Why Big Ideas Still Matter

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

CMO Insights: Banking on a Priceless Network

One of the joys of my long-term association with The CMO Club is that I have had the pleasure of getting to know a convocation of really interesting and smart people.  Among my true buds is Tim Suther, whose top secret job as Managing Director at JPMorgan Chase has prevented us from talking on the record for years now.  Nonetheless, we’ve found many other things to discuss, from the rise of digital marketing to the legends of rock n’ roll to the latest cool iPhone app.  No matter the subject, I always walk away having learned something and more to his credit, I’m pumped up to do or try something new.

So imagine my enthusiasm when I learned that The CMO Club had honored Tim with its President’s Circle Award and this meant he’d not only need to chat with me on the record but also we’d be able to talk about something he’s a master at — the fine art of networking.  That conversation follows and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Drew: How important is having a strong peer network to doing your job well?  

I can’t think of a single successful executive who doesn’t have a strong peer network.  It is fundamental to success.  No one knows it all.  No one is awesome at everything.  Furthermore, many great breakthroughs thread together previously disparate concepts.  So, having a diverse network enables the divergent thinking needed to succeed in an ever faster moving world.  So, want to make a difference in business, or for that matter, the world, build your peer network.

Drew: Making time for networking is always a challenge.  How much time do you invest in peer to peer exchanges and how do you rationalize this investment?  

I don’t have a firm budget time for this, because it’s integral to what I do.  I travel frequently and try to use the time at the ends of normal business hours to meet and listen to people.  Meeting for an early coffee or an adult beverage after work, pre-dinner are my favorites.  I like the informality of this format, because it promotes relationships over transactions.

Drew: Effective networks are ones in which there is a lot of give and take and some would say, start with giving and the taking will follow.  What’s your approach?  Do you keep a mental scorecard?  How do you handle the takers?  

My approach to peer networking is to be a maker not a taker.   I try to be very accessible….I’ll take your calls, respond to your emails, etc…but my Spidey Sense is also active; ultimately the relationship has to have a mutual value exchange.  I also want diversity in my network…a blend of millenials to boomers, startups to established companies, senior executives to specialists.  The mosaic of perspectives is valuable to me.

Drew: Are there any software tools that you use that are particularly helpful in keeping up with your network?  

I’m pretty prosaic with software tools to keep up:  LinkedIn is my primary/preferred tool, although I do have some Twitter/Facebook connections.  I capture business card contact info (phone/email) onto my Mac, just using the basis contacts software.  That’s all pretty traditional stuff.  One thing I do that’s a bit different, is I write a POV on interesting companies (and the people that work for them)…I have hundreds of these POVs in the cloud, accessible on demand.  I find that helpful in a world where it’s easy for everything to sound the same.

Drew: Looking ahead to 2016, what is the single biggest challenge that you’d like to overcome? 

Every day is a learning opportunity and 2016 will be no different.  Keeping in tune with the customer mindset, and the various new ways to delight them will remain top of mind.

Final Note: Given its importance to career success in any field, I actually devote two chapters (Networking & Power Networking) to this topic in my upcoming book, The CMOs Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing, which as you may already know, is available for pre-order this very minute on Amazon.