RENEGADE THINKING from the Founder/CEO of Renegade AND the author of "The CMO’s Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing."

Meet Tom Klein, CMO of MailChimp

08/23/16

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Jim Collins famous “hedgehog” concept proposed that great businesses were greater still because of their profound focus, doing one thing better in their marketplace than anyone else. Recently, a number of service companies have taken a not so obvious way to become better at their core business and that’s by operating businesses in other areas. Stay with me as I explain this emerging trend and ultimately introduce you to Tom Klein, the CMO of MailChimp.

One example of this trend comes from the digital agency Huge, which operates a coffee shop in their Atlanta office. Undoubtedly this helps them understand the challenges of brick & mortar retail and the role of digital in driving store traffic and increasing loyalty. Closer to home, Renegade acquired the popular blog Social Media Explorer to give us laboratory for testing content marketing approaches. In the two months since this acquisition, we’ve already run multiple tests that have significant increased our advisory and executional capabilities in the content space.

A far more interesting example comes from Tom Klein who in our interview below explains among other things how MailChimp is getting better at their main service, email, by operating an online store of their own. By reporting on the progress of this business with complete transparency, MailChimp also turned this store into a goldmine of interesting, empathetic and informative content for their target. Now that’s renegade thinking at its finest!

Drew: What were your top priorities when you came into your role as CMO?

Tom:  No matter what, our responsibility is to grow the business without compromising our principles. When I started working at MailChimp, one of the most fascinating things to me was the fact that it’s a B2B business that actually has a brand. MailChimp has a level of emotional appeal and emotional connection with customers that most B2B brands do not.

Drew: How is MailChimp able to stimulate an emotional connection with customers in a way that B2B brands traditionally do not?

Tom:  We’re humble, and that’s very important for our connection with our customers. In many ways, we’re communicating with people like you or your company. We appeal to a very challenging audience: people who are very skilled in design, creativity or marketing. So, we try to model our behavior after the level of creative courage that we would like to inspire in our customers. I think that’s really how we appeal to them without being “salesy,” so to speak.

Drew: How does courage permeate you or your brand activities?

Tom:  I use the word courage because confidence doesn’t seem like enough when it comes to really putting yourself out there. It describes how we need to be, because we are, in many ways, a model for our customers. As a company, we should feel free to be more human, more personal, weirder, and more original, because ultimately, differentiation is the name of the game.

Drew: It’s interesting that there’s this trend in the agency business to develop products around products. MailChimp is doing this with an in-house venture, correct?

Tom:  Yes, the store is called Freddie & Co. and the email series, which is essentially a behind-the-scene series, is called “What’s in Store?” We knew we had a very creative culture so we decided to tap into it. We had an employee who was exceptionally brilliant, had a lot to say, and was also in charge of our email newsletter, so we had her head up a new ecommerce operation – even though she had no knowledge of ecommerce. The idea was that she would chronicle all the things that went wrong in the “What’s in Store?” series – it certainly has helped us recognize some key pieces of information, like shipments aren’t always correct and the design isn’t always perfect. It’s the problem that creates the drama, which results in the understanding that we’re after.

Drew: How do you measure brand love and assess if the things that you’ve done are making a difference in nurturing this love?

Tom: We run brand health and equity studies to get a sense of how we are doing. We evaluate brand equity by looking at unaided awareness, aided awareness, and preference. Unlike other B2B brands, we also look at it on a quarterly basis because we like to understand the impact of our brand-oriented or inspirational marketing messaging. We also look at net promoter score.

Drew: Tell me a bit about your marketing.

Tom: We are a “freemium” product, so we need to have lots of different flavors of marketing. First and foremost, we want people to get to know MailChimp, which may take form in a few different ways – sponsoring design conferences or podcasts like Serial, for example. When customers decide they want to try MailChimp and sign up for a free account, there’s a follow-up email teaching you how to use the product. Another thing that we look at is the number of new visitors that typed MailChimp.com into the browser – they’re not just searching email marketing and then finding us; they’re typing MailChimp and then coming to us as a preference.

Drew: Do you drink your own champagne? In other words, is email marketing is a big part of your own marketing. Is that true?

Tom: Absolutely. We sent 36 million marketing emails in June of this year to a wide range of subscriber lists, like “What’s in Store,” which has 170,000 subscribers alone.

Drew: If you’re doing 36 million emails in a month, clearly you have a lot of data on what’s working and what’s not. What should your customers be doing to make their email marketing operations successful?

Tom:  Testing and learning. It sounds really boring, but it’s very straightforward and valuable. In our free products, we have AB testing, and in the Pro offering, we have multivariate. I have to say, from a brand perspective, it’s very easy to set up multivariate tests and we run them within our marketing department. That being said, we also want our customers to feel liberated from a creative perspective. Often, people feel like they have to do exactly what everyone else does, but using the multivariate tool, you can test many options to find the winner. That’s probably the most straightforward thing that we would love to get our customers doing, because we know it works.

Drew: What kinds of multivariate testing does MailChimp support?

Tom: We support three styles of multivariate testing. One method, for example, allows you to take a list and divide it into a few different subsets – for a list of 10,000, you could do five different emails send them to 2,000 people. Then, you can just look at the results and learn for next time.

Drew: From your experience, are bigger brands approaching email differently?

Tom: I think that’s an intriguing notion. Most of our customers probably have fewer than 200 employees. I have friends who work in marketing for package food companies – these are brands that have over a billion-dollar budget – and they don’t know who their customers are. As you know, email has always been a great way to communicate directly with consumers in an economical way. If one of these companies wanted to communicate with 5 million people, we have customer lists of that size. Surprisingly, there are many large package food companies who just don’t do it. I think doing that is an important first step and next would be optimization.

Drew:  Is there a lag effect with email? I know I’m always behind but I tend to only delete or file the stuff I read or know I never need to look at?

Tom: People often look at their email as a data repository of stuff. That is to say, it’s almost always beneficial for your email to be in your customer or prospect’s inbox, because they will use it even if they don’t open it and engage with it right away.

Drew: What is state of the art when it comes to integrating social media within email campaigns?

Tom: Email is a kind of beast, from a technical perspective. We would love for your email client to function just like a regular browser window, allowing us do all sorts of magical things. Unfortunately that’s not the case, so if you’re our customer, we tend to keep your email relatively straightforward. As it relates to social itself, we have a lot of functionalities that actually let customers use their email as a social channel. For example, we have a nice integration with Facebook that lets you post your email on Facebook. Customers can also use their email subscriber list as a way to take these subscribers and generate an ad based on them.

Drew:  In your time as CMO, are there things that you wish you did better?

Tom: Probably almost everything. We’re growing and hiring so we’re really looking to improve all aspects of the company. More specifically, we have a lot of customers that are agencies, and I feel like we could do a better job supporting those types of clients. We also want to get better at engaging with our customers around the world – MailChimp is a global business, even though we’re based in Atlanta.

How BBVA Compass Banks on Purpose Branding

08/14/16

When you think of banks, or any financial institution for that matter, I doubt you are overcome with heartwarming images of improved welfare and social care.  Unless you’re among the few that have had a warm and fuzzy experience, most likely your relationship with your bank is mainly transactional — a deposit made here or statement issued there.  Interestingly, there is at least one bank out there that would like you to like them less for their transactional prowess and more for their commitment to “bringing the age of opportunity to everyone.”  

That bank is BBVA Compass and the campaign that got my attention is called “Banking on a Brighter Future,” a purpose-driven program introduced AAEAAQAAAAAAAAhcAAAAJDQwZTFhZTQyLTkzMmMtNDFmNy1iMTYyLThlOWViZGQ5ZDE1YQby their Chief Marketing and Digital Sales Officer Jennifer Dominiquini.  I’ve known Jennifer through The CMO Club for several years and was delighted when we finally had a chance to talk about purpose-branding and the organizational commitment required to make it real.  Jennifer, as you will soon see, is not one to just talk the talk.  She also walks the walk or more precisely rides the ride, having just completed a 500-mile bike trip for a charity that was also a BBVA customer.  So yes, her commitment to living bright and giving a chance for others to do the same is something you can bank on!

Note: this is a lengthy interview but I decided not to break it up into 2 posts because frankly if you are interested in how to activate effectively against your brand purpose, you’ll want to read every last word.  

Drew: Can you take me back to when you became a purpose-driven organization and the process that you went through to determine your purpose?

Jennifer: Since its founding in 1857, this company has believed its corporate purpose should be about creating a better future for people. Recently, our Chairman and our CEO realized that we needed to make it more explicit that we are a purpose-driven organization, and so last year we set out to do just that by specifically stating that our purpose is to bring the age of opportunity to everyone.

The company overall is very inclusive, and that has led us to facilitate opportunity for everyone, whether an individual, a family, a company, or a community. Said another way, we believe everyone deserves a bright future and the chance to thrive in the age of opportunity. Our goal as an organization is to help our clients stay in control of their financial journeys, and it is our responsibility to help them get to that bright future.

Drew: Was the idea of “Banking on a Brighter Future” developed in-house or did you work with an agency partner?

Jennifer: It was actually developed in-house with the support of agency partners. One of the key inspirations was our global purpose statement, which aligned perfectly with the traditional brand research we had. We were really passionate about this, so we put it into practice first by rolling it out internally and then started to incorporate it in our external messaging as well.

Drew: How did you communicate the idea of “Banking on a Brighter Future?”

Jennifer: We tried to infuse as much “bright” vocabulary into the work we were already doing internally. We also ensured that every element of our end-to-end client experience was bright. We highlighted bright moments of associates out in the field who went the extra mile to help a client. At our employee launch, our CEO and key leaders hosted a fireside chat-style forum to share the brand strategy and communicate the message hat every associate has the responsibility to bring the brand to life. We wanted all employees to understand that this was not just a new tagline but rather a way of doing business, a way of living and breathing the brand.

Drew: How did you equip employees with the resources needed to promote the brand externally?

Jennifer: First, we incorporated the word “bright” into our different methods of communication as often as we could. We also created an employee brand portal with videos and other media, showing how our executives were embracing the brand and also branding themselves. We distributed bright blue boxes containing stickers and other brand paraphernalia to each department so employees could display and promote the brand.

In order for the brand launch to be successful, it had to be something our associates believed enough they would be willing to go out and share it. So, a few months later after our internal launch, we celebrated our first annual Bank It Forward Day, a chance for our associates to bring the brand to life in the community through random acts of kindness.

Drew: Can you provide an example of how employees went out into the community, promoting Bank It Forward Day?

Jennifer: We equipped everybody with the opportunity to volunteer and do random acts of brightness in the community. Essentially, employees formed groups of 5 to 10 people, then went out and did acts of kindness in the community using their $25 gift cards provided by BBVA Compass. That was the first real opportunity for our employees to realize that when you live bright, you can actually have fun while helping out others in the community. Some of the stories were just phenomenally engaging, and we generated social media buzz and plenty of employee engagement as a result.

Drew: Can you give a few examples of some of these “acts of brightness?”

Jennifer: We saw one person pay off a debt for a family whose son was in the hospital. We also met a woman who had a couple of flat tires on her car but had to leave it to feed her baby at home. When she came back, she saw the note on the car that said, “It’s BBVA Compass. Come on over, we’d love to help and we have a surprise for you.” A few associates combined their gift cards to buy the woman four new tires for her car.

I personally had the honor of surprising a shopper in a grocery store who was about to spend her last $20 of the week. I think the tipping point in the brand roll out was when employees started to have fun. They realized this is not just a marketing strategy exercise, this is a way of living.

Drew: Do you have a sense of what percentage of employees participated? Did you have a goal?

Jennifer: This was one of our most successful volunteer outreaches ever. We started at 12% the first time, and now we’re up to 30%. This time, the updated program – now called 100 Days of Brightness – extends beyond a single day to give employees the flexibility to choose any day over the course of 100 days.We were really impressed the first time because we really didn’t know what would happen but 98% percent of the people who participated said they would absolutely do it again.

Drew: What was the reception of the Bank it Forward initiative” among senior BBVA Compass executives?

Jennifer: Our executives have been extremely supportive of this because, as a company, they all understand that we can’t just talk about our purpose, we have to go out and fulfill it. For example, the Head of Business Development is an avid runner, so he ran around a park on Father’s Day and surprised other park runners with gift cards. He also visited one of our charitable partners along his route to surprise them with more gift cards.

Our COO, who is very much supporter of animals, visited an animal shelter to deliver much-needed supplies for the shelter. And our CEO pursued his passion for helping children by bringing a cool treat to kids at the Community Family Center in Houston. In addition to some new sports equipment and art supplies, he also served snow cones to nearly 200 students and staff on a hot July afternoon.

Drew: So have you changed or adjusted your hiring practices to emphasize brightness among candidates?

Jennifer: People are definitely looking to bring in others with a like-minded, positive energy. We aim to on-board people who share our purpose-driven methodology and look for ways to empower people to act brightly across our employee base.

Drew: How did you go about making employees feel comfortable to bank at BBVA?

Jennifer: As our CEO said, if we are going to talk about brightening the lives of others, we also need to do a good job of brightening the lives of our teammates. We emphasize our employee banking perks and make sure people take advantage of the benefits of being loyal to your employer. We’ve done a lot of employee banking drives to encourage people to sign up, and those events provide the perfect opportunity to remind employees why they should bank where they work. It’s more than just a reminder that each account benefits the company. It’s a reminder that, when you bank the brand, it’s easier to successfully live the brand and share it with others.

That said, we need to make sure it is easy and rewarding for those associates to bank with us, – for both clients and employees alike.

Drew: So we spent most of our time on internal activation, is there anything that you would like to highlight from an external standpoint?

Jennifer: Absolutely. We knew we had hit a home run internally, so we wanted to make sure our external push was equally successful. We created an online portal for our video content, and because we are official bank of the NBA, we were able to launch Bright Futures externally in a robust way.

Our brand ambassadors tell their own personal stories to bring to life the ten Bright Futures principles. For example, Becky Hammon, the first female coach in the NBA, talked about the hurdles she faced on the road to becoming an all-star player and the first female All Star coach. Instead of telling the athletes’ stories from the sports angle, these videos really captured the human angle.

Drew: What is the reason behind the sports focus of Bright Futures?

Jennifer: We started with sports because that’s where many of our sponsorship lie (we are the official bank of the NBA and the Houston Dynamo and Dash call the BBVA Compass stadium their home) but as I said, we intend to expand it to a lot of different walks of life. Ultimately we will feature musicians and artists, technology, entrepreneurship and other areas.

We’ve also incorporated the Brighter Future mantra into nearly all our external marketing. From a social media perspective, we engage our audience with our #LiveBright and #BrightFutures hashtags. The two work well together because we’re saying if you want to help others have a bright future, then you have to live bright along the way.

Drew: It’s fascinating to hear you talk about how you shifted from product-first to story first, which must have sparked a good amount of doubt and discomfort internally. What made you confident that this risk was worth taking?

Jennifer: Well, we still do free-checking and rate-based advertising for our deposit products, and we still promote our loan products. But we’ve tried to layer acquisition marketing, digital marketing, and branded advertising with messaging that’s consistent with the brand, using the video and the storytelling piece. The brand, the content, and the storytelling have enabled us to improve our consideration scores with consumers, to bring new clients to the bank and to engage our existing ones.

Drew: We’ve heard about the successes of the Bright Future initiative but I’m guessing there have been some mistakes along the way? Can you tell about some of the challenges you have encountered?

Jennifer: I would say that there have been definitely some creative executions that didn’t work as well in the beginning. Creative development for us was an iterative process, and we learned what resonated and what didn’t as we experimented and iterated based on learning. The good news with digital is that it’s easy to do a lot of testing, but part of our initial challenge was aligning the right creative with the right media and doing so in a nimble and flexible way. I don’t think it was a failure, but more of a learning process and a recognition that some efforts don’t produce immediate results.

Drew: You’re the Chief of Marketing and Digital Sales Officer. Do those two often conflict?

Jennifer: Not really. Digital has been a major focus to drive sales through all of our channels, along with improving the branch experience and engaging our clients. In fact, all of the key marketers in other countries in the BBVA portfolio also have this title. I’m lucky that I don’t just own marketing, but I actually have online account origination and analytics which allows me to see much more of the end-to-end experience.

Drew: I know you’re heavily focused on digital but how much of your role is centered on traditional marketing?

Jennifer: In the old days, marketing was very much “put the product over the fence and tell the clients what they need to know.” Historically, digital and traditional marketing have been separated. But having these two areas together is fundamental because I have the flexibility to allocate resources between digital and traditional efforts. We recognize that it can’t all just be about digital. There are many times when more traditional marketing like direct mail or newspaper ads make the most sense; in other cases, we know that branded content on YouTube will be more widely watched that television. Having ownership of both sides lets us leverage the best channel for each initiative. All in all, it’s been a very interesting time to be a marketer and the fact that I have both of these sides is wonderful.

Drew: Now, you have to tell us about your 500 mile bike ride. What a great example of how you are living the brand purpose. 

Jennifer: Well, it was the experience of a lifetime seeing our client, David Baldwin, literally ride from coast to coast. The trip really encapsulated living bright: everybody was happy, helping each other, and teaching each other. It was very powerful to know that we were doing something for a good cause, and that we were able to put ourselves literally our client’s shoes. The Pursuit ride raised $12.5 million for the Center, a private, not-for-profit organization caring for adults with intellectual and development disabilities, while raising awareness for adults with disabilities nationwide. Baldwin rode 3500 miles, and BBVA Compass was proud to be the ride’s presenting sponsor. The event aligned perfectly with our belief that that everyone deserves a bright future. I could not be more proud of riding alongside David and team. As the Chief Marketing Officer, it is my responsibility and honor to not only shape the brand but believe in it and live it, too.

You Think Your Marketing Challenge is Tough

08/8/16

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 2.28.07 PMAs my daughter was heading off to Copenhagen for a semester abroad five years ago, my “cheap dad” instincts went into high gear. With visions of thousands of dollars of long-distance cellular calls on my horizon, I suggested to her that we use a free messaging app that one of our client’s at the time had introduced. Her lightning response via SMS was, “Don’t worry dad, when all my friends went overseas they used WhatsApp and I’ve already installed it.” Of course, that settled the issue. We did use WhatsApp, helping her get through a long dark Scandinavian winter and saving me a kingdom of Krone.

That first hand encounter with messaging apps also shed light on what we could call the “community effect.” The adoption of mobile messaging apps typically happens in waves of users, community by community. And scale within a community matters since their value increases with the number of friends and family that also use the same app. This helps explain why one app could be very popular in one country and almost nonexistent in another. Most of these apps grew by word of mouth, spreading from friend to friend and in some cases, daughter to father.

The “community effect” creates a remarkable marketing challenge.  How do you generate community versus one by one adoption?  Can you accelerate word of mouth with a burst of advertising?  And how do you do all of that in the face of ginormous competitors like WeChat, Messenger and WhatsApp? Well enough of the hypothetical questions, join me as I interview Scott Nelson, the North American head of Viber, a five-year-old messaging app with over 750 million users worldwide.  As you will soon see, Scott learned a lot from his recent campaign that included a unique blend of traditional media, digital ads, content and influencer marketing and he was kind enough to share it to good effect with this community.

Drew: I read that Viber launched a marketing campaign in late 2015. Can you tell me what prompted this effort?

Scott: Up until probably a few years ago we had no marketing department. As we grew our base very quickly and learned more about our users, we realized that there was a very emotional connection with our product. Our first real campaign specifically here in the US was mainly to increase awareness around Viber. We have a really good global footprint, with users all around the world, but in the US people are not as familiar with the brand. So, number one was to increase US awareness around Viber. Then, number two was what I called a reappraisal for those people that knew of Viber but didn’t know that we had several different elements in the platform. We wanted to bring them up to speed on the services we offered.

Drew: Can you say a little more about the structure of your 2015 campaign? 

Scott: We launched an outdoor advertising campaign that included the more traditional marketing and then we went deeper with a digital partnership, bringing in several different influencers to help our overall public chat platform. We aligned ourselves with well-known artists, and the likes of the Barclays Center to create live experiences within the app. We did several different things from traditional advertising elements to deeply social campaigns, so it was a pretty robust effort from September into December of 2015.

Drew: Let’s talk about metrics. Did you have a tracking study in place for awareness?

Scott: We conducted a brand connectivity study with our Spotified partnership, so we were able to get tracking information. We worked with performance media so we had a couple of different forms of brand tracking involved.

Drew: What were some of your findings?

Scott: There are a couple of different kinds of things that we looked at like how number of downloads related to awareness of the brand. When we looked at average yearly growth, we saw that our downloads had doubled, meaning we did really well when it came to actually getting people interested in downloading the app. Next, we looked at the daily active users and the monthly active users, which we call our DAU-MAU. A lot of the content that we created, and a lot of the efforts of the campaign were meant to get people coming back to the app on a daily basis. We did well on that front also.

Drew: Did you look at social media in your metric analysis?

Scott: Yes, we found that we had increases to 700% in overall brand mentions of the Viber name throughout all of social media. We saw a 20% increase in overall positive brand sentiments around Viber. We also focused heavily social media which did many things for our brand, and it was a really good learning experience since we hadn’t done much in the social media space before this campaign.

Drew: What are some of the bigger lessons you learned from this campaign?

Scott: One of the things that we’ve learned is the importance of focus. We decided it was best to narrow down to two things and do them very well, as opposed to working at five or six different goals. Then, number two is creating the right content. You’re trying to get people to come back to the service on a daily basis so you have to figure out what that right content is. Then, you have to realize that the right content for the messaging app space is different than what you create for social media or offline partnerships. Understanding the category and helping our partners create the right content that again is relevant to our user in each space is crucial.

Drew: So after getting people to download and use your app, the next step is to monetization. How is this done over at Viber?

Scott: We have two forms of monetization. One is for our Sticker Market. So you know, we have a very large sticker marketplace, and some of these are paid stickers, which is one form of monetization. Number two is Viber Out, which is a calling feature where if you have Viber and you’re calling someone with a landline, you’re charged a reduced rate.

Drew: I’m guessing more than 90% of that base is international. Even though you were focused on the US, was there any ripple effect on a global basis?

Scott: Yes, definitely. We’ve been working to create programs here in the US that will have a ripple effect into some of our larger regions around the world, namely Russia, South East Asia, India, etc.

Drew: How does Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp inform your marketing strategy?

Scott: Again, the category is rapidly growing. It’s the hot sexy category to be in right now, and I’m thankful to be a part of it. WhatsApp is gigantic, Messenger is gigantic, WeChat in China is gigantic. For a US-based service like us, we don’t have as deep a penetration as an app like Messenger or WhatsApp. So then we have to consider, “What do we do and how do we act, and what do we bring to market that might be different and useful for our consumer?” Anyhow, we are constantly brainstorming how we can be better than our competition. But at the same time, it’s all about what Viber is doing, and how we can improve our service.

Drew: You mentioned earlier that your team incorporated influencer programs into your marketing strategy; these are often very challenging for marketers to implement. Can you tell me how influencers were integrated into Viber’s wider marketing initiatives?

Scott: I’ve been working with influencer programs throughout my career, and I think ecommerce is probably one of the best blueprints of how to work with an influencer in the most authentic way. During my time at Converse, I learned how to create the right influencer program there, and have kept those lessons with me throughout my career. For me, it’s all about authenticity. Finding the right people that are authentic to whatever you’re working on, your brand, your company, etc. Our influencers came to us because they saw it as a platform where they could develop their own brand globally within the mobile messaging app space. The next step was to determine how relevant they were in popular culture. If they’re not relevant, then we don’t want them on our platform. We are more interested in people who are up-and-coming. Thirdly, our influencers needed to have large groups following their lead. That doesn’t mean they have millions of followers on Instagram, but more that they have a rabid kind of audience that paying attention to what they do. 

Drew: Is there any individual that you would point to as a success story or prototype for Viber’s influencer program?

Scott: Yeah, absolutely. YesJulz is an entertainer down in Miami, South Beach. She came onto the scene probably two years ago because she started to do some really interesting things on Snapchat. She then became known as the Snapchat darling in South Florida, eventually making a name for herself in New York and LA. She was clearly very tech savvy so we got in talks with her about Viber. At the end, she understood the platform and really loved it. She then started her public chat, and now has well over 1.2 million followers. So, we basically took her from more of a local, US influencer to someone who is now getting calls from Berlin, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, and Rio. So, YesJulz is a great example of how utilizing the Viber platform in the right way can really enhance your personal brand.

Why IBM is Hiring Hollywood Storytellers

07/26/16

New Maria WinansIt’s no secret that I’m a big proponent of storytelling as a relatively fresh way to approach marketing strategy and execution. Not only did it earn its own chapter in my book The CMO’s Periodic Table, I’ve featured other champions of storytelling like CMO’s Douwe Bergsma (Georgia Pacific) and Darren Marshall (Steinway & Sons) on this blog. In my heart of hearts, I keep hoping that having a story framework rather than a brand-centric messaging framework will reflect and capitalize on the changing dynamic between what a brand wants to say about itself and what a consumer actually says about a brand.

As you might expect, CMOs don’t all share the same perspective on storytelling. Douwe Bergsma sees it as something entirely new and even hired a storytelling agency to craft the story framework for brands like Brawny before getting his other agencies involved.  Darren Marshall believes in the importance of telling a compelling story in his communications but didn’t see the need to change his strategic approach.  So now, allow me to introduce Maria Winans, CMO of IBM Commerce to this on-going discussion.  Maria is a big believer in the power of storytelling and has hired professionals from Hollywood to support these efforts.  To understand why, read on.  

Drew: As you look to do more storytelling at IBM, has this changed your approach to staffing your marketing team?

Maria: Absolutely. As we look at our staffing needs for today and tomorrow, we are focused on three primary skills sets, digital, portfolio and the ability to engage an audience via storytelling. For the first area, we are hiring the best talent we can find to quickly create new ways of engaging with our audiences in the most personalized ways possible. The second area is more product / category specific in terms of finding talent with deep knowledge of e-commerce and marketing automation. And the third is all about content creation and storytelling in a manner that entertains and informs audiences.

Drew: Interesting. So let’s talk more about the skill sets of the storytellers.

Maria: Sure. These people are not traditional tech-centric IBMers. Their expertise is completely different in that they can create truly engaging content or they know how to lead the creative storytelling process. These folks will help IBM engage specifics audiences in a very different manner than we’ve done before. And working with the rest of our marketing team, the storytellers will help us translate some of our broader themes down to a very compelling and ideally, personalized conversation.

Drew: How else are you bringing the idea of storytelling into IBM?

Maria: One way is by collaborating with organizations like TED. The TED organization is among the best at storytelling and they helped us orchestrate a conversation about innovation last year in a completely new way for us. Presentations were limited to seven minutes, which forced us to make every word count and propel the story forward. We really learned a lot from that.

Drew: So why not outsource your storytelling? 

Maria: Frankly, that’s exactly what we did for a long time but it comes at a price. Not the cost of development, but the absence of expertise that comes with knowing how to create stories. Bringing this skill in house uncovering talent and skills in very different places. For example, I’ve recently hired individuals that were doing scriptwriting in Hollywood for film. Their ability to write scripts and plot out storyboards is essential to the kinds of communications we want to create moving forward.

Drew: How does all of the new product or divisional storytelling you’re doing fit into the bigger stories IBM is telling on a corporate advertising level?

Maria: One of the things that we’re looking to do is have content that tracks with the entire customer journey. While the corporate ads are great at positioning all of IBM we need to be more specific with our product and divisional stories, whether we’re talking lead generation or product research or demos. All of this content needs to be compelling enough and personalized enough to drive an action – an action that we can track, score and keep moving forward with other content.

Drew: Let’s dive into this more. Can a big story like Watson get translated into demand generation and lead nurturing for a specific ecommerce product?

Maria: Yes. IBM is telling big stories about the art of the possible by demonstrating Watson’s amazing cognitive learning capabilities. My challenge is to take that big emotion-rich story and appeal to a merchandiser or a supply chain manager with very specific challenges. I need to be able to show them how they can work with IBM in a way that pertains directly to their job and move them along from prospect to customer. It comes down to storytelling on a level that resonates with the target and helping them see cognitive as a competitive advantage for their businesses and an opportunity to excel for them personally.

Drew: How does big data fit into all of this?

Maria: Great question. We marketers have so much data. The key is to be able to use that data to drive personalization and deliver the best possible experience. Obviously, this is easier said than done. It’s important to recognize that data is a means to end and not an end in itself. Data informs the story, how we talk to you, what we share and when we share it. If we know you react to certain words or images, then we’ll be sure to zoom in on those in our stories. Ultimately, our goal is really to make an emotional connection and we think we can do that better by being personal without of course, being creepy.

Drew: So how hard is all of this?

Maria: It’s hard but we’re making a lot of progress. We’re getting better at not forcing a discussion about product too early in the process. Before we introduce a solution, we want to make sure we really understand a particular prospect’s challenge. Some of this we can infer through the data, which makes it a lot easier to start a fruitful conversation. And some of this is understanding narrative, bringing the prospect along through a series of nurturing activities related to their past behavior. Ultimately, this really is another means of being customer centric – we are trying very hard not to waste a prospect’s time by delivering superfluous information.

 

How SAP Ariba’s CMO Made Procurement Awesome

07/19/16

alicia_tillmanWhen SAP acquired Ariba a few years back, newly appointed CMO Alicia Tillman was faced with the challenge of rebranding the company to include the qualities of both SAP and Ariba. Next, she had to consider how to best communicate SAP Ariba’s new brand identity to customers. It’s no surprise that social media, one of today’s most effective tools of communication, was instrumental in the rebranding initiative. Alicia and her team applied creativity and simplicity to their social content to better inform customers of the intersection between SAP and Ariba. I had the pleasure of speaking with Alicia and hearing more about how her marketing team used social to build brand image, and whether or not she considered SAP Ariba a social enterprise.

Drew: Tell me a bit about your job at SAP Ariba.

Alicia: I’m the chief marketing officer for SAP Ariba, which is the largest B2B network in the world, and part of the Business Networks and Applications group within SAP. Think of us as the Facebook or eBay for business. Essentially, what we’ve created is a dynamic, digital marketplace where buyers and suppliers can find each other, making it easy to buy and sell business goods and services within companies of all sizes. I oversee all of marketing for the business, which includes brand awareness, pipeline generation and acceleration, events, digital and social strategies and field marketing.

Drew: I know Ariba has undergone some major changes in the last few years. One of those being your introduction to the company as CMO. Can you speak to those changes?

Alicia: Ariba was founded in 1996 and was really the first B2B marketplace. Initially, the company focused on automating the procurement function through online catalogs and auctions. Today, it is the largest, most global business network and touches every aspect of commerce. About four years ago, the company was acquired by SAP. That is, as you point out, a lot of change. But the company’s brand really hadn’t evolved to reflect it and it was one of the first things I focused on when I joined the company. My first priority was to assemble a ‘brand voice’ team that represented each functional area of the business so I could hear about the key aspects of our brand that made us great and brought differentiated value to our customers.

Drew: How has your team used social media to facilitate the rebranding of Ariba?

Alicia: With the rebranding of SAP Ariba I sought to make things easily understood – our look and feel, our messaging, our brand promise and the way in which we interact with customers. Social is an ideal way to facilitate this because it forces you to be simple, but it also allows you to be highly creative and to engage with your customers on totally new levels.

Let me give you an example. Earlier this year, our CEO met with one of our customers who had just launched an SAP Ariba project inside her company. She was wearing a shirt that said “Procurement is awesome,” and our CEO loved this slogan. We launched a social campaign around it – #MakeProcurementAwesome – because procurement is digital. SAP Ariba is fueling this and it’s a powerful and witty way to draw attention to our new brand identity without being forceful. It has served as a rally cry for our employees and our customers who are ultimately striving to achieve the same goals.

Drew: Have you been able to extend this idea?

Alicia: It has spread quickly because it is simple and speaks to the heart of so many of our customers. We launched it during our marquee buyer event this year and the response was so overwhelming, we actually had t-shirts printed that we could give away on the last day. And many of our customers immediately put them on and posted pictures on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It’s a clear example of community and the power of social. When you use it the right way, a way that really appeals to people’s emotions, you can change perceptions and drive a brand story.

Drew: How do you judge success on a program like this?

Alicia: Simply put, by the dialogue it creates. We have seen so many customers run off with it on their own and create conversations in various forums. Customers are using the hashtag to shift the perception of procurement from a back office task to a strategic initiative. It has created excitement among our customers about our solutions and what we can do for them.

Drew: Your challenge was not only to innovate, but also apply this innovation to thinking about procurement. From a social standpoint, is it on your agenda to be a social business? Does Ariba use social as an enterprise and are you focusing heavily on social listening?

Alicia: Absolutely. We live in a world where there are officially more connected devices than people. so every enterprise has to be social. There are various listening posts in the social environment that we use to stay on top of what our customers are saying. But beyond this, we’ve built social technology into our solutions and business network that allows our customers to immediately share feedback with us. We’ve created a community called Ariba Exchange, for instance. Thousands of customers use it to share information and best practices that help them drive adoption of our solutions, and do their jobs better.

Drew: Can you provide an example of how you were able to use your closed customer network to make product changes or enhancements?

Alicia: Ideas can come from anywhere. And many of the best ideas come from the powerful community that we have built in the Ariba Network, in which over two million companies are part of. We recently launched Ariba Community Voting, a program that allows our customers to tell us what features they value most. Voting is done right from the solutions they use every day by clicking a “like” button. We compile this information and use it to prioritize our investments and drive future enhancements.

Drew: What kind of goals would you set for your organization in terms of social and becoming a social enterprise?

Alicia: Social has become the leading manner in which we market today. If I think back to a little less than 10 years ago, social was becoming something that was actively debated within companies. Now, the question is how do you now evolve your marketing budget to effectively have a presence and utilize it in the manner that is beneficial to your business. With the demographic changes of the incoming workforce, social is increasingly becoming the best method of communication – to influence and support buying decisions. We use our platforms to transact, to buy, and to gain influence.

Drew: For marketers, what do you think will be the biggest challenges in this move to social?

Alicia: I think the biggest challenge for marketers today is really about how you best define a digital strategy by measuring what it has the ability to influence. There has to be an understanding that digital is a business driver, it sets the experience a user has with your organization from the moment they begin their search to find a partner who can meet their needs. Think about everything from the experience of your website, to how you use social platforms to extend your story to how that translates into marketing collateral and events. PR, advertising and sponsorships all need to connect to form this experience – digital and traditional are no longer two different strategies – they are both interconnected and there needs to be a single strategy for your business that connects them.

An Inside Look at Dell’s Influencer Program

07/13/16

konnieIn the last few years, a number of brands have realized that to earning the trust of consumers isn’t something they’ll be able to accomplish on their own. The reality is that people trust people more than brands, which explains the emergence of influencer marketing. Instead of going straight to their target market, brands are now looking to a chosen few individuals to augment their message and promote their products. Influencer marketing programs have stepped boldly onto the scene and have set up shop in B2C and B2B environments.

In my book The CMO’s Periodic Table, I interviewed former IBM VP of Marketing and the architect of their B2B influencer program, Tami Cannizzaro. In Tami’s words, the point of such programs is to connect with notable people in the target industry and “make these people part of your overall strategy, treat them like VIPs and give them insider access to your strategy or brand.” Influencers get a seat at your company’s table, and become the voice of your brand for the thousands of people who consume their content.

During the Incite Group’s Corporate Social Media Summit, I had the pleasure of continuing this conversation with Konnie Alex Brown who specifically oversees Dell’s influencer relations. I talked to Konnie about the skills and strategies she deploys to make sure Dell’s influencer campaigns are mutually beneficial for the company and the influencer. Speaking with her not only gave me an in-depth look at the inner workings of a brand/ influencer partnership, it further proved the value that such relationships bring to both the brand and the influencer.

Drew: You’ve been at Dell for +9 years. Talk to me a bit about how your various jobs at Dell set you up for our current one and the skills you need to succeed at running social influencer relations?

Konnie: My experience leading corporate and executive sales and technology communications at Dell have had a foundational role in preparing me to design corporate social influencer programs that reflect Dell’s customer focus, business priorities and long-term strategic vision. Understanding a company’s history and being plugged in to the right news streams and networks within a company of Dell’s size is fundamental in building a social influencer program that creates value for the business, as well as for the social influencer. Understanding the dynamic and nuances of shared value creation is indispensable to be successful in a business-to-business environment.

Drew: Can you give a specific example of an influencer you are working with? How did decide on this individual and what did the program look like?

Konnie: Sure, Drew. I have recently developed a blue print for working with a social influencer focused on Dell’s IoT solutions. This particular B2B example is exciting as it describes the path and evolution of the relationship leading to tangible ROI for Dell and for the influencer and, very important, it is repeatable. This case study also clearly shows the need for company internal collaboration across teams to achieve maximum value. It is important to note that this process will take time and dedication just like any initiative that involves building trust-based, human relationships. Think of it as ‘dating’ where the brand (but really a human representative of the brand) and the social influencer get to know each other.

Take a look at the blueprint for building a relationship based on increasingly more information sharing and trust building via carefully chosen and designed touch points.

konnie2

Let’s start at the beginning. Following the identification and pre “first date” vetting of the social influencer, we begin with building the relationship by inviting him or her to a first meeting, ideally an event where both parties can find out about goals, capabilities and business priorities. Over the course of additional touch points, designed to uncover the value for the brand and the influencer, the evaluation to deepen and nurture the relationship (think months, not days) can be made. Once a mutual level of trust has been established, the depth of information sharing and authentic, mutual endorsement can take place without compromising the influencer’s independence of voice. It is also important to note that there will be ongoing assessment of the relationship’s value – from both sides.

Drew: What does Dell hope to get out of the relationship? How do you measure success? (feel free to share how long it can take)

Konnie: Great question, Drew. Let’s talk about the mutual value that a long-term, trust-based relationship creates for the Dell brand and the influencer. Dell seeks to help the influencer understand our purpose, customer commitment and value proposition by sharing our strategy, technology POVs and details about current and future plans to meet and anticipate customer business needs. The value for Dell clearly lies in expanding our audience each to raise awareness and educate the social influencer’s audience about the Dell value proposition in an authentic way for future consideration and action. We constantly monitor the value of the content in terms of frequency, authenticity, subject matter expertise, preserved independence of opinion, social engagement and reach as well as dynamics, such as leadership and interactivity, at in-person events.

Drew: Let’s talk about the value exchange here. What’s in it for the influencer and how do make sure that persons is getting what they want out of the relationship?

Konnie: The value of the relationship for the influencer resides in several areas and may vary dependent on the influencer’s particular goals. In general, however, the value resides in gaining insights into Dell’s technology strategy, particular POVs, future plans as well as access to customers and partners of Dell. This information access allows the influencer to deliver insightful, trust-worthy content to his or her audience and, with that, increase his audience, trusted status among them and his or her relevance in the industry.

Drew: How important is it that you personally have relationships with the influencers? Is this something you can outsource and if not, why not?

Konnie: Dell’s social influencer programs are built on the premise that relationships are owned, maintained and nurtured by Dell via frequent virtual touch points and white glove experiences via in-person meetings or events throughout the year. To answer your question, Dell’s point of view is that these relationships, due to their long-term, trust and value-based nature, cannot be outsourced. Aspects of social influencer identification, logistics and measuring processes, however, can well be handled by an agency.

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