With a background leading consumer research and media planning for companies like Yahoo and Viacom, Lauren was drawn to Square’s insights-driven marketing approach. Now, Lauren is experimenting with new storytelling techniques and on-the-ground activations to reach small business owners where they are, while telling their authentically-compelling stories. Here, Lauren shares the latest from the brand’s "Dreams" mini-movie series (running strong since 2017 and earning multiple accolades) along with her advice on how to influence others.
Tell us about your background and why you chose to join Square.
I’m the Global Marketing Lead for Square. My team’s purpose is to shape and grow our brand while generating demand for our products and services. I’ve been at Square for two years and chose to join for a few reasons.
To begin with, I love its mission-driven culture… Square maniacally focuses on the customer, their struggles, and how to make it easier for small business owners to succeed. I was immediately drawn to the insights-driven approach to marketing and product strategy at Square. I spent the first 10 years of my career focused on research and analytics but during my time at Yahoo, I pivoted to overseeing marketing strategy, followed quickly by an even greater leap into overseeing all acquisition, growth, and retention marketing. Making the leap into Marketing made sense given the shift in the industry towards insights-led and data-driven marketing.
What’s currently happening in marketing that most excites you?
"...we’ll start to see great brands emerge from the pack through remarkable storytelling."
One trend I find interesting is how customers today have increased expectations of how and where brands show up and what they stand for. I think brands taking a stance on social causes and identifying opportunities to showcase brand values will become an even more important piece of the marketing equation. The role brands play in culture is at an interesting point in time and I think we’ll start to see great brands emerge from the pack through remarkable storytelling.
As expectations continue to rise from customers – and their attention becomes more fragmented – great brands need to keep innovating to break through. This makes the job both hard and rewarding at the same time. And, of course, thinking about how we measure all of these activities is an ongoing challenge that I enjoy working through.
How is Square leveraging storytelling as a strategy?
We’re experimenting with different storytelling techniques, from customer interviews in podcasts to short films that highlight small business owners with an incredible journey, to hosting night school sessions in cities throughout the US. Our most recent film, "Forged in Flint" was launched in April and focuses on how small businesses are rebuilding the city of Flint, Michigan. We also launched the film "Exit 12" earlier this year, which focuses on an Iraq war vet that started a dance studio.
We've seen strong customer and critical praise for these films: “Exit 12” was a SXSW 2019 Jury Award Winner for Best Documentary Short; “Made in Iowa” was an Official Selection for the 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival; and "Sister Hearts" won the Tribeca X award in 2018.
What are you working on now that is innovative?
Square recently launched an integrated brand campaign that is both national and local in nature. In this campaign, we chose a mixed media approach, combining live action footage with animation to make the videos visually engaging while highlighting key product moments. Our goal was to have the animation enhance these seller stories and stand out amongst other content.
In addition to the national campaign, we also have an innovative local component through a multi-tiered approach to engaging on the ground. For example, we’re running radio and out of home advertising in select markets while including murals Square has commissioned from local artists. We’re also supporting the local small business communities in these cities through our Self Made Event Series: we’re sponsoring local food, wine, and art festivals with resources and educational programs to encourage entrepreneurs to take the first step in their business journey. Square is staying in each market for six weeks and we’re concluding our time there with a night school program that provides business courses to current or aspiring small business owners.
What big learning moments have you experienced during your career?
One of the biggest things I have learned over time is how to embrace change. Earlier in my career, it was hard for me to adapt quickly. When members of my team resigned or managers left the company, I would take it personally. Today, I have grown to embrace change as an opportunity to optimize the way teams work together and to expect that the only constant in the tech space is change.
"I’ve seen brilliant talent fail in an organization when they couldn’t connect with their peers."
Relationships are critical to your career journey as well. I am so lucky to have had great mentors throughout my career. Without the guidance and support from these individuals, many of whom I still rely on, I don’t think I would be where I am today. Ultimately, I truly believe that the key to being successful in organizations is forming relationships, establishing trust, and being a collaborative partner. I’ve seen brilliant talent fail in an organization when they couldn’t connect with their peers.
How do you pick and develop the talent on your team?
I look for four qualities: curiosity, empathy, courage, and conviction. First is talent that is curious: people that take the time to understand “why,” while also thinking about how it could be better. After curiosity, I look for empathy. It’s critical to have empathy for your customers, but also your co-workers and peers. Marketers also need to have courage. Are you going to challenge conventional wisdom? Are you going to share big ideas and be willing to take risks? Finally, marketers need to have conviction and a point of view.
There are a lot of opinions about marketing and it’s an area in the company that is often under the spotlight. Marketers need to influence stakeholders and peers to see their ideas come to life. Great marketers have all of these skills. In addition to these qualities, I look for diverse talent to ensure that we’re representing the voice of all of our customers.
What one thing do you need from your leader to help you be successful?
Trust. Without a doubt, trust is the most important thing I need from my leader. I need to trust her to give me air cover so I can feel safe taking calculated risks and I also need her to trust me to give me enough runway so I have space to be creative.
What’s the best advice you can give to fellow marketers?
"...marketers need to be courageous and willing to fall on their sword for the ideas they believe in."
Be courageous and have a point of view. Marketing today is a balance of art and science. It’s data and intuition. Often the numbers paint a more black-and-white picture of what you should or should not do – for example, ROI. Meanwhile, on the creative side, marketers often have to lead with intuition and trust their instincts. In order to do this, marketers need to be courageous and willing to fall on their sword for the ideas they believe in. When the passion behind the marketing comes to life, it’s easier to influence others. If you don’t have a point of view or you waver in your conviction, it’s challenging to sell in new ideas.
If you weren’t in marketing, what would you be doing?
I would probably start my own business: a bakery for both humans and dogs.
What book would you most recommend to fellow marketers?
Hillbilly Elegy. While it is not a marketing book, I recommend it for all marketers to gain perspective on what’s happening culturally in the U.S. outside of major cities.