RENEGADE THINKING from the CEO of Renegade, the social media & marketing agency that helps clients make more out of less by transforming communications into "Marketing as Service."

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.

From CMO to CEO in One Knight


Sir TerryWith the world abuzz about the newborn English prince George, it seems appropriate that I finally feature my interview with a real-life knight of realm, Sir Terry Leahy. Sir Terry was the CEO of Tesco, a company he helped build into a global retailing powerhouse. I caught up with him after his keynote address at the IBM Smarter Commerce Summit earlier this year where we discussed his new book, Management in 10 Words.  Although this edited interview is longer than most of the ones I post, I expect you will find it well worth your time, since Sir Terry is one of a handful of CMOs who not just rose to the CEO position but also became one of the most effective in recent years.

Drew Neisser: Simple is one of my favorite words in your book. But Simple is hard, especially for big businesses. Why is that?
Sir Terry Leahy: Yes, simple isn’t easy. But, it still is the right thing to do. I think it’s a mindset. You have to accept that as organizations grow, they will become more complex. So, you got to counter that by deliberately navigating in search of simplicity. As organizations evolve, they do so around a series of decisions. And it’s when you make those decisions, you have the opportunity to choose a more simple route, as oppose to a more complex route. And in a way we have to counter the way we all educated.

In education sometimes you’re rewarded for length. I was reminded of the old Mark Twain story when his editor asked him for two pages in two days. And he came back and said, no can do. I can do ten pages in two days. But it’ll take me two weeks to do two pages! And what’s that getting at is you have to think about it. You have to think about how you can actually simplify the way you deliver a product or a service to a consumer.

Drew Neisser: With all the big data that’s out there, does this make it harder to get to simple or does it make it easier?
Sir Terry Leahy: Well it potentially makes it harder. There’s a real danger that an organization can be flooded by data. And information can get in the way of actually accessing the things that really matter for the consumer and what will really drive your organization forward, if you make decision on those things. Our data is so complex now. So, powerful. It’s even a danger that it can become detached from most ordinary people. And that can be very harmful for an organization. You want data to be more accessible and to be placed right at the heart of the organization. Right where the decision are made.

Drew Neisser: How do you get to where data becomes simple?
Sir Terry Leahy: I think it became simple once we were able to know things about customers. That was the big breakthrough for us. We had product data with the [advent of the] bar code. Which transformed our retail industry. But, we didn’t know anything about the people who bought the products.

Once we launched Club Card that allowed us to gain information about those individual customers. And their shopping habits. What they bought when they shopped. And that really illuminated the world for me because then we knew more about how customers shopped and what they needed. And what they’re interested in. We could tailor [messages.] We could target our products our services to meet those specific needs.

Drew Neisser: One of the words that you used was Courage, which is another great word. I would use the word chutzpah but that’s because I live in New York. And a lot of companies don’t have the courage to make big bets. In fact, they sort of go for incrementalism. Talk to me about the importance of courage and big bets, and the risks of such an approach.
Sir Terry Leahy: Courage is an unusual word in the context of business. But, I think it’s at the heart of business. And in fact, I think entrepreneurs would understand that. They take the biggest bet of all with their livelihood, when they start a business. But, in an organization it still applies. Many people are fearful of upsetting their boss and affecting their promotion prospects.

Actually, you’ve got to be prepared to risk everything. Even your career in order to do what you think is right in a situation in the job that you hold. One of the big bets that I made was the launch of Club Card, which gave this information around customers. In order to do it, we had to incentivise customers. That was going to cost us at the time a quarter of our entire profits. If this had gone wrong, and many predicted it would go wrong, I was finished.

Drew Neisser: So, one of the things that really distinguishes you particularly in the world of big data and CTOs is that as a marketer, you became CEO. Why do you think you were able to beat the data guy to the CEO spot, and what could marketers who aspire to be CEOs, learn from that experience?
Sir Terry Leahy: Yeah, it is unusual. And I think we need more CEOs who come from marketing or come from technology. It happens obviously in the technology industry, but outside that industry, it’s pretty rare. And, I think that’s a great shame because those are the two most valuable commodities for business systems to work with–customers and data knowledge. I was able to use Club Card and some other innovations to be the voice of the customer in the business. So, I was able to give leadership for the company from the marketing position. And that, therefore, was a small step into the CEO office.

And I think other CMOs can do that. I think that they can step forward and lead the business from the marketing position. Particularly, if they harness the customer. And the customer is the biggest power base within an organization.  And if you use it in the right way, it’s hard for [a colleague from] Finance or Operations to challenge the voice of the customer. If you have the customer on your side, you’re the most powerful guy (or woman) in the organization.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. So, one of the words that’s not on your ten words, is the word intuition. And in this world of big data does intuition still have a role?
Sir Terry Leahy: I think it does. You read the psychology books like I do, and they look at how the brain works and what would probably happen is that we’ll all be better at absorbing data about the things that we work on and work in. And then we’ll have an intuitive response that seems like a gut instinct.

But, actually it’s drawing on all of that data. All of that information that you’ve been putting in there over the last weeks and months and years. And largely, that’s probably the right way for it to come. A combination of the two sides of our brain, if you like. And that’s how most people will work.

Drew Neisser: Let’s get back to the CMO for a moment. How does that CMO who’s not a data person, make sure that they are looking at the data or getting the data they need to really inform their strategies?
Sir Terry Leahy: I think the days of the CMO not being data person are passed. I don’t think you [the CMO] have to be a math genius. The technology right now is making [data] so much more accessible. It’s about the CMO who’s curious about the world around them and how they use data to inform them about that world. And that’s what CMO’s are naturally are. Their naturally interested in people. Interested in how the world works. And they just need unlock data to inform their decisions.

Drew Neisser: One of the words in your book is “Values.” Let’s talk about that. Every company that I know has values. They put them on their website. They put them on a wall in the kitchen. But, they’re not realized. They’re not activated. They’re just platitudes. How did you make sure that the values that you established for Tesco became a real part of the organization?
Sir Terry Leahy: I think you have to look at the organization. And you’ll find in the history of the organization or in the narrative of the business the core values. And if you can draw those out and articulate them and build on them, I think that’s a much more solid foundation. I think after that it’s — you obviously have to live those values. People will listen to what you say, but they’ll watch what you do. Integrity comes from a consistency between the words and the deeds.

And you’ve got to live it every day. It’s incredibly powerful in business as in any institution or organization. The foundation are a code of values that says this is what we’re here to do. And in any situation, this is how we’ll behave. And people can identify with them. It’s so much easier for people to sign up for that.

Drew Neisser:  One of the words you have in the book is, “Compete.” When some companies see what their competition is doing, they try to replicate it. How do you compete and look at your competition, but make sure that you remain true to yourself?
Sir Terry Leahy: What’s interesting in the first ten years of my career, essentially I copied the competition because our competitors in my industry were outstanding firms. The best in the country. Arguably the best in the world at what they did. So, I didn’t have to look far for ideas. I just copied them.

But, what I found was as we got closer and closer to this benchmark, we could never overtake them because, you know, if you just like the original people will always choose the original. And it was only, when I stop copying the competition and started following our own customers and letting they be my lead, that we overtook them within a year.

It was an amazing thing that I learned. From that day forward I respected and learned everything I could from the competition. But, I never followed competition. All the focus was on the customer. And then what you did was much more original. Much more authentic. And customers spotted that you were doing it first and doing it for them. You weren’t doing it because some other competitor did it first.

Drew Neisser:  To wrap up here, let’s talk about the future.  If you were training now for the CMO job ten, fifteen years on the horizon, what would you be focused on?  
Sir Terry Leahy:  Well, I think it’s a really exciting time now because back when the Club Card started, Tesco was one of the first in the world using data, as soon as computers were powerful [enough.]  Now, the opportunity to access data from social networks, from shopping data and from so many other things, from operations, it’s without limit.  And, yet, organizations don’t use that data.  They don’t bring it in and use it to inform the way products are developed, to drive the direction of the business.  So, I think that still is the opportunity.  How do we make business decisions on the basis of knowledge–knowledge of the world around us.

Nice Companies Finish First: Q+A w Peter Shankman


PeterShankman TVThe proper German pronunciation of my last name is actually “nicer” as is in “nicer than the other guy.”  It is little wonder then that I have a natural predisposition towards nicer people, especially people like Peter Shankman who is championing the cause of being nicer on a global scale.  I was lucky enough to have a video interview with Peter at the IBM Smarter Commerce Summit from which I pulled the Q&A below.

I think Peter makes a really compelling case for why niceness is not a ‘nice to have’ component of your go-to-market strategy but instead could become a ‘must have’ element to gain competitive advantage.  Importantly, Peter says niceness needs to start with the CEO and then permeate the organization.  Let me know if you think there’s a seat in the boardroom of your company for a Mr. Nicer.

Drew Neisser:  Tell me about your new book, Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management Is Over.
Peter Shankman: I realized when I sold my last company that the reason the company did so well and was purchased was not because I had an e-mail newsletter, an e-mail mailing list but it was because I was nice and I had a personal relationship with all 250,000 people on this list.  It sounds crazy but I realize that nice was actually the reason the company did so well.

Drew Neisser: Wait, you had a personal relationship with 250,000 thousand people?
Peter Shankman: It sounds crazy but you know when was the last time you were on a newsletter mailing list that came from a person?  You know every corporate mailing newsletter comes from “do not reply”, mine came from from the day I started to the day I sold it.

Drew Neisser: I got some of those [HARO] e-mails. So then what?
And so people would reply to me, “I know this won’t go to the owner but…” and I’d reply, “Oh, actually it did, how can I help you?”  [Seeing the power of being nice] I spent the next two years really studying and interviewing companies from Fortune100s all the way down to mom-and-pop’s. We found out that the companies that focused on nice, focused on treating their employees nice, the customers nice and their clients nice, treating the environment nice, actually wind up doing anywhere from 10 percent to 30 percent higher revenue than companies that had that sort of 1980s Gordon Gecko mentality.

Drew Neisser:  When it comes to being nice is this something that companies can systematize or is this more about random acts of kindness?
Peter Shankman: It’s a little bit of both; it has to start from the CEO.  CEO has to understand that being nice for the sake of being nice is the greatest thing in the world, that’s what people want to do, but let’s face it, that doesn’t necessarily generate revenue.  The concept of being nice for a company really comes in two parts.  You want to be thought of as nice, no question about it, you want to do nice things, because this is a good thing to do, good karma and all that.  But what we found in the book is that the more you do nice things the more consumers actually look at it, and say “okay you know what, as a customer I was treated really well by this company, I want to tell my friends to use this company as well.”  And so what we found out is that when you combine being nice for the sake of being nice with being nice because it is profitable, you wind up making your stockholders happy as well as the customers, the [vendors] and the employees.

Drew Neisser:  Who are some of the companies that you found doing nice things?
Peter Shankman: We found a food truck out there where one day a week for an hour, they give away the food to the homeless people, just because it is the right thing to do.  There is a dry cleaner that if you are homeless and you have a job interview, you can bring [your clothes] and they will dry clean it for this job interview for free. My favorite example is when Morton’s steakhouse jokingly met me at the airport because I jokingly tweeted, “I want a steak” and they showed up at the airport and that generated double-digit revenue for them.

Drew Neisser: Amazing. Tell me more about the Morton’s example.
[After seeing my tweet Morton’s social team realized] he comes here a lot, he eats a lot of steak and so let’s do something nice for him.  And I was so blown away [that they showed up at the airport with a free steak dinner that] I told my friends and two days later I’m on the ‘Today’ Show, and they had double-digit revenue, six months after that.  It is incredible –double digit revenue growth, from showing up at the airport because some guy jokingly tweeted about it.

Drew Neisser: So let me play CMO for a moment and ask how do you scale that?
Peter Shankman: You don’t have to scale that, not everyone needs a steak at the airport.  You can do something that when you show up, when you make a reservation, at Morton’s they say hey, it is a special occasion?  And if it yes, it is my mother’s birthday, oh what’s her name?  Nancy.  They walk in, “Happy Birthday Nancy”, on the menu.  It’s this little, tiny things that really make you come back.

Drew Neisser: So we have this logo behind us from the IBM logo, Smarter Commerce Conference, so how does nice and data, and big data come together?
Peter Shankman: That’s my favorite part, we have so many tools now and you can know everything about your customer before they walk in the door.  But it is not enough just to know everything about the customer; you have to learn how to take advantage of that. We’ve worked with hotels to do this.  You can determine when a person’s walking in to check in, are they frazzled?  You know, are they tired?  If they’ve had a long flight, you can see things in their body language. You can look at what they are saying online, look at what they are talking about, what are they posting–Are they angry? Are they happy? Are they sad?  And if they are happy make them happier; if they are upset, make them happy.  The greatest thing in the world is when you go to a hotel that you don’t expect to be treated [royally] and they do something out of the ordinary like they have a hot towel, anything like that, it really is amazing.

Drew Neisser:Now this phenomenon of niceness certainly probably parallels the rise of the service economy, what are you — how does an auto manufacturer — they make hard goods, how do they do nice?
Peter Shankman: When I worked at America Online, that was my first job out of college and it was also my first job in a big company.  At that point I think they had 1800 employees and everyone had to work, in the tech-support or sales & marketing, because you know sales customer service group once for a full week before they start at their job, that’s how they learnt about the customer and things like that.  And my first thought was, “Oh God, I have to work at customer service, this is going to suck.”  You know what they did every Friday night, they backed up a beer truck, to the front door of the building, and they give out beer, and they give out soda and you can have whatever you wanted and the concept of treating the customer nice translated.  You know if you are a big company, if you are an auto-manufacturer, well, are you treating your employees better than GM or Ford? You make [employees] want to take pride in their work because they love what they do.

Drew Neisser: So niceness starts at home.
Peter Shankman: It really doesn’t — it has to start with the CEO, if it doesn’t start with the CEO, there’s no point.

Drew Neisser: Got it.  So I’ve got a group of CMOs here; do I get them to put a new line item on their marketing plan called Being Nice?
Peter Shankman: You’d be amazed; you can drop 30 percent of your marketing budget, simply being nicer. Here’s a perfect example — I was staying at a hotel in Dubai, three months ago.  I get to the hotel at 6:00 pm, I’ve been out at meetings all day, I get back to my room, it’s been cleaned and there’s note, “Mr. Shankman we noticed that your toothpaste is running low, we went to the store and replaced it with the same kind you use, we thought it would make your day easier because we know how busy your schedule is.”

I was floored by that; took a picture of it and then posted on Facebook. I’m leaving two days later, the head of PR for the hotel, comes out to me, ‘Mr. Shankman just want to introduce myself, we were able to trace back in the last three days, three reservations that came in from your photo.’  And I’m thinking to myself, okay, and how much I paid for my room?  Three reservations, freaking average of three days, that 39 cent tube of toothpaste netted them probably $12,000 to $15,000 in reservations.  That is your line item.

Drew Neisser:  Is every hotel in the world now asking you to come visit them?
Peter Shankman: You know what it is, it’s not even about — it’s about treating every employee — every customer not like they are me, but like they are anyone.  The people in the back of the bus on an airline, don’t expect to board first or have their luggage come out first, what if once in a while you do?

Drew Neisser:  So how does a CMO look a CEO in the eye and say, you know what, we are going to stop talking about “Price”, we need to start talking about “Nice.”
Peter Shankman: Well, you don’t have to stop talking about price, but you can start being nice.  At the end of the day, what the CMO has to look at the CEO and say, ‘You know what; we’re going to do this, because it is going to generate more money and is it the right thing to do.’ Maybe you want to hear that as a CEO, maybe you don’t, but I’m telling you it’s is going to generate more money, and I’ve never met a CEO in my life who believes that cool trumps revenue.  So if you come back with the concept of this is going to make more revenue, they’ll listen.

Drew Neisser: And are there tools to measure nice?
Peter Shankman: No question about it, I mean the simplest thing to measure nice — and IBM does this phenomenally is just measuring sentiment. As a customer service society, we expected to be treated like crap.  Treat your customers one level above crap, doesn’t even have to be good, just one level above crap and they’ll talk about it.  Go out of your way to do something amazing, they’ll share it with the world.

Final Note: this isn’t the first time I’ve discussed the power of being nice.  In this blog post from 2008, I reference being nice on a list of 5 characteristics that make for great client / agency relationships.  That post also mentions Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval’s book called The Power of Nice that discusses this topic way back in the pre-social media epoch! 

Q+A on Small Business Saturday w Scott Krugman, American Express


As far as I am concerned, Small Business Saturday is the quintessential example of Marketing as Service, achieving the kind of success that most marketers can only imagine.  The service in this case not only establishes a day that puts the spotlight on small businesses and rivals Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but also enables small businesses to be more competitive throughout the year, with marketing toolkits that highlight their distinct advantages over their larger competitors.

With the third annual Small Business Saturday set for November 24, perhaps the most remarkable part of this program is how it is developing a life of its own, with politicians uniting over its significance and more and more small business owners trying to take advantage of “their” day. To better understand the thinking behind this program, I spent a good hour on the phone with Scott Krugman, Director of Communications at American Express.  Here’s part 1 of my interview with Scott.

Drew: So let’s start with the origin of the idea of Small Business Saturday back in 2010.
Well, like all good ideas, in a way, they originate from our customers. AmEx OPEN’s been around now for twenty-five years, and the reason why we’ve been around so long and been so successful is because we really take the pulse of our customers in a variety of ways, and in this particular case, what we found out through research and talking to our customers, their biggest need coming out of the recession was more customers. So that got us to thinking, what can we do to help small businesses get more customers?

Drew: So after identifying the need, what then?
After a number of conversations with a lot of people, the thought came: what could we do to drive business to small businesses during key times throughout the year?  Naturally, that got folks in the room talking about the holiday season. Obviously big-box merchants have “Black Friday.”  Online merchants, more recently, have Cyber Monday.  So we thought there might be something there for small businesses, and the thought here was, let’s give small businesses their ceremonial kickoff to the holiday season.  Let’s get their holiday shopping season off to a strong start.  Let’s create a day for them.  It wasn’t as quick and as simple as I’m making it out to be, but what that ended up becoming was Small Business Saturday.

Drew:  Looking back now, it seems like a no-brainer, but why back in 2010 did you think it would work?
We thought it was the right message at the right time.  There were a lot of conversations that were happening about the importance of small businesses to the economy.  The “shop local” movement was going strong, so we knew that there would be a lot of support.  We also knew through research that 98 percent of consumers said that they wanted to support small businesses.  So we wanted to create something that would take that support and turn it into sales.  And as we started iterating, it became clear that this was a movement. 

Drew: So how long did it take to go from idea to execution?
I should point out in terms of the timing element, this was basically getting the concept of Small Business Saturday to market—it had to happen in a matter of a few weeks.

Drew: Wait, let me make sure I heard you correctly. So in 2010, from green light to execution, it took how long?
A matter of weeks!

Drew: Did you advertise Small Business Saturday in Year 1 (2010)?
There was definitely advertising.  There was also a press conference at city hall involving New York City Mayor Bloomberg and our CEO, Ken Chenault.  There was a lot of earned media around it in terms of announcing the day.  It was a unique enough concept where it got a lot of curiosity and a lot of pickup.

Drew: What role did social media play in the launch of SBS?
There was a lot of social media around it.  In just that first year, we saw 1.2 million people liking the Small Business Saturday Facebook page.  That’s a lot of likes in a very short period of time.  We saw 30,000 tweets using the hashtags #SmallBusinessSaturday and #SmallBizSaturday.  I was told this, and I guess it was determined with Google, that it (“Small Business”) was the fastest-rising Google search term over that time period. So, I mean, there was a lot that went into it, but we knew in order for this thing to take off, it really needed to have a strong foundation in social media for it to become viral.  That certainly worked.

Drew: So why do you think this program took off?
We’re looking at four factors that really helped.  One was there was a lot of inclusiveness.  There was national scope.  The message was clear in terms of individuals being able to boost the economy.  This is really key and really important, because as much as we talk about American Express in this—and we’re not always comfortable doing that because we feel it takes away from the day—it became an agnostic day.  For small businesses to participate, they don’t have to accept the American Express card.  For consumers to participate, they don’t have to use the American Express card.  Is American Express making an offer for consumers on the day?  Yes.  But, they’re not limited to using that card in order to make a difference.

Drew: How did small businesses react?
It created a solution to help spur more business for small businesses, and small business owners really took to it.  I think in Year 1, not as much, because there wasn’t a lot of time to get them to own the day.  So I would say Year 1 was probably more about claiming the day.

Drew: So this feels a bit like cause marketing, another idea AmEx essentially invented.
You know, there are a couple schools of thought on that.  Small businesses definitely needed the help.  But at the same time, this isn’t charity.  Small businesses are the engine that drives the economy.  They’re creating jobs.  If people support small businesses, they’re supporting their local communities.  So they’re not just supporting the businesses, they’re supporting themselves.  They’re helping everyone.  It makes the entire engine work, especially as you’re coming out of recession. But the other piece of it is, it’s the discovery aspect of what makes small businesses so special.  And it’s not the fact that maybe they do need the help, but it goes beyond that.  It’s helping consumers rediscover these businesses that have been there all along in their communities: the amazing customer service, the unique selection and the special experiences.

Drew: So how do small business compete against larger rivals in the face of discounting?
They focus on their core elements.  Large businesses spend millions of dollars a year on customer relationship management tools to understand their customer. Small businesses?  That’s an inherent part of who they are.  So it’s a day for them to really leverage those strengths and allow consumers to kind of rediscover what makes them great.  But at the same time, it’s helping small businesses not just own the day, but give them the tools that they need to thrive during the day.  This might kind of take us a little bit into Year 2, but we can always pivot back and forth.

Drew: It must have been tricking to balance AmEx branding and the SBS idea…
This is one of those campaigns where the message was so compelling, and the reason for doing it was so genuine, that people naturally wanted to take part in it.  Again, this is where it needs to become more than just about American Express, because you’re not going to get the response from public officials if Small Business Saturday is owned by any one corporate entity.  You’re not going to get that kind of response.

So that’s why it’s more than just about us.  We might have been the one to push the idea into the marketplace, but in all honesty, it’s the small business owners that owned the day.  It’s their day.  We might have given it to them, but they have taken it and made it their own.  We will always support it.  We will always do things in the marketplace to support the day and to support small business owners because that’s what we do at OPEN.  But it is their day, and that’s what makes it genuine.  And frankly, that’s what’s made it successful.

Drew: Was it hard to relinquish ownership of this idea?
That’s a fair question.  I think it’s one of the tough things when there’s such a good idea on the table.  I think the natural inclination is to want to own and control it.  But that’s the irony here.  For it to be successful, you couldn’t do either.  And I think there were enough smart people in the room to know that.  Ultimately, we realized, it takes a village to create a day.

Drew: AmEx “$25 offer to shop small” couldn’t have hurt the program.
For us to do this right, AmEx also had to be “skin in the game,” so of course the card member offer was critical.  Otherwise, it’s just lip service.  Like I said, Small Business Saturday is what we created for the entire small business community.  But I think our merchants come to expect us to look out for them in ways that others don’t.

Drew: So, did Small Business Saturday drive small business sales? 
Yes, actually.  I can tell you on the record that transactions of—we can only right now measure folks that use the American Express card, right?  That’s what we have available to us.  So for merchants that accept the card, card transactions were up 23 percent on the day.

Drew: How about the softer measures like favorability among small businesses towards the AmEx brand?
I’m limited in terms of some of the metrics that I can discuss.  But let’s say our philosophy is, if you do the right thing, customers are going to recognize that about you.  And I think that there are not many companies that would have been able to do something like a Small Business Saturday in a genuine way.  I think that has a lot to do with the OPEN brand as it relates to American Express, frankly.

Drew: It must help that this is not the first time you’ve focused on small businesses.
Yes.  We’ve been in the marketplace for small businesses probably longer than anyone else.  I believe we had the first business card devoted to small businesses.  I think because of the history we have in this community, there’s an expectation that we are going to be supportive beyond product offerings.  So I think that it’s one of those situations where all those interests are aligned.  Obviously, we have an interest in doing the right thing to help small businesses: it’s what we’ve been doing.  Our customers expect us to help them with their solutions.  So I think you could say, in a lot of ways, Small Business Saturday was a result of us doing what we have always done, and that’s listening to our customers’ needs and trying to find solutions.  It just so happens that we found something, in this particular case, that was massively innovative.  And is there a halo effect from that?  Absolutely.  That’s why I think you see a lot of other companies wanting to be a part of Small Business Saturday as well.

Drew: So is this about doing well by doing good?
Like I said, I think for a company to do the right thing in a meaningful way, it needs to be genuine.  And I think the marketplace, whether it’s small business owners or consumers, are smart enough to know when it’s not.  So I think it needs to start from the desire of wanting to do good and wanting to do the right thing.  That’s where Small Business Saturday is no different.  That’s where it starts.  I think there’s… if you do the right thing in the right way, good things come with that, yes.

Tweet Emotion (continued)


The 140 Characters conference is a downright hugfest, as founder Jeff Pulver insists on giving physical hugs to the speakers and virtual hugs to the audience.  The virtual hugs come in the form of carefully chosen speakers whose unique stories inspire, cajole and even move the audience to tears.  Here is a recap of day one excluding five stories I included in my MediaPost article today.

Making Machines Smarter
Robert Stephens (@rstephens) founder of Geek Squad believes that we are moving from “automation to anticipation,” where apps will be able to talk to other apps.  Stephens lamented that the autocorrection on Mac’s don’t currently learn from your input, something he believes could and should be solved with a little artificial intelligence.  Another basic example is of the open garage door that automatically shuts after 20 minutes of disuse.  Stephens explained that, “once is a hint, twice is a pattern and three times is a preference,”  so if apps can observe this behavior then the “fourth time becomes a habit.”   Stephens also offered a new model of privacy he called “prefacy,”  in which the preferences we share via our social networks help services serve us in a more personalized manner–like a hotel anticipating our pillow preference.

Data Can Be Beautiful
Hjalmar Gislason (@datamarket), Founder & CEO, DataMarket, talked about creating a Google for numbers tat could find the best data available for your particular query.  More importantly, Gislason pointed out how most of us can find much in the data unless it is transformed into graphs and charts that bring the story to life.  Visualization is critical, explained Gislason, who didn’t not want his deeply insightful charts to be confused with typically useless infographics!

You Can Find Just About Anybody Via Social Media
Dan Lewis (@sesamestreet), Director of New Media Communications at Sesame Street, told a cute story how they tracked down the name of the actor who appeared in a pilot for the show four decades ago.  And then Dan shocked the audience with his revelation that Big Bird is actually a puppet!

Social TV Is Probably Not About New Apps
Caroline Giegerich (@DailyMarauder), Founder/Editor of Daily Maraude, Ian Schafer (@ischafer), CEO of Deep Focus and Rishi Malhotra (@rishimalhotra), Managing Partner of [212]Media did not express a lot of love for new Social TV apps like GetGlue.  Instead, they felt networks like Twitter and Facebook would fulfill the “water cooler” need through the use of hashtags.  Also, when discussing the long-anticipated convergence of everything on one screen, Schafer believes that we are more likely to see “everything on every screen,” and that we are likely to continue to live in a simultaneous multi-screen environment.  As one of the speakers noted, “who wants to buy a 70″ TV and see Twitter trash or YouTube comments (lowest life-form!)”

iPads as Teaching Devices
One of my favorite sessions was with Kevin Honeycutt (@kevinhoneycutt), a teacher who is “out to change the world, one classroom at a time!” Honeycutt demonstrated how an iPhone could help teach kids basic chords thus getting them started with music, something he believes can help them see they can do just about anything they put their minds to.  He then took an iPad, velcroed it to a cardboard guitar and proceeded to rock the house. Honeycutt, who uses his own humble origins as a continual punchline like “getting kicked out of his trailer park for thought lifting,” believes his highly entertaining teaching style can help prevent the “cognitive blisters” that impede learning.   I have no doubt he’s right.

Revisiting The Scarlet Letter with Jack Abramoff
This would be a good time to thank my 11th grade English teacher Betty Orbach for permanently imprinting the meaning of the scarlet letter in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic tale.  Just in case you didn’t have Ms. Orbach, Hester Prynne is forced to wear a big red A on her sweater after committing adultery.  After years of social service, people begin to see Hester’s A as standing for “able” and then ultimately as “angel.”  Jack Abramoff (@jackabramoff) might as well wear a big fat A on his chest, being among the most infamous of Washington lobbyists. Taking a page from Prynne, a humble and repentant Abramoff, is now trying to diligently drain the cesspool he used to swim in so effectively.  Good luck with that Mr. A.

This One Made Most of Us Weep
Heather Hamilton (@tjzmommy) had most of us in tears as she told the tragic story of her son Zack whose life was cut short way t0o early.  During his few years, Zack fought a courageous battle in and out of hospitals, finding joy in among other things Sesame Streets’s Elmo, who became “a fifth member of the family.”  During this same period, Heather discovered a community of supportive friends via Twitter and Facebook.  After Zack died, the York Central Hospital in Toronto asked Heather if she would like to name a kid’s play room after Zack and help raise the $25,000 needed to fund the room.   Throwing herself into this project, Heather reached out to her newfound network and was astonished by their support.  Total strangers held fundraisers and online auctions. Ultimately, Heather not only raised the funds but also she was able to engage the Sesame Street team to produce a video with Elmo called Zacky’s Song that now welcome’s visitors to Zack’s Dream Room.

“Knowing Where You’re Going is Irresistibly Attractive”
Liz Strauss (@lizstrauss), Founder, SOBCon, is a terrific speaker, telling tales of her childhood as a wellspring for inspiration and overcoming obstacles.  Strauss reminded us that we need to train ourselves to hear opportunity which is usually on the other side of every problem.  The challenge is to filter out all the negative noise and then focus on “seeing yourself where you want to be.”  She reminds us that “everything you’ve succeeded at you decided you were going to finish before you started; that way when the roadblocks came; you didn’t drop back and say this is too hard.”  Strauss talks of being in the moment and not worrying about the past; any opportunity can be a vehicle to get where you want to go.  My favorite quote, “knowing where you’re going it is irresistibly attractive.”

Fighting Intergenerational Incarceration
Andy Dixon (@andydixn), a self-described, “ex-con with convictions,” told his remarkable story of over-coming “felonism,” an inherited inclination to commit crimes and go to jail.  Andy simple message is that breaking the cycle is hard BUT can be done by helping the 2.7 million kids with parents in prison get a decent education.

Everything You Need to Know About Social Media, You Can Learn from a Small Town Liquor Store
Becky McCray (@BeckyMcCray) Co-Host of #140conf Smalltown and Co-Author of Small Town Rules, made a great case that running a successful social media program is not all that different from running a small town liquor store.  Since it can be intimidating to get started; spend time building 1:1 on connections at first. Then get involved in the community and support them anyway you can.  In both cases, it is important to think long term and to be helpful to anyone and everyone. Honesty is essential. Word spreads fast in a small town (and online.)  McCray recommended personalized attention and sharing information, even if it means carrying a wine for just one customer.  While McCray doesn’t recommend giving your product away, giving advice for free is a no brainer, helping to build trust and loyalty.  Cheers to that!

Finally, a Few Shout Outs

Carlos Delgado (@carlosdelgado21) made a compelling case for his non-profit organization and using Twitter to help it grow!

Jodi Sonoda (@KarmicEvolution) told of dealing with mental illness and helping herself and others through her blog.  She got and deserved a standing ovation.

Mark Horvath (@hardlynormal), is a powerful advocate for the homeless, helping them in transformative ways.

Hank Wasiak (@hankwasiak), believes this is an amazing time for marketers to do well by doing good.  Wasiak presented research that suggests most marketers spend 90% of their energy on product claims when the real persuasion happens by focusing on brand values, explaining why a brand exists and the impact it seeks to make in the world.  Adds Wasiak, while ideals are not proprietary, how you bring them to market is and he backs this up with Jim Stengel’s research that concludes that ideals-driven companies outperform others 3 to 1.

Anthony Rotolo (@rotolo), Professor at Syracuse University’s @iSchoolSU. All I can say is I wish I had this teacher with this kind of energy and creativity when I was at Duke.

Greg Corbin (@JustGregPoet) is the Executive Director of the Philly Youth Poetry Movement, a program that inspires high school kids to write and perform spoken word poetry.  Two of his students performed and they were awesome!

Amanda Greene (@LAlupusLady) and Tiffany Peterson (@TiffanyAndLupus) are formidable “Lupus Warriors” who moved us all with honesty and intrepid positivity.

And that was just some of the highlights of Day 1.  I’m afraid I had to go back to work and missed Day 2. (If you enjoyed this post, feel free to subscribe to my blog.

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