Audience engagement and one’s “attention time” is the metric to watch these days. An engaged consumer means that you’ve created an emotional connection; and that highly coveted combination of emotion plus engagement fuels action, whether it’s commenting on a blog post, downloading an app, buying your product, or telling everyone they know about your company.
Yet engagement is a concept many companies struggle with, especially as they try to build a brand in a noisy world. InTELLects is placing their bet on the power of Q&As and real conversations to forge that emotional connection.
“True engagement stems from building a place where people can honestly learn, share, and engage,” says Michelle Horowitz, cofounder of InTELLects and CMO. She has previously held roles at Diane von Furstenberg, Thomson Reuters, and Ann Inc. Together with Kendall Jane Meade, an editorial strategist from Madewell, Lou & Grey, and LOFT. They launched this new platform based upon the belief in the power of dialogue.
It not only features interviews with some of today’s most notable leaders, thinkers, and change agents like fashion designer Norma Kamali, professor Zoe Chance, and author Dan Ariely, but the site gives users the opportunity to ask these same experts a question—any question at all.
Now, it was time for me to ask them a few questions.
Cari Sommer: How did the idea for InTELLects come about?
Michelle Horowitz: Kendall and I envisioned a space that centered on conversation, creativity, and community. We wanted to explore the intersection of tech, business, and human nature, and address everything from tech-related questions to making those hard decisions that keep us up at night. I’m a very inquisitive person—it’s how I learn best. Kendall and I decided that the clearest way to get answers to the questions we had was to simply ask the smartest people we know (or have always wanted to know). That’s when we landed on the Q&A format which can be very powerful, like a great conversation with someone you admire and trust.
Sommer: Why is there a need for InTELLects in the market now?
Kendall Jane Meade: We can’t all claim to be experts in every aspect of this ever-changing business, so that’s where the open Q&A format works. For example, if you have a question about blockchain or cryptocurrency or a classic everyday work issue, there’s no shame in asking something for the answer. And if you can get someone like Dan Ariely to answer it, you’ll not only get your answer, but you’ll feel confident and ready to take on the workday or solve an internal mind block.
Sommer: What is unique to Intellects that’s nowhere else in the market?
Meade: Through these Q&As we’re building a community of mentors. Have a question? Sure you can Google it, take an online class, read an article about it, but there’s nothing like simply asking a question to another human. But these aren’t just any humans, they’re thought leaders, behavioral economics professors, professors of marketing, iconic designers, and well-respected creatives. When you read what they have to say, you can’t help but walk away inspired.
Sommer: What’s one of your favorite answers?
Meade: One of my favorite moments was with author, political commentator and comedian Jeff Kreisler. We asked him about using humor to add levity to tense moments in the workplace and he answered, “First, if you’re wondering if a joke is appropriate, it’s not. Especially in a professional setting. When in doubt, don’t. Just don’t.”
Sommer: How do you select your experts?
Horowitz: We look what are some of the most pressing issues or conversations around branding, creativity, technology, and, of course, our daily lives. For example, we are intrigued by blockchain, AI, and techniques to increase efficiency and creativity in the workplace. We also look to the community to see what they are thinking about, grappling with, and excited about. So we choose experts that are curious, disruptive, tech-minded, incredibly creative, and, like in the case of Norma Kamali, icons in the marketing space.
Sommer: What is it about the Q & A format that is unique in terms of storytelling?
Meade: Michelle and I bonded over our love of storytelling and the written word. Also, the idea of creating community in the age of technology. We’re both inspired by brands that do it well, like Glossier, but were curious what it would look like in terms of sharing ideas and challenging our minds. I think we’re all wondering what the future holds in terms of retail, tech, business, social media. Our organizations, industries, and jobs might not look the same, and we don’t think we’re alone in wanting to see what other people are thinking and saying about the topics we are curious about. In that spirit, we ask only five or six questions that set up a desired end goal to ultimately serve the community. We’re not going to waste a question by making someone recite their history or biography—we want to pick their brains as soon as possible. If the answers to specific questions can enrich the reader’s work, creativity and personal lives, then we’ve told the story well.
Sommer: What can aspiring entrepreneurs learn from InTELLects in terms of the content and your launch journey?
Horowitz: Since we are on two different coasts, we spent hours on the phone discussing what we wanted to achieve with this project. It was exploratory, so we took our time. Also, I think we were getting to know each other beyond the realm of colleagues and developing a friendship. We talked about how to get real information in the age of listicles while also discussing how to achieve balance in our lives. For example, we no longer have to identify as having just one talent. I’m a CMO, but I’m also starting a flower farm in upstate New York. Kendall is an Editorial Director, but is also a musician and songwriter. The people we interview are often multi-faceted as well, and we celebrate that fact. People have so many layers, and we want to go as deep as we can in the brief moment we have with them. That’s why we created the “Quickie” questions at the end of the more recent interviews—we realized we want to know what they binge on Netflix as much as their brilliant take on the future of AI.
Sommer: What’s next for it?
Meade: We’re excited to grow the community and get more feedback from readers. We’re currently working on interviews with VR pioneer Jeremy Bailenson as well as Scott Galloway from L2, whose book The Four blew our minds—in a good way.