If you don’t adapt, you expire: Actress Reese Witherspoon on using data and social

When American actress Reese Witherspoon (pictured) began her acting career in 1991, the world around her was less connected and experiences were more siloed. In her early years, she never had the opportunity to directly interact with fans and find out what their preferences were like. Instead, the only data she could turn to for feedback on the type of films consumers liked were box office data.

During the recent Adobe Summit 2019 in Las Vegas, Witherspoon, who was a keynote speaker, said that the emergence of social media has allowed individuals to express and connect with one another in ways that they have never expected. For her in particular, social media has been “incredible” to hear from fans be it good or bad and be able to interact with them.

“I think it’s a time to be able to engage with people, to have transparency, and let people into your life or brand in a way that you never could before. It’s really expanding my idea of storytelling and the ability to reach a larger, more specific audience,” she said, adding that it was important to create a community.

Two of the brands that Witherspoon is well known for are media company Hello Sunshine and clothing line Draper James. Both were founded by Witherspoon in 2016 and 2015 respectively, together with Strand Equity founder and managing partner Seth Rodsky. She said, "Consumers are looking for companies that really are deeply invested and making the world a better place."

Hello Sunshine, she explained, "is not just another company focused on storytelling" and creating content that celebrates women. According to Witherspoon, it focuses on creating a community with its book club and that is done by leveraging the social media platforms she owns for announcements about upcoming book club events, or creating digital experiences such as a live Instagram videos or hiding books around book festivals.

“We create engagement [with fans] and these authors are experiencing relationships with their audience that they were never really able to have before,” she said. Witherspoon added:
That’s the power of digital and social connection and creating a community.

Besides being passionate about storytelling and creating communities, Witherspoon is also an avid fan of data, adding that it makes her “so happy”. Data is especially applicable to her clothing line Draper James as it lets the team deep dive into which products are working with consumers, allowing them to decide which to produce more or less of. This has been helpful for Draper James and prevented the company from wasting time and money on products that do not sell well, Witherspoon said.

Besides the retail business, Witherspoon added that data has also changed the film industry and the emergence of streaming, in particular, has created a “more equal playing field”.

“Audiences don’t want to see movies by the same 20 creators. They want a more diverse and representative storytelling. We want to walk through the world we live in and see it expressed in film,” she said, adding that such diverse storytelling was uncommon in the siloed traditional film business.

“[With data], we know which storytellers touch people’s hearts and we are getting a more expansive expression of humanity through the emergence of other art forms,” Witherspoon said. She added:
As consumer behaviour changes, we have to change. If you don’t adapt, you expire.

Adobe paid for the journalist's trip to Adobe Summit 2019 in Las Vegas.

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