RENEGADE THINKING from the CEO of Renegade, the social media & marketing agency that helps clients make more out of less by transforming communications into "Marketing as Service."

Why CSR is Good for Business w/ Tom Santora of Omni Hotels & Resorts

01/28/15

Southern Utah Montana footballNo one denies that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a noble endeavor, but even staunch supporters will admit that it can be difficult to justify from a business perspective. Tom Santora, a recent Social Responsibility award winner at The CMO Club’s CMO Awards, challenges that notion. As the CMO of Omni Hotels and Resorts, Tom has managed to turn corporate responsibility into big business, and helped build the largest LEED gold certified hotel outside of Las Vegas.

During my interview with Tom, he explained why CSR is good for business. He believes that marketing executives should “find CSR programs and initiatives that aren’t just good for the community, but are good for your business too. That makes it easy to justify the investment, and makes the efforts seem more genuine and sincere, as well.”

Drew: How have you approached Corporate Social Responsibility?  Do you have a distinct set of metrics for CSR (vs. product sales) that help rationalize these investments?

Sustainability is central to Omni Hotel & Resorts’ entire business – from operations to procurement to architecture to construction. For example, our two newest builds, the Omni Nashville Hotel and Omni Dallas Hotel, are LEED Silver and LEED Gold certified respectively. Our goal is for all future new builds to become LEED certified.

While this is a tremendous achievement for both Nashville and Dallas, earning Gold certification for the Omni Dallas was particularly notable. With 1,001 guest rooms and 110,000 square feet of meeting space, the Omni Dallas Hotel is the largest LEED Gold certified hotel outside of Las Vegas, and one of the only LEED Gold hotels in Texas. We are extremely proud to be able to say this.

Achieving LEED Gold status required careful planning and a disciplined approach to design and development. We worked with recycled and regionally-sourced materials, incorporated significant natural day lighting into our design, implemented a keycard-based guestroom energy management system, utilized construction process to significantly reduce construction pollution and rolled out a number of water conservation initiatives. Omni Dallas Hotel’s dining venue, Texas Spice, is even a certified Green Restaurant – two stars. Plus, the housekeeping associates collect unused soap to donate to the Global Soap Project.

We also are finding other ways to minimize our carbon footprint. We are increasing local and organic dining options by partnering with local farmers, growers and seafood purveyors, as well as sourcing – and in some cases producing our own – environmentally preferred products. In addition, we are engaging our employees and guests in conservation efforts. For example, each Select Guest loyalty club member is invited to select “Eco-Friendly Services” in his/her guest profile, indicating whether bed linens and towels should be changed only when requested. By giving our guests the option to re-use items that would normally be laundered in-between uses, we can reduce water, chemical, and energy use.

Obviously, there are long-term operational cost benefits to building properties that consume fewer natural resources. This is one of our ways we rationalize our investments. But we also analyze guest feedback from Medallia to pinpoint how sustainability practices directly influence guest favorability and loyalty.

Drew: CSR activities are often handled outside of the marketing team’s purview yet the hope is that these activities will provide a positive halo for product sales.  What is your role related to CSR and are there some initiatives that you think have been particularly effective? 

As a smaller, privately held company, we are very nimble and communicate well across channels. As a result, I am usually involved in our CSR initiatives from the outset – particularly if they have the potential to benefit the guest experience and/or our brand reputation.

While our construction and development initiatives naturally fall outside the scope of my role as CMO, I often collaborate with that team to provide input on aspects of the design and development that will make Omni Hotels & Resorts more marketable to customers. For example, many large associations and groups seek venues or destinations that meet specific sustainability requirements. Naturally, our LEED Silver and Gold certified properties are extremely marketable to those groups.  In fact, we have secured business solely because we have a LEED Gold certified hotel in Dallas.

Drew: How do you make sure that your CSR initiatives come across as a sincere commitment to doing good versus being self-promotional? What advice would you give to fellow CMO’s who are just getting started on CSR programs?

We are fortunate in that our sustainability initiatives are not just good for our brand reputation; they make good business sense too. As I mentioned earlier, there are long-term operational cost benefits to building properties that consume fewer natural resources. We would utilize these practices whether or not they were marketable for our company.

These practices also deliver guest experiential benefits, making them even more appealing to our company. One of our core brand attributes is providing hotel properties that are unique and authentic to their local markets. By using building and design materials that are indigenous to the local region and providing culinary creations based on locally sourced ingredients, we can cater a true local experience.. It’s what makes us special and it’s what guests look forward to when staying with Omni.

My advice to other CMOs is this:  find CSR programs and initiatives that aren’t just good for the community, but are good for your business too. That makes it easy to justify the investment, and makes the efforts seem more genuine and sincere, as well.

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

I’m sure I’m not that much different than other CMOs. I am a veracious reader and have an insatiable intellectual curiosity spend a lot of time educating myself through a variety of news sources to find out what is going on in the digital marketing space and what is new and exciting in the marketplace. When I come across something truly unique, I try to find out as much as possible about it – what the planning process was for making it happen; how the idea was inspired; what similar programs have happened in the past; etc.

On a more tangible level, some good sources I would recommend for this information include: The New York Times; DigiDay Publishing; The Hub’s Daily Roundup; Retail Online Integration Report; and of course the new CMO Solutions Clubhouse!

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

Our website, omnihotels.com continues to be our strongest platform for hosting material and providing guests with useful information such as culinary recipes, special packages, photos and other details about our properties and destinations. To enhance that service, we recently rolled out a new website that has a complete new look and feel.  We implemented response design which creates a seamless experience for our guest regardless of the device they are using.  Based on early customer feedback, it has been enthusiastically well received by travelers and we’ve seen traffic, booking and sales increase at a double digit pace in just 90 days.

Drew: What have your experiences with mobile marketing been to date? What’s working for you? What’s not? What challenges have you faced in optimizing your mobile marketing efforts?

With the proliferation of mobile devices, it’s not only important to have a responsive designed website, but also ensure its adaptive based on mobile designed sites. More and more consumers are researching and booking using their mobile devices. We are serving up this experience to reach consumers where they are booking. Our mobile is a channel showing great promise and needs to be continuously optimized.  We offer the full range of mobile capabilities you’d expect for guests booking accommodations, as well as those who already have a reservation and are checking in.

Drew:  I noticed you have a loyalty program for customers and one for event planners. Can you talk a bit about the challenges & benefits of having target specific programs?  

Our Select Guest program has been an important loyalty driver for us for years, and we have the benefit of guest and event planner insights gathered through the program for more than two decades. In fact, it was the data we collected as part of our loyalty program that inspired us to move to a combined reward-based (e.g., earn free room nights based on your number of stays) and perk-based system (e.g., complimentary Wi-Fi, free water, shoe shines, etc.).

Having this combined platform (versus offering simply a points-based program) allowed us to develop robust, meaningful and long-term relationships with our guests, who are making higher-cost, more “considered” purchases. Offering a wide array of benefits is beneficial as it helps constantly remind members of how much we value our members – every time they log in to Wi-Fi for free, grab a complimentary bottle of water or shine their shoes before heading out to an important meeting.

Select Guest, our outward facing loyalty program, and Select Rewards, our meeting planner loyalty program are very targeted to their audiences – and there is not a challenge to having two specific programs. In fact, having both positively affected the bottom line.

Meeting planners can sign up for both Select Guest and Select Rewards. Therefore, they can enjoy the benefits of both. The key differentiator is Select Rewards not only provides benefits to our planners as it relates to their jobs/events/etc., but also their companies. When they book a qualified meeting with us, they may choose from a variety of rewards like gift cards, master account credits, professional development or even a charitable donation.

Making Meaningful Connections w/ Heather Newman of Content Panda

01/19/15

Heather Newman_Content PandaHeather Newman, EVP & CMO of Content Panda, knows how to work a connection. In fact, Heather and her team are so willing to reach out to others that Content Panda’s entire business model is based off of partnering with enterprise businesses. As you will see in the interview below, her enthusiasm to network means she’s an ardent supporter for building a personal brand­—whether you’re looking for a new job or not. Overall, her willingness to run everything from ideas to entire pricing models by her peers isn’t just a major asset for Content Panda; it also helped her win a President’s Circle award at The CMO Club’s CMO Awards.

Drew: How did founding and serving as CEO and CMO of Creative Maven for nearly ten years help prepare you for your current venture as a co-founder and CMO of Content Panda?

It’s been an incredible journey.  My time as a full time employee on the original Microsoft SharePoint marketing team led directly to my work with Creative Maven.  At Creative Maven, I worked with clients back at Microsoft to originate the concept of the “theatre” demo area and other innovations in hundreds of tradeshows/events.  We also produced the first ever SharePoint Conference, which led to amazing connections and partnerships in that ecosystem.  My current work with Content Panda (where I am partnered with one of the original release managers for SharePoint, by the way) is the culmination of the last 15 years of understanding partner and third party needs within the Microsoft culture.  I am thrilled to be bringing much needed solutions to the marketplace with Content Panda.

Drew: Content Panda Professional is launching soon. How are you marketing this premium version of your software to users who currently use the free version? 

We are building a campaign to reach out to current customers via email and direct call downs.  The pro version is all about the ability to customize and viewing usage reporting data.  It appeals to Enterprise businesses who have SharePoint 2013 or Office 365 SharePoint Online deployments and want to go from our freemium version into a richer experience for their employees.

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

Social media plays are massively important in our overall efforts to promote impactful thought leadership articles, podcasts, product reviews and brand recognition.  We use Hootsuite to schedule out tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn posts.  I love being able to schedule repeatable posts out 2 months out.  I’m looking at Buffer right now as well.

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

I drop into my twitter feed and LinkedIn to stay up on what’s in the marketplace once a day.  I love Gizmodo, Tech Crunch, GeekWire, Entrepreneur and Fast Company. I read all of those pretty regularly.  I also find an awesome amount of great ideas and articles by being on the newsletter lists and Twitter feeds of all of our CMOs and their companies.

Drew: Can you describe your primary content marketing initiatives this year and how they benefited your company? 

Since we are a B2B software company we spend our time creating content around building out use cases and video scripts.  We will continue to spend money on creating video demos, product specific downloadable items from our website and thought leadership pieces for our blog going into 2015.

Drew: Do you think it is important to spend time on your personal brand and if so, how do you do this without being in conflict with your organizational goals?

Absolutely, no matter what you are doing, one should always be looking for your next job or project. With all the uncertainty in the job market, spending 30 minutes a day on your own brand is an absolute must. I think the larger the corporation you are with the harder this can be though. Putting yourself out there and being thought of as a bit of a superstar can stir up a ton of politics and jealousy.  I think discussing personal brand with one’s team and leadership is the way to stay out of conflict.  You can easily make “personal brand” into a campaign/initiative that everyone participates in.  This can be simply ensuring that there is consistency on LinkedIn around how you all describe your company.  That alone can start the conversation and lead the way for everyone to participate.

Drew: What advice do you give to junior marketers when they ask about ways to manage their careers?

Join. Read. Network. Be a part. Don’t be afraid.  Through our careers, Most of us will have terrible managers & poor leadership, so you have to really DIY on guiding your own career and how you feel about your worth/work.  I would always say toot your horn, be confident, know that you do know what are talking about (most people fake it most of the time anyway and are afraid someone will figure out they don’t know as much as they do). Join marketing or other social groups to build your tribe, read books by Brene Brown, The Heath Brothers and Al Ries and participate in social media voraciously (watch the SnapChat).  Don’t stay in a job if a manager treats you badly, there are lots of opportunities out there for great people.

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

Having a strong peer network is how the movers and shakers of this world get to be at the top.  I reach out all the time to colleagues to run ideas, pricing models, content by them and they do the same with me.  This is so important whether you are in startup land or the corporate world.  I left a company last April and the first thing I did is reach out to my close colleagues in my industry and to CMOs in the club.  My transition was quick to working with amazing colleagues at IT Unity.com as their CMO and also being able to really dive into driving the launch of my start-up, Content Panda’s first product. Peers should be there for you just like friends to celebrate with you when you rock it and to support you when things go sideways.  That person you need in that one moment should already be a colleague.  Ever job or project I’ve landed in the past 20 years has been through a peer or friend.

Q+A on Creativity w Audi’s CMO Loren Angelo

01/12/15

Loren Angelo_AudiDoes form follow function in the digital world? Many brands are starting to say “yes,” as they turn increasingly often to emerging media to not only deliver their story, but also to enhance it. For luxury car brand Audi, this meant using emerging platforms to tell a story in a way that’s culturally relevant to their audience and on a platform where they’re encouraged to participate.

Loren Angelo, EVP and CMO of Audi of America, has been spearheading these digital efforts, and in our interview, we break down how to manage the inherent risk of these ideas for such a major brand. By the way, with Audi posting 45 consecutive monthly sales records, and Loren winning a Creativity Award at The CMO Club’s CMO Awards, it turns out you really can be highly creative and highly successful at the same time. 

Drew: Creativity can emerge in a lot different ways, from how you approach problems to creative marketing campaigns.  How are you being “creative” in your current role and how has that helped you? 
Creativity is driven by staying authentic to your brand and your mission.  I’m inspired by ideas where I can connect my brand with cultural moments that engage a conversation.

Drew: Some agency sages believe “it isn’t creative unless it sells.”  Do you share that belief and if so, is there still a role for branding building activities in your marketing mix that may not have an immediate or directly measurable impact on sales?  
Building the Audi brand in America has been crucial to our current success of 45 consecutive monthly sales records.  Elevating Brand Opinion and Consideration by over 30% since 2006 has come from an investment in repositioning Audi as the modern, progressive, luxury choice.  When we bring smart, entertaining creative to market, demand rises and that drives sales.

Drew: Looking at the question above slightly differently, is there a case to be made for a brand like Audi that the medium can be the message? For example, does doing cutting edge marketing on say a mobile platform also say that Audi is a cutting edge brand that “gets it?”  
Absolutely. Creativity comes in the message as well as the medium in which it’s delivered.  Building the brand with time-starved, affluent Americas requires us to bring unique ideas to a variety of channels.  In addition to our unique 30-second TV communications that tell culturally relevant stories versus using traditional automotive speak, Audi has been leading in digital connections as well.  For example, this year Audi introduced several new entry-level luxury products to first time luxury buyers of which a third were young Millennials.   We used platforms such as Waze and Trip Advisor to link our Audi Q3 “Stray the Course” strategy to consumer behaviors on those channels and for the launch of the A3, we introduced a completely new voice and visual execution on Snap Chat for Audi in the Super Bowl which we carried through the entire Season of Pretty Little Liars that drew 125,000 new followers in just nine months on that channel.

Drew: Does risk taking factor into developing truly creative campaigns?  If so, how do you mitigate that risk internally and or externally?
A challenger spirit is crucial in everything we do at Audi.  Therefore, pushing our communication to be anything but traditional drives us internally and is why we seek out clever culturally-relevant storytelling.

Drew: Can you talk a little about if/how you try to engage the entire Audi company in brand activation?
Audi has become the modern, progressive, luxury choice in America and that philosophy is core to everything we do in our organization.  Whether in partnership experiences such as that of the US Ski Team, in cultural connections such as the Iron Man franchise or in every customer interaction at our state-of-the-art showroom environments, every engagement conveys our unique brand characteristics of technology, performance and design.  Every employee has a clear understanding of our brand position and our focus on bringing customer excitement both internally and externally.

Drew: How are you balancing digital initiatives with more traditional TV and outdoor? Do you ascribe different roles to different media and/or is it possible for a brand like yours to have an “omni-channel” strategy?
At Audi, we believe that keeping focus on a single message and finding the most effective way to deliver it within the channel proves most effective.  Identifying strategies that connect our message with consumer stories might take a storytelling path in TV, a more eccentric approach in social media or might be encapsulated in a single statement on an outdoor board.  Staying true to the strategic idea is what drives a successful campaign that is reinforced when consumers interact at various channels.

Drew: What role does social media play in your marketing efforts? Are there any platforms that are working better for your brand than others?
We identified an opportunity to engage a conversation with America through social media several years ago.  It was the ideal platform to reinforce our provocative messages while establishing a clear voice for the brand.  While our fan base has grown organically from our engaging content, we’ve established Audi in over 10 social media channels.  Each has its own engaging characteristics for that community, but we’ve found Instagram to be an increasingly enthusiastic and responsive channel that has grown exponentially because of the personalized, visual nature of the content.

Drew: Have you leveraged any new technologies or platforms in the last 12 months and if so what were the results relative to your expectations? 
Staying true to our brand focus technological innovations, in 2014 we leveraged a completely new social media voice in SnapChat and brought a new digital experience to our consumers in the purchase process.  As mentioned, SnapChat has been very successful for connecting our brand to a new, burgeoning community in just the last nine months.  At retail, we have introduced a new digital, Progressive Retail Experience in our showrooms to assist our dealer partners and consumers in the greatest customer need – saving time.  Using tablet devices, our dealer partners now have a sales assist solution that can demonstrate vehicle features, show dealer inventory and assist in vehicle configurations through a few simple hand gestures.  In addition, we have brought this digitized experience to the consumer delivery process and the service experience for a more streamlined experience that works on the customer’s schedule.

Drew: Storytelling is a big buzzword right now.  Is your brand a good storyteller and if so, can you provide an example of how you are telling that story?  
This is crucial to bringing a brand into the conversation with today’s consumer.  When we introduced TDI clean diesel in several of our new vehicles last year, we recognized that many of the misperceptions of diesel still existed including that it was an old technology that was for slow, smoky, dirty old cars.  Instead of just announcing that Audi had an all new line up of fuel efficient and environmentally friendly new TDI clean diesel solutions, we approached it with a story that exaggerated one of the misperceptions that high performance luxury sedans don’t use diesel.  In this communication, an Audi A8 pulls into a fueling station where the driver begins to use the clean diesel pump when in slow motion the many bystanders attempt to stop her thinking she’d made a mistake.  Towards the end, she simply responds “I know” illustrating she clearly knows what she is doing while signaling to another Audi A6 TDI clean diesel driver that gives her a confirming nod.  It was a clever way of telling the story that Audi has many TDI clean diesel models and those in the know realize it’s the smart solution for the future.  The full campaign reinforced the range capabilities, environmental benefits and dispelled many of the myths that brought the story to life in all consumer touch points.

How GE’s Beth Comstock Puts Innovation to Work – Part 1

01/2/15
Jim Stengel + Beth Comstock

Beth Comstock with Jim Stengel at CMO Awards Ceremony.

What does it take to get inducted into the CMO Hall of Fame? Infinite curiosity and, apparently, some ecological know-how. Beth Comstock of GE is a rarity in the clan of CMO’s, an innovator who doesn’t try to come up with the ideas herself, a leader who seeks insights from startups and a explorer who thinks “the journey is never done.” Oh and did I mention she works for a company that sells massively complex machines yet as Beth says, “We’re on a real mission to humanize technology.”

In this first part of our interview, we talk about how to leverage trends and the kind of dedication needed to produce big ideas — and big results!

Drew: How important is it to be a leader who comes up with an idea versus having the ability to build out an idea from your team and build a culture where the ideas are sort of percolating and coming up to you?

I think early on in my career I expected that as a leader, a manager of a team, that I was supposed to come up with the ideas, that’s what you did as the team leader. I started realizing that it put a lot of pressure on me. I also started to realize that the ideas actually weren’t that good. I think there is a kind of a humble recognition you get when you are an innovation junkie like me but also just as a leader, that ideating is better when it’s a team sport. I have learned that there are times when you have to go on your own to think through a problem and then there are times when you need other people to react, make it better.

I think my process is that I like to act like a sponge. I think part of my job and just who I am is to immerse myself externally outside of GE for ideas and look for themes and trends. If I see something interesting twice I ask, ‘Is that a coincidence?’ If I see it three times I go, ‘Ah, this is a trend’ and try to draw those lines. I think it’s my job to do that and then bring it back into the organization and say, here’s a thought starter. How can we innovate, ideate around that? So that’s sort of very loosely my process.

Drew: What are some of the hardest sales you’ve had to make or times where you had to be persistent and not take no as an answer?

When I was at NBC, I was trying to pitch what is now the NBC Experience Store. It’s been around for 16 years now and I worked really hard on that one. Bob Wright turned me down many times for a couple reasons. One, the idea just wasn’t ready and he was sending me away to make it better, but also, he was testing my commitment to it. Was I really going to back this idea? So that was a very formative experience for me.

Since starting at GE, I’ve had this passion for digital health and what I think it could mean to GE. Up until recently, I had a hard time articulating it. The space hasn’t taken off, and it’s only really been this year that we’ve been able to bring the right forces together as a great team and venture into it. So that’s probably my biggest, longest running example of something that I felt like I was pushing for six years and it’s just now broken through.

Drew: Can you talk about the strategy behind “The Boy Who Beeps” Ad and what message you wanted to send? And in general, do you continue to see television playing an important role in the GE story?

David Lubars who is the creative director of BBDO just had a lot of passion for that ad. I think it means a lot when you’re partnered to real passion and he was very passionate about this for good reason. BBDO has been our agency for 90 years. They just know us so well. In some ways they know us better than we know ourselves, which is why we keep hanging around together.

The Industrial Internet is a very big company strategy and priority. Big data is still confusing, it’s kind of scary and people are not entirely sure what it means when machines talk to other machines. We were trying to send the message that technology is headed toward a good purpose. It’s about the humanity of technology, rather than just getting excited about technology for technology’s stake. We’re on a real mission to humanize technology. Most people can’t see the technology we make, so we have to use a lot of metaphors.

As for the role TV plays in telling GE’s story, I think it depends on the objectives and the business mission for any given campaign or effort. For most of us, I think TV does have a role. With examples like “Boy Who Beeps” or one we did with the Olympics earlier this year, “My Mom Works at GE”, you need the space. TV provides a storytelling grandness with some of these big signature events. We do a lot around these kind of signature efforts and there is room for big storytelling to be done well.

A rule I have observed just in working within the digital space is that the size of these markets gets bigger and slices gets smaller. So TV won’t have the big slice of the audience that it once had, but it doesn’t mean it’s not still important.

Drew: In regards to some of the ideas or innovations that you have been able to bring to bear in the organization, have any of those had an advantage in the sense that the marketing opportunities are baked into the idea?

Yes. I think one of my earliest examples of this and one that I still think stands the test of time was the development of ecomagination. It’s a cute name, but it wasn’t just a cute little effort. It was a very serious intention to align our technology to where the market was going. Our customers wanted more energy efficient technology. We saw that in every industry and in every segment where we do business. So that was a clear opportunity to invest in a certain technology tethered to where the market was going: renewable, clean energy and efficiency. We recognized the need for partnerships that supported that mission, and then to hold ourselves accountable.

To date, we’re tracking about $180 billion of eco-generated sales, billions of dollars of investments in new eco-friendly spaces and a host of partnerships that have made us faster and better. To me, that’s market-based innovation. It’s kind of a glue.

That’s just one of our successful processes. There have been many, many times where that hasn’t worked so well. I’ve given you one example of success but I don’t want to make you think we were nirvana here, because we’re not.

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

12/21/14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drew: And how has the response been?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drew: What exactly is “garden to glass?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/18/14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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