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What's Next with Chris Stephenson
Episode 1115th June 2022 • The What's Next Podcast • Active International
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ABOUT CHRIS STEPHENSON

Chris is Chief Marketing Officer for PHD Worldwide His role is to globally amplify PHD’s vision of enabling marketers to ‘Make the Leap’ – a call to action and reference to how the agency prioritises creativity to drive disproportionate growth for marketers, backed by its proprietary planning platform Omni Studio.

Chris is a passionate believer in the mutual benefits of brands engaging people in positive and constructive ways; he believes that considered, creative, integrated, innovative communications create value for audiences, brands and businesses; that reach is not an objective; and that hope is not a strategy.

His background is in strategic media and communications planning, and has delivered thought leadership for a range of clients across both Europe and APAC, working on global and regional projects for brands including Singapore Airlines, Unilever, ANZ Bank, Google, Coca-Cola, Adidas, Ferrero, HSBC, Ebay, LG and The Guardian.

An industry thought-leader, Chris has co-written three books on the future of the media industry and the impact of machine learning on marketing. A regular and respected commentator on the communications industry, he has presented on stages including Cannes, Spikes Asia and Mumbrella360.




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Transcripts

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- Hi there, my name is Chris Stephenson.

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I'm lucky enough to be the global CMO for PHD Media Network,

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and it's great to be talking to you today.

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- Chris, thank you so much for being here today.

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- An absolute pleasure, looking forward to the conversation.

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- Yeah.

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So, I've been reading some business books, Chris.

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I recently read Rishad Tobaccowala's book.

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He was also on the podcast.

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He talks about staying human in the age of data.

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I just went through the PHD book, "Shift,"

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and you guys talk about putting people

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and humanity back in the driver's seat.

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It's very interesting

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that these two books are coming out at the same time,

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exploring what I think are very similar themes.

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I wanted to ask you this, Chris.

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Who or what has been in the driver's seat up until now,

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and why is it important to put people back in there?

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- Hmm, it's a really, really great question.

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I mean, I think we would say,

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and the reason we wrote the book,

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the reason we wrote "Shift"

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was very much that our observation

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was that during the long decade,

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technology had been in the driving seat.

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So, what's the long decade?

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The long decade was this period from 2007,

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really through to about 2020,

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where we saw these incredible changes

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to the marketing ecosystem driven by technology adoption,

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platform development, data-driven capabilities.

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We saw these phenomenal proliferation of capabilities

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to the marketers toolkit throughout that long decade,

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2007 through 2020.

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However, what also happened during that long decade

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was a decrease in marketing effectiveness.

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So, what's going on there?

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We've got this 13-year period where we had more data,

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we had more tech, we had more capabilities,

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we had more options and formats

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and ways and places and spaces to engage with people,

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but marketing effectiveness declined.

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And we really wanted to understand that,

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and that's what's inherent to "Shift."

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And our intention really in the book

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is that what was in the driving seat was the tech,

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the platforms.

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And they brought huge benefits, huge benefits to the system,

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but we were missing the human part of the equation.

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And that considered creative, lateral human element

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is what we're now seeing brought to bear.

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And we're seeing actually,

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we think the tides turned on this,

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and "Shift" talks to this.

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The tides turned,

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and we think we're beginning to see

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an improvement in marketing effectiveness.

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And it's because there's been a realization and a wake up

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that marketing's had a bit of a midlife crisis,

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and marketing is emerging from this crisis

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with a much clearer view

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that the tech and the data has got to work for the business.

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It's got to work for the brand.

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It's got to work for the marketers,

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rather than businesses, brands,

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and marketers working for the tech.

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- That's very interesting.

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Follow up to that, you referred this phrase,

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"paralysis of analysis" when it comes to data.

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'Cause there's so much of it,

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and sometimes marketers can get stuck

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spending all their time looking at data

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and figuring out what it means, what it doesn't mean,

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and flipping it upside down on its head,

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is there such a thing as too much data,

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or are we just using it wrong?

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What are your thoughts on all of this?

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- It's a really interesting question.

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I mean, "Is there too much data?"

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is a bit like saying, you know, "Is there too much oxygen?"

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It's like, we live in a world that is rich with data,

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and you may as well worry about the sun going down.

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We are living in an incredibly rich world of data.

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What we often come across,

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and we talk about this a lot at PHD,

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is there's not too much data,

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what there is very often, too many KPIs.

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So what you tend to get is all this data tends to produce

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a proliferation of objectives,

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a proliferation of measurement.

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So, for us it's not a data problem,

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it's a measurement problem.

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The thing that we say a lot,

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"If you've got more than three KPIs, you don't have a KPI."

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As soon as you're measuring, monitoring, optimizing,

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thinking about considering more than three things

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from a measurement perspective,

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then you haven't got enough eyes on one ball.

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You're not paying enough attention to enough

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so that it's going to make a difference.

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So, no, we would say there's not too much data.

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We would say very often we come across situations

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where there are too many KPIs,

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too many things being measured.

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And we work really hard with marketers

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to help rationalize those

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to make sure that whatever data you've got,

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and all the data that you've got to bear,

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all of that data is being brought to bear

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on fewer, more focused KPIs

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that will make a genuine difference

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to what it is that you're trying to achieve.

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- That is brilliant.

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Thank you so much for sharing that.

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Web 3.0, been a huge topic of conversation on this podcast,

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and probably everywhere else, you know?

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What's the role,

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what's the place of these new tools and technologies?

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We have Blockchain, NFTs, Metaverse, and so on.

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What's the role of all of these in reaching new markets,

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achieving goals and objectives?

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- I agree with you.

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I mean, I've been working in media planning and strategy

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and comms thinking 20 years.

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I've not seen anything like this in 20 years.

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The speed and pace and breadth

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with which the Metaverse and Web3 has kind of emerged

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on the marketing agenda.

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It's not new, it's been around for a while,

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but the speed in the last six months

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with which it has proliferated, it's genuinely surprised me.

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It really has.

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And I think there's an opportunity here

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for us to learn perhaps from a bit of hindsight on Web2.

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So, if we look at Web3 in the context of Web2 and Web1,

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and I think everyone listening to this podcast

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will understand that Web1 was the read web,

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Web2 was the read-write web,

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and Web 3 is going to be the read-write-own web, effectively.

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I'm guessing most of your listeners are across that.

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So, we think that context is valuable.

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And given that, let's look at Web3

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through a context of Web2.

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In hindsight, in retrospect,

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with that beautiful glorious benefit of hindsight,

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Web2 was an amazing party

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if you were in high consideration categories.

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If you were in a category with long consideration cycles,

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with a lot of research, lots of information,

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where you perhaps had an existing relationship

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with customers, you had a big first party data set,

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you had a lot of data to bring to bear,

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Web2 was a brilliant party, it was a great party to be at.

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It wasn't necessarily a party for every category to be at.

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And I think we've seen a lot of pretty high profile brands,

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who I won't name,

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but we have seen some pretty high profile brands say,

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"Perhaps we got a little ahead of ourselves

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on the niche targeting, the micro programmatic capabilities,

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the retargeting potential."

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We've seen some high profile brands pull back from that.

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And I think when the history of the web is written,

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I think what will write this chapter,

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I think that the Web2 was a brilliant party

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if you were high consideration.

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If you weren't high consideration,

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perhaps it wasn't necessarily a party

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you should have been at

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unless you had a great reason to be there.

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So, given that lens, what kind of party is Web3?

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Which brands are naturally going to have fun

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and have a great time at the Web3 party?

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The great brands and categories

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that are going to have fun in the Web3 party

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are high-interest brands, the high-interest categories.

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If you're in brands and categories

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that people are waiting for the next thing,

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that lean into, that are interested in,

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if you're in brands and categories

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that make things that people want to own and have

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and share and talk about and want,

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then Web3 is this amazing playpen

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where you can create assets and make assets

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and sell assets and make a lot of money from things.

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And you can create art, you can collaborate,

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you can play, and you can really get deep

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and empower and embed and connect with communities.

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The danger we've got, I think,

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from an industry perspective

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is that we tend to get excited about the next big thing,

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and we tend to think

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that that next big thing applies to everyone,

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to every brand, every category.

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And if you are not at that party,

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then you're just not with it, and you are missing out.

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So, I think we've got to bring

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a bit more critical thinking to Web3.

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If Web2 was a party for those categories

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with really high consideration

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where we think Web3 is a party

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for those brands and categories with high-interest,

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that's not to say, if you're from a low interest category

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or a low interest brand, you can't crash the party.

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You can absolutely crash the party,

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but if you're going to crash the party,

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you've got to be amazing.

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You've got to be entertaining.

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You've got to be super crazy, awesome,

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and you've got to bring something to the party

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that isn't necessarily there,

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which of course means creativity, innovation,

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which is another reason why we think

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that actually humans are now much more in the driving seat.

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Back to your initial question.

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We think that tech isn't going to get us through Web3.

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The Web3 is of communities,

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and it's of passions, and it's of ownership.

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And it is the connection and the tech and the retargeting

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and whatever places the cookie

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is not going to get us through that.

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Human connection, intuition, and creativity and passion

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is what's going to get brands through Web3.

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So, a brilliant party to be at if you're high-interest.

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If you're not, go, but be amazing when you crash the party.

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- That's wonderful.

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I hope I get invited to the party.

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I hope I don't have to crash it myself.

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- I hope so too. I hope we all will.

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I hope we're all interesting enough to be at the Web3 party.

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I can only hope. - Exactly, yes. (chuckles)

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Chris, you have the unique perspective

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of having a global position for PHD.

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You have a global view now with your clients,

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with your agency.

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You come from a regional lens, a local lens previous,

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I'm hoping you can share maybe some regional differences

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or similarities that you're seeing in various markets

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that maybe might surprise some of our listeners.

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- Yeah, it is a very interesting question.

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And certainly, as I've moved from domestic planning

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in the UK, then Australia,

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regional in APAC or Singapore, and now global,

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I've absolutely seen differences.

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But for me, I think what I've observed

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is the global trends and pendulums

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rather than individual market differences.

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So, what I mean by that

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is that we definitely went through this big pendulum swing

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towards globalization, towards global brands,

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towards big iconic global,

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but of course, global brands are still there.

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But I think what we've definitely seen in recent years

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is the pendulum swing back.

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And we've seen a real proliferation of local brands

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with real local cultural insight and cultural relevance.

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We've really seen those tick up.

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And I think that the pendulum will swing back.

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But I think we're definitely at a phase

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where the pendulum is well and truly swinging

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towards those brands that have got real local resonance

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and real local insight at a market level.

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And we're seeing this real amazing proliferation

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of different market cultures,

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and the brands that thrive within those

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really come to the fall.

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I think what I have seen, though,

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it's not market based,

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but I've noticed in different markets where I've worked,

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that I hope none of your listeners

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will take this the wrong way,

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but I do think that most marketers are fundamentally insane

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(Karim laughing)

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in the sense that most marketers

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I've come across quite widely,

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but most marketers that I've encountered with,

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they want to completely contradict me things

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at the same time.

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They want to think new things, blue sky,

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create, innovate, break boundaries, break conventions,

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be challengers, do things that no one's ever done before,

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ensure they want to be famous.

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However, marketers also want to make the numbers,

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drive the results, make sure the board gets value

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you make sure shareholders get value,

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you make sure reporting is in play, measurement's in play,

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everything works and ticks the boxes.

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So in short, they don't want to get fired.

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And that marketing impulse,

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those impulses that will make a market or get famous

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are often very different impulses

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to ones that will make them not get fired.

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What's fascinating to me,

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and when I love connecting with, especially now,

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when marketing is in such flux, what I'm really interested,

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and why I love exploring with market

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is how they balance those things.

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How do marketers get famous, and how do they not get fired?

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And I've seen that done differently in different markets.

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Some markets generally will come from a place of creativity,

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breaking boundaries, challenger thinking,

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and think, "Well, how do we sell that to a place of safety?"

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Other markets, to make a generalization,

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might start from a position of wealth or safety.

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How do we not get fired?

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How do we get everything in play?

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And then how do we build some creativity into that?

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And I don't think either was wrong,

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but I think it's fascinating for me,

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over working in markets and in regions and globally,

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how different marketers, different markets,

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different categories will balance

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those potentially contradictory things

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and square the circle on those.

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I find it fascinating.

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And I may know

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of the way marketers are able to balance those

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and really keep them in play and generate growth

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by having both those things together.

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I find it genuinely fascinating.

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- Yeah. Wow, that's a fascinating answer.

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I wasn't expecting that one.

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Thank you, Chris, for sharing that.

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Final question for you today, Chris,

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what's next in advertising and marketing?

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Is it the technology? Is it new media?

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Is there a new Facebook killer?

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What's next, and maybe what should we be preparing for?

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- It's a really great question.

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I think, what was it someone said?

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Someone said, "Prediction is really difficult,

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especially when it's about the future."

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I'm stealing that from- (Karim laughs)

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I'm stealing that from someone.

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Well, your listeners will probably tell you

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where that's from.

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I remember that.

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So, yeah, prediction is difficult,

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especially when it's forward-looking.

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I think there's one thing that we talk too a lot in PHD,

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and we talk too a lot of it in the book.

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And obviously, if you want to more about "Shift,"

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you can visit shiftbyphd.com,

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and then there's loads of information about the book there

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if you want to find out more.

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But one of the things we really talk too

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when we look ahead in that is decentralization.

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We are entering an age of decentralization.

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And the big thing that marketers

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are going to have to contend with over the coming decade

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is one of the decentralization of marketing.

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That's going to impact environments.

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It's going to impact how we connect with people.

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Because who owns the environments,

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who owns the platforms is fundamentally changing

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as we get into a Web3 world.

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The monopolistic, the oligopolistic nature

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of the Web2 walled gardens,

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I don't need to say who they are, right?

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Those big monopolistic,

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oligopolies that existed in the digital world in Web2,

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we're going to see those decentralized.

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And we're going to have a plethora of tiny walled gardens

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around communities, around individuals,

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around platforms, around spaces.

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And they'll be interoperable.

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So, what marketers are going to have to deal with

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is how they deal with that decentralization of influence,

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how they deal with that decentralization of reach,

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how they deal with that decentralization of engagement.

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And how do marketers navigate the new rules

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of reaching and engaging decentralized audiences,

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decentralized communities, in a way that is scalable,

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I think, is probably going to be the challenge

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of marketing in the next decade.

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- Chris, thank you so much for your time.

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This has been a fascinating conversation.

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- An absolute pleasure.

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Thanks so much for having me. I really enjoyed it.

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And yeah, I loved the conversation.

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Thanks so much for having me on the pod.

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