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

Applying the Change Agenda at Mary Kay


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

Driving a Change Agenda at MasterCard


Elisa Romm

Today at The CMO Club Summit, I had the honor of moderating a panel called Leading a Culture of Change as Growth CMOs with an all star team of marketers including Sheryl Adkins-Green, CMO, Mary Kay Cosmetics, John Costello, President, Global Marketing and Innovation, Dunkin’ Brands and Elisa Romm, EVP B2B Marketing, MasterCard.  Knowing that we’d only scratch the surface in the time allotted, this is the first of my interviews with the panelists.

Here Elisa Romm shares the fundamental culture transformation required when MasterCard went public in 2006, the challenges of a ‘change agenda’ and how such initiatives can and should be measured. For me, the “Priceless” moment of this interview comes near the end when Elisa espouses “show don’t tell” as a means of driving change. By way of example, Elisa noted that some members of the MasterCard sales force didn’t fully appreciate the power of the “Priceless Surprises” campaign until they themselves were beneficiaries.  Yet another great reminder of the value of “drinking your own champagne.”

Drew: Can you talk about the realities of leading a “culture of change” and more specifically, can you share a recent challenge that your organization faced and how you went about tackling this challenge.

When MasterCard (MC) went public we shifted from banks as owners to banks as customers. MC needed to sell where we didn’t sell before, we were solely relationship managers. I speak about the broader business, not just marketing, because Marketing must be part of  leading the change. Marketing had to help the rest of the company define product and service differentiation to customers and to consumers. I helped drive this change agenda byworking with our sales teams for our largest customers to drive differentiated communications and then the sales team endorsed the approach, because the metrics proved it worked. From that point, the company bought the approach.

Drew: How have you overcome the naysayers or those resistant to change?

When I first took a role of running the marketing division within MC for our advisory services, I had one of my peers, a non-marketing person, teach me the 4 Ps of Marketing. Three years later, this “peer”  is a general manager for some of our international markets and I run B2B and we have the tightest alignment and relationship to the point that we are together demonstrating my new agenda.  The idea is to find those who are your toughest critic and turn them into advocates. They will then sell your platforms to their peer group. Having my new projects are filtered through this “peer” gives me a gateway to the international markets. Of course the proof is in the results. There must be metrics for success to show that your strategy was correct.

Drew: Is culture change something that is measurable and if so, what are the key metrics for you and your organization?

At MC we measure culture change internally and externally. Internally we run an employee engagement survey every year, with action plans designed to address the culture shift we want. For example, owning decision-making at middle management. We want everyone to feel empowered so we measure how middle managers perceive their ability to make decisions, and then we measure their managers via 360 surveys on how they demonstrate empowering their teams. For external demonstration of change we run customer satisfaction surveys to determine if we’ve progressed on things such as “easier to do business with.” Everyone at the company owns these ratings.

Drew: Given that the MasterCard brand in many ways is in the hands of others, does this have an impact on your approach to driving change?   

Yes, your path to market is through others, who have sometimes similar goals, other times competing goals. It is a balancing act, because you have to influence your distribution network, which we do through our insights, expertise and superior knowledge of the future trends, and you have to have a sound strategy that differentiates you from your competition, otherwise your distribution partners will level the playing field. Priceless is our differentiator, as is our knowledge and innovation.

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

Culture change is necessary to achieve your marketing goals but absent firing everyone and starting over, there always must be a culture shift, but 100 days is not long enough for the journey. You can identify the changes that need to take place, find folks within that represent the new way of thinking, but moving too fast, you risk leaving too many behind and not having a team to back you up. That said, your leaders/direct reports better be aligned with your vision and sign up to make the culture shift happen.

Drew:  On Tuesday, we’ll have a bunch of ambitious CMOs in the room, please give them 3 key things to think about when approaching change, two that they must do and one that they should avoid if they can.

The Do – Lead by example – the culture change must permeate beyond marketing to the company, but Marketing must demonstrate it first.

The Do – Show Don’t tell – treating the sales team like consumers let them experience priceless surprises and they became advocates instantly. No powerpoint presentation or video could’ve produced that effect.

The Don’t – create a siloed culture for marketing. Marketing must be seen as integral to driving business results and culture clashes are often a reason that marketing isn’t internally perceived as a business driver.

CMO Personal Branding Worksheet


Personal-Branding-Naming-AlternativesI recently had the pleasure of leading a session on Personal Branding at The CMO Club Summit with Evan Greene, the CMO of Grammys.  The session was really well attended and it was clear by all accounts that this was an area of great interest to senior marketers. The following is a document I prepared for the attendees that is a compilation of guidance team Renegade found from a number of sources (see credits at the bottom).

Why CMOs Need to Care About Their Personal Brand

  • Enhances your value to your current employer.
  • No job is forever.
  • If you don’t control your reputation, someone else will (i.e. Google)

 Personal Brand Statement Overview

  • A short and sweet statement that describes who you are and what you bring to the table. It answers the questions, “what makes you great?” and “what makes you compelling?” but should not be confused with a mission statement (which tend to be more lofty and less job specific).
  • You could be a “reliable, strategic planner” or “a innovative professional connector.” Or, your statement might be something like, “inspiring others to excel.” Are you amazingly well organized? Do people enjoy working with you for your fantastic sense of humor?
  • Your brand statement should be consistent with how others perceive you. Don’t describe yourself as a team builder if your team thinks otherwise.  However, if you have hit some professional brick walls, it may be time for reinvention and it is okay therefore to make your brand statement aspirational.

 Three Components to Consider

  1. Figure out your emotional appeal
    1. How do people benefit from working with me?
    2. How do CEOs benefit from working with me?
    3. How do I make people feel?
    4. What words do others use to describe me?
  2. Determine your description
    1. What field or industry am I in (or do I want to be in)?
    2. What are the words I would use to describe my work?
    3. Who is my target audience?
  3. Describe your role
    1. What service do I have to offer people / companies?
    2. What do I do that makes me stand out from everyone else?


Draft Your Personal Brand Statement (here are a few statement starters)

All modesty aside, I am great because_________________________________________________

Yes! I am compelling because______________________________________________________

But seriously, I am special because___________________________________________________

I am different from your average CMO because…________________________________________

Making it Real: Getting Started

If you say you’re an innovative leader you better innovate on the job and lead a productive team.  If you claim to be a results-driven marketer then you should have the case histories with hard data to back it up. Now we can consider all the things you can do to build your personal brand beyond simply doing your job:

  • Basic Appearance: Are you dressing the part?  Does your business card reflect your personal brand statement?  Your resume should express & support your personal statement.
  • Social Basics: Do your social profiles back up your statement?  Are they consistent?  If you claim to be digitally savvy or cutting edge, are you on the latest social channels?
  • Social Channels: How many you choose to be active on is up to you but the key word here is active.  The only way to understand and claim social savvy is to be active.
  • Content Creation: If being a thought-leader is an important part of your brand, then you need to demonstrate that by creating content for your personal blog/website and/or for other legitimate publications. If you don’t like writing, find a ghostwriter or better yet, learn to like it. Or make a video.  Whatever you do, your content should be authentically you and focused on what you want to be known for.
  • Content Upgrade: Does the content you post support your personal statement?  If you claim creativity as part of your personal statement, make sure your content is creative.  (Hint: post better content even if that means posting less!)

Making it Real: Additional Tactics

  • Rekindle Old Ties: Contact and meet with old friends.  Make new ones by going to networking events.  Use these encounters to sharpen the elevator version of your personal statement.  No more “same old, same old” responses.
  • Learn A New Skill: This skill should support your brand statement and give you a new area to write about and discuss with peers.

Good Sources on Personal Branding

The above merely scratches the surface on this topic. I have an article in the works that I will share shortly spelling out FLAIC (Focus, Lead, Adapt, Invest, Cultivate), an acronym I whipped up just for the unique challenges of marketing execs.  As always, let me know if you have thoughts to add.

Social Media Innovation + GRAMMYs CMO, Evan Greene


evan greene

As CMO of the Grammys (officially titled National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences),  it would seem that Evan Greene doesn’t have to go out on a limb to create engaging content. Most fans are already engaged, eagerly awaiting the next photo or tweet about their favorite music artist. But he and his team maintain that the biggest contributor to their success is their dedication to listening to those fans and joining them in dialogue, which is not quite as easy as it sounds.

To dig into this more, I had the pleasure of moderating a breakout discussion with Evan at The CMO Club Inspiration &  Innovation Summit in New York City last month.  It was a lively conversation with about 40 other CMOs covering a wide range of social media challenges, many of which Evan and I addressed on the spot (and rather pithily I might add!).  Since I am not a great notetaker, I recorded Evan’s responses, which are transcribed below for your reading pleasure. Given the GRAMMYs extraordinary success overall (ratings were 2nd highest in 21 years) and on social (13.8 million tweets during the show generated 862 million impressions), you’ll want to read on…

Could you talk a little bit about your planning process?
Our campaigns need to engage people and if they don’t, then social media is not going to help and we usually abandon it. It’s really for us about having a very respectful, two-way dialog that we think is engaging on a daily basis. We don’t come from the standpoint that we’re the authority, that we’re the expert, that you should listen to what we say, that we want to tell you what to listen to, who to follow, how to dress, what to do. We simply want to be where music is happening. We want to be a credible voice in music.

And the thing that we’ve discovered, the sort of the universal truth that we’ve hit upon over the last couple of years, is that people generally are looking for two things. They’re looking for discovery and they’re looking for community. And if we can enable the idea of discovery and empower the concept of sharability, then we are, by default, going to be leading to a greater, more robust community.

Can you share some of the innovative things that you’ve done in the last couple of years?
Innovation really is simply how do you add more to the conversation to make it more interesting on a daily basis? So some of the things that we did this year were simple, but engaging. For example, we’ve now live gif-ed our nominations show and the Grammy awards telecast. So we’re now creating gifs in real-time.

We also expanded the size, the scale, and the scope of what we call our social media command center onsite at the Staples Center during the show where we have more bloggers from more diverse areas from more diverse music genres and we try to get more people to tell our story for us. Because it’s one thing if the GRAMMYs talk to you about it and tell you about it. It’s another thing if people that you know and like and respect and trust are telling you about it.

How does content marketing fit into this discussion?
For The GRAMMYs, it’s all about content. Granted, we’re a non-for-profit trade organization, so we don’t have the budgets that you probably think we do. But we’ve made a pretty sizable investment in our content infrastructure because we want and need to be creating a lot of content. For example, we want to be creating engaging, short, episodic video pieces that are easily digestible and easily shareable.

In a lot of ways we’re fortunate because music overlaps and enhances so many different areas. A good example is the intersection between music and sports. So six years ago, at the Beijing Olympics, the biggest story was what’s on Michael Phelps’ iPod as he’s going in to compete for 8 Gold medals.

So we thought, since there’s always been that overlap between music and sports, we created a content program called Champion’s Playlist where we talk to professional athletes and say, “What’s on your iPod? What do you listen to to train, to get motivated before the big game, before the championship?” And this starts to become a shareable experience where you can now overlay what your playlist is with your friends’, you can see how some of these famous athletes, how their playlists overlap with your own. This gives us the opportunity to create a leaderboard, et cetera.

So you’ve done all this stuff. How do you measure it and do you try to differentiate social metrics from your broader metrics?
The easy answer is what are your ratings and how much money are you generating. Well, I look at it another way.  I see all of that as a consequence of everything else that we’re doing right on the front end. If we spend a whole lot of time on the front end, being really true to and respectful of our brand, and really making sure that we do the work to fill the pipeline, and if we create that conversation, if we create that relationship with music fans everywhere, then we’re going to be rewarded by people watching the show, we’re going to be rewarded by 99 percent positive sentiment. We’re going to be rewarded by the fact that our marketing partners are more engaged and happier than they’ve ever been before. Our revenue is going to increase. I think if we focus on the revenue and we focus on the ratings as the objective, it skews the narrative and it skews the story.

It used to be how many Facebook friends you had, right? And then it was, what’s the sentiment? But now the questions are getting a lot more detailed and a lot more sophisticated. And so that’s why listening is changing all the time. That’s why you need people who have access to the full Twitter fire hose. You need people who are doing more than just sort of skimming the surface with Google analytics.

We spent a lot of time talking about listening as a customer service channel and I think everybody recognizes that as a doable thing in social. I’m curious if any of you are listening for customer acquisition opportunities and if you’ve been able to systematize that and talk about that.
It is about credibility, and gaining the trust of your customers. You need to be where your customers are, and not necessarily only your own Web-site, and seek to create evangelists. So if your business is photography sales, you go to a photography forum where people are talking about a new camera. So, from a social media standpoint, don’t try to sell people with a link to your website and a price. Rather than talk about this new camera, utilize the buzz that is already happening organically, and re-tweet or re-post other credible voices in your community. Trust and credibility are powerful tools toward acquisition.

Well, you also brought up an interesting point which is sort of empowering employees to be social voices for the company as opposed to trying to control the conversation centrally.  Can you explain the advantages of this decentralized approach?
The key is, I think there’s so many divergent conversations happening all the time about all our respective businesses and the key is how do you channel those conversations. How do you channel all those disparate conversations into a cohesive dialogue? And I don’t know that there’s one answer to do that but one of the things that we did is we created what we call our Social Media Bible which has all of our correct URLs. It has all of our proper hashtags, all of our handles.

We distribute that to all media, and all of our friends, fans, and followers. We distribute it to artists and managers, labels, anybody that can possibly be having a music conversation. Now whether or not they’ll follow it is another story. But when everybody’s got the same consistent inputs and the same data, the results are usually stronger than they would have been otherwise.

Do you have any ideas as to how one can track word-of-mouth marketing and be able to then put some type of ROI to it?
I think one of the biggest fallacies and one of the biggest misnomers about social media is that it’s free and easy. And I think right now, the next big step is figuring out how you can track word-of-mouth marketing and be able to put an ROI on it.

How do you measure measurement analytics? What’s the value of having a bunch of Facebook friends? Is it the aggregation of tonnage? Is it who’s passing it along? All of that is being parsed right now and I don’t think anybody’s got the answer but there are some companies that are getting a lot smarter about it.

How do you approach social media innovation?
We try a lot of different things and the down side of trying a lot of things is that you fail sometimes. But every once in a while, you get it really right. And if nothing else, we’re always learning. Sometimes we make the right move, sometimes we don’t but we’re always in there. And frankly, the deeper you are into social media, the more you hear about trends first. So you can sort of pivot down the river and play around over here and see if it works and if it does, great! If it doesn’t, you just come back to where you were.

Star CMO Interview: Terri Funk Graham


If you’ve been in this business awhile, you have seen many an ad campaign launch strong and then fizzle out in just a year or two. Perhaps this is why I was so bowled over when I heard Terri Funk Graham (at last year’s CMO Club Summit) tell the story of the  “Jack” campaign that is now in its 18th year of productive service for Jack in the Box.  As a student of marketing, I couldn’t help but wonder, how does such a campaign come into being? How do those in charge keep it fresh?  What role does the agency play?  What’s the secret sauce here?

I got the chance to ask Ms. Graham these questions and many more earlier this year and it was then that I realized she is truly a rock star in our industry. During Graham’s long tenure as CMO at Jack in the Box which ended at the end of 2012, the Jack campaign consistently drove product sales, introduced new menu items, helped overcome recessions and bonded with a new generation of fast food consumers.  Graham, as you will soon see, has the courage to take risks not just once but year after year, has the wisdom to stick with one “genius” creative partner and has the curiosity to explore emerging communication channels.  Here is part one of our interview:

Neisser: So tell me how initially the Jack campaign came into beginning back in ’95?
Graham: Well, it came out of the E. coli crisis. So the reality was the company needed to do something to revitalize the brand and make the brand relevant again in the marketplace.  And so it came from a crisis.

Neisser: Which must have been a scary and interesting place to start, right?
Graham: I think that when you’re in a situation like this, you’re willing to put a lot more on line.  And I so I think it actually it drove the ability to take more risks.

Neisser: Really interesting.  So you decided to bring Jack back? 
Graham: Yes, but let’s bring him back in a way that’s relevant and different and will catch attention.  So it was 1995 when we launched Bringing Jack Back.

Neisser: So tell me about those initial ads?
Graham: Well, the very first spot had some controversy around it because it showed Jack coming back.  He had had plastic surgery and he blew up the boardroom because the folks from the boardroom are the ones who blew him up in the ’80s.

Neisser:  I see. A little revenge.
Graham: So he blew up the boardroom and basically reintroduced himself in the marketplace as coming back, better than before with plastic surgery and that he was going to be a big advocate for the consumers. The message was Jack was back and he was going to give fast food customers what they wanted.

Neisser:  So did that seem like an idea that could endure 18 years?   
Graham:  Well, that’s where Dick Sittig, the creative mastermind behind the Jack’s Back campaign, comes in. We constantly challenged Dick to keep Jack relevant, and because he used this sense of humor that was a bit unconventional, described often as irreverent, he kept rising to the occasion and the campaign endures to this day.

Neisser:  So why do you think the ads worked so well?
Graham:  I think what drove the campaign to continue to last is that we tapped into the emotional branding side. I think that often that is not given enough emphasis. We tapped into the emotional side that really gave it a personality that people could connect to.

Neisser:  So how did Jack end up having Dick Sittig’s voice?
Graham: That was actually by accident. That wasn’t planned. When he did the initial pitch, it was in his voice and then when we finally went to casting, we had the actor and we’re putting everything together that we’re looking at all kinds of different voices and the problem was everyone liked Dick Sittig’s voice more than anything that was put in front.  So we decided to go with his voice.

Neisser:  What does it take to keep a campaign like this together for so long?
Graham:  I think there are a couple of things to consider. One is I was always willing to take a risk. So we were unapologetic about who we were. Dick Sittig would present things that would make us feel uncomfortable.  But we knew that it was going to grab attention that it wasn’t going to hurt the brand as long as we were true to who we were. And so it was a combination of being unapologetic about who we were. It was about allowing great creative work to be done. I am not a believer in dealing any sort of pretesting of advertising. We never did anything of that nature. I also think that approval by committee is the death of a campaign, you end up with mediocre work. And, I think that, we truly trusted each other in our work and I think that’s also what helped build that campaign. And so we would constantly challenge each other to keep it relevant.

Neisser:  Very few CMO’s are given permission to take risks.  You must have had a lot of management support?
Graham:  Yes, I had full support and I had permission. Linda Lang absolutely let me run with it and she always backed it. And, there would be situations where I would come up and say, “okay, I have got one that’s going to rile up some folks, prompting phone calls, e-mails and potentially, this all will need to be discussed in the board.” And she would say, “okay, is it worth the risk? And I’d say, “yes.” And she’d say, “I’ll back you, but you need to stand tall.”  So I would have to do all the explaining in the boardroom anytime something went a little astray.

Neisser: What do you think were some of your most risky efforts?
Graham:  Running Jack over  — that was a trying moment. We were essentially putting the most — the biggest brand equity that the company had, Jack, and putting him on the line to see if people cared because if they didn’t care that he got hit by a bus, we were going to be in trouble. So that’s when we had Jack Get Hit By a Bus and of course it proved out to be quite a success and that was in 2009.

Neisser: So how did this part of the campaign unfold?
Graham: We only showed the ad one time and it was on the Super Bowl. And then everything went basically digital and social from there. That was our way of stepping into the whole social media area. So all of a sudden it got millions of views on YoutTube and it was talked about all over the place. We had amazing press and impressions on that. And, we had people sending cards and teddy bears and everything that — flowers, everything that you could imagine for Jack’s recovery. And then we created a storyline. We created multiple ads that followed up afterwards that talked about how he was doing and it became a campaign within a campaign.

Neisser:  So what about the hallucinating kid who sees Jack on his dashboard?  That must of stirred things up.
Graham:  Yes it did. We really wanted to focus on selling our 99-cent tacos. And there is a real following to those tacos. And young people, after they’ve gone to the clubs tend to head to Jack’s for their tacos. And so we played off of that, if you will. And so we had, you know, a young guy in a van come up and he wanted to order as many as 30 tacos. And needless to say, that got quite a bit of attention.

Neisser: Did you end up selling a lot of tacos?
Graham: Everything that we did we also did with the premise of generating sales and driving traffic. I mean we didn’t do funny ads just for the sake of doing funny ads. Our goal was always to drive traffic to the brand. And that’s exactly what we start out to do and that’s what we accomplished each and every time. So in that case, we certainly sold a lot of tacos and we got a lot of buzz about tacos.

Neisser:  You know, I think you told the story of how on that one, some protestors were showing up at your corporate headquarters?
Graham: Yeah, and I turned on the sprinklers. Yes, then the true story — we were going to have protestors and media show up and at the time we had grass all around our corporate headquarters. And it was in the afternoon. And so my way of stalling that was we became a water park in the afternoon and we turned on the sprinklers and we didn’t have any protests that showed up at all the rest of the week!

FYI, After a 22-year run at Jack in the Box, Terri Funk Graham recently joined the Board of Directors at Hot Topic Inc., is working with The CMO Club as the Chairman of its President’s Circle and is consulting for HOM Sotheby’s Realty.  Fellow CMOs can meet Terri in person at the upcoming CMO Club Summit in NYC. 


Marketing Metrics: Q&A w Dan Marks, CMO, First Tennessee Bank


Dan Marks, CMO of First Tennessee Bank, is a big believer in learning from his peers. Having seen him speak at The CMO Club Summit in NYC last year, I would say Dan gives as much as he gets, if not more. As such, I was delighted to be able to catch up with Dan a couple of weeks for a conversation about marketing metrics. Dan is also responsible for orchestrating one of the most effective marketing metrics program I’ve heard about, a program that can not only look backwards at the impact of 84% of his marketing spend but also has the ability to predict with “reasonable” accuracy what will happen when budgets get cut.  If you are a marketer and don’t have a metrics program in place, you’ll read this and weep.

DN: Please speak to the advantages, to you as the CMO, of having a strong metrics program in place.
The advantage of having strong metrics in place is it helps you understand how good the creativity is and helps in conversations with the rest of the business.  So for instance, when you’re talking about changing resourcing between business lines or overall budgets you’re able to quantify the impact of your actions, maybe not to an ultimate level of precision but good enough that it lets you have a comparable type conversation to other investments the company makes.  At the end of the day, marketing is a huge line item at any company.  And so having the same level of accountability and quantification that you might have in other areas puts you at equal conversation and helps raise the credibility of the conversation.

DN:  Have you been able to move the conversation from where marketing is no longer just a cost center but is rather a revenue driver as a result of having the metrics in place?
We’re on that journey.  I’m not sure we’re completely there yet, but we’re definitely on that journey to more precisely quantify the linkage to revenue and to be able to quantify the revenue impact of different marketing approaches. Marketing is a matter of talking the customer’s language, right?  So when you are talking to sales and you can show a stack ranking of your marketing programs and their benefit, all of a sudden you’re talking their language because they stack rank their salespeople.

DN: One of the terms that you used that I really liked is the notion that creating a metrics program is a journey. Talk to me a little bit about the journey.
The revolution really is in saying, let’s not have a separate set of metrics or let’s, at the very least, connect the marketing metrics to the core bottom line revenue and costs and profit objectives.  And so that’s the journey. The measurement approach varies by type of marketing activity and channel. So the stages of the journey start with direct marketing, where the linkages and the science are the most developed. Even in B2B, if I can quantify that I’m helping create opportunities from introduction or helping move things along the pipeline, all of a sudden now you are speaking the same language that sales is.  One of the most elusive goals and one that’s still not there yet is the overall full media mix impact–what’s the cumulative impact of everything working together?

DN:  If you could measure the impact of the full media mix, what would be the benefit of that?
Other places that spend cash have ability to quantify the impact of that cash.  So in operation, it might be a cost per output or what my cost is to deliver a dollar of revenue.  And so it allows that same sort of conversation around marketing, what is the revenue impact of a dollar spent with me as I make decisions and look to optimize it–is that getting better or worse? And so it’s several layers of precision, of getting to be more precise and being able to forecast the impact of different decisions.  And then track what happens and continue to optimize– that just adds that much more credibility and confidence in making marketing decisions and the organization.

And related to that is giving you the confidence to be able to pursue it scientifically.  So we can creatively think of a few different ideas and then decide based on the risk tolerance or the level of uncertainty we’re willing to approach.  We may try a very uncertain idea at a lower spending level knowing that, okay, we’re going to take a chance on that huge one, but we’re not going to bet the farm on something that’s very unknown.  Yet we’re going to take more incremental experiments around more proven ideas.

DN: I want to make sure that we clarify language.  What’s the difference between an outcome measure and a diagnostic measure and then can you put them in a priority order relative to job security and doing your job well?
Sure.  So when I think of outcome measures, [these have] impact on revenue profits and margins.  These are the key results that the CEO and board ultimately care about.  And so those are the cardinal metrics.  Diagnostic measures are important to understand outcomes.  So for example, we look at awareness.  But my team still cringes when I say, ‘You can’t eat awareness.’   But it’s important to understand that customers do go through this buying process of awareness, consideration, purchase, all this kind of stuff.  But our goal is not to create awareness.  Our goal is to get people to buy stuff and generate revenue.  We have to understand the buying process.  We have to understand if we’re having trouble getting people to buy stuff, is it because the awareness low, do they not know about the product, or are they are trying it but not repeating it therefore the likelihood to recommend the product to others is low or the experience is bad?  When I said diagnostic metrics, these are things that help us understand what the potential actions we should take are, and the prioritization of those actions based on understanding the customer, the customer and the marketplace, and the buying process and the competition.

DN:  Do you use Net Promoter Score?
We look at likelihood to recommend, we look at it in the total likelihood and in net time basis.  But we don’t just rely on that.

DN: Do you look at the various points of contact in the customer experience and measure each of those?
We look at it both overall and after a key experience point.  So after you’ve had an interaction at a branch, after you’ve had an interaction with a business banker, after you’ve interacted with some of our online technology.  So we do — we definitely understand how they are all different.  And we’ve studied it.  So we also know that our experience scores and our recommend scores strongly correlate/predict future changes in retention and revenue.

DN:  So when you see your experience core decline, you can go to the CEO and say, ‘sales are going to be down next quarter?’
Well, maybe not quite that quickly!  We know over time if scores are trending down or scores are trending up, that will translate into a strong probability of having lower or higher revenue in the future.

DN: Give me a sense of how often you’re looking at numbers.
Well, we do have an alert mechanism.  So if poor scores are spiking, we know that pretty fast.  But generally speaking, we look at our customer experience and customer buying metrics on a monthly basis– and that’s where you see trends.

DN:  Is a commitment to a metrics space approach sort of a guarantee incrementalism
Well, that’s something that we talk about a great deal.  And I think misunderstood, it could. But I would say it’s better to spend a little bit of time on testing than to take a huge leap of faith and fail.  And usually your level of urgency is not so great that it doesn’t make sense to spend a little bit of time testing it.  It’s a lot easier to scale something up that is successful than to pull back when it’s not.

DN:  So at some point is it possible to spend too much on analytics?
At the end of the day, it’s some expensive people and some expensive technology but in the grand scheme of things that’s still, in the neighborhood of one or two percent of your budget.  And I have not talked to anybody yet who didn’t say after they started getting better analytics, they weren’t able to reallocate at least 10 percent of budget.  You spend one percent to find out that 10 percent of your budget is not working or not working as well as it could be.  And, that’s a 10 to 1 return.

DN: I’m assuming that there was a budget cut at some point in the last three years?
That’s right because everybody had one.

DN:  So were you able to predict how the marketing budget cut would impact your business?
Oh, yes.  And the level of prediction was pretty close.  I mean, not a hundred percent.  No model is completely perfect, but it’s definitely useful.

DN: What three pieces of advice do you have for CMOs about to start the metrics journey?
First, definitely have the conversation with your key partners, whether it’s your CEO, CFO or sales leaders. Figure out who is going to judge your performance and collaborate with you because most of the time CMOs can’t actually sell stuff themselves. They’re influencing sales activities. Have that conversation early on, and ask what metrics are important to them and what are the outcomes that you should focus on. And number two, I would definitely commit to a program of optimization and continuous improvement of marketing results.

And then thirdly, I would say for sure, connect to and focus on giving back to the community. And there are a number of different ways to do that– The CMO Club is one example. There are also several great CMO type organizations that exist to help CMOs share information. And you’ve got to do that, carefully. You don’t want to give away trade secrets, but there are great resources out there to help talk about common challenges, common best practices. And every CMO has got something to add to the conversation, and what you give, you get back in spades.

You can follow Dan on Twitter @wdanmarks

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