RENEGADE THINKING from the CEO of Renegade, the NYC-based "social inspired marketing" agency that helps besieged CMOs cut through.

CMO Award Winner Alicia Jansen of MD Anderson

08/5/15
Madhur Aggarwal of SAP presents awards to Ani Matson of NEA Member Benefits and Alicia Jansen of MDAnderson Cancer Center on the far right

Madhur Aggarwal of SAP presents awards to Ani Matson of NEA Member Benefits and Alicia Jansen of MDAnderson Cancer Center on the far right

Trying to put oneself in the customer’s shoes is a noble notion expressed by many a marketer.  Remarkably, few marketers actually make this standard operating procedure and fewer still address the shortcomings revealed by such an endeavor.  But the real rarity is the customer who becomes the marketer — which is exactly the case with Alicia Jansen.  Alicia sought the job of CMO of MD Anderson Cancer Center only after having witnessed the extraordinary patient care provided to a member of her family.  And even 11 years after becoming the CMO, Alicia has never forgotten that experience or the need to stay focused on the patient.

With this bit of background, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Alicia received the CMO Officers Award from The CMO Club late last year.  This award is “based on a marketing executive’s demonstrated leadership in leading the brand beyond the marketing department and leading the growth agenda for the company,” and as you will see in our interview below, Alicia accomplished all that and then some.

Drew:  You’ve been at MD Anderson for 11 years but before that you were working at Compact. Selling computers and selling cancer treatment are pretty different things. Were you able to take any of the things that you learned at Compact and apply them to what you’ve been doing at MD Anderson?

Yes, I have. I believe that marketing is a type of job that you can apply to so many different industries.  In my opinion there are a couple of characteristics that you have to have in order to really enjoy it; one of them is that you have to be curious.  You have to be able to raise your hand and say, let me learn as much as I possibly can about this business, because in order for me to be able to market it and tell other people about it I need to know it and you can do that in any industry. I did that with computers and software and I found it very intriguing and I find the same thing at MD Anderson.  One thing about MD Anderson that I find very satisfying as a marketer is that we are doing something to help other people go through this cancer journey, and that’s very satisfying at a personal level.

I think marketers also have to be able to tell a story. They have to be able to learn what the business is about and understand who the audience is that you’re talking to so you can translate that to something that they can understand and that will move them in some way; whether it’s to move them to buy something, move them to talk about it or move them to donate. I think good marketers have the ability to tell a good story and to get others to tell the story as well, and that applies to any industry.

Drew: When you are selling cancer care, the degree of empathy and the sensitivity required is quite a bit different than when you are selling computers or software. I’m wondering how that plays in as a part of the story that you tell at MD Anderson?

My story of working at MD Anderson probably influences the way I do my job.  Many people who work for MD Anderson have similar stories.  My mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer in 2000 and I was the primary caregiver; I was at MD Anderson every day. I witnessed her journey and I was able to see what it is like to fight this disease. It made me a better person because I could have that empathy, whether I apply it towards everyday life or apply it to my job. It influenced me so much so that when I heard a job opening was available at MD Anderson in the marketing department I raised my hand, was hired and eventually took over the department.

That initial experience of being with my mother-in-law through her cancer journey taught me the lessons of why people go through this and what I can do to make the journey better, what I can say, what programs I can initiate, what are the things that I can help MD Anderson do better in order to make it easier on our patients and their families. I realized that this is where I need to be and that’s why I took the job. I find working here very inspiring because of the customers that I work with every day.

Drew:  How have you been able to impact the customer experience in your current role?

The patient experience to me is a passion because I experienced it with my mother-in-law and it is something that I am extremely excited about helping MD Anderson do better.  A couple of years ago we started doing market research by talking to patients and their families while they were going through the treatment here. We also spoke with members of the community to understand their needs and their expectations and how they would behave if they were faced with this decision to treat cancer. I took that information back to our leadership and said, we have a lot of patients here who feel that we do a fantastic job, but when you peel back the lemon there are a couple of things that keep surfacing and I’m seeing a few trends of some things that we could be doing better.

I truly believe that in order to be appreciated and have a seat at the table you have to be more than an order taker.  You have to offer more than the latest ad or brochure or update to the website. You have to show that you’re bringing valuable information to the table that will enhance the decision-making process and help executives and yourself be able to make better decisions in order to satisfy the customer, exceed their expectations, and run the business better.  Marketers today have to have knowledge and this goes back to being curious, knowing the business and bringing information to the table that’s going to help the business.

Why CMOs Should Blog (and why more don’t)

05/7/15

In my informal poll of CMOs, the top three reasons given for not blogging include:

  1. Don’t have time
  2. Not a good writer
  3. Uncertain of the value

roberto medranoRoberto Medrano, CMO of Akana (formerly SOA Software), started blogging three years ago as a way to start and lead the dialogue on critical issues in his industry.  Like most CMOs, Roberto had no shortage of things to do, including repositioning the company from legacy software applications to what Akana calls “powering the API economy.”  But he made the time to blog. As for his writing skills, Roberto does not profess to be a writer even after crafting 30 or more highly engaging blog posts.  Oh and did I mention the fact that his native language his Spanish? Roberto found a way to get his point-of-view across while seeking the help of colleagues to edit and proof his posts.

As for the value of blogging, Roberto frames them in our discussion below.  First, these posts helped demonstrate that Akana is a true thought leader, raising issues and opportunities long before their competitors.  Second, it helps coalesce internal points-of-view on where their industry (and company) is headed. Third, once he showed the value of blogging, other members of the executive team started to write as well, furthering the reach & conversation.  Fourth, the press began to seek out Akana’s posts as a source of content for their own stories.  Finally, and the one Roberto downplays given his already establish reputation in the industry, is how it raised his personal profile, culminating in his ranking as the 12th most influential CMO in the US.

I would add one other personal benefit to blogging–writing leads to understanding. So if you’re still insufficiently motivated to start blogging, read on.  I found Roberto’s personal journey quite enlightening.

Drew: How long have you been blogging and what motivated you to get started?
I started blogging about three years ago. I felt the need to communicate Akana’s point of view as an industry thought leader besides just sending press releases or asking the press to take a point of view. And there are less press reporters now. That motivated us to say, “How do we do that?” And we also saw that other companies were using blogs effectively. So then, we said, “Okay. We got to do our own” and I was the guy who started writing them.

Drew: Who was your target?
Our initial target was enterprise architects who are thinking about doing mobile applications, people that are doing cloud applications and people leading digital transformation to their internal applications.

Drew: How did you decide what to write about?
Whatever we thought would be relevant to our target. We wanted to provide insights about security, mobile, cloud, application lifecycle development and some related business, with the use of APIs. Now in the digital world everything is connected thru APIs. We covered the technical aspects of building APIs and building applications. Or for companies looking to use the cloud, we covered what applications have to have to be able to be cloud ready. We just wanted to make easy for our customers and prospects to find relevant content, whether it was high level or more detailed technology use.

Drew: Did you court controversy?
Of course, some of the topics were and continue to be controversial. With the controversial ones, we usually take a position especially if it was a topic lots of people were debating. People appreciate that. For some, our point-of-view would really resonate. And even the folks that disagreed might still refer to the blog post, send it around, comment and do all those things that happen with blogs.

Drew: A lot of senior marketers tell me they don’t have time to write or don’t like doing it and these are folks for whom English is a first language. Was it particularly hard for you to get started given that Spanish is your native tongue?
I never really believed that I was a writer but I do have some ideas to communicate to people. So, I started thinking of to how communicate those to a broader audience in a written fashion. At first, I felt very uncomfortable because I don’t consider myself a reporter that publishes writings, and now a blogs are publications. I felt quite responsible and not very comfortable. I had to get some initial help from people that were actual writers and proofreaders to review some of the write-ups before they we’re actually published.

Drew: Did it get easier?
I have become more comfortable over the last three years as more and more posts got published. I do a lot more of the editing myself, but still pass the posts by others for comments or edits. The editing has been less and less in terms of style and more about the details of the points that need to be communicated.

Drew: Do you get a fair amount of feedback from your readers?
I get a lot of feedback from the people that read it on our corporate blog and when I repost it on LinkedIn and other publications. What’s amazing is that I’ll get comments on posts that were published six months ago. Blogs can be read for a long time and still be current.

Drew: Have there been some results that surprised you?
Well, I didn’t expect that some press would read my posts and refer them in their articles. That was not in my radar. I see more and more reporters referring to my posts, which is kind of interesting especially since we have never promoted the blog to press. Recently, a reporter asked “Do you have a blog?” and told me they would wait for my post on a particular topic and then quoted from it a day later. That’s definitely a new thing for me and its reassuring since it means the press believes there’s something of value in these posts!

Drew: Any other results that surprised you?
The other aspect that’s happened to me is that I get recognized at conferences! I’ll be walking around and then some people just come up to me to talk about something that I published. I don’t know these people, or they just see my picture and they recognize me. They want to talk to me about the blogs. I’ve never gotten anything really negative in person where somebody will come and argue with me which is a relief!

Drew: Do you always have internal agreement before you issue a point-of-view?
Not always. We do a lot of research with our customers and sometimes the results are controversial internally and some people don’t agree. When a clear and potentially new point of view emerges, it is important to get it out there in the marketplace ahead of the competition. And sometimes is just takes other people longer to get on board but they generally do come around especially when they see a competitor pretty much copying our stuff!

Drew: Are there other benefits of having a disciplined regular blogging program?
Yes, because people subscribe to the blog and read it regularly, they have a more interesting connection with us. And they want to connect to see what we’re thinking about. In many cases, they go back — even when there doing evaluation for a product, they go back in the blog and try to see what posts are related to what they’re thinking about doing.

Drew: Was it hard to get other execs to write?
If you look at the first couple of years, I was the only guy blogging even though I would send emails to the company and say, “write something that could be interesting” nobody was doing it. Slowly, others started writing too. But if look at the blog today, you’ll see I’m one of many that posts blogs every month.

Drew: What are CMOs missing when say they’re just too busy to blog?
So, you’re missing out on an opportunity to communicate with an audience that wants to hear something from you. You’re missing a chance to be part of the conversation that simply can’t happen with ads and press releases. You’re missing the chance to help your company be perceived as industry thought leaders.

Drew: You were ranked 12th (of 250) of the most influential CMOs in the marketplace. Does this recognition in your mind help Akana?
Well, in my mind, it does, because we are recognized as part Akana the company. The recognition is for creating a perception about the company and you are compared with many other great companies with all the marketing activities you manage and the results you produce. In terms of blogs, It’s not my private blog. So, the fact that the blogs are quoted on some publications that gives another dimension to whatever the writing is from that press and the value for the company and for the CMO.

Drew: Last question, what would you say are the top benefits of consistent blogging?
The more content you recreate, the more ideas you have in the marketplace, the more there is for people to find and look at. The organic search benefits are huge. If people are looking for certain topics like APIs, SOA and “enterprise service bus” which we are against, our blog comes up at the top. And if the content is good enough, people will subscribe and continue to share your content, your point-of-voice that will establish you and your company as legitimate thought leaders.

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

02/7/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better, more engaging content, better use of analytics.

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

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

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

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

Drew: Do you have a content marketing strategy?  

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

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

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

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

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

B2B Branding 101: The Book That Wasn’t

02/4/15

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

Why brand matters

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

Seeking your brand promise

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

Asking employees for input

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

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

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

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

Talking to your customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tossing out the obvious product benefits

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

Assessing the rational components of your brand promise

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

Seeking out the emotional high ground

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

Why Kidzania is Marketing Nirvana & More w Cammie Dunaway

02/2/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01/28/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Older Posts »

Copyright © 2015 - Drew Neisser