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

What’s the Story with Storytelling? Just ask CMO Douwe Bergsma.


Douwe BergsmaIt was one of those rare Los Angeles days — smog free, blue skies and the air was crisp.  A perfect set up for what I hoped would be a perfect pitch.  We were sitting in a diner right across the street from the bank headquarters in Pasadena and we were the opposite of stressed out.  Like well-prepared boxers, we were ready, really ready. We were confident in our strategic sharpness and that we had the big idea.  We even had most of the critical tactical details worked out to deliver a successful launch campaign. So when we walked over to the bank about 15 minutes before the appointed hour, witnesses might have seen a slight swagger in our step. Little did we know that our swagger was about to be shattered.

Entering the bank, we enlightened the dowdy receptionist that we had arrived and to our alert our future client of our presence. The first hint of trouble came in the form of a slightly raised eyebrow followed by a hesitant call upstairs. She then, as nicely as she could muster, told us that our contacts weren’t there.  For maybe the 2nd time in my career, I went ashen.  Where were they?  What had gone wrong?  Had we flown to California for nothing?  A cellphone call revealed the truth — they were waiting for us in West LA. You see, we were pitching a new debit card from OneWest bank in partnership with Magic Johnson enterprises and when our bank contact said “headquarters” he meant Magic’s headquarters. This was a forty-minute drive on a good day and we had maybe 14 minutes.  ­

Running to the car with one of my associates, it was me against every driver in LaLaLand.  Dodging, weaving, and topping 90 MPH often, Dale Earnhardt had nothing on me that day.  With the pedal to the medal, my heart and my mind were racing as well. Was our biggest pitch of the year about to crash and burn?  Could we recover from such a seemingly careless misstep? Meanwhile, we heard from the rest of the team that they had been stopped by the police for making an illegal u-turn and that we should start without them. Are you kidding me? Start with 2 of our 5 presenters? So we sped ahead, arrived in record time, set up our laptop, tried to hide the sweat on our brows and waited for Magic Johnson to enter the room.

SO at this point in my story, hopefully you are wondering whether or not we got the business? Or maybe you are thinking what kind of idiot doesn’t check the location of the meeting? Or you’re wondering what Magic Johnson is like in person? Or you’re asking yourself what’s the purpose of Drew’s story? And let me answer the last question first. My goal was to get your attention through a bit of storytelling, to share a conflict, in this case, three conflicts, man versus nature (the traffic), man versus man (the pitch) and man versus himself (the fear) and then to leave you hanging — at least for now. Because among the biggest insights gleaned from my extensive interview with George Pacific CMO Douwe Bergsma is that not every brand story needs to be resolved in a nice little bow.  There’s a lot more to this story so please read on.

Drew: Recently Georgia-Pacific’s advertising campaigns received some attention, including Co.Create’s most creative ads, Ad Age’s Creativity 50, the Cojones Award and the CMO Club’s award for Creativity & Storytelling. Was the storytelling approach the driver behind the new work?

Douwe: It is driven by vision and strategy changes and by many people at Georgia-Pacific and our partners. Our new storytelling approach was one of the major strategic changes.

Drew: Can you give me some background on how you’re approaching storytelling at Georgia-Pacific?

Douwe: We’ve partnered with David Altschul, Jim Hardison and their team at Character and adopted storytelling as a strategic framework. It is not about storytelling as in a different way of labeling or describing advertising. It’s more of a fundamental approach to how to view your communication efforts across all touch points. We approach our brand communication as if we are writing a movie or a country song or doing improv theater. You do that by starting with the story framework.   If you visualize an iceberg, the storytelling part is the part that’s above water and the story framework is the larger part that’s underneath the water.

Drew: That’s very different from what I’ve been hearing about storytelling. Tell me more about the framework.

Douwe: You’ve got to identify key elements that are important for your total story. It is the part that the author will know but that the audience wouldn’t, but it’s implied. So for example, within the story framework, we first and foremost determine the fundamental human truth for our brand. It’s very similar to what others call brand purpose, brand assets, and brand values, but we call it the fundamental human truth.

Drew: So how is this different than purpose-driving marketing?

Douwe: For us, purpose or essence is a key element of the framework but it is where a lot of other consultants and companies would stop. In the past, I have done both, the purpose-driven approach and the story-telling framework, and could clearly see the difference, side by side. The big element that you need to understand for any story is what conflict is inherently the story’s framework. And like any storyteller would tell you, the conflict is the motor of any story. If the conflict stops, the story stops. It is the element that continues to propel the story forward and drive the intrigue and engagement of your audience.

Drew: Seems like this is very different from my packaged goods days during which we created a problem that the product could easily solve?

Douwe: True. Most marketers through the decades are focused on avoiding and/or solving conflicts.

Working on different brands, whether it was shampoo, snacks or paper plates, we typically identified a solution to make any problem go away…and so did the story. The next thing you know, you need to start all over again. Instead of embracing a conflict, many brands say, “we need to avoid them because we don’t like conflicts.”

Drew: Okay, I’m ready to embrace conflicts but give me an example of what you mean?

Douwe: We basically seek out what is the key conflict in our brands. For example, the Brawny conflict is between being tough and being gentle. And, in an ideal world, the conflicts are two positives, like safety and freedom. You want both, but sometimes, they clash.

After the classic man versus nature, the next level of conflict is man against man, but the in best stories the main characters are going through an internal conflict and for example become more brave and take more risk as the story progresses. We try to seek those same elements for our brands along with five other key characteristics of a story. And then our experts at Character write the story framework book.

NOTE: The rest of this really enlightening interview will be posted in the next 2 days. There we dive into how storytelling changed agency relationships, staffing and a whole lot more. Oh and yes, we did get the Magic Card business. But that’s a story for another day.  

CSR: Global Food for Thought


Paul HillenWith the Empire State Building glowing in the background, I wondered what was on my own horizon that evening.  The cocktail party in a chic midtown hotel had just begun, the award-winning CMOs were pouring in and my curiosity was starting to peak.  Who were these people?  Sure I could read their name badges but what were their stories and more importantly, would I have time to discover them in between the chit chat?

Shortly thereafter I met Paul Hillen, CMO of what turns out to be the largest privately held company in the US, Cargill. As Paul told me about this global agricultural powerhouse, I became more and more intrigued, especially at it relates to their abundant CSR activities.  So, of course, I followed up with Paul.

These days, one expects global companies to have a reasonable amount of charitable activities and to show some level of environmental responsibility. What I didn’t expect is that in addition to things like building 75 schools in developing nations, Cargill became so well versed in Responsible Supply Chain Management that they turned this into a service they offered their clients. You’ll find that surprise and others in our comprehensive interview below.  Cheers.

Drew: What is your overall approach to corporate social responsibility?  

I am a big proponent that whether it’s philanthropic, an investment in a community or a partnership that it is all an extension of your business strategy. It’s just like branding. If branding and marketing are not an extension of the overall business strategy, then they are probably doomed. And so when approach CSR programs, I start by asking what are the things that we can do where we operate that are linked to good business? And the first answer to that has to be a direction extension of your business strategy and how CSR can continue to deliver on the expectations that our board and our shareholders have in terms of the growth of the company.

Drew: As a private company, a lot of folks are unaware of the size and scope of Cargill.  Can you talk about that a bit and how it impacts your CSR activities?

We have over 2,000 locations with operations in over 70 countries around the world. And in many of those places, we tend to be one of the top employers, thus our presence in each community is critical. The reason we’ve invested in those communities is so that we can maintain a great workforce, as well as help educate and nurture a future workforce. I was recently in Côte d’Ivoire in Africa and I visited four different village where we had built schools and helped drill wells because those are two of the biggest issues that have there–clean water so that they don’t have dysentery and educating kids so they have something beneficial to do during the day (and not become part of the child labor workforce).  We’re going to be opening our 75th school in Vietnam for similar reasons. So for us, corporate social responsibility is about improving people’s lives and doing it in a way that is directly linked to the business.

Drew: Could you talk about a specific CSR program that you feel is really representative of the kind of initiatives that work for Cargill and your constituents?

Sure. It’s built around sustainability and responsible supply chain management, which is one of our core competencies. We’ve created a tool in partnership with PwC [PricewaterhouseCoopers] called the Cargill Responsible Supply Chain Framework.  This program is unique in that it helps our customers in three ways:

  • We work with our customers to help then take costs of their supply chains identifying where they can do things more sustainably and hopefully reduce costs in the process;
  • We identify areas in which the customer is already doing things in a sustainable manner enabling them to take some credit where credit is in fact due;
  • We help them take some of the risk out of their supply chain by identifying non-sustainable practices that should be addressed.

All of these things help our customers to build their businesses in a more social responsible way and helps us as this a fee-for-service business. So we turned “responsible supply chains” into not just a nice phrase but also a service that we provide to our customers.

Drew: That’s really interesting in and of itself. How did you know that you had that expertise in the first place? I mean, how did you develop a sustainability practice such that you could actually not only educate your customers but also create a service that you could sell them?

Well, it’s a model actually that we’ve done for years. We are celebrating our 150th anniversary this year, and this has given me an opportunity to really learn a lot more about the heritage of the company, and a lot of our businesses were born this way. We take capabilities that we’re really good at, and then we say, hey, we could turn this into a business because if we’ve got this need, then so do our customers. We’ve been doing supply chains for 150 years. It started when our founder in Iowa opened a grain warehouse because it was all about helping farmers to get their grains to market in a more efficient way. Instead of everybody doing it on their own, W.W. Cargill built it. We understand most supply chains around the world because we have an ocean transportation business, we’re one of the largest users of railcars, we understand the trade flows and the flow of goods, and then we understand it more at the micro level. We understand exactly what the supply chain is. Planting a soybean all the way until it’s bottled and branded by one of our customers as an example. Or in other parts of the world, we bottle our own — we have our own consumer brands. So it really is a core competency of ours, and we are now extending that to our customers.

Drew: One of the big reasons that companies talk about CSR is because it makes employees feel better about working at the company. How do employees get involved in Cargill programs and how important is that to retention?

Yes, employee involvement is very important. First of all we give employees credit for and ask them to track all of their time regarding time, talent and treasure that they contribute to their communities. Our food scientists actually created the highly nutritious recipes for the pre-packed meals that are sent to Africa for Feed My Starving Children. One of the things that we did in conjunction with our 150th Anniversary was to involve employees in “learning journeys.” Two years ago, we did one on Brazil. In 2015, we did one in Africa and another one in China, where we get all of the different stakeholders who are interested in important issues like hunger and sustainability, and we have them live together for a week.

Drew: Has your past life at P&G had an impact on your approach to CSR?

One of the things that I think might be different with me, relative to other CMOs is that I had P&L responsibility as a business leader for seven of my fifteen years at P&G and many of my 14 years at Cargill.  I’ve only been in this current role for about four years and try very hard to avoid using the typical marketing clichés like “doing good is good business.”  My background has trained me to think of CSR in the context of other efforts making sure they are directly linked to the business strategy and the P&L.

Drew: What is Cargill’s purpose and how does this impact your CSR activity?

Our aspiration is to be the global leader in nourishing people; that’s our stated corporate purpose. So most of our CSR efforts are built around nourishing people. As an example, we have a very strong partnership with CARE, not only do we donate significant contributions to them but also our employees are heavily involved on a local level.

Drew: How does your brand purpose translate into marketing messages? 

It all extends from our purpose to be the global leader in nourishing people while translating into a more specific brand promise – helping you, the stakeholder, be more successful with Cargill than with anyone else. And it’s based on how the stakeholder defines success. Then that leads to our brand expression – Thrive.  Our commitment to helping stakeholders thrive (the highest level of success) works on many levels. For example, if you do a public-private partnership with Cargill to develop a village, to develop schools, to drill wells, to do water filtration systems, we believe that you’ll have the best chance of thriving. I chose Thrive because it works with our purpose–if you’re not well nourished, you can’t be successful and because it supports a broad range of initiatives across our many business units and countries of operation.

Drew: How do you measure the effectiveness of this program? As a truly global company, do you have a global brand health tracking in place?

From my P&G experience, I really like to conduct brand health research and when we couldn’t find an existing template, we built our own.  In the fall of 2013, right before we launched our new brand promise and brand expression, we fielded the first survey wave in 22 countries among all nine of our stakeholder groups. By the way, this was the first time ever in the history of Cargill that we’ve had a single brand promise and a single brand expression in all 196 countries where we do business.  We picked the 22 countries (now 24) because it represents about 80 percent of our business. That was our baseline and now, two years later we’re in the middle of a second wave of tracking to see if we’ve moved the needle, to see if we actually own the brand promise and to what degree against our nine stakeholder groups.  We also work with the 66 individual business units to identify their top three or four stakeholders that are critical to building their business help them with their own brand and reputation studies locally.

Drew: What’s on your to do list?

We have to now improve awareness of what we do, and why people would partner with us because in a world where you can’t hide anything, you better have nothing to hide, right? So we have to do a much better job of defining who we are because if we don’t tell our story, somebody else will, and it’s probably not going to be accurate.

Reading v. Viewing: Which is Better?


Let’s do a little test together.  Watch the video below which features Trish Mueller, CMO of Home Depot and Pete Krainik, founder of The CMO Club, and make note of the marketing insights you gained.  Next, please read my interview below, also with Trish Mueller. Then jot down your key takeaways.  You’ll have to trust me that both are well worth your time and in no way are redundant.

Drew: What 1385af4innovations/programs are you particular proud of?

I am proud of the seamless transition we’ve made into the digital, social and mobile world, and I am most proud of how our team continues to innovate in a “VUCA” world (volatile, unpredictable, chaotic and ambiguous!).  I enjoy the fact that here’s no map for where we’re going – we’re operating on the frontier of the new media world & we’re forging new digital roads every day.

Drew: How do you keep innovating in the shifting sands of marketing? Is this a mindset, a culture, a staffing issue?

We have built a dynamic culture of curiosity & courage, and we encourage a fast test & learn mentality across the entire team.  It is definitely a team sport, with ideas coming from team members at any level or rank.

Drew: Where do your get your inspiration? 

I am a voracious reader & I specifically pay attention to what is happening across retail marketplaces, not just in home improvement. I spend time with peers in other specialties, and I also spend time with our marketing team at every level, to see what is on their minds and to pressure test if we are missing out on opportunities that may not otherwise get in front of me.  I work very hard to be approachable, so everyone feels they can share their ideas – you never know where the next innovation may come from & you’ll never hear about it unless you dig in with the team.

Drew: How do you instill creativity across your department / organization? 

First, we nurture creativity with existing team members, we reward those who take risks to learn and we actively recruit against specific criteria to fuel the talent pipeline long term.  We look to have our staff reflect a perfect balance between subject matter expertise and new, unconventional thinking. When recruiting, we focus on “raw talent”, those who have the right mind set versus matching just to specific expertise in given functions.  This approach with staff feeds the group’s curiosity, tests our thinking and fosters a culture of “what if we tried this?” vs. the legacy of “we do it this way.”

Drew: A lot of marketers go so far as to celebrate failures as a reminder of the importance of taking risks to move forward.  Have you had any programs that didn’t work out as hoped and if so, how did you make sure the organization not only learned from the misstep but also that the folks responsible didn’t get punished?

We have a very strong communications-based culture that keeps innovation and quality work in front of everyone.  I personally recognize our team accomplishments every Friday in a formal communication that goes out to the entire marketing team.  I also recognize team members individually with thank you notes, shout outs in our monthly “All Hands” meetings, additionally we award a special quarterly innovation award.  We call it the “Big Swing” award, which recognizes a person or a team for taking a swing at exploring new ideas which helped us learn, even if the idea may not have worked out as we originally thought.  During the all marketing team presentation, we lean more on what we learned in the recognition vs. whether it failed or succeeded. 

Drew: Looking ahead to 2016, what is the single biggest challenge that you’d like to overcome? 

I’d prefer not to answer this one – I will either give away a key strategy to potential competitors or expose some weakness, not to mention opening myself up to a zillion cold calls from companies wanting to sell me new technology that supports my goals!

BLOG POST continued:  SO, if you complied with my request to watch the video and the read the interview, then first and foremost, I suspect you’ve come away with a super positive portrait of Trish Mueller.  And based on other conversations I’ve had with Trish, your perception is dead on.  Second, you probably remembered different things from each. I thought the video was particularly good at demonstrating the power of in-store home improvement classes. (By the way, that is wonderful example of “Marketing as Service” in action.)  Our interview reveals more of Trish’s management style, how she stays on top of her game and how Home Depot encourages risk taking.

So which is better? The video is beautifully produced and obviously took a lot more time to create than my interview.  The video has the advantage of sight, sound and motion.  The interview, on the other hand, goes deeper and into areas that wouldn’t have translated as well on video.  And that’s the point. Different media communicate differently. Neither is “better” in the absolute, both have their strengths. Like instruments in an orchestra, each can certainly stand alone but the combo is almost always more powerful.


Q+A w Rich Smith, CMO of Ditech Financial (part 2)



In part one of my interview with Rich Smith, CMO of Ditech Financial, we focused on Ditech’s sponsorship of NASCAR and how that helped build broad awareness for the brand. In part two, we’ll broaden the lens and explore the brand’s overall strategic approach, internal training to improve the customer experience and a program that aimed at improving brand loyalty (offering another great example of the power of “marketing as service” in action).  There’s a lot of meat in here so I’d encourage you to read the interview carefully but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out a few highlights:

  • Ditech is gaining customers without being the low cost provider;
  • Increased employee training helped to remove the friction from the buying process;
  • By delivering an unexpected progress report to current customers, Ditech improved loyalty;
  • While CMO’s can’t be expected to control the entire customer experience they can be the “voice of the customer” across the organization.

All of this should leave little doubt why he won the Marketing Innovation Award from The CMO Club late last year.

Drew: Let’s talk about some of the innovative things you initiated in 2015.

I think we’ve done a lot of innovative things with our brand message and how we are reaching consumers.  Most brands in the industry either compete purely on price or they compete purely on a quick and easy transaction. We’re certainly very competitive on price, but we’re not the lowest. We also strive to provide a very convenient transaction process. Taking it one step further, we position ourselves as a partner that can be trusted in the mortgage process, who understands customer needs and won’t put them into the cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all, thirty-year fixed product. Customers are trying to find the best fit for them and we think Ditech offers that. Our Home Loan Specialists are educated to work with customers by asking questions, building rapport and finding solutions.

Drew: How did this translate to into you brand messages?

We have a certification program for our home loan specialists that helps them take a more personalize approach with each customer and we’ve found a way to work that training into our brand message. For example, we mail our current customers a “report card” on their current mortgage that tells them where they are and how they could change their plan by refinancing. These report cards could also tell them about the value of their home and even when there is no opportunity for them to refinance. We call this our Smart Watch Report and it’s a health of your mortgage report. You don’t see that from other providers. We are really transparent with our customers when it comes to what they currently have and what their opportunities are. That’s the theme we strive for throughout our business. We find that transparency with customers generates trust.

Drew: I suspect social media customer service is lot harder in the financial services industry because you have so much sensitive data. How do you use social media as customer service?

We definitely have to be sensitive to that and we have. We are very good at responding to the common issues we hear from customers on social media but if they’re upset, we then try to get them offline as quickly as possible and service them in a way that’s private such as on the phone or e-mail or gather more information and provide a solution to their situation.

Drew: How do you handle privacy on social customer service?

We have a customer care team that handles all the escalations. But certainly any time that somebody posts something like an account number, social security number or any private or secured information we either delete it or advise the customer to do so because you can’t have private information like that out there. And then we also obviously try to get the conversation offline as fast as we can.

Drew: Can you give me a specific example of how customer-centric approach to marketing has translated into some form of out-bound marketing, whether it’s TV or print?

The one I just mentioned was our direct mail campaign with the Smart Watch Report. That is one of our most successful retention marketing programs because people really appreciate getting that information. They call our home loan specialists about their options; it’s very engaging for the customers. And we are in the midst of taking that beyond just one direct mail medium to make it digital in the future which is very interesting.

Drew: Interesting. And so, how important is retention to the acquisition process?

That’s a very interesting question. It’s important in not necessarily a direct way but it’s important perhaps in an indirect way for a couple of reasons. In as much as you do a great job of servicing and retaining customers you have happier customers who then write more positive reviews about you and influence other people to seek you out or consider doing business with you. So that’s a nice indirect benefit. Also, the better job you do at retention the more financially sound your business is and the better base you have from which to grow. Any company that can’t do a good job of keeping its own customers probably is not going to do a good job of acquiring new ones.

Drew: I think that’s a fairly safe bet although I have worked with clients who put all their energy into acquisition and just kept watching the retention numbers decline.

Yes, you can’t fill the bathtub if you have a big hole in it. Just from an ROI perspective on marketing campaigns, the ROI on retention campaigns are many multiples higher than the ROI on acquisition campaign. It’s been true in every business that I’ve worked in my entire career.

Drew: One of things I’ve seen happen to other brands when they start advertising on TV is that their cost per clicks go down on Google Adwords. Increased awareness translates into better SEM performance because people are more familiar and click faster and therefore you can bid lower. Have you seen this?

We are seeing growth but it is a little hard to identify direct impact in SEM. We are definitely seeing more and more organic growth throughout the year, which is a clear indication of rising brand awareness. We did an extensive brand awareness study right before we launched and we repeated it about six months ago and saw major improvements in overall brand awareness and brand favorability. So, we know that it’s having an impact; it’s difficult to parse that out from the other things that we’re doing.

Drew: How much control do you have over the customer experience as CMO? How much influence do you have on this other areas?

I would say that the only person in any organizations that has complete control over the customer experience is the CEO. I can’t say that I control it. One of the most important roles that I play on our leadership team is to be the voice of the customer. I take on the responsibility of bringing the customers insights forward so that they are considered in all of our decision making. As we look to make changes in the future on both the origination side and the servicing side of our business, I definitely have a prime seat at the table to influence and emphasize the importance of the customer experience.

Finding the Right Elements for Your Brand


A couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune to be interviewed by Dan Raviv, a correspondent for CBS Radio. During our conversation, Dan asked me what “elements” he should mix together to help build an audience for the CBS News Weekend Roundup radio show. I hemmed and hawed a bit, suggesting he start with his target audience. He probed on this suggestion but I remained steadfast in the need to start with your customer, listen to their needs, find an insight and build from there. Of course, in classic writer-like wit, I thought of the perfect response an hour after I hung up with Dan. To redress the vagueness of my real-time suggestions, this post will outline a more precise path for Dan and the show to build a broader audience by applying a few of the “Elements” from my book, The CMO’s Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing, and, at the same time, offer insights on how we can all become the CMO of our personal brands.

Element R = Research
Since CBS Radio most likely already has Nielsen data on the size and demographics of its target audience, Dan can focus his research efforts on these two areas:

  • Superfan qualitative: The goal here is to identify the predilections of his most dedicated listeners.  What do these folk really like about Dan and the show? What do they hate?  What inspires them to tell friends about Dan? Are there particular topics that resonate with this group? Do they just like his radio-perfect voice? This research could be done via small groups or 1:1 interviews, creating the added opportunity to gather recorded testimonials.  Also, after the interviews Dan could meet these folks face-to-face to reinforce their connection to him and perhaps create potentially viral (see element GV: Going Viral) content.
  • Superfan quantitative: Like the qualitative research, quantitative research could serve multiple purposes. First, it could provide further insights into the target. Second, it could generate ideas for future stories and make the fans feel more involved (bringing in another element, Ug: User Generated Content). Finally, this research, if structured correctly, could become a source of news in and of itself.

Element S = Strategy
In reconsidering Dan’s question, it seems to me that there may have been two brand strategies to discuss: the personal brand of Dan Raviv, as well as the radio show, CBS News Weekend Roundup.  And while these brands may be intertwined at the moment, Dan has the long-term interest of building his own brand (see Pb: Personal Branding) but doing so in a way that is also of benefit to his employer.  In both cases, the strategy needs to be boiled down to two-and-a-half questions:

  • What makes Dan unique? What makes CBS News Roundup unique? And where is the overlap?
  • Who is the customer and who isn’t?

I don’t know Dan’s work well enough to determine if he has a unique point-of-view, a unique sound, a unique personality or a signature phrase that would distinguish him from other on-air talent.  What I do know is that many of his predecessors at CBS did become brands in their own right, from Edward R. Murrow to Charles Kuralt. These individuals were distinguished not just by their unique voices but also by bringing a consistently distinctive perspective to their reporting. Pre-meditated thinking about becoming a brand may be heretical to a dedicated, integrity-first newsman, BUT I would argue that taking the time in the early part of one’s career to map out a personal brand strategy would be time well spent.

Element Bc = B2C Content Marketing 
Content-rich brands like CBS Radio have a huge advantage over most in that they already have a steady stream of content to draw upon to engage current customers and attract new ones.  They also have the staff on hand to edit and repurpose this content into everything from podcasts to topical social media posts (see element Sm: Social Media Success and how The Weather Channel did this to great effect).  Of course, it would help Dan and his employer if CBS Radio had an enlightened employee advocacy program to make intriguing content accessible for him to promote via his personal social channels (see Sp: Sharing Passion).  Additionally, CBS Radio and Dan personally could be active listeners for topical conversations on social media channels, creating the opportunity for content sourcing and audience engagement (see Rm: Real-Time Marketing).

For non-media brands, creating content is obviously more difficult but just as essential.  The key here (again) is to start with your target and create content that answers the top 10 questions that they have about your particular product or service.  For Dan, this might mean opening the kimono a bit and sharing how they decide on what to report, how stories get produced and what it is like to be a correspondent.  I could go on here about how to parse out this content, how to optimize it for search engines and social sharing, but we’ll have to leave that for another post.

Element In = Influencer Marketing 
The basic idea behind influencer marketing is that a brand cultivates advocates who, in turn, spread the word about that particular brand. In most cases, there is some exchange of value between the brand and the influencer, whether it’s cash money, goods and services, or social currency.  For example, IBM invited a broad range of influencers to one of its annual customer conferences with the simple promise that these influencers would get unique access to potential news sources. Admittedly, replicating this approach would probably break ethical boundaries for CBS Radio BUT that doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity for Dan (and perhaps CBS) to cultivate a wide range of influencers in an ethical manner.  For example, the currency in this case could be as simple as a shout-out via social channels, which the recipient would take as an affirmation of their existence!  Here’s proof that it works: this so-called influencer shared the heck out of the tweet below:

Reality Check
For all I know, it is quite possible CBS Radio and Dan are already blending the elements mentioned above, which is why I was reluctant to conjure up a solution while on-air and why agencies like mine have a discovery process to make sure we define the challenge correctly and know what’s been tried already.  But the intent of this post was not to provide a ready-made solution for Dan, CBS Radio or your brand. The point here is that each of us needs to become the CMO of our personal brands, taking charge of everything from strategy to execution, and blending the “elements” of marketing that are just right for your life goals.

And just in case you want to listen to my interview with Dan, here’s your chance to find out why I don’t have my own radio show:

St. Louis Cardinals SVP Dan Farrell on Customer Experience


Photo by Sarah Conrad

Photo by Sarah Conrad

Marketing a sports team is a rather tricky affair.  Any given day the on-field performance can vary wildly.  This is especially true in baseball.  Even the best of the best win 60% of their games which in the course of 162 game season means 60 or so losses, 30 of which happened with home field advantage.  A favorite player can have a bad night which is often the case for hitters in a sport where going 1 for 3 all season is considered greatness! Compare this to the consistent experience consumers have with a typical packaged goods product and you’ll begin to have some sympathy for the sports marketer.

All that said, you won’t hear Dan Farrell, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the St. Louis Cardinals complaining.  First, he knows he’s riding, as they say, a great horse.  The Cardinals are arguably the winningest team in baseball this century with 11 playoff appearances, 4 National League pennants and 2 World Series rings. And second, he’s built his marketing around the entire customer experience at Busch Stadium rather than just the players on the field. In doing so, Dan has helped the Cardinals become the 2nd most attended home team in baseball in the last three years (behind the LA Dodgers) attracting over 3.5 millions fans the last two seasons. For these efforts, Dan also won the Customer Experience Award from The CMO Club and a chance to be interviewed by yours truly! Batter up…

Drew: Congrats on winning the Customer Experience Award.  Can you share the kinds of things you did to impact the overall customer experience in 2015?  

The Cardinals operate Busch Stadium based on the premise that attending a baseball game in our ballpark ranks as one of the premier attractions and serves as a genuine destination for millions of fans throughout the Midwest.  Our franchise draws from a very broad region, and while we recognize the value and importance of our local fans who average somewhere in the range of attending 8-10 games per year, we also draw nearly 1 million fans from outside the St Louis metro area.  Accordingly, we approach each game with the understanding that we will have fans who will be attending their first game at Busch Stadium, so we strive to consistently provide the highest quality guest experience possible.

The basics in our guest experience model are probably no different than most other entertainment venues: cleanliness, food and beverage quality and service, safe and secure atmosphere, helpful and out-going usher staff, entertaining scoreboard and fan engagement initiatives for pre-game and between innings, efficient ease of access, etc.  If we have a specialty, I believe it comes from a dedicated and very tenured staff that strive for superior customer service with a keen attention to detail.

Drew: How do you measure your customer experience?  How do you know if Cardinal fans are having a great experience? 

We conduct regular in-park surveys seeking fan feedback on a variety of topics, including guest satisfaction and ranking of our various service sectors. We monitor and track the data on a year to year basis to check for consistency. We also hold regular pre-game forums with our season ticket holders and our group leaders and we invite feedback and share information with these core groups of fans who are very important stakeholders of our product.

Drew:  A lot of studies suggest that only 1 in 10 unhappy customers will share their complaints with a brand. How do you process customer complaints and make sure that a systemic issue is not overlooked?  

We have a very active guest services department who monitor online complaints and also we encourage our game day usher and support staff to submit complaints or offer suggestions for service improvements.

Drew: Obviously on-field performance of the team has a big impact on customer satisfaction and you’ve been blessed with a great team for several years now. What have been your top marketing priorities in the last few years and how have they evolved?  

The Cardinals have made significant changes to our promotion programs over the past few seasons.  We have increased the number of in-park promotional dates, increased the amount of money we invest in the promotional giveaway items, increased the quantity and quality of items we give away, and focused our advertising to highlight the promotions, more of a “retail” strategy vs a brand-oriented campaign.

Drew: What other company do you think is doing an amazing job with CX and why?  

Kindle by Amazon; AT&T U-verse (surprising but I am impressed how they can trouble shoot a technical  issue in your system from a remote customer service location), Bank of America.

Drew: Looking ahead to 2016, what is the single biggest challenge that you’d like to overcome?  

Continue to learn how to monetize the digital and social media content that is so significant for a professional sports franchise.

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