Helping Your Customers is Always a Good Strategy

Waiting in the lounge area for my flight back to New York City on American last week, I overheard a fellow passenger grumble that “I have a zillion upgrade credits but can never use them.”  Having not been upgraded either despite my lifetime Platinum status and early check-in, I thought for a moment about my loyalty to American — why did I keep choosing them? The answer, it turns out, is a melange of actions both on the product and marketing sides:

  • New planes: on its transcontinental flights, AA flies new planes with power at every seat so I can work the whole way if I want;
  • Online booking: speedy process and my Platinum status insures that I get preferential seats without paying extra;
  • App: makes it really easy to check-in and get my electronic boarding pass;
  • Upgrades: every once in a while it really does happen!

None of this had to do with their marketing messages although I will say that @AmericanAir is always responsive to my tweets.  My point here is simple — brands are built on genuine actions (not vacuous promises) that are of meaningful benefit to existing customers.  A prime example of this comes from Suzanne Copeland, CMO of Sterling National Bank, who shares her insights in our interview below (by the way this is just part 1 of our conversation!).  And assuming you enjoy what you read below, feel free to join us at the Incite Group Marketing Summit (October 27-28) where both of us will be speaking.

Drew: Can you provide a quick recap of your career path?

Suzanne: It’s interesting. I didn’t necessarily set out to be in banking per se. Some people start out their careers in financial services and I really didn’t. It’s just a place that I ended up. I actually started my career on the advertising agency side. I got out of college and I was an art director. And I think that’s a good background to have, but it definitely was not my strongest skill set. And so, I moved quickly to the dark side! Later I had an opportunity, my first sort of bigger corporate leadership job, at a medical device manufacturer. Then a bank opportunity in my home town of Memphis opened up and that’s really where I got into banking. I spent quite a bit of time there. And then I was really ready for some new challenges and this opportunity presented itself to come to Sterling in suburban New York and build the marketing discipline.

Drew: Very interesting. I’m curious how being an art director and having worked on the agency side informed your approach to dealing with agency partners.

Suzanne: So this is what they tell me, and I think they are telling me the truth, that actually I’m easier to work with. I may be more demanding, but I also understand how things work on that side of the fence. And so when I give feedback, I understand what it is they need from me to move forward. I’m not the person that says, yeah yeah, what else do you have? I am very demanding, but I think the respect is there simply because I also know where they’re coming from and I help them get there.

Drew: Do you think about your personal brand at all and if so, how would you describe your brand?

Suzanne: I do think having a personal brand is really important. I think that it’s like anything else. You’re interacting with people and how you’re coming across and what you’re like, it definitely influences the outcome of that relationship. So, I do think about that. I’d like to think that my brand is smart, creative and fun. I’d like to think that people think I know what I’m doing, that I have unique perspectives and have unique problem-solving skills, but then I’m still fun to be around!

Drew: I can see that. I’ll credit that to your agency training! Speaking of creativity, you’re now in an industry that isn’t exactly famous for innovative marketing. Do you see banking as a unique marketing challenge?

Suzanne: It does come with some unique challenges. I think it also has some great opportunities associated with it as well. Way back, banks were some of the first companies that actually had in their possession that big data that everyone talks about; it was necessary to do the job, to do the business of banking. And they were among the first to leverage that information for marketing, particularly direct channels. So I’ve had a lot of great direct marketing experience by working for a bank.

Drew: Interesting. So what are some of the other challenges?

Suzanne: I think the biggest challenges are that it is very much a commodity marketplace and it is difficult to differentiate your brand. I think it’s hard to say you’re really doing something that different. I mean being an intermediary for funds, well, there are plenty of companies that do that. Everybody tells you that their customer relationship is better. It’s kind of hard to really tease that out to some specifics that explain exactly how you’re better. And then I think the competitive marketplace is also extremely strong in banking. There are lot of non-bank competitors and they’re making great strides with regard to innovation, which is something that the clients are looking for. So, that’s a challenge too.

Drew: Let’s talk about Sterling and how you have differentiated the bank. 

Suzanne: Well, our business model is probably the stronger driver of what the differentiation is. We’re set up with dedicated commercial teams. Our key target is the commercial middle market client. This is a business that’s pretty big, that’s established, but they’re not large global corporations. Having that one stop shopping, dedicated person that you can go to work with on your finances is important. You have to have a big enough organization that can meet your credit needs that has a sophistication on the deposit side and cash management, but at the same time, you don’t want to be at a huge organization that you’re going to have to find those services on your own throughout their different silos.

Drew: Got it. So how do you communicate that?

Suzanne: One of the things that we did early on is to initiate a content marketing strategy and I think that is a really effective way to engage with this audience. We have been publishing Connect Magazine for over seven years now, and a key feature is that we do client profiles. We have a cover story with a client talking about their business. So, it’s a great value to them. And with that, they do sprinkle in where Sterling has helped them with their business, where we have helped them establish the credit necessary to move into new markets or expand their manufacturing or just manage their cash flows better so they’re more profitable.

Drew: To me, that’s a renegade move. You’re “zigging” to print when everyone else is “zagging” to digital particularly in content marketing.

Suzanne: Well, I think digital is certainly a piece of it and we are taking all the content from the publication and putting it on our new website and making it searchable. This means we have a huge database of information for businesses on how to run their business better. So, we definitely haven’t forgotten about digital, but I still think because everyone else is so focused on it, I think the “zigging” instead of “zagging” is to your benefit to help you stand out. I still get feedback that now what people get in their mail, instead of being overwhelmed and throwing it away, that it’s sort of a novelty especially if it is a quality piece. “Connect” is a beautifully produced magazine. This is a small magazine, but it’s something that you would stop and take a few minutes to look at.

Drew: I bet your customers love seeing their stories in print as opposed to on digital and being able to leave it on the desk and — the waiting desk when people come to see them, look this makes them more impressive and more prestigious.

Suzanne: That’s absolutely correct plus we go the extra mile and we provide a framed article for those clients and they display those in their main conference rooms. Those are not hidden away in the copier room.

Drew: It is interesting to me that so much of the marketing world focuses on straight acquisition — this seems more of an acquisition through retention approach. “Connect” seems very much about making your customers look good, focusing on them with the hope that maybe some new customers will come along–is that a fair characterization of your approach?

Suzanne: I think it is fair, although I would say that the commercial middle market target, like a lot of the B2B type targets, have a longer sales cycle. You’re not just going to send out a piece of mail no matter what it is and then they instantly choose a new bank. There is some relationship building with regard to the prospects and quite frankly most of “Connect” is mailed to prospects and that helps build our brand. But at the same time, it is going to our clients and you’re absolutely right, it is also creating brand ambassadors that will praise our services. So, I think that it works on all those points.

Drew: Are there any brands out there in your category or beyond your category that you admire?

Suzanne: Well, it’s interesting. One of the things is just a personal passion of mine, and in more recent times, is about women in the workforce and really helping to bring women up in their level of position within organizations. I feel that I’ve been fortunate and I’ve taken some steps to give back. I launched the women’s initiative here at Sterling. It’s been a great program, very rewarding. This has caused me to go out and look at activity out in the marketplace and one of the organizations that bubbled up with regard to being a good brand was Catalyst. They’re pretty targeted to working with organizations to help improve their inclusion strategies with regard to females. I’ve been impressed with the communication programs they do, the kind of the content that they’re driving. I found it’s very much in alignment with their message and their mission. And I think they’re doing a good job with it.

Drew: Interesting. Tell me a little bit more about the women’s initiative that you’ve done at the bank.

Suzanne: This is personal passion of mine. I brought this whole concept to the organization and they basically let me run with it. There are a number of ways that you can improve the workplace for women, but I focus on personal and professional development. The program includes networking and topics that help women be stronger within the organization. Each quarter, there’s a different topic. I launch the topic with an overview the first month. The next month, I’ll do a panel discussion with senior women on the topic. And then the third month, I have an in-person mini-conference. It’s two hours long. We have an outside speaker and then do small group workshops.

Drew: Amazing. What topics do you cover?

Suzanne: Back in the first quarter we did executive presence including personal branding. We offer very specific tips, things to do in meetings, things to do when you’re presenting, things that you need to improve your skills in. The second quarter we did moving your career up to the next level. What kinds of things do you have to do to move up? What steps can you take? And then the one we just finished was leadership lessons from extreme environments. This was leadership lessons that come out of climbing Mount Everest and crossing the North and South Poles. Interesting, the analogies there between what it takes to do that and the leadership skills that you need in an organization. So, it’s been fun.

Want to Understand Influencer Marketing? Become an Influencer Yourself

Every once in a while you meet someone who seems to be so much more productive than you are that you just have to stop and tip your hat. The recipient of my admiration most recently is Martin Jones of Cox Communications and as you will see in our interview below, Martin is a man who wears many hats from his day job as the leader of social/content/influencer/employee advocacy at Cox Business and the editor of to being a member of IBM’s Futurist influencer program, a program through which the two of us first met a couple of years back.

What brought us together again is the upcoming Digital Media World Forum (#DMWF) on October 18-19 during which Martin, Pat Zvick (, Sean Gardner (influencer nonpareil) and I will be running a workshop on Influencer Marketing.  The conversation below will give you a sneak peak at just some of the insights we plan to lay before the audience at DMWF.  It’s going to be an amazing event so I hope you can join us.

SME: You wear a lot of hats as a marketer for Cox, Sr. Marketing Manager, writer, editor, speaker and influencer yourself. Do you ever sleep? Seriously, how do you juggle all of this?

I do sleep once in a while, but looking at the clock, I can see that it’s already 1:00 am on a Sunday night, and I’m reminded that I have a plane to catch to Roanoke in 3 hours.
Currently, I lead the social media, content marketing, and employee/ambassador brand advocacy strategy for Cox Business. I am also the editor/manager of the Cox Business content hub/portal,
It’s a position that requires wearing a number of different hats at any given time. Marketer, publisher, coder, writer, editor, community manager, etc. Although it’s a Senior Management position, I’m still very much “in the trenches” on a daily basis.
Some days it can seem like a lot, but I’m now in my 20th year with Cox, and I’m still excited to get up and go to work each day. I work for a great company; I’m on an amazing team, and I can honestly say I love what I do.
As for how I juggle the different roles and responsibilities…
● Start each day with a great attitude (coffee usually works well, too!)
● Clarify and list priorities at the start of each day
● Stay organized and use a great task manager app (Yanado is my favorite)
● Automate the things that can be automated
● Learn when and how to say no (or maybe)
● Identify and use platforms and apps that streamline many of the day-to-day and recurring processes
● Delegate and trust others
● Be proud of what is accomplished at the end of each day

SME: Can you talk about a specific influencer program you’ve orchestrated? What were the goals of the program? How did it work out? How do you evaluate success?
The influencer/ambassador program our team has created for Cox Business is one I consider to be a best-in-class program. Instead of simply selecting a vendor and going from there, we determined what our needs would be from the immediate to the next few years out, and we built the program around that.
We’ve spent close to a year building, testing, and receiving and incorporating feedback to ensure we built something that met the needs of the organization, our employee advocates, and our influencers/ambassadors.
The primary needs/goals of the program included:
● Creating an end-to-end influencer/advocacy platform that integrated and incentivized frictionless content sharing and message amplification along with real-life – offline social activities and events.
● Ensuring that the program aligned with and supported our overall business objectives, but would also be flexible enough to easily adapt to small, localized micro-influencer initiatives in each market.
● Allowing influencers, employees, and consumers to participate whenever and at whatever level they felt most comfortable.
● Ensure that the program would be a two-way street in value for both the organization and our influencers. We wanted to create a program that benefited our influencers in terms of extending their professional networks, increasing thought leadership in their industry or community, and opening the door to new opportunities.
We recently completed beta testing in a couple of our markets, and the full program is rolling out now.

SME: Sticking with this particular program, how did you identify your influencers, and what have been some of the keys to bringing them on board?
That’s kind of like asking The Colonel for his 11 secret herbs and spices! We use a variety of methods and tools to identify influencers including social listening, blogger outreach, hashtag research, and more. We also have a direct link to the Cox Social Ambassador program on our site, where anyone who is interested can apply to the program.
Different groups of influencers had to be identified for each local market, as well as for a number of verticals—start-ups, small business, digital health, higher education technology, hospitality, enterprise technology, and more.
Because of the diversity of the programs and the various influencer/ambassador initiatives we will undertake in 2017 and beyond, identifying and on-boarding a wide range of influencers will be our ongoing focus.
To successfully onboard these influencers, we’re constantly working to ensure that the partnership is a good professional and cultural fit for both sides. To retain these influencers, we need to build relationships with them in order to understand their needs, making sure that they are receiving benefit from the partnership as well, beyond any type of recognition or incentives.
From the start, our influencers are given a documented agreement that provides clearly defined goals and measurements of success for each initiative and the overall ambassador program. We’re also very careful about providing our influencers with the tools and assets needed to make their role as achievable as possible.

SME: Can you identify three essential “do’s” when it comes to developing successful influencer programs?
In addition to what I’ve mentioned above, here are a few other steps we’ve found to be helpful:
1. Do support your influencer by promoting and amplifying their content and personal brand. As a brand or business owner, it’s important that you’re aware of what your influencers/advocates are up to and that you’re also supporting them, when and where it makes sense. Additionally, take time regularly to share and mention the content they’ve created for you on your social channels to support their efforts and increase exposure. Content, frequency and creativity, all increase when an influencer or advocate is being supported by brand he or she is working with.

2. Do select the right influencers for your brand and initiatives. Choosing influencers that have the right audience and personality for your brand is critical to success.

3. Do take a look at your prospective influencers’ social media channels to ensure not only that they are the right fit for your organization and have the followers you’re looking for, but also that they have an engaged, attentive audience. A high number of followers isn’t useful if those followers are not listening to and interacting with the influencer.

SME: Can you offer a couple of “don’ts” or influencer program faux pas?
1. Don’t assume that every person who has a large following or is a recognized name in social media will necessarily be a great influencer for your business, event, or campaign. A good influencer is not measured by the size of their following, but rather but by their ability to get their audience to take action.

2. Don’t underestimate the power of micro-influencers. For example, let’s look at the IT industry. A CIO may only have 300-500 followers, but if many of those followers are also CIO’s and other tech leaders, that person could potentially become one of your most powerful influencers. This applies to any industry, community, or niche.

3. Don’t overwhelm your influencers. This should go without saying, but it’s one of those things I’ve run into a couple of times and heard other influencers complain about. Don’t micro-manage influencers or try to get them influence “your” way. They know their audience better than you do, so let them influence by whatever methods are natural and authentic for them and their audience.

SME: You are among the IBM Futurists which is essentially an influencer program. How do you make sure you are helpful to IBM without seeming like a shill? Or asked differently, what kinds of things does IBM do that makes it easier for you to maintain the integrity of your personal brand?

I was honored to be named an IBM futurist. It’s an exciting program, and the opportunities I’ve had to network, learn, and participate in through that program have been incredible. Many of the things incorporated into our employee advocacy and influencer program are a result of what I have learned from the IBM team and their experience.
If I had to pick the one thing that makes it easy to participate, it would be that the activities that I’m invited to engage in are a natural extension of the work I that I am already doing.
I’ve attended a couple of IBM events as a futurist over the past few years, and each one has been an incredible experience. It has provided me with amazing learning opportunities in fields like business technology, start-ups, marketing, and digital trends—all the things that our audience at Cox Business and (our content hub) has a strong interest in.
I’ve come away from each event with an incredible number of ideas, strategies, and tactics. They make it a win-win, so it’s a very natural fit. The role of an influencer does not feel forced, there are no requirements, and I am not being paid to attend the events or share content. Instead, I simply do the same things I’m already doing every day: learning, writing, sharing, networking with our audience, and striving to bring to them the latest news, trends, and information that will help them grow their businesses.
IBM does an incredible job of connecting the futurists to conference speakers, experts, and others at these events, making it a truly a one of a kind experience for a business-tech-content guy like myself.

SME: How helpful do you think it is to be an influencer yourself when orchestrating influencer programs for your company?
In my opinion, it’s critical to the success of the program. As an influencer (although it feels odd to call myself that) I think it’s probably a bit easier for me to connect with other influencers and bring them on board than someone without a strong social footprint or experience.
There’s a comfort level of trust that influencers want from a brand. Having a personal connection—and knowing that person “gets” your needs and challenges—goes a long way in achieving that.
There are some things I’ve experienced as an influencer that have shaped how I have built and administered our program. Looking at things through the eyes of both the brand and of the influencer has helped us create a strong, well-balanced program that serves both sides well.

SME: Do you think more companies will try to do influencer programs in 2017? Should they? Since these programs often take a couple of years to gain momentum, what should their expectations be?
Yes. I believe more companies can and should jump on the influencer marketing bandwagon in 2017, simply because of the trends we’re seeing in organic reach.
While organic reach across most social networks continues to decline for brands, it has not declined for individuals. In 2017 and beyond it will become increasing important for brands to leverage both influencers and employee advocates if they hope to organically reach an audience.
Additionally, an influencer’s reach is going to be much different than that of a brand. The influencer will attract new consumers that the brand may not have reached through any other method. Better still, they’re coming via a referral from someone the consumer already trusts.
Like most successful marketing programs, building a strong influencer program does take time. An influencer’s primary objective is not to sell products, but to build or shape the perception of your brand in the mind of their audience. So while they will help drive traffic to your site or app, you can’t expect an immediate jump in sales. Think of your influencer program as an introduction to a new audience. It’s up to the brand to build the relationship from there, and that’s a process that takes time and nurturing.

Marketing Clean Water, A Career Journey

My son asked me the other day, “Which superpower would you prefer Dad, teleporting or flying?”  I knew my answer right away but I was surprised when he told me most of his friends choose the other option.  As it turns out, these folks just want to get to where they want to go which makes the idea of teleporting extremely appealing. But for me, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey and I can think of nothing cooler than the ability to fly (without a plane) a la Superman. It’s no wonder that I risk life and limb daily riding a Citibike all over Manhattan rather than taking the seemingly safer and slower subway.

Today you, my loyal readers, have just such a choice. You can spend a little time meeting Snehal Desai and getting to know his career path from college to becoming the Global Business Director for Dow Water and Process Solutions.  Or you can teleport directly to Part 2 of this interview in which we cover how Dow Water approaches consultative selling, stays relevant with an ever growing user base and is working to help solve water issues around the globe. As the old knight suggests, “choose wisely.”


Drew: Can you tell me about your career at Dow and how you got to where you are today?

Snehal: I work for Dow Water & Process Solutions, a division of Dow Chemical. I’m currently the Global Business Director. My background has always been sales and marketing, although I’m trained as a chemical engineer and chemist.

Drew: I imagine the combination of a chemical background and a degree in business was very appealing to Dow. Are there other members of the Dow team with similar backgrounds?

Snehal: Increasingly. When I joined the company, I was an engineer, and then I went straight into selling. It wasn’t until a few years later that I actually went back and got my MBA at Northwestern. It was a bit of a reinvestment in myself, after I realized that I was going to stay on the business side. Today, more than ever, there is a convergence of business and technology so having an MBA ends up being pretty important. We hire a lot of people on the selling and marketing side who are either business or technical-minded; in some cases, they have both.

Drew: How was it working towards your MBA while working full-time at Dow?

Snehal: While I was selling, I was living in Chicago and that gave me an opportunity to attend Northwestern. I then moved from a selling role into a marketing role right after I graduated. I spent about 16 years in Dow between selling, marketing, new business development, and working with a host of other science and technology platforms. I should also note that Dow gets into almost every industry. We support packaging, agriculture, and cosmetics. There are a lot of things that our technologies fall into, but my background has primarily been in the water space.

Drew: And you have been with Dow Water ever since?

Snehal: No. Right around my 16th year, I decided to try something different so I left Dow and went to work in two start-up technology companies. After seven years, I realized you need a lot of money and patience if you want to get involved in clean tech and sustainability. After coming to that realization, I actually returned to Dow as the Marketing Director for the water business, which is where I first started in the company back in 1987. I took on the general manager/business director role for Dow Water Process Solutions.

Drew: What does being Global Business Director for Dow Water and Process Solutions entail?

Snehal: I have the P&L responsibility for our global business. We are very focused on advanced separation and purification technologies that are utilized to clean water, and a host of other process streams. We have a global operation, roughly a billion dollars in revenue, 1,700 employees, 10 manufacturing sites, and several research centers. With all of that you have to operate profitably, reinvesting in people and in resources.


Drew: Can you talk a little bit about what consultative selling means?

Snehal: In consultative selling, you’re focused on customer problems and how you might be able to help them find solutions. In the water industry, it’s around having reliable operations. If you’re a water chemist, a power plant or microchip plant manager, and you’re putting out the next iPhone, the last thing you can afford is having your water system go down while you’re in the middle of production. What that really comes down to is being able to help that operator make his system the most reliable.

Drew: So the customer is the focus here. How do you develop a relationship with the Dow customer?

Snehal: For instance, when you have a conversation with a customer, you might catch them in year 1 of their product’s 7-year life, or you might catch them earlier. The bottom line is that you want to keep a relationship with them over the lifetime of that product so that they can get optimal use out of the technology.

Drew: Can consumers expect a call towards the end of the product lifespan?

Snehal: You just touched on one of our main business issues right now. In the early days, we could call many of our customers, and have a very intimate conversation about when it is time for them to change their products. However, we’ve gone from hundreds of customers to tens of thousands of installations. Now, we’re talking about how to integrate digital in a way that allows us to maintain some of that intimacy.

Drew: I’m sure that Dow being a global company makes the challenge even harder.

Snehal: Definitely. The business challenge right now is scaling this intimate consultative model in a manner that allows us to get not only to the thousands of installations. It’s also dealing with the brand becoming more global today than it was 20 years ago. I used to be able to do all my business in English, but now I can’t. Can I do all my business in my time zone? No. Oftentimes, what we’re finding is that many of our clients are doing what all of us do, which is going to the web first.

Drew: How are you dealing with this move to digital? Do you have customer service team active online?

Snehal: Our customers really try to help themselves before they really want to talk to anybody. So now, we have to make those tools and some of that decision-making information available to them online. Additionally, we have very smart people contact them and walk them through their issue.

Drew: How do you make sure that when you are consulting that you are acting as a truth broker and not solely promoting your brand?

Snehal: To be honest with you, sometimes I would prefer if our folks were the kind of people who understand how they could solve the whole problem without technologies. But oftentimes, we have people that are very close to the problem that they’re trying to solve. For instance, you could use ultrafiltration followed by reverse osmosis to purify unclean water. But the fact of the matter is that if the water isn’t that bad in the front end, you might not need ultrafiltration. In that case, we’re not going to recommend that process. Instead, we’re going to tell you, “Here is the trade off. Here is what you get if you did it but that’s going to cost you.” A lot of times there is no reason to advocate for anything other than one piece of the puzzle because it’s the only one that is needed.

Drew: What role does brand play in the selection of these replacements parts for Dow Water?

Snehal: It plays a big role because, as I said at the beginning, we pride ourselves on reliability and trust. I think that’s fundamentally what people in our business are seeking; they want to trust what they’re about to rely on to produce their water. We spend a lot of time showing how our products are working around the world. Doing this in our 35 years of business has resulted in a large amount of repeat buyers. The Dow brand isn’t necessarily just a product. It’s also the people, it’s the reliability, and it’s the warranty.

Drew: How do you battle staying both trusted and current?

Snehal: Over the years, we’ve done a nice job finding the early adopters that are willing to embrace a change in scheme, a new operating technology, or are willing to partner with us to deploy it. We really cultivate references all over the world and then push the technology. Competition in the marketplace also drives us to continue improving and innovating.

Drew: I know Dow is doing a working to help ease the water crisis in Southern California. What measures do you take to stay up to date on the issue?

Snehal: I’ve spent more time in the last year-and-a-half in conferences that you wouldn’t think that Dow would be a part of. It’s part of a conversation that says, “Here are all the things we can do. Here is what your role could be. Here is what Dow’s role is in helping us get to that outcome.” We’ve also joined a few advocacy groups like the Value of Water Coalition, which aims to answer a few questions: “What are we doing to invest in your water infrastructure? Do you know that we are severely underfunded? Do you know that before you put the road over the top of the water pipe, maybe you should fix the water pipe?”

Drew: How is Dow addressing the lack of water from a marketing standpoint?

Snehal: We’re really focused on this concept of courageous collaboration. That focus requires us to engage with a variety of stakeholders to get this topic on the table because it’s not a problem everywhere. In those places where it’s a burning question, we want to be a part of the conversation. Our technologies may or may not fit at that moment, but we’re at least informing the dialog.

Drew: Courageous collaboration is a very interesting term. What does the courage part of that phrase mean?

Snehal: We are challenged with engaging with people who may not always share the same point of view. But if you listen, you have a chance of finding out that you have a lot more in common than you thought. I think that the courageous part of it is being willing to engage with people that we wouldn’t traditionally think of as natural customers. It’s thinking about your ecosystem in a much broader way, and then acting as a speaker and a listener in that conversation.

Drew: How do you approach change?

Snehal: There was a period of time when to do something different would have been seen as very risky, “Why fix it if it isn’t broken?” But I find that even if there isn’t a better way to do something, there is always another way. It doesn’t have to be big bets, but the important questions are “What do you choose to experiment on? What do you choose to pilot?” I’ll tell you that over the last 18 months, I’ve spent more time in non-traditional venues which allowed me to see things that I might not have seen if I went to the usual places.

Drew: Can you tell me about the Water Academy series?

Snehal: It’s a resource for the new class of water engineers and water treatment professionals. We have traditionally built that content around the North America or the Western European market. Now, we have so many people from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America that are joining. We provide people with information on how to best pick and maintain systems, how to design, etc. We provide all this content through video, and we do Q&As through our LinkedIn community page.

Drew: Is all of the Water Academy content available via mobile?

Snehal: Absolutely, it’s important to think about making the content bite-sized, and highlighting the most important information. That’s very different than a two-hour seminar on everything you need to know.

Drew: On the homepage of your website, there is a search bar that says, “What can we help you find?” Is that a relatively new thing that you’ve added?

Snehal: People come to us for what they know they need, but there could be a lot of things we could do for them. If a person had a big question about something related to water, even though that may not be something that we do, we can direct them to a sister division, or a customer that does it.

Drew: Have you thought about adding a feature that can identify new customers?

Snehal: It’s definitely part of our thought process. We’re looking to use technology and interface with individuals on our team to personalize experiences and help people more easily find what they’re looking for.

Drew: Are you incorporating social listening into your research and if so how?

Snehal: We did two pilots in social listening, in which we focused on a topic in a region of the world to see what we would find. It was pretty fascinating because residential water treatments or point of use water treatment is a big trend in India. We ran an experiment with a provider to do social listening to see what people were talking about, particularly on the consumer side. We found that there was a lot of conversation going on around the topic of water and home water treatment.

Drew: How are you using social platforms for social listening?

Snehal: We’re looking more on LinkedIn and forums where people are asking each other questions. We’re experimenting where we can, and we find a lot of it is relevant to us so we’re just keeping our eyes open.

CMO Insights: How to Use Marketing to Help Your Customers

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 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

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
by 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.

Why IBM is Hiring Hollywood Storytellers

It’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.