Jasmine Atherton
Social Content and Strategy

Delta’s Jasmine Atherton on The Shift Towards Values-first Marketing

When Kyle Wong, CEO of Pixlee, reached out to recommend Jasmine Atherton to be featured in the Innovators, I immediately took notice...and action! I mean, anything innovation related coming from Kyle is a given and I’ve witnessed over several years, that everything Kyle does comes from his genuine interest to support and encourage bright minds.

Meet Jasmine. Not only a bright and innovative mind, but with a socially-responsible conscious and a passion for being in the moment “to positively impact the issues that are at the forefront of the cultural zeitgeist.” This values-first marketing approach is what enables Delta to be in the heart of the conversation supporting their consumers every step of the way. It requires a nimble approach and the ability to pivot on variables that typically don’t exist on a “brand plan” or social content calendar. From the agency world to Airbnb and now head of Social Content & Strategy for Delta Air Lines, here is her story…and don’t miss her remarkable message below that came out on Election Day just a couple of days ago.

What current developments in marketing are most inspiring to you?

I love the shift towards values-first marketing. Companies are, more than ever, aligning their businesses with topics that their customers care about. It’s happening on a much deeper and more meaningful level than ever before. What may have been a few years ago simply known as ‘real-time social’ has grown into a much more intentional alignment with what customers care about. The reason this is so important in today’s marketplace is that consumers are taking their dollars (purchase behaviors) to brands that align with their beliefs/values/morals. Customer’s aren’t just looking to buy solutions to their problems, but they’re looking to support brands that champion their ideologies. There is so much we can do as across industries to positively impact the issues that are at the forefront of the cultural zeitgeist. The megaphone that many brands hold is more valuable than ever. They have the ability (and honestly, the responsibility) to change stereotypes and to shift perception.

“The megaphone that many brands hold is more valuable than ever.”

Tell us about your current role and why you chose to join Delta.

I currently lead social content and strategy at Delta Air Lines, and most previously at Airbnb. I’m fortunate to be given the responsibility at both to drive the narrative of large organizations, create engaged communities and tie back to the bottom line. I’ve learned along the way that allowing values to lead can enable all of the above. And it truly is possible at any organization-- whether it’s a startup like Airbnb, or a well-known, 90-year old brand like Delta. It certainly is part of the reason why joining the Delta team was an exciting decision for me-- I knew that the company wasn’t afraid to stand up for what it believed in and that it’s values aligned with my own.

What are you working on now that you think is innovative?

Something that I am super proud of is this timely, values-first, message that Delta put out on Election Day.  I loved seeing other organizations using their platforms to build on the election day conversations -- like Lyft offering free rides to the polls, or Google encouraging voting with “Go Vote” on the hero landing page. I love seeing brands put competition and share-of-marketplace aside in favor of championing a single cause. It not only establishes meaningful connection with customers (“[brand] gets me”, or “[brand] empowers me”) but it is a way to simply do good in the world.

What big learning moments have you had along your career journey? Did you have any notable mentors?

The biggest learning I’ve had is to not be afraid to take risks. I started my career on the creative agency side in Atlanta-- I worked in developing digital, social and email strategies for brands like Coca-Cola, AT&T and Home Depot. It’s where my love for the social space began. From there I moved to San Francisco to pursue an exciting opportunity in the start-up world at Airbnb-- I would be one of the few people touching social media at the time. I took a huge risk in taking a job in a new city, with no friends, away from family and at a company that hadn’t yet solidified it’s footing. Yet it was the best decision I’ve made for my career. Given the start-up mentality of constantly testing and iterating I was able to learn a ton. We went from a handful of people at HQ in San Francisco to a global team of experts driving best-in-class social media. Funny enough, working at a company who champions the idea of “home”, I decided to move back home to Atlanta where I now work at Delta.

A notable mentor for me is Jonathan Milldenhall, Airbnb’s former CMO who I worked with for over 4 years. His inspiring energy, bold point-of-view, and constant reminder to always do the best work of your career has stayed with me. What I love now is how I find myself (trying!) to emulate across my team at Delta.

How do you pick and develop the talent on your team, and ensure collaboration?       

The most important component of a successful team is trust. Trust in every direction. As a manager I have to be able to enable my team and trust that them throughout all touch points of work/projects/campaigns. The team must have trust between each other, and they have to be able to trust me. And it’s not something that’s simply there––it has to be earned, has to be fostered and built upon. Trust isn’t an easy thing, but once it’s there a team becomes rock solid.

“The most important component to a successful team is trust. Trust in every direction.”

What one thing do you need from your CMO to help you be successful?     

I want a CMO who is OK with me pushing back but also one that will push back on me. I want a healthy dialogue without fear. When working in social media, change is the constant and nimbleness is a part of the day-to-day -- this lack of ‘concreteness’ tends to frighten most leaders. I need a CMO that is able to trust this fluidity while questioning everything at the same time. The questioning helps not only push our work forward but drive the whole industry.

I also need a CMO to be humble, someone who can be empathetic to their team. Someone who is accessible and available, no matter your position or rank. It creates energy that goes a long way.

What advice would you give to marketers who are just starting their careers?     

Take risks. Try everything. Be ok with failing.

“When working in social media, change is the constant and nimbleness is a part of the day-to-day”

Bonus Questions

  • Favorite place to vacation?   Nice, France! My grandfather used to live there and my family has vacationed there since I was a kid. It’s home away from home.
  • If you were a superhero, what would your special skill be?  Be in two places at once. I am always thinking of the next thing, what else I want to be doing, or places to be. Think about how quickly your to-do list could be done!
  • Name something that most people don't know about you. English is my second language. I grew up with Farsi in the house and picked up English once I started school.
  • If you weren’t a marketer, what would you be?  A lawyer. I can argue a point every-which-way.
  • What's the best thing you've read/listened to/watched recently?   I really enjoy listening to Guy Raz’s podcast called How I Built This. I finish each episode with an energy to make/do/create. I love hearing how a simple idea or solution to a problem can scale to massive organizations or become cult brands generations love.