Domopalooza 2018: Diverse Teams Lead to Big Ideas

Salt Lake City—Data can only tell you so much. It’s people who help create truly big ideas—and the more diverse your team is, the better your chances at getting to that big, game-changing idea.

So said Omar Johnson, former chief marketing officer for Beats By Dre, who continued to talk about about the importance of developing a diverse team at this year’s Domopalooza in downtown Salt Lake City. Johnson, who has also worked for such brands as Coca-Cola, Kraft, Campbell’s and Nike, said that Beats By Dre was able to tap into several “real ideas” that created viral ad campaigns by creating a diverse team and running a flat organization.

“If you look at what we built at the Beats team, this was our team: roughly 55 percent female. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, purple hair, blue hair, pink hair, no hair, tattoos… if you walk in any major city and you picked a random 100 people, they would look like my team,” said Johnson. “What you get with a team like this is you get different points of view. We used those points of view plus data to do some of the things we did.”

Some of the ideas his team brought to the forefront, said Johnson, was the fact that women not only use headphones as fashion accessories (which was also useful, as Beats began to make their headphones in a wide variety of colors and styles), but also as protection—utilizing them to keep strangers from speaking to them on public transportation, for instance. It made Johnson and Beats’ founders realize that they could tap into a market that previously had been ignored by headphone companies.

“Think about if we didn’t listen to the women in our team when they told us about how they were using the headphones to get to work, to commute, and to get different places,” Johnson said. “We would’ve missed out on a huge communication opportunity.”

That idea—using headphones not just to hear music, but specifically not to hear other things—brought other storytelling opportunities to Beats By Dre. Johnson’s team happened upon the story of black Italian soccer player Mario Balotelli, who played for such international powerhouses as Manchester City and AC Milan. Balotelli, a skilled player who was known to be temperamental, had to endure constant jeering from crowds that tried to upset him. The heckling often turned racist, with fans shouting monkey noises.

While it would have been easy to create an ad campaign centered around race, Johnson said the collective team instincts realized there was a larger story to be told based on Balotelli’s experiences: what athlete didn’t have unwanted, upsetting outside noise they wanted to drown out so they could focus?

“That initially story with Mario Balotelli was about race. That wasn’t the story we wanted to tell. It’s not that headphones are people who are black or Hispanic or anything—it’s for anyone who wants to block out noise,” said Johnson. “Those collective team instincts led us away from a story about race and into a really deep behavior conversation about using headphones to not hear what you don’t want to hear.”

That storytelling opportunity led to an incredibly viral ad campaign that created huge user engagement with the brand and even led to a short film, “The Game Before the Game”, that Beats By Dre put out in 2014, which has had more than 33 million views on YouTube. Johnson’s team created so many viral marketing campaigns—leveraging athletes in the 2012 Olympics, or its “Above the Noise” ad campaign—that revenue went from $20 million annually to $1.6 billion in three years.

“You don’t do that if you don’t have a team that’s roughly half women, half men, that looks like the rest of the world,” said Johnson. “I attribute a lot of our success to the diversity of our team, and the fact that if you don’t just have a group of 40 year old guys in a room making decisions. If you look at the tops of most companies, the boards of most companies, there’s typically the fraternity, one black guy and one woman. As you look to mix that group up some more, you’re going to see companies have really explosive growth.”