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."

Applying the Change Agenda at Mary Kay

03/29/15

mary-kay-executive-bios-Adkins-Green-SherylWell it’s not quite like being a repeat host of Saturday Night Live BUT I’m delighted to have Sheryl Adkins-Green, CMO at Mary Kay back on TheDrewBlog. Our popular interview last year covered the gamut of Sheryl’s activities on behalf of Mary Kay including overall strategy, various campaigns and specific marketing tactics. This time Sheryl and I focused on “leading a culture of change” as it was also our topic for what turned out to be a vibrant panel at the recent CMO Club Summit in New York City.

As someone who has to marshal an independent army of 3.5 million beauty consultants around the world, Sheryl is well versed on the importance of a strong company culture noting “At Mary Kay, we like to say that culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”  Recognizing at the same time that change is also an imperative for just about any growth company, Sheryl advises an “evolutionary vs. revolutionary” approach while never losing sight of the need to satisfy your customers. In Sheryl’s case, that meant finding an aspect of the culture that could be built upon in a nuanced fashion, making it at once recognizable yet fresh. This deft approach to driving organizational change is harder than it sounds and well worth a closer look.

Drew: A classic example of a cultural impasse is when marketing proposes a new positioning (like solution-centric versus feature-centric) and the sales team resists.  As you’ve led an agenda that requires fresh thinking across the organization and maybe even fresh skill sets, how have you overcome the naysayers or those resistant to change? 

People often resist change because they are not confident that they will be successful doing things “differently”. I believe that  a successful change management strategy must provide the support and  the tools that teams needs to feel confident and capable taking on new challenges.

Drew: Assuming you’ve identified a change in culture to be necessary for you to achieve your overall objectives AND that you’ve embarked on an internal program to get there, is culture change something that is measurable and if so, what are the key metrics for you and your organization?

At Mary Kay, we monitor and measure the key aspects of our culture via an annual employee engagement survey. Key opportunities are then assigned to cross functional action teams. Our culture is reinforced by a comprehensive, 3 day, New Employee Orientation program, led by the Executive team, that EVERYONE must attend. We also have a Culture Committee that promotes and “protects” the Mary Kay culture.

Drew: One could argue that your brand is in the hands of your independent beauty consultants–does this have an impact on your approach to driving change?  

The Mary Kay Independent Beauty Consultants actually ARE the Mary Kay brand. So yes, the Mary Kay brand is most definitely in their hands! In regards to change, that means first, changes must be evolutionary vs. revolutionary. Secondly, there must be clear and compelling reasons for change. Finally, key elements of the Mary Kay culture and values cannot change – these are the elements are fundamental to the relationship between the Mary Kay company and the Independent Sales Force.

Drew: “Culture trump strategy” is said a lot in the marketing world but do you really believe this is the case? 

YES! At Mary Kay, we like to say that culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Culture connects employees to a company and its mission. This connection can make or break a strategic plan.

Drew: For CMOs new to their jobs, when should culture change become a priority?  Is this something to tackle in the first 100 days? 

The first 100 days in a new role should be devoted to understanding the current culture, the language of that culture, how things get done ( or not!) etc.  As Stephen Covey advices in  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”

Drew: Can you provide 3 key things  for CMOs to think about when approaching change, two that they must do and one that they should avoid? 

  • CMO’s need to keep the customer in the center of their agenda, not their career.
  • Develop alliances with one or two C-suite team members, and make sure that they understand and support the change agenda
  • Avoid pursuing any big initiative that does not clearly map back to the company’s stated priorities

Marketing Music’s Biggest Night w/ Evan Greene of The Grammys

02/7/15

Evan Greene_Recording AcademyIf you think the nominees for the GRAMMY awards are nervous, imagine for a moment you’re the CMO of what is officially known as The Recording Academy.  That man is Evan Greene and every year he is tasked with outdoing the previous year, a bar that keeps getting higher and higher.

In 2014 for example, TV ratings were the 2nd highest in 15 years, reaching over 28 million viewers who in turn generated roughly 15 million tweets and 13 million Facebook interactions. That’s a whole lot of buzz, buzz that is by no means accidental.  Evan and his team, supported by long-time agency Chiat/Day, continue to find innovative ways to engage, inspire and motivate an army of fans to not just watch but also share their experience.  This fan-centric approach requires management of thousands of little pieces, but Evan has done it in style, and it’s no surprise that he won a Marketing Innovation Award at this year’s CMO Awards, sponsored by The CMO Club.  Here’s our interview just in time for the show Sunday night and to send good karma out to Evan in LA.

Drew: One of the presumed reasons some CMOs don’t innovate is that there is more risk involved. Is there a tolerance for risk in your organization and/or do you have ways of mitigating the risks involved in bringing truly innovative programs to market?

There is tolerance to risk…to an extent. I have pretty broad latitude to implement forward-looking initiatives. However, we are still a pretty conservative organization, so that upside risk must be balanced by the potential downside consequences, which for a not-for-profit entity, whose primary asset is its brand/IP can be significant.

Drew: The Grammys is such a unique brand. What do you think is the biggest thing other marketers can learn from the on-going success of The Grammys?

While we are certainly a big brand, we aren’t really that different from other brands in that ultimately it comes down to trust. Authenticity is the cornerstone of trust, so you must respect your audience, and be as authentic as possible in everything you do.

Drew: What did you do in 2014 that you are particular proud of from a marketing perspective?

I don’t think it was any one thing. When you look at the ultimate result of our year-round efforts, which is our metrics around the GRAMMY telecast, we over-delivered on every possible measurement – ratings (2nd highest in 20+ years), social engagement (34MM+ comments on GRAMMY Sunday), sentiment (99% positive), revenue (consistently up year-over-year), it is our overall success that comes from carefully planned strategic efforts that I am most proud of.

Drew: Looking ahead, what do you hope will work better in 2015?

Better, more engaging content, better use of analytics.

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

Reading everything I can, and constantly auditing the market. I’m always trying to learn from others’ successes…and failures…

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

I don’t think there is any one tool. I think our strategy has gotten smarter…and we are finding better, more effective ways to use data than before. I believe the ultimate winners and losers will be determined by who is best able to identify, understand and harness the data available to us as marketers.

Drew: Do you have a content marketing strategy?  

This is an important area for us, and we are in the process of reviewing our entire content strategy, and revising it in a pretty significant way. I will have more to share on this in the coming months as our new strategic focus comes into play.

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?

The best, most immediate example I can point to is our yearly telecast marketing campaign. We have endeavored, rather than simply placing a bunch of music artists on a spread or in a tv spot, with the message to ‘Watch the GRAMMYs,’ to weave a compelling narrative that connects with the music fan in an emotional, visceral way. I’m very proud of the work we have done with our agency, Chiat Day to more deeply weave our GRAMMY brand into the fabric of popular culture. We will launch this year’s effort in early December, and we will again approach it from a dynamic storytelling standpoint that will set our communication apart from anyone else in our category.

Drew: As social media matures, what adjustments are you making to your approach to social in 2015?

We’ve been trying to take a more holistic view of our social activities, meaning that we want to be smarter about the conversation we are having with our social ecosystem on a daily basis. We want to provide more value to the conversation, and become more of a trusted resource, and this requires a longer-term view of the relationship we have with our friends, fans and followers. It is not as much about short-term gratification. Rather, it is modifying tone, vibe and spirit of our dialogue to have a more consistent, engaged dialogue.

Talk About Rising to a Challenge: Meet Kate Chinn

02/5/15

Kate ChinnIf you ever had any doubt about the expanding role of the CMO you need look no further than Kate Chinn.  As the head of marketing for Rockefeller Center and several other properties owned by international developer Tishman Speyer, Kate covers a lot of territory and based on the recent successful relaunch of the Rainbow Room, she does it all quite well.  This particular initiative required Kate and her team to get involved with naming, experience design, uniform selection, operations and and eventually even some advertising!  This was not a departmental “land grab” but rather her way of making sure that everything about these new properties including the Rainbow Room itself, a new bar called SixtyFive and a separate event space were fully differentiated and ultimately marketable. Having done all that and more, Kate was recognized by The CMO Club with a CMO Award and in the process, earned the “honor” of an interview with yours truly.  

Drew: Can you provide some background on your marketing objectives and so forth in terms of your responsibilities?

I oversee marketing for several businesses owned and operated by Tishman Speyer. Tishman Speyer is a real estate firm, but within their portfolio is a group of businesses that doesn’t necessarily fall under a typical real estate firm’s umbrella. Included in that category would be Top of the Rock Observation Deck, Rockefeller Center, Rainbow Room and the event venue 620 Loft & Garden, for instance.

Drew: I just saw that the recently re-launched Rainbow Room made a list of top new places to visit in the city. When you’re launching a new product, or re-launching an old product like The Rainbow Room, how do you approach the marketing?

Yes – we just opened the Rainbow Room in October of this year. With this re-launch in particular, there were very high expectations, especially since the Rainbow Room is such a famous, historic, and iconic venue. For the last 2 years, the marketing team has closely worked with the operations/management team to define the business goals, in order to correctly position each segment of the new Rainbow Room in the marketplace. You can’t effectively market something until you have a solid idea of what it is going to be, how you want it to be perceived, and what the business goals are.

What made this even more challenging was the fact that it wasn’t just the Rainbow Room, it was the Rainbow Room as an event venue, the Rainbow Room as a Sunday brunch location; and the Rainbow Room as a destination for Monday night dinner and entertainment. At the same time, we launched SixtyFive, the brand new bar and cocktail lounge, with its own identity and marketing needs. Finally, there will be an executive dining club that is by invitation only, which also required us to develop a look and feel, menu covers, invitations, etcetera. With new businesses, you find yourself doing anything and everything that needs to happen in order to get that business open, regardless of whether or not it is actually “marketing”. My team was involved in everything from logo design to uniform selection to actually naming the bar “SixtyFive Bar & Cocktail Lounge”.

Drew: Can you talk specifically about your channel communication strategy and marketing mix?

It was a different strategy for each of the businesses. For the events business, we began advertising a year out because we know that many weddings book over a year in advance, and we wanted people to know that the Rainbow Room was coming back. Once we set that opening date of October 5th, we pulled the trigger on advertising in some of the larger and more upscale bridal publications in particular.

Our biggest challenge was that we had absolutely no photography assets. We created a beautiful brochure out of complete air. Our ads were very vague, but at least contained the Rainbow Room logo and we had to have something for the sales team, so it forced us to be very creative!

Sunday Brunch is a beautiful, elaborate set up with a round buffet table set up on the dance floor and every kind of food you can imagine from around the globe. It was so impressive, that we decided we really couldn’t pay to market that until we had a photo of the actual brunch. Monday night dinner and entertainment also came later and are still developing as we continue to evolve our entertainment strategy. The first performance we had was The Roots. We managed to flip a New York Times full page out right before opening that made a big splash.

Drew: How important is digital in the mix of the things that you’re doing for these various business segments?

We’ve spent the majority of digital resources up to this point developing the websites and OpenTable integration, and optimizing AdWords. Obviously search is big, so we’ve definitely put money toward that. We have a social media program in the works. We’re starting to do listings, but again, we’ve only just gotten image collateral and it’s limited.

We also have a PR group working with us specifically on F&B, and we’ve had a lot of positive press just since it opened. It’s starting to catch on by word of mouth.

Drew: Is that word of mouth a bankable, sustainable kind of thing or is it the kind of thing you get a lift from at the launch and then requires you to come up with creative ways to keep it going?

Speaking specifically to SixtyFive – the bar at the Rainbow Room… This has been my first time doing any sort of marketing surrounding a bar and we planned to do an initial push with PR. We have found that with Top of the Rock, word of mouth is so important, and keeps people coming back. In fact, according to some audience research we conducted, over 50% claim that “word of mouth” was their main reason for visiting. I have to believe the same thing would be true for a premier cocktail bar at Rockefeller Center. So I think it’s a continual effort – and really relies on a great guest experience much more so than anything paid.

Drew: What you’ve been able to do is what a lot of marketers dream of doing. In theory, you get to have an impact on a large part of the customer experience. Many times marketers are just handed the product, and handed the customer service, and handed the operations and told “go sell this”. If you picked one of these properties, what kinds of things did you have in mind as you were thinking through the customer experience?

With Rainbow Room, a lot of thought went into the logo, the design and the architecture with the goal being a fresh modern take on the classic Rainbow Room. We didn’t want to change the essence of the Rainbow Room everybody remembers. In fact, there are landmark elements that were refurbished but otherwise remain exactly the same, for instance the chandeliers, dome ceiling, revolving dance floor, brass railings, glass bollards. Generally speaking, it’s a classic, elegant experience, but it’s been refreshed so it feels fresh and modern.

Now the bar, SixtyFive, is completely new. The ceiling is dimensional with beautiful geometric patterns and finished in metallic leaf. So it has a kind of other-worldly feeling in there, it’s really cool. It also has a brand new outdoor terrace with seating and obviously, incredible views of the NYC skyline.

Drew: What steps do you have to take to build credibility with the board or the CEO in order to accomplish your marketing goals?

Because we work for a real estate company, we have to take the time to explain the necessity of marketing these non-core businesses. As long as we are very, very clear and confident on what we need and why, they tend to trust our marketing expertise, especially given the success of similar businesses such as Top of the Rock and the event venue 620 Loft & Garden.

Drew: What role of social play for one or all of these five parts of the new Rainbow Room?

Our hope is to have a social media team pushing out engaging content that will spur people to talk about it. We are trying to include our social media handles and hashtags on as many of our materials as possible so they will be known and used by our guests. We’re talking about putting them on the menus now to make sure that people have them top of mind when they’re at The Rainbow Room, because it’s a natural place for people to take photos. We’re really trying to build awareness. And by pushing out our own content, hopefully we can get conversations started and just remind people about it.

We also have a social media hub on our newly redesigned website rockefellercenter.com where we pull in and sort photos. We’ve got #rockeats, #rockshops, #rockcenter, etc. I can ultimately see Rainbow Room and SixtyFive being part of it as well.

Why Kidzania is Marketing Nirvana & More w Cammie Dunaway

02/2/15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

12/21/14

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.

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