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."

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Launch a New Product w/ Patrón’s CMO Lee Applbaum


Lee Applbaum_PatronMany CMOs make it their mission to leave a mark on their brand and take the company in an entirely new direction. This is not Lee’s mission. Lee Applbaum, CMO of Patrón Spirits, will be the first to admit that when he took over marketing for Patrón just last year he was sticking with a “don’t fix what’s not broken” model. In Part 1 of this interview, Lee discusses how he has been able to amplify what’s been working for Patrón while also showcasing his own talent — specifically with the Roca Patrón launch, which happened this past July. Lee shares his experiential marketing success story, “Roca on the Rails”, where he was able to create a retro experience in a world of digital marketing and explains the ever so trendy garden-to-glass movement to me. With a guy as innovative as Lee, it’s not wonder he was a recipient The CMO Club’s Creativity Award.

Drew: You were nominated in the creativity category. There are a lot of different ways to consider oneself creative – whether it’s how you problem-solve or the ability to inspire, creative thinking or creative marketing campaigns. So it would be helpful for me to understand how you are being creative in your current role, and how is that helping your overall marketing efforts?

It’s a very fair question with great kind of background context because there are the very traditional definitions of creative. But I think we are being particularly creative in the way in which we are thinking about and re-imagining the conversation both in our category, which is ultra-premium wine and spirits and, more specifically, tequila.

When I think about creativity, I usually use a different word – innovation – and try to reimagine how to interact with our consumers. It’s not just about another page in a magazine or another billboard with clever imagery or copy. It’s what can we do that’s disruptive in digital, social, mobile ecosystem, what can we do that’s innovative and creative in experiential marketing, for example.

Drew: Can you point to one or two programs you’ve done, say in the digital, social or mobile spaces, which are innovative or disruptive that you’re proud of?

We recently launched a new line of artisanal tequilas called the Roca Patrón, which means rock in Spanish. Historically, we haven’t launched new products very often or in a very thoughtful, very strategic way. When we launched this line a few months ago, we were introducing three tequilas that had been in development for many, many years.

The traditional approach for this brand and for the industry would have been to splash it out in magazines, maybe advertise a little on T.V. and you’re off to the races. But we quickly realized and understood that a majority of media is being consumed digitally, which presented a unique opportunity here.

One of the things that is very true within the spirits industry is the consumer’s interest in sharing stories and experiences. We latched onto the insight that consumers in the luxury space now feel that it’s not just enough to have a big bold logo. Consumers want to know the backstory. They want to know the history, they want to understand the authenticity and integrity of a brand.. And maybe equally importantly, they want to share that backstory with others because it gives them inherent credibility.

To leverage this knowledge, we rebuilt all of our web assets, including building experiential microsites (all mobile optimized) for Roca Patrón to help consumers learn about the product. We explained the artisanal process that goes into making Roca Patrón through a series of vignettes and then allowed that content to be curated and shared. We also created a tool that allows both consumers and the trade to share and comment on cocktail recipes featuring Roca Patrón.

Drew: And how has the response been?

Short-term, we look at sales. Long-term, we look at sales, profit and brand health. It’s too short-term right now to be able to be able to gauge the long-term impact on perceptions of our brand but from paying attention to the social conversation, the initial response has been nothing short of phenomenal.

We launched it in July and we’ve already beaten our annualized sales goal by 50 percent. Now is that attributable to the digital piece alone? No. But I absolutely think that having really innovative and contextually relevant messaging helped to drive early acceptance of the new line.

Drew: You created this digital experience where consumers and industry players can make and use these dynamic tools. Did you then rely on organic discovery of the site or did you “market” the marketing?

Yes we did market the marketing. Obviously with the spirits business, we don’t sell direct to consumers. We don’t sell directly to spirits retailers or restaurants and bars. In some cases there are two layers within our media. We marketed the marketing to distributors who in turn marketed our marketing to the retailers, on and off premise.

We wanted to inspire confidence for a bar-owner, restaurateur or spirit storeowner that there’s going to be an ample amount of media gravity owned, earned and paid for out there that’s going to help me pull this through, sell it through once I bring it in. We make the selling easy for them.

Drew: It’s interesting that you talked about this story becoming social currency. Can you explain this idea a bit more?

This particular launch for this particular product line was rooted in this handmade, artisanal, very traditional production process. We’re talking to a very specific artisanal audience; the same people who follow the farm-to-table movement. This is a garden-to-glass movement.

We’re unapologetic about the success of our marketing. There are cynics who believe that, because the core product can’t deliver, they just have to be clever. But the truth is we don’t. We’ve got a very honest, real, great artisanal product, and we developed really great marketing to go with it. We wanted to make sure that everything was really rooted in authenticity, and that we never got accused of just fancy window-dressing.

Drew: What exactly is “garden to glass?” 

I don’t know who coined it. The farm-to-table movement is obviously big. Garden-to-glass is the mixology version. It’s the idea of using fresh ingredients that are locally procured, really kind of honest cocktails, rather than just the premixed stuff. Our tequila is authentically made in Jalisco, Mexico, from the earth.

We see mixologists doing amazing things that are linked to the style and ingredients of the area. In Charleston, South Carolina, you might find a reinterpreted Old Fashioned coming right out of the south. You might find a Bloody Mary reinterpreted as a Bloody Maria in San Francisco with cocktail juice made from fresh clam juice. All leveraging locally procured ingredients.

Drew: If you were to look at your body of work so far, is there one specific program that’s your baby and that you feel is really cool?

Here’s one cool thing we just completed yesterday. As a brand, we own a 1927 vintage rail car that Clarke Gable and Huey Long and FDR rode on. We gutted and restored it in a very cool, very authentic style. This thing makes the Orient Express look like a railcar in the subways of New York. It’s over the top opulent.

We then developed a program using the rail car called Roca on the Rails. We took Roca and the train into cities all over the U.S. where we got an iconic chef from the city and leading mixologists to come out and create these beautiful bespoke dinners and tastings on and off the train. Then we harnessed and captured that content and shared it on social media, where we have over 3 million Facebook likes and are the number one spirit globally on Twitter . We have this huge social footprint and were able to give consumers a behind the velvet rope look at what happened with Roca on the Rails. We also encouraged the attendees of these events, who were culinary writers, journalists, consumers and bartenders to blog and post and Tweet about it as well.

Drew: I imagine there was a fair amount of press related to it as well.

Yeah, the media was sort of phenomenal. It was everybody from the local foodie journalist to the big publications The best thing we can get are the big mixologists who carry a ton of credibility with consumers, and with their fellow mixologists. What I really want are the credible, objective mixologists coming to an event and telling their friends and customers, “Holy shit, I just tasted this new Roca Patrón at this event and it is sensational”. That’s going to carry a lot more weight than any message that I send.

Q+A on The Magic of Marketing w/ Macy’s Martine Reardon


Martine Reardon_MacysWant to truly understand the complexity of being a modern CMO then skip my introduction to Macy’s CMO Martine Reardon and dive into her thoughts on everything from leadership to brand building, mix modeling to customer experience, mobile payments to Snapchat, charitable activities to testing a new social shopping platform called Wanelo.  The range of marketing activity alone is staggering yet thanks to a few overarching principles it’s fairly easy to see how Martine and her sizable team pull it all together and bring “The Magic of Macy’s” to life.

Drew: Congratulations on winning the The CMO Club‘s Leadership award. What are some of the lessons (about leading) you can share with aspiring leaders especially of the marketing variety? 

I think good leadership is a fine balance of setting a strategic vision and then creating an environment for innovation and collaboration to ensure you get the best thinking and execution from your team. We move very fast in retail, and the level and volume of work can be intense. It’s very easy to get caught in the day-to-day management, but we work hard to stay ahead and to also be flexible enough to be present and reactive in the moment. We can easily be working on 4 seasons at one time, so I have definitely learned to build consensus and alignment around the core strategies and initiatives, and then I trust our incredibly talented team to bring the Magic of Macy’s to life for our customers across America.

We also embrace a saying from Macy’s very own Margaret Getchell (the first woman executive in retail), who said “Be everywhere, do everything, and never forget to astonish the customer.” It’s a motto we live by here, and I think having a legacy of such pioneering executives is an inspiration to all of us. It has fostered an ambition and entrepreneurialism that is a part of our culture.

Drew: Macy’s owns some really big event properties including July 4th fireworks and your Thanksgiving Day parade that you have been doing for a long, long time. Can you speak to how these programs have evolved from a marketing perspective and what kinds of things you’ve done to keep them fresh?

The great thing about our events is that they reflect the very best of American popular culture. This allows us to keep evolving with audiences over time. Whether it’s a favorite celebrity from Tony Bennett to Usher or a beloved childhood character such as Snoopy or SpongeBob SquarePants, being attuned to the changing entertainment landscape allows our events to stay fresh and relevant. Additionally, as innovations in technology or other cultural shifts occur, we look to incorporate those into our events. For example, this year’s Macy’s Fireworks featured the incorporation of never-before-seen effects along the entire span of the Brooklyn Bridge, over the last decade we’ve introduced a Macy’s Parade mobile app, we’ve participated in a live rick-roll at the Parade, and we’ve added a new layer of art to the sky with the introduction of our artists balloons which have featured works by Jeff Koons, Tim Burton and Takashi Murakami, among others. Given the wide ranging audience of our events from toddlers to great grandparents, the shifts don’t have to be major, in order to entertain the entire spectrum of our audiences.

Drew: These kinds of big events ensure that Macy’s has high top-of-mind awareness and favorable brand associations but must be tough to translate into store traffic and sales. (If I’m wrong about this, please correct me.)  If I’m right, how do you evaluate the success of these programs—do you track brand health metrics (like awareness, favorability, etc)?   

Our iconic events are part of the DNA of the Macy’s brand. We are not only a retailer that offers customers incredible fashion and value, we are also an entertainment brand that creates magical experiences. For generations, Macy’s has been at the center of the traditions of millions of families across the nation and the world. This clear and visceral connection our brand enjoys with the general public is unmeasurable. We take great pride in producing world-famous events that are so widely beloved. It’s a truly unique place to hold in the lives of our customers, that through the lenses of our events, we have become a part of their family.

Drew: When many people think of Macy’s, they think tradition, but how important do you feel it is to take advantage of new trends and be among the earliest adopters of new technologies such as Apple Pay and Shopkick? Why? 

Our top priority at Macy’s is to serve the customer. With the customer at the center of every decision we make, it’s essential for us to quickly and effectively address their needs. This is why you’ve seen Macy’s at the forefront of testing new technologies and in some cases being early adopters of innovations that enhance our customer’s shopping experiences. Whether it’s more relevant, targeted marketing that cuts through the clutter and speaks to the needs and wants of that customer or a technology that speeds up the check-out process, we will look to test and adopt strategies and innovations that provide customer value and support.

Drew: What new things (if any) did you try in 2014 and how did it work out?

I’m very proud to say that Macy’s is excellent at newness! We think of each month, each season, each year as a brand new opportunity to re-inspire our customer. We see ourselves as an entertainment brand, and we know that today’s “experience economy” expects more from us than just great fashion and product. We’ve tried many new things this year – starting with a new spring campaign we called “Secret Garden” that took a floral fashion trend to new heights with store events, digital activations and a cause program to aid local parks and gardens. We also launched a new effort with Clinton Kelly in support of our bridal and registry customer; we hosted a very fun LipDub competition for schools during back-to-school season; and we partnered with Fashion Rocks for the return of the famous fashion and music event hosted in NYC and broadcast live on CBS.

Of course, we’re always testing newness in our omnichannel strategy and with technology – including our recent launch with ApplePay, rolling out shopkick nationally, launching Macy’s Wallet, enhancing our shopping apps, offering Macy’s Image Search, expanding buy online pickup in store, and testing same-day delivery.

Drew:  In what ways do you believe Macy’s admirable commitment to charitable causes, such as increasing research, awareness and education for diseases such as breast cancer and heart disease, has benefited the Macy’s brand?

Our My Macy’s approach to being a part of the communities where we live and work, and our passion for supporting causes that are important to our customers, have been cornerstones of our brand for more than 150 years. We believe deeply in our responsibility to make a difference, and we work with incredible non-profit partners like the American Heart Association, March of Dimes, Make-A-Wish, Reading Is Fundamental, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Got Your 6, Futures Without Violence, United Way, and many others. Last year, through our contributions and the generous support of our associates and customers, Macy’s gave more than $70 million to charitable organizations.

Our cause marketing programs are some of our customers most beloved events. They come out to shop and to support a great cause, and they tell us over and over again that they want and appreciate these opportunities to give in a way that is both meaningful for the charity and fun for them. It’s a simple principle, but the impact of what we can do together is so much greater. I believe that Macy’s was really a pioneer in this area – and we continue to trail-blaze fresh, new ways to engage and give back with our customers.

Drew: What have your experiences been with mobile marketing been to date? What’s working for you? What’s not?

We’ve made sure that our mobile media strategy is grounded in a deep understanding of how our customers are engaging with their smartphone and tablet devices. Our customers at Macy’s tend to be quite mobile-centric. To that end, we’ve invested in tactics such as mobile and tablet digital display, SMS, and mobile paid search. We’ve also evaluated mobile usage penetration in cross-device channels like digital audio and social media, and use those insights to drive a mobile-first approach to those channels. In addition, we’ve recently relaunched our Macy’s mobile app with significant improvements to the user experience and have launched a brand-new Macy’s Image Search app that leverages visual recognition technology to populate search results. We’re also continuing to explore the in-store beacons space.  Looking ahead, we see a lot of white space in mobile analytics and attribution, and look forward to developments that will help us better understand the impact of mobile media investment to total omnichannel sales.

We also run mobile and tablet-based digital retargeting campaigns and are testing into cross-screen retargeting in Spring 2015. This is a powerful tactic that capitalizes on connecting with customers who’ve expressed intent to purchase with us. As well, we’re launching a social shopping test in Q4 with Instagram, which will really help us better understand how to unlock the opportunity to drive sales through social media and potentially drive higher conversion directly on a mobile device.

Drew: What’s working for you these days in social media? Feel free to define what success looks like for Macy’s in SM.  Did you try anything new this year that you can share?   

We focus on a balanced approach between great publishing, meaningful engagement, and effective paid media. What’s important is clearly defining what success metrics to apply, based on the social media tactic being evaluated. Targeted direct response campaigns serve quite a different purpose than top-funnel branded publishing, but when planned and executed holistically, provide real value for our brand. We’re always testing, learning, and iterating in the social media space. We’re intrigued by the explosive growth of video on Facebook since the rollout of auto-play, and have run some campaigns over the last year using Facebook’s video ad product. We continue to explore how best to leverage Twitter’s natural affinity with TV, as a second-screen companion to broadcast and branded integrations. We’re working hard to grow our footprint on YouTube through targeted pre-roll, original content, and content collaborations with creators. We recently ran a very fun UGC- based campaign on YouTube as part of our Back To School efforts.

We’ve also recently begun publishing on Wanelo, with the objective of connecting with their fast-growing and incredibly valuable audience base: older millennials who are looking to convert on new product based on aspirational imagery. And we continue to focus on our Pinterest publishing and paid media strategy. We think there is enormous runway for us to utilize Pinterest not only as a means of showcasing great social publishing, but also as a visual search engine that allows us to facilitate product discovery and drive traffic to our ecommerce site. Pinterest is also a key means of connecting us with one of our most important customer groups: brides. We are among the top registry destinations in the country, so it’s critical that we maintain and grow our relevancy as a destination for millennial brides who are planning their big day.

Also as part of our millennial strategy, we recently launched our brand’s Snapchat account, Macyssnaps, and will keep a close eye on that platform as it rolls out its paid advertising suite.

Q+A on Storytelling 101 w/ Belkin’s Kieran Hannon


Kieran Hannon_BelkinI didn’t think anyone could get me excited about a story featuring the “Linksys WRT1900AC” until I met Belkin‘s CMO, Kieran Hannon. But it’s true: even for some of the most tech-heavy companies out there, storytelling has become the de facto way to engage audiences and ultimately enhance the customer experience.

In the interview below, we weave a tale of our own about rewarding customers for engaging with Belkin, tips for whipping up a delicious dinner, and, like all good stories, a genie shows up at the end. Oh, and before I forget, congratulations to Kiernan for his recent Customer Experience Award win at The CMO Club’s CMO Awards.

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?

Using a 360 degree customer view and incorporating that into the company planning process, the voice of the customer is always front and center spanning marketing, product, sales and customer care.  Not only do we have our own focus group facility onsite for in-depth customer engagement, we spend a lot of time actively listening to customers across social media and through our customer advocacy (care) teams.  We also have communities providing ongoing feedback while highlighting new product features/needs.   This is all part of our comprehensive planning process for product development.  Recent impacts of this approach include the highly regarded and reviewed Linksys WRT1900AC router supporting the Performance Perfected brand positioning; the Belkin QODE keyboards and the WeMo Maker launch.

Drew: What advice do you have for other senior marketers who want to impact the customer experience but aren’t necessarily responsible for it from end to end?

You must have total empathy for your customers, understand their needs and wants and how your brand(s) fit into their worlds.  More importantly, engage with them in multiple ways for a better rounded experience.  Whether in-store, online or via other research methods, keeping constant tabs on the sentiment is a must.  I personally enjoy engaging with customers on Twitter.  I encourage all to be very active on one of the social media channels.

Drew: Home automation appears to be hot new category. With so much competition, how do envision WeMo setting itself apart and holding its own in the market?

WEMO is setting itself apart by again, understanding how the brand benefits people lives today and in the future.  Technology has disconnected people but in our case we use it to allow people to “be in the moment, enjoy what they’re doing”.  Let serendipity come back into their lives.  Why should you be worrying about dinner when still at lunch with your friends?  Well, WEMO has taken care of that with the Crockpot.  Dinner – WEMO That!

Drew: You were recently named one of the most influential CMOs on Twitter by Forbes. What are your motivations for being on social media, and how large a role does social media play in Belkin’s marketing efforts

Social media lets you be front and center – with customers, partners and other industry peers.  I love it.  For instance Hudson News is a big partner and we have done some interesting promotions together amplified via social media.  But all of their team, from the CEO across the board, are completely engaged.  It’s allows for that real time feedback loop.  I get such a kick out of it.  Can’t believe more CMOs aren’t on Twitter.

Drew: Marketing budgets are getting increasingly complex as new options and tools become available.  How as CMO are you staying on top of budget allocation and optimization?

It’s a constant, something we pay attention to all the time.  We use various tools to optimize such allocations and exploring some recent new products in this area to fully realize the power of data and insights for such allocations.

Drew: Have you tested any new technologies or platforms in the last 12 months and if so what were the results relative to your expectations? 

We have, particularly in the social media and customer care areas. Our CIO Deanna Johnston is a brilliant partner here.  For instance we have a very large Salesforce implementation with communities integrated. That is a big asset. For WeMo people are submitting products ideas and making suggestions for other community members.

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?

Finally, storytelling is back.  Hallelujah! That is the power of a brand – how it’s story resonates and shared amongst it’s customers. We are telling stories with WeMo in how people can use the products in ways they never even thought possible.  There’s such a joy in illuminating how technology can help make people’s lives better and more engaging.

Drew: Look ahead, what marketing “nut” would you like to crack in 2015?

Ah, if I had the genie it would have to be around data. There’s so much but what is meaningful.  Many people use different methodologies so what are the best practices and what is real/works. I think that’s going to be the nut in 2015!

America’s Most Courageous CMO Nominee — Ani Matson


Ani Matson_NEA Member Benefits

“Our time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” – Steve Jobs

That quote pretty much sums up Ani Matson, who until recently was the CMO at NEA Member Benefits. Ani had the courage to rethink marketing in the context of the entire customer experience versus short term expedience. And I’m not being melodramatic.  Consider for a moment that prior to taking the reigns, NEA Member Benefits sent new customers over 50 separate pieces of communications, offering a wide range of products and services. While this approach allowed the company to achieve it’s marketing goals it ultimately had a deleterious impact on perceptions of the brand and response rates.  After considerable study and consensus building, Ani and her team reduced the number of new member communications to six touches.  The results were staggering–a 20% increase in participation and significantly improved customer satisfaction ratings.  Less turned out to be more. And while The CMO Club recognized Ani with its Officer’s Award, I think next year they need a new category, Most Courageous and here’s the first nominee!

Drew: Could you explain a little bit about the business model on NEA Member Benefits and its relationship to NEA?

NEA Member Benefits is a for-profit entity owned by the NEA, the National Education Association, which represents public school teachers and other staff who work in public schools. We research insurance and retirement plans and get benefit deals for teachers. We talk to top players, we rank them, then we offer the benefits and members enroll into these benefit programs.

Drew: NEA Member Benefits markets to three million members plus their families. Its certainly a very well defined target. What does marketing look like given that?

You still need an intentional strategy. In fact you have to be very precise because you are marketing to people who you want to have a relationship with for the length of their career and after they retire. It’s not just about finding an audience for your product, it is about serving a defined group with the best portfolio of products, in the most relevant way. The stakes are high, and if you become noise by acting like any other marketer out there, you’ll get turned off and you would have missed out on building a relationship that would last a lifetime.

You can contact members via direct mail, which is the way we used to market for many years, but you can’t just offer the same thing to three million people. So instead, as people go through their life stages, we try to give them relevant offers at specific times in their lives. We’re just trying to build offers and communications around member journeys.

Right now the secret is to get the attention because now almost everybody is doing customer-centric marketing. So now it’s about multi-channel marketing and building experiences versus just sending the information and waiting for the results. That’s the key.

Drew: What is a journey now?

Everything is set up and automated and triggered so that members can receive the appropriate information at the appropriate time based on their behavior, what they do, and what they tell us.

We’ve scored the whole membership file, and based on those scores, we decide which offers are most appropriate to market to whom. You have to watch members and understand them deeply and understand their behavior, understand their needs, understand their attributes to able to offer them the right thing. It’s beautifully analytical. They have children, they get married, they buy a car, and as they go through those stages we have different offers for them.

Drew: Lets talk about a win that youve had where suddenly you were able to get the right product in front of the right person at the right time with the right message.

The one that I’m most proud of the team for doing is the reimagining of the content strategy and the way we deliver the content to the members. What we are trying to do is optimize the content at the right gaps of a member’s journey. We have came up with a huge roadmap for delivering the right information to the right members.

The best results so far have been from the new member experience that we built last year. New members were cordoned off from receiving everything that other members would receive. Instead, we designed a different experience for them, basically welcoming them to the organization, showing them what’s available to them, giving some freebies to them and just inviting them to come and explore.

By not pushing, we were able to get better results than the way we had done it in the past. We touched them only six times last year and increased participation by 20%. In the past, we had touched their comparable cohort 50 times.

Drew: Thats an incredible story. Do you have brand health metrics tracking so you know how people perceive you?

We do. We were initially thinking of using Net Promoter Score, but then we came up with what we call a “brand index”. It is similar to the Net Promotor Score but it takes into consideration other factors we thought were important for our brand. We have a relationship with Harte Hanks, and they run a longitudinal study and the “brand index” for us once a year. So we take the pulse on perceptions of the membership once a year. We’ve been tracking member perceptions for the past, I think, seven years and seeing how their opinions about the organization have changed. That is amazingly positive for us.

Drew: So, if you were to sit down with a fellow CMO, what sort of advice would you give them in order to get started?

Get rid of funnels and think past the buying. If you don’t have a good experience after you buy, you’re not coming back for more.

Look at the stages of the experience, the journey that any human being would go through when they have a need and then as they look to fulfill their need. I would ask the question why, what do they use it for? Where do they use it? And then I would start to build the experience around that.

Q+A on Leadership with AMD’s Colette LaForce


Colette LaForce_AMD

When I was growing up, a surprising number of our local professionals had names that doubled as appropriate descriptors.  Dr. Gum was an oral surgeon, Dr. Smiley a delightful plastic surgeon. There were many others. Only Dr. Bonebreak messed things up as he was not an orthopedist but instead a rather feared pediatric dentist!  So when I hear a name like LaForce, I can’t help but wonder if the namesake is a force to reckoned with.  Read my interview below and you will know with certainty that Colette LaForce is indeed just that.

As CMO of AMD, the microprocessor company that is the David to Intel’s Goliath, LaForce quickly established a Marketing Operations to quantify activities, dealt with a major corporate restructuring and then relaunched AMD on a global basis.  Oh and did I mention she’s piloting an innovative marketing effort exclusively for the Chinese?  It’s never a dull moment when you’re working for a challenger brand and Colette seems to thrive under these circumstances so it’s little wonder she is also a recent recipient of The CMO Club‘s award for Leadership.

Drew: Congratulations on winning the Leadership award.  What are some of the lessons you can share with aspiring leaders especially of the marketing variety?

One critical trait I see in great leaders is an ability to simplify goals and objectives.  People can’t remember ten goals, or even five.  Great leaders, like great sports coaches, prioritize just one or two compelling goals for the team to commit to and focus on.

Drew: I love the fact that you have “transformative CMO” in your LinkedIn bio.  Can you talk a little about how you are being transformative in your current role?  

For me, the word ‘transformative’ represents a desire to be a steward of change.  Stewardship is really all about making lasting contributions that leave your environment in better shape than it was the day before.  Couple that with a leadership approach that encourages meaningful change and an outstanding team that can drive execution and consistency, and you get true transformation.

Drew: What advice do you have for your fellow marketers if they too wanted to transform their organizations, one way or another?  

To drive transformation, a team must to be aligned on the organization’s purpose, goals and values. Why do you do what you do?  What are you trying to do?  And how will you do it?  Once you get clarity on those points, true transformation can begin.

Drew:  AMD by definition is a challenger brand given Intel’s category dominance.  How has this shaped your overall approach to marketing?  Do you feel the need to be more innovative than you were at Dell or Rackable Systems?  

Innovation and creativity should always play a role in what we as marketers do, whether you work for an existing market leader or an emerging player.  Many of us are drawn to challenger brands because of the ‘underdog’ phenomenon.  Being the underdog can be a great motivational tool that builds character, forces innovation, fosters creativity and can be very rewarding.

Drew: AMD is considered an “ingredient” brand, but you have said that the customers’ relationship with your product is typically much more emotional than with other such “ingredients.” How did you come to that conclusion, and how has that realization aided your efforts to spark consumers’ passions for AMD?

We consider AMD beyond just ‘ingredient’ and more of an ‘enabler’ brand.  Semiconductor technology powers the devices we use every day, giving people very personal, rich computational and graphical experiences that literally enable us to change the world.  Our research with thousands of users echoed this sentiment, and we are actively building a more emotional connection with buyers.

Drew: What have been the biggest challenges you have had to overcome during AMD’s rebranding campaign, and how were you able to use the rebranding efforts to lead the brand back to profitability and align with the business goals?

We recognized that our multi-year business transformation needed to start with a global brand transformation. Evolving a brand while simultaneously cutting costs, completing a corporate restructuring and pushing into new markets with new competitors is quite challenging and might seem even counter-intuitive to some.  But without a baseline for purpose, values and mission and an outstanding team to execute, we could not have effectively united 10,000 employees and millions of fans worldwide.

Drew:  Marketing budgets are getting increasingly complex as new options and tools become available.  How as CMO are you staying on top of budget allocation and optimization?

One of the first things I did when I came to AMD was create a Marketing Operations team.  We now have centralized visibility to spending, metrics and ROI.  We have a great team that may not always have the fanciest new tools to govern with, but we are steadfast about how we measure and optimize marketing performance.

Drew: Have you made major changes to your budget allocation in the last year and if so, can you share what lead to those changes and how these changes have impacted results?

Like many marketing organizations, while our overall marketing budgets continue to shrink, we’ve protected funds for earned and owned media. We’re also setting aside funds for what I like to call ‘innovation marketing.’ For example, we will soon kick off a unique program in China, designed exclusively to engage with our Chinese fans. Too often, US-based corporations pilot programs in North America and then try to localize further. We’re starting in China and then will see where it goes!

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