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."

Why Kidzania is Marketing Nirvana & More w Cammie Dunaway


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Meaningful Connections w/ Heather Newman of Content Panda


Heather Newman_Content PandaHeather Newman, EVP & CMO of Content Panda, knows how to work a connection. In fact, Heather and her team are so willing to reach out to others that Content Panda’s entire business model is based off of partnering with enterprise businesses. As you will see in the interview below, her enthusiasm to network means she’s an ardent supporter for building a personal brand­—whether you’re looking for a new job or not. Overall, her willingness to run everything from ideas to entire pricing models by her peers isn’t just a major asset for Content Panda; it also helped her win a President’s Circle award at The CMO Club’s CMO Awards.

Drew: How did founding and serving as CEO and CMO of Creative Maven for nearly ten years help prepare you for your current venture as a co-founder and CMO of Content Panda?

It’s been an incredible journey.  My time as a full time employee on the original Microsoft SharePoint marketing team led directly to my work with Creative Maven.  At Creative Maven, I worked with clients back at Microsoft to originate the concept of the “theatre” demo area and other innovations in hundreds of tradeshows/events.  We also produced the first ever SharePoint Conference, which led to amazing connections and partnerships in that ecosystem.  My current work with Content Panda (where I am partnered with one of the original release managers for SharePoint, by the way) is the culmination of the last 15 years of understanding partner and third party needs within the Microsoft culture.  I am thrilled to be bringing much needed solutions to the marketplace with Content Panda.

Drew: Content Panda Professional is launching soon. How are you marketing this premium version of your software to users who currently use the free version? 

We are building a campaign to reach out to current customers via email and direct call downs.  The pro version is all about the ability to customize and viewing usage reporting data.  It appeals to Enterprise businesses who have SharePoint 2013 or Office 365 SharePoint Online deployments and want to go from our freemium version into a richer experience for their employees.

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

Social media plays are massively important in our overall efforts to promote impactful thought leadership articles, podcasts, product reviews and brand recognition.  We use Hootsuite to schedule out tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn posts.  I love being able to schedule repeatable posts out 2 months out.  I’m looking at Buffer right now as well.

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

I drop into my twitter feed and LinkedIn to stay up on what’s in the marketplace once a day.  I love Gizmodo, Tech Crunch, GeekWire, Entrepreneur and Fast Company. I read all of those pretty regularly.  I also find an awesome amount of great ideas and articles by being on the newsletter lists and Twitter feeds of all of our CMOs and their companies.

Drew: Can you describe your primary content marketing initiatives this year and how they benefited your company? 

Since we are a B2B software company we spend our time creating content around building out use cases and video scripts.  We will continue to spend money on creating video demos, product specific downloadable items from our website and thought leadership pieces for our blog going into 2015.

Drew: Do you think it is important to spend time on your personal brand and if so, how do you do this without being in conflict with your organizational goals?

Absolutely, no matter what you are doing, one should always be looking for your next job or project. With all the uncertainty in the job market, spending 30 minutes a day on your own brand is an absolute must. I think the larger the corporation you are with the harder this can be though. Putting yourself out there and being thought of as a bit of a superstar can stir up a ton of politics and jealousy.  I think discussing personal brand with one’s team and leadership is the way to stay out of conflict.  You can easily make “personal brand” into a campaign/initiative that everyone participates in.  This can be simply ensuring that there is consistency on LinkedIn around how you all describe your company.  That alone can start the conversation and lead the way for everyone to participate.

Drew: What advice do you give to junior marketers when they ask about ways to manage their careers?

Join. Read. Network. Be a part. Don’t be afraid.  Through our careers, Most of us will have terrible managers & poor leadership, so you have to really DIY on guiding your own career and how you feel about your worth/work.  I would always say toot your horn, be confident, know that you do know what are talking about (most people fake it most of the time anyway and are afraid someone will figure out they don’t know as much as they do). Join marketing or other social groups to build your tribe, read books by Brene Brown, The Heath Brothers and Al Ries and participate in social media voraciously (watch the SnapChat).  Don’t stay in a job if a manager treats you badly, there are lots of opportunities out there for great people.

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

Having a strong peer network is how the movers and shakers of this world get to be at the top.  I reach out all the time to colleagues to run ideas, pricing models, content by them and they do the same with me.  This is so important whether you are in startup land or the corporate world.  I left a company last April and the first thing I did is reach out to my close colleagues in my industry and to CMOs in the club.  My transition was quick to working with amazing colleagues at IT as their CMO and also being able to really dive into driving the launch of my start-up, Content Panda’s first product. Peers should be there for you just like friends to celebrate with you when you rock it and to support you when things go sideways.  That person you need in that one moment should already be a colleague.  Ever job or project I’ve landed in the past 20 years has been through a peer or friend.

Q+A on Creativity w Audi’s CMO Loren Angelo


Loren Angelo_AudiDoes form follow function in the digital world? Many brands are starting to say “yes,” as they turn increasingly often to emerging media to not only deliver their story, but also to enhance it. For luxury car brand Audi, this meant using emerging platforms to tell a story in a way that’s culturally relevant to their audience and on a platform where they’re encouraged to participate.

Loren Angelo, EVP and CMO of Audi of America, has been spearheading these digital efforts, and in our interview, we break down how to manage the inherent risk of these ideas for such a major brand. By the way, with Audi posting 45 consecutive monthly sales records, and Loren winning a Creativity Award at The CMO Club’s CMO Awards, it turns out you really can be highly creative and highly successful at the same time. 

Drew: Creativity can emerge in a lot different ways, from how you approach problems to creative marketing campaigns.  How are you being “creative” in your current role and how has that helped you? 
Creativity is driven by staying authentic to your brand and your mission.  I’m inspired by ideas where I can connect my brand with cultural moments that engage a conversation.

Drew: Some agency sages believe “it isn’t creative unless it sells.”  Do you share that belief and if so, is there still a role for branding building activities in your marketing mix that may not have an immediate or directly measurable impact on sales?  
Building the Audi brand in America has been crucial to our current success of 45 consecutive monthly sales records.  Elevating Brand Opinion and Consideration by over 30% since 2006 has come from an investment in repositioning Audi as the modern, progressive, luxury choice.  When we bring smart, entertaining creative to market, demand rises and that drives sales.

Drew: Looking at the question above slightly differently, is there a case to be made for a brand like Audi that the medium can be the message? For example, does doing cutting edge marketing on say a mobile platform also say that Audi is a cutting edge brand that “gets it?”  
Absolutely. Creativity comes in the message as well as the medium in which it’s delivered.  Building the brand with time-starved, affluent Americas requires us to bring unique ideas to a variety of channels.  In addition to our unique 30-second TV communications that tell culturally relevant stories versus using traditional automotive speak, Audi has been leading in digital connections as well.  For example, this year Audi introduced several new entry-level luxury products to first time luxury buyers of which a third were young Millennials.   We used platforms such as Waze and Trip Advisor to link our Audi Q3 “Stray the Course” strategy to consumer behaviors on those channels and for the launch of the A3, we introduced a completely new voice and visual execution on Snap Chat for Audi in the Super Bowl which we carried through the entire Season of Pretty Little Liars that drew 125,000 new followers in just nine months on that channel.

Drew: Does risk taking factor into developing truly creative campaigns?  If so, how do you mitigate that risk internally and or externally?
A challenger spirit is crucial in everything we do at Audi.  Therefore, pushing our communication to be anything but traditional drives us internally and is why we seek out clever culturally-relevant storytelling.

Drew: Can you talk a little about if/how you try to engage the entire Audi company in brand activation?
Audi has become the modern, progressive, luxury choice in America and that philosophy is core to everything we do in our organization.  Whether in partnership experiences such as that of the US Ski Team, in cultural connections such as the Iron Man franchise or in every customer interaction at our state-of-the-art showroom environments, every engagement conveys our unique brand characteristics of technology, performance and design.  Every employee has a clear understanding of our brand position and our focus on bringing customer excitement both internally and externally.

Drew: How are you balancing digital initiatives with more traditional TV and outdoor? Do you ascribe different roles to different media and/or is it possible for a brand like yours to have an “omni-channel” strategy?
At Audi, we believe that keeping focus on a single message and finding the most effective way to deliver it within the channel proves most effective.  Identifying strategies that connect our message with consumer stories might take a storytelling path in TV, a more eccentric approach in social media or might be encapsulated in a single statement on an outdoor board.  Staying true to the strategic idea is what drives a successful campaign that is reinforced when consumers interact at various channels.

Drew: What role does social media play in your marketing efforts? Are there any platforms that are working better for your brand than others?
We identified an opportunity to engage a conversation with America through social media several years ago.  It was the ideal platform to reinforce our provocative messages while establishing a clear voice for the brand.  While our fan base has grown organically from our engaging content, we’ve established Audi in over 10 social media channels.  Each has its own engaging characteristics for that community, but we’ve found Instagram to be an increasingly enthusiastic and responsive channel that has grown exponentially because of the personalized, visual nature of the content.

Drew: Have you leveraged any new technologies or platforms in the last 12 months and if so what were the results relative to your expectations? 
Staying true to our brand focus technological innovations, in 2014 we leveraged a completely new social media voice in SnapChat and brought a new digital experience to our consumers in the purchase process.  As mentioned, SnapChat has been very successful for connecting our brand to a new, burgeoning community in just the last nine months.  At retail, we have introduced a new digital, Progressive Retail Experience in our showrooms to assist our dealer partners and consumers in the greatest customer need – saving time.  Using tablet devices, our dealer partners now have a sales assist solution that can demonstrate vehicle features, show dealer inventory and assist in vehicle configurations through a few simple hand gestures.  In addition, we have brought this digitized experience to the consumer delivery process and the service experience for a more streamlined experience that works on the customer’s schedule.

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?  
This is crucial to bringing a brand into the conversation with today’s consumer.  When we introduced TDI clean diesel in several of our new vehicles last year, we recognized that many of the misperceptions of diesel still existed including that it was an old technology that was for slow, smoky, dirty old cars.  Instead of just announcing that Audi had an all new line up of fuel efficient and environmentally friendly new TDI clean diesel solutions, we approached it with a story that exaggerated one of the misperceptions that high performance luxury sedans don’t use diesel.  In this communication, an Audi A8 pulls into a fueling station where the driver begins to use the clean diesel pump when in slow motion the many bystanders attempt to stop her thinking she’d made a mistake.  Towards the end, she simply responds “I know” illustrating she clearly knows what she is doing while signaling to another Audi A6 TDI clean diesel driver that gives her a confirming nod.  It was a clever way of telling the story that Audi has many TDI clean diesel models and those in the know realize it’s the smart solution for the future.  The full campaign reinforced the range capabilities, environmental benefits and dispelled many of the myths that brought the story to life in all consumer touch points.

Committing to Customers w/ Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly of American Express


Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly_AmExWhen it comes to marketing programs, the word “commitment” doesn’t typically mean decades.   That’s why American Express’ steadfast commitment to small business owners is so notable. I won’t go into the entire history of their small business program – I’ve written about much of it before here, here, and here. What’s important is that American Express is not content to rest on the much-lauded success of Open Forum and their Small Business Saturday program. Instead, they are continuously developing new programs, products and solutions specifically for small business owners, like the recently launched Women’s Business Initiative.

To learn more about this, I interviewed Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly, SVP of Customer Marketing & Engagement at American Express after her CMO Club CMO Award win and she explained that supporting small business owners is part of the DNA of the company. It’s simple really: when small businesses succeed American Express does too.

Drew: Could you provide some background on AmEx’s Women in Business program?

Our Women’s Business Initiative focuses on delivering American Express OPEN’s mission – to help small businesses do more business – to women entrepreneurs across the United States through resources, programs and a community to enable growth.

Drew: What’s the strategy behind this? Where there any specific card-related business objectives attached to the program? 

According to research, between 2007 and 2013, U.S. women started businesses more than one-and-a-half times the national average, but 88% of women-owned businesses generate less than $100,000 annually, and only about 2% of women-owned businesses have revenues over $1 million dollars, indicating a disconnect between a female starting a business and growing that business to its full potential. Our Women’s Business programming is all about clearing the obstacles that stand in the way between women starting a business and growing it.

OPEN is invested in the growth of small and emerging businesses. Why? Small businesses’ success drives the economy. It makes sense for us to help small businesses succeed. We believe that if we help to increase the size of the pie, everyone will get a share of it. We feel it’s our mission to help small businesses grow. It’s in the DNA of American Express OPEN.

Our Women’s Business initiative converges online and offline experiences to engage a broad audience of female business owners. We know that online is a very effective way to connect with an audience at scale. Live events such as OPEN for Women: CEO Bootcamp help us to authentically connect and generate excitement.

Through OPEN Forum, we have a distribution hub that links our offline and online activations from Small Business Saturday to CEO BootCamp. Having this platform in place gives us rich content for all channels: paid, earned and owned.

Drew: How are you executing it?  

Last year we had the first CEO Bootcamp in New York City. Since, we’ve expanded to other cities. Regional event attendees experience inspiration and best practices from industry experts, connections to hundreds of women entrepreneurs, hands-on learning and development to help scale their businesses and topics curated specifically for women business owners.

Live regional events are bolstered by online CEO BootCamp community where women are creating and joining communities to connect with others and share their interests and passions. Community members have access to exclusive content as well as networking and mentoring opportunities.

Drew: How has it evolved since it launched a few years ago?

For over a decade, American Express OPEN’s Women’s Business Initiative has helped transform the growth trajectory for women entrepreneurs. But over those years we have evolved our programming to ensure that our platform, and the community it serves, continues to thrive.

For example, we’ve conducted industry-leading research on the State of Women-Owned Businesses and have partnered with leading women’s advocacy organizations to offer women business owners growth resources (money, marketing and mentoring). CEO Bootcamp and our online community represents the next generation of our Women’s Business Initiatives.

Drew: Separately, what were the biggest lessons you learned as a marketer in 2014?

2014 was a year that we tried a lot of new things at American Express, and certainly learned a lot as a result. One of the most impactful things, for me, was the tangible business benefits that can result when you have a very clear understanding of your target customer. We introduced a new card product, the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, and the research that we undertook to understand the consumer that this card was serving is like nothing we have ever done before. Our detailed understanding of the wants and needs of this audience not only created a product that truly meets her needs, but we spoke to her in the right tone, through the right channels and with the right message. We have been pleased with the results of this product to date, and our marketing strategy, rooted in customer insights, has been a big part of that.

Drew: Looking ahead, what’s the one marketing “nut” you’d like to crack in 2015?  

We know that customers interact with the company across many products and touch points. They don’t see different departments and they don’t know our silos. They simply want a consistent and compelling experience. The challenge is working across a large matrixed organization to create this consistent end to end experience that conveys what we stand for as a brand and our value proposition, and taking a holistic approach to measurement in order to know the most impactful touch points and messages and use this to drive future marketing investment. Driving more integrated end-to-end marketing is the very large nut I want to crack in 2015.

Drew: A lot of companies are just getting started with content programs whereas AmEx has been creating content for 25+ years! What advice would you give newbies to the content marketing world?

Your best inspiration will come from listening to your customers – create content that will be engaging or meaningful to them, and go where they are and develop a consistent presence in those channels. For example, on OPEN Forum, we create content that not only covers the issues on the mind of small business owners, but that is also synched with where OPEN’s products and programs can add value. This ensures that we are not just another voice, but we are a credible one bringing distinct tangible value to the issues that are important to them.

Drew: AmEx has been a real innovator on the social front.  Did you try anything new this year that you were surprised about one way or the other?

Over the past 12-monts, we have posted images on our social channels from the American Express archives: A travel brochure from the turn of the century, an original 1958 American Express Card and photos from our days as a freight-forwarding company, among others. I have been really amazed with how our fans have responded to this content. Being 164-year old brand, we have a rich heritage and I think that these images have reminded our customers of the trust, service and security at the heart of our relationship with them.

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 American Express, storytelling is about the person. It is about telling the stories of our customers through their voice. It’s what has enabled our storytelling to be so authentic. One great example from this past year was a documentary we sponsored by Davis Guggenheim, called “Spent: Looking for Change.” We wanted to tell the stories of the 70 million Americans that are dissatisfied with the traditional banking system. In a world where we hear that only short-form content, this 40-minute, long form content has really struck a chord with consumers.

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

Customer engagement means listening to our customers first and foremost to provide value. I encourage my team to get out and regularly talk to our customers in order to have the most current insight on what keeps them up at night and to help identify gaps and offer resources to tackle those gaps. We have a variety of touch points to keep our fingers on the pulse of our customers so we can anticipate their needs and fill voids that customers never knew existed.

Small Business Saturday is a prime example that was created out of our customers’ needs but also the needs of the broader marketplace. Small Businesses’ biggest need coming out of the recession: more customers. 93% of consumers said they wanted to support small businesses. SBS gave consumers the outlet to shop and turn that support into sales.

How GE’s Beth Comstock Puts Innovation to Work – Part 2


Beth ComstockIn part one of my interview with CMO Hall of Fame Inductee Beth Comstock, we talked about the innovative marketing campaigns she’s enabled as the CMO of GE. In this second part, we talk more about how personal passions and inspirations can translate into exciting campaigns and a culture of creativity. I was surprised by her background in biology but not by her sharp insights on what it means to be a marketing leader and how to helm innovative campaigns.

Drew: I couldn’t help to notice that you were biology major, which is not exactly the typical liberal arts path of a future marketer. Did you imagine yourself being a marketer when you were studying biology?

Not at all. I was torn between anthropology, psychology, and biology and I picked biology because I thought I wanted to go to medical school. But it turns out that biology is actually a great background for marketing. Something that Biology and Marketing have in common is that they both deal with the interconnectivity of each individual living thing to a broader system and that’s the world we live in. We are all connected. We can’t innovate without partnership. I think my study of ecology and my study of systems has trained me to think in a more systematic way and view the world – and certainly the business world – more systematically.

Drew: How important is it to you that you spend time managing personal brand activities on social media?

I think it’s important to do it to learn. Again, if you believe your mandate is to connect to outside of yourself and your company, you have to use the best mechanisms to do that. If you look at my Twitter for the past few months I haven’t been as active as I need to be, but I kind of go through cycles. I love it as my daily newsfeed and I love it as way to connect with people and ideas.

For me, LinkedIn has unearthed a passion. There are a lot of people who I actually want to connect with; people whom I want to come and work with GE or potentially our customers. LinkedIn is a really good place to do that. As a marketer, our jobs aren’t easy, so I try to use it as a way to share lessons and say, ‘hey, we’re all in this together’. We’ve all been in those tough situations. For me, it’s been a bit cathartic to just kind of share some of those talks.

Drew: I know you’ve talked about spending upwards of 25 percent of your time in Silicon Valley, talking to your GE team out there. That’s a lot of time relative to all the things that you have to do. How do you rationalize that investment relative to other ways of spending your time?

I would say that may be skewing a little bit more but we are investing a lot of the company in the Industrial Internet and in partnerships that help us get to be that market. Silicon Valley is kind of a metaphor for where innovation is happening. Just to give you an example, last week I was in Asia for a week and spent time in three cities in China and in Seoul, Korea. In every city I went to, 75 percent of my time was spent on GE or customer efforts, but I also made time to see what was happening in the marketplace. In Beijing, I spent time with the Xiaomi team. In Chengdu, I got to meet the Camera360 startup guys who have developed apps and in Seoul, I participated in a roundtable innovation discussion with some incubators and founders. I do it with my venture cap, but more importantly I do it to keep the company tethered externally. It’s partly my job but it’s also a metaphoric way to describe that kind of sense of where innovation is happening.

Drew: Looking ahead either in terms of trends that you’re seeing or just personal things that you would really like to get a handle on next year, what is on your priority list for 2015?

For the marketing mandate, I think just continuing to create stories that connect and scale. I think the journey is never done. I want to continue to find these different partners, media and ways to tell stories that connect them in scale. We don’t have a big budget so there’s a lot of ongoing pressure for us as a team to raise the bar. That’s always on our list.

I am a big believer in this idea of what we call the global brain. It’s this idea of using digital connections to tap into people who don’t work for us. It’s called open innovation but you can also call it a digital workforce. There are a lot of ways you can get people who have insights and capabilities to do work with your company and I think it will continue to take off.

We have a culture of speed and simplicity and kind of delight in things that can explain what we do at GE. I feel very committed to being a part of that in this coming year. The discovery agenda is still looming large. By the end of 2015, I hope to find three new trends of things that are just absolutely exciting.

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Copyright © 2015 - Drew Neisser