RENEGADE THINKING from the Founder/CEO of Renegade AND the author of the upcoming book, "The CMO’s Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing."

Happy Employees = Happy Customers



Sometimes a single blog post can’t span the breadth of what I’ve learned from a particular CMO.  This is definitely the case with Steven Handmaker, CMO at Assurance, winner of The CMO Club Leadership Award who also joined me for the opening panel at Incite’s Content Marketing Summit.  While the interview below focuses on his approach to leadership, it doesn’t cover what I subsequently learned about his approach to content and the highly effective marketing campaign he helped initiate for Assurance.  So allow me to address that first.

Knowing how hard it is to differentiate insurance companies and the products they sell, Assurance decided to focus attention on its “quirky culture” thus putting employees front and center. With its campaign, “Happy Employees = Happy Customers,” Assurance not only found a source of highly distinctive content but also they tapped into a wellspring of goodwill both internally and externally.  Assurance does many professionally-focused things to engendered this goodwill (i.e. training seminars & a “university” ) along with many just plain fun things like an employee Olympics, a casino night and sending digital high fives to top performers. These activities have catapulted Assurance to be among the top 5 places to work in Chicago and just as importantly, helped Assurance outperform many of its rivals.  And frankly, that’s what I call leadership.

Drew: How would you describe / or how have others described your leadership style? 

In terms of leadership style, I’m always aiming for inspirational.  I work hard to have those I lead understand our ultimate vision and allow them the freedom and flexibility to use their talents to help us get there.  Beyond inspiration, I’m a big believer in consistently showing appreciation.

Drew: Do you have any role models that you’ve admired over the years and if so, what did you pick up from him/her?  

Personally, I worship at the altar of Bruce Springsteen. I mean, he is the ultimate Boss.I never miss a concert. Seen him in multiple cities, seen him in multiple continents — I am one of those. I could write a book (and may one day) on why he’s a great leadership role model for business. But for the purpose of this interview, let’s just say he’s a master storyteller, first and foremost, with legendary desire to connect with his audience.  Something to which all marketers should aspire.

Drew: Can you talk about some of the actions you took as a leader in the last couple of years that were particularly challenging?

I work for an insurance brokerage whose primary business is B2B.  When it comes to marketing technology, our industry is woefully behind the times.  I’ve installed a state-of-the-art Eloqua automation system and have established an engaged audience of prospects and clients, rich with data.  The challenging part is partnering with our sales people who are already tops in our industry, and convincing them to incorporate this new technology in to their process for even greater results.  I’d say this work in continually ongoing.

Drew: How important is your peer to peer network to your on-going success?  What are the biggest benefits of having a peer network?

Peer-to-peer for me has been invaluable.  I’ve learned (stolen) so much from marketing leaders, particularly in other industries, which I’ve been able to take back and apply in my own environment.  As I’ve said, nearly every industry is further along than insurance brokers – so it’s not too difficult to identify some amazing things we should have probably been doing 4 years ago.

Drew: What’s the best advice you’ve been given to guide personal / career success? 

Anybody can follow a job description, do exactly what is asked, and produce positive results.  If you really want to get noticed, if you really want to get ahead in your career, you need to ask yourself what else could you be doing that isn’t in your job description.  What else should you just do to help those around you and the company succeed.  Do that, and success will follow.  If you apply this ideology to your personal life as well, you can expect the same results.

Drew: Looking ahead to 2016, what is the single biggest challenge that you’d like to overcome?

My own marketing team is growing and I’ve got some amazing talent I’d love to spend more time working closely with and nurturing. However, time management is something that ebbs and flows for me.  Lately I’ve been ebbing and I’ve got to get my flow back!

CMO Chronicles: 1st 100 Days with Emily Culp, Keds


04b9474 Passion will take you far in just about any job in any industry.  In marketing, passion for the customer, the product and your company will take you very far indeed.  You may recall my interview with John Yembrick, the head of social media for NASA and how his passion has yielded astronomical success for that organization’s social program.  In my book, The CMO’s Periodic Table, Sharing Passion is in the elemental category Inert Fundamentals along with elements like Showing Courage and Always Innovating.  Also in that category is Listening, which brings me to the subject at hand: Emily Culp.

Emily Culp, the new CMO of Keds, is bringing two powerful elements Passion and Listening to bear on a remarkably cool 100-year old brand. Her passion for Keds is contagious and her expressed desire to listen and really understand the Keds customer is more than just lip service — she used a recent promotional event to personally interview dozens and dozens of Keds fans from multiple generations. It is this kind of hands on ears open research that helped Emily get off to a running start at Keds and makes it easy to understand why The CMO Club recognized her as a Rising Star.  But don’t take my word for it, read on.

Drew: As the new CMO just coming into Keds, what were your goals for your first 100 days?

That’s a great question. I just hit the 90-day mark and some of the most important things that I have sought to accomplish are making sure that I’m clear on the strategy of the brand from a growth perspective, a heritage perspective and a product perspective and just really emerging myself those aspects of the business. Additionally, I am enjoying building relationships with my team and peers in product development, international, sales and strategy. To me, teamwork is one of the most critical aspects of business.

Drew: So, as I was looking at the Keds site I had the realization that, “oh my god, Keds are cool again!” When did that happen?

I would argue it’s been cool since it was founded in 1916.

Drew: Oh, stop! Come on, it was cool and then it wasn’t cool.

You know what? That’s the beauty of heritage products. They ebb and flow but there is a DNA of the product that is substantial and that’s the reason it’s been around for 100 years. Next year is our centennial and it’s because it’s a great product. To answer your question, when did it become cool again? I can’t really pinpoint that. But when you look at Yoko Ono to Lauren Hutton, to Audrey Hepburn, to Marilyn Monroe and then “Baby” in Dirty Dancing and then Taylor Swift, it’s a pretty amazing mix of women wearing our product. And that’s where you can see the cool factor thing cycle. I think it also is important to note that we created sneakers just for women to empower them to be free to pursue what they wanted to and this gives us an unbelievable credibility with women. So fashion cycles may change but there is something just beautiful about the simplicity of our product and you know, we always update it with different materials or collaborations such as Liberty of London and Kate Spade but we are true to our DNA.

Drew: You know it’s funny; it does very much look like a shoe I might have seen on kids in Newport Beach in 60s and 70s.

Exactly but it’s back. That’s what I love about fashion. For example, jumpsuits are back. Who knows when that happened, but it did happen.

Drew: It seems like you’ve done a lot to infuse fresh energy like the Keds/Kate Spade partnership or Taylor Swift designing her own pair of Keds.

That’s exactly it, it’s a multipronged approach and there is a lot more we’re going to do in this coming year around our centennial. We are excited to announce more specific details around it later this year.

Drew: So I’m curious, is there anything in particular that you’ve done at Keds in the time that you’ve been there that you would like to talk about?

I started at a great time which was right around when we were focusing on a women’s equality day initiative where we really were amplifying our Ladies First since 1916 platform. On August 26th, in NYC we did a popup activation in Washington Square Park where we gave out one thousand nine hundred and sixteen pairs of shoes to women so they could conquer the world. We also asked them to pause & think about “today is women’s equality day. What about tomorrow?” and we got some amazing responses. We were all so moved that we captured the responses and created a short video to inspire women everywhere.

It was a terrific way to start at Keds, because it meant that I could personally speak to the first 100 consumers in line and it was multi-generational and there were people who were telling me nicknames that they would call Keds since they were kids etc. So it was phenomenal experience and what was even more fascinating to me was the idea around what does women’s equality mean and what does it mean to each individual. In order to capture this content and really honor the innovation that women are driving forward we made sure that we had content on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Periscope. This approach meant that the event was not only a big success with people physically present in NYC but also around the US as they could participate in many of the elements remotely.

Drew: And how do you measure the success of a program like that?

It comes down to social engagement, impact on sales in retail doors, dotcom traffic and of course, PR exposure.

Drew: Is there a person in your career that’s been particularly helpful or acted as a mentor?

I’ve been so fortunate. I have a number of mentors and I think the question comes down to “what is a mentor” and I think a lot of people have this vision of someone who you’ve worked with for 20 years, who you see every week for an hour. Personally, I reach out to a wide range of friends and colleagues from all different walks of life whether it’s past bosses, to good friends in private equity, to people who are in theatre. I reach out to each of them for different types of advice. So I’ve been very lucky in that regards and I think having such diverse counsel has served me very well and frankly I try and pay it forward. I actively mentor people in Columbia where I went to business school and WIR (women in retail) etc.

Drew: Looking ahead for 2016 (besides your 100th anniversary) what’s the biggest challenge that you’d like to overcome?

As a marketer, for me one of the biggest challenges I always face is– how do you get into a woman’s psyche and become part of their DNA? So to me it’s all about driving brand heat and doing that in a meaningful and sustainable way. So that’s one of the largest challenges I would say I have but I’m beyond ecstatic about having that as a challenge and frankly, I’m honored to work on a brand that’s been around for a 100 years. When you actually look at the history of the shoe, it’s spectacular. Maybe it’s because I’m a mom–I have a daughter and a son but it’s the idea that these shoes were actually created to free women and empower them. That idea is very timely. So it’s how do we make sure that people understand what the brand stands for and also making sure that they think we’re a cool brand and want wear us.

CMO Award Winner Alicia Jansen of MD Anderson

Madhur Aggarwal of SAP presents awards to Ani Matson of NEA Member Benefits and Alicia Jansen of MDAnderson Cancer Center on the far right

Madhur Aggarwal of SAP presents awards to Ani Matson of NEA Member Benefits and Alicia Jansen of MDAnderson Cancer Center on the far right

Trying to put oneself in the customer’s shoes is a noble notion expressed by many a marketer.  Remarkably, few marketers actually make this standard operating procedure and fewer still address the shortcomings revealed by such an endeavor.  But the real rarity is the customer who becomes the marketer — which is exactly the case with Alicia Jansen.  Alicia sought the job of CMO of MD Anderson Cancer Center only after having witnessed the extraordinary patient care provided to a member of her family.  And even 11 years after becoming the CMO, Alicia has never forgotten that experience or the need to stay focused on the patient.

With this bit of background, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Alicia received the CMO Officers Award from The CMO Club late last year.  This award is “based on a marketing executive’s demonstrated leadership in leading the brand beyond the marketing department and leading the growth agenda for the company,” and as you will see in our interview below, Alicia accomplished all that and then some.

Drew:  You’ve been at MD Anderson for 11 years but before that you were working at Compact. Selling computers and selling cancer treatment are pretty different things. Were you able to take any of the things that you learned at Compact and apply them to what you’ve been doing at MD Anderson?

Yes, I have. I believe that marketing is a type of job that you can apply to so many different industries.  In my opinion there are a couple of characteristics that you have to have in order to really enjoy it; one of them is that you have to be curious.  You have to be able to raise your hand and say, let me learn as much as I possibly can about this business, because in order for me to be able to market it and tell other people about it I need to know it and you can do that in any industry. I did that with computers and software and I found it very intriguing and I find the same thing at MD Anderson.  One thing about MD Anderson that I find very satisfying as a marketer is that we are doing something to help other people go through this cancer journey, and that’s very satisfying at a personal level.

I think marketers also have to be able to tell a story. They have to be able to learn what the business is about and understand who the audience is that you’re talking to so you can translate that to something that they can understand and that will move them in some way; whether it’s to move them to buy something, move them to talk about it or move them to donate. I think good marketers have the ability to tell a good story and to get others to tell the story as well, and that applies to any industry.

Drew: When you are selling cancer care, the degree of empathy and the sensitivity required is quite a bit different than when you are selling computers or software. I’m wondering how that plays in as a part of the story that you tell at MD Anderson?

My story of working at MD Anderson probably influences the way I do my job.  Many people who work for MD Anderson have similar stories.  My mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer in 2000 and I was the primary caregiver; I was at MD Anderson every day. I witnessed her journey and I was able to see what it is like to fight this disease. It made me a better person because I could have that empathy, whether I apply it towards everyday life or apply it to my job. It influenced me so much so that when I heard a job opening was available at MD Anderson in the marketing department I raised my hand, was hired and eventually took over the department.

That initial experience of being with my mother-in-law through her cancer journey taught me the lessons of why people go through this and what I can do to make the journey better, what I can say, what programs I can initiate, what are the things that I can help MD Anderson do better in order to make it easier on our patients and their families. I realized that this is where I need to be and that’s why I took the job. I find working here very inspiring because of the customers that I work with every day.

Drew:  How have you been able to impact the customer experience in your current role?

The patient experience to me is a passion because I experienced it with my mother-in-law and it is something that I am extremely excited about helping MD Anderson do better.  A couple of years ago we started doing market research by talking to patients and their families while they were going through the treatment here. We also spoke with members of the community to understand their needs and their expectations and how they would behave if they were faced with this decision to treat cancer. I took that information back to our leadership and said, we have a lot of patients here who feel that we do a fantastic job, but when you peel back the lemon there are a couple of things that keep surfacing and I’m seeing a few trends of some things that we could be doing better.

I truly believe that in order to be appreciated and have a seat at the table you have to be more than an order taker.  You have to offer more than the latest ad or brochure or update to the website. You have to show that you’re bringing valuable information to the table that will enhance the decision-making process and help executives and yourself be able to make better decisions in order to satisfy the customer, exceed their expectations, and run the business better.  Marketers today have to have knowledge and this goes back to being curious, knowing the business and bringing information to the table that’s going to help the business.

Giving Social a Healthy Pass



This is the last but not least of my interviews in preparation for our panel called Why CMOs Won’t Invest More in Social Media at The Social Media Shake-up.  This time, Bill Koleszar, CMO at American Family Care, gives me the prescription for overcoming his primary marketing challenges which currently exclude social media.  That’s not to say Bill doesn’t see social playing a more prominent role down the road, just give him a bit more time to settle in!

Drew: I know you just arrived at American Family Care — can you talk a little bit about your business and your role?

Sure, AFC is actually a pretty remarkable story. Our founder, Dr. Bruce Irwin, was born the son of a cobbler in rural Alabama. Nevertheless, his curious mind and a tireless work ethic landed him in medical school. After a stint as an ER physician, he opened his first urgent care clinic in 1982. Thirty-three years later, with more than 140 clinics and 500 in-network physicians caring for more than 2 million patients a year, American Family Care is the nation’s leading provider of urgent care and family care. My role in this effort is simply to tell our story – and help us become one of the most widely known and admired brands in healthcare.

Drew:  What are your top priorities as the CMO? (You talked about building and flying the brand at the same time!)

We have 3 broad marketing priorities. Drive patient volume to new and underperforming clinics. Invest in creating a national brand. And, lastly, solidify our Marketing infrastructure, primarily through implementing better processes and applying more marketing science to what we already do.

Drew:  You mentioned reputation management as a top priority.  Can talk about this a bit?  

Our company is totally dedicated to providing quality healthcare. It’s in our corporate DNA and it comes right from the top. Our goal is 100% patient satisfaction. As a result, our patient complaint rate is just 0.35 instances per 1,000 patients – amazing low for any business, but especially healthcare. Some of those complaints end up online or in other venues, which actually helps us by making us aware of dissatisfaction, but doesn’t tell the whole story of who we are and what we do. We simply need to do a better job of highlighting the stories of those we’ve helped – and in some cases lives we’ve literally saved.

Drew: What role then does social play for your business right now?

We certainly monitor it, but we have not taken full advantage of it.

Drew:  For organic social to become a top 3 marketing priority for you, what would need to change? For example, if social media could suddenly become a measurable source of clinic traffic, would that move it up the list?  

Social would need to become measurable, scalable, and cost-effective above and beyond other areas we invest human and financial capital. Having just 2 of those three would fall short relative to our goal of driving clinic traffic.

Drew: You mentioned wanting to have American Family Care on the list of most admired brands.  What role if any could social play to help you achieve this goal?  Can it help you engage with Millennials? 

Our goal is to land on Fortune’s list of most admired companies by 2023, and I am sure that social media will play a significant role in achieving that vision. However, the most important thing we can do is to simply focus on our mission – provide the best healthcare possible. If we continue to deliver quality, compassionate healthcare when we have 500 medical centers and are seeing 10 million patients a year – many of which will be millennials – I am confident that our efforts we will be recognized across social media channels.

Drew: Is there a social channel (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that works better than others for your brand.  If so, which one and why do you think that’s the case?

Facebook is clearly the channel that patients use most. I think the reason is that many people look to their Facebook friends for advice, even for their health-related issues. Of course, it’s also a venue for sharing positive and negative experiences across a broad spectrum. We certainly update our own presence regularly, but I also know we can do better – and we will.

Social Media Still Works Wonders for Media Brands


Scot Safon EVP, CNN-GM, HLNTalking to Scot Safon, the former CMO of The Weather Channel, about social media is like revisiting a day at Disneyworld with a nine-year-old. Bursting with enthusiasm, they can’t possibly tell you fast enough all of the things they enjoyed, rarely recollecting the negatives while maintaining an unabated commitment to revisit the newest attractions as soon as possible.  That said, Safon’s enthusiasm for social is anything but immature.  A veteran of the media world including long runs as marketing chief at CNN, Headline News and most recently The Weather Channel, Scot saw first hand the powerful role social media played in terms of driving site traffic and generating conversation about their programming.

In our discussion, what struck me the most is that for media companies, social networks are essentially broadcast channels that extend the reach of the mother ship.  Since they are already in the content creation business, developing “click bait” whether it be in the form of images or video or headlines is just not that challenging and perhaps more importantly, a negligible incremental cost. So yes as “talkers” media companies have a huge edge.  But what about the listening part of social? Are these brands really being social with a capital S? For that answer, you’ll have to read on…

Drew: You were at CNN in the pre-social media days and have watched social’s role evolve through your stints at CNN, HLN and The Weather Channel.  How has the role of social media evolved for TV networks? 

The “early days” of social were largely about Twitter and Facebook, and the objective was pretty much to just get mentioned and quoted. It was almost entirely organic (paid wasn’t really happening yet), and it was unpredictable and erratic.  It was still a new idea and it was concentrated among a few audience segments. Today, the “social landscape” includes Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Meerkat, Instagram, Pinterest, YikYak and hundreds of other platforms and destinations where people are generating the content and responding to it.  Every single one of these platforms has potential to generate interest in television content– and some of it has been particularly good for building excitement for live televised events. Sports, breaking news, award shows, competition shows have all benefited from the social media buzz that breaks out on some of these platforms while the shows are on.  And the overlay of paid social has allowed marketers to target audience segments with very specialized, very relevant social “firestarters”.

Drew: Can you talk about the role of social in the marketing mix at the Weather Channel? What were your primary objectives?

Social was always an important part of the mix when I was at The Weather Channel, especially since weather has always remained such a popular topic on social platforms. People love to share weather pictures and video, and much of that video is critical to weather news coverage, where The Weather Channel excels on every platform. In terms of audience driving, though, it seemed to help us drive people to severe storm coverage, long-form editorial content and storytelling. Local forecasts, which are a huge part of the company’s business, were– then, at least– less driven by social.

Drew: A lot of what TV networks do on social is sharing content (i.e. talking). What role if any did social listening play? 

Social “listening” is critical, but you have to listen carefully…and guardedly. If something generates only a few comments or shares or citations, it likely didn’t inspire any meaningful feedback and you shouldn’t probably look at specific comments too closely. If something generates numerous comments, that indicates you might have touched a nerve.  But it’s important not to weigh the most extreme comments too much– I’ve seen executives at many networks get very, very concerned about one or two very negative comments…or get too enthusiastic about a few very positive comments. It’s like when you attend focus groups– you can’t weigh the outliers too heavily or you’ll start making some bad decisions.  But there are many forms of “social listening”, and sometimes it’s good to listen in to get some early warnings that sentiment might be shifting, new relevant topics are emerging, and things you’ve overlooked might actually be important.

Drew: What were some of the more effective social campaigns you developed at CNN?  

The first time I saw social really emerge as a critical force in media was during Hurricane Katrina coverage in 2005, which many would describe as “pre-social”.  But we still saw people trying really hard to use any digital platform imaginable to try to connect with other people, and many were using CNN as the ‘connector’. We tried very hard to respond to that need for information, connection and help by creating all sorts of micro-sites, aggregators, and user-generated content gathering points. CNN iReport emerged from that. During the 2008 Election campaign social media started coming into its own, and we embraced it very enthusiastically, even bringing in YouTube as a Debate presenter and Facebook as our partner in presenting the live streaming of the Inauguration (at that point it was the largest live streaming event in history).     

Drew: Since they’re already in the content business (with writers, editors, etc) don’t media channels have a real leg up on social content development versus other types of companies? 

I think that media companies are probably more comfortable and more nimble with developing social media content– mainly because they are prepared to make quick adjustments and tweaks to whatever they put out there. These companies already have producers, writers, editors, graphics folks working on content and promotions all the time, so A/B testing two content approaches is not daunting….and revising something that isn’t working is also fairly simple.  If you are having to reach back out to an agency to get that done it’s sometimes cumbersome and sometimes expensive. But agencies and clients are getting increasingly tight with each other on these efforts, and more agencies are acting as virtual in-house departments. And there is more in-house staffing going on, too.

Drew: Social media has been great for other TV networks like ABC’s Thursday line up.  Why is that?  

ABC– and the brilliant Shonda Rhimes– have done an incredible job creating must-see-live-tv  shows like SCANDAL and HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER.   They constructed the shows so that their core audience can have fun on social media throughout the show, and they’ve created a situation where half the fun is watching Twitter throughout ABC primetime.  The comments are funny and intriguing…and they drive you right back to the show. I know a lot of people time shift those shows, but lots are watching and loving them live.  And Fox is doing the same with EMPIRE.

Drew: You remain bullish on social media.  For marketers that are responsible for product sales and any dollar invested in social / content comes out of their working media budget, what advice would you give them? How do they get more out of their social programs?  Should they consider shifting dollars away from paid media?  

I am a huge believer in the power of all paid media– on television, on radio, in print, outdoor and online.  I think you need to use all of it.  But social media can be part of all of it, and it lets you target people precisely, and lets you get very relevant at the same time.  You get to speak in a new vernacular and lets you really let the content be the star.  When I started in advertising in the 1980s–before digital or social– the most cherished form of advertising was the one you just couldn’t buy: word of mouth. Well, social media IS word of mouth…emphasis on the words. It’s persuasive and emotional and funny and ingenious and urgent and very, very personal….all the stuff you want great advertising and promotion to be.

Cause Funding + Prepaid (+ Social?) = WeCareCard


Next week at the Social Media Shake-Up, I have the privilege of moderating a panel called Why CMOs Won’t Invest More in Social Media. Based on our pre-panel discussions, it should be a lively conversation featuring three terrific CMOs: Katharine Mobley of WeCareCard,  Scot Safon formerly of The Weather Channel and Bill Koleszar of American Family Care.

Why this panel?  From my conversations with various CMOs this year, it is clear to me that the bloom is off the social rose, at least when it comes to organic social.  The notion that a tiny investment in conversation-generating content will deliver consistently disproportionate results is no longer a predominant belief although all would be delighted if that happened. Instead, marketers have accepted organic social as a must have component of the mix, but for many brands it is not the channel they can rely on all by itself to drive leads and sales.  To dig into this a little deeper, I interviewed each of the panelists separately.

katharine mobley headshotFirst up is Katharine Mobley of WeCareCard.  In our conversation, you’ll get to know her top priorities, where social fits in and what would need to happen for her to radically increase spending on organic social. What’s particularly interesting here is the role social plays for the individuals seeking support for their WeCare campaigns. In this situation, person-to-person versus brand-to-person social communications are essential to success.  Which if you think about it is probably why the bloom fell off the social rose in the first place — brands keep forgetting to act socially (like humans) on their social channels!

Drew: First, can you talk a little bit about the WeCareCard?

Absolutely! WeCareCard is a modular B2B SaaS based portal enabling multiple people to donate to a single recipient via a prepaid Debit MasterCard®. In laymen’s terms think Cause Funding + Prepaid = WeCareCard (WCC) – basically GoFundMe meets MasterCard – really cool patent-pending technology!

Our platform can be co-branded or white labeled depending on the need of our clients, or it can be an extension of a retailer’s existing gift card or e-gift program.

The card product was launched live in November ’14 at @Money20/20 and were recognized by the industry as a payments innovator by winning Prepaid with a Heart by Paybefore Magazine in Jan ’15 – not bad for a #startup.

Drew: And what is your role as CMO? 

As CMO, it is my responsibly to make sure that any and all components of our marketing strategy and tactics are inline with our core values and brand ideals. All while maintaining a return on investment on marketing dollars, being held to accountable for our P&L & revenue goals, as well as keeping a high level of customer satisfaction. I wear many hats, some say personalities depending on the day!

As for myself, I am an innovator at heart and always had a thirst for learning new things. As a child I was always inquisitive so I asked A LOT of questions – Why? What? Where? When? How? You can also say I was born an old soul and many think I should have been an attorney (all those questions). When you think of it the role of the CMO is no different then that of an inquisitive child. You must challenge the board, be the voice of the customer/vendor and NEVER be happy or settle for less than you expect. And always be innovating – 24/7 I don’t sleep – my Misfit proves just how little sleep I get these days.

And in totally transparency, I reinvent myself on a regular basis – about every 7 years – I guess it is that 7-year itch that gets me, just ask my friends they will tell you – here she goes again!

Drew:  What are your top priorities right now as CMO?

  1. Channels – What channels do our customers (B2B and D2C) use to communicate stories? Being a cause funding organization this is very important, as we need to know what channels work best to communicate these stories for our consumers and B2B customers.
  2. Engagement – How do we make sure consumers and customers are engaged with our mission, goals, stories and value proposition? This is WAY more than do they follow us, RT, etc. it is more about how do they engage with their own audience and peers. Is it video, pictures, stories and what makes them engage with each other and WHY?
  3. Measurement – How do we measure engagement by each channel? Remember all those questions I asked as a child, well as you would expect I am a closet data geek and admitted social media addict! I LOVE to know how we are interacting with customers, what they are saying about us, what the industry thinks and I download about every new tool out there to make sure we are achieving the proper measurements. For a CMO – I like playing in the ‘weeds’ with data and measurement.
  4. ROI – Just like all businesses it comes down to the bottom line. What is our ROI with each channel and interaction? Let’s be honest, this isn’t like launching a company in 1999 during the last bubble, we didn’t even know how to measure anything other than national, regional, or local broadcast spend in those days. This is about every channel, every $ spent and how to maximize each interaction.

Drew: So, where does organic social media fit into this mix? What role(s) does social play?

Social plays an enormous role in our company; it is the very being of web based cause funding. In order to raise $$$ on the web you have to not only tell a story but you have to have an audience to tell it to and social media provides that platform.

Organic reach is decreasing rapidly and consumers, clients and customers see videos go viral and think they can achieve the same goals but it doesn’t happen without A LOT of leg work and a good network you can openly communicate your story to and one that is willing to not only SHARE it, but donate to it! This is the key that most consumers and companies forget – a share doesn’t = $ people must be compelled enough about your mission that there is a clear call to action to donate money to it.

Drew: I imagine there are some downsides in social, perhaps through social blackmail like when an unhappy customer threatens to complain on his/her social channels.  How do you all deal with these situations? 

Oh no, they don’t threaten in our industry they just do it, but we are lucky as our fraud protection helps ensure that campaigns are legitimate and there is a relationship between the recipient and the donor. Additionally, we have Care Coaches that help manage any social media that is negative. Our customer service platform is integrated into our social media channels so that we know customer sentiment and any issue can be escalated to the proper team member to address quickly. Due to the fact that we are a transaction mechanism we tend to put out fires as quickly as possible and to date have been able to resolve any issues and move forward in a positive manner.

Drew: On one hand you’re in the highly regulated financial services industry.  On the other, your product supports social causes, which are famed for enjoyed viral success (Ice Bucket challenge anyone?) on social channels.  Should social be able to play more profound role in your business and if so, what’s holding you back?  

You are correct, on one hand (prepaid) we are in a highly regulated industry on the other (cause funding) we are in an early stage high growth industry that hasn’t been clearly defined and it requires education as to how it works, it takes a village at this point. But like I stated earlier, everyone thinks they tell their story, share it and it will go viral and they will raise 100K. It doesn’t happen! We help provide a clear understanding of the role each person’s network plays in making sure a campaign is successful. And provide direction as to how they can make their campaign more impactful via our Sponsorship Toolkit and other resources.

Drew:  A few years back my agency worked on Magic by Magic Johnson, a prepaid card.  We enjoyed success on social channels by giving cardholders what they wanted — a chance to win money to put on their cards.  Have you considered any kind of social promotions like this and if so, how did they perform? 

We have run a few similar promotions and they have been successful, such as share a way to ‘give back’ and then giving away preloaded cards, etc. Currently, we have a few things in the works with our partners that in incent newly engaged couples to replace their ‘traditional’ registry with our reloadable prepaid card, which anyone from their wedding list can donate directly through IF they have a WeCareCard! So for this let’s just say #staytuned!

Drew:  For organic social to become a top 3 marketing priority for you, what would need to change? For example, if social media could suddenly become a measurable source of site traffic, would that move it up the list?  

Yes! I watch Google Analytics, all our social traffic etc. and the biggest gap we have is conversion and organic reach – but who doesn’t! I think we (marketers) as an industry are in a state of total flux and transition as we shift from our normal metrics of measurement/engagement and conversion and evolve with the ever-changing media ecosystem. And let’s be honest – organic reach is reducing daily and the world is becoming a ‘pay to play’ but we already know this and are looking at ways to work around it and make sure we stay relevant without breaking the bank. I think the greatest thing about the social media revolution is that it is making us be smarter marketers, stretch our dollars, prove our ROI and most importantly – Get to know our customers better! That is what we have needed to do for a LONG time – look at how much Market Research has grown in 20 years, when I graduated from UGA – that was where the ‘geeks’ ended up and now I am one of those geeks and love it! That shift is making us better marketers in the long run, what could prove better than that?

Drew: You mentioned wanting the WeCare Card to become a highly recognized and appreciated brand. What role if any could social play to help you achieve this goal?

WeCareCard is in growth mode, but I can assure you at it’s core is our founder, Jessica Weiss a nineteen year NICU nurse that saw first- hand the challenges and financial burden of medical bills, travel expenses and loss of income facing people during long hospital stays and surgeries with infants. Then, her own family was struck with a personal tragedy, and she found herself walking in the shoes of her patients – which is where, the idea of WeCareCard was born… a vehicle that meets the critical need of providing immediate financial assistance to people in distress.

Growing this company into a brand that not only can help those during a crisis (funerals, medical illness) but also a time of celebration (wedding, graduations, births) is why I am so passionate about making this company a well known, respected and ADMIRED brand. The best way for us to get to the most admired list isn’t by us telling you why we think we should be there but for those we have assisted telling you how we impacted them and sharing our impact by their stories in a social world. Take Haleigh Mann’s testimonial as an example, this is what our company is about at it’s core – helping others, “The sudden passing of my mother, left my sister and brother (ages 21 and 19) with no idea how to pay for her funeral expenses. She was young and we were unprepared, as she did not have life insurance or savings; imagine our shock when we were informed that we needed $2,000 before the funeral home would even pick up her body from the hospital. If it had not been for WeCareCard, I don’t know what we would have done. With their platform we were able to raise money within 72 hours and give my mother a proper funeral. In a world that is focused heavily on negative news – restored our faith that there are not only good people but great companies that can make a positive impact on others.’  (Tracy Driscoll’s funeral fund)

This story and countless others make the sleepless nights and long hours worth it in the end. Our goal is to have people connect, care and contribute to one another regardless of the situation.

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