If you’re a marketer looking for a traditional focus group or a by-the-numbers research report, Zambezi X may not be a fit for you.
The new division, headed by a trio of senior-level female executives at the Culver City-based indie agency, would rather “cultivate a collective and get real truths from conversations,” said Dawn Thomas, one of its principals and Zambezi’s recently hired head of culture, strategy and content innovation.
“We won’t use a clinical-based process because culture doesn’t move like that,” she said, “and authentic, successful brands don’t move like that either.”
Thomas joins Kristina Jenkins, the agency’s chief strategy officer, and its CEO Jean Freeman in creating the group expressly to help brands reach women, filling a void they had noticed in the market and responding to demand from clients. Its stated mandate is to “disrupt convention and elevate to ad industry’s approach” in marketing to and partnering with women.
Though brands are “well-intentioned and want to do great, meaningful work,” Jenkins said, they’re often falling short. The reason may be that they’re “using 20th Century methods to try to get to know today’s 21st Century woman.”
And there are too many discussions about women “that don’t actually involve women,” said Thomas, whose duties include new business and the agency’s Samsung account. “We’re here to find and amplify their voices.”
The multifaceted woman of today “knows what she wants and is unapologetic and unafraid of expression,” said Thomas. “She demands to be valued, heard and seen because she’s tired of outdated perspectives. If brands underestimate her process, her mindset and her needs, they will ultimately lose her dollar.”
The group debuts as the ad industry in general tries to become more inclusive in its communications and examines its own ranks, aiming for more gender-parity and diversity, especially in C-suites and top creative jobs.
Zambezi X has already started working with Nike on some female-centric programs in Los Angeles, a leading market for the apparel and shoe giant, though execs said it was too early to discuss details of that collaboration.
The insights division, part of the agency’s growing strategy department, has the same goals as any marketing consultancy—deeper understanding of the target leading to better bottom-line results—but will tackle the challenge differently, according to Jenkins.
That’s why it was “essential,” she said, to form a team of eclectic female executives from varied professional and personal backgrounds, including experience beyond the advertising world.
Thomas, for instance, is a filmmaker, tech entrepreneur and digital content creator with a law degree and a Wall Street pedigree. Her CV includes stints at talent agency CAA and Will Smith’s production company, Overbrook Entertainment, along with consulting for brands like Hulu, Fiat, Verizon, Reebok and Walmart. Jenkins calls her “a culture guru.”
Zambezi X will set the bar high, said Jenkins, formerly cultural intelligence officer at mcgarrybowen before arriving at Zambezi two years ago, because “there’s not enough extraordinary” and too little authentic storytelling in the way brands are marketing to women.
The group will tap into outside talent and creators for a constant flow of ideas, possibly for roster clients like Coca-Cola, The Honest Company, Foot Locker and Cox Automotive, or for other marketers willing to shake up their status quo.
“We want to work with brands that have an appetite for bold,” said Jenkins. “They’ll have to be comfortable with being unconventional.”