“The story is at the core of every good marketing strategy, and one of the core elements of a good story is knowing your protagonist” – Talking digital with Rachel Grate, Head of Brand Marketing and Consumer Strategy at Tiqets

What is the biggest challenge facing the digital industry and why?


I think the biggest challenge is finding the right tone and message to align with the mindset of the consumer in each specific moment in time – especially in my industry, travel, when restrictions are constantly changing and each country has a different attitude. We’re in a period when everyone has Zoom fatigue and is concerned about the impact of social media on mental health, so how do you continue to connect with your audience when the relevant message today isn’t relevant tomorrow, and investing in offline is hard to predict the impact of when you’re planning a few months out? Of course, channels are changing and evolving, but that’s always been the case and marketing will adapt. It’s the story we tell that I’m more focused on.


What excites you? What do you think will be the next ‘gamechanger’ in digital marketing?


I think many companies under-utilize partner marketing. I think especially now when so many marketing teams have had budget cuts, many brands are willing to partner with each other on campaigns to reach each others’ audience. Partnerships can be a huge advantage, whether you’re focusing on B2B or B2C, as long as each company aligns openly with each other at the start for what their goals are and what metrics they’ll use to measure success. As long as this is aligned, partnering with another brand on a campaign is a great way to reach a hyper-relevant audience, cut costs or share the operational burden, and think bigger than you could have on your own. Plus, you get to learn from how another similar team is operating and thinking, which can breathe new life into your approach on other initiatives!


What’s the most interesting digital campaign you’ve seen recently?


I think Thursday, the dating app, is doing really interesting marketing stunts that are going viral on LinkedIn. They’re doing things like sending interns out on the street with a box of dates for “free dates on Thursday”, but then pairing the photos of that activity with punchy captions and commentary, and driving massive engagement on LinkedIn and constantly showing up on my feed. I think it’s interesting for a few reasons:

1) It’s incredibly cost-effective and they’re getting massive exposure without the costs.

2) The channel is unexpected. They’re a dating app, and yet they’re most often going viral on LinkedIn? This is breaking down the barriers between B2B and B2C, as most people perceive LinkedIn as a largely B2B channel, but they’re using it to reach professionals – many of whom are interested in dating!

3) They’re pairing offline and online channels in a really interesting way. Street marketing like they’re doing usually only reaches the people who physically see it IRL, but they’re taking to LinkedIn to share it with the world.


What was your experience of working through the pandemic?


Working through the pandemic at a travel industry was certainly a challenging experience, but I think it pushed marketers to get more creative and managers to get more empathetic in really important ways, and I hope that shift is here to stay. At my company we sell museum and attraction tickets, and sales went to zero in a matter of days. It actually was a really interesting challenge for my Brand Marketing team, because overnight the brand marketing channels actually became the only way to connect with consumers. When no one could buy tickets, how could we stay relevant? That’s how my team came up with the concept of the Culture Festival, the first online festival offering virtual tours of museums and attractions across the world, from The Met in New York City to ABBA the Museum in Stockholm. This effort was nominated for a Webby Award last year, and we continued that type of new marketing effort throughout the lockdown months. On a more personal note, my team is mostly expats in Amsterdam, so for all of us we couldn’t see our families for months in a stressful time when relatives weren’t always doing well. We had to rely on each other to step up and support each other when we each needed it, putting life before work while still getting the work done. I do think work provided a helpful frame for this time period, so that people could still stay engaged with each other and with a sense of purpose when so much else was uncertain.


What burning question would you like to ask other industry experts?


For international but small marketing teams, I’d love to hear how they balance focusing on specific priority regions for campaigns vs. running global efforts, and what sort of impact they see from the different approaches.


What gives you the greatest pleasure from a work perspective?


The most rewarding part of my job is working with my team and mentoring them. I have a fabulous team of 19, and their creativity and energy are what inspire me. I am a big believer in career development plans to align the goals of the company with each individual’s career goals, and have seen this hugely pay off in the team’s focus and in my ability as a manager to funnel them the work they will find most rewarding. When I look back on the team two years ago versus today, it’s hugely rewarding that most of the team is still there and engaged in their jobs (even during a pandemic!) and to see how much they have grown to take on more responsibility and leadership. I think many managers don’t take the time to invest in each team member’s career development like this, and it does take a lot of time, but it hugely pays off.


What do you wish you’d known 10 years ago?


10 years ago I was still making the decision about whether to pursue journalism or marketing as my full-time career. I ultimately chose marketing because I realized they weren’t so different, in the end: Journalism is paid for by ad clicks, and marketing content is paid for by conversions – marketers are just a bit more transparent about that motivation. But now, this far into my career, I firmly believe that marketing campaigns and content can be better quality and just as helpful for consumers to engage with than some modern journalism can be (though, of course, it all depends on the type of journalism and type of marketing). So I would have eased some of the concerns I had at the time about “selling out” – because just because marketing is selling something, doesn’t mean that the efforts of a brand can’t genuinely have a positive impact on the world beyond a business’s bottom line.


Who has been the biggest influence on your career?


When I was straight out of university, I worked in Content Marketing at Eventbrite in San Francisco, and was lucky enough to have two fabulous managers and directors there. They invested time and energy in my career development over my five years there, and I am where I am today because of it. I learned so much from them, and they definitely ingrained in me how to balance creative thinking and a data- and metrics-driven approach, which is often hard to find in a brand leader and has been a huge advantage for me.


How do you manage work/life balance? How do you unwind?


I moved from San Francisco to Amsterdam several years ago, and the work/life balance comes much more naturally in the Netherlands, where everyone has better boundaries. I’m quite strict with myself on signing off of work by 6 at the latest, and have Mail and Slack notifications turned off on my phone so I don’t get pulled in at night or on weekends. (I’ve also learned the hard way that if I work at night, I can’t sleep because my brain’s still thinking about work, so I know the trade off isn’t worth it.)

In the winter months in Amsterdam when it gets dark around 4, I also take an hour in the middle of the day to go for a run or get outside so that I can think clearer for the rest of the day. I encourage my team to do the same – especially working from home and with various lockdown restrictions, I want them to know that the important thing isn’t if their Slack profile is on “active” every single minute of the day, but that they get their job done in the hours it takes and protect their mental energy whenever necessary. We’re all so much more productive when we take the time to properly rest.


What else should we know about you?


I’m a marketing leader, but first and foremost I’m a storyteller (I studied literature in school and am working on a novel in my free time!) I say this because I think that the story is at the core of every good marketing strategy, and one of the core elements of a good story is knowing your protagonist. One of my central beliefs about marketing is that your company should never be the protagonist of your story – your customer should be. This comes through at every level and channel in your marketing: how can you talk about your customer as the subject of every sentence and the protagonist of every story, instead of your company? I think this is what many companies get wrong – the consumer doesn’t want to hear, “This company has this feature”. The consumer wants to hear, “You can solve your challenge with this feature”. Now you have my attention – because you’re talking about me, not yourself.

With special thanks to:

Rachel Grate
Head of Brand Marketing & Consumer Strategy

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