The Power of Crystal Clear Positioning to Turnaround Your Brand

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

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


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

You can listen to the episode here.

These are some of our favorite moments from the episode:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode 27: Bank on a Unique Brand Image

One of the most difficult but important things marketers can do is find a way to make their brand stand out from the competition. This is an especially weighty challenge in the financial industry, as Suzanne Copeland, the former CMO of Sterling National Bank, will tell you. Faced with regulatory restrictions and fierce competition, Copeland applied renegade thinking to separate Sterling from the pack. In this episode of the Renegade Thinkers Unite podcast, Copeland explains how the bank’s brand positioning allows it to provide one-of-a-kind customer experiences. (These show notes were prepared by Jay Tellini.)

You can listen to the podcast below or continue reading for this episode’s highlights.

Creating a unique brand experience is crucial not only to marketing, but also to business success as a whole. At Sterling, this was no easy feat. As Copeland points out, “Everybody tells you that their customer relationship is better. It’s kind of hard to really tease that out to some specifics that explain exactly how you’re better.”

Abstract problems like these require creative solutions. For example, Copeland’s content marketing strategy at Sterling went against the grain to reach to its audience, and you may be surprised to learn that digital marketing had little to do with it. The company wanted to bring its message to the consumer’s doorstep—literally. The finished product for Sterling was Connect Magazine, a print publication featuring the success stories of some of its clients. Copeland says, “We have been publishing Connect Magazine for over seven years now, and a key feature is that we do client profiles. We have a cover story with a client talking about their business.”

Connect Magazine continues to spread brand awareness for both client businesses and Sterling National Bank. Copeland continues, “[Featured clients] sprinkle in where Sterling has helped them with their business.” By mentioning how the bank has assisted clients, the publication also gets people talking about Sterling. As Copeland notes, “There is some relationship building with regard to the prospects and, quite frankly, most of Connect is mailed to prospects and that helps build our brand. But at the same time, it is going to our clients…It is also creating brand ambassadors that will praise our services.”

Like Copeland, many marketers face the challenge of presenting a uniform brand image. The team at Sterling is constantly maneuvering to keep all employees on the same page. “We have a lot of different sales people with a very specific approach,” Copeland says. “It’s really hard to be efficient with that. So, for us, the challenge is how do you have a really lean organization? How do you create some level of consistency and some configurability so that you can address vertical markets?”

Copeland urges marketers everywhere to hone in on their core business to find a unifying message. She says, “The other thing now I think that we can do ourselves is just be maniacal about focusing on our business strategy, really understanding what is it this company is doing.”

Perhaps the biggest blunder a marketing team could make is to seclude itself from the company’s other operations. “The biggest ‘don’t’ for me is getting cornered in the marketing world,” says Copeland. “You’ve got to be able to have relationships beyond that in the organization, and really understand what other parts of the organization are doing, and not just say this is the marketing domain and that’s the only place that I stay.”

Episode 13: Thriving in the ‘Give to Get’ Economy

Every brand strives to build emotional connections with its constituents but few have succeeded in the manner of Pete Krainik, founder and CEO of The CMO Club. Starting from scratch in 2007, Pete has built a remarkably collaborative membership of over 800 senior marketers that meet regularly in 22 US cities and several more around the world. In this episode (click here to listen now), we’ll reveal some of the secrets to The CMO Club’s success in recruiting new members and creating unmatched event experiences.

On this show, Pete and I talked a lot about the need to cut through in various ways. One is by building elements of surprise into your events regardless of the target keeping in mind that there is no B2B or B2C only H2H (as my friend Bryan Kramer would say). For the club’s twice a year US summits, Pete has arranged for a wide range of surprising guests including John Legend, Keith Urban, Rita Wilson, The Band Perry and Christina Perry among many others. At the most recent summit in Marina Del Ray, Rob Morrow, Melissa Ethridge and rappers Nelly and IT all made surprise appearances. Having seen all of these performances and watched the reactions of CMOs who are meticulous about getting the most out of every minute, I can attest to the fact that Pete’s unique approach has the desired impact.

We also covered what I call the “Give to Get Economy.” Give to get applies to just about any brand situation but is most easily understood when thinking about Google and Facebook.  Google gives us all access to a universe of information and in turn, they get our eyeballs.  Facebook gives us access to 1.8 billion of our closest friends and they too get our eyeballs. This value exchange is remarkably profitable for both Google and Facebook.

For The CMO Club, give to get means giving prospects a free dinner so they can “taste” the experience or sharing content that CMOs find useful via their website and mobile app.  It also means encouraging members to give their assistance to other members recognizing that karma is indeed a boomerang. The result is a highly engaged membership and a marketing lesson for all of you Renegade Thinkers.

You can also find this episode on iTunes, iHeartRadio and Stitcher.


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.