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."

Making Meaningful Connections w/ Heather Newman of Content Panda

01/19/15

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 Unity.com 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

01/12/15

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

01/8/15

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

01/5/15

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.

How GE’s Beth Comstock Puts Innovation to Work – Part 1

01/2/15
Jim Stengel + Beth Comstock

Beth Comstock with Jim Stengel at CMO Awards Ceremony.

What does it take to get inducted into the CMO Hall of Fame? Infinite curiosity and, apparently, some ecological know-how. Beth Comstock of GE is a rarity in the clan of CMO’s, an innovator who doesn’t try to come up with the ideas herself, a leader who seeks insights from startups and a explorer who thinks “the journey is never done.” Oh and did I mention she works for a company that sells massively complex machines yet as Beth says, “We’re on a real mission to humanize technology.”

In this first part of our interview, we talk about how to leverage trends and the kind of dedication needed to produce big ideas — and big results!

Drew: How important is it to be a leader who comes up with an idea versus having the ability to build out an idea from your team and build a culture where the ideas are sort of percolating and coming up to you?

I think early on in my career I expected that as a leader, a manager of a team, that I was supposed to come up with the ideas, that’s what you did as the team leader. I started realizing that it put a lot of pressure on me. I also started to realize that the ideas actually weren’t that good. I think there is a kind of a humble recognition you get when you are an innovation junkie like me but also just as a leader, that ideating is better when it’s a team sport. I have learned that there are times when you have to go on your own to think through a problem and then there are times when you need other people to react, make it better.

I think my process is that I like to act like a sponge. I think part of my job and just who I am is to immerse myself externally outside of GE for ideas and look for themes and trends. If I see something interesting twice I ask, ‘Is that a coincidence?’ If I see it three times I go, ‘Ah, this is a trend’ and try to draw those lines. I think it’s my job to do that and then bring it back into the organization and say, here’s a thought starter. How can we innovate, ideate around that? So that’s sort of very loosely my process.

Drew: What are some of the hardest sales you’ve had to make or times where you had to be persistent and not take no as an answer?

When I was at NBC, I was trying to pitch what is now the NBC Experience Store. It’s been around for 16 years now and I worked really hard on that one. Bob Wright turned me down many times for a couple reasons. One, the idea just wasn’t ready and he was sending me away to make it better, but also, he was testing my commitment to it. Was I really going to back this idea? So that was a very formative experience for me.

Since starting at GE, I’ve had this passion for digital health and what I think it could mean to GE. Up until recently, I had a hard time articulating it. The space hasn’t taken off, and it’s only really been this year that we’ve been able to bring the right forces together as a great team and venture into it. So that’s probably my biggest, longest running example of something that I felt like I was pushing for six years and it’s just now broken through.

Drew: Can you talk about the strategy behind “The Boy Who Beeps” Ad and what message you wanted to send? And in general, do you continue to see television playing an important role in the GE story?

David Lubars who is the creative director of BBDO just had a lot of passion for that ad. I think it means a lot when you’re partnered to real passion and he was very passionate about this for good reason. BBDO has been our agency for 90 years. They just know us so well. In some ways they know us better than we know ourselves, which is why we keep hanging around together.

The Industrial Internet is a very big company strategy and priority. Big data is still confusing, it’s kind of scary and people are not entirely sure what it means when machines talk to other machines. We were trying to send the message that technology is headed toward a good purpose. It’s about the humanity of technology, rather than just getting excited about technology for technology’s stake. We’re on a real mission to humanize technology. Most people can’t see the technology we make, so we have to use a lot of metaphors.

As for the role TV plays in telling GE’s story, I think it depends on the objectives and the business mission for any given campaign or effort. For most of us, I think TV does have a role. With examples like “Boy Who Beeps” or one we did with the Olympics earlier this year, “My Mom Works at GE”, you need the space. TV provides a storytelling grandness with some of these big signature events. We do a lot around these kind of signature efforts and there is room for big storytelling to be done well.

A rule I have observed just in working within the digital space is that the size of these markets gets bigger and slices gets smaller. So TV won’t have the big slice of the audience that it once had, but it doesn’t mean it’s not still important.

Drew: In regards to some of the ideas or innovations that you have been able to bring to bear in the organization, have any of those had an advantage in the sense that the marketing opportunities are baked into the idea?

Yes. I think one of my earliest examples of this and one that I still think stands the test of time was the development of ecomagination. It’s a cute name, but it wasn’t just a cute little effort. It was a very serious intention to align our technology to where the market was going. Our customers wanted more energy efficient technology. We saw that in every industry and in every segment where we do business. So that was a clear opportunity to invest in a certain technology tethered to where the market was going: renewable, clean energy and efficiency. We recognized the need for partnerships that supported that mission, and then to hold ourselves accountable.

To date, we’re tracking about $180 billion of eco-generated sales, billions of dollars of investments in new eco-friendly spaces and a host of partnerships that have made us faster and better. To me, that’s market-based innovation. It’s kind of a glue.

That’s just one of our successful processes. There have been many, many times where that hasn’t worked so well. I’ve given you one example of success but I don’t want to make you think we were nirvana here, because we’re not.

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

12/31/14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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