RENEGADE THINKING from the CEO of Renegade, the social media & marketing agency that helps clients make more out of less by transforming communications into "Marketing as Service."

Meet Emilie Baltz, Food Experience Designer Extraordinaire

02/24/15

emilie baltz

After hearing Emilie Baltz speak at a PSFK conference about Lickestra (an orchestra made of ice cream lickers!) I felt compelled to learn more about her and her creative process.  Her ideas were simply too original to ignore and her workspace seemed like a foreign country — I mean how exactly does one get hired to develop a drink experience for the Museum of Sex?  So we talked.  In fact, after my recorder failed the first time, she graciously agreed to chat again resulting in the interview below.   We covered a lot of ground while I circled around my primary question — how could we non-artists be more creative?

Not surprisingly, Emily did not provide a pat answer since originality and creativity are the result of several factors including perspective, process, personality, practice, passion and whole bunch of other things that don’t start with P.  So enjoy the interview and stay tuned for a follow up article that attempts to clarify how we all can (at least try to) be more creative.

Drew: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your interests as an artist?

I work as a food and experience designer as well as an artist and educator, and my interest is primarily in understanding how sensory experience can change our perception of taste. That’s been my focus for the last few years. And I come from a background in screenwriting and industrial design as well as modern dance and photography, so I sort of blend all those experiences like a cook in the kitchen to ultimately bring an idea to life in multiple dimensions.

DrewTo begin discussing the creative process, maybe we could start with Lickestra and you can talk through how it came into being.
LICKESTRA3@emiliebaltzLickestra is a licking ice-cream orchestra. The project was created as a food design and smart object project, developed in collaboration with Carla Diana, who works at the intersection of technology and design, while I work at the intersection of food and design. So Lickestra became a project where we basically poked and tasted and rubbed things together to understand what it was that we wanted to do. We asked ourselves, what if we started to find ways where sound and food could intersect? To do that, we started bringing technology into a variety of food materials, and that included making something that we called a jam band session.

Prototyping led us to discover that the most fun thing you could do was to bite something or use your mouth and then make sound. That was very novel and got a lot of great positive feedback. Through that, we just ended up testing a lot of different materials and realized that here was ice cream, this thing that already had a built-in gestural interface that asked you to lick. From there, it just very easily then developed into Lickestra, where participants got to lick a series of conductive ice cream cones that would trigger different tones and sounds.

Drew: When you’re initially running through ideas, how do you get past that prototyping stage and know how and when to take the next step?
This is where the critical mind comes in to play. It has everything to do with the knowledge of the landscape that you’re in. Some ideas we have, but have already been done, so they’re automatically off the table. Other ideas we come up with are just not as clear in their direction. I think the best ideas are ones that you look at and immediately say, oh yeah, oh duh, that works. That’s the best way I can describe it.

To get there, one needs a process and one needs clarity in the process because the “duh” is really the revelation that all the pieces are fitting together. It’s saying we want to make food and sound come together, we want to make it interactive and physical, we want to be delightful and joyful, we want to make a band. Those are our self-imposed constraints. Then we come up with some ideas and ask ourselves which ones we find more interesting. We usually decide this based on our emotional reaction to them, but the decision also comes from some training and an ability to look at them objectively and decide whether or not an idea actually fits within our constraints that we’ve set. Drawing helps you organize the thoughts and prototyping actually helps you see really what that thought looks like and figure out if it works or doesn’t work.

Drew: Can you talk a little bit about the recent project you created at the bar Play in the Museum of Sex?
PAREDOILIA2©EMILIEBALTZ PAREDOILIA2EMILIEBALTZWe had the idea to give desire a form, which naturally lends itself to food and drink because that’s where we become the most emotional in our consumer habits. The most natural venue for this was a bar. I served as the Art Director for Play and developed the brand and interiors with the Museum of Sex, as well as architect Eric Mailaender and restaurant consultant Brendan Spiro. In addition, I developed an experimental cocktail menu that presented artist crafted cocktails that push our relationship to desire through drink. The first cocktail I developed was with the Dutch London-based artist Bart Hess and called Pareidolia. It’s a black porcelain plate that has a ribbed texture, almost like this alien skin. When I contacted Bart for this project, it was with an interest in looking at gestural interfaces, because I think so much of our sensory communication also comes through literal muscle memory.

When we started working together, I was poking around with him and looking at projects and saw this piece of fabric that he had developed, which is totally alien and very weird looking. We both decided that it was really very interesting, because you naturally sort of wanted to lick it but also didn’t want to lick it. It was so bizarre and alien, you couldn’t really understand what it was, but it was incredibly suggestive as a form. And so part of the intent with Pareidolia was to offer this vessel, and then through its usage what you actually end up seeing is a visual landscape of people bending over and licking, like a piece of performance art.

Though the artist isn’t present, all these guests are engaging in this really intimate action in a public space. And it’s great that it took place at the Museum of Sex, one of the institutions that I think is so interesting because it does allow people the permission to look and now with Play, the permission to act on their desires. This is especially true in American culture, where the topic of sex and sexuality is still continually taboo. It doesn’t have to be weird for it to be fun.`ss in other dimensions and in other work. It’s all about getting perspective.

Drew: Can you talk about the LO.V.E. Foodbook and how that came into being?
The L.O.V.E Foodbook was inspired by working with the Museum of Sex while I’d been researching aphrodisiacs to make a prototype café in the basement called Oral Fix before beginning to work on Play. What was amazing to me during this research was finding that all of the definitions of aphrodisiac were archaic: stories and mythologies about things like Casanova and Greco-Roman times and Montezuma. It seemed to me like we were in a time when we should have new stories and new languages around this idea.

So I ended up working with a French publisher in Paris and proposed this idea that we would make a cookbook that was about love. We put together a list of chefs that we would approach and ask to translate a definition of love in their material: food. That’s how the L.O.V.E. Foodbook was born, consciously chosen to be described as love rather than desire, because I think desire is actually quite linear and love is much more complex and in its complexity much more representative of contemporary culture.

Drew: What are you working on now and what do you see in the near future in terms of artistic endeavors?
I’m most interested in performative pedagogy, a term I’m toying with where the “education” exists as an act, both witnessed and performed by an audience, in which we learn by doing, not simply watching. I believe that education exists everywhere and I’d love to be able to educate people on just how much of an experience taste is, rather than merely flavor. I’ve been doing these more performative dinners. I actually just came back from Stockholm this week with Brooklyn Brewery Chef Andrew Gerson and we held a dinner in a former nuclear reactor.

This is exactly the type of thing I would like to keep doing, because here were these incredible settings and it was completely transformative. You’re totally out of your world and out of your comfort zone. The goal of the night was to create an experience that was fueled by taste and would allow guests to explore not only a part of themselves through ingestion, but also a part of their city that they had never seen before. I think what that does is start to cultivate curiosity. That’s what I hope to do, to cultivate curiosity, because with that you get people who are empathetic, who are playful, who are collaborative and who have interest in others.

Marketing Music’s Biggest Night w/ Evan Greene of The Grammys

02/7/15

Evan Greene_Recording AcademyIf you think the nominees for the GRAMMY awards are nervous, imagine for a moment you’re the CMO of what is officially known as The Recording Academy.  That man is Evan Greene and every year he is tasked with outdoing the previous year, a bar that keeps getting higher and higher.

In 2014 for example, TV ratings were the 2nd highest in 15 years, reaching over 28 million viewers who in turn generated roughly 15 million tweets and 13 million Facebook interactions. That’s a whole lot of buzz, buzz that is by no means accidental.  Evan and his team, supported by long-time agency Chiat/Day, continue to find innovative ways to engage, inspire and motivate an army of fans to not just watch but also share their experience.  This fan-centric approach requires management of thousands of little pieces, but Evan has done it in style, and it’s no surprise that he won a Marketing Innovation Award at this year’s CMO Awards, sponsored by The CMO Club.  Here’s our interview just in time for the show Sunday night and to send good karma out to Evan in LA.

Drew: One of the presumed reasons some CMOs don’t innovate is that there is more risk involved. Is there a tolerance for risk in your organization and/or do you have ways of mitigating the risks involved in bringing truly innovative programs to market?

There is tolerance to risk…to an extent. I have pretty broad latitude to implement forward-looking initiatives. However, we are still a pretty conservative organization, so that upside risk must be balanced by the potential downside consequences, which for a not-for-profit entity, whose primary asset is its brand/IP can be significant.

Drew: The Grammys is such a unique brand. What do you think is the biggest thing other marketers can learn from the on-going success of The Grammys?

While we are certainly a big brand, we aren’t really that different from other brands in that ultimately it comes down to trust. Authenticity is the cornerstone of trust, so you must respect your audience, and be as authentic as possible in everything you do.

Drew: What did you do in 2014 that you are particular proud of from a marketing perspective?

I don’t think it was any one thing. When you look at the ultimate result of our year-round efforts, which is our metrics around the GRAMMY telecast, we over-delivered on every possible measurement – ratings (2nd highest in 20+ years), social engagement (34MM+ comments on GRAMMY Sunday), sentiment (99% positive), revenue (consistently up year-over-year), it is our overall success that comes from carefully planned strategic efforts that I am most proud of.

Drew: Looking ahead, what do you hope will work better in 2015?

Better, more engaging content, better use of analytics.

Drew: How are you as CMO staying on top of all the new digital marketing techniques and opportunities?

Reading everything I can, and constantly auditing the market. I’m always trying to learn from others’ successes…and failures…

Drew: What tool, product, or service has been the single greatest improvement to digital marketing for your brand over the last year?  

I don’t think there is any one tool. I think our strategy has gotten smarter…and we are finding better, more effective ways to use data than before. I believe the ultimate winners and losers will be determined by who is best able to identify, understand and harness the data available to us as marketers.

Drew: Do you have a content marketing strategy?  

This is an important area for us, and we are in the process of reviewing our entire content strategy, and revising it in a pretty significant way. I will have more to share on this in the coming months as our new strategic focus comes into play.

Drew: Storytelling is a big buzzword right now.  Is your brand a good storyteller and if so, can you provide an example of how you are telling that story?

The best, most immediate example I can point to is our yearly telecast marketing campaign. We have endeavored, rather than simply placing a bunch of music artists on a spread or in a tv spot, with the message to ‘Watch the GRAMMYs,’ to weave a compelling narrative that connects with the music fan in an emotional, visceral way. I’m very proud of the work we have done with our agency, Chiat Day to more deeply weave our GRAMMY brand into the fabric of popular culture. We will launch this year’s effort in early December, and we will again approach it from a dynamic storytelling standpoint that will set our communication apart from anyone else in our category.

Drew: As social media matures, what adjustments are you making to your approach to social in 2015?

We’ve been trying to take a more holistic view of our social activities, meaning that we want to be smarter about the conversation we are having with our social ecosystem on a daily basis. We want to provide more value to the conversation, and become more of a trusted resource, and this requires a longer-term view of the relationship we have with our friends, fans and followers. It is not as much about short-term gratification. Rather, it is modifying tone, vibe and spirit of our dialogue to have a more consistent, engaged dialogue.

Talk About Rising to a Challenge: Meet Kate Chinn

02/5/15

Kate ChinnIf 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.

B2B Branding 101: The Book That Wasn’t

02/4/15

flowersI wrote this chapter for a potential book on B2B marketing.  Just before the deal was to be struck, my potential co-author and I decided it wasn’t the book either of us wanted to write. That said, if you are in need of a basic primer on B2B branding, the chapter below should be helpful.  If it isn’t, be sure to let me know why!  

Why brand matters

Without a clear brand, your business will be lost in the herd.  It’s that simple. Ranchers in the old west used branding irons that burned what we would now call a logo into their cattle.  Initially meant to identify lost or stolen livestock, these brands evolved into a powerful means of differentiation especially as some marks became associated with superior quality thus yielding higher returns in the marketplace. These days, branding done right goes well beyond a logo, impacting all aspects of your business.  This chapter will help you build the foundation for your brand around a meaningful and differentiating brand promise that you can burn into the fabric of your organization and subsequent marketing activities.

Seeking your brand promise

The key word here is promise.  A promise is a commitment that builds trust.  A promise delivered over and over again is what creates brand value.  Think about the businesses that you regularly do business with–what is their promise to you? Are they promising to deliver your packages on-time like FedEx or aiming higher like American Express that wants to help grow your business?  A promise can be basic like a low price guarantee or profound like helping the environment.  Regardless, a business without a clearly defined promise is a ship without a rudder.

Asking employees for input

Finding THE brand promise for your business is a journey and like most, begins at home, in this case with your employees.  Talk to them, not just those involved in marketing, but to all of them, or at least as many as you can.  Here’s a short list of questions to start the conversation:

  • Why do you come to work everyday?
  • What do you like most about working here?
  • What do you tell your friends about the company?
  • Would you recommend to your friends that they work here?
  • If so, why?  If not, why not?
  • Do you recommend our company to your friends who might need our services?
  • If so, why?  If not, why not?
  • If we could fix one thing about the company, what would it be?

The beauty of this research is that not only will it yield terrific insights but also it will instantly improve morale as employees recognize you value their opinions.  If you have a small company, conducting these interviews in person is ideal as it will allow you to dig deeper during the conversation.  If your company is too large or geographically dispersed to conduct the interviews in person, online video chat sessions can accomplish the same thing.  If and only if morale is poor then you may want to conduct these interviews anonymously via an online survey using a service like SurveyMonkey.

Tip: Finding a brand promise can be a nuanced affair in which an off-handed remark can lead to a brilliant conclusion.  This is why we recommend doing this research in a qualitative fashion (i.e. via interviews) instead of using quantitative techniques like questionnaires and surveys.  This doesn’t mean that more scientific research can’t ultimately play a role.  We just wouldn’t start there. 

Talking to your customers

Now that you know what your employees think, it will be a good idea to have the same kinds of conversations with your customers.  These conversations can be a bit tricky since your customers might not be totally truthful with you, perhaps not wanting to hurt your feelings.  As such, it may be necessary to engage an independent third party to conduct the interviews.

Tip: You don’t necessarily have to engage an expensive research firm to do your customer interviews.  Maybe you have an outside accountant who knows enough about your business to conduct the interviews.  Or perhaps you have a trusted vendor who wouldn’t mind making these calls on your behalf.  Once you have identified the interviewer, then you will need to cajole your clients to participate which you can position as an important means of improving your service to them.

Brand promise research among customers has other pitfalls.  As Henry Ford so wisely said, “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” Crafting an interview that explores their current needs and wants is relatively easy.  Figuring out from that a promise that features a car, not a faster horse is the challenging part.

Here are some questions that should yield the necessary baseline information:

  • Why do you do business with our company?
  • Have you ever recommended our company? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • Would you want a beloved relative to work for our company? If so, why?
  • What would you tell your peers about our company?
  • If you use other companies like ours, what sets us apart if anything?
  • If you were to leave your current company and go to work somewhere else, would you bring us with you?  If so, why? If not, why not?
  • If our company were an animal (or car), what would we be?

Remember: This is not quantitative research in which the majority opinion carries the most weight.  What you are looking for are veins of truth you can mine for a rich promise like the passion a particular customer may have about your staff or a smile you saw on someone’s face when your product helps them solve a previously daunting challenge.  Sticking with the mining metaphor, the goal here is to find a shimmering solitary multi-carrot diamond not mountains of monotonous coal.

Tossing out the obvious product benefits

Having now talked with both your employees and customers, its time to start drilling down into brand promises that stem from the basic truths about your business.  Let’s say you’re an accounting firm with happy employees and satisfied customers. The most basic level of brand promise would be something like, “our dedicated employees promise to do your accounting accurately.”  A good start but hardly groundbreaking, right?  It is important to recognize the expected benefits of your product or service and then move on to higher ground that ultimately differentiate your brand.

Assessing the rational components of your brand promise

When seeking your brand promise take a look at all of the things that might make you stand out on a rational basis.  Do you have an area of specialty?  Are you the best in your city, county or state at something?  Is your product superior to your competition in one or more ways?  Typically these rational distinctions fall into two areas, superiority in performance and superiority in value.  The trick here is to define performance and value in ways that work for your business.  Going back to our accounting firm, perhaps they are based in Buffalo, New York and have a lower cost basis than New York City firms.  Now their promise could evolve into “our highly trained employees promise to give you NYC quality accounting services at Buffalo prices.”

Seeking out the emotional high ground

Thus far, we’ve assumed that all business decisions are rational which couldn’t be further from the truth.  Even though business professionals pride themselves in having disciplined vendor selection processes, more than 60% of these purchase decisions are based on irrational hunches.  The most common of these is, “I just liked them better.”  Trust plays a huge role in this process, which also helps explain why the lowest bidder in competitive reviews only wins a modest percentage of the time.  Finding the emotional high ground requires going back to your employee and customer interviews and identifying the irrational components that distinguish your company.  Turns out, our accounting firm had a habit of going one step beyond any client request engendering unsurpassed client loyalty yielding a new promise, “our relentlessly dedicated employees promise to treat your business like it is their business.”

Why Kidzania is Marketing Nirvana & More w Cammie Dunaway

02/2/15

Cammie Dunaway_KidzaniaBefore Cammie Dunaway became the CMO of Kidzania, she was Head of Marketing at Nintendo; so it’s safe to say she understands what kids like. She’s also quite talented when it comes to marketing, helping to expand Kidzania from a predominately local company with only seven locations to a global operation with 16 locations across the world, and nine more under development.

During this period of rapid growth, Cammie’s secret weapon has been her peer network, which served as a sounding board for her new global marketing initiatives. This willingness to connect with other CMOs not only helped her stay on top of a rapidly growing brand, it also helped her win a President’s Circle award at this year’s CMO Awards, sponsored by The CMO Club.

Drew: You were the head of marketing at Yahoo and Nintendo before joining KidZania in 2010. What are the most notable differences between marketing a giant corporation and marketing a smaller, more experimental venture?

Whether the company is large or small the role of marketing is to deliver profitable growth by understanding your consumers and delighting them with your product or service. At Y! we provided content and services that made our users lives easier. At Nintendo we made it possible for everyone from gamers to grandmas to enjoy video games. At KidZania we are empowering kids and training them for future success. Small companies tend to move more quickly and limited resources make you sweat each decision a little more, but the challenges of being relevant to consumers and accountable for financial results are really the same.

Drew: KidZania has plans to expand into the United States in the next few years. How has having such ambitious growth plans impacted your role as CMO?

The expansion of KidZania is truly exciting. When I started we had 7 locations, currently we have 16 open and 9 additional under development. The diversity of cultures and norms from Mumbai to Sao Paulo to Seoul creates some unique marketing challenges. Fortunately we see that parents everywhere want to equip their children for future success and kids everywhere love learning through role-play. I really think the US market is ready for KidZania’s unique blend of education and entertainment and I can’t wait to bring it to our kids. Being able to travel around the world as CMO has given me lots of great ideas for what we can do in the US. I want to take the best practices from all of our KidZania’s and create an amazing experience here.

Drew: Can you talk a little bit about KidZania branding and how that extends to employee titles and roles? While you are at, feel free to talk about your efforts to get the entire company engaged?

Story is at the heart of everything we do. We believe that KidZania exists because kids were frustrated with how adults were running the world and decided to create their own city to practice for the day they will take over from us and improve things. We bring this story to life in all aspects of our business from our titles (I am a Minister of Communication and a Governor not a CMO and President!) We have a national anthem, monuments, our own special language and holidays. Infusing this into our culture starts with hiring practices – we have to hire people who really like kids! Then we constantly reinforce the culture through training and our daily practices. Everyone from the CEO down spends time in the facilities working with the kids. If employees are having fun and constantly learning then they will be fulfilling our mission to empower kids.

Drew: What role does social media play in your marketing efforts? Are there any networks that are working better for your brand than others?

Social media is huge for us. KidZania is really a marketer’s nirvana. We have a great experience that our guests want to share with their networks. We just need to ignite the spark. Our marketers spend a lot of time creating interesting content and interacting with our fans. The most effective networks vary by country. For example in Kuwait Instagram is the most important while in Chile it is You Tube. Facebook, however, is pretty consistently important across the globe.

Drew: Customer experience does not always come under the control of the CMO yet can have a dramatic impact on the brand and ultimately the believability of your marketing initiatives. How have you been able to impact the customer experience in your current role?

As a CMO you have to spend a tremendous amount of time partnering with your peers. You really need to find a way to bring the voice of your customer into the conversation so that you can impact parts of the experience that lie outside your direct control. I sometimes have to remind people internally that we don’t need to just rely on our own perspectives. If in doubt ask the kids. We have a kid’s CongreZZ in each KidZania. It is essentially a group of children chosen annually that help us stay current and provide feedback on our experience. As long as I am channeling them, I am usually able to move us in the right direction.

Drew: Loyalty programs can be tough to get off the ground. If you have one in place, can you describe the program and talking about the costs/benefits of the program?

Our loyalty program, called B·KidZanian, is one our most powerful marketing tools. Our CEO recognized that the investment, which was quite significant for a company of our size, would provide benefits both in more deeply engaging our kids and in developing an efficient new marketing channel. In our program, kids become Citizens of KidZania and receive a passport and stamps for the different activities that they do. The more often they visit and the more they participate, the more privileges they receive. Parents opt into the program and receive very personal communication about their children’s activities and offers geared to their unique interests. We have been able to demonstrate a measurable lift in visits and spending among our members and, most important, kids love the program.

Drew: How important is having a strong peer network to your ability to do your job well? Can you describe an instance in the past year when your peer network helped you?

Wow, I can’t imagine doing my job without my peer network. I think most CMOs are very relationship oriented and yet within our companies the job can be pretty lonely. You want to always project a sense of confidence and yet with all the changes in marketing over the past decade you can’t possibly know everything. I use my peer network for supplier recommendations, talent management, and most importantly for honest conversations about challenges that I am facing. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t either ask for help or give help to a peer.

Why CSR is Good for Business w/ Tom Santora of Omni Hotels & Resorts

01/28/15

Southern Utah Montana footballNo one denies that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a noble endeavor, but even staunch supporters will admit that it can be difficult to justify from a business perspective. Tom Santora, a recent Social Responsibility award winner at The CMO Club’s CMO Awards, challenges that notion. As the CMO of Omni Hotels and Resorts, Tom has managed to turn corporate responsibility into big business, and helped build the largest LEED gold certified hotel outside of Las Vegas.

During my interview with Tom, he explained why CSR is good for business. He believes that marketing executives should “find CSR programs and initiatives that aren’t just good for the community, but are good for your business too. That makes it easy to justify the investment, and makes the efforts seem more genuine and sincere, as well.”

Drew: How have you approached Corporate Social Responsibility?  Do you have a distinct set of metrics for CSR (vs. product sales) that help rationalize these investments?

Sustainability is central to Omni Hotel & Resorts’ entire business – from operations to procurement to architecture to construction. For example, our two newest builds, the Omni Nashville Hotel and Omni Dallas Hotel, are LEED Silver and LEED Gold certified respectively. Our goal is for all future new builds to become LEED certified.

While this is a tremendous achievement for both Nashville and Dallas, earning Gold certification for the Omni Dallas was particularly notable. With 1,001 guest rooms and 110,000 square feet of meeting space, the Omni Dallas Hotel is the largest LEED Gold certified hotel outside of Las Vegas, and one of the only LEED Gold hotels in Texas. We are extremely proud to be able to say this.

Achieving LEED Gold status required careful planning and a disciplined approach to design and development. We worked with recycled and regionally-sourced materials, incorporated significant natural day lighting into our design, implemented a keycard-based guestroom energy management system, utilized construction process to significantly reduce construction pollution and rolled out a number of water conservation initiatives. Omni Dallas Hotel’s dining venue, Texas Spice, is even a certified Green Restaurant – two stars. Plus, the housekeeping associates collect unused soap to donate to the Global Soap Project.

We also are finding other ways to minimize our carbon footprint. We are increasing local and organic dining options by partnering with local farmers, growers and seafood purveyors, as well as sourcing – and in some cases producing our own – environmentally preferred products. In addition, we are engaging our employees and guests in conservation efforts. For example, each Select Guest loyalty club member is invited to select “Eco-Friendly Services” in his/her guest profile, indicating whether bed linens and towels should be changed only when requested. By giving our guests the option to re-use items that would normally be laundered in-between uses, we can reduce water, chemical, and energy use.

Obviously, there are long-term operational cost benefits to building properties that consume fewer natural resources. This is one of our ways we rationalize our investments. But we also analyze guest feedback from Medallia to pinpoint how sustainability practices directly influence guest favorability and loyalty.

Drew: CSR activities are often handled outside of the marketing team’s purview yet the hope is that these activities will provide a positive halo for product sales.  What is your role related to CSR and are there some initiatives that you think have been particularly effective? 

As a smaller, privately held company, we are very nimble and communicate well across channels. As a result, I am usually involved in our CSR initiatives from the outset – particularly if they have the potential to benefit the guest experience and/or our brand reputation.

While our construction and development initiatives naturally fall outside the scope of my role as CMO, I often collaborate with that team to provide input on aspects of the design and development that will make Omni Hotels & Resorts more marketable to customers. For example, many large associations and groups seek venues or destinations that meet specific sustainability requirements. Naturally, our LEED Silver and Gold certified properties are extremely marketable to those groups.  In fact, we have secured business solely because we have a LEED Gold certified hotel in Dallas.

Drew: How do you make sure that your CSR initiatives come across as a sincere commitment to doing good versus being self-promotional? What advice would you give to fellow CMO’s who are just getting started on CSR programs?

We are fortunate in that our sustainability initiatives are not just good for our brand reputation; they make good business sense too. As I mentioned earlier, there are long-term operational cost benefits to building properties that consume fewer natural resources. We would utilize these practices whether or not they were marketable for our company.

These practices also deliver guest experiential benefits, making them even more appealing to our company. One of our core brand attributes is providing hotel properties that are unique and authentic to their local markets. By using building and design materials that are indigenous to the local region and providing culinary creations based on locally sourced ingredients, we can cater a true local experience.. It’s what makes us special and it’s what guests look forward to when staying with Omni.

My advice to other CMOs is this:  find CSR programs and initiatives that aren’t just good for the community, but are good for your business too. That makes it easy to justify the investment, and makes the efforts seem more genuine and sincere, as well.

Drew: How are you as CMO staying on top of all the new digital marketing techniques and opportunities?

I’m sure I’m not that much different than other CMOs. I am a veracious reader and have an insatiable intellectual curiosity spend a lot of time educating myself through a variety of news sources to find out what is going on in the digital marketing space and what is new and exciting in the marketplace. When I come across something truly unique, I try to find out as much as possible about it – what the planning process was for making it happen; how the idea was inspired; what similar programs have happened in the past; etc.

On a more tangible level, some good sources I would recommend for this information include: The New York Times; DigiDay Publishing; The Hub’s Daily Roundup; Retail Online Integration Report; and of course the new CMO Solutions Clubhouse!

Drew: What tool, product, or service has been the single greatest improvement to digital marketing for your brand over the last year?  Why did you choose that one?

Our website, omnihotels.com continues to be our strongest platform for hosting material and providing guests with useful information such as culinary recipes, special packages, photos and other details about our properties and destinations. To enhance that service, we recently rolled out a new website that has a complete new look and feel.  We implemented response design which creates a seamless experience for our guest regardless of the device they are using.  Based on early customer feedback, it has been enthusiastically well received by travelers and we’ve seen traffic, booking and sales increase at a double digit pace in just 90 days.

Drew: What have your experiences with mobile marketing been to date? What’s working for you? What’s not? What challenges have you faced in optimizing your mobile marketing efforts?

With the proliferation of mobile devices, it’s not only important to have a responsive designed website, but also ensure its adaptive based on mobile designed sites. More and more consumers are researching and booking using their mobile devices. We are serving up this experience to reach consumers where they are booking. Our mobile is a channel showing great promise and needs to be continuously optimized.  We offer the full range of mobile capabilities you’d expect for guests booking accommodations, as well as those who already have a reservation and are checking in.

Drew:  I noticed you have a loyalty program for customers and one for event planners. Can you talk a bit about the challenges & benefits of having target specific programs?  

Our Select Guest program has been an important loyalty driver for us for years, and we have the benefit of guest and event planner insights gathered through the program for more than two decades. In fact, it was the data we collected as part of our loyalty program that inspired us to move to a combined reward-based (e.g., earn free room nights based on your number of stays) and perk-based system (e.g., complimentary Wi-Fi, free water, shoe shines, etc.).

Having this combined platform (versus offering simply a points-based program) allowed us to develop robust, meaningful and long-term relationships with our guests, who are making higher-cost, more “considered” purchases. Offering a wide array of benefits is beneficial as it helps constantly remind members of how much we value our members – every time they log in to Wi-Fi for free, grab a complimentary bottle of water or shine their shoes before heading out to an important meeting.

Select Guest, our outward facing loyalty program, and Select Rewards, our meeting planner loyalty program are very targeted to their audiences – and there is not a challenge to having two specific programs. In fact, having both positively affected the bottom line.

Meeting planners can sign up for both Select Guest and Select Rewards. Therefore, they can enjoy the benefits of both. The key differentiator is Select Rewards not only provides benefits to our planners as it relates to their jobs/events/etc., but also their companies. When they book a qualified meeting with us, they may choose from a variety of rewards like gift cards, master account credits, professional development or even a charitable donation.

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