IMPACT series #6 - Allison Johnson

IMPACT series #6 - Allison Johnson

AFTER INTRODUCING THE WORLD TO THE IPHONE, IPAD AND APPLE.COM (AMONG OTHERS), MEET THE GLOBAL MARKETING LEADER ON A MISSION TO CURATE PURPOSE DRIVEN ORGANISATIONS AND MAKE DOING GOOD COOL

Allison Johnson is one of the world's most sought after thought leaders. We sat down with Allison recently to hear first-hand, her fascinating journey, on how she successfully infiltrated the predominantly male-dominated corridors of Silicon Valley's most recognisable brands and learn more about her views on building the purpose-driven brands of tomorrow. 

Allison has seen up close how a marketing-led vision of the future can help a 100-year-old mainframe company lead the biggest e-business transformation in the history of business (IBM). How designing every customer interaction for magic and delight causes {otherwise rational} human beings to stand in line for days to be the first to own your product (Apple). And how obsessing over where and how people experience their first bite can give a burger made from plants a cult following with meat-eaters (Impossible Foods).

She believes that beloved companies put customers at the center of every decision they make, whether it’s the 4.3 seconds it takes for the lid of a product box to rest back on its base to create a moment of ceremony; or store fixtures made from Northern Michigan maple because the cold winters create a wood grain that is especially dense and warm to the touch. It’s the recognition that no amount of advertising can make up for a lazy sales associate, a bad customer support call, or a data privacy breach. It’s an uncompromising commitment to doing things a certain way; the right way. Customers can actually feel how much you care.

In the context of all the work marketers lead on behalf of a business — product marketing, consumer insights, market sizing, pricing, competitive moats, design, messaging / marcom, advertising, partnerships, channels, content marketing, customer analytics, lifecycle marketing, revenue and growth — Allison believes that leading a company-wide focus on customer experience is where magic happens. The kind that breeds unbridled devotion.

 

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"Apple was a tough but amazing ride.

Those of us who worked directly for Steve knew we were participating in history."

Allison Johnson

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While growing up, her father worked for Bethlehem Steel Corporation during the build-out of America’s biggest cities – so the family moved around a lot. “Moving to a new city every couple years makes for a close-knit family and you learn to get comfortable with change at a very early age.” 


After graduating from high school Allison studied journalism at university because she loved to find the truth and meaning in everyday events and write about them. It turns out this kind of storytelling is a valuable skill when it comes to helping employees, customers, investors, and partners understand your value proposition and get the most out of your products and services. 

Those skill sets would serve her well with early career roles at IBM, Netscape and Hewlett-Packard before one Steve Jobs came calling in 2005. Allison moved to Apple, taking on the role of Global Vice President for Marketing and Communications, reporting directly into Steve.

What was that experience like?

 

“Apple was a tough but amazing ride. Those of us who worked directly for Steve knew we were participating in history. We pinched ourselves every day. Apple was a high-performance culture and the bar was excellence. You came to work knowing you had to do the best work of your life. That’s pretty heady and demanding stuff. Apple’s secret sauce was that we all put the customer at the center of every decision we made, Is it the right thing to do for the customer? Decision making gets pretty fast and simple when that’s your only filter. It turns out that when you put customers first — no matter what business you’re in — you are operating from a place of purpose. By making decisions that are genuinely good for people, you are making decisions that also are good for the community and the planet. I left Apple just before Steve died to take those learnings to a new generation of companies making their way into the world.”

 

Luckily, there is a new breed of companies emerging which are real-life examples of how purpose and profit can live side by side in today’s competitive business world. As a global leader, Allison believes this approach of purpose-led, for-profit businesses is the future of creating sustainable brands.

 

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"The relationship between profit and purpose is pretty clear.

Doing good is good business.”

Allison Johnson

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“Apple, with its people-centered approach to building technology, is the most valuable company in the world. Patagonia, which encourages people to experience the outdoors and be kind to the planet, is another highly profitable, much beloved company. Meanwhile, the least trusted companies, the ones who make money by selling out their customers to advertisers, are losing profits and losing customers. The relationship between profit and purpose is pretty clear. Doing good is good business.

 

Social-enterprises are for-profit businesses which through their product or service offering, help solve a societal or environmental issue. These businesses and brands identify a problem and offer a solution through their business model. The space is growing and there is a wider momentum growing of consumers who place purpose in their top three purchasing decisions.

 

Crafted Society has a purpose to use the power of transparent craftsmanship to inspire, empower and educate the next generation with a brand mission of using luxury for GOOD™ which we execute through our commitment towards transparency, ethics, sustainability, and social responsibility. I was interested in Allison's perspective on purpose-led organisations and especially in the commitment for consumer goods companies to adopt a transparent approach towards their customer base.

 

“All businesses have a responsibility to be good citizens in every sense of the word — good to employees, partners, customers, investors and their communities. Transparency goes part and parcel with responsibility. The only time transparency feels hard is when there’s bad news. I know from experience that people are very forgiving of bad news when it comes from a place of truth and integrity. “ 

 


Allison has been incredibly successful in the male dominated technology industry. What specific characteristics helped you to succeed?

 

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"I have a set of right-brain skills in a very left-brain industry."

Allison Johnson

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“Curiosity, imagination, and courage. I have a set of right-brain skills in a very left-brain industry. I learned how to use my gifts, fearlessly, to build narratives that helped transform companies and their vision of the future, to create markets for companies and products that never existed before, and to reimagine and disrupt existing markets in ways never imagined. “ 

 

What advice would you offer the next generation who also wish to follow in your footsteps and succeed in working at the very top of the most successful company the world has seen?

 

"For women — and men — real liberation comes from doing what you love and measuring your value in terms of contribution and impact not the size of your kingdom or the zeros on your paycheck. Live your truth. That’s where you’ll find real power and joy."

 

How can businesses empower females even more to help balance the gender inequality within the corporate corridors?

 

"My biggest worry right now is around #metoo backlash — that men will lock women out of the workplace for fear of the potential consequences of inadvertently doing or saying the wrong thing. That would be devastating. Companies need to make diversity a first principle of doing business — just like purpose needs to be a first principle of existence. Study after study shows that more diversity means more profit. When you operate from facts, not emotion, you can get to the right outcome."

 

What was the one piece of advice Steve Jobs gave you that still rings true today?

 

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"Less is more."

Steve Jobs

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Allison has worked directly with some of the most inspirational entrepreneurs modern times have seen, “Genius expects genius or you may find yourself out of a job, right?” The demands of those uber-talented founders were both exhilarating and exhausting. Allison knows this only too well. Those demands would keep her awake at night. She would constantly source new, ingenious methods of maintaining creativity within her team, while at the same time keeping them energised during months at end of constant heavy lifting. She remembers fondly, "We did it by delivering on the brief, so to speak, delivering the work that was expected, but we got excited about bringing in work that was 90 degrees to the left and right of the brief; work that was totally unexpected and original. That's how some of the best, most memorable work made its way into the world. The lesson is you have to earn the right to influence genius by going above and beyond the call of duty and, ideally, it has the added benefit of keeping teams creatively fresh and inspired."

 

Marketing today is a constantly evolving and changing landscape. There is a changing landscape between traditional marketing and advertising to the disruptive social media platforms of today but should social media be cautiously approached or vehemently embraced?

 

“There’s no doubt that social platforms, when used properly, give us a way to interact with customers directly and in real-time. For marketers, that level of connection is crazy cool. And data driven insights — made possible in a large part by social platforms — are God’s gift to the practice of marketing. Marketers can do more now to drive revenue and customer growth than at any time in the history of business. That gives us legit power at the leadership table. But if we get lazy and all we do is reduce human beings to data and algorithms, then we lose our connection to who we serve and the reason we deserve to exist in the first place. You make different decisions when you are responding to data on a spreadsheet than when you are looking a human being in the eyes. Data may be able to tell you what colour or how many, but it will never tell you why. The Why is where you find the real insights, the whitespace, the stuff of magic.”

 

Allison is a true master of her own Craft. In closing we specifically wanted to know Allison's thoughts on our mission of using Luxury for Good™ to preserve craftsmanship and create positive impact in the world by creating a new accessible luxury which is driven by quality, honesty, transparency and fair pricing?

 

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"Art, in whatever form it is expressed, is a gift.

Artists and artisans deserve to be paid for their talents.

Art is the lifeblood of our culture and humanity.

Supporting and cultivating artists and making their

craft more accessible to more people is noble work." Allison Johnson

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So what is next for this trailblazing creative genius?  “The past is prologue. Now I’m ready to do the real work! And there’s a lot out there that needs doing!"


Allison is pictured above wearing the Betty low in pinkish nude. 

 

Allison Johnson

 

Allison Johnson was speaking to Martin Johnston – Founder & co-pilot of Crafted Society™.