Innovator At Work: Pierre Darnton, Head Of Global Sales, Polaroid Originals

Jack Dyson

#InnovatorAtWork is a new series of interviews focusing on the people who are at the cutting-edge of customer engagement and commerce. What inspires them? And what insights can they share that might just change the way you look at things?

This week features Pierre Darnton, Head of Global Sales, Polaroid Originals.

Tell us about yourself, Pierre.

I live in Berlin with my partner Fiona and our two kids. I am something of a nomad. I’m Swedish, but grew up in West Africa. I moved to London as a teenager and spent the last five years in Hong Kong before coming to Germany.

And what are you up to now?

I am the head of global sales for Polaroid Originals. The Polaroid brand ceased trading in 2008, and the classic instant film format was killed off. A group of fans crowdfunded the purchase of the old factory. Nine years later – and with millions invested – we can finally produce a comparable product. On 13 September 2017, we relaunched Polaroid-branded film to the mass market.

Tell us about some of those challenges.

We had to reinvent the visual language of one of the world’s most recognizable brands in a six-month period, launch a new website, and redefine how Polaroid fits with social media. Instagram is, of course, one element of this – which funnily enough was inspired by the idea of easily sharing pictures; core to the original pre-internet Polaroid business.

What do you love most about what you do?

At Polaroid, we are re-igniting memories. In a digital culture, people have a huge affinity to real images and the memories and feelings they associate with a moment. Working with people across cultures and backgrounds and seeing their reaction to an image as it develops in their hand is immensely rewarding. Making people smile is immensely rewarding.

With a brand like Polaroid, how active are you at nurturing a community?

We place huge focus on working with social media to reach audiences. We have a core community that has followed us pre-rebrand. We call these ‘the pioneers’. They are highly active and very well informed about everything we do. Sometimes we feel they have cameras in our factory they seem to know so much.

Then we have targeted social media campaigns that hit specific growth demographics. For example, we know that young mothers are a group of consumers who love to take photos, are surrounded by ‘moments’ to share, and who are highly active on social media. Working with a digital marketing agency and also social groups we can funnel our message directly to that consumer group. This sort of strategy only works when you online activity works in tandem with offline to qualify your message in the real world. We hold events with mothers’ groups in key markets.

Okay, so we need three things done by other people that inspire you…

  1. The Indian amputee Arunima Sinha who climbed Everest. She was pushed from a running train while resisting some robbers, but then run over by a train on a parallel track, losing her leg below the knee. Just the most awful, crazy story. Recovering in hospital she decided that she should have a goal. The goal she chose was to climb Everest with one leg! She was the first amputee to climb Everest. It’s exactly this kind of drive and determination that inspires me most.
  2. Elon Musk. It’s a cliché answer, but the guy does not seem to take “no” or “that’s impossible” as an answer. He has a ton of money behind him – but he also has a vision and determination to do something. Whether that is for his own ego or to really change the landscape inspires me. Many in his position would sit on a boat and guzzle diesel cruising the world.
  3. Mothers inspire me every day. Bringing a child into this world and nurturing them through life is a tough job. I would say ‘parents’, but with the world set up in the way it is mothers still do most of the heavy lifting.

Why, when, and how did you get started?

I started off in retail by accident. I was pretty lost after school and had no success at college, so I decided to travel. It was one of the best things I ever did, but it also made me question the essence of life and why we lock ourselves into a cycle of work (yes I was a hippy). Reality soon dawned on me though, and I applied for a job at the Natural Shoe Store. I quickly got a feel for it and ended up managing the group of stores. I was soon poached by Camper Shoes to manage their retail roll out. From there I worked with a series of brands, focusing on and managing global and regional expansion.

What was your first job like?

Good fun. I was talking to fellow hippies. Earth lovers, tree huggers so I was in heaven. Retail before the internet was great. You didn’t have people comparing prices in store and trying to price match against a discount store or a company that has picked up stock from a company that is liquidating its stock. More than that, you could actually interact and give the customers an experience. You still get this in Japan. Knowledgeable, polite salespeople who actually enjoy what they do.

Looking back, what’s your favorite thing that you’ve done?

Traveling the world and meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds.

How do you think consumers and customers have changed?

Consumers these days are much more informed. The Internet and the smartphones in particular have changed the game. Consumers can check and compare line whilst also standing in your store. Choice and selection are much wider, so you have to step up your game and be transparent. The old sales tricks don’t apply anymore.

The internet has a lot to answer for in dehumanizing interaction in my opinion. I was recently in Shanghai and Beijing scouting out consumer electronics stores. I didn’t find a single one. Speaking to some local contacts, I soon found out its all moved online. If you don’t know the sales platform T-Mall, you need to.

Has the role of a bricks- and-mortar store changed? What do you think of its role for a brand like yours?

As our product is tactile and a real experience that you cannot recreate online physical activations are extremely important. We have a clear strategy to roll out these photo booths and workshops across the world in stores like Urban Outfitters and Fred Segal. We are also in talks with a coffee chain to open analog cafes to get this experience across. Referring back to recent experience in China, I found experiential pop-up stores for people like Bose where you can test out the sound equipment but not buy it. So bricks and mortar is more a ‘try before you buy’ situation.

How has your tool chest evolved? What do you use now that you didn’t or couldn’t before?

Again the internet and the smartphone. As a basic example, I remember wasting hours walking around cities looking for new stores to sell to. Now it’s a quick Google search. On a broader scale in my role as Global Sales Lead, I find the breadth and depth of free information available online super useful.

And what are the big challenges you face?

Time is never on my side. Working for a company that is going through major growth is always a challenge. Trying to align expectations and results across a global company with limited time in a day is tough.

What do you think clever marketers should be looking at?

Global initiatives that translate across borders and cultures. Marketers need to be one step ahead of the game. A good example is influencer marketing – the big buzzword of the last few years. Consumers are educated, and they know this strategy, so you need to take it one step further and truly engage with their habits and lifestyles rather than just the icons they look up to.

Are there any new technologies or innovations you’re interested in exploring?

We are looking into augmented reality as a way to bring physical images to life. That’s all I can say right now!

One top tip for companies trying to stay relevant and engage in your arena?

Travel. Engage face to face and embrace real human interaction. Find out the real story and don’t rely on data alone.

This article originally appeared on The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce.

Jack Dyson

About Jack Dyson

Jack Dyson is head of Digital Content Strategy for SAP Hybris.