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.”

PART 1: CAREER PATH

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.

PART 2: MARKETING & MORE

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.

Keeping the Customer Front and Center

water skiing crash bigGripping tightly to the lifeless plastic handle I could only muster a fainthearted “hit it” to the speedboat skipper 50 feet away. This was to be my third and final attempt to rise above my skis and frankly I was already drained and shivering. The first effort had ended in a face plant with skis scattered across the surface like an old-fashioned yard sale. The second was only slightly less ugly. My already formulated excuse was going to be that the boat was too weighed down with passengers to yank my sad ass above the surface. Fortunately, the third time was the charm as I kept my weight back as instructed and let the skis do their magic. Once elevated, I hurled myself out of the wake regaining some semblance of the athletic confidence I usually take for granted and romped around the lake like a champ.

Had you not seen my false starts or heard any of the coaching I received before liftoff, you might have thought it was just another effortless and solitary accomplishment by an experienced (read middle aged) jock.  [Stay with me now as I deftly transition to the real story here!] This is not unlike the experience most of us have when seeing a finished product or a successful marketing campaign. Typically, we don’t bother to ask about the team behind the product or about any of the missteps along the way. As consumers, we take all that for granted as we should. But as marketers, we can’t afford such incuriousness. We have to go deeper. We must look under the surface. We must understand the process behind the success.
And yes, that’s exactly what I did during a recent conversation with Kieran Hannon, the CMO of Belkin, the makers of Belkin, Linksys and Wemo products. Kieran, as you may remember is featured in my book, The CMO’s Periodic Table under the element “Storytelling.”  This time we went even deeper, covering his impressive three-year plan, Belkin’s inclusive product development process, influencer marketing and more. While Kieran appears not to have had too many wipeouts along the way, what you will discover is a marketer whose seemingly effortless glide is wholly the result of determination, collaboration and well earned experience.

Drew: One of the things that you mentioned to me was your three-year plan. Where are you on that plan, and how is it coming along?

Kieran: We’re now going into year four. Year 1 was focused on the organization itself. It was aimed at educating our marketing teams across the globe, helping them understand their roles, the needs in the markets, and the priorities of the company. Essentially, Year 1 was building a team that could deliver global marketing programs and lead that development. Year 2 was aimed at aligning the region and the corporate goals because we were decentralized at that point. In Year 2, the global marketing teams were supporting all three brands. Some of the team members were dedicated to a brand but in a lot of other respects, the teams worked across multiple brands. For instance, the CRM team has worked across all brands. Now, CRM is embedded into each brand, they are in control of their own destiny and their needs as a great example. Additionally, we had designers sitting in 11 different functional groups around the world. Now, all designers are in one group in each brand, so there is a single management structure for each brand. Those are just a few examples of streamlining, and bringing focus and prioritization around the world.

Drew: What was the result of this plan?

Kieran: As a premium brand, Belkin is doing very well in a somewhat commoditized market. Our focus on highly differentiated products and experiences is making a big difference. For example, when you travel you’ll see Belkin in all the Hudson News stores around the US and around the world. For Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Hudson came to us and asked if they could build a Belkin store because travelers find the brand so compelling.

At CES, one of our products, the Valet Charge Dock for the Apple watch and iPhone was voted Best in Show. That’s another example of the design innovation Belkin is reknowed for — and it’s been a tremendous success.

Drew: Let’s talk about product innovation and marketing and where product development sits relative to marketing. How do you ensure that there’s a marketing idea built into the product?

Kieran: Sure. Let me tell you about ScreenCare +, a new applicator system that we launched in all Apple stores. That is not just a product; it’s an experience. The product management team, the industrial design teams and the marketing teams worked very closely in the development of that program from embedded testing to the testing of different formats for training of store specialists. We have what’s called our “E2” planning processes with different gates and as a product goes from formation into development, marketing and other groups provide input and feedback. This insures alignment throughout our exciting and rewarding process.

Drew: It really is amazing how Wi-Fi is at the center of everything, the enabler of the Internet of Things.

Kieran: It’s such a key enabler. A lot of people have so many devices at home, they don’t realize they’re probably sitting there with a three or four-year-old Wi-Fi router and it’s wrecking the experience of these great devices that they bought. What’s worse than when you want to go online in the evening with your family to stream a movie, and all you see is buffering? A lot of the issues are because you have an old router and there are another ten devices connected to the Wi-Fi that are impeding the ability to deliver that signal. To help our customers have a better experience, you can now prioritize within the Linksys system your Netflix streaming device and de-prioritize other devices.

Drew: How are you incorporating influencer marketing into your overall strategy?

Kieran: We’ve done a number of influencer programs over the years and they’re very target based. We spend a lot of time ensuring that we get the right type of influencers that can really amplify our cause. Importantly, we let them drive the project. We just want our influencers to express their feelings about the brand, the products and the experience in a way that’s most meaningful to them. Full transparency is pretty critical and we’ve been very pleased with every influencer program we’ve done.

Drew: What are the pitfalls of influencer program?

Kieran: I think the fundamental pitfall is trivialization, either trivializing the audience or trivializing the role the product plays. It doesn’t mean that you heighten the role of the product in that experience but you don’t want to trivialize it either. So, I think it’s best to be authentic throughout the partnership.

Drew:  I think one of the challenges clients encounter is evaluating the success of influencer programs relative to other activities. How do you evaluate these programs?

Kieran: It’s the crossover between paid and earned media that’s really powerful and puts the icing on the cake. We have both consumers and retail partners as our audience, and how they talk about and relate to our brands is very important. We think about that as we build up these influencer programs.

Drew: As a company that introduces innovative products and services, how do you make sure your media and your marketing is innovative? Is the medium the message sometimes?

Kieran: Oh, absolutely. I’ll give you an example. A great program that we do with Hulu is at the point of buffering, we deliver a message to people that you don’t have to have that experience – you just need a more powerful router. So, the medium can absolutely be the message. On the Belkin side, we’ve done some great programs with other mobile platforms that really bring to life what you’re doing at that moment in time. So yes, the medium is equally important as the message in a lot of cases.

Drew: The geo-fencing program you did is particularly innovative. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Kieran: Yes, we are doing an interesting program with geo-fencing where we understand when the consumer is in the proximity of a retail partner and we can share with them the relevant personal message to that proximity.

Note: This is part 1 of my interview with Belkin’s Kieran Hannon, part 2 will appear on Social Media Explorer soon.  

CMO Insights: How Rebranding is Done

Reinventing your brand is a lot harder than it sounds. Legacy perceptions, perhaps one’s that you worked for years to engender, are extremely hard to dispel.  Xerox spent years trying to convince us they weren’t just a copier company with modest success. Then there’s the need to get both management and employee buy-in which can be as hard as changing customer perceptions.  For example, Kodak management and employees never really adjusted to the digital era and its last minute efforts to reinvent came to naught.

One of the most dramatic ways to signify reinvention is through a name change since it risks resetting brand equity at zero.  Which brings me to my conversation with Michael Mendenhall, CMO of Flex.  Formerly known as Flextronics, Mendenhall and the leadership team recognized that customer perceptions did not align with what the company actually did and where it wanted to go SO they decided to drop “tronics” from their name, thus marking a clear transition from the old to the new.  It was hardly as simple as that so read on to learn just how effective this reinvention really was and why Mendenhall was recognized with the Growth Award by The CMO Club.

Drew: Can you start off by telling me what Flex does?

Michael: We design, innovate, and engineer smart products for the connected world.

Drew: How does digital marketing fit into that, and what were some of the digital initiatives you have focused on in the past year?

Michael: Well, it wasn’t just digital as an initiative that we accomplished this year. When I came to Flex over a year ago, this was a company that was transforming itself based on market demand. We started out 40 years ago in contract manufacturing, moved into electronics, and then evolved into a supply chain solutions company. The last four to five years, the company added a great deal of capability around design, innovation, engineering, and software solutions filling out the entire portfolio of products and services for companies who would want to commercialize products. We would provide them with the sketch-to-scale solutions, no matter if you were a small startup with an idea or you were a Fortune 10 company.

Drew: How did your team go about changing the marketplace’s understanding of Flex and the services it provided?

Michael: It was our goal to rebuild the corporate strategy of the company, evaluate the existing assets and capabilities and then ask ourselves, “What do we offer the marketplace and what is that the addressable market for our products and services?” The name of the company was adding to some of the confusion relative to our customer value proposition. The market thought we were electronic manufacturers or contract manufacturers. In fact, we weren’t. We were a very flexible, adaptive company that could commercialize your product from a sketch on a napkin, all the way up to full-scale global distribution, as well as logistics. So we decided strategically to drop the “tronics” from the name to reposition that brand against that new strategy. After changing the name, we then proceeded to recalibrate the brand, developing a new mission-vision-value proposition for the company.

Drew: Can you expand on how you modified Flex’s brand architecture and built on the brand identity?

Michael: We built out a strategy around a couple major pillars. One was corporate communications, which included strategic communications, financial communications, and analyst relations for the company. We aligned the communication architecture to the brand and corporate strategy of the company. This allowed us to build the mechanics in marketing around digital marketing, communication, brand, global citizenship, CSER and really go after what was going to drive customer and shareholder value.

Drew: What were the effects of the newly implemented strategies?  

Michael: The effect all of that had was pretty extraordinary. In the first six months after we had repositioned the company and launched the new brand and communication, we had already added 44 percent value to the share price. That wasn’t just from revenue growth, there was a great deal of that that was attributed to the strategic repositioning of the company, the new brand and the new communication architecture for the company. We also wound up bringing in a lot of new customers, both small startups and large enterprises. We’ve had great margin growth in the company based on this, all ending with a really terrific one-year shareholder price and return to the shareholders.

Drew: Wow, that’s a herculean effort doing all of that in a relatively short period of time. As you’re reaching new markets with a brand name that was unheard of, it must have been particularly difficult trying to get some credibility in the market.

Michael: We had existing relationships with VCs and private equity firms who knew our company well. They would continue to espouse our experience, knowledge, credibility and experience sending any software or hardware companies needing help in designing, engineering prototyping and production. We have extraordinary amounts of cumulative experience that could help brands eliminate startup mistakes, giving them velocity to market with quality and reliability. We focused on the brand reputation, not as much the equity and influenced the relations relative to those key stakeholder groups. We spent time building that capability in addressing those initiatives that then would move the reputation of the company. That was the part of the success, using all levers including digital marketing.

Drew: Do you see a big difference between B2B and B2C marketing?

Michael: I’ve always been quite frustrated with how companies, who are B2B, they generally believe they need to have to have a certain business tone and vernacular in approaching there market. Content in B2B is is incredibly important whether short form or long form, whether it’s a soundbite or a two-hour documentary. The narrative should be told in an approachable and easily digestible way. Not speaking over or under the audience. Simple, easy and quick. The channels then become important in whether you’re passive, active, engaged, etc. So for us, I always believe that you must have EQ in the narrative. After all we are all consumers at the end of the day.

Drew: It seems as though many marketers are experiencing a renewed interest in storytelling. Is this one of your focuses at Flex?  

Michael: For me, there is an emotion in decision-making, and a level of engagement that supports storytelling. Within storytelling, we follow a certain pattern of lead generation, lead nurturing, conversion etc. I wanted to build an approachable brand. We are in multiple industries and it could become very complex and sophisticated very quickly. We have to be approachable, yet understandable, and simple in how we appeal to the market. The narrative of you brand is incredibly important. It needs attention, discipline and focus.

Drew: What is the story you wanted to tell and how did you tell it?

Michael: We talked about thought leadership, as Flex is an influencer and thought leader in the space. That involved shaping those scenes and stories, and deciding how we would tell them. We then set out to look at the means by which we would produce the content. One of those was a magazine called Intelligence. We went after the intelligent, smart data, and the idea that product will move from using connectivity for operability to optimization and predictability. That becomes incredibly important because then you start to realize that your products are actually going to tart optimizing themselves and giving you new data points as a marketer. The magazine is basically an industry magazine for the intelligence of things. We curate content from some of the world’s best in their field; they write for us based on topics we believe would be interesting for people that are working on smart connected products. Every Company is a media company. Content is still king.

Drew: What do you think is the biggest lesson here for marketers?

Michael: I believe the biggest lesson for marketers is to remember that storytelling is still very important. No matter if it’s short form or long form, as marketers we have to pay special attention to the art of storytelling. We have to be highly disciplined and focused on that, and be able to tell stories in an approachable way, especially if you are B2B.

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.