Kristina Heney has spent her career harnessing the power of live experiences. Whether it’s at the NBA, Madison Square Garden, or most recently at the Chief Experience and Marketing Officer of Cirque du Soleil, she knows live experiences have the power to bond and awe.
But, how do you get your fans to not just turn up, but also be a huge part of your marketing efforts? Well… let her tell you.
Have you ever been to a football match watching your favourite team play and they’ve scored? Or maybe you’ve been to a concert and sat through the supporting acts to finally see the headliner walk out on to the stage? Do you remember the change of energy in the atmosphere as everyone roared with excitement? The rush you got and the tingles that ran up your spine? That is the power of a live experience.
In the above podcast/video, Kristina talks us through how she and Cirque du Soleil are able to deliver that live experience to their audience every single time.
If however, you’re more of a reader, we’ve summarised her key points below.
Connect at an emotional level
In a day and age where the average consumer gives a brand 8 seconds to win them over, it’s vital that we understand our audience. We need to be able to connect with them instantly. So, how do we do that? We use emotion to get to their hearts.
“Emotion is both connective and associative.” We’re all human, we all experience emotion, and we’re constantly looking for things to connect with that matter to us. So what if we applied that to our marketing techniques? What if we stop looking at our audiences as just an audience, and more as humans? Well, Kristina and Cirque du Soleil did exactly this and it allowed them to tap into the hearts of their audience. Once they were able to connect with them on a more personal level, as they understood what drove them, what made them want to associate with their brand.
Kristina also mentions that people’s walls come down when they experience something together, even when it’s experienced with strangers. And this is what makes live experiences so powerful. Because as a consumer, when you’re in that moment of high emotion, and you’re surrounded by others that are experiencing the same, you become more comfortable. Those walls break down and it allows the emotion to evolve into pure euphoria, or as Kristina calls it… awe.
“Awe is elevated above excitement and surprise, it is actually a catalyst of human discovery. Awe leads to fully living in the moment. When someone experiences something that’s so big they can’t quite understand, their brain actually slows down. That’s why you always remember every minute of something so awesome.”
Brands live or die by word of mouth
“93% of all consumers say they will listen to a relative or a friend instead of any other brilliant brand campaign you put in front of them” We’re all guilty of it. When was the last time you spent hours reading reviews and researching the product you wanted to buy, only to contact a relative or friend and end up going with their recommendation? And you did that because you trust their opinion.
Cirque du Soleil did some research into this as they wanted to create more brand advocates. They found that the ‘excitement levels’ dropped after their customers had purchased their tickets and after the event was over. So what they did was spend more of their marketing budget on those people that had already purchased tickets. They focused on removing friction points leading up to and after the events, by doing this they eliminated any worries or fears allowing their audience to focus on the positives. It also kept them fresh in the minds of their audience and gave them a reason to want to talk about the events.
Stand out from the crowd
Think back to why you started to build your brand in the first place. Chances are it was because you identified a problem that you saw as a consumer and you wanted to rectify it. Stick to that. That was your purpose from the beginning, it’s what keeps you from being indifferent and allows you to stand out.
Build a fandom or a tribe – Live the experience every day
Not every brand can build a fandom, but those who can understand that fandom needs to be treated with the deepest level of respect. Fans are our potential advocates, if we understand them, their wants and desires, then we can use that to help them justify their decision to stay with us. Them staying with us shows their advocacy, but we should constantly be working towards moving them to that next stage of helping us sell our products.
“Tribes, they’re a glorious thing that takes the pressure off once in a while”. A tribe is the parts of our audience that create social media groups to discuss our brands. They keep the first burning with their passion for talking about what we do, and we don’t even have to get involved.
Create the communities, create the tribes. These are the people that are going to be there when your brand can’t be.
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Thank you…Wow Thanks!
I can speak for all of us when I say I hope we’ve earned a copy of that deck for anyone already on their second beer. I think I’m the biggest asshole in the room who forgot to actually put on a name tag, so I’ll introduce myself in a second first I just want to say thank you. For Joe, for the invitation and a huge congratulations that you’re inaugural event in New York City. You can see how disarming he is, right? So you know hardened New Yorker here, I spoke to him for 20 minutes and I’m like, I’m not speaking, I’m not speaking. Oh wow. Maybe I could speak. By the end of the call I was like, God damn it. We are going to find the most positively lovely room of New Yorkers and we’re just going to bring the house down.
Fuck all the Londoners. We’re going to do it. Thank you all for coming and we’re going to show all those Brits, how it’s done tonight. So quick introduction, you can decide if that’s me and my a former performer life or not a Kristina Heney, my old friends call me Tina. I’ll go by either not Kris, sorry. I’m a live Experienced Marketer had been my whole career, 20 odd years. I won’t go into that number. Most recently I spent the last four and a half years with the circus as the Chief Marketing Experience Officer of Cirque du Soleil and I love it. I am very passionate about two things within live entertainment, the creativity and the celebration of just unbridled emotion and creativity and the celebration of human performance in all forms. On the other side, the ability to build community, sorry Brits.
But it’s through emotion. We are going to the other side of the brain here guys, total other side of the brain. I’ve always been really passionate about it because one reason I feel like the walls come down when even strangers experience something together and we just become better people. So I’ve been passionate about my whole career and the other thing I’m passionate about is my boys. I have a 14 year old and 11 year old boy, live in New Jersey with my husbands. I’m proud to say that I’ve passed the live experience gene onto them, although I’m horrified to admit in this crowd that I lost the New York sports versus Boston sports challenge. To my Bostonian husband, but I digress. Let me get, let me give you a little bit about my background first. I started my career at the National Basketball Association, small league and actually started a secretary for all of those that can’t figure out a way in.
You start at the bottom, it’s fine, you’ll learn a lot. Just read everything you’re supposed to copy. While I was there I learned two things. First that, my passion of live experience was a very powerful thing within the world for building and specifically sports for building suspense and community and passion. And I also learned of course about the business, the strategies of experience building and inevitably as broad and wide as those strategies are, there’s as many marketers will tell you different stories. If I do the speech tomorrow, I’ll tell you a different story. Inevitably it comes down to one thing and that’s an emotional connection. So I took that experience about four years to Maddison Square Garden, more spent 15 years. While there I marketed everything from Paw Patrol to Dora the Explorer to Billy Joel to Maroon 5 to The Rockettes.
I found that the power extends beyond sports to unify, to build that passion. It actually spins to all live experiences. Another crucial thing I learned there that I’ll talk a little bit about more is that fandom is associative and it’s deepened with, with common experiences. So emboldened by that adventure, I joined the circus and I literally felt some days that I was playing with fire. There I was humbled to see an extraordinarily deep connection and emotional connection between Cirque du Soleil and its fans. Has anyone seen a Cirque du Soleil show? Okay, now you’re all hardened New Yorkers are Brits. But I will tell you that people cry at, at, at Cirque shows. I don’t but it made us wonder, what is it about experiences that can be so overwhelming that it literally takes your breath away?
So often as marketers, we would try to figure out the word cloud, right? What is it about it? Inevitably people would talk about the ingredients, right? Acrobatics, whatever. There are description broader than that one from that to just, wow, Oh my God, it was amazing. So a lot of our work was spent in figuring out what that emotional connection was because it was our responsibility as the brand and the folks that had fostered that relationship to give back, to build that bridge, to build the continuous connection with our fans. I’ll take you through some of our findings there, but I figured if I can click see, I told you I would be the one with the clicker. I figured here’s what we talk about and certainly up for questions as well. But why do I have experiences matter?
You know, what is this experience economy that has been exploding around us in recent years and how and what have we learned? Just sort of the old experience economy that is helpful, that is being used now within the new experience economy. But moreover could be helpful to all of you. Not every brand can build fandom. Not every brands can build a tribe, if you will, but the people are looking to connect with things that matter to them. Through storytelling and through emotion, you can find a connection and hopefully a couple of nuggets of information to inspire you tomorrow. The power of experience. What is it about experience that finds me up on the stage tonight?
The first is we’re a product of our environment, right? We just heard how difficult it is to attribute the journey of any consumer, right? Well, because we’re one of many, I don’t think in every given day and the number changes as many times as you asked the staff, it’s people see 7,000 ads. Forget the amount of brand impressions you’ve seen in your journey from waking up this morning to right now. Next we have attention spans keeps shrinking. The average consumer gives a brand eight seconds. I still see faces looking at me, so I don’t think I’ve lost you yet, but see. Thank you. You laughed at the bad joke, but fiercely, we were at our most challenged right now in, in society, right? And people live for social currency. We all know this, right? 56% of users report that they spend an average of five hours on social media.
Why did they do that? And by the way, let’s go back a minute. If you think you don’t have time for something, look where you’re spending five hours. You can fucking like go to business school. I know you didn’t do anything with that five hours, right? Why did they do that? Because people have a fear of missing out, right? People say that they go online and obviously this is more of a Millennial and Gen Z, but people say they go online because they want to know what they missed and their fear and their fear is that they didn’t miss it. That’s why we had a wait list tonight. Right? What else? This is probably the most crucial that I’ll talk about a lot through this. It’s brands die by word of mouth, right? 93 brands live or die by word of mouth.
93% of all consumers say they will listen to a relative or a friend. Over any other beautiful brand campaign that you’ve put in front of them. 93% and lastly, experiences are more valuable than things you asked Millennial. If they would prefer to see an experience or buy a product, 76% of them will pick an experience. So we’re a product of our environment. But on the search side, as I mentioned, we wanted to dig deeper. So we actually went on the total other side to the science. We went personal. And when you’re Cirque and you want to do a science project, you partner with a company called the lab of misfits who is a world renowned, a behavioral neuroscientist group. They actually do a lot of Ted talks, guys named is Belato. You want to check it out? And we said, okay, what is it about this emotional connection that keeps people coming back to our shows?
Otherwise search sells 14 million tickets globally, a year, 14 million tickets. I’m gone. They’re still going to sell 14 million tickets, maybe 13 and a half, but 65 countries. Right? So, so we were trying to translate this emotion not only in, in you know, one language but borderless, right? How are we thinking about this in terms of, of a brand. We met, we partnered with the, with Beau and we had no rules. We didn’t care if it came out that circle shit. Everyone’s just been there, money on sports really didn’t care. We just want to understand it more because again, that was our responsibility. We turned the AU theater at, in Las Vegas into a lab. The hypothesis that the scientists had was that we, they, that there’s actually a rare emotion that’s experienced within life context that is not able to be studied in much other places because you can’t replicate it in a lab.
Thus we created the lab and what we discovered was all, all is an elevated emotion beyond the sixth, I guess I’m not a scientist, but beyond the six base emotions that you might feel, it’s elevated above excitement and surprise. It’s actually a catalyst for human discovery. What we found, and this is now a white paper, so all legit and you know, in published and everything and it says that all leads to fully living in the moment when someone experiences something that’s so big, they can’t quite understand, your brain actually slows down. That’s why you remember every minute of something so awesome. You remember that. You know, you might not remember your walk to work, but you remember every minute of a concert or the last couple of minutes of a, of a great game. There’s something about it that ha that our biology helps us slow down to figure it out.
The next is that we feel more connected to each other when we experience something bigger than ourselves. We feel smaller and yet connected to each other. Look no farther than a buzzer beater at the end of the game where two strangers hug each other. That is connection at work, especially in New York. Lastly, the ability to leap into the unknown all makes us braver. When you experience something you couldn’t have possibly imagined created by somebody else, whether it’s human performance or other, whether it’s a mountain you’re experiencing, something that you can’t articulate and couldn’t have possibly feathered before you see it. And so it makes you bolder, it makes you think that you can do anything and you take that out into the world with you. So we’ve looked at the world as we live and we worked at a personal, human part.
And so it’s no wonder that the original experience economy, that’s what we call our live entertainment folks, is exploding, absolutely exploding. $140 billion global live entertainment business in the new, in the US alone, this the concert business is supposed to, to break 35 billion. Finally, just Ticketmaster. There’s plenty of other ticketing providers, but just since I know probably there’s no fans of Ticketmaster here. They took them, they took money from 93 million people in 2018 3 million people. It’s unbelievable. If you add that, if you add AG and a bunch of other guys easily in the U S that number was over 150 million in 2018 so just to give you a sense of, of the size of the industry that people are yearning for with this connection. There’s something called the new experience economy pop culture moment. Who loved the ad, who hated the ad, who knows who that is?
That’s the Peloton lady. I owned a politician. That’s again, not me, but what is it? So let me back up for a second. So what is it about these brands that are leaning into this space where they don’t otherwise have a rightful place to be, but here they are and, and so I, I think it’s probably, and these days brands are finding a disproportionate brand loyalty in the past. So why is that? Well, I think it’s helpful to go back to basics. What’s a consumer, right? So consumer, somebody buy something, we actually use language that’s very transactional in that space too, right? I bought toilet paper, I use whatever I use batteries, right? It’s very transactional and sort of mundane, right? And that can be a commodity, right? Who knows what kind of toilet paper they use today, right? Oh, we’re brand affinity.
We’re going to get to that. But then most times it’s something transactional, right? Some brands step up to that place of brand affinity, right? Where they, you’ve built some sort of expectation from them. They don’t let you down there. They maybe have the right value proposition for you. They’re easily available on Amazon prime. Something about them builds a sense of relationship and responsibility. The next would be brand love, right? How many people switch between Android and iPhone? Every other phone? Your other Android or your iPhone, right? That’s brand love where you’re at. A place where it becomes, starts to become personal to you, where you associate with something because of the attributes of that brand and the story it’s created and, and you start to create a personal narrative that includes, I’m an Apple owner, but then you elevate to a fan.
What’s a fan and enthusiastic devote T and admire, which used to be the realm of sports and entertainment almost exclusively. To be a fan is the most personal statement you can make about something that you don’t otherwise control. It’s actually the deepest respect you can show to a fan to show to a brand because you change your language, right? You use words like I am and I love. All right, so you stepped up and you really started to personalize what you’re buying and what you’re associating with with who you are, and as I mentioned before, fandom is associative. Okay? Raise your hands. How many people are Knicks fans? Come on. How many people are Knicks fans? Who introduced you to the Knicks?
Wasn’t a specific person.
Okay. How about you? [inaudible 00:18:02]
Right. Okay. Why are you still fans? They haven’t won since I worked at the NBA in 1999 I haven’t even gotten to the finals since 1999 they’re the worst team in the league for the last 10 years. Why are you still a fan?
[inaudible 00:18:21] Right? It’s who you are. It’s who you are. It’s who you are. Right? That’s what it is. It’s who you are. There’s something else above fandom that helps you stay there. And that’s a tribe. It’s a community of loyal people to a particular brand. Right. We saw it with nix where it keeps you in there. Right? It keeps you engaged. But this other people at what other brands are leaning on, right? They’ve developed fandom and then they developed a tribe, the biggest advocates for, or do you know defenders of that Peloton ad Peloton owners, myself included. I thought they had socks, but myself included. But there’s tons of others, right? Who do, who, who’s proud that they know the, I guess no one. Not a lot of people from the West coast, but who’s proud that they know the secret menu, right?
Exactly. So you shop at target, you don’t shop at Walmart, right? There’s a narrative that you build and there’s a tribe that you build. And not every band, I mean not every brand is going to build a tribe but the fact that more and more people are looking to create associations and a piece of them through what they buy is something that I think is very important and things that non-live entertainment brands are starting to use. So I’ve had three core beliefs of how I’ve marketed that I’ve sort of pieced together. I wouldn’t have said this on day one and I think a lot of them are associative for what we’re seeing today. So I’ll share them. The first is stand out from the crowd unapologetically. Live your brand values, be original, be focused. You’ve started with a purpose.
Most likely you started with, especially founders these days, they’re starting with a problem they saw as a consumer and then they’re finding like minded people to share that with. So stand out from the crowd. Don’t fall into step with everybody else. The next is connected, connected and emotional level. There it is. Sorry Brits. This is where purpose-driven, authentic storytelling, those buzzwords that you hear all everyday, this is where brands that aren’t doing it through human performance are connecting and celebrating their wins. Lastly, live the experience every day. Create the community for them, create the tribe that’s going to be there when the brand can’t be, that’s going to build that community and connect. I don’t care if it’s a sub reddit or a Facebook group that they’re all but the Facebook’s all big on now. Whatever it is, there’s communities that are built [inaudible 00:20:50] and to deepen that community, whether the team stinks or they’re winning the world series.
I know I just switched to different sports stuff, so all right, that’s all nicely good. That’s all like soft and fuzzy. How do you find them? Because as Chris just said, it’s no easy task. So in fact, this is what I think of the new consumer journey today. Little less intelligent, but there is none. There is no effing way you can replicate a consumer journey today and if you can fire them, if someone says they can fire them. Sorry, Kris, just fire them because it’s not possible. Yeah. With machine learning and AI, you can do your best to find a bunch of them along the funnel, but today no one can replicate it exactly and I’ll see. I’ll give you more bad news before I give you the good news where some people are still working with a marketing funnel that is the most egotistical, narcissist, this brand focused funnel. I don’t have ever seen. We just expect consumers to fall in line one after another, after another. Then loyalty is all the way down here and then we just have to do it again and find the next person. It’s a fool’s errand. I guessed something tonight but I always guess wrong. So is awareness bigger? What is the awareness ratio signify here? Just call out. [inaudible 00:00:22:24]
That’s a good one. Okay. Yeah.
Yeah, I think it all stands for how much money you might spend, right? Because of the volume and you might even apply effort. That’s what I have always disagreed with. So let’s see, I’ve always, I’ve told you over and over again that we’re students of fans and so we always go back to fans. Dirty little secret, live entertainment marketers who might sound sexy and everything. We have no money to market, no money, no money. The average a marketing budget is anywhere from two to 10% maybe that’s for really rich people, rich brands of the total gross revenue. That’s it. And in fact it’s capacity managed, right? So you know, you can only sell 18,000 tickets to a Knicks game. You can only sell 6,321 seats at radio city music hall.
There’s a limit. So as soon as you start hitting the limit, what do you do? The thing that is just bonkers to any marketer, you start pulling back on marketing dollars, right? So selfishly for us, we never really, we never really had the benefit of the top of the funnel to market to, all right? So we always start, we always started lower and we started with an insight. I have two charts. This is one we started with an insight that I never really articulated before, but we did this, we did the study at Cirque and it’s mind boggling. Actually what it showed was that during the biggest opportunities for brand advocacy, we saw the lowest excitement level of our fans.
I’ll say it again, the biggest opportunity for brand advocacy is when, right? When you, so when, when do you expect someone to be really excited and able to help you sell your brand? Right, right after they’ve seen the show and right after they’ve opened their wallet, which sometimes is a longer span of time, right between when you purchase a show ticket or a game ticket and when you actually experience the product. Right? So that’s what this signifies. Pre event event and, and post event. And what we found was that the pointer is the red one. The board.
Okay. What we found is that we expected this, right? Oh my hand shaking. So we expected, you know this, this blue line right here, all right, two 10 which makes sense, right? Would see someone buy something. They get more and more excited as the, as the show or game shows up and then there’s a fall off after. But in fact what we see we found was huge dips in the excitement level, post-purchase and post [inaudible 00:25:20] . Why is that? Well, post purchase, it’s a luxury item usually. So they’ve just found a big amount of money and then they have to wait, right? Sometimes 36 hours, sometimes months. Right. And so they’re looking for justification. They’re looking for, or they’re not sure they made a good purchase yet, right? They’re not sure all the, the starting five is going to play that night. They’re not sure that the Broadway lead is going to show up that night.
Right. They’re actually holding back their excitement and, and mitigating it. The other is post event, and this is shocking, but think about it with me then the best concert you’ve ever seen. How did you feel when you walked out those arena doors? Oh, it felt great, right till you had to figure out the subway till you had to get on push through people, right? Reality sucks. Especially when you’ve been so high and unfortunately you’re working against something else where humans are always orienting towards closure, right? So in the biggest opportunities for us, we actually saw, we actually consistently see, and my marketing folks here at my live and Tim marketing folks here are nodding. So I’m not bullshitting they, we actually see the lowest opportunity for us to build word of mouth. So what have we done? We stretched the hell out of that experience as much as we possibly can.
That’s Cirque. We called it a bursting the bubble and, and if the bubble is the event, we were trying desperately to explode the feeling of that experience from the post-purchase past as far as we could. So I’ll give you an example. Some justification. We’re looking for justification, right? We’re trying to. We’re telling them how great the show is going to be. We’re sending them a loyalty patches. We’re sending them things to post on Instagram. We’re giving them freebies already where you know, are you getting free drink if you arrive early, bring fun and all that kind of stuff right before the event. If you’re purchasing an event online where they have your email, we are trying desperately to remove every possible friction point. We’re telling you when to arrive early, what security’s going to be like, who’s the opening act? If you really don’t want to go for the opening act, we’re trying to tell you everything possible to keep that excitement building and on the end we’re giving you behind the scenes what happened that you might not have seen.
What did the, what did this, what did the handwritten set list look like? Here’s the Spotify link to it, right? We’re giving you everything possible to expand that, that as much and as much as we can, which means we’re spending a ridiculously large disproportionate amount of effort on someone’s already bought a ticket. Why is that? [inaudible 00:28:00] Because we need the word of mouth. We need the advocacy, we need that. Right? So I put this on the thing where of course awareness and the funnel here is large amount of dollars or relatively speaking, large amount of volume, right? F and maybe lower amount of effort then than most times in our world because we didn’t have the marketing budget for it. Over here we’re focused on adoption, retention, expansion, cross sell and upsell and advocacy. So our biggest effort is spent on someone who already bought a ticket and the effort of bringing them back to our fold to help basically us get an army of marketers around us.
Why do will people do it? Because, they love associating with the brands that they’ve chosen. It is so it’s intuitive like that. what would I like you to take away from this? I’ve just talked a lot about the fan journey and word of mouth and hopefully there’s some snippets of that that you could see relevant to your, to your world. I want to come back to the fact that it all starts with an action. All starts with that authenticity. You have to connect with hearts. Remember it all starts with emotion. I’ll recap quick. The live entertainment marketers focus on emotion. Emotion is connective and associative and fandom. We treat fandom with deep, deep respect, understand them more, justify their, their decision to spend time with us.
We feel it as much as possible because we want them to get into that advocacy stage as soon as possible to help us sell the neck and ticket tribes. There are glorious things that take the pressure off every once in a while because they give that moment. They give that space for folks who have a collective passion to talk when we’re not moderating outside the room. We also could create those communities as much as we can so that there’s that, those collective touch points throughout the way. That hopefully we retain that, that brand love till the next time around. Thank you.
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