Smashing Spotlight: Brian Marr, Chief Strategy Officer


Wonder what makes Smashing Ideas so smashing? Our people! We sat down with Brian Marr, Chief Strategy Officer, to talk shop, how Motivational UX™  is critical for brand loyalty and long-term business health, and why he swore off hashtags for all of 2014. #readon


Straight to business. What is Motivational UX™ ? Why should businesses care? And how can it make them unstoppable in the competitive landscape?

You snuck three pretty big questions in there! Motivational UX™  is a user-first approach to communication that combines the best elements of user experience, behavioral psychology and game design thinking. The term was originally used to describe methods for education design, but the principles have been built upon and can be applied to nearly any form of communication. Our work centers on understanding a user’s behavior, including their thoughts, needs and motivations. This allows us to build experiences that pull in elements designed to activate or shape the behavior our clients need to achieve their business goals.

Businesses should care about this because engagement levels and loyalty numbers are dropping. All of the traditional measures of time-on-site, return visits and brand loyalty point to an engagement crisis driven by the competition for our attention that the rapid movement in digital has caused. This is particularly prevalent in younger generations, but we hear about it from consumer product companies and enterprises alike. Focusing on this can improve retention, loyalty and long-term sales. You would be surprised by some of the simple things you can to trigger a person’s desire to spend more time with your brand, provide more information or feel compelled to complete a transaction.


Chief Strategy Officer – not a title you hear every day. What exactly do you do?

I have three big jobs at Smashing Ideas, but the most important one is focused on enabling and instigating big, insight-led ideas and solutions for our clients. To do this, we need to implement the right methodology that allows us to generate and prove (or disprove) hypotheses, ideas and prototypes rapidly. We need to use an approach that is focused on modern product development and product lifecycle, since many of the things we are asked to design and build now need to have a longer-term outlook than a marketing campaign might. We also need to have the culture that supports and thrives in working through the unknown, values making things over talking, questions and pushes people who use the word “impossible” and all of the other things that make innovating for our clients the reason most of us jump out of bed every morning. My role is essentially continuing to drive us forward in those areas, and either creating or contributing to the practice areas connected to them that help make everything we create the most engaging experience possible. All of this is done with my team of strategists and with colleagues across the production, engagement management, development and creative departments.


I am, hands down, one of the best__________that I know:

Hula hoopers.


We’re at the halfway mark of the year. How are your New Year’s resolutions going?

I am proud to say that I have kept my New Year’s resolution so far. Last year, it was the exercise thing. Again. I actually managed to stay on track this time, so I decided to go bigger in 2014 and try something even harder. What could possibly be tougher than sweating your way through a P90x DVD every morning?  Giving up hashtags, that’s what. As a long time marketer and someone early to the game on social media (and a mild hashtag abuser), it has been fun (and slightly terrifying) to watch the progression of hashtag use. In a few short years we have gone from having conversations with one another, in person, to blasting short messages on social media followed by a pound sign and a bunch of random words and phrases. They are something that originally helped us sort and filter, but now get appended as a way to make a point, a joke, get a few more people to view your photo or as a desperate plea by marketers to get you to give them some love and show how engaged you are with their brand. That’s all great and it’s interesting to see how something so simple has overtaken the way we communicate, but when I take a step back and think about it I can’t help but feel like it is all just kind of ridiculous. There are many great arguments for why hashtags are relevant and useful, but that’s like saying a horse is a useful mode of transportation. Long story short, I gave them up as a personal experiment. I’m hoping the hashtag version of Henry Ford (or Elon Musk, for that matter) will show up with a better solution.


What was your last truly smashing idea?

I have far less smashing ideas than everyone else at the company. I am simply an enabler.


You intentionally chose to go back to school…this time as a master’s level teacher at the University of Washington. Do tell:

About 5 years ago, a professor at UW invited me to guest speak in her class. It is something I had not really thought about doing, but was flattered and excited about the opportunity. It was fun trying to explain what I worked on in a way others could learn from, and interacting with the students made me think harder about why we did things a certain way than I ever have before. Those guest-speaking sessions evolved into an introduction to a newer department at the University of Washington – the Master of Communication in Digital Media. This was right up my alley, so I helped a professor create the curriculum for a marketing class and ended up being asked to teach it after the inaugural year. I teach two classes in the Communication Leadership program now, and interacting with graduate students who push me on a weekly basis to constantly keep my skills sharp has been the best benefit of the job. They routinely teach me as much as I teach them, if not more.


Describe your perfect work day:

Ride my bike into work. Have some whitespace to think, write, or both. Get my mind blown by something we are working on here. Work through a hard problem with a client and land on a great solution. Drinks in our office pub with the SI team!


Last but not least, skateboarding vs. cycling:

I love cycling, and specifically cyclocross racing.  My daughter is the skateboarder in our house. I just try to keep up and do my best not break anything.

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