December 5th, 2014 Google and Inc.Magazine host David Sable of Young & Rubicam

Google and Inc. Magazine sponsored “The future of digital marketing: strategies you need to succeed,” on December 5, 2014 at the Inc. headquarters located in the World Trade Center. Inc. senior writer Christine Lagorio-Chafkin interviewed David Sable about his experiences in marketing and business.

David Sable is a longtime advertising executive who sees digital as a way to enhance our lives, not supplant them. 

“Digital is everything, but not everything is digital,” is Sable’s mantra. While his crystal ball on the future of marketing is admittedly “cloudy,” he is clear that digital puts an increased importance on making live experiences better.

Contrary to his titled talk, Sable didn’t come to spew strategies. You can look to his blog for specifics. Sable is the Global CEO of Young & Rubicam, an entrepreneur and investor that has been in the marketing industry since the 70s. He thinks the ad world was late to innovate with technology, but they're trying to make up for it now - for better or for worse. 

Sable has the knowledge of an advertising historian and talks about today's digital revolution through the lens of an ad exec that has seen it all. He debunked digital hype and reminded the audience that it is not all about what’s on our phones, even though it seems like it is.

2014 was the year of “people beginning to understand that we live in the real world,” he said. Sable believes the biggest mistake is in thinking the experience should be on the phone. Instead it should be about creating an easy way to take that experience offline. 

“Analysts 10 to 15 years ago said retail was going to die,” Sable said, quipping that analysts are always wrong. “They said there’d be no more restaurants or movies. We’d do nothing that required us to leave our home.”

This year’s most highly valued digital startups are not loved, downloaded and discussed just for their digital interface, but more for their concept, which encourages us to act contrary to analysts’ predictions.

Sable used startup glasses company Warby Parker as an example of a company that truly combines real and digital. They started solely online. Their business model involves sending users five pairs of glasses to customers to try on, an idea that came from customers’ requests to see and try on the product.

“They thought, ‘Wow look at the experience they have when they try glasses on with friends around,” Sable said. That’s not new, he said. Humans have an innate desire for in-person, tactile and social experiences.

Sable said he predicted Warby Parker would open stores because they would face inventory shortages. Sure enough, they opened their retail space in 2013 and have opened more this year, for that reason. These physical stores also help with marketing, reinforcing the brand and adding to the overall experience.

Even though we’re in the year of the face to face, Sable said it doesn’t mean that digital marketing is a bad thing.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “It means we need to think about marketing in a bigger sense. How does digital impact what they do?”

Companies have come to Sable with misguided interpretations of what an Internet presence does. He’s heard from Fortune 500 companies, “We’re on YouTube,” “We need to get on Facebook,” or, better yet, “Make me a viral.”

Being on social media because it's newish does not a company innovative, he said. It isn’t just about getting on social, but how you make an impact there.

One of his favorite campaigns was for Wendy’s pretzel bun bacon cheeseburger. They took the best tweets – content users were creating on their own – and turned them into song. Even Nick Lachey got in on the action,  −  “Remember him?” joked Sable.

“The beauty of it is they didn’t take the view of, ‘We will create this,” Sable said. “They watched what people were doing on their own. They created interesting content for people who just want to share it because it’s funny.”

You can’t manufacture virality, he said. You have to listen to the people and keep the cycle going. You have to understand the channels.

“People are talking about creativity and innovation as if they’re interchangeable,” he said. “Creativity is creating the story, and innovation is how we distribute the story.”

Sable predicts we’re going to have more and more digital means to communicate. This makes telling the story well even more important. Even so, telling the story on paper is not insignificant. Many analysts say print is dead, and Sable disagrees.

“There are things that are still great in print,” said Sable.

He said it’s not one versus the other. People still buy magazines and newspapers yet read the publication’s content online as well.

Kids are less conscious of digital divide than adults, he said. He said the next generation will be even less so, and interact with digital and print when it makes sense.

Q&A summary

In the Q&A session, the audience asked questions relating to running a business. Sable’s advice was to not let bureaucracy get in the way of key decisions. This same mentality went into designing Young & Rubicam’s new Columbus Circle office. After researching for a year, Sable said an open office with private public spaces like conference rooms and actual private areas is the best combination for collaboration and productivity.

When asked about failure, he said it is okay as long as it wasn’t because you were neglecting your responsibilities.

“You cannot innovate unless you’re ready to fail,” Sable said.

At least to Sable, it seems knowing what constitutes innovation is one step to succeeding.