Set the Page Free: 5 Questions With Xerox VP Barbara Basney

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Xerox Speaking of Work anthologyXerox this week released a unique project for the brand—a free e-book called Speaking of Work: A Story of Love, Suspense and Paperclips.

It’s an all-star anthology featuring literary luminaries (and a trio of creatives: the book’s designer plus two songwriters). It’s also the output of “Project: Set the Page Free” — a novel partnership with the 92nd Street Y’s Poetry Center, which is hosting a reading for the public this evening (Oct. 27) at that hallowed institution on New York City’s Upper East Side.

Taking part in the 7:30pm ET book launch (which is streaming here and on the 92Y Twitter feed) are contributors Jonathan Ames, Lee Child (above), Sloane Crosley, Joshua Ferris, Chip Kidd (who designed the book cover), Alain Mabanckou and Joyce Carol Oates.

Not on-stage but also part of the e-book project: Billy Collins, Jonathan Safran Foer, Roxane Gay, Valeria Luiselli, Gary Shteyngart — plus musical collaborators Aimee Mann and Jonathan Coulton, who wrote an original song for the project.

It’s part of the year-long “Set the Page Free” platform that kicked off in January to celebrate the new Xerox as it spun off its business services unit as Conduent, which it marked with a TV commercial reboot of the iconic “Monks” 1976 Super Bowl ad about Brother Dominic’s personal savior: Xerox.

In August, the second wave of the campaign invited writers via the 92nd Street Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center to collaborate and contribute pieces to this “epic tale” about the modern workplace and ruminate on how communication, connection and work are changing. Or as Crosley writes in the book’s introduction, “explore contemporary issues of mentorship, creation, competition and even boredom.”

The participants also shot video interviews in a must-watch companion web series you can find here. Also involved: Worldreader, a global literacy organization that donates e-books to kids and families in need.

For more on “Project: Set the Page Free” and the bigger year-long campaign, Barbara Basney—the company’s Vice President Global Brand, Advertising & Media—spoke with Interbrand New York Managing Director Daniel Binns.

Barbara, you launched the new Xerox in January with the “Set the Page Free” idea by revisiting the classic Brother Dominic spot. How does “Project: Set the Page Free” take this to a new level, and how does it connect back to that platform?

Xerox - Barbara BasneyWe wanted to really activate “Set the Page Free” to make it more of a program as opposed to a piece of creative. We wanted a really big and bold idea, something unexpected, something that could generate some of its own juice, if you will, in the marketplace.

We wanted something that would give us an opportunity to provide unexpected relevance for the brand fresh in a fresh, unexpected way. So not a chest-beating, direct approach—which is what a lot of companies take. We are a B2B company so we want this, of course, to be relevant to B2B but in a very relatable kind of way, because after all, business people are people too. We wanted it to be something that could be a rolling thunder, rather than just launching a ‘thing.’

We also wanted it to be something that we could implement in a more global way this. So the Project: Set the Page Free campaign is running in three languages and activated in 22 countries. In partnering with these literary luminaries, the way we activated it and the way we organically integrated how Xerox helps to innovate how they work, collaborate and communicate, and weaving that organically into the program was spot-on to what we were trying to accomplish with this.

The TV commercial (reboot) was in large part about just creating awareness of the new Xerox—what it stands for, getting noticed again. How will you measure the success of this next phase of the “Set the Page Free” project?

While this is relevant to almost anyone, anyone could relate to it, our target audience is a business decision-maker. So our media is targeted in that way, and as we take the rolling thunder approach, in each wave we’re offering “get more updates on content.” Right now we’re saying ‘Sign up to get the e-book.’

That’s giving us an opportunity to contain dialoging with that target audience. We’re certainly measuring that, because that now will be part of a nurture program, so that’s fading out into that process. And then also we have some brand measurement in place as well for the program.

What are some of the innovative ways you’re trying to reach that those business decision-makers? Are you doing anything differently to leverage the content that you’ve created?

There’s amazing juice in the message, so that’s where you need to have a program that enabled this amazing collaboration and work process for these 14 literary luminaries. Weave in how Xerox is doing that in an indirect—rather than direct ‘hit you over the head’—kind of a way and continuing that as the dialogue that we have with them and then making sure we’re touching all different touchpoints here. While we have our media buy and a strong social component, this was entirely a digital activation.

The beauty of the power of a bold idea is it often leads to great PR coverage as well, because it’s something interesting to talk about and something different for a company to be doing right now. We’re able to continue a conversation and dialogue with people. So those are the ways that this kind of fires on all cylinders from a business perspective as well as a general interest perspective.

In terms of actually working with these writers, were there some interesting learnings about how they actually collaborated together and used the software and the technology to do that?

Each individual is an amazingly accomplished artist and everyone has their own style, their own way of working and how they want how they want to collaborate, what they want to do, what their style is. So it was a very interesting process to do a debrief with each in advance. So once that individual had agreed to participate in this project, we worked individually to eventually figure out what was right for them, what’s organic, what makes sense.

What makes them fascinating is their different work styles. Each one is a unique artist and that to me speaks to what Xerox is enabling, which is helping people, companies, businesses of all shapes and sizes to work better, to produce better, to communicate, to collaborate. So was a great microcosm of what we do that comes to light through the relationships with the artists themselves, and their participation.

This really had to be rooted in the reality of what’s right for them. Each of those videos that you see is real, and they’re very different. That’s the beauty and the power of the program—figuring out ‘how does that person truly work?’ It’s figuring out what’s their process, what’s their style and trying to figure out what’s the right thing.

How would you hope or expect people, your target customers, will feel differently about Xerox after engaging with this campaign?

I call it unexpected relevance. “Brother Dominic” was hitting on the same note. You don’t realize you can use an app button and it can translate into 55 languages in a second. You don’t realize security features. You don’t realize how you can enable working with the cloud seamlessly. There a lot of things that I’m always wanting to have the brand advance and put its foot forward in the company to help underscore the unexpected relevance of what we do through our technology, our software, our apps, our security, our personalization, which is all at the foundation of the innovation that we bring to bear, and always have.

Xerox had an epic year in terms of new product reveals with our ConnectKey launch and our VersaLink and AltaLink products. The products we’re bringing to market are of a higher order and purpose, and involve pieces of technology with software, personalization, etc. That, of course, had a huge marketing focus for the company and the business this year, which Future of Work was supporting, which was fantastic.

Everything is still laddering up to “Set the Page Free” as our communications platform. So ConnectKey, AltaLink VersaLink are how we “set the page free” and how we help enable these apps—easy translator and extra security features and ways of working within the cloud, and all ‘setting the page free.’ So all the communications are dovetailing up to that North Star. Set the Page Free, and the Future of Work was just taking that from a different vantage point.


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