Twitch’s Sarah Iooss explains how brands and leaders can find their voice

22 February 2023 | By Matt Miller, Sr. Copywriter

Sarah looss

This is My Best Advice, a series that asks advertising experts to share key learnings from their career journeys, the best advice they’ve ever received and insights to help grow brands and businesses.

Sarah Iooss has always worked in the vanguard of new technology, media and the future of entertainment. At Viacom, throughout the 2010s, she worked in leadership roles across brands like VH1 and MTV to help them connect with audiences on emerging social networks. This eventually led her to the world of livestreaming at Twitch where she leads the sales team for the Americas and works with brands to connect with creative, passionate communities through live entertainment that spans gaming, podcasts, cooking, comedy, music and much more.

For Iooss, the connective tissue across new media – whether it’s social media, a news startup, or livestreaming – has always been storytelling. Iooss, who majored in English and creative writing in college, has always used the power of language to help customers understand the value of spaces like Twitch. “The thing that stays the same is meeting the needs of customers,” Iooss says. “When you’re working on something that’s less known to the buyer, there’s more storytelling that’s needed. Which is probably why I love it so much. I love telling the story of Twitch.”

Throughout her career, Iooss has understood the value of storytelling and why it’s important for brands and leaders to embrace what makes them unique. Looking ahead to 2023, Iooss shares the best career advice she’s ever received, the trends she sees in livestreaming this year, and the Twitch creators she’s watching right now.

You’ve had such a fascinating career where you’ve really helped brands harness emerging technologies. Can you share the best advice you’ve gotten to help you along the way?

I believe in finding voices that resonate with you and philosophies that you feel you can make your own. One of the best pieces of advice that I’ve gotten was the idea that you really can’t be anyone but yourself. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you find your way into the right type of roles. I believe in showing vulnerability; I believe in expression and connection. And as soon as I really truly embraced that, that’s when I started getting leadership roles, because that kind of leadership is definitely welcomed in this industry. More than ever, we need people who can do the job, but are also willing to be human.

That’s amazing advice. I 100% agree. Is there a specific time that you remember really embracing this advice? How did it help you?

It was the first time I was really leading a national team. I was working at VH1 at the time. I used to do something every week at my sales meeting called the Fab Deal. I would write it like a blog post. And I remember feeling this sense of risk that I was doing this really silly creative exercise every week. But people still bring this up to me today about how much they loved it, how personalised it was, and how effective it was at shining a light on someone who had done a great job. That helped propel me further. Now, I write a poem for my team every year for the holidays. I really put myself and my personality out there. I think I never would have done that early in my first leadership role. In leadership, vulnerability and that humanness, and being yourself is the way to make the most of your career.

Yeah, I understand that it can at times be really hard to break out of your shell like that. Do you have any tips for how people can better tap into their own uniqueness in their careers?

I think you need to know what your superpowers are. It’s part of self-awareness and really hearing feedback. When I was hearing feedback when I was younger, it was like, “You’re too nice, you’re too emotional.” That’s what I was hearing, but that’s not what the feedback was. The feedback was more about composure and executive presence, but I heard it as a negative. But being nice is not a negative. I think sometimes people will say that about women when they’re trying to signal a weakness. But I’ve made it a mission to reclaim that word nice as a positive.

That’s such a good perspective. To expand on that, how do you think brands and marketers and advertisers can better serve customers by following this advice? Or even specifically with Twitch?

It’s totally human to want to go into a protective mode. There’s this idea of protecting the brand. That’s really important, right? I think there’s this mistake that some generations make where we kind of get a little bit afraid of what younger adults are doing. I think embracing what the younger generations think and feel and like is really important. We shouldn’t reject something because it’s unknown. One of my missions is to help brands know and truly understand what Twitch is. Because once you do, you realise that it’s actually so fundamental. It’s about finding friends, finding people who are like-minded. It’s about tapping into your passions whether it’s gaming or music or sports. It’s about togetherness and connection. I want brands to know that, but sometimes they don’t know that at the start. They’re thinking Twitch is only about gaming. Everything is happening live. And some of them are nervous about both of those things. But I compare those reservations to when adults were afraid of rock and roll. We have to evolve.

A lot of Twitch streamers I’ve interviewed have told me how important it is for brands and streamers to be authentic. And this sounds similar to what you’re talking about.

I think it’s the way a brand shows up on Twitch. It’s honestly a blank canvas. A brand has an opportunity to bring their message in their voice and style. They can simply put that on Twitch. That works great. But just beyond that, there’s an opportunity to claim your voice within the context in a powerful way. If you talk to streamers, you know they love their community. And when a brand finds a way to interact with the streamer and the community, that’s when we see just tremendous success. That’s what works when you have scenarios where it’s not just about the brand, it’s not just about the streamer, it’s about the community.

I know you’ve always been a champion of supporting women and diverse voices on Twitch and in the advertising industry. How can your advice be used to support these communities?

For me it’s about the word acceptance. When I first started at Twitch we had a consumer campaign that said, “You’re already one of us.” And I loved that. I love that idea. It’s about belonging; it’s about inclusion. There’s so much work we do to make people feel safe and included and part of something bigger. And I think for brands we want to do the same thing. It’s about human connection happening live.

Since we’re talking at the beginning of the year, I wanted to get your predictions for livestreaming in general or specifically for Twitch in 2023.

I believe that creativity always wins. I really do. There’s no doubt that livestreaming is a highly engaging form of entertainment. I think we’re reaching an inflection point when it comes to how immersive livestreaming and gaming can be. The games that streamers play, the content that streamers create, and the way streamers interact with their audiences are all reaching new levels of creativity.

Last year, for example, we saw the growth of VTuber content, that is content from streamers who use digitally generated avatars. The technology behind these avatars, including facial and gesture recognition, allow VTubers to interact with audiences just like any other streamer, and it didn’t take long for some of the most memorable brands to see how they could participate as well. As livestreaming continues to evolve, I think we’re going to see an explosion of creativity in 2023.

How about with Twitch in particular? Are there any new developments that you’re excited about in the coming year?

I’m really excited about the ways we’re working with Amazon Ads. I’m excited about our progress with Amazon DSP. I’m excited about things like Rewarded Purchases, the ad units that help brands to do something on Twitch that gets redeemed in the Amazon store. We expanded a show called Pog Picks, which is a live shopping show with Twitch streamers, to new markets last year. It’s been so successful. I’m excited to see where we take that [in 2023]. We have some really big ideas for it.

Have there been any brand activations on Twitch that have really stood out to you as creative ways to work in that space?

One of my favourites was the work we did with Adobe. I was really impressed by the number of different ways they worked with us. Some of them were more traditional advertising – so really scientific. But then there were some that were really creative, a marriage of art and science. They participated in our Co-Op Drops programme where a brand has the opportunity to become a part of something we’re doing with a game publisher on Twitch. Adobe helped the Twitch community create their own custom New World armour through Co-Op Drops. It’s a way we engage our streaming community, our streamer community, and allow the brand to participate. We actually had a custom stream with the art director of a game. We then had the ability to vote and create using Adobe tools, design armour that actually showed up in the game. So the ways that this all came together was just unbelievable.

I remember watching that campaign. It was so much fun. Are there any streamers you’ve been really enjoying lately?

I really love BotezLive. They’re chess-champion sisters, and I love their whole story and dynamic. We’ve done some really interesting work with them. Also, TheSushiDragon. I’m very interested to see what he does next because he’s so creative.