We interviewed Beth to discuss her background, career approach, changes in industry environment over the years, the state of retail, career advice, and more.
Beth Warren began her career on Madison Avenue at global agencies such as DDB and Y&R, where she led integrated marketing campaigns for multinational brands.
Today, as SVP of Experience Planning & Design at Creative Realities, Warren helps smooth the often rigid edges of the technology industry through strategy and design, artistry and human experience. Double majoring in finance and marketing, her educational and experiential background enables her to bring a different level of communication into the world of technology through modern strategy and conceptual design.
Being able to direct and lead teams creatively and strategically across business and commerce channels, Warren works with clients to achieve innovative and connected experiences. Her strategic approach within the agency world is built around marketing and planning processes, as well as technology ecosystems designed around the human experience.
Her multi-channel work approach is based off strategy, innovation, storytelling and creative discovery, constructing digital journeys that provide the ultimate customer experience.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I’m an ad agency, Madison Avenue gal, that was always something that I wanted to do. I was obsessed with magazines and editorial, and the brands that were positioned inside the print and media world. But I have a head for business – and I decided not to pursue a career on Wall Street because my creative side really won over. So the agency world was really the best for a person like me because I enjoy leading teams and being able to direct creativity, and work around business and commerce. I can be creative without having to have an ‘art’ background.
What was your first job?
I was a summer intern at Y&R. I was working in media buying, which gave me the foundation to understand how mass media is priced, audited and measured. Which – was very valid and relevant. Dr. Pepper and 7 Up were the brands I worked on. This was during a time after the Mad Men era when they were only hiring people with advanced degrees, and I only had my bachelors. So, I went to a smaller agency that was still under the Y&R family, called Wuderman – it was a direct response agency where I was the assistant to the assistant. So it was my first introduction to politics and networking. Anyway, I got myself in and I was quickly on a path through account management.
What did you learn from that experience that you can apply to today?
I had very strong women role models, that I’m still very close with today. I learned how to find and shape my voice, and I learned how to really listen – because only in the listening can you find the answers. So, that was a very important lesson. And I think inside of that, I learned how to make my way in a guy’s world.. and it’s not about being like a guy, it’s about not being intimidating. When you show up with an authentic point of view and work hard, and work for the right cause, nothing else matters. I thought, there’s a lot of people that can do what I do – but there’s not a lot of people that do it without an agenda. So, that was something I learned early on – that when you suspend your own stuff, you can really be present for your clients – and that builds trust and loyalty.
How has being female in a predominantly male environment changed from 20-30 years ago? What advice do you have for young women getting into the business world now?
I don’t see a ton of change. I think that today, women are leaning in more. Instead of taking a back seat in situations where naturally they would defer or lean away from, they are leaning in. But you can’t just lean in for the sake of leaning in – you have to bring something to the table. So, I’m happy to see younger women leaning in with conviction and a firm voice and point of view that didn’t necessarily exist in the past. We weren’t taught to cultivate our voices as much as young women are today. So, my advice would be to continue down this path. I think there’s also a natural tendency in this day and age for transparency and authenticity, so I don’t think that’s going to be hard.
You’re still working in an industry that’s pretty male-dominated. How are you finding your way today? Is it still the same?
It’s the same. But, I was able to turn the corner from traditional marketing and campaign-related communications and take that into the world of technology in a way that was credible – because tech is often absent of strategy. So when I turned that corner, I said, I’m going to bring a human experience into this, because that’s what I could bring with confidence. A perspective of thinking to the design and experience of tech, so that we’re designing it around the human and not the other way around. That’s my single platform vision and I stick to it. You have to be single-minded, and able to add value in a way that serves multiple purposes, so that served me well. It also served me well being a female – I’m able to see how we can naturally smooth the hard edges of tech, rather than thinking of it as just bits and bytes – and really think about it in a way that’s contextual and purposeful. Then being able to inspire the guys working behind the scenes to think of it this way, and to stop short-changing technology from its artistic and commercial value.
Is that why you joined Creative Realities?
I joined Creative Realities because I knew that digital was the way to go. I wanted to be able to do spacial experience. I enjoy the challenge of looking at spaces, brands, consumers, contexts and tech, and seeing how those all come together in a way that differentiates.
Do you feel optimistic about the future of retail experiences?
I feel extremely optimistic. There’s a lot of discussion in the media about the apocalypse and it being cataclysmic – and this is only true to retailers who aren’t leveraging the purpose of retail to begin with, which is to deliver experience and deliver service. The experience needs to be immersive and the service needs to be excellent. That’s just it. I think retail followed market trends in the sense that there were a lot of real estate transactions as a result to be able to scale. This hurt retailers because, unless you were innovating at the same time with a product that continues to evolve, you couldn’t afford the investment in scale. As the real estate market increased, it was very expensive on a cost per square foot to keep those stores open. So, that’s why stores closed – not because of companies like Amazon. Amazon isn’t closing stores. When the market grows, everything grows. There’s a place for retail, a place for e-tail, and a place for consumer commerce. And if you want a store in the form of four walls, a floor, and a roof, it has to be like going to a movie – it has to be breathtaking and leverage storytelling in its own way.
We hear a lot in retail how customer experience is the most important thing. Do you believe that?
I do, because why else would you go? I go into a store because I want to do less work – and if somebody’s there, why not leverage them to help me out or pull things for me? That’s an important part of retail. The touching and feeling, the trying and browsing – and just living in it in that moment is really important to the joy of taking something and bringing it home with you.
Is there anything about Creative Realities that you’d like to share?
There are 2 things that make us different and special. First of all, we can execute from end to end – from definition and design thinking all the way to deployment and day 2. So we’re kind of a one stop and serve as a central hub for anything digital. Number two, we’re about transforming spaces and places. We have the chops – the design expertise, engineering, the architecture background to be able to take a space and completely digitize it – and then be able to support it. We think like an agency but act as an integrator. And it goes way beyond AV, and we try to push the digital experiences/tech design concept, because it’s “how do you use technology to engage?” versus already assuming that it’s video. And the brands that are doing it fast are the mobile and digital-first brands. We’re technology neutral, and we’re agnostic in that way – we can help out clients in a way that’s authentic.
Why is there a need for Convrt?
I think there’s a need for any platform to acknowledge, celebrate and elevate the work that designers are doing, and do it in a way that isn’t associated with buying your way into it or having to do something to get there. I support it, I’m very curious about, and I’m looking forward to seeing the outcomes that you’re building, and want to be a part of it for sure. I like that you’re seeking out people’s opinions from all walks of the digital and design space because I think it’s important.
Is anything bothering you right now? In business? In life?
Dilution of ideas bothers me. Going back to how we started – when people lead with their own agenda, you take a sales-forward focus as opposed to a solution-forward focus, and that bugs me. Building a consensus within your team is important, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of what a strong concept idea should be. I think there’s a lot of fear out there, and you need to lead with a bright idea and fund it. I think it’s important to know that not every project has to have the same type of return on investment. There are other ways to get the outcomes you need based on what the objective is. If you want to get a measurement that’s positive, then get the methodology to measure it in the way that you need, in order to be able to justify it – and be honest about that.
Last question. What is your favorite store/brand right now?
Glossier. I just think they do a super cool job, I want everything that I see. That’s my favorite brand right now. I have 2 things I’m obsessed with right now – one is the Nike store on 5th Ave, just because it’s connected in the most perfect way, and I’m also liking traditional brands taking old approaches. For example, Cover Girl opened a store and it’s really amazing. I respect those traditional company moves because I’ve been working in multinational, conservative brands my whole career, and I’m very proud of my clients when they make bold decisions, and follow their desires.