Lowell Seeks Answers to Big Questions

Apr 8, 2009  •  Post A Comment

John Lowell is looking for the answer to the industry’s million-dollar question.
As the new head of Starcom USA’s revamped research and analytics team, Mr. Lowell makes sure clients’ individual issues are being solved, but he’s also looking at the two or three big issues that are driving the industry.
The biggest one?
“It’s really the age-old question: ‘What am I getting for my dollar,’ with the perspective of, ‘I don’t have any more to spend, I just have to have it do more for me,’” Mr. Lowell says.
“With decreasing budgets, how do you get more for the value? That’s the question we’re trying to solve,” he says. “It’s big, and there are a lot of smart questions that fall underneath that, but ultimately that’s what every client is asking right now more than ever.”
Mr. Lowell had been VP and director of captivation at Starcom. Captivation involved figuring out a client project’s objectives and preparing to measure them on the front end, and then actually evaluating the effort on the back end. Mr. Lowell was part of a senior group of people charged with making captivation a key part of the strategy and activation process.
“The responsibility for us is even greater to say, ‘How do I create value in our consumers’ eyes through marketing?’ We have to do more work to understand what consumers value, what excites them and what they ignore. We have to be more creative in understanding that,” he says. “We can’t expect people to sit down and watch what we’re going to send them.”
Born in Denver, Mr. Lowell grew up in Chippewa Falls, Wis., home of Leinenkugel’s Beer. He followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, one of the first Navy SEALs, and his older brother by attending the Naval Academy.
As a surface warfare officer, Mr. Lowell got to see the Baltics and the Mediterranean from a ship. He also boarded ships in the Red Sea to support United Nations sanctions in the Middle East.
He was moved to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, where his job was to analyze the value of the Navy’s training programs.
He was picked for the program partly because he’d worked on something similar while doing his senior thesis in economics at the academy. He also was working on his MBA at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management at the time.
“They connected the dots, and I was the one who could play around with the analytics packages,” he says.
The assignment also helped get him out of the military just as the Gulf War was flaring up.
“There were a bunch of us who were able to get out. If you were a linguist or a pilot, it would have been a different story,” he says.
Mr. Lowell had done a lot of quantitative work as an undergrad; he picked the marketing-oriented Kellogg over the University of Chicago for his graduate work because he felt he needed more work on the softer side of business.
“I really liked my marketing and advertising classes,” he said.
His first civilian job was with Leo Burnett in Chicago, and he’s stayed within the Publicis family ever since, moving first to Arc Worldwide and then to Starcom.
At home, Mr. Lowell and his pediatrician wife look after their 19-month-old daughter.
“Both of us are trying to figure out how to spend as much time as possible with a 19-month-old and still do our career thing,” he says.
Their daughter recently figured out how to climb out of her crib, so they moved her into a toddler bed.
“She gets her way,” he said, noting like most kids that age, she’s not into following orders, even if her dad was in the Navy.
For fun, he says he like to play around with the Internet, creating sites and applications designed to gather information so he can analyze it.
Mr. Lowell also says he’s a voracious reader who is currently carrying around four books: “Ten Phases of Innovation,” “Thinking Strategically,” “Making Meaning” and, for fun, “Anathem” by Neal Stephenson, who writes about the future.
“The point to science fiction is that 80% of it is going to happen, just not in the form they say it is. You can learn a lot about the future by understanding how people today view what the future is going to become,” he says.
Who Knew: Mr. Lowell says that if he hadn’t gone into the Navy, he would have become a game designer. As a kid he created a number of games—including a stock market simulator and a horse-racing game—and forced his older brother and younger sister to play with him.

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