Episode 52: Preparing for the 2018 CES

If you’ve ever attended Consumer Electronics Show (CES) then you know it is a beast of a show with more than 4,000 exhibiting companies and covering the 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space is next to impossible especially as you are fighting through crowds of 170,000+. It might sound too overwhelming but having attended regularly since 1988 and as a marketer hoping to spot trends, I can assure you it is always worth the trouble. Inevitably, I leave CES with some new ideas, at least one new friend and a dousing of Vegas silliness.

With the 2018 CES right around the corner (Jan 8-11, 2018), I thought it would be helpful and interesting to record a special episode with the legendary tech guru Shelly Palmer.  I first met Shelly back in 2010 (when I wrote about him as the prototypical personal brand on FastCompany.com) and have spotted his ubiquitous signs at CES ever since. [Blatant unpaid plug — if you are new to CES, have a limited time frame or just want to make sure you don’t miss the big trends while you’re in Vegas, then you’d be wise to sign up for a tour of the show by Shelly and his team at The Palmer Group.]  As for my earlier point about Shelly being interesting to talk to, he didn’t disappoint!

In the podcast, we discuss why he’s excited about this year’s show and why expects to see more evolutionary products than revolutionary ones. We dive into hot topics like drones, cars, VR and AI among others. You’ll also hear Shelly school me on why I’m wrong to call Alexa (Amazon voice activation system) dumb just because she can’t infer the request Dear Evan Hansen from Evan Hansen when a Google search does that handily!  The tech challenge aside, I still think she has some cognitive development work ahead of her!  You can listen to the special episode here.

Here are a few other highlights from the interview:

Drew: What should marketers be paying attention to at this year’s CES?

Shelly: This year at CES, we’re going to have a really good look at integrations between the natural language understanding tools and the physical world. I’m pretty sure you’re going to see a lot of augmented reality because that is the toolset that is most flexible. You need great programming skills but it also yields amazing benefits – everything from a doctor looking into an incubator and seeing a heads-up display of all of the vital signs of the patient to gameplay and 100% of everything in the middle. You’ll see a lot of augmented reality. Drones and machine learning. Drones are now self-flying for the most part and there’s a bunch of companies who have taken to creating machines that not only fly themselves but with either high definition or 4k cameras in them and in some cases 8k cameras in them. And in some cases infrared cameras in them. They’re doing materials processing in the air. They can look at an insurance company like Travelers, who are the number one user of drones in the United States, and put a drone up in the air to look at the exterior damage. They can understand what happened to your roof in the air and file and process your claim without having someone go out to your house. When you think about a hurricane like we’ve had and the ability to quickly process and quickly get people the help they need who are insured, you’ll see a lot of that at CES. A lot of drone companies showing off their ability to have not only self-flying drones, but drones that can carry bigger payloads, can take better cameras with them, and fly in inclement weather or in adverse conditions that you wouldn’t have seen before. The drone story is going to be pretty big.

Drew: What else is going to be big?

Shelly: The cars are going to be out in force – driver assistance of every kind. Autonomy is coming. There’s never a lack of cool cars at CES. It’s more fun than the auto show because for us who are all semi-geeks about the technology, they come and they put their tech foot forward as opposed to their design foot forward or this guy with 500 horsepower or whatever. You’re going to see great TVs, but we haven’t had a year with a bad TV in 20 years. Let me tell you about the TVs. I can tell you I haven’t seen them yet. Let me tell exactly what I’m going to say when I get to stand in front of any TV; it’s bigger. It’s thinner. It’s got a brighter picture, higher dynamic range, wider color gamut, bigger screen, thinner. That’s sort of the joke at CES. It used to be a TV show. Now the TVs just get better.

Drew: Is there anything new that’s coming to CES?  

Shelly: What you will see this year that you haven’t seen so much before is how well integrated the home is becoming. Honestly, it is Alexa’s voice services and all of NLP systems that have caused this. Because if you think about it, when you walk in the house you have to open an app, tap a couple of buttons, open another app, and press a couple more buttons. It’s like, “Oh come on, stop it! I’ll just turn the light switch on.” But now you walk in and you say, “Alexa, lights on. Alexa, daytime scene.” Whatever you want. And boom, the house is set. The value proposition for consumers is so great. Everybody’s jumping on that. Look for integrations in ways you’ve never seen them.

The Power of Crystal Clear Positioning to Turnaround Your Brand

Retail is not exactly rich with turnaround stories these days but that’s exactly what’s happened at Pearle Vision. CMO Doug Zarkin provides a step-by-step review of how the brand has gone from stagnant to revitalized, indicated by same-store sales growth, new store openings and a jump in ranking from >100 to #24 among best franchises to own.

Through a number of small but ultimately significant changes like renaming customers to patients, employees to eye care professionals and stores to eye care centers, Pearle Vision has been able to shift the conversation from deals on glasses to professional eye care. Most significantly, Zarkin and company figured out that people who come in for eye exams are far more likely to buy glasses and become repeat customers than those that are just shopping for new glasses.


On this episode of Renegade Thinkers Unite, Zarkin tells Drew Neisser about the methods by which Zarkin and his team embraces customers and keeps them in the fold.

You can listen to the episode here.

These are some of our favorite moments from the episode:

Drew: When you first got to Pearle Vision and recognized the need for a new positioning, how long did you give yourself?

Doug: If you know anything about retail there’s a sense of urgency. I essentially had six months to crack the code. In fact when I joined the company my predecessor actually remained on the team to essentially keep the business going while I was working on crafting the future state. And so within six months we had to find what the brand was going to stand for. We identified that we needed to update the iconography, that we needed to update the store design and we began the journey. But by no means does the journey begin and end in six months — it’s a journey that you have to continually press on every day. 

Drew: So that gives you three months to research and three months to execute. Talk about the positioning that you landed on.

Doug: The positioning became “genuine eye care from your neighborhood doctor” which came about from a philosophy that I learned from my first client-side job at Avon – you have to go out in the field. Any marketer worth his salt knows that a positioning that doesn’t make for great execution is just words on paper. And so looking inward to what we stood for as a brand required me to look outward from the boardroom and get into our locations, talk to our doctors, talk to our franchisees, understand what we really were embodying in a three dimensional way and then bringing that back and looking at what we as a brand could really own. As a brand founded by a doctor, Dr. Stanley Pearle in 1961, we had a heritage that we could stand for – eye care. We needed to do it in a way that was authentic. We wanted to be that brand that owned the neighborhood–that could win the battle for patients at the 5 to 9-mile level. And so every part of ‘genuine eye care from my neighborhood doctor’ means something. It most importantly means the art of sacrifice — there’s a lot of things we couldn’t do.

Drew: Some brands worry about circling back to their founder because it makes them feel old-fashioned. How do you keep your brand from appearing outdated?

Doug: A founder brand has inherently an authenticity to it. Some of the best in class marketers are always looking for that emotional connection point. We’re storytellers. We want to connect with the consumer on an emotional level and present them rational reasons to believe. When you have a founder brand like Pearle, if you actually do what many marketers don’t which is to have the humility to realize that sometimes taking a step forward is taking two steps backward, what you actually have is something that you can build a plan off of. Ralph Lauren is a great example of a founder-led, founder-driven brand. Ralph Lauren has a very distinct look on fashion. When Ralph started to go awry as a brand was when it got away from its DNA. Pearle did the same thing. Dr. Stanley Pearl was not there talking about buy one get one free. Dr. Stanley Pearle’s vision started with that best in class doctor and I see my job really is to a degree getting out of the way and allowing his legacy to continue in a way that’s modern, in a way that’s contemporary, and in a way that resonates. But why fight it? If you have it, embrace it! Leverage it; lead with it. That’s how you win.

Drew: Let’s talk about Pearle’s social media philosophy. What is your execution strategy?

Doug: For us, social media is really an opportunity to continue the conversation. It’s turned actually into one of the most effective platforms for driving exam growth. If you look at the marketing ROI in our category there are few things that are as efficient as search (trademark search as an example). Social media is really up there in terms of efficient ways to drive people to schedule their eye exams. We’re talking about paid. We’ve got a fantastic agency on board, Energy BBDO out of Chicago, who handles our social content for us. The healthy balance between leading the conversation, listening to the conversation, and actually having a conversation. Facebook is not a one-way communication platform. It’s actually an opportunity to do what you and I are doing right now, which is to talk. And so you’ve got to think about that as a dialogue. It’s a tennis match. Not every point in tennis, not every forehand or backhand is a winner. It sets up the next shot. We look at social media as an opportunity to essentially engage our consumer in a tennis match. Sometimes we’re going to win the point; sometimes we’re going to lose the point. Sometimes the points just go on and on and we’re going to wish that it would just end. The respect that we have for social, in particular, Facebook leading that charge, it is one of our strongest marketing platforms.

Special 50th Episode: Lessons from 200+ CMOs

If all CMOs thought alike, Renegade Thinkers Unite wouldn’t stand a chance at reaching 50 episodes. The vast diversity of marketing approaches is part of what makes the field so interesting. After interviewing 200+ CMOs over the years, Drew Neisser has learned a thing or two about perspective.

This special RTU episode takes bit of a twist, as Drew sits down for the first time as the interviewee. Marketing Today podcast host Alan Hart asks Drew about his experiences speaking with a wide array of marketing professionals. You’ll learn about some of the common themes many of Drew’s guests have discussed, as well as several marketing strategies that have stood out to him.  Click here to listen to the episode. [Show notes by Jay Tellini.]

Here are some of our favorite moments from Drew’s interview with Alan:

Alan: The role of CMO is challenging. What do you think about the role? Why is it challenging?

Drew: Well it’s challenging for several reasons. One is that they don’t really speak the language of the CEO. The CEO rarely comes from the Marketing Suite. They come from finance, they might come from law, they come from operations, COO or something. And the marketing person has often dealt with ethereal as well as measurable things but they don’t have control over everything. And so the CEO says, “I want revenue and I want profit.” The marketer says, ‘Well I want awareness and I want engagement. You can have your revenue and your profit but we’re going to need proxy measures.’ They’re disconnected. So that’s one.

Alan: What else?

Drew: And then there’s this other whole frickin’ issue which is, there’s nothing like a great marketing campaign to kill a bad product or service. And we had several times where we had clients who we were killing it on the front end and then their customer service was so bad that they would lose them on the back end. So churn was really high. Is it the CMO’S job is to fix that? It could be. One of the guys that I interviewed that I loved was Manny Rodriguez who totally understands storytelling. This was after I interviewed him but he told me that he started to notice that customer experience was a problem in UC Health. And they said, “Great Manny, you fix it.” So he’s doing customer experience too. He was already doing brand story, was already doing positioning and marketing and now he’s a responsible customer experience.

Alan: What do you think it’s important for a CMO to be doing or focusing on?

Drew: Let’s talk about strategy for a second. I think for a CMO, this is the unfortunate part of their job. When you hear the words, “I’m building the plane while I’m flying it,” I get worried about it because a really brilliant marketing campaign can live for 20, 30 or 40 years. We were talking about this earlier that Geico’s “15 minutes will save you 15%.” How long have they been using that? Forever! And guess what? They’re not going to stop and you know why? Because it really works. We don’t have the capacity to remember 20 things and we don’t need to. We like them and we remember them and we know their value proposition. If you’re going to invest 20-years worth, you better spend enough time on the strategic foundation.

Alan: We talked a lot about story. Tell me your perspective on brand story.

Drew: I think that it is the most overused word in our business. Everything is a story. Every brand has a narrative. Every CMO is using the term and I’m guilty of this, so I apologize to you and all of the listeners that we’re even using that term. We’re using that term because we can’t come up with a better one. Unfortunately at our shop we talk about Big S and Little S. Big S storytelling is when you really boil down your brand to an essential conflict like Georgia-Pacific did with Angel Soft.  For Angel Soft the essential conflict boils down to how something can be both strong and soft. That’s a conflict. We now have conflict and we can build stories around that may or may not have anything to do with the product but you get the idea of strong and soft and that’s the benefit of the product. That’s Big S storytelling. And then you have to take that essential conflict and then you have to execute it everywhere. But the good news about it is if you do, it’s consistent. But it’s not necessarily the same 30-second video as a social media post. If you get it right and you have an idea that will hold it all together, then it really works effectively. So far, it is the only way that we have seen to hold content marketing and social media together is by having an overall story idea.

Alan: What’s Little S?

Drew: Lowercase S is, “hey did I tell you about the time that we hung out together at the bar?” It has nothing to do with anything. It’s just a story. And that’s to me what is confused between the two. It’s very tricky. And I know many brands don’t like “conflict,” so they can’t even use that term. It’s a very complicated issue and I can’t wait until we have a new word for it.

Alan: I want to talk a little bit more about you, Drew. What drives you?

Drew: The notion of courage drives me. I feel like I can help CMOs think a little bit differently about their jobs. To me, that’s the most exciting part of what we’re doing right now. We’ve gotten to know all these CMOs. And this is the thing – the CMO is in the position, they have all the levers. If you can get them to pull all those levers as not just a force to cut through the crap, but as a force for good, I feel like that’s a good day or a good week or a good year or a good life.

Episode 46: Building Your CEO Relationship

Honesty is at the heart of the CMO-CEO relationship. No matter what your marketing data may show, it won’t mean much to your CEO if the context is unclear. Few CEOs are as brutally honest as Alan Trefler of Pegasystems, who is also the company’s founder and chairman. Alan urges marketers to really understand the metrics they share with the board, and also be able to communicate why those facts are so critical.

This episode of Renegade Thinkers Unite covers some of the most important factors for the CMO and CEO to maintain a healthy relationship. Alan brings decades-long wisdom to the table, as he discusses some of the best—and worst—things CMOs can do for their organizations. You can listen to the episode here, or continue reading below for some selected questions and answers from the interview.

Drew: When you bring in a CMO, what are your expectations of the role that they’re going to play in and how they’re going to be successful?

Alan: I have the pleasure of working with what I think is a terrific CMO, and I also have the ability and routinely do interact with dozens and dozens of CMOs every quarter because our products are actually used in power. What CMOS are often trying to do, I find that CMOs make a number of interesting, perhaps predictable, but actually very serious mistakes when they talk to the CEO…There’s a tremendous challenge in the industry in which CMOs and marketing in general is hungry to prove that they’re having an impact. And there’s a tendency for CMOs to want to really I would say over-rotate on attribution. I’m going to go demonstrate that the sales in this region that this particular big deal for a to be to be company this particular launch for B2C Company was empowered by marketing because that’s how I justify my budget and I make things good for everybody. The trouble is CEOs are very by their nature suspicious of what I would describe as soft estimates. And so when they hear things that sound like grand claims and they look at the data and they say, “Well, that’s really an estimate. This isn’t really a great estimate. This isn’t something that can be provable,” they become very critical. And I think CMOS set themselves up sometimes.

Drew: If you had a group of CMOs sitting here, what’s one bit of advice you would give them in terms of interacting with the CEO and the board?

Alan: The interactions obviously with the board are going to be much more brief and episodic. I would say from a CEO point of view a great CMO is constantly working with the CEO. If you think about it, arguably the brand of our time, Apple, that CEO came to love the concept of branding and marketing and lived it. I think that CMOs will do a great service for the whole company if they really invest the time and effort to these concepts as opposed to just “delivering measurable results.”

Drew: What should marketers do to get next-best action?

Alan: What you need to be able to do is when you touch a customer, either because the customer is coming into your owned property or this customer is one which you’re choosing to make an outreach to or this customer perhaps is in a paid channel and you’re looking to push some form of promotion to them, you need to think of it in terms of: What is the customer seeing? What has the customer done? Is this a customer who’s typed something anxiety-producing on your website, for instance, by searching for “termination fee,” which should definitely raise some red flags. Pulling this information in real-time or near-real time is critical because you really don’t want to inundate the customer with things that they don’t care about. Traditionally targeting starts to feel like abuse to customers. I remember I looked at the TiVo site for a TiVo I bought. For months after I bought it, I was chased around the Internet by TiVo. It was really quite irritating and menacing to go back to that site.

Drew: Are companies wasting a lot of money on chasing acquisition?

Alan: There’s a lot of money that’s being wasted out there. There’s simply no question that by blindly targeting with traditional campaigns, you really have very low hit rates and it can be expensive, particularly when you’re buying digital media. I think that acquisition needs to be thought of in two contexts. One context is: How do I increase what I can sell my existing customer base? That’s sometimes the absolute best way to magnify your portfolio of products that you’re selling because those customers are ones that you already have reasons to contact. They have reasons to come to you. If you can get them to give recommendations to friends, you’ve got something that is a much warmer introduction. If you could reach out to those friends based on their suggestion, they get some sort of benefit from that. Those sorts of approaches, which is leveraging your existing customer base are ones that can be extremely valuable. You have to make sure you don’t offend those customers. It’s so easy to upset a customer by bugging them about things that you’ve bugged them about the seventh time, or going and blindly doing things without being sensitive to aspects of how you work with them and their demographics. Blind acquisition, just reaching out blindly or buying ads, can be effective though only in very limited circumstances. You really need to be able to also target those where they have no hope at all. There’s just so much noise out there.

Episode 43: Redefining Core Brand Values

Core values undoubtedly determine the path of a brand. Companies that have a clear vision are likely to be more resistant to adversity than those that don’t. Denise Broady, CMO at WorkForce Software, knows plenty about both core values and adversity. Having fled Vietnam as a child, Denise learned to become resilient by sticking to her roots while growing up in Richmond, Virginia. She learned in her post-graduate job quest that a strong foundation should be the backbone of any company.

When Denise arrived at WorkForce Software, she noticed that the core brand values had not be clearly defined.  Working with the leadership team, she made this her top priority. Needless to say, changing the heart and soul of the established international company was no easy feat. That didn’t stop Denise from helping to redefine WorkForce’s ideology from the inside out.

On this Renegade Thinkers Unite episode, Denise Broady explains how she managed to help construct WorkForce’s values and drive its future success. You can listen to the episode here. (These show notes were prepared by Jay Tellini.)

Here are some sample questions and answers from RTU host Drew Neisser’s interview with Denise:


Drew: What do you think is the most renegade thing you’ve done at WorkForce so far?

Denise: Coming in, it was tough to even look at the company and say, “Wow, we don’t even have core values.” So how do you go through the process to define core values? Our core values are everything around put customers first, make it happen, celebrate our success. The CEO at WorkForce asked marketing to really have the initiative. Imagine taking these three principles, going out with a small team, getting 25 people to sign off and endorse it, and then roll it out to the entire company. It’s not a brand new company. When you have to come in and actually change people’s perspective on something so fundamental as core values, it’s not an easy task.

How did you go about getting the folks in the organization to embrace WorkForce’s new core values and make them their own?

Denise: We huddled as a management team. We came up with the concept, but not the actual names of the core values. And then we took the 25 folks across the various business. We ran all the workshops. They flushed out the final three core values. And then when we launched it at the company meeting, we ran the communications around it. There was a video, there was a booklet that was handed to everybody. It was put into every headquarter that we had globally. So the most important thing, as you mentioned, it’s not about the words on the pamphlet; it’s about getting people to embrace it.

Drew: In many companies, the process informs the values. In your case, however, the values inform the process. How do you manage to do that?

Denise: Yeah, actually we didn’t roll out the core values until a year after I was at WorkForce Software, so it was really a second year. And as you mentioned, you’ve got to really feel what the company is about because it needs to be authentic and it needs to be adopted by every single employee. And because we’re globally distributed, we also need to make sure everybody in the UK feels the same, that everybody in Australia feels the same, and also Livonia, Michigan, and then all the remote folks. So it’s really critical. I think that you can do the process piece first, but sometimes if you have a key deliverable like the core values, then laying out some of the additional processes will definitely help later on.

Drew: Right now as you look ahead, what are the things that you think you can do as a CMO that will make the biggest difference for the company?

Denise: I always tell our team it’s not about being integrated to sales; it’s about being integrated to the business. We can change and inspire so many. We can be change agents in so many portions of the business. A great partner I is Leslie Ternaki, who leads our H.R. I remember calling her and said, “Leslie, it’s my first year anniversary here and I just got a clock from us” and I said, “first of all, nobody uses clocks anymore. Can we change our employee gift?” And it seems so minor, but these are areas where when you have a great relationship with different areas in the business, we can come in and make these changes very quickly. And doing things like employee advocacy, we just ran this past quarter through our social channels WorkForce around the world and we gave out these water bottles where people would travel all around the world and they’d take a picture of their water bottles. And it’s been one of the best run advocacy programs for us and I really do truly believe employees–if they love their brand, if they are passionate about where they work–it will amplify on the market and what we do.

Episode 42: Inside the Box Marketing

Giving customers a little something extra can go a long way. Just ask Jackson Jeyanayagam, CMO of Boxed.com. Founded in 2013, this e-commerce startup doesn’t only deliver packages – they also deliver joy. Customers who order from Boxed can expect heartwarming trinkets like handwritten notes and creativity kits that explain how to turn the delivery box into a castle for the kids. That joy isn’t limited to consumers either. Boxed.com embraces employees in a big way too:

On the Renegade Thinkers Unite podcast, Jackson explains how Boxed.com maintains a radiant brand image. There’s a good chance you’ll smile on more than one occasion during the episode, which you can listen to by clicking on this link. (These show notes were prepared by Jay Tellini.)

Here are some special Q&A selections from the interview:

Drew: Zappos delivers “wow.” Boxed.com delivers joy. Is there a difference?

Jackson: I think so. I think what Zappos did is actually amazing, especially as relates to customer service. They reinvented what customer service should be like in retail -not just e-commerce. I think we look at it as a little bit more, I don’t say fluffy because it’s more than that but it’s a little bit more nuanced so that delivering joy is obviously the product experience first and foremost. [If] the product is shit, marketing is shit. It really doesn’t matter. No matter how great I think I am or how great my agencies are, it won’t matter. But after that, it’s about delivering joy through every experience when you open the box.

Drew: What happens when I open the box?

Jackson: You see a cartoon face of our founder with a quote on it. When you see a handwritten note in a selfie of your box inside of it, when you get that delivery within a day and you didn’t pay for shipping. When you get a creativity kit where you get crayons and markers and instructions on how to make your box into a castle to celebrate Beauty and the Beast so you can do that with your kid. We do that. We offer that for free. It’s those little touches that for us is all about delivering joy, not only from your products that are there and you paid a good price for it, but all those other touch points that is a little bit more nuanced to us specifically.

Drew: What have been some things you’ve focused on to help the brand grow when you got here?

Jackson: Bringing media in-house allowed me to get closer to our acquisition efforts so we could start focusing on finding the high-value customers, and we did in a few ways. We did a pretty big segmentation [study] with the Cantor Group. It’s actually just finalizing right now where we can better understand our current customers and the potential opportunity with new consumers, [which is] something a lot of big brands have done for decades – customer research segmentation.

Drew: Then what happened?

We were lucky enough that we have first-party data. We knew a lot about our customers, but we hadn’t bubbled that up into themes and thematic around who are our four or five ideal customers based on lots of different factors. So we implemented that, and then started applying that to our acquisition efforts so we can be more focused and more specific on who and where we spend money for acquisition. The idea that okay, we’re just dropping a value-driven promo at 15% off on average and just targeting people we think would like Boxed, that’s great. But you don’t really know a lot about them and they’re really probably going to come in on the deal, and then the next time they shop they are looking for whoever has the best promo code.

Drew: What’s the goal?

What we want to do is attract you in with a great promo code. But if we know a little bit more about you, we know what drives you, we can lead with something that’s more important to you around a specific product or value prop versus me or someone else. And that’s where I really want to focus this data to drive better decisions on how we target and acquire new customers.

Drew: What’s the culture like at Boxed?

Jackson: Honestly Drew, this is one of the things that attracted me the most to Boxed. My interview [was] with Chieh Huang, CEO, one of the four founders, and my boss in the warehouse, for four hours. 90% of the conversation was about this values-driven initiative that he has undertaken with the co-founders around what this company stands for. And two examples of that are once he found out that a lot of employees were struggling with personal financial issues like sending their kids to college and weddings, which are maybe the two most expensive life things that happen in your world.

Drew: How did he help them?

Jackson: One thing that Chieh said as an immigrant, came here when he was one, his family really valued education. He had the chance to go to college himself and go to law school. He wanted to take care of that for our employees. He put his own equity, his own piece of the pie, money aside so if you’re an employee at Boxed and your kids are going to college, he’ll pay for tuition for four years.