THE STATE OF THE STORY  —  5 QUESTIONS WITH...

Jinal Shah of Feather on Brand Storytelling and Digital Strategy

Jinal Shah of Feather on Brand Storytelling and Digital Strategy

Jinal Shah of Feather on Brand Storytelling and Digital Strategy

Jinal Shah of Feather on Brand Storytelling and Digital Strategy

Jinal Shah of Feather on Brand Storytelling and Digital Strategy

BY MAGNET MEDIA

Jinal Shah, VP of Marketing at Feather, interviewed for 5 Questions With... about startup storytelling, brand strategy, editorial content, and digital strategy.

5 Questions with... Jinal Shah of Feather on Brand Storytelling and Digital Strategy

5 Questions with... Jinal Shah of Feather on Brand Storytelling and Digital Strategy

"Brands often look for immediate business value with editorial / branded content and forget that the cultural value IS the business value."

"Brands often look for immediate business value with editorial / branded content and forget that the cultural value IS the business value."

Jinal, you have diverse experience on both sides of the marketing table:  working at top agencies, established brands, and startups. From that experience, it sounds like you learned how to deliver a “360 experience” for clients. Tell us how your background helped you to define a strategy for Feather (including its recent rebranding!). 

Several intersections of my background helped inform Feather’s strategy. First, my personal experience. My grandparents were refugees in India and I grew up in the same house my father was born in. And I immigrated to America at 18. The idea of home has always been a significant part of my identity and was one of the main reasons I was attracted to Feather.

Second, my agency background. Once a strategist, always a strategist and JWT (at least during my time there) had the world’s smartest planners working there so I did learn from the best. We were able to crystallize our consumer insights and infuse the why in our brand.

And lastly, culture. It is no question that COVID has upended the idea of home for our entire cohort: young or old. It would have been irresponsible for us to ignore this massive emotional shift into the future of our work. 

In terms of the process, I have an excellent internal creative team. I wanted to ensure we weren't married or blocked by our own biases and preferences so I invited a smart, super collaborative external team to inspire us and help us with the rebranding. This amalgamation was magical.

"We were able to crystallize our consumer insights and infuse the why in our brand."

"We were able to crystallize our consumer insights and infuse the why in our brand."

"We were able to crystallize our consumer insights and infuse the why in our brand."

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You developed the “Startup Filter” – a set of principles that are the building blocks for any startup whether it’s developing a website, a new digital product, or even a short-term marketing campaign. How can these principles guide digital marketing strategies through the shifts we are experiencing in 2020?

The fundamentals of marketing or brand building haven’t changed as much – how that’s executed has evolved which is only natural. I’ve come to see the marketer’s role slightly differently in the last eight years. Today, I believe my job is to either reinforce existing behaviors but more often than not, it is to introduce new behaviors. The easiest way to introduce new behaviors is to find parallels within existing constructs so it is not a huge cognitive load for the consumer. Think about the number of pitches that start with, we are the uber of ______. 

One of the things I mentioned in this filter was baked-in marketing – there’s a word for it now. Ta-da – product marketing! Working in a DTC environment, marketing’s role is not merely to bring visitors to the site but to also convert them. This means marketing has to go beyond the campaign and the message. 

You developed the “Startup Filter” – a set of principles that are the building blocks for any startup whether it’s developing a website, a new digital product, or even a short-term marketing campaign. How can these principles guide digital marketing strategies through the shifts we are experiencing in 2020?

The fundamentals of marketing or brand building haven’t changed as much – how that’s executed has evolved which is only natural. I’ve come to see the marketer’s role slightly differently in the last eight years. Today, I believe my job is to either reinforce existing behaviors but more often than not, it is to introduce new behaviors. The easiest way to introduce new behaviors is to find parallels within existing constructs so it is not a huge cognitive load for the consumer. Think about the number of pitches that start with, we are the uber of ______. 

One of the things I mentioned in this filter was baked-in marketing – there’s a word for it now. Ta-da – product marketing! Working in a DTC environment, marketing’s role is not merely to bring visitors to the site but to also convert them. This means marketing has to go beyond the campaign and the message.

You developed the “Startup Filter” – a set of principles that are the building blocks for any startup whether it’s developing a website, a new digital product, or even a short-term marketing campaign. How can these principles guide digital marketing strategies through the shifts we are experiencing in 2020?

The fundamentals of marketing or brand building haven’t changed as much – how that’s executed has evolved which is only natural. I’ve come to see the marketer’s role slightly differently in the last eight years. Today, I believe my job is to either reinforce existing behaviors but more often than not, it is to introduce new behaviors. The easiest way to introduce new behaviors is to find parallels within existing constructs so it is not a huge cognitive load for the consumer. Think about the number of pitches that start with, we are the uber of ______. 

One of the things I mentioned in this filter was baked-in marketing – there’s a word for it now. Ta-da – product marketing! Working in a DTC environment, marketing’s role is not merely to bring visitors to the site but to also convert them. This means marketing has to go beyond the campaign and the message.

"My job is to either reinforce existing behaviors but more often than not, it is to introduce new behaviors."

"My job is to either reinforce existing behaviors but more often than not, it is to introduce new behaviors."

"My job is to either reinforce existing behaviors but more often than not, it is to introduce new behaviors."

divider-reddots-2lines-v2
You’ve reflected on the change of pace of business leaders and their decisions due to the pandemic, on how decision-making is compressed: “decisions that would normally take months are now taking hours; major strategic pivots that would normally take years to actualize are now live within weeks.”  What do you think this means for marketing teams? Are you seeing marketers embrace innovations in storytelling?  How can we all take advantage of this new sense of flexibility and creativity? 

Whether it was Oreo’s Dunk It moment or Samsung’s Oscar Selfie, the expectation from marketers to be storytellers first and foremost hasn’t changed and nor should it. I’m not sure if COVID necessarily offered a new advantage to marketers – if anything it demanded that marketers listen and not always be eager to act and show off their creativity or need to seek attention during a culturally relevant moment. We debated a lot internally if we should send out a letter from the CEO when all the brands were doing that. Ultimately, we decided it was only relevant for our employees and a small number of customers expecting deliveries during this time frame, so we chose to communicate only with them.

Sometimes, the act of listening and paying attention in itself is a good story. The same thing with BLM – there was a lot of performative bullshit going on during this time. And a lot of brands got called out about it too. If there is no substance and only shine, consumers are quick to catch on it. In this situation, it is imperative marketers act as leaders first and push their organizations to act with integrity before they can earn the right to share stories about it. 

You’ve reflected on the change of pace of business leaders and their decisions due to the pandemic, on how decision-making is compressed: “decisions that would normally take months are now taking hours; major strategic pivots that would normally take years to actualize are now live within weeks.”  What do you think this means for marketing teams? Are you seeing marketers embrace innovations in storytelling?  How can we all take advantage of this new sense of flexibility and creativity? 

Whether it was Oreo’s Dunk It moment or Samsung’s Oscar Selfie, the expectation from marketers to be storytellers first and foremost hasn’t changed and nor should it. I’m not sure if COVID necessarily offered a new advantage to marketers – if anything it demanded that marketers listen and not always be eager to act and show off their creativity or need to seek attention during a culturally relevant moment. We debated a lot internally if we should send out a letter from the CEO when all the brands were doing that. Ultimately, we decided it was only relevant for our employees and a small number of customers expecting deliveries during this time frame, so we chose to communicate only with them.

Sometimes, the act of listening and paying attention in itself is a good story. The same thing with BLM – there was a lot of performative bullshit going on during this time. And a lot of brands got called out about it too. If there is no substance and only shine, consumers are quick to catch on it. In this situation, it is imperative marketers act as leaders first and push their organizations to act with integrity before they can earn the right to share stories about it. 

You’ve reflected on the change of pace of business leaders and their decisions due to the pandemic, on how decision-making is compressed: “decisions that would normally take months are now taking hours; major strategic pivots that would normally take years to actualize are now live within weeks.”  What do you think this means for marketing teams? Are you seeing marketers embrace innovations in storytelling?  How can we all take advantage of this new sense of flexibility and creativity?

Whether it was Oreo’s Dunk It moment or Samsung’s Oscar Selfie, the expectation from marketers to be storytellers first and foremost hasn’t changed and nor should it. I’m not sure if COVID necessarily offered a new advantage to marketers – if anything it demanded that marketers listen and not always be eager to act and show off their creativity or need to seek attention during a culturally relevant moment. We debated a lot internally if we should send out a letter from the CEO when all the brands were doing that. Ultimately, we decided it was only relevant for our employees and a small number of customers expecting deliveries during this time frame, so we chose to communicate only with them.

Sometimes, the act of listening and paying attention in itself is a good story. The same thing with BLM – there was a lot of performative bullshit going on during this time. And a lot of brands got called out about it too. If there is no substance and only shine, consumers are quick to catch on it. In this situation, it is imperative marketers act as leaders first and push their organizations to act with integrity before they can earn the right to share stories about it. 

"It is imperative marketers act as leaders first and push their organizations to act with integrity before they can earn the right to share stories about it."

"It is imperative marketers act as leaders first and push their organizations to act with integrity before they can earn the right to share stories about it."

"It is imperative marketers act as leaders first and push their organizations to act with integrity before they can earn the right to share stories about it.

divider-reddots-2lines-v2
What do brands misunderstand about editorial/branded content? How do you think they can leverage their resources to better serve their communities, especially when people demand better representation of diverse backgrounds?

I think these are two separate questions so I’ll answer them that way. 

Brands often look for immediate business value with editorial / branded content and forget that the cultural value IS the business value. Editorial and branded content is an underutilized way for the right type of brands to make the right cultural commentary. It is not right for every brand for sure but it does absolutely have a role in the marketing mix. 

How do I think brands can leverage their resources to better serve their communities, especially when people demand better representation of diverse backgrounds? 

Do the work. There isn’t a complex answer here. Find the right recruiting manager who will not close a role until there has been a diverse pool of candidates who have applied and who have been interviewed. Invest in bias and empathy training so that the less loud voices are also heard and those who have a seat at the table are treated like they have a seat at the table. It really is that simple – do the work

What do brands misunderstand about editorial/branded content? How do you think they can leverage their resources to better serve their communities, especially when people demand better representation of diverse backgrounds?

I think these are two separate questions so I’ll answer them that way. 

Brands often look for immediate business value with editorial / branded content and forget that the cultural value IS the business value. Editorial and branded content is an underutilized way for the right type of brands to make the right cultural commentary. It is not right for every brand for sure but it does absolutely have a role in the marketing mix. 

How do I think brands can leverage their resources to better serve their communities, especially when people demand better representation of diverse backgrounds? 

Do the work. There isn’t a complex answer here. Find the right recruiting manager who will not close a role until there has been a diverse pool of candidates who have applied and who have been interviewed. Invest in bias and empathy training so that the less loud voices are also heard and those who have a seat at the table are treated like they have a seat at the table. It really is that simple – do the work

"Editorial and branded content is an underutilized way for the right type of brands to make the right cultural commentary."

"Editorial and branded content is an underutilized way for the right type of brands to make the right cultural commentary."

"Editorial and branded content is an underutilized way for the right type of brands to make the right cultural commentary."

divider-reddots-2lines-v2
For you, what is one key learning of 2020? And why is it important?

Take solitary walks. 

I am a better leader to my team and my colleagues, and I am a better wife and a friend to my husband if I have equilibrium, composure, and gratitude. I find all three of these on my walks, more so over the last few months. Walking helps me clear and quieten my mind, process my own thoughts and anxieties, and find grace and beauty.

For you, what is one key learning of 2020? And why is it important?

Take solitary walks. 

I am a better leader to my team and my colleagues, and I am a better wife and a friend to my husband if I have equilibrium, composure, and gratitude. I find all three of these on my walks, more so over the last few months. Walking helps me clear and quieten my mind, process my own thoughts and anxieties, and find grace and beauty.

For you, what is one key learning of 2020? And why is it important?

Take solitary walks. 

I am a better leader to my team and my colleagues, and I am a better wife and a friend to my husband if I have equilibrium, composure, and gratitude. I find all three of these on my walks, more so over the last few months. Walking helps me clear and quieten my mind, process my own thoughts and anxieties, and find grace and beauty.

"I am a better leader to my team and my colleagues, and I am a better wife and a friend to my husband if I have equilibrium, composure, and gratitude."

"I am a better leader to my team and my colleagues, and I am a better wife and a friend to my husband if I have equilibrium, composure, and gratitude."

"I am a better leader to my team and my colleagues, and I am a better wife and a friend to my husband if I have equilibrium, composure, and gratitude."

QUICK FACTS & STATS
QUICK FACTS & STATS

72%

72%

72%

of people who said that content [in a digital experience] was not relevant indicated the content was too general.

Source: The Content Advantage

38%

22x

of U.S. consumers said that they are more likely to trust a brand that shows more diversity in its marketing.

Source: CMO by Adobe

ABOUT JINAL SHAH

Jinal is passionate about growing purpose-driven brands that are building new consumer behaviors. She has built a niche connecting brand and e-commerce and excels at driving both cultural and commercial capital. Through her career, she has successfully led teams through periods of intense growth, transformation, and turnaround.

She currently leads marketing at Feather, a Series B start-up helping reimagine rental furniture for modern millennials. Prior to Feather, she held senior leadership roles at S'well, Newell, and J. Walter Thompson.

At S'well, she helped make water-bottles cool and giftable, in addition to reinforcing the positive impact of reusable water bottles. At Newell, she drove out-the-roof demand for rock-painting, Slime, and camping gear on Amazon and DTC, while building an 80-person large e-commerce team within 3 months.

In her agency career, she was instrumental in leading the digital transformation of JWT and helped global brands such as Estee Lauder, Rolex, Unilever, Macy’s, De Beers, and American Express deliver impactful stories and experiences for existing and new audiences.

Her work has won awards at eTail West, Webby, ADC, Clip, Cannes Lions, and DEMO. Jinal was named one of Top Ten Digital Strategists to Watch by The Guardian, served on the jury of TED Ads Worth Spreading, and was named one of top media innovators by iMedia. She has been a guest lecturer at Harvard, Yale, NYU, Columbia and has spoken at AMA, Wharton Marketing Conference, Social Media Week, Ladies Get Paid, and other events.

Additionally, she is a trusted advisor for emerging brands focused on changing behaviors in areas of haircare, telehealth, and fashion. She is also an advisor to CFDA’s Elaine Gold Fellowship, a mentor at AEF, Parsons, and CAMBA, and a Nest Fellow. 

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