Data-Driven Decisions and AI-Fueled Storytelling: a Q&A with Manos Spanos

November 14, 2019

By Marni Gordon, SVP of committees and conferences, ANA

ANA

Ahead of his session at the 2020 ANA Brand Masters Conference, the ANA’s Marni Gordon sat down with Manos Spanos, SVP and CMO of brand marketing yogurt BU — USA at Danone North America, to hear his thoughts on data-driven decisions and leveraging AI for storytelling.

Q. How does Danone leverage data overall to drive decision-making for your marketing plans?

One of the most fundamental beliefs we have in Danone is that we are humans, not robots. We believe in the power of people connecting with other people. We are targeting hearts, not minds. Marketing is about emotion far more than logic so we need to be masters of the art-meets-science tango. We’re always listening and optimizing because we can sleep when we’re dead. We believe that content is not about the stuff that you make, but the stories you tell. And to create these stories, we need to bring together a perfect mix of data and marketing gut instincts. As a result, we try to infuse the right dose of data in every step of the marketing process, from:

  • Consumer insights/understanding with tools such as AI-driven consumer behavior analytics
  • Audience mapping/Tribe analysis with the help of our second- and third-party data partners
  • Media planning and buying with the use of cutting-edge technology tools
  • Content visual optimization with AI algorithms

However, I cannot stress enough the need to be very “careful” with the use of big data and technology tools. At the end of the day the best tools in the wrong hands can create more harm than good. And, fundamentally, when it comes to the actual creative narrative, I do not believe that marketing instinct can be replaced by a machine.

Q. How did Danone begin the process of leveraging AI for brand storytelling?

First and foremost, we need to be clear that the use of AI in the brand storytelling creation process has much less to do with the actual creative narrative and a lot to do with setting the right parameters for the briefs and also in the implementation/execution of the actual content. AI is a valuable tool in understanding our tribes better, in understanding what are the territories that fit with a brand and its audience. AI is great in enriching the planning process and, of course, in execution. AI works fast, works efficiently, works long hours, and is “objective” in measuring and analyzing. What AI cannot do is replace the human mind and the human heart! So we started small, one step at a time. Test, implement, learn — piece by piece — and we are still learning!

Q. What have been Danone’s top challenges in leveraging AI for content creation and execution?

The biggest challenge is our very logical human reaction of being easily impressed by fancy terms, fancy tech, and new shiny toys! All marketers love shiny toys! So when you are dealing with new, and fast-evolving tech solutions, it is very easy to get carried away and move faster and be more reckless. Sometimes, frankly, we jump on things that we don’t fully understand. So we have to be careful and be clear on our objectives. What problem is the tech going to solve, how will we measure success, and what is the size of the prize? Start there and the rest will follow!

Q. How is Danone organized internally to drive storytelling through AI?

We continue to evolve. We have some principles that we all feel comfortable with and we organize around them. For example:

  • Having a Marketing Center of Excellence that encompasses data, analytics, media, and brand planning, all under one roof — this ensures we have fewer silos and more cooperation
  • Brands owning the content strategy and leading the cross functional teams
  • Dedicating resources in evaluating technology developments in areas of interest and sharing their knowledge with the rest of the team

Q. Which Danone product is your personal favorite and why?

Ok, now this is a hard one to answer. I love all our products for their fantastic taste, their commitment to a purpose, and their great nutrition! If I have to pick then I will tell you two that I use all the time. I need my daily dose of Activia Dailies, because everything starts in our gut! And the best place to start is Activia. I crave the taste of Two Good yogurt, especially the cherry flavor. It is just amazing how great a product with only two grams of sugar can taste!


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