RENEGADE THINKING from the CEO of Renegade, the NYC-based "social inspired marketing" agency that helps besieged CMOs cut through.

IBMer + CMO Maria Winans on Personal Branding


Risk taking, as you will soon learn, is an important part of Maria Winans‘ personal brand.  And funny enough, it was risk taking that lead me to her.  Truth be told, I was one of two males who dared to attend the Women’s Luncheon at IBM’s Amplify Conference, thanks to the cajoling of the peripatetic Tamara McCleary.  Leading a vibrant panel discussion on personal branding, Winans struck me as a consummate executive who somehow hadn’t lost her individuality despite 25 years at one of the largest business organizations in the world.  Curious to learn more, I weaved my way through the 300 or so ladies in attendance and almost sheepishly asked for an interview after the panel.

New Maria WinansWinans, whose title is CMO, IBM Commerce, Mobile and Social is a fellow believer in the power of AND.  She describes herself as business executive AND a mother, a friend AND a trainer,  an artist AND a boxing student.  Raised in North Carolina, she is also a first generation American AND a Latina.  Her secrets to personal branding are anything but and she is delighted to share them, especially with young women whom she hopes to inspire to overcome obstacles and do great things.

When it comes to personal branding, Winans is all about substance.  Set goals, figure out the skills required and then march forward, learning every step of the way.  Reputation, as she points out, can not be purchased.  It must be earned.  The reputation that Winans sought for herself was that of a risk-taker and innovator, one who was willing to embrace new challenges and unconventional career paths.  As this approach has clearly paid off for her, Winans encourages if not dares other women, particularly the perfectionists among them, to chose the road less traveled, to take chances and not be afraid of failure given the lessons it can offer.  With that advice, Winans certainly enters my pantheon of truly “renegade” CMOs.

Drew: I’m curious, why at the women’s luncheon at Amplify 2015 was the focus was on personal branding?

We chose that because typically these panels are more on topics like work/life balance and I wanted to focus this year on more practical advice from the successful women on the panel. I really wanted them to talk about how they’ve managed their careers. It gave us an opportunity to think about their growth, where they started and how they progressed forward in their career.   Regardless of your age or career stage, whether you are a Millennial or a Generation X or Baby Boomer, this was a topic just about everyone in the audience could relate to.

Drew: Do you think women executives need to pay particular attention to personal branding?

I think that men and women both need to. I think it’s critical for everyone to really think about how they build, how they cultivate, how they evolve their personal brand. I’m a strong believer that it is your thumbprint, is what represents you, what you believe and I think that your work in itself is another proof point of your personal brand. It’s important that you stand tall, that you really represent yourself.

Drew: Talk to me about your personal brand.

I take great pride in what I do, how I lead a team and what I stand for. I grew up in an environment of tremendous respect for my parents, for actions they took in bringing us to the U.S., for personal growth for my siblings and myself. So I came from a very strong culture of achievement and that diversity is something that you should cherish as a gift, and you should cultivate it, you should embrace it. So my whole philosophy when it came to building my career at IBM very early on was that I wanted to establish goals, I wanted to be successful, I wanted to grow my career and I knew that there’s different stages of that growth path.

Drew: How did this play out early in your career?

I came into IBM with my eyes wide open. I didn’t know if I was going to head into marketing or sales or strategy or finance. And so very early on I said to myself, I need to skill myself, find my passions and learn as much as I can.   But I also had a vision and a goal. I wanted to establish myself as a professional, I wanted to lead from the front, I wanted to become an executive and by the time I turned 40, I want to become a vice president. I had very established goals, and with that I set forward on really understanding what was it going to take for me to continue to grow in my career.

Drew: So how did you differentiate yourself?

I looked for opportunities that were about new initiatives and were about creating new businesses. I started to develop a skillset as an innovator, somebody who took risks and looked for opportunities that were different and required finding new teams and developing new skills. I cultivated that, and with that, created an environment for people to see that through my actions, that collaboration was a top priority, bright ideas were welcomed, innovation was the priority, and no idea was a bad idea.

Drew: Did your personal brand evolve?

I think a personal brand is in the way that you carry yourself as an individual in every walk of life; in your business and in your personal life. And at the same time, I’m learning every day. I don’t think a personal brand is something that you create and then never changes. I think it evolves — if your career evolves, it evolves in the type of jobs. But I think the core of who you are, your character, stays true within that. I am avid believer in the need to never stop learning. And I think when you look at strongest leaders in business most are lifelong students. They remain curious, aren’t afraid to tackle new initiatives and seek new paths forward.

Drew: It was clear at the luncheon that many women seek your advice about personal branding. What’s the first thing you tell them?

In life you can buy anything except your reputation. Your reputation can’t be bought; it has to be earned. And so protect it, live it. For example, just because your title says CMO, just because you lead a very large team, you still need to earn your leadership every day. And this is what I reinforce to people that I mentor, especially in the business, your reputation something you earn, something you work hard for and you stay true to.

Drew: Okay, what’s number two on your advice list?

I always get asked about risk-taking because I’m a risk-taker. I love innovation, I love trying new things and putting projects with people and saying to the team, ‘let’s go try it–the worst thing that can happen if it fails, is that we learn from it and we move forward.’ My biggest fear is regret. I fear looking back and saying ‘if we only had taken that chance.’ A lot of people fear risk taking, especially women, [many are] afraid to take those chances and everything has to be perfect and everything has to be T’s and I’s crossed. My message is that risk taking actually makes work and careers even more exciting.

Drew: How does IBM benefit from having employees like you with strong personal brands?

I think it goes back to a very simple truth–the strongest element of the IBM brand is the IBMer. That’s why we’re called IBMers. We have known ourselves and identified ourselves an IBMer and we’re proud to be IBMers. And so it absolutely is encouraged to go out and share whether it’s from a woman leadership perspective or the business that you’re leading especially at the executive level. This is the strongest element of our engagement strategy to the market. We have over 400,000 employees as you know, and they all are brand advocates of IBM.

Drew: Do you think there’s a point when it comes to personal branding that an individual can go too far, and how do you avoid crossing that line?

There’s always that self-promotional risk that you’re talking about yourself too much. We’ve all seen people that are self-promoters-it’s all about them, you know, their photo on everything. But I think that sometimes, we as women hold ourselves back. Sometimes we’re afraid as women that maybe we’re too visible, maybe we’re too self-promoting, we’re talking too much, we’re showing too much aggressiveness. So I encourage women to be vocal, to be ambitious, to show what they know and who they are, to promote themselves through their work and with that their personal brands.

KIND CEO on Building Loyalty Through Sampling


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


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

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

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

Drew: So how do you sample KIND?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drew: How are the #KindAwesome cards working?

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

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

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

Drew: Talk a bit about the power of kindness.

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

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


Doing the KIND Thing with Daniel Lubetzky, part 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

Drew: Any other reasons?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drew: How else does having a purpose help?

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more of this interview in subsequent posts.

IBM Takes on Customer Centricity


This could be a meta-moment.  I’m sitting in the front row at IBM Amplify, listening to Deepak Advani talk about the power of customer centricity while trying to write an introduction to this blog post about IBM’s efforts to help their customers focus more on their customers.  If you’re lost, no worries.  IBM is definitely upping their game on multiple levels when it comes to helping companies analyze their current customer experience, creating products and services that could indeed transform these experiences. In the middle of this initiative sits Kevin Bishop, VP IBM Experience One. Kevin’s team, according to, does this:

IBM ExperienceOne brings together leading capabilities from across IBM Enterprise Marketing Management, WebSphere Commerce and IBM Customer Experience portfolios to make it easier to create and refine a system of customer engagement based on these practices to accelerate the growth of relationships and revenue.

Got it?  If not, the interview below should help.  Kevin and I cover the broken marketing model and how IBM is helping to fix it, one customer engagement at a time.

Kevin BishopDrew: When we talked earlier, you mentioned that marketers “are still doing things the way they were in 1898.” So, what does this mean exactly?
We are challenge people’s mental models about how they think about marketing. The AIDA model (Awareness Interest Desire Action) is a reaction model, first discussed in academic literature in 1898.

It talked about a progression that consumers go through during the discovery and purchase process. But, of course, most people didn’t have mobile phones in 1898, or the internet or a thousand of their closest friends telling them which hotel they like, which goods they like, what services were the best for them. Today, people do, so that’s a significant change.

So, we need to think about marketing increasingly from the customer’s perspective, especially in a world with lots of goods and services. Tremendous competition is great. But in order to differentiate our brands, increasingly we need to think about the customer not just the product or service.

Drew: Lots of folks like Forrester have been talking about the need for extreme customer-centricity. What does this mean to you?
Let’s flip that around and start with me, as a customer. It’s not about me as segment – a middle-aged white guy, or Brits living in America. It’s about me as an individual, with a particular sense of style and things that make me distinctive. Today, a good marketer knows me.

We can have great experiences when companies (brands) like Netflix feed us movies that we didn’t even know we liked–because they can see patterns of behavior and things I like that I may not even be conscious of, yet they know me and they introduce me to new things that are perfect for me. I love that. Why can’t that happen with almost anything else that I do in life? Why do other companies not know me?

Drew: So what are you trying to do with this at IBM?
We’re working to help our customers to know each person as an individual, and increasingly, in the context of what they’re doing. So, not just knowing that I need a mortgage but that I need a mortgage because I’m downsizing now that my kids have gone to the university. Not just I need a mortgage because I’m downsizing, but I’m actually doing all of these whilst on a business trip so my only access is through a small mobile device.

Drew: So, now, if we’re focusing on the customer and their experience, are we changing the metrics of compensation?
We are changing the metrics, to help customers on the journey they want to go through. It’s no longer simply about how many leads should go in your pipeline, and if they have been qualified and validated, progressed through whatever is your company’s version of a funnel. It’s much more about how are we helping people discover our products and services? Are there people discovering us? How are we helping consumers draw comparisons? How are we helping them choose us?

Putting customers at the center shifts the orientation to the question of brands adding value.

Drew: You know, you’re preaching the choir here. Unless you change the compensation system, how does something like this line up in an organization?
This is one of the things that we find leading chief marketing officers are doing really well today. They’re collaborating with their peers in the C-suite to ensure that there is alignment around the customer. One example that is widely cited is the people in Apples stores that are helping you with their products. They’re there to help you become a brand advocate for Apple. They’re not there to make sure that you walk out with that iPhone or iPad the way most sales associates are at most electronic stores. In Apple stores, they’re to delight the client.

Drew: So how is IBM part of all this?
A few years ago, we created digital experience labs to create great marketing programs for IBM. After about six or seven months, we realized it wasn’t about digital. It was about the experience. So, here we are, four years later, and now these former labs are the IBM Design Studios and we use them in our business own business for marketing and for client led software development – and we have this great partnership with Apple around making business software easier and more intuitive – more like consumer software. And now we have formalized this approach for our clients too with the IBM Interactive Experience team and a network of 14 design studios around the world that are part of our consulting business.

Drew: So you will go to a client and say your experience is broken. And do you prototype it in your lab? How does this solution set work that you provide?
We have evolved the design methodology that came out of Stanford into what we call IBM Design Thinking. We’ve formalized the methodology that involves agile practices and bringing teams together. We’ll co-locate our teams with our client’s team into one of these design studios. We’ll bring some of their clients or their consumer into the experience. And in each one of those, you’re testing with the end consumer or customer what it is they’re experiencing, then going away and doing some work for a week or two. We create a better experience and get the customer back again to learn whether we have really succeeded. We now have over a thousand designers in IBM.

Drew: Well, I mean IBM is so vast and had so many things. How are your customers or prospects finding out about this service?
Well, often through the word of mouth. So it is through clients who have great engagements then talk to other clients about the good experience that they have.

Drew: So, wait a second because I want to make sure I understand this. You created a really great experience for your customers. They become customers. They share that information with their friends and then they become customers?
Absolutely. Driving advocacy is one of the fundamentals.

Drew: All right. So driving advocacy is one of those things that we’ve been talking about for a while in the marketing world. If a CMO wanted to embark on this thing with IBM what would he or she tell their CEO to expect?
As you know, we do these studies. We interview some 2000 CMOs every two years to understand what’s keeping them up at night and where they think they’re strong. We’ve embedded the learning from that research into a self-assessment tool that basically probes three categories of engagement, to explore where you are today and where you would like to be.

You get a planogram with a gap analysis the way you are. And then if you’re wondering if your colleagues feel the same way, you might get half a dozen of your peers to do it. And then you might do it with hundreds of your team and really get some statistical understanding of the gap between where you are today and where you’d like to be.

Drew: And the goal here is to assess your company’s degree of custom centricity?
Yes. The three categories give you a broad sense of where you are today with your customers. But typically clients need help diving deeper. How well have you built a system of engagement either within the marketing department or across other departments that touched the customer? So how well have you actually built a system of engagement and service of that customer? And how well do you engage your employees or your partners or your suppliers? Ideally, you understand the maturity of your operation across every point of engagement. It’s all about the customer.

Drew: Harvey McKay writes about a form that he completed for every customer that had 100 key facts and this was in the pre-internet era. One of the most important was a person’s birthday because that was a great day to call them to make an emotional connection. It sounds like you all are trying to blend the need for rational and emotional connections.
I think that’s important. We are human beings, however rational we like to think we are, we know that we are driven by emotional connection. And therefore, if you’re going to do effective marketing, and if you’re going to do effective customer service and have people delight in the way they use your products and services, then you’ve got to appeal to the emotional side as well as through the rational side. And you’re going to know people on both of those levels.

Why CMOs Should Blog (and why more don’t)


In my informal poll of CMOs, the top three reasons given for not blogging include:

  1. Don’t have time
  2. Not a good writer
  3. Uncertain of the value

roberto medranoRoberto Medrano, CMO of Akana (formerly SOA Software), started blogging three years ago as a way to start and lead the dialogue on critical issues in his industry.  Like most CMOs, Roberto had no shortage of things to do, including repositioning the company from legacy software applications to what Akana calls “powering the API economy.”  But he made the time to blog. As for his writing skills, Roberto does not profess to be a writer even after crafting 30 or more highly engaging blog posts.  Oh and did I mention the fact that his native language his Spanish? Roberto found a way to get his point-of-view across while seeking the help of colleagues to edit and proof his posts.

As for the value of blogging, Roberto frames them in our discussion below.  First, these posts helped demonstrate that Akana is a true thought leader, raising issues and opportunities long before their competitors.  Second, it helps coalesce internal points-of-view on where their industry (and company) is headed. Third, once he showed the value of blogging, other members of the executive team started to write as well, furthering the reach & conversation.  Fourth, the press began to seek out Akana’s posts as a source of content for their own stories.  Finally, and the one Roberto downplays given his already establish reputation in the industry, is how it raised his personal profile, culminating in his ranking as the 12th most influential CMO in the US.

I would add one other personal benefit to blogging–writing leads to understanding. So if you’re still insufficiently motivated to start blogging, read on.  I found Roberto’s personal journey quite enlightening.

Drew: How long have you been blogging and what motivated you to get started?
I started blogging about three years ago. I felt the need to communicate Akana’s point of view as an industry thought leader besides just sending press releases or asking the press to take a point of view. And there are less press reporters now. That motivated us to say, “How do we do that?” And we also saw that other companies were using blogs effectively. So then, we said, “Okay. We got to do our own” and I was the guy who started writing them.

Drew: Who was your target?
Our initial target was enterprise architects who are thinking about doing mobile applications, people that are doing cloud applications and people leading digital transformation to their internal applications.

Drew: How did you decide what to write about?
Whatever we thought would be relevant to our target. We wanted to provide insights about security, mobile, cloud, application lifecycle development and some related business, with the use of APIs. Now in the digital world everything is connected thru APIs. We covered the technical aspects of building APIs and building applications. Or for companies looking to use the cloud, we covered what applications have to have to be able to be cloud ready. We just wanted to make easy for our customers and prospects to find relevant content, whether it was high level or more detailed technology use.

Drew: Did you court controversy?
Of course, some of the topics were and continue to be controversial. With the controversial ones, we usually take a position especially if it was a topic lots of people were debating. People appreciate that. For some, our point-of-view would really resonate. And even the folks that disagreed might still refer to the blog post, send it around, comment and do all those things that happen with blogs.

Drew: A lot of senior marketers tell me they don’t have time to write or don’t like doing it and these are folks for whom English is a first language. Was it particularly hard for you to get started given that Spanish is your native tongue?
I never really believed that I was a writer but I do have some ideas to communicate to people. So, I started thinking of to how communicate those to a broader audience in a written fashion. At first, I felt very uncomfortable because I don’t consider myself a reporter that publishes writings, and now a blogs are publications. I felt quite responsible and not very comfortable. I had to get some initial help from people that were actual writers and proofreaders to review some of the write-ups before they we’re actually published.

Drew: Did it get easier?
I have become more comfortable over the last three years as more and more posts got published. I do a lot more of the editing myself, but still pass the posts by others for comments or edits. The editing has been less and less in terms of style and more about the details of the points that need to be communicated.

Drew: Do you get a fair amount of feedback from your readers?
I get a lot of feedback from the people that read it on our corporate blog and when I repost it on LinkedIn and other publications. What’s amazing is that I’ll get comments on posts that were published six months ago. Blogs can be read for a long time and still be current.

Drew: Have there been some results that surprised you?
Well, I didn’t expect that some press would read my posts and refer them in their articles. That was not in my radar. I see more and more reporters referring to my posts, which is kind of interesting especially since we have never promoted the blog to press. Recently, a reporter asked “Do you have a blog?” and told me they would wait for my post on a particular topic and then quoted from it a day later. That’s definitely a new thing for me and its reassuring since it means the press believes there’s something of value in these posts!

Drew: Any other results that surprised you?
The other aspect that’s happened to me is that I get recognized at conferences! I’ll be walking around and then some people just come up to me to talk about something that I published. I don’t know these people, or they just see my picture and they recognize me. They want to talk to me about the blogs. I’ve never gotten anything really negative in person where somebody will come and argue with me which is a relief!

Drew: Do you always have internal agreement before you issue a point-of-view?
Not always. We do a lot of research with our customers and sometimes the results are controversial internally and some people don’t agree. When a clear and potentially new point of view emerges, it is important to get it out there in the marketplace ahead of the competition. And sometimes is just takes other people longer to get on board but they generally do come around especially when they see a competitor pretty much copying our stuff!

Drew: Are there other benefits of having a disciplined regular blogging program?
Yes, because people subscribe to the blog and read it regularly, they have a more interesting connection with us. And they want to connect to see what we’re thinking about. In many cases, they go back — even when there doing evaluation for a product, they go back in the blog and try to see what posts are related to what they’re thinking about doing.

Drew: Was it hard to get other execs to write?
If you look at the first couple of years, I was the only guy blogging even though I would send emails to the company and say, “write something that could be interesting” nobody was doing it. Slowly, others started writing too. But if look at the blog today, you’ll see I’m one of many that posts blogs every month.

Drew: What are CMOs missing when say they’re just too busy to blog?
So, you’re missing out on an opportunity to communicate with an audience that wants to hear something from you. You’re missing a chance to be part of the conversation that simply can’t happen with ads and press releases. You’re missing the chance to help your company be perceived as industry thought leaders.

Drew: You were ranked 12th (of 250) of the most influential CMOs in the marketplace. Does this recognition in your mind help Akana?
Well, in my mind, it does, because we are recognized as part Akana the company. The recognition is for creating a perception about the company and you are compared with many other great companies with all the marketing activities you manage and the results you produce. In terms of blogs, It’s not my private blog. So, the fact that the blogs are quoted on some publications that gives another dimension to whatever the writing is from that press and the value for the company and for the CMO.

Drew: Last question, what would you say are the top benefits of consistent blogging?
The more content you recreate, the more ideas you have in the marketplace, the more there is for people to find and look at. The organic search benefits are huge. If people are looking for certain topics like APIs, SOA and “enterprise service bus” which we are against, our blog comes up at the top. And if the content is good enough, people will subscribe and continue to share your content, your point-of-voice that will establish you and your company as legitimate thought leaders.

If It’s Hinting Season, I Want an Apple Watch


shortyAt tonight’s Shorty Awards, a number of brands and their agencies (including Renegade!) will be recognized for their effective use of social media.  Among the winners is one of my favorites, a campaign called #HintingSeason that was created by CP+B for BestBuy and won Best in Retail and Ecommerce.  I call this particular campaign to your attention because it exemplifies all of things I believe social campaigns can and should do:


  • Build off of a social truth (people would love to have permission to drop hints about what they want for the holidays)
  • Help solve a particular business challenge (getting people to talk about gifting long before the holiday season)
  • Features a really fun, clever and wonderfully simple idea (a two word hashtag #HintingSeason)
  • Is inherently social but doesn’t rely solely on organic posts to get the conversation going among a broad target (paid media including bloggers & influencers helped spread the word)

To take a behind the scenes look at this campaign, I caught up CP+B’s Peter Knierim, VP/Creative Director and Britten Wolf, Social Supervisor.  Both offer some critical insights into the success of this campaign that are well worth perusing.  And since Peter notes that “It’s never too early to start hinting for what you want this holiday,” I just wanted to add that an Apple Watch would be lovely, thank you.

Drew: Hinting is certainly an age-old offline behavior — did you all notice that hinting was already being done on social channels for other things? If so, how did this influence your approach to #HintingSeason? If not, what gave you confidence that people would actually use the hashtag?

Peter Knierim: Research showed us that consumers who shop in October are likely to shop again during the holiday season. So, we first looked to solve the problem of talking to consumers about holiday shopping when they were buying their Halloween costumes. Hinting Season solved this by giving people permission to talk about what they wanted without rolling out the Santas and snowglobes that come with the holidays.

Britten Wolf: We used social listening to analyze how people were already hinting for what they wanted and found only a moderate amount of conversation. Considering the idea tapped into a truth we all do in real life, we knew that we could own the conversation come the holiday shopping season.

Drew: I’m guessing your campaign hashtag was not being used prior to launch. How did you build awareness of #HintingSeason? How much of a role did paid social media play in helping you to build this awareness? 

Britten Wolf: Best Buy was not using #HintingSeason prior to the campaign’s launch. We had to build its awareness and correlation with Best Buy from scratch, which is an increasingly difficult task in today’s social media landscape.

We worked closely with Starcom to create an omni-channel media approach to build campaign awareness. From a social perspective, our teams and our influencer partners created really entertaining and engaging content. Paid social was pivotal in amplifying its reach and exposing the campaign to new audiences.

Drew: So once the idea was seeded via paid & Vine influencers (who were also paid right?), how long did it take for regular people to start using the hashtag? Was it a slow build or more like a big bang? Ultimately, do you have a sense for how many times #HintingSeason was actually used by “organically” by regular people?

Britten Wolf: Instantly. People already know how to hint. Best Buy just made it even more acceptable to do so before the holidays started. Conversations started on the first day of the campaign and sustained throughout the holiday season. #HintingSeason was used organically almost 50,000 times between October and December.

Drew: Looking back on this highly successful campaign, were there any “organic” surprises? What are some of your favorite hints? 

Peter Knierim: A big part of the influencer component of the campaign was showing people how to hint in entertaining ways. We were surprised at some of the creative and funny ways people hinted at what they wanted.

Some of our favorite hints came toward the end of the campaign, when people started posting photos of them getting what they had hinted during Hinting Season.

Drew: Organic social media is often extremely difficult to link back to business performance. Were there any effort to differentiate results by paid versus organic social? Is that a fool’s errand? 

Britten Wolf: Data drives everything we do in social. From content strategy to message effectiveness, we’re constantly testing and analyzing both paid and organic social’s performance to measure its effectiveness and show ROI.

Drew: Are there some things that you would do differently if you were to start again? Any lessons learned for marketers looking to achieve similar success? Is it time to start hinting to Best Buy to bring the campaign back for a 2nd round?

Peter Knierim: Now that the campaign is over, it’s easy to look back and see areas of improvement for future campaigns. One of the benefits of social, as a medium, is the ability to optimize in real time. From messaging to targeting to timing, we constantly strived to publish the most engaging and best performing content we could create.

Our advice for marketers looking to achieve similar success is to start by tackling a list of challenges, create a simple campaign rooted in human truth, and get more people what they want for Christmas.

It’s never too early to start hinting for what you want this holiday.

Drew: From the agency’s perspective, what did Best Buy do right to help you execute what was both a highly creative and ultimately effective campaign?

Peter Knierim: From the start, Best Buy knew there was potential in the Hinting Season idea. They showed the bravery a client needs to have to drive an idea that we all knew could be hugely successful or fail miserably. They challenged us to focus on it and create a compelling way of owning it. That confidence and challenge helped push our ideas and execution.

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