Angie Gifford

Vice President EMEA
“As a leader you should embrace the change, empower the people, be visionary and also be bold and have the courage to do big things.”
In this episode of CMOtalk Klaas and Adam talk to Angie Gifford, Vice President EMEA at technology conglomerate Meta. Prior to that she has built an impressive career with leading roles at Microsoft, Hawlett-Packard, TUI, and was honored with a Managerin des Jahres award. What kind of leadership do we need to deal with change and how do you lead as CMO? Angie will share some insights.
You worked for over two decades for Microsoft and currently as VP at Meta. Both amongst the biggest tech companies in the world. How did you experience the shift to Meta?
'They were very transformative times for both companies I have worked for, Meta and Microsoft. Meta is an 18-year-old company that has built a family of technology including Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Meta Quest. With the coming of the Metaverse, the next computing platform, it's super exciting. So, coming from, I would say pretty professional mature Microsoft, now in an entrepreneurial, a lot of changes, technology, gig company like Meta, it's a change for me. But I have enjoyed working for visionary bosses and love the culture of the company. What drew me to join Meta was its mission of giving everyone a voice and connecting people and the world, and that this mission is lived and breathed every day at the company.'

What is the Metaverse? A lot of people don't quite understand what it is. What is it?
'To clarify, the metaverse is being built not by one single company as many people think, but by society, a regulatory body, developers, academics, and big companies in the industry. It is a digital space where people can move from one room to another seamlessly and do things that cannot be done in the physical world. It is also a place where people can interact with others in a different format, using avatars. I can describe it very simply as being "in the internet" rather than just looking at it.'

I kind of think of it as the Stephen Spielberg film 'Ready Player One' as the oasis. Have you seen that film? It is like the Metaverse film. Maybe that's the future vision of the Metaverse?
'Yeah, but I think it goes a little wider, you know? Everything we're doing right now is socially connecting, socially working within the Metaverse. We can be entertained, we can do games, we can do work, you know? It's just more natural and vivid and I think when you look back, Adam and Klaas, where we're coming from, we've come from the desktop to the web, to the phone, you know? From text to photos to video. For me it's the next revolution or evolution of the Internet.'
So instead of looking at screens and communicating through screens, we're going to be with headsets on basically, VR headsets?
'Well, I wouldn't say you have to worry about the headset all the time. Because we're going to make the Metaverse also accessible through your phone and through your PC. That's very, very important to keep in mind. But another thing that's important to keep in mind - hey guys, it's five to ten years from now. It's not something where I can meet with you guys in six months and we're going to be fully immersed. It's a journey and of course we are leading the pack but we're also working super closely with the Googles, with the Apples, with the Microsofts of the world as you've probably heard - connect that's happened beginning of October.'

I can feel your passion, Angie. Is that because you feel like you're on the cusp of a great new step in - not just in technology, almost in our evolution, you know? This is where we're going to be spending a lot of our time in the future.
'Well, I would say - I don't want people to spend more time online because there's nothing as good as physical time, a physical hug, and that the Metaverse cannot replace, let's be real. But what I really enjoy is two things: to have the time that I'm online a better quality and better experience when I'm online. And secondly, and that sounds maybe a little off track here, for me it's the accessibility that the Metaverse is going to give. Particularly in terms for example of the education. If I have a wonderful project going in Bangalore with a school class, we were diving in the Great Barrier Reef with the Oculus device with the diving feature. It was so nice to see, and this is the democratization of the accessibility to education.'
Today we're talking about leadership and the role of technology. In your opinion, you mentioned the Metaverse, but what top 3 tech trends should every CMO know about?
'The first one is AI. That's also a big bet for our company, we invest a lot in artificial intelligence. And if you look at some stats, me being German I love stats, the PwC's estimate that AI is set to contribute up to 15.7, listen to this, trillion dollars to the global economy in 2030. So it's really, really big. And when you look at it today, automatic processes and AI-powered creation tools let businesses run so much more efficient and better performing particularly for the CMOs, the ad campaign. Which is really, really important, particularly also for the small businesses. And in the future, we think and we're working on that our system will be able to take a business website alone and pull it together and in an entire campaign automatically from the creative down to the targetting. That would be huge for the SMB, you know? Really this automation. And also when you look at business messaging, that's another big bet that you've probably heard about. More than one billion users connect with the business account across our Meta services every single week. And some messaging needs to be personalized, but some don't. And AI handles the repetitive interaction that doesn't require another human. So, AI, keep that in mind if you're a CMO, that's something you should really dig deeper in and understand where this is taking you.'

So that's one, AI. What about the second one?
'Secondly, I would say, the video and creators, and you probably experience this yourself, I certainly do. I want to share and experience moments in the richest way that I can. And I want to do this easily. In the last several years, my network has gotten faster, video is the main way that people experience content online. And it could be in long-form that we all love when we want to convey brand messaging, driving consideration and telling nuanced stories. But I have a 17-year-old son, he doesn't want long-form, he wants shorter videos on Instagram, on Facebook, you know? Shared content, discover content. So Reels is 20% of the time people spend on Instagram, 20%. Yes. And 50% of the time spent on Facebook, that's something you know Adam, you said you spend a lot of time on Facebook. 50% of the time people spend on Facebook, they spend with video. So that's it. AI, video, and of course, and we talked about this before, the Metaverse. These are the three trends I would write in the little notebook of every CMO.'

What kind of leadership do you need to deal with the impact of all these new technologies? Both from businesspeople and society.
'So I think you have to be very, very inclusive, empathic, and visionary. You know, we love to say: Hey, this is my team, this is my team leader, this is the hierarchy in the company and micromanage my teams, these times are over. If you look at brilliant and creative people, people that want to see empowerment, they want to be made part of the plot and you need to recruit, to retain and develop the right talent more than ever in this very, very competitive and fast-moving industry. So, when you're a leader, embrace the change, empower the people, be visionary and also be bold and have the courage to do big things.'
Is that your leadership style?
'Well I have a leadership style that is, I would say, based on mantras that I'm happy to share with you. The first one is 'People make the difference.' I'm an absolute, absolute people person, I love to work with people, to coach people but also learn from people. The different perspectives, I mean I made the mistake and hired little Angies before in my team when I was younger. Now I experience over the years: I don't need little Angies, I need very diverse people. Background, experiences, views, who challenge me. Second mantra is 'Say what you think and do what you say.' Speak up, share the thoughts, but if we make a decision, you better go out and carry this decision and implement what we decided. So really be accountable for what basically we decided and you as part of the team needs to follow that. And not say five excuses why you couldn't implement, and you couldn't execute. And then the last time is 'Work hard and play hard.' I think we all have to have the times when we say: hey guys, we have to celebrate successes. We have to be together as a team and learn also the personal side. We are very, very many hours in our jobs together with other work colleagues and we get to know them and really have a lot of chances to get to know them, be it in outside, be it in personal stuff that you share. But always to check in when we have team calls, how are you doing? What's top of mind? And so on. So, enjoy the time, work hard but also at some point let's say: Hey, let's have fun together and just be happier with each other.'

What's it like being a leader with German roots in an American tech company? Obviously, the European values - work-life balance maybe is not always the same as in the US, is it?
'So, I made a strategically good move, I married an American 22 years now, a New Yorker. And I have two stepdaughters who live in the US so brought that me a little bit into the American culture. I think they embrace diversity more and when you look at the stats particularly in Germany you can see this is still true unfortunately til today. And I think if you understand the culture of the US and if you understand the drive for technology and the innovation and you feel that they make you part of the plot, it's really a great, great place to be. And of course I love the mechanics, the engineering, the manufacturing power.'

The American companies are also very target-driven, right? How do you compare that to the German companies who are also very pünktlich and right on time. Is it different? Is it a different approach in culture between the Americans and the Germans - or probably more the Western European countries?
'Yeah, I mean the American companies have clearer score cards, KPIs and so on and so on. But how they get there is a little bit different. The Germans are very, very set in their way, how to fulfil their business, very process based. Very 'this is the way.' And sometimes a little bit, and sorry to be a little biased here, my way or the highway. And I think in the US, their companies give a little bit more freedom in how to get there. The water's very tough guys. If you don't make your quarterly earnings, if you don't hit your target, you're going to have a tough discussion. But how you get there is much more flexible and agile and nimble. And I think that's what the German companies have to learn is to just let go. To empower the people and say: guys, this is what we want to go to, but how you get there, do it your way, be creative, think out of the box because you stimulate creativity of the people, and you get faster.'
The impact of all these disruptive technologies prompts companies to work together with partners, even more than they've done in the past. Meta recently announced new partnerships Microsoft and with Accenture to accelerate working with Meta Connect. The partnership with Microsoft must be close to your heart since you worked with Microsoft for so long. What's your take on this partnership? And the future of work?
'I have to tell you, I'm super, super happy. When I saw this of course, I knew about this a little bit up front but when it was announced I was like 'this is great.' You worked with Microsoft 21 years and now you're in Meta and they're married so to speak. So how do they marry? We are bringing Microsoft Teams, our app, to Quest devices. You have new ways to connect, to share, and to collaborate. So basically, the Quest device is going to be available for Microsoft Teams. We also will bring the Meta avatars to Microsoft Teams to make Whiteboard-ing, Brainstorming, and Meetup just more immersive. And last but not least, we're also enabling Horizon Workroom for Teams so people can join Team meetings directly from Workrooms and the virtual offices of the future really can be played across all of these devices.'

So that's the true promise of the Metaverse.
'And that's really cool, right? That's really the new way of working and the new way of experiencing collaboration if you cannot be in person. And again, being in person, this is great, but there a lot of challenges out there, right? And you have to recruit talent probably where you don't have an office. And yeah, you can bring together people who are totally remote, people who are across the Atlantic, people who are in your neighbourhood, and you can bring them together and just have a better experience in terms of collaboration in being in this digital room.'

And you also partnered with Accenture?
'They bought already 60,000 of our Oculus glasses in order to show this to the business world. Because of course we want to build the Metaverse to do social interaction and have a social platform, but we also want to take the Metaverse into the businesses. And that's where Accenture is helping us. Seeing is believing, guys. You said it yourself, you have been in the Metaverse. And once you are in it you can better understand what they're talking about. So that's basically where Accenture is going to help us, bringing it into the business space, bringing it into the workspace and really show what opportunities for the companies are out there. And the last piece is, you probably heard that NBC, the Peacock app starting in 2023, we're also going to have the entertainment piece there. You can watch the movies, be it horror movies or comedy in the Metaverse and I think it's going to be an amazing experience.'
What should companies do to be prepared for the Metaverse? What can they do now?
'I would say trial and error, guys. There are so many good use cases out there already on AR but also VR that I would encourage every company to try it. If they can't do it themselves, look for agencies, look for partners who have experience already in the Metaverse and just think about crawl, walk, run. And we're all in the crawling phase right now and we're going to be in the run and walk phase. But you know, be curious, be brave, look for the right partners and just try things out and not everything is going to be amazing the first time you try it. But I think it's very important to do this because I'm a strong believer in some shape or form, the Metaverse is going to come. And you're better off ahead of the pack than behind.'

You mentioned that there are so many interesting use cases already out there. Can you give one example to make it concrete?
'Yeah, I think we have to differentiate between AR and VR. If you look at AR, augmented reality, you know we do a lot of work with our brands with the filters. Like beauty brands like Sephora or Charlotte Tilbury, so give the people the opportunity to try on products. Try the lipstick, what does it look like? Or go into a wonderful shop where you can buy glasses. You don't need to go to the shop, you can try on the filters of glasses how they look on your face. So that's the AR piece. If you look at the VR piece, I have one that really is ticking a lot of boxes. And that's the boxes of: you don't have to travel, so sustainability. The other box, you know you can do this across many, many different regions and different countries and you still get a very good result. Training. We work very close with the Hilton. The Hilton turned on virtual reality with the Quest glasses and they trained thousands of their people in terms of servicing the kitchens and the rooms and so on and so on in virtual reality. So they all came together, the training was done through VR, they didn't need to travel, and they had an amazing experience knowing how to behave, how to do the beds, how to do the kitchen, how to work in a Hilton office and so on and so on.

So that's a good example and another example I wanted to point out in our plans to do in the Metaverse, check out the Miniverse with BMW. They really created that stickyness to the brand through the Miniverse. You can design your own Mini, you have a very nice racing suit on, you have a very nice course that you're racing in the Mini, you hear the noise, you can feel the wind blowing and you have external players who can make your life difficult. So the Miniverse is a great example of how you make people experience your brand in the Metaverse much more lively, much more immersive.'
What do you see as the biggest challenges for companies with the Metaverse?
'So I think the challenges are to take people with them on the journey. Find the right leaders to lead through this change. Because it definitely requires change. Find the right also tech people to help you execute, to help you embrace the Metaverse and the vision. And then last but not least, make sure that you have a very, very clear design what you want to achieve by a brand. I again say crawl, walk, run. You shouldn't go out there and everything is in the Metaverse two years from now, we totally turned the company around, dahdahdah... no! I think it's a complementary route to market, it's definitely a great vision, you have to really do it step by step. Don't be slow but don't overdo it. I think you really have to have clear plans, how you want to execute, what you want to do in the Metaverse and take people with you on the journey. Because for some people it might be frightening that this new thing is coming and they're probably not going to embrace it as much.'

Is it an opportunity for every single company? Or is it only for a selection of companies? Is it going to be exclusive for global brands and leave smaller companies out?
'No, I don't think so. Because we're going to make it accessible through, as I said before, phones and also through the PC. That's the longer-term vision for us. So that's why the limiting factor really of having the VR glasses is not there. Of course the experience with VR glasses are going to be more immersive than on the PC and on the phone I can imagine. But nevertheless, we want to make it accessible and inclusive as much as possible. And I think smaller companies as well as the big brands, of course they are leading the pack right now, the big brands. But I think in a few years from now it's going to be equal opportunity for all the brands out there. And particularly, Adam and Klaas, we're very, very close to the SMB communities. You look at for example, if you look at Covid, I got so much feedback that us, as Meta, we were the lifeline for many of the small businesses going from offline to online, making the shops online, having the omnichannel after Covid and really have a prosperous and flourishing business.'
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