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.

The Transformation of Healthcare (via Wearables)


189bfdaI bought a Fitbit about two months ago on the suggestion of my wife. Not that I wasn’t active already or out of shape, she just thought it would be a fun thing to share and it turns out she’s right.  We’ve turned it into a friendly competition and I’m far more conscious about getting my 10,000 steps in each day knowing that she will.

So, you might ask, “what does this have to do with your interview with Chris Edwards, CMO of Validic?” Well, the answer is really interesting. It turns out that Validic has built a “digital health platform” that allows the data from devices like Fitbit to flow into one’s medical records and be shared with key service providers assuming of course, permission was given to do so.  This means that my Fitbit data could help my orthopedist or physical therapist monitor my progress in the event I had an accident trying to surpass my wife’s weekly steps mark!

Reading the above, you can imagine the challenges of integrating all of the medical and personal wellness devices out there into the disparate data systems of doctors, hospitals, therapists, insurance providers and even health clubs all the while overcoming the privacy issues!  Yet somehow Validic is doing this right now in 47 countries helping around 160 million people.  And in the middle of this dynamic challenge is Chris Edwards, whose interview below will help you understand more about Validic’s impressive rise to the top of their category and why he is a recipient of this year’s Growth Award from The CMO Club.

Drew: Can you provide a short overview of the goals of your digital marketing initiatives in 2015? 

Chris: Much of the focus for Validic marketing has been on establishing a unique position in the marketplace while helping to define the mobile health category, and our place in it.  Additionally, I have our marketing goals in place to drive new lead generation, customer relationship initiatives, and partnership programs.

Drew: What new initiatives did you take in 2015 and how did these perform?  What worked?

Chris: I am using marketing strategically and successfully to create a network effect in our category.  Marketing initiatives with mobile health device and app makers are helping fuel more innovation and use among consumers.  Marketing programs targeted toward hospitals, wellness companies, pharma, healthcare technology companies are helping them accelerate the use of mobile health patient data so they can provide better patient care and better management of their patient populations. While our marketing attribution is driving over 75% of our business, we are seeing more evidence everyday where healthcare organizations are successfully implementing the Validic technology which is great proof that we are helping transform healthcare.

Drew: A recent survey of marketers suggested that less than 10% feel they are leveraging data to the fullest extent possible.  Why is this such a challenging area to get right?

Chris: As we establish and accelerate conversations with prospective customers, there are more “influence points” and media channels than ever before.  This makes a marketer’s job more difficult than any other time in the history of marketing if you really think about it (just think back to the time when their was radio, outdoor and only three TV stations).  Now prospects can get message anytime, anywhere on any device, and from anyone (i.e., peer product reviews). Marketer’s can’t simultaneously control all of these conversation channels and data points….and if they think they can they are delusional.  Thoughtful strategy, a clear concise message, a data flow map and feedback loop from the customer are key factors for a marketer leader’s success.

Drew: With the plethora of digital marketing options, channels and content available today and increasing quickly, how do you decide where to “place your bets” in terms of marketing spend and choices?

Chris: Listening, learning, experimenting, and gut instinct — these are the four key factors that drive my strategic thinking and marketing execution   Each play a valuable role in the our marketing’s impact.

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

Chris: Complacency is the enemy.  Our marketing is measurable and has been the single biggest driver of the record growth and great success at Validic.  That’s an indisputable fact.  We must keep executing at this pace and continue to fuel our leadership position in the marketplace.  Recently, it led to Forbes running an article recognizing Validic as one of the Top 10 Disrupting Innovators in Healthcare. Aligned execution across all areas of the business must continue, and at the same energy and weighted pace to accelerate our business growth. At any company, Marketing should play a major role in this to help an organization thrive.

Networking + Blabbing w Julie Garlikov, Nuvesse Skin Therapies



If you had an advance copy of my book (hint, hint), you’d know already that Julie Garlikov is the master of making the most of “tiny budgets” having done so at Torani Foods and in her current role as VP of Marketing at Nuvesse Skin Therapies. What you wouldn’t know is that Julie nurtures her know how by maintaining a strong network of peers.  In our interview below, Julie shares some of her secrets, insights that are just part of the reason The CMO Club recognized her with its President’s Circle Award.

This interview is followed by our recent Blab on budget busting, complete with a number of great recommendations on how to cut research costs way down and when/when not to work with outside partners.  Consider this a Garlikov twofer, an efficient treat indeed!

Drew: How important is having a strong peer network to doing your job well?  Can you provide a specific example of some action you took as a result of your network?  

I’ve used my peer network as a valued resource and sounding board.  Most frequently, I get tips on agencies, partners and even staffing my team.  I also run programs and ideas by my peers to see what they think of a strategy.  You really need someone else with a similar headset to push on your plans before you bring them forward.

Drew: Have there been any unexpected benefits to your networking efforts? 

I’ve made some wonderful friendships along the way.  Some of the people I initially just used as a business sounding board are now friends.  We go to lunch frequently or catch-up on all things, both personal and professional.

Drew: Making time for networking is always a challenge.  How much time do you invest in peer to peer exchanges and how do you rationalize this investment?  

I spend a few hours a week at least on these efforts.  I don’t need to rationalize the efforts anymore, as I know the value the fresh perspective gives me and my company.  I’ve created bigger ideas, found new ways to solve my problems and just been pushed into new territories.  And, the energy of connecting with a peer lifts me up and inspires me, giving me a new perspective.

Drew: Effective networks are ones in which there is a lot of give and take and some would say, start with giving and the taking will follow.  What’s your approach?  Do you keep a mental scorecard?  How do you handle the takers?  

I am always willing to help out others and don’t see the world as a scorecard or a big mental scale.  Some of my network help me more than I help them and are more mentors.  But then I mentor others that way.  I see it a bit differently and think that if you’re helpful and give the time, you’ll always find others who will do the same for you.

CMO Insights: Todd Merry on Customer Experience



Todd Merry is the CMO of Delaware North, a gigantic company that you many not have heard of but have probably interacted with. How is that possible?  Well, first here are a couple of key facts–Delaware North is privately held yet has revenues of more than $2.6 billion and has 55,000 employees worldwide.  Those employees work around the globe at venues like the TD Garden, MetLife Stadium and Yosemite while serving a whopping half a billion customers each year.  That’s a lot of customer experiences, experiences that, as it turns out, are not always completely in their control.  Now that’s a tricky challenge, one that requires both vision and pragmatism, two of the essential ingredients to win The CMO Club‘s Customer Experience Award as Todd did this year.  To understand how Todd and the folks at Delaware North accomplished this and more, read on:

Drew: Congrats on winning the Customer Experience Award.  Can you share the kinds of things you did to improve the overall customer experience in 2015?

We have so many different customers in different locations – MetLife Stadium, Yosemite National Park, New Orleans Airport, TD Garden, just to name a few – but the one way in which we focused on improving their experience was through insights, specifically a proprietary program called “Total Listening” which incorporates ongoing communities, social media monitoring and analytics. Through this program we have been able to identify opportunities to improve the experience throughout our interactions with customers.

Drew: How do you measure your customer experience?  How do you know if your customers are having a great experience?

We have in place a comprehensive customer experience/satisfaction program called “GuestPath”. The role of this program is fourfold – to define and codify the standards for all of our industries and geographies, to train our customer-facing personnel to these standards, to anonymously measure these results of these standards three times a year at every location and, finally, to collect, analyze and report customer experiences through an ongoing survey process.

Drew:  A lot of studies suggest that only 1 in 10 unhappy customers will share their complaints with a brand. How do you process customer complaints and make sure that a systemic issue is not overlooked?  

As above we have processes in place and are set up to relay comments to the right place and ensure resolution/followup. But we also agree that few customers, even unhappy customers, will follow your feedback processes. To that end we have employed social media monitoring to scour those channels for any negative feedback and reply to the same. Many more people will take to social media to complain and by using a comprehensive monitoring tool these channels can become your best way to catch unhappy customers.

Drew: Do you have complete control over the customer experience and if not, how do you overcome the responsibility without authority conundrum? 

We don’t have complete control over the customer experience which means two things – we have to exercise the control you have as effectively as possible and, two, we have to have great relationships with our operators who become our last mile to that customer. Thankfully most operators understand the importance of the customer experience, particularly in this hyper-connected world where every customer has an expanded reach and influence.

Drew: What other company do you think is doing an amazing job with CX and why?  

JetBlue. Not only do they seem to have almost real-time monitoring and response on their social channels but they seem to have a very active finger on the pulse of the customer experience. And as one of those customers I know they work hard it – they actively seek my opinions multiple times during a year.

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

Getting a better handle on marketing ROI and specifically the attribution to “softer” efforts like customer satisfaction/experience.

Banking on Networking w Tim Suther, JPMorgan Chase


19a9eefOne of the joys of my long-term association with The CMO Club is that I have had the pleasure of getting to know a convocation of really interesting and smart people.  Among my true buds is Tim Suther, whose top secret job as Managing Director at JPMorgan Chase has prevented us from talking on the record for years now.  Nonetheless, we’ve found many other things to discuss, from the rise of digital marketing to the legends of rock n’ roll to the latest cool iPhone app.  No matter the subject, I always walk away having learned something and more to his credit, I’m pumped up to do or try something new.

So imagine my enthusiasm when I learned that The CMO Club had honored Tim with its President’s Circle Award and this meant he’d not only need to chat with me on the record but also we’d be able to talk about something he’s a master at — the fine art of networking.  That conversation follows and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Drew: How important is having a strong peer network to doing your job well?  

I can’t think of a single successful executive who doesn’t have a strong peer network.  It is fundamental to success.  No one knows it all.  No one is awesome at everything.  Furthermore, many great breakthroughs thread together previously disparate concepts.  So, having a diverse network enables the divergent thinking needed to succeed in an ever faster moving world.  So, want to make a difference in business, or for that matter, the world, build your peer network.

Drew: Making time for networking is always a challenge.  How much time do you invest in peer to peer exchanges and how do you rationalize this investment?  

I don’t have a firm budget time for this, because it’s integral to what I do.  I travel frequently and try to use the time at the ends of normal business hours to meet and listen to people.  Meeting for an early coffee or an adult beverage after work, pre-dinner are my favorites.  I like the informality of this format, because it promotes relationships over transactions.

Drew: Effective networks are ones in which there is a lot of give and take and some would say, start with giving and the taking will follow.  What’s your approach?  Do you keep a mental scorecard?  How do you handle the takers?  

My approach to peer networking is to be a maker not a taker.   I try to be very accessible….I’ll take your calls, respond to your emails, etc…but my Spidey Sense is also active; ultimately the relationship has to have a mutual value exchange.  I also want diversity in my network…a blend of millenials to boomers, startups to established companies, senior executives to specialists.  The mosaic of perspectives is valuable to me.

Drew: Are there any software tools that you use that are particularly helpful in keeping up with your network?  

I’m pretty prosaic with software tools to keep up:  LinkedIn is my primary/preferred tool, although I do have some Twitter/Facebook connections.  I capture business card contact info (phone/email) onto my Mac, just using the basis contacts software.  That’s all pretty traditional stuff.  One thing I do that’s a bit different, is I write a POV on interesting companies (and the people that work for them)…I have hundreds of these POVs in the cloud, accessible on demand.  I find that helpful in a world where it’s easy for everything to sound the same.

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

Every day is a learning opportunity and 2016 will be no different.  Keeping in tune with the customer mindset, and the various new ways to delight them will remain top of mind.

Final Note: Given its importance to career success in any field, I actually devote two chapters (Networking & Power Networking) to this topic in my upcoming book, The CMOs Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing, which as you may already know, is available for pre-order this very minute on Amazon.


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