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Transforming Brand Experiences with Data and Design: Q&A with Haluk Kulin

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Freeman

Designing success and what it means to be human

How can data and design be applied to brand experiences to inspire massive change? We recently sat down with Haluk Kulin, SVP, strategy and data design for FreemanXP, to talk about the role marketing and data can play in improving people’s lives and why experiences are fundamental to who we are as human beings.

Q: You describe your background as helping to build purpose-led brands and businesses that improve people’s lives in real ways. Can you expand on that?

HK: Absolutely! I approach my work with a great amount of empathy. It is so important to take that approach in business. It’s about seeing the world in the form of the challenges you can solve for people and then seeking to do that.

Take, for example, laundry. Typically, parents don’t want their kids to get dirty because it means more laundry. But at Unilever, we turned that idea on its head. Research showed us that play and dirt could actually be a critical component for a kid’s development. By approaching this challenge with empathy, we are able to create marketing messages that resonate and ultimately improve lives. 

Similarly, I created Personal BlackBox because I wanted to help people protect their personal data. It’s a big challenge in a world where data is critical to businesses for generating value, but by approaching it with empathy, we were able to create a solution that truly helps people. 

Q: Data is a challenge — not just for individuals but for businesses and organizations as well. In your opinion, what role does data play in business and marketing today?

HK: Every book, receipt, paper, computer program, text message — the complete collection of every data point in the universe — that is now doubling in size every two years. As a result, we don’t even know most of what we are learning. It’s all brand new. We are constantly receiving new information on our environment and, as a result, we need to be in a constant learning mode. This is true of individuals and of organizations.

The nature of data is interesting. By law of nature, whatever you observe, you change, and you change whatever you observe. So when you collect data and measure something, you are automatically changing something. You are setting yourself at the start of the path towards success. A perfect example is when you want to lose weight. You need to start by measuring your current weight. And so this notion of measuring things and changing them — it’s ultimately a design issue. And it’s a design issue that businesses and organizations can solve for with the right data sets. 

Q: So what you are saying is that it is up to us to design what success looks like. How do we do that?

HK: It starts by defining what success looks like. You need to define it in order to create impact. Then, if you look at the fact that you are constantly having to learn, you realize that you must be in a constant design phase, working hard to re-understand the world you are in. And in order to do that, you need data. You can qualify what you said you were going to do based on what the data tells you instead of personal bias. It’s an ongoing and continuous feedback loop for learning.

This comes to life in an exciting way when we talk about events and brand experiences. By bringing together digital and human interaction, we can uncover a multitude of data points to help define and impact success. 

Q: You are passionate about the power of data and marketing as a tool to make life better. How does data make life better? How does marketing make life better?

HK: What’s really beautiful about human beings is that no matter what time we live in, where we live, or how we live, the most important tool we have to connect with one another is through stories. We are all born not knowing much, but we learn and discover through stories.

The role of marketing is to remind people of the stories we forget, and to do so in a very human way. A great example is the Dove beauty series, which described beauty not by comparing yourself to an image you can’t obtain but rather by the beauty in you seen through the eyes of family and friends. Marketing takes commonplace insights and creates stories to elevate the value of the product, with a focus on the benefit for the human being using it. The role of data, on the other hand, is to help us learn and achieve in better ways. When we pull those two things together, data and marketing, we create a virtuous cycle of learning and storytelling that gets better and better each time.

Q: In your opinion, why are experiences fundamental to who we are as human beings?

HK: Great question. Human beings, you see, are sensorial animals. We receive information on every level — sight, smell, touch, even the unspoken. How many times have you been able to sense the energy of someone? And we can now increasingly measure these senses. There’s technology out there that can measure your face and tell how well you performed on an exam based on your face, or how much you are enjoying the show you are seeing, and even our hidden personal biases. We always thought these things were based on intuition, but we are discovering that it ends up being data

Now we have the ability to combine all of these things in one place, in events and brand experiences — and it’s a new path forward. So as long as we approach this new paradigm with love for people, endless empathy, and a deep desire to solve their problems, we can transform those experiences to be human value experiences and get to the core of what it means to be human. 

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