Why Big Ideas Still Matter

Every once in a while I stumble upon a marketing campaign that makes me proud of my chosen profession.  You see, after more than three decades in this business, I still believe that great marketing can be a force of goodness for both brand and society.  Admittedly it’s a lofty goal and not one a lot of marketers care about. What it takes is a recognition that exceptional brands need to do exceptional things, that brands are ideas enriched by ideals not just products laden with rational attributes.  And in my humble opinion, Brita’s The Filtered Life, a campaign you will learn about shortly, meets if not exceeds this standard.

In my extensive interview with Eric Reynolds, Chief Marketing Officer at Clorox, you will learn the rationale behind Brita’s new campaign and get to know the man behind the marketing curtain at Brita’s parent company.  You’ll also quickly understand why Eric was recognized by The CMO Club with its Marketing Innovation award. It takes Courage to join a conversation that is bigger than your brand and it requires a bit of Artfulness to make sure your brand has permission to go there.  Reynolds exhibits both which along with being Thoughtful and Scientific, adds him to my growing list of cool CATS.  But don’t take my acronym for it, read on. [And stay tuned– my new podcast series Renegade Thinkers Unite kicks off March 1, 2017 with a different yet equally compelling conversation with Eric!]


Drew: What’s your proudest accomplishment as a marketer at Clorox?

Eric: Marketing that meant something to me is the way I’d like to approach that. I had the privilege of working in the Caribbean for about 4 years with Clorox. One of the proudest things I did was, during the time of H1N1 [swine flu], our ability to drive not just the brand and the product but a lot of our disinfecting products used in everyday ordinary ways can dramatically reduce everything from infectious diseases to speed bumps like the cold and the flu. The proudest thing was our work in Haiti. We were working to sell bleach to kill something in water that can kill you. We were partnering with the Clinton foundation to get bleach over the border in greater supply from the DR and then in 2010 in January, Haiti suffered that earthquake. We sent people in to hand out bleach to disinfect their water supplies because that’s the biggest fear after the earthquake- infectious diseases. We sold a lot of bleach, we drove the brand, but I’m really proud because we connected to a very human need and we found a very creative way- we put backpacks on people, gave them sashes of bleach. They went around to all these poor areas and were handing out a packet of bleach so people can add it to their rain barrels. I was proud that we could put that all together. It touched me because we actually touched a human life. When you feel the intimate connection between the brand and the product and the person, it means a lot.

Drew: If you were pointing to “the” brand right now, what would that brand be?

Eric: Some of the best marketing we’re doing today is getting manifested in Brita. What I like about the work here is, Brita has been a troubled business for a while, the water category continues to grow but filtered water penetration has been falling and we’ve just found that Brita as a brand has a point of view that filtering out water is a much better thing. We have a point of view of the world as a brand that encourages people to filter out all the negativity and things that stand in their way. The point was, we tied filtration to a deeper point of view. Bringing it to life, and then leveraging someone like Steph Curry. Soon, he’ll be talking about filtering out the negativity. I can’t wait for this to hit the market because one of the things he’s passionate about is online bullying. That comes from a deep-seeded place in Steph Curry, but it’s also something we care about. If you’re bullied online, you run the risk of having that start to influence how you see yourself. The point is, Brita with Steph Curry talking about filtration as a larger concept and bringing it all the way down into our product is just really smart marketing. It’s a natural place for us to be as a brand and we don’t forsake all the product innovation that’s coming and the products we have. We’re seeing consumers beginning to respond in really compelling, social ways. In ways that start a cultural conversation. I would say we’re just starting to turn the corner on being clear about our brands, what their point of view is, how we connect consumers with both the big brand story as well as stories about the products that make a real difference in peoples’ lives. They’re doing it in a very nimble, studio-focused, team way.

Drew: What is the data and tech that Brita uses?

Eric: We’ve done a lot of programmatic, media things all the way to custom content. We’ve certainly leveraged that on Brita because the category has relatively small penetration but we can find these small targets. We’ve leveraged everything from our own first party data to retailer data and weather data. One of the things that excites me though is we’ve used our data science to identify new segments within water filtration that would not have been apparent to us, that defy classic segmentation. We found a strong growth in college students and that came out of data science. We found another thing with people who are very involved with tea. It’s always intuitive post facto but data scientists looked at all these ways and people started clustering who were heavy tea and coffee drinkers. We probably never would’ve come up with our own segment like college students but now that we’ve identified these people we can develop products against them, innovate against them, talk to them. That’s what excites me. It’s not just a marketing communications programmatic story, it’s how we leverage data. Machine learning clusters consumers in ways we never would’ve got to and I think that is very much part of the future. I’m very proud of data technology affecting marketing in the broad sense.

Drew: I particularly admire that you’re thinking about creating products that match a particular target’s needs. So often marketers simply take the same old product and then try to use distinctive advertising to say, “hey we get you so buy our product.” Seems like there’s a bigger opportunity to create a specific product particularly for say college students and then figure how to support that product online and at the right retail locations.

Eric: I’d just like to build on that point. I think you’ve hit on something extremely important which is “how do we redefine product experiences, how do you extend an experience digitally, how do you begin to use it to meet those needs?” That’s the harder part but if marketing is going to own the growth agenda, and we’re definitely going to have all this data sitting around, it has to transcend from what we call doing digital to being digital. If you are being digital, you’re going to rethink innovation and product and digital requirements. It’s a bigger reframing and I think that’s something we’re way under-leveraging that we’re eager to put our shoulder into as we go from doing digital to being digital.

Drew: I would think your new positioning for Brita of filtering out negativity would resonate with college students. It might require different degrees of execution, but the overall message has got to be hugely relevant, right?

Eric: When we said “hey, we stand for something and you’re going to see more about what we call the Filtered Life” we found that with our targeting and our very intimate segmentation, that idea can resonate for lots of different people but you have to tune it to them. That’s the joy of marketing, when you get to have a piece of communication or a message or idea that feels like a natural part of their day, that they invite you in to be considered. That’s the great part about this filtered idea. To your point, you’ll share that idea with college students differently. Now with rapid content, maybe an influencer thrown in, we can begin to really romance that group and say “we have real value.” Of course, college students don’t talk this way, marketers do, but they will gravitate towards us. We have a new product coming out that I can’t share with you but I think you’re going to find that this really addresses the younger and college age group and their needs in a way that I don’t think we would have done before.

Drew: What were some of the key steps to bring Brita’s Filtered Life campaign to market?

Eric: It started with a very large strategic reimagining of the brand. At some point, someone has to say “Stop. We’re doing all this stuff. Why? Why does it matter?” That really started as a catalyst of 2 people. We had some new leadership on the brand. As a function, we’re more committed to articulating this, but we brought our new advertising agency on board at the same time. There’s nothing like having new friends who don’t know the brand as well to ask some really hard questions about what we’re all about. You put the alchemy of those forces acting upon the brand and then the courage to do something with it. That’s really what kicked it off. It’s a leadership question, it’s someone declaring a better future and willing to go back and question some of the fundamentals of the brand and why we’re not winning as much as we want to. What I like about the Brita story is the commitment that the idea, the brand, the product experience, would lead us out of the woods. Leaning into the fundamentals was a way to win so that we’d have a brand for the next 50 years and not just put the consumer more reliant on price promotion and other offers. I love the commitment to brand building as a craft and a business imperative all coming together. We’ve got high hopes for Brita over the next year.

Drew: You already have a huge share of market in a category that has been flat for a while. To some extent, all your energy has to be in growing the category and that’s very hard. In this new positioning, the filtering of things, how will you measure success? Are there other measures that will make you believe that what you’re doing has made a difference?

Eric: We have all kinds of metrics. We have sales, of course, a way of measuring media effectiveness on some of our channels. We’re also working on the listening and asking metrics. We definitely want to change the idea of Brita in people’s head and we’re going to be tracking our progress against those metrics as well. We will use the brand to sell more stuff this year. That’s our job as marketers, but there’s an equity journey for Brita and then there are metrics. Is the brand becoming more relevant to college students, do they see it as a credible alternative to bottled water, do they see us as standing on their side? Fundamentally those metrics in addition to the sales metrics will put them all together.

Drew: If you don’t have brand health you have no hope.

Eric: Sometimes the attention goes to the alarmists. Sometimes you say “no, let’s look at our health metrics. They’re very strong. Yes, we don’t like this brand saying something about our brand or doing something.” We’re not disregarding it but we won’t overreact either. We need to stay on our plan. We think the equity can long withstand this relatively short attack on what we stand for. I think it just helps us keep an intelligent course. When I started in the field a long time ago, I don’t think we had that balance of brand health metrics. We got overly focused on ROI or sales. I think today’s conception of it is bringing it all together and trying to chart the right course for the short, mid, and long term.

Drew: As you look at this Brita program, is there a lesson that stands out that other marketers might benefit from?

Eric: It took more time. We got to the big idea of Brita faster than we thought. We had ways of learning, sharing this idea with people and learning about it. What took us longer was let’s make sure we just don’t celebrate. Let’s follow that idea down into the product moments, into the communication. Does the whole thing hang together? We found an idea around Brita that we think is relevant and true and then we just realized it took us longer. I would tell all marketers that once you find the big idea, keep going but really pressure test it and make sure it can speak to your category authentically all the way down to your product experience. You’ll know you’re on to a good one when it speaks comfortably on all those levels. We have wonderful PR and social leaders in our company. We put them all the way up front. They’re not just like “here’s an idea, go find a way to activate it” because they’re listening for “can we create an idea that is shareable, that will work comfortably in the social space from day one?”

Embracing the Art & Science of Marketing

When I first met Dan Marks in 2011 during his days as CMO at First Tennessee Bank, he blew me away with a model his team had built that accurately predicted the impact of an increase or decrease in ad spending. This was a particularly useful model as the bank like most businesses at the time was still in recession retrenchment mode and Dan needed to defend his budget. This conversation led me to believe that Dan was the poster child for CMOs that believed in the science of marketing and explains why I featured him in my book under the element, Metrics.

Five years later, Dan is now Chief Marketing Officer of Hancock and Whitney Bank and his winning The CMO Club President’s Circle award occasioned another interview. And while Dan is still a big believer in the science of marketing, I couldn’t help but notice a lot more interest on his part in the art of connecting with prospects and customers on an emotional level. This shift, if indeed it is one, means our conversation below is a perfect primer for marketers looking to take a more balanced approach, one that emphasizes purpose, culture and customer centricity as much as marketing technology, testing and measurement. Amen to that.

Drew: What’s one way that you apply renegade thinking?

Dan: I believe that a great CMO needs to embrace both the art and the science of marketing and that might be a bit radical with all of the focus on either the science or the art today.

Drew: How do you make sure there’s a balance?

Dan: The critical part to a balance is to remember that we are ultimately serving people. People respond to purpose. Whether or not that’s b2b or b2c or our associates, we all have human needs and emotions and desires and thoughts so focusing on what we deliver, sell, and develop resonates with people is the art and emotion part. Science can be a powerful tool to make sure that what were doing gets results and helps us achieve and continuously improve. Just doing the science without starting with the purpose is a recipe for failure. Only stopping at the purpose and not getting to the science can also leave us falling short.

Drew: Where have you found inspiration in these other categories, and what were the results?

Dan: Banking has a foundation of embracing technology. There are a number of things from a technology perspective. Recently, we’ve looked at how Apple does such a beautiful job of showing and creating excitement about what they do. There are tangible parts of what we do that are inspired by showing, not telling, in an emotional way. More recently, we were inspired by the fact that really compelling brands do a nice job wrapping bigger story around their product and services. when it comes to merchandising design, we didn’t just put together a brochure, we actually created a catalog which wraps those products with the bigger story and it’s had great reception and helped launch some new products in a compelling way.

Drew: What’s the bigger story for Hancock and Whitney?

Dan: Part of our story is that from Hancock and Whitney’s founding, the bank was chartered to help create opportunities for the communities and the clients that we serve. We look at everything through the mission of how are we helping people achieve their goals and dreams? Money is certainly an important mechanism for that but there’s a bigger purpose and its beyond the transaction. When we launched these products we wanted to make sure that we were focused on the client and what we’re doing for them, how we’re helping them run their business better. Not necessarily just the features and benefits.

Drew: What’s your proudest accomplishment as a marketer at Hancock and Whitney?

Dan: Seeing the team elevated and accomplishing great things. We just wrapped up 2016 and our financial performance, our stock price was up very nicely, reflects the underlying business fundamentals. To pull that off, it really was having a team that’s coming together. Seeing the team come together and raise their game was so far my proudest accomplishment. That gives me great confidence that we can continue to put up even more remarkable accomplishments in the future.

Drew: What was your focus from a marketing standpoint? Did you launch a new campaign, continue a new one, in terms of overall brand?

Dan: We doubled down where digital is going. We went through a selection process, identified a new marketing automation platform, which is a stack of tools that work together. We assembled this stack, and that created capabilities. For example, last year we were significantly more productive per dollar spent in terms of revenue generation than we were the year before. The specific number is confidentially but it was in the double digits more productive.

Drew: How do you do that?

Dan: Team, tools, and processes. How are we focusing on our best opportunities, what’s the purpose, what are we trying to accomplish? Having the right toolset is important. The day is gone where you’re relying on an agency or a yellow pad. Having a fully integrated marketing automation platform is key. We run our website on it, we do our social publishing through it, email, host landing pages that connect offline, we do events through it. It’s really the centerpiece to stitch that cohesive message together. And to learn from it- what is resonating, what’s getting the engagement, what’s creating leads.

Drew: How did you end up staffing this? Did you find that you needed more people to manage the stack?

Dan: We did, not many though. We’re big enough for some resources with an overall company size of 4,000 associates. We’ve got some ability to make meaningful decisions but execute them very quickly. We couldn’t afford the biggest, most full-featured engine that needs a gigantic crew. We picked a marketing automation engine that we thought positioned us really well to be nimble and have a lot of ease of us, but also not require a ton of staff. You need that more analytical, operational mindset but even there, the flavor that we have is much more “hey, we’re gonna use the tool for the operational parts” so we wanted one that was very easy to use. A related example is that we said “let’s prioritize what we can do with the tool. Sure we can do 100 things but is having an absolute perfect way to make something look we need?” If we can get pretty close with some out of the box capabilities, we’ll take pretty close and shipping twice as fast. We went through a burn-in time period where we had to reject some work from one particular agency that was still thinking in the old mindset.

Drew: How do you make sure that you have the right metrics, that you’re not optimizing based on one metric that you see? 

Dan: Cost per acquisition or cost per whatever is a fairly dated metric. That’s an ingredient but if you stop there, you’ll miss what the actual value we’re generating is. Focusing on the revenue generated per dollar spent and defining that revenue as a lifetime revenue, we’re fortunate to be in an annuity-type business and by that I mean when we sell something it generates revenue over time, not just up front. We’re selling an ongoing relationship. Understanding the life of the accounts we sell and how that varies by segment is critical To understand the true discounted revenue impact compared to the dollar spent.

Drew: Do you have attribution modeling? In other words, can you say “search helped and the video helped and this helped” and somehow recognize the various contributors to that revenue?

Dan: We have an attribution model, but that’s something we can get better at. That’s where tools can come into play. The days of doing a traditional metric model are gone. I think a lot of brands realize that the potential from that kind of activity can’t be operationalized. When we look at further expanding our attribution, we’re focusing on leveraging very nimble tools that help us understand that quickly. We might give up some perceived statistical rigor but if I can get an 80% answer next week, that’s a lot better than a 95% answer 6 months from now.

Drew: What was the biggest hurdle to making all of this come to fruition?

Dan: The hurdle was just not enough hours in the day to do it all. Fortunately, there’s a lot of organizational and support from executives to take a different approach and up our game. We had to prove it so that there were incremental steps. It wasn’t go off and build the uber-platform for a year and then come back and get started. From the time I started at the company to the time we were running a campaign with the new platform was about 6 months and then we launched the new website the quarter after that. It was essentially changing out the tires while the bus is still rolling down the road.

Drew: What were the biggest lessons learned along the way?

Dan: One is that it starts with the client. What are we after for the client? Once you get past that, to your point about organizational hurdles, it’s critical. If you’re embarking on a marketing transformation and you don’t have 100% buy-in, that’s a good place to start with the credibility of the metrics. That’s where the science comes in a lot. You can’t start with perfection so start with a piece and work over time. Iterative and fact based is another lesson learned. We just don’t have time to spend on massive transformations that aren’t going to do anything for two years.

A Healthy Perspective on Hospital Marketing

Driving into Hertz to return my car to the West Palm Beach airport on Sunday, I couldn’t help but notice they’d altered the drop-off point. A veteran of this particular facility, I wondered why were we so close to the bus loading zone.  And then it dawned on me because it was raining, they had us dropping off under the only large awning on the lot, a small act of consideration that I suspect went unnoticed by most. But not me. Caught without an umbrella, I was most grateful I wouldn’t have to sit on the plane soaked or scramble to find the one bathroom at PBI that had a hand dryer I could repurpose.

This story of going the extra mile for a customer is a great introduction to Arra G. Yerganian, Chief Marketing and Branding Officer at Sutter Health.  I met Arra through The CMO Club (he won the Officers award) and not only was he kind enough to share his thoughts with me below, he even agreed to rerecord our podcast episode after the sound quality proved deficient (stay tuned for my “9 Ways to Screw Up a Podcast” post!).  More importantly, Arra is leading a massive transformation in how Sutter Health not only markets itself but also how it delivers patient care.

Drew: Tell me about Sutter Health.

Arra: Sutter Health is a remarkable organization. We are an integrated team of clinical and non-clinical pioneers who are deeply rooted in our not for profit mission. And we really work together to change how you and I experience healthcare. In fact, through an independent study in the last few months, Truven Health Analytics (which is part of IBM) recently recognized Sutter as one of the highest performers (top five) amongst healthcare system in America. This study looked at things like saving more lives, having fewer complications, spending less per patient on episode of care, etc. This is truly an organization that’s unprecedented. We’re about $11 billion in revenue supported by 55,000 employees. I call them ‘members of our tribe’ and nearly 7,000 providers. These are people who develop the product and care every day that makes a difference in people’s lives.

Drew: Wow. So what does your role as CMO encompass?

Arra: Well, it’s a multitasking role for sure. I feel like I’m steering a big ship and I think for me it’s really about walking the brand promise. It’s about how we tell powerful stories and how we translate that into something that the consumer can really relate to. I often talk about this relationship that we have with the people we serve, not the “patient” and you need to understand the distinction. As healthcare’s going through the transformation in America, it’s not about putting the patient first. It’s about putting the person first. During every stage of being a patient you’re still a person. So it’s about leaning in. It’s about helping them understand you know them intellectually and emotionally and about the support and access we can provide. How we change the conversation around them and I think that’s our secret weapon for the healthcare system in Northern California.

Drew: Interesting. How does marketing fit into this vision?

Arra: For me, it’s about operationalizing the brand. It’s helping my fellow leaders understand that investing in marketing is an important endeavor, not just an expense. It’s changing the way the organization thinks about the brand. We’re helping the organization see that marketing can really add value. In fact, we can contribute to creative growth within this organization. I tell people we don’t necessarily need one more person to care for; we just need to take great care of the ones we have now. I call this the “love the ones you’re with” approach and it is a big differentiator for us since so many healthcare companies are just trying to acquire as many customers as they can.

Drew: How big is Sutter Health?

Arra: We are one of the largest healthcare systems in America and we’re really just in the Northern California footprint today. We service a geography of 12.5 million people and each of those three to three and a half million people that we care for every day are in the amazing care of our provider who truly go the extra mile and provide what I’m describing as intellectual and emotional support, going beyond the physical. It’s not just getting in to see the provider when you want to see them. That’s a given. To differentiate in a ‘sea of sameness’, it’s about that extra effort that we as an organization can deliver. We need to be the brand leaning in when others lean away. Remember, we care for people when they are at their most vulnerable. We have an awesome responsibility.

Drew: Let’s talk about a specific marketing initiative you’re particularly proud of.

Arra: I think this is somewhat unprecedented within the healthcare field; however, I had a vision when I arrived 16 months ago to create a brand management structure along lines of services like cardiology, oncology, women’s health, neuroscience, pediatrics, primary care, etc. This meant bringing professionals into the organization or nurturing those who were already here in marketing roles and focusing them all on these product lines and creating partnerships with clinical leaders who can help inform the content.

Drew: Sounds like P&G?

Arra: Exactly. These brand managers would build efficacy around their “products” and communicate the benefits to the mass market. I really wanted to understand what we do uniquely versus our competition. Where do we stand-alone as we service the consumers in our communities? With this new structure, we can get really specific and surgical. I call it ‘precision marketing’. You know there’s this movement called ‘precision medicine’ that’s become quite common. I think it really is about getting super targeted. I think about creating one to one relationships with three and a half million people and addressing topics that are of specific interest.

Drew: Makes sense. So how did precision marketing actually play out?

Arra: Well, for someone who’s suffering from coronary heart disease in a particular geography we can isolate by age and really dive in specifically to those individuals with a targeted message. Very, very different from the way most healthcare companies approach the challenge. I realized when I first arrived that lowest common denominator marketing is alive and well within the healthcare space. People talk about things like quality and expertise as if they’re differentiators. Seems to me that everyone expects when they go to a doctor to get quality care and that their doctor is an expert in their field, right?

Drew: Well, I certainly do.

Arra: Right, so let’s take it to a whole new level. When we talk about intellectual access it’s about being able to easily talk to the healthcare professional. Get clear information about things like pricing. Get the healthcare professional to lean in and not appear rushed. When I think about emotional access it’s treating the people that we work with like humans. Having our healthcare teams work together toward collaborative care so you are not being treated like a statistic–not being treated like a burden. These are the things that we as an organization are striving to do every day that really separate us.

Drew: Getting back to the brand management structure…

Arra: So when I implemented this brand management structure at this highest level we can, for example, sit with a cardiologist and ask him/her lots of questions: What really makes the work you do different and unique? What are the research breakthroughs? What’s helping you do better care for the people that we serve? By the way, we’re the second largest non-teaching research system in the country. This is a not for profit organization that truly understands the importance of giving back. Part of the way we give back is through this philanthropic effort of doing research in the community.

Drew: This must be a complicated branding challenge given the Sutter Health parent brand and now these service-specific sub-brands.

Arra: It’s actually even more complex because we were previously federated model with approximately 24 hospital CEOs, all managing in many respects, legacy brands that have somehow come together over the last 150 years under the Sutter Health umbrella. So in order to pay homage to those strong and uniquely positioned brands, particularly in our ‘out of home’ creative and even the via radio campaigns, we’ve put Sutter Health on center stage while paying homage to our affiliated brands, i.e., Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Alta Bates Summit, or Sutter Gould, for example; then we highlight the line of service, like cardiology, pediatrics, or urgent care before we do any discussion about the work that we do.

Drew: That is complicated. So how do you hold all of these communications together?

Arra: We created a very light-hearted campaign to start building familiarity in the marketplace and that’s called the “Smile Out” campaign. The whole idea is we choose somebody, for example, with a sinus condition and would say literally, “Sniffle in. Smile out.” Or for orthopedics, we say “Limp in. Smile Out.” When we talk about cardiology, we say, “Flutter in. Smile out.” Each of these is connected to a line of service, Sutter Health and our local, very community-based hospital systems. So yes, we have multiple challenges but it is very exciting that we can actually break through and create this connection across the multiple brands, the lines of service and the geography in which we are in.

Drew: How are you measuring and charting the success of your marketing initiatives?

Arra: We’re doing brand research in ways we’ve never done before. We’re also utilizing the amazing amounts of data that we already had more effectively. For example, we have the largest single installation of Epic, the hospital records management system, in the country. But all this wonderful data without insight, as you know, is useless. So effectively understanding, for example, that there’s a difference between awareness, familiarity and consideration is a big transformational idea in an organization that hasn’t really thought about marketing the way I describe. And incidentally, I’m the first Chief Marketing and Branding Officer this organization’s long and rich history.

Drew: Let’s dive into the research more. What kinds of things did you want to track?

Arra: Not surprisingly, our awareness is high and we are a trusted brand. We need to help consumers better understand what we really stand for; that which makes us uniquely different. 23.5 hours a day people don’t think about healthcare. So we want to make sure that the moment when you do have to think about your personal care or the care of a loved one, you think of Sutter Health…and it’s in the most positive light. That’s why making an emotional connectional is so important. I want them to feel confident, I want them to feel as if they’re in control and they own their own destiny. Because at the end of the day the brand strategy for me is to increase physical, intellectual and emotional access to healthcare so people can more confidently and independently engage with their health.

Drew: How did you persuade the folks internally to invest in this research?

Arra: So interestingly we’ve already made that investment. We have all the data, it’s really about peeling the onion back to understand how the data can inform the way we think about communicating with different segments of consumer. So, customer segmentation and segmentation research is absolutely at the forefront of our new strategy. Doing panel research, understanding really what makes people emotionally tick so that we can do the right thing when, for example, they’re giving birth. I love to tell people because I found this out really by accident. At Sutter Health; we give birth to three kindergarten classes a day! Funny enough, one of every three consumers that I meet throughout our Northern California footprint introduce themselves to me as either having given birth or having being born at a Sutter Hospital. That’s a meaningful statistic. In fact, we take care of one out of every 100 Americans, one out of every 4 Northern Californians. These are truly remarkable statistics. We have in our DNA the spirit of doing amazing things for people every day – we just need to bring those stories to light.

Drew: What’s your advice for your fellow marketers?

Arra: It’s funny — about a week ago I was at an even at the Avaya Stadium in San Jose, we’re a partner to the San Jose Earthquakes, a Major League Soccer team they serve the same 100 communities that we serve. And it happened to be Saturday so we brought our ambulances, helicopters, and providers and it was great opportunity to activate the brand with the 10,000 people in the stands and generate some good will.

So my six-year-old son, my youngest with three of his friends clamored into Sutter Health mobile clinic and within minutes, they tried out a stethoscope and other cool tools. They then switch their roles; first doctor then patient. I watch their intellectual curiosity, their flexibility, and their focus and realize that they could change the world if given the opportunity. If we look at the world through their lens, we could change the world. And in this period of rapid evolution requiring great curiosity, determination and adaptability, we have the opportunity to do so. So I encourage marketers to have the courage to think way outside the box. It’s okay to fail. I tell people all the time, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” I want them to really think differently; I think that’s paramount to success. Take some calculated risks; I think that’s super important.

Riding a Juggernaut – How to Grow Without Changing Jobs

As the employer of numerous millennials and proud parent of two, I’m quite conscious of a generational tendency to change jobs with frequency.  Various research studies back up my first-hand observation of this trend.  Deloitte reports that younger millennials ages 20-24 are on the job for an average of 1.3 years and according to Gallup:

  • Millennials most likely generation to switch jobs
  • Six in 10 millennials are open to new job opportunities
  • Millennials are the least engaged generation in the workplace

In truth, there are lots of good reasons to ditch your job.  Your boss could be insane.  The work your employer does bores you to tears.  You find a better paying opportunity that allows you to finally move out of your parent’s house.  I’m sure there many others but there’s also a counterpoint to be made for sticking around, especially if you’re lucky enough to find a job you like at a company that’s growing quickly. This was certainly the case for Elissa Fink, who just completed her first decade at Tableau Software, the last half as CMO.  In part 1 of my extensive interview with Elissa, you’ll learn how she’s kept her approach fresh, offering lessons for any generation.

Drew: You started your career in ad sales at the Wall Street Journal. How important was that experience to your future roles in marketing?

Elissa: I would say the value to me as a marketer was extraordinary. I wasn’t really cut out for sales, but what got me excited about my job in sales was understanding the Wall Street Journal audience, how it compared to our big competitors, and our strategy in talking to our subscribers and to our advertisers. That’s when I realized what really turns me on is marketing and marketing information. I often tell people starting out in their marketing careers that experience of being a sales person is extremely valuable because you really understand what’s on the mind of a buyer, how to persuade, how to sell and how to close. And that not only helps you as a marketer, but also helps you in your relationship with sales people as you market.

Drew: And I bet you are so much more empathetic with your sales teams than your average marketer.

Elissa: I feel like I have a lot of empathy because I have been there. And I think it’s extraordinarily valuable as a marketer to understand the sales journey from the top of the funnel all the way to the end.

Drew: You’ve been at Tableau for 10 years and nearly half of that as CMO. Can we talk about the advantages of staying in one place?

Elissa: The advantages are definitely that you get to be deep, to understand things richly, to build relationships with your colleagues and your customers. And you get to see this evolution in what you are trying to accomplish and to see how things that you seeded months or even years ago are blossoming. You also get to see evolutionary cycles and determine when you don’t need to do certain things anymore. For me, it’s been a really interesting journey. When I joined ten years ago we were about 40 people. Now we are like over 3,200 people. It’s really been like several different companies!

Drew: Wow, that’s such huge growth. It must be tricky to stay fresh and continue to drive change. What’s your secret?

Elissa: Well, two ways. Number one, I look at change as a fact of life. That we always need fresh ideas and don’t ever get comfortable with the way we’ve always done things. If we’re not changing then something’s not quite right. I have an open mind about change and tell my team to roll with it too, to try new things and be at peace with whatever happens.

Drew: And the other way?

Elissa: The other important thing is to recognize that as a person who’s been there long time, you have to recognize that you may not be the freshest source of ideas. So as a leader, long-term employee and agent of change, there are times that I just need to listen, keep my mouth shut and be open to the idea that something that sounded crazy three years ago might be exactly what we need now.

Drew: Listening is really an art form in itself.

Elissa: It is. It’s important to listen rather than judge and offering up all the reasons you think something won’t work. I’m a big believer in a question-oriented approach. Rather than shutting down the conversation with negative comments, I’ll ask have you thought about how we could solve that, have you thought about this, have we considered this. This lets them know I’m interested in their ideas, and that we can find ideas that solve problems we couldn’t solve before.

Drew: Do you have a superpower?

Elissa: There is one thing that I just used to resist about myself but now I embrace fully — I’m an enthusiastic and optimistic person. I realized over the years that enthusiasm goes a long way towards getting things done because it produces energy. I bring energy to meetings. I tend to be enthusiastic and positive – saying let’s do it and feeling like we can do it. And though it’s not necessarily a superpower, my enthusiasm does seem to help propel teams and initiatives forward.

Drew: I share your enthusiasm for enthusiasm!

Elissa: I think people want to get stuff done. That’s what business is about. We all are trying to achieve results for our companies and for our customers. Of course, you need smart analytics, good business judgment, thoughtful strategy about why and who and when, but once you are ready to go, go at it with energy and enthusiasm. Use your resources to a hundred percent of their effectiveness.

Drew:  What’s your mission at Tableau and has it evolved over the years?

Elissa: Our mission is to help people see and understand data. So certainly we are all about easy and friendly data analytics. I think the thing that has evolved is that we’ve become a company that can serve that up at scale. We help large organizations and massive groups of people use data to the level and extent that they want to, whether that’s a deep data scientist all the way to a frontline person who needs to find out how things are going on the factory floor and make an adjustment to speed up some machine. We can help people work with data safely, securely and at scale.

Drew: Tell me about your role as CMO at Tableau?

Elissa: It’s the best job in the world. At Tableau, marketing is all about working closely with Sales, Development and our Operations to grow the community of Tableau users in their journey of using data. So that stretches from working hand in glove with our product strategy team on our development side to define our overall messaging to working with sales to find the best prospects and growth customers. Demand generation is a huge part of our business because we started out as a tool that individuals often bought. It was almost like a consumer product. That’s how we disrupted the market. Now we’re showing large enterprises that scalable, nimble analytics that people love is achievable at scale. As a marketing team, we cover everything from above the funnel all the way through the funnel – from communications to solutions marketing.

Drew: You’re covering a lot of ground as CMO, aren’t you?

Elissa: We have a pretty wide coverage, but we have a lot of great partnerships across Tableau including our product development team, our sales team, our operations team, HR, finance, our channel team, and so on. Tableau is a very collaborative organization. So there are plenty of things that I don’t cover that another CMO might. But because we’re collaborative, we get involved in discussions.

Drew: Are there areas involving communications you won’t touch?

Elissa: Yes. We really do focus on outward facing activities. It’s a small example, but early on people used to want us to plan holiday parties, and we said, ‘No, that’s an internal thing. We can give you advice, but that’s really better for HR department because that’s not our audience.’ Our audience is mostly external. We do love our employees and especially how they help our customers and help us promote to customers and prospects. But we are very much focused on the people in our markets – it’s the people in analyst, executive, IT and business operation positions.

Drew: You’ve had quite a ride at Tableau.

Elissa: Well, I am so lucky, Drew. I have had almost 10 years of just an amazing journey. Every year has been fun and interesting and we’ve accomplished so much and we’ve been challenged by so much. I would say taking a company from sub $5 million in revenue to a run rate of nearly $1 billion is awesome to me. I feel excited by what we accomplished. We went public. I got to be on the balcony at the opening bell at the New York Exchange – I mean, that’s such a memorable moment! My old boss, our founding CEO, was so supportive despite my bouts of lack of confidence. He would say, ‘you were the right person that came along at the right time for the right job.’ And now I’m enjoying working with and learning from our new CEO.

Stay tuned for part 2 of our interview.

Want to Rebrand? Make Sure Work From the Inside Out

Can one question change your life?  This certainly was the case for Gina McDuffie. In our podcast recording, Gina tells how when she was contemplating going to law school, her father asked her to give him three good reasons why. Turns out, she couldn’t come up with one and instead headed to Paris with $500 in her pocket and a willingness to try her hand at waitressing, bartending and even journalism.  A year later, she returned from the “School of Hard Knocks,” with a thorough understanding of who she was and her personal passion — “I love to build.”  This love of building drove her career choices, including her most recent move to VER, at which she presided over a major rebranding.

Brought in by new owners, Gina’s mission was to help transform marketing from a backstage afterthought to revenue-driving star.  Easier said than done especially with 1600 employees all used to doing business in a way that had worked for them for 30 years.  Recognizing the essential role employees play in any rebranding effort, Gina didn’t try to do the rebuilding alone and instead enlisted a core set of influencers.  This choice and more makes the interview below well worth your time and will make it easy for you to understand why The CMO Club honored Gina with their Rising Star award late last year.

Drew: Tell me about VER.

Gina: We are the amazing company that you’ve never heard of, but you have experienced. We provide production equipment and solutions to primarily entertainment industry and events industries. So any event you go to or pretty much anything you see on TV from the Super Bowl halftime show to the Emmys, the Grammys, the Oscars, major events around the country, VER is a part of it. So pretty much any event you go to, we are behind the scenes either providing the production equipment, working the equipment or coming up with a creative solution to make things happen that have never happened before.

Drew: Does the name VER stands for something?

Gina: Before I arrived, it stood for Video Equipment Rentals. VER started out more than 30 years ago renting video equipment solely. And then it just grew and grew and grew to now we provide lighting, audio, video, camera, LED, rigging, media servers, really all the production equipment you can imagine to major projects on six continents and we have 34 offices with 1,600 employees. It really has grown since its beginning and it was part of my job when I came in was to do a major rebrand.

Drew: You arrived at VER relatively recently. Was it an opportunity for a builder?

Gina: It’s good that I’m Gina the Builder because the company was 30 years old when I came in and there had been no marketing. The previous owner focused on customer relationships which served the company well. He told everybody, ‘go out there and make friends and if they want something and we don’t have it, buy it.’ So that was the marketing of the company. When I arrived, it had been just purchased by a private equity firm and there was no marketing infrastructure, no CRM program, no technology, not even an employee email list or a press list. There was nothing.

Drew: Wow! So where did you start?

Gina: So my job as CMO, first and foremost, was to work with the CEO on understanding and crafting a strategy. This certainly wasn’t about a revised logo or just changing colors. This was really figuring out the nuts and bolts in the strategy of the company, who we are, what we stand for, what services we offer and even what product categories are we in. Then it was dealing with all the tactical things that had never been done before, whether it’s PR, creating a whole new website, creating a digital environment, internal communication, lead generation and events. Essentially everything you can think of and it was starting from scratch.

Drew: Talk to me about the rebranding process.

Gina: Well there was one very easy thing about the rebrand and one very difficult thing about the rebrand. The very easy thing was customer and employee research. Everybody had very similar feedback regarding the company’s amazing culture, and that VER people will do anything for their clients. They are known for going way above and beyond, doing crazy stuff to get that one little piece that needs to be at the event and making sure the event is spectacular. And we are talking huge. We just did the Coachella Music Festival with 260 or more enormous screens. We’ve got guys hanging from the back to make sure that not one thing is out of place! So it was easy for me to understand the essence of the brand and the culture.

Drew: Okay, what was the difficult part?

Gina: The difficult thing was that we had 1,600 employees who didn’t understand that the company needed to change. What makes VER so special is the extremely talented and passionate people there. Many were skeptical of me coming in off the street saying VER needed to change. It was a really difficult time for me personally and professionally because I was trying to effect massive change that nobody thought was needed, other than the CEO and the private equity company.

Drew: So what were some of the key things that you did that enabled employees to get onboard?

Gina: Communication! A lot of it was talking with a smaller group of people who identified as influencers about why the change was necessary and to assure them that it was going to be okay and then to ask them to spread the word. It couldn’t come from me because people didn’t know me. I didn’t have credibility. They didn’t trust me. So I needed to work with people in the company who were trusted to get them to spread the word and to build trust.

Drew: I suspect part of the conversation was finding the bridge between the old and the new, right?

Gina: Absolutely. It was saying we are not trying to change what’s good, and there’s a lot that’s good. We are keeping what’s good and making it even better. We want our clients to understand the full scope of what we do. It entails talking about how our employee ensure our clients’ success and they are very weary of that because we’ve been behind the scenes for so long. Our entire purpose is to help our clients create extraordinary. It’s their vision and we make it happen.

It really was about assuring employees that the culture is not going to change. We are not going to change anything that’s good and there is so much that’s good. We are just going to make it even better. We are pulling on to the heritage and that’s why we didn’t change the name completely. We thought about dropping VER altogether and just coming up with a new name, but we couldn’t. We needed to hold on to the heritage because that’s really rich and strong one. And that went a long way with employees too.

Drew: How long did it take to get employees, and I’m sure it’s an ongoing process to buy into the changes that you help them realize were important?

Gina: I learned so much in this process. First and foremost, the anticipation of change is so much scarier than the change itself. Leading up to the major reveal of the brand, everybody was having a hard time with it and but then as soon as we changed it, as soon as they saw it in action and understood the reasoning behind it, they embraced it. It made me so happy and so relieved that on day two, people were wearing the hats, wearing the shirts, changing their e-mail signature, really getting behind it. And that to me was my measurement of success — how well the employees adopted the new brand.

Drew: Such a great reminder that rebranding starts internally. They have to buy in, right?

Gina: You bet. They are the brand.

Drew: How have you spread the word about the new brand externally?

Gina: We’ve done lots even just with our new website that hasn’t been done before and that was a big change for our customers. But more than anything, a rebranding can’t just be how it looks. There has to be a new user experience. So that’s taken a while to make sure that we are not just introducing the brand, but we are introducing a way of working with our customers that again doesn’t take away from what they had before because that’s working really well.

Drew: I’m guessing this transformation went beyond digital?

Gina: Indeed. We included a number face-to-face experiences and events. These can be time-consuming, but it’s really paid off for us to invite people into all of our facilities to spend time with our team and the equipment and just connect because we really are such a person-to-person business. I can’t stand that whole B2B designation. It’s all P2P for me. And this business really is person to person. We couldn’t just introduce the brand by saying here is our new logo, here are our new colors, that’s just not what it is. We needed to remind them of our love for our customers and we are doing that in person as much as possible.

Drew: Were there substantive changes to the way you actually did business that went along with this new brand?

Gina: A little bit after I arrived, we also hired a new COO, who came from Amazon and FedEx and we have been working to add more technology to our business and improving a lot of the processes, but not removing the personal touch. It’s been a major change on how we do business, always keeping the customer in the middle. At one point I was horrified because I realized that we weren’t answering a large percentage of our calls over the weekends. So I said, ‘everybody stop what you’re doing and let’s figure this out.’ Because it doesn’t matter what we are doing brand wise if we are not picking up the phone.

Drew: Such a key insight–no amount of branding can make up for a bad customer experience.

Gina: Right. My advice to marketers is that we need to get out of ‘marketing land’ and realize that customer experience, even if it’s not traditionally in our area, needs to be addressed for marketing to be effective. The brand can’t stand if the customer experience falls apart.

Drew: How are you measuring success from a customer standpoint?

Gina: Like I said, we are building from scratch. I still don’t even have a real CRM system in place; that’s still being built. The biggest metric I look at is what my CEO looks at and that’s profitable growth. The company has grown significantly year over year and that to me is a good enough indicator that what we are doing is working.

An Insider’s Look at Driving Change via Marketing

Last Friday, I was in one of my “oh we’ve nailed it” gleeful moods as we contemplated a new business plan to focus on “agents of change.”  Our logic was airtight, or so we thought.  If we could just figure out how to isolate change agents as a personality type via a line of questioning, then we could narrow both the target and our communications approach.  To see if we were on the right track, I called my oldest brother Rick who has studied Myers-Briggs personality types for years as a hobby, with the hope that he could help us with the identification process.

Doh! That’s when I was reminded yet again how wrong I can be. Of course, intuitive inventor-types like me gravitate towards new ideas BUT that doesn’t mean we’re the only ones who can drive change in an organization.  In fact, traditionalists, may not want or seek out change but if shown factual reasons why change is required, they can be especially effective at making change happen in regulated industries like banks or insurance companies.

Which brings me to my interview with Melinda Welsh, CMO of Chase Auto Finance. Although I can’t categorize Melinda into a particular Myers-Briggs quadrant, I can tell you she is very much an agent of change, an approach that garnered her much success at Chase transforming marketing into a profit center and along with that, The CMO Club‘s President’s Circle Award. Read on for details on Melinda’s efforts and stay tuned in the event my brother passes along more humbling insights with his soon to be earned Myers-Briggs certification!

 

Drew: Tell me about Chase Auto Finance.

Melinda: Sure. A lot of people don’t connect a bank with a car; we certainly do and think that consumers should be thinking about their auto purchase a little differently than they are today – just to make sure they’re getting the best rate and the best kind of loans for their personal situation. It’s really important for us. Today, most auto purchases and financing are happening in the dealer. And we have a huge dealership network; it’s part of what we do. We support a lot of our sales staff in our B2B space;. That’s a really huge, important part of our business. We also recognize that when a consumer sits down in a dealership, they may not be fully aware of what their finance options are and they’re thinking just about their payment. But do they really know what their rate is and are they really educated before they walk in the door?

Drew: But that’s not always the case, right?

Melinda: Exactly, which is why they need talk to their financial institution about it and do their research. We’ve just launched our new end-to-end car buying and financing site, Chase Auto Direct.It helps our customers with finding the car, purchasing, and completing the financing before getting to the dealer. This end-to-end digital car buying experience is pretty progressive – it’s not for everyone, but we believe we should be giving our customers options, particularly those who are comfortable with all-digital experiences.

Drew: How is it going so far?

Melinda: We’re learning a lot, and it’s been really a fascinating ride in terms of marketing. It’s been primarily picked up as a fintech story, which we weren’t expecting. So we are switching gears a bit and thinking about a fintech marketing approach.

Drew: Is there another side of your auto business?

Melinda: Yes. We work with manufacturers including Mazda, Subaru, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Maserati as their private label financing partners. From a marketing perspective, we work really closely with all these manufacturers on co-marketing that helps their brands, which is good for our business as well. So that’s been a really interesting combination of B2B and B2C marketing.

Drew: The role of CMO seems to vary greatly depending on the company and the individual. Some control the customer experience and marketing, others new product development. How much does your role encompass?

Melinda: It’s an interesting discussion around here about if any one department owns the end-to-end customer experience and the answer is no. Today, it’s not as cohesive as it should be and it’s something that we are really working on. We’re developing our roadmap for next year and offering a more consistent end-to-end experience is definitely an opportunity. I see more and more of that coming into marketing, and a more holistic ownership of that customer experience and customer lifecycle.

Drew: What about product development?

Melinda: At Chase product development typically sits in lines of business, which are all my internal clients. Marketing always has a seat at the table for how we would talk to a customer about this new product. This is so important because it really helps, inform what the product ended up being. So I don’t see that moving into marketing, but we’re definitely a critical piece of it.

Drew: What would you consider your proudest accomplishment so far?

Melinda: When I got into this job I had a fantastic CEO who really wanted transformative marketing. She said , “I want you to come here to change things.” When I arrived it was an old-fashioned cost center marketing group, Our shared vision was to change marketing into a profit center, to move it from B2B sales support to B2C, and to be a really big important part of what the Auto executive team is interested in.

Drew: That must have been a big challenge, right?

Melinda: Yes. We had to figure out the types of functions we needed and build a group out. We needed to assess how we’re going to invest in digital and how we’re going to transform things like events, which are still important to our business. And figure out how we’re going to use CRM and connect with our customers. We really took everything to the next level in a relatively short period of time, which is what I was brought into do. I feel like there’s still a lot more to do, but that’s what I’m proud of in this role.

Drew: That’s great. So you came in as a change agent and you succeeded at changing things. What part of this was measurable?

Melinda: The new digital portal is easier to measure than some of our other programs. We can measure that because we are doing a lot of direct marketing tactics to drive people there, and we track what happens. We know for every dollar spent what is needed to get a return, It’s actually quite measurable in that way.

Drew: There must be some other metrics that are tougher to gauge given longer purchase cycles?

Melinda: I think there are especially since we work a lot of the luxury automobile segments. People don’t buy those every day, and they might think about it for a long time before they buy it. So we measure engagement, exposure, and leads in those cases.

Drew: I would imagine that measuring sales and profit would be really important in your role?

Melinda: Of course! We’re a bank and we’re dollars and cents oriented. So that’s the most important way we measure things, honestly. But there is another internal measure that I use which has to do with my colleagues who run businesses. Do they trust marketing? Do they want to invest more funds and in more marketers because they see the value that marketing is adding? If the answer is yes, and they see it as a critical piece of growing their business, then I feel like we’re really succeeding as a marketing organization.

Drew: The overall Chase brand must also be a big help.

Melinda: I think that the strength of the overall Chase brand helps us a lot. One reason I’m extremely lucky to be here is that we don’t have to encourage people to come to our Chase assets. Millions of people come into our branches and visit our website every day. It’s where they do all of their financial activities. So if we put our messages on Chase.com or in the branch, people read them. And, when they get to our website, they expect something really high quality. So we’re careful about what we put out across all of our businesses. We hope that what they find is something that’s very, very valuable because it has that Chase brand behind it,.

Drew: Do you have any recommendations for your fellow CMO’s to consider trying in 2017?

Melinda: Make sure that you’re still looking at non-digital marketing channels. I know it’s starting to become a buzzword again, but experiential marketing is well worth revisiting. And while some people are doing it well, a lot of people aren’t or they are not sure what to do to scale experiences. People really want something tangible and marketing can provide that. .

Drew: Love that. Renegade’s experiential program for HSBC (the BankCab) ran for 13 years and was actually cost effective. What else would you recommend?

Melinda: I think there’s something really interesting happening with video content within a platform like Facebook. I think advertisers haven’t really caught on to yet to the idea of creating “snackable” content. And it’s not about placing ads, it’s about really delivering content that people are going to be interested in a much different way than what we’ve been talking about for the past couple years.

Drew: Any other recommendations?

Melinda: I would say don’t just fall back on what’s worked before and really think about the next generation. My kids aren’t millennials but take my 11-year old daughter as an example, she does not watch TV! But she’s absolutely glued to video content on her phone, and what she finds interesting and relevant is very, very different than what we’re used to. So don’t ignore the signals and rely on what you’ve done before because there’s a whole new world of marketing and advertising that’s waiting to be tapped that we haven’t figured out quite yet.