How to Give Your Content Moxy!

Truth by told, most brands dabble in content.  Sure they’re cranking out blog posts, images and even videos but few have allocated the resources to truly capture the hearts and minds of their target audience.  Here’s when you know things are serious:

  • The CEO believes in content enough to create a separate production department & fund it
  • The CEO hires a content chief who understands the essential elements of storytelling
  • The content creators are not slaves to the product manager’s briefs
  • The budget includes funding for quality, quantity and media support
  • Everyone involved recognizes that content has a long gestation period and is not to be confused with direct response marketing

So who is getting right?  For one,  Marriott International and to learn more about their efforts, I talked with David Beebe, Global Creative and Content Marketing for Marriott’s portfolio of 19 brands (Marriott Hotels, The Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, Moxy Hotels, +++) covering 4,200 hotels in 82 countries. David was a winner of The CMO Club’s award for Content Marketing which isn’t all that surprising given his strong roots in Hollywood (Disney/ABC, Direct TV & Showtime).  Part 2 of my highly informative interview with David follows. You can find part 1 on our podcast.  To give you a sense of the quality of David and his team’s work, take a look at the video below before reading how it came to pass.

 

Drew: Tell me how the French Kiss video program was put together?

David: Often times, brand don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They just want to create a film or a webisode. With our brands, we actually sat them down and if they couldn’t explain why, we sent them back to the drawing table to really understand the purpose of it. An example of that, with Moxy, a new brand we have for the next generation traveler, they wanted to do something in the content space. They’re why is very simple. It’s a brand new brand. Even with the power of Marriott, it takes a lot of work to introduce a new brand to the marketplace so we said “let’s do a webisode series. What’s the format, where should it live, what’s the creative and the right talent?”

Drew: How many episodes have you created and how did you measure success?

David: We’ve done close to 12+ episodes. It wasn’t measured by driving revenue, but we introduced what the brand was to viewers. Versus the films, a larger investment, we wanted to do all those things but then create a revenue source around it. How do you take content, but keep people in your world? With everything that we do, we create that content ecosystem of where we’re able to keep the audience in our brand world, keep them engaged with more. No content should have a dead end so after you watch French Kiss, you’re presented with the sales package. We provided you with value first, entertained you, hopefully you’ve built a relationship with us and say “That’s cool, they didn’t try to sell me anything there, I’m inspired to travel. Let me check out what there actually offering me and selling me.” Most of our webisodes have sales packages around them as well.

Drew: Since you weren’t measuring heads in beds on the Moxy webisodes, how do we measure the effectiveness?

David: It’s reach, but what we look at a lot is time spent with the content, because that tells us if it’s good content, if people are engaged with the content. If so, that means we’ve got something there. If we can give them the right content, then ultimately I can build a community around people who like that content and then drive commerce from them. We distributed exclusively on YouTube and Instagram to drive traffic but we’ve been able to see really high engagement. People really identify and understand what the Moxy brand is because that comes through in the actual content itself.

Drew: How do you make sure that your videos are being watched?

David: You invest into a production, you put it out, and you assume the world will come to it and that’s the exact opposite of what happens. Good or bad, everyone is a content creator today. We use paid media campaigns to promote the content, and we run it all on YouTube through True View ads and that’s where we’re seeing and getting all these stats. People went to YouTube to watch something else and they were presented with a story driven piece of content, not an ad, that they had the option to skip after 5 seconds but they didn’t because they were immediately drawn into it because it was different and they’re used to ads. That’s where we’re seeing such high completion rates. It’s also the opportunity of brands as media companies. In many cases, many brands have a powerful owned media network beyond their social channels. Brands need to step back and look at all the channels they actually own that they can program their content through.

Drew: How does the Moxy content direct the viewer to the product?

David: On YouTube it’s presented through the descriptions usually in the text below and we embed that YouTube player into the Moxy website itself. There’s a special mini-site that is built for the majority of our shows where you’re able to find out what the show is about and that’s where the sales package is presented as well and obviously we promote that page and tap into taking that offer and presenting that to our 80 million reward member through email marketing. Our engagement rates, our open rates, are huge because they expect that email every week with offers from Marriott within that world we created. We’re not just putting a piece of content out there and letting it sit.

Drew: Do you have a strategy brief format that you give to the brands and say “you need to put your content in this vernacular or we can’t get you where you want to go?”

David: I’m actually not a big believer in briefs at all. They confuse people, people don’t know what to put in them. Often times its just useless information. We sit all of our brands down and just do in-person meetings and conversations. We’re hiring people who come from the media business. All the leadership on my team has come from journalism, network news, production companies, but they also understand the marketing side and the business side. Going back to that key person you need to hire, you don’t want to hire a creative that just thinks big but doesn’t know how to execute or match it to business results. Our approach is brand immersion. Many brands, including ours, will sit you down for days and tell you what their brand is about. From a certain point from a content marketing perspective, we don’t go that deep.

Drew: Why not?

David: I’m trying to hit, in our case next generation travelers, they’re business travelers, leisure travelers or family travelers and I’m trying to hit a passion point- what there interested in, and also the way that they travel and create stories within there. It’s understanding the brand and what its about but at the same time collaborating with a creator where the brand is a character. When we first started, we just talked about content in general and one of the brand marketers said “here’s my idea. We put a GoPro on someone’s head, they check in at the front desk, they go to their room, they fall on the bed and they’re like ‘this is such a great pillow.’” That’s not content marketing, that’s not storytelling. Now that consumers are in charge, we have to shift to not talking about ourselves but what does that consumer want, how do I entertain them, how do I solve their problems, how do I build a relationship with them, provide value?” Then I have their attention and they’re more likely to pay attention to what I’m actually trying to sell you. Ultimately, I want to build long term, valuable relationships.

Drew: Does the brand team see content as “nice to have” or fundamental to driving their business units?

David: I think in our case, all of the brand leaders understand the value of storytelling and what we’re doing. They may not completely understand the mechanics of it and how it all works. I think people in content marketing understand the change that’s happening and get super excited. Content marketing is just one piece of the pie. Its not everything. I think people see the scale of what we’re doing which is phenomenal but at the same time, we’re doing a lot of traditional stuff. We’ve shifted a lot of money into content so there’s that standalone content budget that the studio has which is something all content studios need, because then your battle is only selling the concept to the brand, not that you also need money to go do it. Also, brands are shifting brand marketing dollars into content activities and, in our case at least, are very excited about it.

Drew: So how far can this shift to content go?

David: It doesn’t mean we’ve stopped dong everything else we do, but things are shifting as they understand how the audience is shifting. One of the tactics I use to educate leadership here is present an idea of publish or perish. We all the opportunities to be publishers. I read a stat from Google that says 82% of people skip TV ads and I say “when was the last time any of you were watching a show and got excited when a commercial came on and tuned in 100%” Most of us start doing something else. I’m not saying stop all TV marketing and advertising but its not as effective as it used to be. We look at all traditional marketing. Why are brands spending all this money on stuff that doesn’t perform? We just use numbers, say “here is the reality.” We’re not trying to sell you anything as an executive leader, so let’s try this.

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.

How to Rebrand on a NPO Budget

If you ever wondered about the validity of the old proverb, “necessity is the mother invention,” then you’ll want to read word for word my extensive interview with Dara Royer, Chief Development and Marketing Officer of Mercy Corps and winner of The CMO Club‘s Officers Award. Like her organization, Dara works miracles on a minuscule budget and in the process provides yet another illustration that the cool CATS of marketing get it done:

  • Courageous: Dara talks about courage as her secret weapon, noting that you have to “trust, in what you see and what you believe is an opportunity if you’re going to create big positive change.”
  • Artfulness: It takes a deft hand at the tiller to turn an organization in a new branding direction. As Dara puts it, “Being right isn’t always enough to get you to the finish line,” you need to listen and let others participate in the process.
  • Thoughtfulness: As a purpose-driven organization, thoughtfulness is at the core of the brand she explains, “If you want to create transformational change in individuals, in communities, in our broader world, you need to not only meet people’s urgent needs of today, but you need to focus on helping them build a stronger tomorrow.”
  • Scientific: In addition to tracking key business metrics like fund-raising, Dara is committed to constant improvement through a test & learn approach: “We’re evolving little things along the way to make sure that the brand is really usable for people.”

Drew: I have this theory that there’s at least a little renegade in every CMO. What is one way that you’re a renegade?

Dara: Where others run away, I run toward challenges. In fact, like a bee to honey. Truly, if you tell me something can’t be done or there’s no way that we can accomplish something, then to me that’s the clarion call to action. We’re going to take on that challenge and run square at it and try to wrestle it to the ground. For example, there are 2 million purpose driven organizations in the U.S., and at Mercy Corps we’re working to put ourselves on the map with a smaller marketing team and a smaller budget than some of the big dogs. We’re already making progress against that goal.

Drew: Running towards a challenge is certainly a very renegade thing. When you’re running at the challenge, and you are underfunded, what’s one nontraditional technique that you used with success?

Dara: We handle a lot of things in-house that most other organizations or businesses would outsource. A great example would be global brand research. There are many organizations that would pay big bucks to do that. We didn’t have those dollars so we actually trained our teammates that work in many of the different countries in which we operate. We taught them research methodology and we taught them how to talk to their fellow team members, government officials in the area, and the beneficiaries of the people that we help in order to pull out insights that are going to be valid for us to synthesize as part of a global brand research. The benefit of that was that we were actually bringing them along, our global teammates, in the process of building our global brand and that was actually the upside of taking a road less traveled.

Drew: We have a client who’s looking at a global study and its hugely expensive to do it right, to translate it into multiple languages and then to try to synthesize the data after it’s in these languages and then bringing it back to English. Using employees to field the research is brilliant — the tricky part is getting them trained. How did you make sure that they did this in a valid research fashion?

Dara: It’s a great question because as we all know, garbage in garbage out. If you didn’t have a solid research methodology, then you won’t have valid results. We did a number of trainings with the people who were going to participate and then we actually had them do mock interviews, because this was all qualitative research, so we could give them feedback on the way they were approaching the work. Every single person was trained in that same fashion following this research guide that we created. The proof was in the pudding. The results that we got back were consistent and valid, and the reason we knew they were applicable is because we were able to pull out the same kind of thematics regardless of the country in which the research was done. The same themes were coming to the surface–incredibly powerful, and much less expensive than the traditional way of approaching the work.

Drew: I’m curious, because we encourage our clients to do research for any number of reasons, how you used the research once you gathered all this information.

Dara: The research was the underpinning of our brand refresh that we did and it was important to help get the organization out of what I call the echo chamber, where we talk to each other, we nod our heads, and we all share a brain around what we believe the truth is. Yet, there are lots of different perceptions that exist out there. Part of what we were trying to do was show the organization some different perspectives that exist, so that was step one. We shared this information internally, and it absolutely informed how we positioned our brand strategy and ultimately our visual and our verbal identity.

Drew: We all know that it’s hard to get marketing messages to stand out. What’s the one thing you do to make sure that your marketing cuts through?

Dara: It is absolutely a challenge. We are focused on the overall epic, not the episode. What I mean by that is particularly for an organization like ours, that works in 42 different countries, our work is so vast and so diverse but we’re trying to tell one big story vs. lots of little stories. We want to make sure that whenever anyone is interacting with Mercy Corps and sees any kind of content, be it a video or a direct mail piece, that they’re understanding what that larger story is. Telling the epic, being consistent in the story that we’re telling, is a huge focus for us in trying to break through the noise. Because when you try to tell many different episodes, people start to not understand who you are, what you do, and why you matter.

Drew: I haven’t heard storytelling put that way, but certainly we all love epics. What is that epic story that you’re telling for Mercy Corps?

Dara: Our epic is rooted in this fundamental belief that a better world is possible. If you want to create transformational change in individuals, in communities, in our broader world, you need to not only meet people’s urgent needs of today, but you need to focus on helping them build a stronger tomorrow. Our response to an earthquake in Nepal or the way that we are helping millions of refugees who are fleeing war conflict in their countries has a common theme, which is that our donors, or the people that partner with us, are the bridge from a challenge today to a better tomorrow that we believe is possible in the world.

Drew: What are some of the tricks that you learned to make sure that you have a great story?

Dara: I’m going to tell you a story in my answer. First, you start with relevancy and an understanding of the audience that you’re trying to engage with. What is going to make a story relevant to their world and their life long enough for them to pause? The story I’m going to tell you is about our desire at Mercy Corps to talk about our conflict resolution work. Sounds like a snoozer, right? It’s important, though, because when we work with refugee populations and you have 2 million refugees flowing across borders, it can create huge tensions in communities. We set out to tell this conflict resolution story, and the story we ended up telling was from the perspective of a mother who had been part of a Mercy Corps conflict resolution program. She, and the other mothers in this group, ended up creating a playground where their children, Syrian and Lebanese children, could come together and play together. The result was incredible. These women all became part of a larger community and what you heard was her voice, you saw her tears, you saw the children playing on the playground together. It was incredibly compelling and it was relevant and relatable to any mother, anyone who’s been a child, or anyone who could get into the heart of the story. Yet it was on a very wonky subject. Kudos to our team and our producer for heading into this situation and saying “what would make this a relatable story to people?” You show vs. tell. We showed something vs. saying “we want to talk to you about the importance of conflict resolution.”

Drew: It’s amazing because it’s not preachy but it’s very clear and it’s very moving and that’s why we all like storytelling. What resource would you suggest other renegade marketers look to?

Dara: This is a personal resource that I think renegade marketers need to tap into. Simply put, it’s courage. When you’re a renegade and you’re disruptive, either in your organization or the marketplace, you’re going to have opinions that aren’t popular. You’re going to stand alone. You’re going to have to be able to dig deep and have confidence, and trust, in what you see and what you believe is an opportunity if you’re going to create big positive change. The one resource is that you have to be courageous.

Drew: What’s the toughest lesson that you’ve learned when it comes to marketing?

Dara: Being right doesn’t always matter. I was schooled in speech and debate, and I competed for a long time, and I learned in that trade if you brought the right evidence to the table and you were a good speaker, you generally win. It doesn’t work that way in the real world and in business, particularly in today’s day and age. I think a lot of people will come to the table whether they work in HR or finance and everyone thinks they’re a marketer. You can’t just show up at the table like you’re hired to be the expert and you wear the CMO hat or you’re in charge of marketing and therefore everybody should just pause and listen to you. You have to have great negotiation skills, you have to understand internal dynamics and politics. You have to be a good listener. Being right isn’t always enough to get you to the finish line.

 

Drew: Let’s dive deeper into the brand relaunch and the key steps.

Dara: Step one was that we had to convince the organization that we needed to pay some attention to our brand. This first step was actually selling senior leadership and our board on the reality that there is so much potential for our brand to be stronger than it is, but it’s going to require us to find the simple human truth that exists at the core of our brand and reposition ourselves to be successful in the marketplace. Step one was gaining some internal buy in. Once we got that, we moved into really extensive research- qualitative and quantitative research at a global scale. With those insights in hand, the next step was building our brand strategy and there were three components: the essence or positioning, our attributes, and our behaviors- because we know brand is not just how you think or how you speak, it’s how you act as well.

Drew: What was the next step?

The next step was to build the visual and verbal identity, our brand standards, and a toolkit so that team members in our very decentralized organization could start bringing the brand to life themselves. The next step, which I will say is still ongoing, is what we called our rolling rollout. Rather than a giant “ta-da” launch, we started our rollout in Uganda about a year ago at our global leadership gathering. We continued to evolve the brand, create more tools and resources, bring the brand to life, and help our field teams bring the brand to life as well. It was a detailed, multi-step process, handled largely by our in-house team.

Drew: Was any of the brand development outsourced at all?

Dara: It was. For the quantitative research, we did work with an outside firm. The majority of the qualitative research we handled in-house. For the brand strategy, we did outsource the first piece of that work as well. The visual and verbal identity, the rollout, all the tools, and the creation of the brand book, was all handled in-house.

Drew: What were some of the hurdles that you had to overcome in order to bring this program to fruition?

Dara: As I’ve always said, your first audience is your internal audience. I’d say bringing the team, the global team of 5,000 people, along with us in this process. Even just helping people see that brand is not bad. There was a view in an organization like ours that brand is selling out and that our work should just be able to stand on it’s own. That was certainly a hurdle, bringing the organization along. I would also say it was helping people believe in something that they’ve never seen before. They’ve never really seen a brand process or been inspired by a brand product and we had to bring them along in that. That was a challenge.

Drew: What were some of the other challenges?

Dara: The budget was absolutely a challenge too. It was daunting to think about creating an entire visual, verbal identity for a global organization and then rolling it out globally with what was originally a $50,000 budget for all of those steps. I had a team here who had never done brand work before, who I turned to and asked to be a partner and to do this work in addition to their normal day job. When I say everyone said it couldn’t be done, there were certainly moments where I thought to myself “what are we doing here? Can this actually be done?” We just decided failure wasn’t an option. The brand needed to be as strong as our global work and our global mission. We plowed through, but it was certainly a challenge. When you have a field-led organization that has a very diffuse strategy, how do you get to a common factor that is our singular human truth? Getting to that essence was really challenging for us, but we got there, it’s resonating and that’s powerful.

Drew: Was there an “a-ha” moment when the folks suddenly understood, because I think the issue of a nonprofit organization having a brand is an interesting one. Did you find that they suddenly went “oh” and lightbulbs went off because you suddenly got them to understand brand?

Dara: The lightbulbs went off at the right moment, but it was a real nailbiter. When we went to the global leadership gathering in Uganda, there was an hour-long presentation on where we’ve been, where we had come to, and how our brand is going to come to life. That was the moment where the lightbulbs went off. It’s because people all of a sudden could see themselves in the brand. What I realized is that the fear people had was that we were going to tell a story that wasn’t authentic to who we are. When they realized that the heart of the brand was totally rooted in authenticity and was just shining a bright light on our work in a way that gave a nod to the diversity of what we do but also spoke to what tied us together and what united us as a global group, that’s when people got it.

Drew: How did your targets react?

Dara: They were so moved and tearful and I had people, from our country director in Iraq to the woman who heads our programming in Nigeria, come to me and say “I have never been so proud to be a part of this organization.” That was the lightbulb moment. They saw themselves in it and then they understood what it is we’re trying to accomplish. It wasn’t until that point, though.

Drew: That’s a great story. How did you measure success with the rebranding?

Dara: Step one was clearly the response that we were getting internally, because in an organization that’s not centralized, our team members in the field actually have to activate and bring our brand to life and if they’re not feeling it, and they don’t believe in it, they’re not going to do it. The brand would fall apart. Step one was that people bought in. Every week, I get photos from people in the field who are so proud to share with us ways that they’re bringing the brand to life themselves consistently. That tells us that we’re getting the internal buy-in we need to continue to move forward.

Drew: Do you have other measures?

Dara: The other thing that we’re starting to see as we’re being more consistent and bringing this to life externally is obviously greater response rates in terms of increase in giving. We’re coming off of our strongest end of year in fundraising and we’re seeing people who are more engaged too. They’re more interested in spending time with our story and hearing more. All of those metrics are moving in the right direction and that tells us that our story not only resonates with us internally, but it’s also resonating with other people.

Drew: What would you say the biggest lessons learned from all of this are?

Dara: I think there’s been an evolution in brand development over the past 5-10 years. The days of the big “ta-da,” the big reveal, where you would do a giant brand launch and you’d have a thousand page brand book and you’d say “look, we’ve answered all these questions now go forth and conquer” are over. Iteration is now king. I think we learned that it was important for us to be willing to not answer all the questions and that’s why we’ve called it a rolling rollout, where we are engaging in the stakeholders that are key to bringing the brand to life and we’re getting their input along the way. We’re evolving little things along the way to make sure that the brand is really usable for people, and that it’s responsive to how people need to bring the brand to life within a framework. I think iteration is a big key lesson.

Content Marketing on a Planetary Scale (from Mars)

By 5pm, I’m typically famished. If we don’t eat dinner until 8 or so, I’m approaching demonic, ready to rage at the slightest provocation especially if it threatens to come between me and my pointy fork. So you can picture the scene the other night at an otherwise lovely restaurant as our persnickety waiter decided to take several minutes to describe the white wine reduction sauce with locally grown shallots in interminable detail. Let’s just say I wasn’t in my happy place.

I tell you all of this because my interview below with Rob Rakowitz, Global Director of Media at Mars is a feast of insights on content marketing you’ll want to ingest without delay. Rob, by the way, was a winner of the Content Marketing award from The CMO Club. In the spirit of an amuse-bouche, here are a few of the delectable nuggets to seek out in the passages below:

  • How Uncle Ben’s tested its way to success with video content
  • Why Whiskas created Kitten Kollege
  • Why even big brands need to stay opportunistic with their media budgets

Drew: Media is a really hard and complicated job these days. It must be very challenging to sort all of these choices out for all of these different brands.

Rob: Absolutely, it is. And the main thing that you can actually do in a very large global organization is give teams the resources to navigate because we are dealing in a complex world especially in terms of the multitudes of tradeoffs and the marketplace pitfalls. And then you shift over to the dialog on measurement, viewability, fraud, agency compensation – there is never a dull moment in the media business! And the only thing that you can do in this role is really equipping teams with the right navigation tools so that they can actually wade into this unknown and increasingly complex territory and be able to actually drive growth from it.

Drew: Tell me one story about you in your personal life or professional life that will help me understand what makes you tick?

Rob: I’m part of a competitive cycling team and these days there’s a lot of data available thanks to the Internet of things and sensors that can help analyze individual and team performances. I love being able to distill this data down to useful information, which is pretty much the same thing I do when I’m in the office. And of course, cycling brings multiple functions together just like the office. This is especially true when approach a big race, having people on a team actually work together in a high-performance capacity, determining distinct roles, much in the way that you would for launching a really great campaign. I have found it really helps to bring multiple perspectives around the table. Also from racing comes the understanding that there are certain points in times that you’ve got to peak. For brands, this means being able to actually stand for something that you recognize and knowing when is the right time to engage in topical social media and moments in culture that actually matters.

Drew: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from a peer and how has that influenced your career.

Rob: Keep things simple. Media is starting to hit more and more functions both within marketing and outside of it so it would be easy to make things complicated. I find that the more you can simplify down what it is that we’re trying to do from a vision perspective, the better an idea travels.

Drew: You received The CMO Club award for Content Marketing. What’s your overall approach to content?

Rob: We’ve done some absolutely fantastic content programs for Uncle Ben’s, Pedigree and Snickers. These brands truly understand that they need to reach more and more consumers and the way that they’re going to do that is not just by throwing advertising out there, but it’s by actually really figuring out what is their brand’s purpose, what is understanding culture and how can they actually provide the solution that brings the brand, consumer and customer together. It’s what I really like to call that idea of 4C Conversion, where we bring consumers, customers, communications and commerce closer together.

Drew: Let’s talk about Uncle Ben’s because I think some readers might scratch their heads and say, wait, Uncle Ben’s has a purpose?

Rob: Uncle Ben’s is about helping consumers make sure that they’re making great food choices, on a daily basis. It’s really interesting because when you get into the data. We find out that consumers who start meals with rice are more likely to choose a lean protein or a vegetable to go along with it. This actually leads to healthier outcomes from an eating perspective. And that’s actually what stands behind a lot of what we do from a content perspective and with a program like Ben’s Beginners, which aims to get kids and parents cooking together.

Drew: Got it. So what did you end up doing for Uncle Ben’s?

Rob: In the UK is we had this new ready-to-heat product that comes in this little pouch and is really quick and easy to make. What we found out was that consumers weren’t aware of it; they didn’t see it as being relevant. So luckily enough, we had smart agency folks and smart marketing folks — BBDO, MediaCom, and then our own internal associates, what we call our triads, working together. And what they decided is that a typical TV spot would fail, because it wasn’t going to reach the right audience and it wasn’t going to overcome the relevancy issue. So what we ended up doing was creating a series of short videos. Then we put them up online, looked at the behavior metrics, figured out which videos were popping and what recipes were actually working. The video idea, by the way, centered around a celebrity chef who shows up at a park, starts cooking meals, engages people who are living healthy and active lifestyles and shows them in two minutes how to actually cook a healthy meal.

Drew: Fun idea. What then?

Rob: With these eight videos that we had out there, we looked at the performance metrics. We then figured out how to take that two-minute video and cut it down to 30’s, which we could put on TV and various social channels (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram). It was a very content-driven idea backed up by behavioral data. We were able to use social media to make sure the content was as personal as possible. And it actually yielded some really nice business results for us.

Drew: Interesting that the whole program wasn’t 100% digital and that you ended up deploying TV as well?

Rob: I think that any marketer worth their salt today knows that if you’re dealing with mass audiences and mass reach, I think it’s not a question of “or” but it’s a question of “and.” What you want to have is a video-neutral approach where you’re thinking about multiple channels in combination. Are there certain brands where a digital-only approach will make sense? Absolutely. But for Uncle Ben’s, a combination of TV and digital was optimal.

Drew: How did you measure the success of the Uncle Ben’s program?

Rob: The two measures that we’re obsessed with are reach and sales. First, we look at the overall reach of the content program. And then also did some testing to actually make sure that there was a positive lift in sales. That’s generally, the way that we look at measurement. Now, within the campaign we look at behavioral metrics including likes, shares and comments. What we did for Uncle Ben’s was 100 percent behavioral, digital metrics that are available to a lot of marketers. And the question is are we truly leaning into those as the marketing community and embracing it as much as we could and should be. And I think that’s very much an agenda I had where a lot of my colleagues out there is taking more and more advantage of things and to drive better planning strategy and activation.

Drew: Let’s talk about what you did for Whiskas.

Rob: For Whiskas, we actually rolled out one of our first global content plays. Recognizing that people who are adopting cats or kittens rather weren’t equipped with all of the knowledge and insights that they should have as new pet owners, we created Kitten Kollege. Featuring irreverent tongue-in-check videos, we equipped kitten parents with all of the insight that they needed to understand the life stages and the leaps forward that their kitten is going through. Partnering with Google and YouTube and eventually some of our retail partners in local markets, we raised the brand’s profile, simultaneously educating and entertaining and then closing the gap with commerce.

Drew: I love that story because it fits into a framework that I call Marketing as Service in which marketing actually has value, inherent value, both obviously the entertainment but also the education. One thing that someone might say is well, you educated everybody about kittens, but what connects that to the brand Whiskas?

Rob: We did that via a serial content series that was done with a lot of the insights from our Pet Institute in Waltham, UK. This is where a lot of our pet research happens. So a lot of the insights that we shared were actually proprietary to Mars and we were able to connect that back to Whiskas.

Drew: So you mentioned global for Whiskas–did that mean that Kitten Kollege got translated into multiple languages?

Rob: Yes, it did. And we have been rolling it out market by market. In certain markets, I think we have it dubbed and other markets we actually have it subtitled. But yes, it is a global program.

Drew: From a media perspective standpoint, give me two “do’s” and one “don’t” for 2017.

Rob: First on my do list–get obsessed over the business challenge. Don’t be lazy about briefing the agency and really being able to uncover where your growth would be coming from and how that translates down to a real tangible consumer behavior. My second do — embrace the ability to be agile. Don’t plan your full budget to the last cent, hold some funds back for a timely opportunity. And my don’t — don’t message push. Think about creating an experience and a solution.

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.