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.

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.

CMO Insights: What’s the Story with Storytelling?

Douwe BergsmaIt was one of those rare Los Angeles days — smog free, blue skies and the air was crisp.  A perfect set up for what I hoped would be a perfect pitch.  We were sitting in a diner right across the street from the bank headquarters in Pasadena and we were the opposite of stressed out.  Like well-prepared boxers, we were ready, really ready. We were confident in our strategic sharpness and that we had the big idea.  We even had most of the critical tactical details worked out to deliver a successful launch campaign. So when we walked over to the bank about 15 minutes before the appointed hour, witnesses might have seen a slight swagger in our step. Little did we know that our swagger was about to be shattered.

Entering the bank, we enlightened the dowdy receptionist that we had arrived and to our alert our future client of our presence. The first hint of trouble came in the form of a slightly raised eyebrow followed by a hesitant call upstairs. She then, as nicely as she could muster, told us that our contacts weren’t there.  For maybe the 2nd time in my career, I went ashen.  Where were they?  What had gone wrong?  Had we flown to California for nothing?  A cellphone call revealed the truth — they were waiting for us in West LA. You see, we were pitching a new debit card from OneWest bank in partnership with Magic Johnson enterprises and when our bank contact said “headquarters” he meant Magic’s headquarters. This was a forty-minute drive on a good day and we had maybe 14 minutes.  ­

Running to the car with one of my associates, it was me against every driver in LaLaLand.  Dodging, weaving, and topping 90 MPH often, Dale Earnhardt had nothing on me that day.  With the pedal to the medal, my heart and my mind were racing as well. Was our biggest pitch of the year about to crash and burn?  Could we recover from such a seemingly careless misstep? Meanwhile, we heard from the rest of the team that they had been stopped by the police for making an illegal u-turn and that we should start without them. Are you kidding me? Start with 2 of our 5 presenters? So we sped ahead, arrived in record time, set up our laptop, tried to hide the sweat on our brows and waited for Magic Johnson to enter the room.

SO at this point in my story, hopefully you are wondering whether or not we got the business? Or maybe you are thinking what kind of idiot doesn’t check the location of the meeting? Or you’re wondering what Magic Johnson is like in person? Or you’re asking yourself what’s the purpose of Drew’s story? And let me answer the last question first. My goal was to get your attention through a bit of storytelling, to share a conflict, in this case, three conflicts, man versus nature (the traffic), man versus man (the pitch) and man versus himself (the fear) and then to leave you hanging — at least for now. Because among the biggest insights gleaned from my extensive interview with George Pacific CMO Douwe Bergsma is that not every brand story needs to be resolved in a nice little bow.  There’s a lot more to this story so please read on.

Drew: Recently Georgia-Pacific’s advertising campaigns received some attention, including Co.Create’s most creative ads, Ad Age’s Creativity 50, the Cojones Award and the CMO Club’s award for Creativity & Storytelling. Was the storytelling approach the driver behind the new work?

Douwe: It is driven by vision and strategy changes and by many people at Georgia-Pacific and our partners. Our new storytelling approach was one of the major strategic changes.

Drew: Can you give me some background on how you’re approaching storytelling at Georgia-Pacific?

Douwe: We’ve partnered with David Altschul, Jim Hardison and their team at Character and adopted storytelling as a strategic framework. It is not about storytelling as in a different way of labeling or describing advertising. It’s more of a fundamental approach to how to view your communication efforts across all touch points. We approach our brand communication as if we are writing a movie or a country song or doing improv theater. You do that by starting with the story framework.   If you visualize an iceberg, the storytelling part is the part that’s above water and the story framework is the larger part that’s underneath the water.

Drew: That’s very different from what I’ve been hearing about storytelling. Tell me more about the framework.

Douwe: You’ve got to identify key elements that are important for your total story. It is the part that the author will know but that the audience wouldn’t, but it’s implied. So for example, within the story framework, we first and foremost determine the fundamental human truth for our brand. It’s very similar to what others call brand purpose, brand assets, and brand values, but we call it the fundamental human truth.

Drew: So how is this different than purpose-driving marketing?

Douwe: For us, purpose or essence is a key element of the framework but it is where a lot of other consultants and companies would stop. In the past, I have done both, the purpose-driven approach and the story-telling framework, and could clearly see the difference, side by side. The big element that you need to understand for any story is what conflict is inherently the story’s framework. And like any storyteller would tell you, the conflict is the motor of any story. If the conflict stops, the story stops. It is the element that continues to propel the story forward and drive the intrigue and engagement of your audience.

Drew: Seems like this is very different from my packaged goods days during which we created a problem that the product could easily solve?

Douwe: True. Most marketers through the decades are focused on avoiding and/or solving conflicts.

Working on different brands, whether it was shampoo, snacks or paper plates, we typically identified a solution to make any problem go away…and so did the story. The next thing you know, you need to start all over again. Instead of embracing a conflict, many brands say, “we need to avoid them because we don’t like conflicts.”

Drew: Okay, I’m ready to embrace conflicts but give me an example of what you mean?

Douwe: We basically seek out what is the key conflict in our brands. For example, the Brawny conflict is between being tough and being gentle. And, in an ideal world, the conflicts are two positives, like safety and freedom. You want both, but sometimes, they clash.

After the classic man versus nature, the next level of conflict is man against man, but the in best stories the main characters are going through an internal conflict and for example become more brave and take more risk as the story progresses. We try to seek those same elements for our brands along with five other key characteristics of a story. And then our experts at Character write the story framework book.

NOTE: The rest of this really enlightening interview will be posted in the next 2 days. There we dive into how storytelling changed agency relationships, staffing and a whole lot more. Oh and yes, we did get the Magic Card business. But that’s a story for another day.  

CMO Insights: Talk About Rising to a Challenge

If you ever had any doubt about the expanding role of the CMO you need look no further than Kate Chinn.  As the head of marketing for Rockefeller Center and several other properties owned by international developer Tishman Speyer, Kate covers a lot of territory and based on the recent successful relaunch of the Rainbow Room, she does it all quite well.  This particular initiative required Kate and her team to get involved with naming, experience design, uniform selection, operations and and eventually even some advertising!  This was not a departmental “land grab” but rather her way of making sure that everything about these new properties including the Rainbow Room itself, a new bar called SixtyFive and a separate event space were fully differentiated and ultimately marketable. Having done all that and more, Kate was recognized by The CMO Club with a CMO Award and in the process, earned the “honor” of an interview with yours truly.  

Drew: Can you provide some background on your marketing objectives and so forth in terms of your responsibilities?

I oversee marketing for several businesses owned and operated by Tishman Speyer. Tishman Speyer is a real estate firm, but within their portfolio is a group of businesses that doesn’t necessarily fall under a typical real estate firm’s umbrella. Included in that category would be Top of the Rock Observation Deck, Rockefeller Center, Rainbow Room and the event venue 620 Loft & Garden, for instance.

Drew: I just saw that the recently re-launched Rainbow Room made a list of top new places to visit in the city. When you’re launching a new product, or re-launching an old product like The Rainbow Room, how do you approach the marketing?

Yes – we just opened the Rainbow Room in October of this year. With this re-launch in particular, there were very high expectations, especially since the Rainbow Room is such a famous, historic, and iconic venue. For the last 2 years, the marketing team has closely worked with the operations/management team to define the business goals, in order to correctly position each segment of the new Rainbow Room in the marketplace. You can’t effectively market something until you have a solid idea of what it is going to be, how you want it to be perceived, and what the business goals are.

What made this even more challenging was the fact that it wasn’t just the Rainbow Room, it was the Rainbow Room as an event venue, the Rainbow Room as a Sunday brunch location; and the Rainbow Room as a destination for Monday night dinner and entertainment. At the same time, we launched SixtyFive, the brand new bar and cocktail lounge, with its own identity and marketing needs. Finally, there will be an executive dining club that is by invitation only, which also required us to develop a look and feel, menu covers, invitations, etcetera. With new businesses, you find yourself doing anything and everything that needs to happen in order to get that business open, regardless of whether or not it is actually “marketing”. My team was involved in everything from logo design to uniform selection to actually naming the bar “SixtyFive Bar & Cocktail Lounge”.

Drew: Can you talk specifically about your channel communication strategy and marketing mix?

It was a different strategy for each of the businesses. For the events business, we began advertising a year out because we know that many weddings book over a year in advance, and we wanted people to know that the Rainbow Room was coming back. Once we set that opening date of October 5th, we pulled the trigger on advertising in some of the larger and more upscale bridal publications in particular.

Our biggest challenge was that we had absolutely no photography assets. We created a beautiful brochure out of complete air. Our ads were very vague, but at least contained the Rainbow Room logo and we had to have something for the sales team, so it forced us to be very creative!

Sunday Brunch is a beautiful, elaborate set up with a round buffet table set up on the dance floor and every kind of food you can imagine from around the globe. It was so impressive, that we decided we really couldn’t pay to market that until we had a photo of the actual brunch. Monday night dinner and entertainment also came later and are still developing as we continue to evolve our entertainment strategy. The first performance we had was The Roots. We managed to flip a New York Times full page out right before opening that made a big splash.

Drew: How important is digital in the mix of the things that you’re doing for these various business segments?

We’ve spent the majority of digital resources up to this point developing the websites and OpenTable integration, and optimizing AdWords. Obviously search is big, so we’ve definitely put money toward that. We have a social media program in the works. We’re starting to do listings, but again, we’ve only just gotten image collateral and it’s limited.

We also have a PR group working with us specifically on F&B, and we’ve had a lot of positive press just since it opened. It’s starting to catch on by word of mouth.

Drew: Is that word of mouth a bankable, sustainable kind of thing or is it the kind of thing you get a lift from at the launch and then requires you to come up with creative ways to keep it going?

Speaking specifically to SixtyFive – the bar at the Rainbow Room… This has been my first time doing any sort of marketing surrounding a bar and we planned to do an initial push with PR. We have found that with Top of the Rock, word of mouth is so important, and keeps people coming back. In fact, according to some audience research we conducted, over 50% claim that “word of mouth” was their main reason for visiting. I have to believe the same thing would be true for a premier cocktail bar at Rockefeller Center. So I think it’s a continual effort – and really relies on a great guest experience much more so than anything paid.

Drew: What you’ve been able to do is what a lot of marketers dream of doing. In theory, you get to have an impact on a large part of the customer experience. Many times marketers are just handed the product, and handed the customer service, and handed the operations and told “go sell this”. If you picked one of these properties, what kinds of things did you have in mind as you were thinking through the customer experience?

With Rainbow Room, a lot of thought went into the logo, the design and the architecture with the goal being a fresh modern take on the classic Rainbow Room. We didn’t want to change the essence of the Rainbow Room everybody remembers. In fact, there are landmark elements that were refurbished but otherwise remain exactly the same, for instance the chandeliers, dome ceiling, revolving dance floor, brass railings, glass bollards. Generally speaking, it’s a classic, elegant experience, but it’s been refreshed so it feels fresh and modern.

Now the bar, SixtyFive, is completely new. The ceiling is dimensional with beautiful geometric patterns and finished in metallic leaf. So it has a kind of other-worldly feeling in there, it’s really cool. It also has a brand new outdoor terrace with seating and obviously, incredible views of the NYC skyline.

Drew: What steps do you have to take to build credibility with the board or the CEO in order to accomplish your marketing goals?

Because we work for a real estate company, we have to take the time to explain the necessity of marketing these non-core businesses. As long as we are very, very clear and confident on what we need and why, they tend to trust our marketing expertise, especially given the success of similar businesses such as Top of the Rock and the event venue 620 Loft & Garden.

Drew: What role of social play for one or all of these five parts of the new Rainbow Room?

Our hope is to have a social media team pushing out engaging content that will spur people to talk about it. We are trying to include our social media handles and hashtags on as many of our materials as possible so they will be known and used by our guests. We’re talking about putting them on the menus now to make sure that people have them top of mind when they’re at The Rainbow Room, because it’s a natural place for people to take photos. We’re really trying to build awareness. And by pushing out our own content, hopefully we can get conversations started and just remind people about it.

We also have a social media hub on our newly redesigned website rockefellercenter.com where we pull in and sort photos. We’ve got #rockeats, #rockshops, #rockcenter, etc. I can ultimately see Rainbow Room and SixtyFive being part of it as well.

CMO Insights: Marketing Innovation

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Look around your home, and you’ll find that you own at least one product by 3M. Chances are you own many. And the brand isn’t only an American staple, it’s made its way into marketplaces across the globe. From Post-It Notes and reflective traffic signs to your dentist’s favorite cleaning tools, 3M prides itself on providing useful products to customers around the world.

Part of what keeps 3M so successful is its ability to innovate and adapt to consumers’ changing needs in the digital space. Heading up this effort is Raj Rao, who chatted with me during the CMO Club Awards, where he took home a much-deserved Programmatic Marketing Award. And with a title like VP for Global eTransformation, it’s no wonder—Rao lives and breathes marketing innovation on a day-to-day basis. Enjoy, as he gives us a glimpse into the eCommerce operations behind 3M.

Drew: I love that your title suggests forward movement and innovation. What are your responsibilities?
My role in the organization is to use social and digital channels to strengthen 3M’s product innovation and eCommerce commercialization programs product roadmap activity for multiple brands in several global locations. As a marketer, my responsibility is to drive digital excellence through the adoption of world-class cloud and on-premise services that enable our marketers to get to real-time engagement and strengthen the competitiveness of 3M brands in industrial, professional, government and retail channels. A second key responsibility is to foster new skills and capabilities at all levels of our marketing and sales teams so that they can embrace new tools and insights that accelerate our commercialization programs.

Drew: A CMO has a lot of choices in terms of where he/she invests their time. What have been your top priorities in the last 12 months?
The top 4 priorities for my team have been a) content excellence programs that improve our social and online brand engagement programs, b) ROI and marketing analytics that focus our investments on the right portfolio of programs, c) eCommerce webstore functionality and SEO/organic search optimization to lead to higher sales conversion, and d) migration and upgrade of 3M marketing platforms to responsive design capabilities, leading to optimized desktop, tablet and mobile experiences.

Drew: Have there been any big surprises in terms of what’s worked really well and what hasn’t?
The big wins have been the real-time personalization using heuristics and our self-solve tool box. We have seen a significant increase in eCommerce conversion and lower costs of sales lead management as a result of these programs. I was also surprised at the rapid rise of marketplaces in China (like TMall), which eclipses all other 3M eCommerce channels in the APAC region. What has not delivered for 3M is apps. We have not been successful at driving branded engagement in the markets where we have invested. I am not sure that there is a real opportunity for branded apps.

Drew: Many people don’t realize that a huge part of the 3M business model is dedicated to developing new technologies. What roles do technology and innovation play in your marketing strategies?
We strive to create extended product experiences through digital channels. This has been evident in the cloud library service that we have successfully launched, in the custom car wrap business and in our health care brands. The digital channels play a key part in providing a differentiated user experience in all these businesses. Recently we unveiled an innovative partnership between our Post It brand and Evernote. We have an exciting pipeline of innovative solutions that exemplify the inherent technology strengths in diverse 3M markets and channels. Our marketing strategies are to promote user engagement and strengthen our insights so that we can drive focused commercialization programs.

Drew: Content marketing is a hot topic at the moment.  What’s your perspective on content in terms of its effectiveness? Are you increasing your investment in this area?
Yes, we do believe that content marketing holds the key to success with our top two digital priorities. Through our work in the healthcare (dental) industry, where we’ve invested in several content marketing programs, we have seen strong progress with eCommerce sales and actionable insights based on customer engagement. In the social media programs, content marketing is driving much stronger brand engagement, fueling the growth of advocates and influential followers on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. In China, our content programs in TMall and Weibo are leading to remarkable improvements in sales for both B2B and B2C sales.

Drew: How do you evaluate/measure the success of your marketing?  Are there some channels that work a lot better for you than others?
We measure 3 ways: the adoption of world-class tools and processes by brand teams and product marketers; the impact of the programs by audience and stage of engagement; and, the competitive benchmark performance. It is clear to us that our brand URLs are particularly effective for conversion tactics, while YouTube and social channels are well-suited to drive contextual engagement. The call center and webchat are very useful for issue resolution and responding to user issues. I am very impressed by the role that Amazon is playing in delivering high quality eCommerce programs for our consumer portfolio, and increasingly with our long tail B2B markets where we can increase market coverage and deliver new product applications.

Drew: 3M is the parent company of nearly a dozen different brands and operates within nearly every market segment. How do you stay close to your customers when you operate in so many markets and have so many different types of customers?  
3M has over 25 strategic global brands in consumer, industrial, professional and electronic markets. We also have a large portfolio of local brands that are organized by regional or local market. The key to success is the sustained investment in technology platforms that enable these brands to deliver compelling customer experiences. The $1.5 billion R&D budget provides a continuous supply of new formulations, advanced packaging formats, improved sustainability and differentiated benefits that are continuous and aligned to mega trends. We like to keep the customer insights separate yet connected with the technology roadmaps. This enables us to deliver a concurrent stream of “new to market Class V” innovations like the 3M Cloud Library, with “adjacent innovation Class III” products like Scotch Brite brand dish wands.  In fact, the diversity of brands, customer touch points and technology platforms is a tremendous source of strength for 3M. It drives our competitiveness and provides an endless stream of innovation outcomes.

Drew: Innovation is a sexy word but not as sexy to a CEO as ROI. Have you been able to link your innovative marketing activities to the kinds of business metrics favored by CEOs?
Our marketing activities enable the commercialization of 3M Innovation. Our CEO has challenged the teams to achieve a 40% NPVI metric by 2016. This means that new products and services need to account for 40% of 3M’s revenue in 2016. We are not far from that metric, but it is challenging to meet that goal while continuing to delivering 8-10% EPS growth each year. Sometimes this causes a paradox of choice. Should I optimize the current portfolio to drive margins, or should I create new products and invest in telling a new story to my customers? I think it’s a fine balance. Marketing activities like social media programs and YouTube video enable us to remain connected with influencers, while eCommerce initiatives allow us to test price points and packaging configurations ahead of finely-tuned broad market execution. Our CEO also wants our brands to exemplify the innovation positions in their markets in a manner that supports higher prices and premium margins. This can only be achieved when marketing activities are closely aligned to these objectives and allow us control over the conversations we need to have with the customers, versus relinquishing that to the channels.

Drew: How are you integrating social media into marketing efforts at 3M? Have social platforms proved to be a valuable channel for your brands?
Yes, social media has been a significant driver to value to our brands and corporate reputation. Recently, Interbrand called out our social media efforts as a key contributor to our position on the Global 100 Power Brands list. It provides the means for engagement with investors, employees, customers and media. Each of them is a voice for our brand and our global programs. Social media has also become a source for inspired ideas that translate to new products. For example, in China we developed a new line of pedestrian safety solutions, based in large part on social media listening programs that identified unmet needs and a groundswell of interest in new solutions. We also have used social media as a means to drive new product reviews that enable us to have stronger engagement with trade channels. By knowing how customers use our products in daily situations, we are better positioned to place the products in the right store aisle, optimize search results on digital eCommerce platform and train the instore sales personnel on what to recommend. In Latin America, some of the brands are using social media channels like Facebook to lunch new products. This is a really interesting proposition for 3M since it allows us to rapidly assess buyer sentiment.

Drew: Finally, I’ve heard it said , especially when it comes to the customer experience. Do you agree with that notion that “marketing is everything and everything is marketing,” and if so, how have you extended the boundaries of your job beyond the normal purview of the CMO?  
This is a really interesting point. My perspective is that the CMO needs to have strong operational knowledge of sales and customer service. Customers no longer follow a linear path to purchase, nor are they tied to any single channel. They are using digital tools like never before, amplifying brand experiences without any relationship boundaries and demanding more service options as part of the product purchase. So, the role of CMO needs to have that broader perspective on the customers’ experience journey and be prepared to generate appropriate content for that diversity. The big challenge is designing learning experiences for different levels of the organization that foster a new level of understanding, yet challenge us to break free from current channel or buyer/persona silos that are no longer relevant. To achieve this, we need to have courage and be prepared to risk losing some of the cultural heritage that has become embedded in our operational DNA. 3M is very well positioned for this change, and has already taken big steps in several business teams to make the leap forward.