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

NASA’s John Yembrick — Social Star


NASA’s John Yembrick — Social Star

The popularity of TV’s Big Bang Theory aside, let’s start with the fact that American’s are not exactly in love with science. In fact, a global study in late 2013 reported that when it comes to math, reading and science, U.S. teenagers rank 36th in the world. As a culture, we celebrate rock ‘n rollers over researchers, sports stars over scientists. [I could argue that this is part of a scarier trend towards anti-intellectualism but I’ll leave that to the more articulate and qualified David Niose.]

So then how do you explain the phenomenal success of NASA on social media? The @NASA handle alone has a combined following of over 26 million of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with engagement rates that far exceed most celebrities. NASA also supports dozens of other social presences that engage with millions more day in and day out. NASA has also found itself on the top ten trending topics list more than most “A” listers combined.



To answer this conundrum, I sought out John Yembrick, NASA’s social media director, after having the pleasure of hearing him speak at the Social Shake-up in Atlanta. John’s passion for all things NASA and social media are truly contagious and reminded me how essential this characteristic is to the success of marketers, both as individuals and as brands.

Passion is transformative, as you will see in our interview below. Combined with talents like the ability to spot trends in the making and cleverly translate these into engaging content, passion has helped NASA become a true force in the social media landscape.

Drew: Your passion for space and astronomy is palpable. Where did that come from?

John: I’ve always personally had a huge passion for space and I followed NASA closely before I ever worked for NASA. Honestly, I never understood why everyone doesn’t share my enthusiasm. I’m not so naïve as to think that everyone will, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. I feel like if you put content in front of people and show them why it is relevant to their lives and how cool it is, they will get excited. Yesterday I was showing someone I just met this photo of Pluto, and their eyes lit up and they were excited to learn about something that humanity has never seen before. And that happens all of the time at NASA.

Drew: How does this passion impact your ability to do your job?

John: One of the reasons why I think that our content, especially on the flagship NASA account, plays so well on social media is because both my associate Jason Townsend and I are passionate about this content and we think it matters. If you are working on a brand and don’t care about the product, it’s very difficult to really communicate it to the best of your ability. Mine stems from childhood, just loving space, playing with toy spaceships and looking up at the stars. I love them. I am one of those people who looks up at the nighttime sky wondering what I’m seeing, wondering what’s out there. And I love the fact that NASA is helping to answer those questions.

Drew: You mentioned in your speech that the press didn’t always tell the stories NASA wanted told in the pre-social media days. Can you elaborate on that?

John: Sure. In the pre-social days, the press was the filter. They might care about a spacewalk, but they didn’t care about 99 percent of the other things NASA was doing. Social media changed that, although back in 2008 I was a skeptic like everyone else. But I had a “eureka” moment when there was some downtime during a spacewalk on a space shuttle mission. I decided to look at Twitter and to my surprise, a robust conversation was happening around my recent tweet — and I wasn’t even participating in it. People were saying, “Oh my gosh, I can’t leave my computer, I’m on the edge of my seat, this is a coolest thing I’ve ever seen and I don’t want to go back to work.” It was in the middle of the workday and I realized no one was responding, so I did.

And that was the moment. I just didn’t care about anything else. I thought this was the most important thing I should be doing even though I was only interacting with a few thousand people. It just hit me that these people cared and I wanted to engage with them. I wanted to make them happy with the content I was putting out. I thought, ”Wow, you never get this kind of enthusiasm from the news media.” And that was a really life-changing moment for me.

Drew: Do you think your passion is contagious?

John: I am passionate about the brand. I think this brand matters more than anything else in the world and in regard to advancing humanity forward. But I’m certainly not alone here. During the government shutdown a couple of years back we were not allowed to post anything on social media. But the great NASA social community we had built posted things while we couldn’t. That is one of things I’m most proud of. It just shows that we nurtured these ambassadors out there and they welcomed the opportunity to support our mission.

Drew: You go out on limb quite a lot to be part of the social conversation. Can you give me a recent example?

John: Sure. A couple of weeks ago, it was National Donut Day and that became a trending topic on Twitter. So we took an image of a galaxy with a black hole at the center that looked kind of like a doughnut and posted it with a Happy National Doughnut Day message. That particular tweet came up at our staff meeting and the subtext was, “That’s just John and Jason being silly.” In truth, thousands of people engaged with the wonders of the galaxy that day instead of a glazed donut. We were part of the conversation and that has power.

Drew: You all seem to be the masters of real-time marketing, particularly with big events like the Oscars.

John: I would say our biggest success really was with the movie Gravity at the Oscars. It was up for a bunch of Oscars that night and we were watching it. Throughout the whole Oscar program and especially when Gravity would win something, we would post real images from space with various relevant hashtags. These beautiful images looked like photos from the fictional movie like a spacewalk or the international space station but ours were the real thing. Our content ended up being one of the top trending topics during the Oscars – it was a hugely successful campaign.

Drew: Some of these real-time moments also help you fulfill another mission, which is to engage young people, particularly girls, and get them interested in science. Can you talk a bit about this?

John: The old image of NASA is of some white guys sitting behind a table telling about the latest discoveries. This probably wasn’t the best way to captivate the younger audience and get them excited about the engineering required for space exploration. Today we have a lot of great women astronomers, engineers and astronauts at NASA, and they are real role models. Celebrating those women on social media is one way to connect with young girls. Another is by being in the moment on social media. For example, our Twitter interaction with Justin Bieber about his desire to do a concert in space ended up getting thousands of retweets and more importantly made the idea of space travel very relevant to this key demographic for NASA’s future. As it happens, we also got a big uptake in young followers.

Drew: When you look at your career trajectory, can you talk about the elements that have propelled your success?

John: I’m a little humbled by what you call career success. But I will tell you that throughout my career, I have always been willing to try new things, I’ve relocated several times and when opportunities arose, I embraced them. Also, I have always been willing to take chances, whether working for a space operation or at a field center, and then I jumped headfirst into social media.

At every organization I’ve been in, I’ve always asked “What’s next? What can we do better?” And that comes with consequences in your career. There are a lot of challenges when you try to enact change within an organization. That said, I think that this quest ultimately leads to career satisfaction even when you meet resistance. If you are passionate about it, like I am about communications and the ability of social media to transform this organization’s communication strategy, you really push hard. In the end, I’m really proud of the things we’ve done.

KIND CEO on Building Loyalty Through Sampling


Daniel_w_truckThis is part 2 of my interview with Daniel Lubetzky, founder and CEO of KIND Snacks and author of Do the KIND Thing, a book I’d recommend to anyone, especially those intrigued by the notion of doing well in business while doing good. In this post, we dive deeply into the evolution of KIND’s loyalty building activities.  Several items of importance will become clear as you read this:


  • It’s easy to give product away–it’s far harder to create a memorable experience that drives loyalty;
  • Loyalty programs are tricky to get right even if you have a great product;
  • It’s hard to get consumers to go from an offline sampling experience to an online program;
  • There is such a thing as being too clever when it comes to designing loyalty programs;
  • Never underestimate the power of kindness!

Drew: In your book, you mention that sampling was an important way of building loyalty. How did you approach this?

So in New York City, for example, you have men or women handing out stuff for people to try. And it’s such an unemotional experience. It just feels like a commodity. I just feel that there’s a way to elevate that experience. We’re giving people something for free, an expensive, premium product that we worked so hard to craft. We don’t want to just hand it out and push it into people’s face. The opportunity to give a KIND bar as a kind act and say you’ve been “kinded” helps people hopefully appreciate it more.

Drew: So how do you sample KIND?

We do a program today, where we give people two KIND bars and say, “one is for you to do a kind thing for your body and one is to do a kind thing for someone else.” It helps elevate the experience and it’s just a little bit warmer of an interaction. It’s just a warmer way to connect with people. But, it’s still authentic, also in that we’re authentically trying to inspire people to start chains of kindness.

Drew: You’ve tried a number of loyalty programs. Can you talk about the black card and why you don’t think it worked?

The original aspiration was that people got the mysterious black card that would not explain to them anything other than somebody would do a kind act to them and they would get this black card and then that person would disappear. And we hoped that people would be so curious that they would go online and find out that they’ve been KINDED and that now it’s their responsibility to pass that on. The truth is, people are so busy and so skeptical of strangers approaching them that when we just handed them the secret card a lot of people thought, “what is this?” They were just too busy and they just wouldn’t engage at a significant enough pace. It’s hard to get people to go from an offline encounter with a stranger to online so it didn’t work as well as I would have liked.

Drew: Then you moved on to another loyalty program which encouraged people to do everyday acts of kindness but that one didn’t work out quite as planned either, right?

Yes, it was a bit disappointing. Instead of elevating the standard for what kindness should be, they were lowering it, and in that sense I felt a little bit guilty that I was contributing to making what should be a magical moment a little dirty. A lot of young people would enter the acts like, “I opened the door for my sister or I closed the door for my sister!” These obviously didn’t capture the essence of what we wanted to do. But many others supported the causes that they cared about, and the causes were doing something important. One of them was helping reunite war veterans with their families so we sent them care packages. The good news was everybody was doing something good for others. None of them were doing something horrible.

Drew: So why do you think this one didn’t quite work as planned?

It’s our fault that the system didn’t work. And in retrospect we gave up on it too quickly because at that point we didn’t use Facebook for authentication. So anybody could just say whatever they wanted. There are a lot of lessons from that experience and we’re still learning. It’s always a give and take. It’s quality versus quantity. The higher the standard, the higher the quality of the kind act, the more meaningful it will be. But you’re going to have to sacrifice quantity. So you have to find the right ratios.

Drew: How are the #KindAwesome cards working?

At the quality level, I think they’re awesome. I think at least when I give them out. I always give them in moments where they’re deserved. I don’t just give them out to give them out. I usually give one a day, I sometimes give a few a day. But if a day goes by where nobody deserves one, then I don’t feel compelled to just give one out. I wait for a person that really has done a kind act. And I give it to them and it’s authentic and people feel good. It’s very nice. But currently, they are limited by the fact that only a small community (the KIND team and some of our partners) gives them out. So there’s you know, five hundred of us. We are in the process of researching and designing a platform that’s going to help us scale that. And hopefully maintain the authenticity.

Drew: Have there been any surprises with the #KINDawesome program?

I did not expect that people were going to cry when I gave them #KINDawesome cards. I actually can think of three moments where people shed tears from feeling really touched that I recognized their act of kindness. And they couldn’t care less about getting a couple KIND bars and a #KINDawesome card to pass on to others. What drives their fulfillment is that appreciation – that someone else had recognized and celebrated their kindness. Particularly when they were having a hard time and a long day, and they were not feeling appreciated.

Drew: Talk a bit about the power of kindness.

You know, all of us are complex human beings. People sometimes have a harder life than we acknowledge and realize. And they’re having really tough moments. And somebody, a fellow human being just stretches out their hand and it really can mean a lot. There are some people that are fragile and feeling completely isolated and then a stranger just shows some warmth and kindness to them. And it completely transforms their lives. And they have a reason to believe that life is worth living. Just imagine how powerful that is. I would not pretend to say that from getting a #KINDawesome card that has happened, I’m just saying the power of kindness really can help do so much good.

Drew: So, a little kindness can go a long way.


Doing the KIND Thing with Daniel Lubetzky, part 1


Once a decade or so, I fall in love with a book by a business founder.  In the 90’s it was Herb Kelleher’s Nuts, the inspiring story from the founder of Southwest Airlines.  In the aughts it was S. Truett Cathy’s Eat More Chikin Inspire More People, a remarkable rundown on the rise of Chick-fil-a.  [Though I don’t share Cathy’s politics, I couldn’t help but respect his accomplishments.]  So here we are in the twenty-tens and boom, the recently released Do the Kind Thing by Daniel Lubetzky rocks my world! Admittedly, I’m a sucker for stories about brands that do well by doing good BUT take my word for it, this is a book for marketers big and small, entrepreneurs and corporate chiefs.

LubetzkyI read the book after seeing Lubetzky speak at the recent PSFK conference and more importantly to this post, after he agreed to be interviewed.  Our subsequent conversation covered the gamut, from book writing to purpose branding, sampling programs to child rearing.  And every minute was delightfully instructive.  One of the things that I really appreciated about the book was how honest he was about his mistakes along the way and he was equally frank in our conversation.  The passages below focus on why he wrote the book and his conception of purpose-driven branding.

Purpose-driven branding, for the uninitiated, is the notion that companies and brands need a reason for being such that everyone at the organization can answer the question “why are we here?” Gordon Methune, former CEO of Continental, credits the turnaround at that airline in the late ’90’s by getting everyone in the organization behind a clearly defined purpose, “on time with bags.”  As you will see in our discussion below, KIND’s Lubetzky set the bar for his organization quite a bit higher, aiming to turn kindness into a movement, one KIND bar and one KIND act at a time.

Drew: You’re a busy guy to say the least. What really compelled you to write the book?

A few things… One is that I have been the recipient of a ton of guidance and advice from people over the years. And I felt I needed to do the same things for others. The book also shares very honestly a lot of my mistakes hopefully this will help others avoid making the same ones.

The second one was I very sincerely aspire for KIND to do something very different from what other companies have done–to really push the frontiers, to transform the company into a movement and a state of mind, a community that people connect to. And by no means do I think we are there. But to get closer to this aspiration, we have to share our vision with others and stake a claim to what we are and what we’re living to accomplish, to get a community to help us build the movement and take ownership over it. Writing a book was the first step in sharing more of our philosophy, a little bit of where we’re coming from and what we’re aiming to do so that people can hopefully join us in pursuing our vision.

Drew: Any other reasons?

I also wanted to write a book because frankly I’m very aware of my own mortality because my father was a holocaust survivor and I just think about those issues perhaps more often than others. And I have 4 children and I just wanted to document my values and my way of life for them. And I also wanted to share these ideas with the KIND team, which is especially important as we grow, so there was a lot of motivation.

Drew: Speaking as an entrepreneur that has made more than his fair share of mistakes, I love how honest you are about yours.

It shows a certain sincerity and ability to look at yourself with a degree of circumspection. It also makes your success that much more impressive.

Drew: You spend a fair of time in the book talking about “purpose.” Do you think every company needs a purpose, and does that purpose necessarily need to be tied to social good?

I think every company that is trying to succeed has to have a purpose because it’s another way of saying that it has some sort of reason to succeed, it has something to offer consumers or society that serves a greater purpose. As far as a social purpose, I don’t think every company has to have it. I think companies that have it feel fulfilled and motivated. But it can be dangerous to inauthentically incorporate a social purpose. It’s not the same if the people that are driving the business don’t wake up in the morning and feel the purpose is important to them. Consumers will be able to tell if it’s not authentic and it will probably backfire.

Drew: Does having a purpose help you as the leader?

I personally derive more meaning from having more than a financial purpose and doing our small part to make this world a little bit better. And I do think that there is a trend for society to appreciate the power of businesses incorporating social purpose into their mission when it’s sincere. But I don’t think it’s a requirement and I think it’s very dangerous to force it into something where it doesn’t fit.

Drew: How else does having a purpose help?

I also think the exercise of talking to people about their core principles and asking what’s important to them can help them pursue a bigger vision. But it has to really, really connect with their efforts, with their spirit, with their DNA, with who they are, with what they stand for and frankly with the brand heritage.

Drew: What about brands that don’t have a social purpose?

I think there are incredible brands like Snickers whose purpose might just be to satisfy a hungry craving. And they don’t need to pretend to be something that they’re not they play a role as a fun and delicious experience and a satisfying candy bar. I think there are many other great brands that do what they promise to do and are very successful without a social purpose.

Stay tuned for more of this interview in subsequent posts.

The Right Spirit of CSR w Patrón’s CMO Lee Applbaum


Lee Applbaum_PatronStick with me here as I drift back momentarily to one of the more profound books I remember from high school–Murder in the Cathedral. In T.S. Eliot’s classic, the protagonist Thomas Becket contemplates martyrdom and the possibility that just thinking about becoming a saint could disqualify him.  I believe that brands walk a similarly fine line with their Corporate Social Responsibility activities–it’s a great idea to do these things but celebrating them too loudly comes with some risk.  One person who clearly gets this conundrum is Lee Applbaum, CMO of Patrón Spirits.  When asked about CSR, Lee is very careful not to over sanctify Patrón’s activities and instead shares them with a matter of factness that is simply refreshing.  At the close of this two-part interview (check out Part 1 of this interview), you will get a sneak peak into Lee’s plans for 2015, which include a keen desire not to “eff it up!”  My guess? He has a really really good shot at it.

Drew: Let’s talk a little bit about corporate social responsibility. I know that as an industry you self-regulate and dedicate a certain amount of space and time to the “drink responsibly” message. What are you doing in the CSR area that goes beyond a “drink responsibly” message?

Obviously we do largely self-regulate and actually, being new to this industry, I’ve been incredibly impressed by the level of self-policing that goes on. I think for the most part, especially in the ultra-premium segment, you’ve more sophisticated companies, more sophisticated marketers, bigger brands that have a lot to lose. I think we always err on the side of doing the right thing, responsibly.

But I think one of the areas that we do a poor job communicating is in the sustainability space. Making alcohol, it does produce carbon dioxide—it’s a natural by-product from Mother Nature’s fermentation process. Nobody is going to tell you that’s not the case. But one thing that we turned up the dial on this this year that I am really proud of is our water ozonation and compost program.

One of the things that comes as a byproduct of making tequila is oxygen deficient water, basically waste water. If you take that water and you just pour it into a river, it has this nasty tendency to kill everything because nothing can breathe. Rather than doing that, we actually worked with a company that developed a water ozonation system for India that’s traditionally used for very serious water treatment issues. But we use this system in a proprietary manner to re-ozonate our wastewater.

When you make tequila and crush the agave plant to extract the juice, what you get is this fiber. We decided to take our re-ozonated wastewater and add it to immense amounts of this fiber and compost it. We compost it under hectares of these beautifully white, billowy tents that are like two stories high. And then we take this compost, which is some of the finest, most oxygen rich compost in the world. And we give it away to local farmers, not only agave growers, but the men and women who locally farm in the area. All of that is done without PR, under the radar. We just do it because it’s the right thing.

It’s our responsibility to ensure that the land that we work, our most precious asset other than our people, will endure. And that’s really important to us. I don’t want to stand here and tell you that we get a halo and wings, because making tequila does emit carbon dioxide, my toilet still has a lot of water when it flushes and we don’t have solar power all over the place, but we do do our part to make sure that we’re ecologically responsible in the way we make our tequila.

Drew: What you’re talking about is interesting to me because I think a lot of companies do struggle with when to talk about the good things that you do and when not to talk about them, right? As a marketer, when do you toot your own horn and talk about the good things that you do?

I think you pick the moments. I’ll give you a practical example. We ran an ad on Earth Day and the headline was, “This Earth Day, drink responsibly.” It was not only about the fact that every day we want to encourage you consume it responsibly, but to remind consumers that our bottles are made with recycled glass. This refers to all of our core tequila bottles, which is a vast majority of our sales volume.

I think if we had just made wide-open statements about what great global citizens we are, it could have been problematic. Instead, we were very focused on the couple of things that we do really, really well and that we are immensely proud of. It’s funny because we’re this big brand with a lot of cache and swagger, but when it comes to some of the charitable things that we do, we just are always very quiet and very humble. There is an immense amount of humility. And I think people appreciate that about us, even if it’s not conscious.

Drew: What’s on your wish list for accomplishments in 2015?

I think we still have a task in front of us, which is continuing to drive home the handcrafted artisanal nature of all of our products. It’s funny, we have these consumers who say, “Oh, it’s so cool that you’re making this handcrafted tequila.” And we respond, “Hold on a second, all of our tequila is handcrafted. Roca is one that is just hyper handcrafted.” But we’ve got to continue to drive that message.

The innovation group in our company reports into me and I challenge them to not just come up with product for product’s sake, but to reimagine artisanal tequila and what it could. We’ve got some really special limited edition stuff that will hopefully help consumers reimagine the category.

At the end of the day, we enjoy this tremendous market share. We just got our most recent brand audit back and the numbers would be almost unbelievable if they weren’t longitudinal. Brand awareness, brand consideration, brand loyalty — they’re numbers that I’ve never seen at Coke or anywhere. And so to be quite candid with you, it’s as much about not screwing it up as anything else, because there is like 98 percent to get wrong and about 2 percent to do better. So my task is to just make sure that we do what we’re doing better. For us, it’s like “just don’t eff it up Applbaum”.

Drew: That’s hilarious. The truth is that there is a lot of hungry competitors out there that would gladly steal share. And as the leader in the category, you either compete with yourself or someone else will do it for you, right?

Oh absolutely. Our tendency as CMOs is to walk in say, “What can we change? How do I put my mark on the brand?” But I think this is really a situation where there is so much right. We continue to gain share, lead the marketplace. The brand health is at its highest it has ever been. It’s really about the emotional intelligence to say, let’s amplify what’s working, let’s refine what’s not working really well and maybe we shed the very few things that are even remotely close to broken. It’s much more about having the emotional intelligence to resist changing for the sake of change, because so much is right.

If my legacy here is just making what I inherited a little bit better, man, I am happy. That is fine by me. I don’t need to do a 180-degree pivot on this brand. That would be wrong. There are other opportunities in this company. There are other categories. And by the way, there is a whole marketing organization to shape. So those things are really where I’m spending most of my time, on your people development, organization development and design, rather than deciding how to make the next pretty tequila ad.

Q+A on CSR w CMO Award Winner Alison Lewis of J&J


Alison Lewis_J&JAdmittedly, I’m a bit of a romantic when it comes to the notion of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).  I really truly want to believe that companies that are driven by a purpose that includes the betterment of the world will outperform those that simply want to make a profit.  As the theory goes, a clear mission translates to a more aligned and motivated workforce, a superior product/service offering that delivers against the “triple bottom line.”  

This is not just wishful thinking on my part. Robert Safian, Editor of FastCompany tackled this subject in his fascinating look at some mission driven companies that are indeed doing well by doing good.  So it was with great interest that I interviewed Alison Lewis SVP and CMO of Johnson & Johnson on the subject of CSR.  J&J has had its ups and downs in the last few years so I was quite curious to get an insider’s view on how a huge business can approach CSR without coming across as self-serving or insincere.  Read on and it will be clear why Lewis is a Social Responsibility award winner at The CMO Club’s CMO Awards.

Drew: “Doing well by doing good” sounds like a great idea but it is much harder to put into practice given the complexity of running a public company with quarterly earnings reports and ever-hungry competitors. 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?

As a healthcare company, caring for the health of the planet and the communities in which we operate are natural extensions of who we are. Therefore, Johnson & Johnson has been setting goals to improve the sustainability of our business for decades. Currently, our Healthy Future 2015 goals are our broadest set of goals yet. They include goals related, but not limited, to:

  • Safeguarding our planet by reducing waste disposal, water consumption, and reduced fleet and facility carbon emissions
  • Commitments to responsibly source ingredients throughout our consumer supply chain
  • Including product sustainability information on all our beauty and baby care brand websites
  • Educating the public on recycling bathroom products
  • Engaging all employees throughout the company on how to live more health-conscious lives

We measure these goals in our annual progress report that is available at:

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 a company’s brands.  What is your role related to CSR and are there some initiatives that you think have been particularly effective?
Sustainability is an end-to-end value chain effort. When we make progress, our brand marketing teams can help translate that progress in a meaningful way to our consumers. Marketing can play a key role to engage consumers and help brands make a difference – Our NEUTROGENA® Naturals brand is an example of how a brand can build progress on sustainability into its consumer communications.

For the third year in a row, NEUTROGENA® Naturals launched its Every Drop Counts campaign, where the brand educates consumers on the importance of water conservation. This year, throughout the month of October, NEUTROGENA® Naturals will contribute 10% of the purchase price of the NEUTROGENA® Naturals Purifying Cream Cleanser to the Nature Conservatory to support its water conservation efforts*. In 2013 the NEUTROGENA® Naturals brand exceeded their goal of saving one million gallons of water by more than 300%, over 4.2 million gallons of water were saved based on consumer pledges – – that’s the equivalent of a swimming pool the size of nearly four football fields!
*up to $50,0000

Drew: J&J received more than its fair share of negative publicity before your arrival.  How did you make sure that your CSR initiatives came across as a sincere versus self-promotional? What advice would you give to fellow CMO’s who are just getting started on CSR programs?
The key is consistency. Regardless of the business climate, our values and commitment to social responsibility have remained steadfast. One of Johnson & Johnson’s early leaders, General Robert Wood Johnson, spoke about social and environmental responsibility long before the term “corporate social responsibility” or “sustainability” became well-known in corporate circles. My advice to other CMOs is to embed your CSR commitments into your core values (what you care about) and your business strategy (how you focus) and your brands will have a strong foundation to make a meaningful difference.

Drew: Handling organizational change can be tricky particularly if it involves reorganizing / replacing long-time staffers.  What advice do you have for fellow CMOs when it comes to handling reorgs?
Just as marketing must continue to evolve to keep pace with our consumers’ needs and expectations, so must marketing organizations. When it comes to change, the important thing is to always put the consumer at the center. At Johnson & Johnson, we have a long history of being guided by Our Credo values, the first tenant of which is our responsibility to the people we serve – everyone who uses our products. Change for the sake of change doesn’t work but changing to meet consumer needs is always right!

Drew: How have you used social media to advance your brand’s overall marketing efforts? Are there any social media channels that are working better for your brand than others? If so, please elaborate.
Social media is about connecting with your target audience, therefore, every Consumer brand at Johnson & Johnson has a different “formula” for how to successfully engage and connect on social channels.

One example of how a Johnson & Johnson brand has utilized social to evolve our marketing efforts is on our teen focused CLEAN & CLEAR® Brand – – here, we recognized that social media channels at the core of a teens world. Knowing this, CLEAN & CLEAR® was an ideal brand to build the interconnected ecosystem of owned, earned, shared and paid content that would enable the CLEAN & CLEAR® See The Real Me™ campaign. By launching and activating several social media channels (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), we are able to listen to what teens want, engage in direct conversations with them and entertain, educate and inspire them with authentic content.  By engaging with teens in the social space the brand is able to forge an emotional connection and become part of their everyday lives. We have coffee with them in the morning, provide advice to them on the go, and help them relax before bed while celebrating the confidence that they portray on a daily basis by just being themselves.

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 for one of your brands?
JOHNSON’S® is one recent example of how we’ve enhanced the story of one of our most beloved brands. Increasingly, we heard from our consumers that they had concerns about certain ingredients in our baby products. All the ingredients used in our baby care products have always been safe, and meet or exceed government standards for safety. But trust is at the heart of our baby equity, and we wanted to communicate to our consumers that we listened to their concerns and we know their trust is something that we must continue to earn. We knew that our actions would speak louder than our words, and we made the decision to reformulate our baby products for trust. As our reformulated products hit shelves, we launched a new campaign, “Your Promise is Our Promise” to illustrate our heartfelt commitment to the moms, dads and families that use our products.

To tell the story behind our promise, we launched our biggest social media campaign with more than 40 informative and entertaining videos that speak to our JOHNSON’S® brand promises, baby care education and the parenting journey. We’ve seen millions of consumers interact with our video content, comment on our social channels and learn more about what our brand stands for due to our ability to connect through storytelling.

Branding, Content Marketing & Reverse Osmosis


snehal desaiMarketing never gets boring to me because each company, brand and sub-brand has its own unique challenges.  This is certainly the case for Snehal Desai, Global Business Director of Dow Water & Process Solutions, a division of Dow Chemical.  Snehal and I had a long conversation about the subtleties of marketing a sub-brand with multiple product lines aimed at multiple verticals with multiple constituents all while remaining true to the parent brand’s vision.  And if I haven’t built up the challenge enough, keep in mind that these folks are selling highly-technical things like reverse osmosis systems that separate salt from water.

How Snehal and Dow Water tackled this challenge is well-worth pouring over (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) if for no other reason that it is a cogent reminder that if you focus on your customer you’ll rarely go astray.  As you will see, Dow Water puts a lot of energy into creating educational content (seminars, white papers, studies, models, etc.) that has helped drive the perception that they are experts, not parts manufacturers.

Drew: Can you talk a little bit about your brand, Dow Water and Process Solutions, relative to the corporate brand, The Dow Chemical Company, and how you distinguish between the two?
That’s a good question, because Dow as a company is very large. A lot of the time customers are thinking about the product that’s doing a certain function for them. As such, we are continually looking at the balance between leveraging the large company presence, investment on Dow’s capability and history. But we don’t lose sight of the fact that we have customers that are specifically buying, and have been buying for years, what’s come to be known as the Dow Water & Process Solutions suite of products. So we think first with respect to our customers and the things that they want the most from us.

Drew: I want to clarify a bit on Dow Water and Process Solutions. Would you describe it as more of an ingredient brand?
I would definitely say it’s more of an ingredient brand. For example, there are a variety of ways that one can separate and purify water. We make the technology that does the actual separation and purification. For example, we make the membranes that separate the salts from the water. So we make the guts, the advanced separation steps, and are in that way almost always inside a system.

And because we’ve been operating in this environment for decades and the very nature of b-to-b marketing, we actually do have a relatively high level of awareness among our users. But that’s also one of our brand challenges, to be able to remind people of the work we do.           

Drew: Were any of the sub-brands that you recently purchased well known enough to considered the generic brand in their categories and if so, did you keep those names?
We purchased Rohm & Haas in 2009, which was a very well known chemicals company that had a very strong position in ion exchange technology. With that company came a set of customers that knew exactly what they wanted. So depending on the sub-application, certain trade names did resonate more than others.

Once you start to really get into specifications, the customers don’t want to change them. The last thing you want to do is shoot yourself in the foot because you felt like it would make it more economical on a naming and literature basis, and find out you lost a million-dollar order because they decided they don’t like the new product because it was not what they expected.

Drew: So there’s the Dow brand and then there’s Dow Water & Process Solutions.  How are the guidelines defined? Is there a Dow brand oversight team that you as the marketer of Dow Water & Process need to go through?
There definitely is. We have a corporate public affairs group, which is the group that’s responsible for making sure that the brand standards are followed. What we do is work with that team to develop business brand standards, which might stretch the corporate brand one way or another depending on the audience a specific business is trying to reach. This way we are able to target our audience with the appropriate brand image while still staying true to the greater Dow brand.

The corporate Dow brand work supports this notion we’re trying to impart to our customers, which is to think of our job as providing solutions. We cover so many areas – if you think about a category like health and nutrition, the medical space, or energy storage, we have many, many different plays that are already going on in those spaces. People don’t always put it all together. So there’s this idea that we would be using the website and a branding approach to these market segments. In many ways we’re writing white papers to help talk about the broader issues that would interest consumers, like provisions of clean drinking water, cleaning up waste water, and the whole idea of sustainability.

Drew: Interesting. So “good” from a sustainability standpoint is that message to serve around a good, corporate citizen, and you guys help fill that role?
Yes, and you can always look at it as both a blessing and a curse. Because with that role also comes the need to balance between talking about almost philanthropic good then what we really do, which is helping companies, helping municipalities, and really driving a sufficient, low-cost, reliable provision of separation and purification services. If you look at some recent product launches such as ECO FILMTEC™ reverse osmosis elements or SEAMAXX™ reverse osmosis elements, sustainability is intrinsic to the value proposition and is in fact, what our customers expect. They are looking for improvements such as lower energy requirements, less chemical requirements and resistance to fouling. All of these benefits, while operational, are also sustainable.

Drew: How much and how important is consultative selling? Can you give me an example of how you “campaigned” it?
It’s the way we do business. It’s the way that our sales team and our technical sellers do things in the marketplace. We do seminars. We actually have projection programs that allow us to model some systems for people to help them make some choices on what options they might have, the tradeoffs, etc. We did some brand study work around three or four years ago. They did some good external studies and surveys. One of the things that people said they bought was expertise. They were buying the knowledge of the people that they were working with.

So that’s always something that our customers always talk about. They rely on us to give them good answers. To help them solve problems that aren’t always directly related to the product that we sell. In fact, this is a core value proposition and our biggest differentiator against our competition. We have the best people in the business and the most expertise. Our customers rely on that.

Drew: With the person who’s buying your product and essentially reselling it to someone else, is there a combined branding activity?
It’s not exactly like that. It’s more like this: if you consider an equipment seller, and anybody can buy pumps, valves, and fittings on the market, the question then becomes one of “how does he differentiate himself?” One of the ways he can do so is to identify that the components he’s putting in the customer’s system is something that the industry knows and everybody trusts and is the best on the market. So that when he puts his bid in, and he actually calls out, “I’m using Dow XYZ,” that’s his way of saying, “Look, my bid with this technology is really the winning solution.”

But some companies are more collaborative. Meaning they’ll ask us for help. They’ll ask us if they can come in and jointly sell or help answer questions for the customer given the confidence that technology will work. And we do that. But that’s the industrial sector. We also sell into the residential market which is very different. That’s more about brand owners that are putting white good appliances into your house, so in that case, you’re talking about a consumer story. Building the confidence that these products are good and healthy for you, and they’re going to deliver what they say they’re going to deliver.

Drew:  If you were to define the Dow brand, and then you were to define the Dow Water & Process Solutions brand, would there be differences?
Probably not. I don’t think they’re that different. Where the differences occur is when you get really right down to the specifics of the solutions and markets. People are telling you about sort of the things you did for them. Not the company, but the things your people and technology do. I’m not saying that every business in Dow is delivering the same set of attributes, but I think we pivot off of a lot of the same thing. It’s a strong technology base. It’s the ethic around reliability and consistency, a global reach. So I think we have a lot of similarities.

Drew: That gets back to enabling the channel, the consultative selling, all the content marketing that everybody wants to talk about now. It’s all in this category of doing versus saying. Do you feel like you have a luxury that other brands don’t have, in that you can build Dow Water & Process Solutions focused on the “doing” because the parent company is taking  care of the “saying” component?
You’re absolutely right. And yet by doing, as you say, that becomes the basis of the stories of what the company wants to say. As long as we continue doing well and enabling changes and differences in the market, then people are looking for ways to tell those stories in creative and inspiring ways. We are definitely lucky.

Final note: thanks to my friends at The CMO Club for the introduction to Snehal.

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