out mentors, and find a job that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning. He mentioned that in his career, some companies have had structured mentor-mentee programs, but other do not, and in those scenarios the responsibility falls on you to make connections in the workplace. As for what motivates Mr. Donkin, he summed it up in one simple word: curiosity. He said that he enjoys going to work and working through problems that haven’t been solved before.
Another common touchstone Mr. Donkin spoke about was the importance of accepting that failure is part of the process of innovation. However, an interesting add-on he mentioned was that it’s also important to know when to pull out — when he was at Amazon, they were trying to launch Amazon’s Fire Phone. The project ultimately didn’t work out, and he spoke about how the company realized that they could continue putting money into this venture with the hopes it would eventually take off, or leave, cut their losses, and use it as a learning experience. For me, that was a refreshing take on what can sometimes come across as a tired cliché.
For me the most interesting topic Mr. Donkin talked about at the event was the role of digital marketing, and how that might be affecting the marketing industry today.
Like a lot of people my age, I follow many social media influencers across different platforms, so it’s not unusual for me to come across a #ad or #sponsored post in my feed. So I thought it was really cool to hear about that process from the other side of the table — from someone who is creating the marketing ro branding strategy behind the post, instead of someone who is delivering a creative output.
That is actually how Mr. Donkin described the process: the branding executives create a storyboard or framework and present it to the influencer of what the company wants to communicate to the consumer, and the influencer finds a way to authentically relay that message to their followers. He contrasted it from traditional media advertising by saying there’s a distinct loss of control: in traditional media, the company has complete control over the message from the strategy to the script, but in new digital media they don’t have control over the script, and can only control the framework.
As for how the companies try to mitigate the risk of having a sponsor who might reflect negatively on the Under Armour brand, he said that it’s part art and part science. The company looks at how big this person’s reach is, and if their behaviors, values, and interest match up with those of Under Armour to determine if they would be a good match for the brand.
He also pointed out that that loss of company control might sometimes appeal to consumers — when people feel like they are being given a unbiased look at a product by someone whose opinion they value, they might then think more favorably of the brand. This made me think about how many specific products I’ve gone out and looked at, or even purchased based on the recommendation of an influencer I follow.