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

How BBVA Compass Banks on Purpose Branding

08/14/16

When you think of banks, or any financial institution for that matter, I doubt you are overcome with heartwarming images of improved welfare and social care.  Unless you’re among the few that have had a warm and fuzzy experience, most likely your relationship with your bank is mainly transactional — a deposit made here or statement issued there.  Interestingly, there is at least one bank out there that would like you to like them less for their transactional prowess and more for their commitment to “bringing the age of opportunity to everyone.”  

That bank is BBVA Compass and the campaign that got my attention is called “Banking on a Brighter Future,” a purpose-driven program introduced AAEAAQAAAAAAAAhcAAAAJDQwZTFhZTQyLTkzMmMtNDFmNy1iMTYyLThlOWViZGQ5ZDE1YQby their Chief Marketing and Digital Sales Officer Jennifer Dominiquini.  I’ve known Jennifer through The CMO Club for several years and was delighted when we finally had a chance to talk about purpose-branding and the organizational commitment required to make it real.  Jennifer, as you will soon see, is not one to just talk the talk.  She also walks the walk or more precisely rides the ride, having just completed a 500-mile bike trip for a charity that was also a BBVA customer.  So yes, her commitment to living bright and giving a chance for others to do the same is something you can bank on!

Note: this is a lengthy interview but I decided not to break it up into 2 posts because frankly if you are interested in how to activate effectively against your brand purpose, you’ll want to read every last word.  

Drew: Can you take me back to when you became a purpose-driven organization and the process that you went through to determine your purpose?

Jennifer: Since its founding in 1857, this company has believed its corporate purpose should be about creating a better future for people. Recently, our Chairman and our CEO realized that we needed to make it more explicit that we are a purpose-driven organization, and so last year we set out to do just that by specifically stating that our purpose is to bring the age of opportunity to everyone.

The company overall is very inclusive, and that has led us to facilitate opportunity for everyone, whether an individual, a family, a company, or a community. Said another way, we believe everyone deserves a bright future and the chance to thrive in the age of opportunity. Our goal as an organization is to help our clients stay in control of their financial journeys, and it is our responsibility to help them get to that bright future.

Drew: Was the idea of “Banking on a Brighter Future” developed in-house or did you work with an agency partner?

Jennifer: It was actually developed in-house with the support of agency partners. One of the key inspirations was our global purpose statement, which aligned perfectly with the traditional brand research we had. We were really passionate about this, so we put it into practice first by rolling it out internally and then started to incorporate it in our external messaging as well.

Drew: How did you communicate the idea of “Banking on a Brighter Future?”

Jennifer: We tried to infuse as much “bright” vocabulary into the work we were already doing internally. We also ensured that every element of our end-to-end client experience was bright. We highlighted bright moments of associates out in the field who went the extra mile to help a client. At our employee launch, our CEO and key leaders hosted a fireside chat-style forum to share the brand strategy and communicate the message hat every associate has the responsibility to bring the brand to life. We wanted all employees to understand that this was not just a new tagline but rather a way of doing business, a way of living and breathing the brand.

Drew: How did you equip employees with the resources needed to promote the brand externally?

Jennifer: First, we incorporated the word “bright” into our different methods of communication as often as we could. We also created an employee brand portal with videos and other media, showing how our executives were embracing the brand and also branding themselves. We distributed bright blue boxes containing stickers and other brand paraphernalia to each department so employees could display and promote the brand.

In order for the brand launch to be successful, it had to be something our associates believed enough they would be willing to go out and share it. So, a few months later after our internal launch, we celebrated our first annual Bank It Forward Day, a chance for our associates to bring the brand to life in the community through random acts of kindness.

Drew: Can you provide an example of how employees went out into the community, promoting Bank It Forward Day?

Jennifer: We equipped everybody with the opportunity to volunteer and do random acts of brightness in the community. Essentially, employees formed groups of 5 to 10 people, then went out and did acts of kindness in the community using their $25 gift cards provided by BBVA Compass. That was the first real opportunity for our employees to realize that when you live bright, you can actually have fun while helping out others in the community. Some of the stories were just phenomenally engaging, and we generated social media buzz and plenty of employee engagement as a result.

Drew: Can you give a few examples of some of these “acts of brightness?”

Jennifer: We saw one person pay off a debt for a family whose son was in the hospital. We also met a woman who had a couple of flat tires on her car but had to leave it to feed her baby at home. When she came back, she saw the note on the car that said, “It’s BBVA Compass. Come on over, we’d love to help and we have a surprise for you.” A few associates combined their gift cards to buy the woman four new tires for her car.

I personally had the honor of surprising a shopper in a grocery store who was about to spend her last $20 of the week. I think the tipping point in the brand roll out was when employees started to have fun. They realized this is not just a marketing strategy exercise, this is a way of living.

Drew: Do you have a sense of what percentage of employees participated? Did you have a goal?

Jennifer: This was one of our most successful volunteer outreaches ever. We started at 12% the first time, and now we’re up to 30%. This time, the updated program – now called 100 Days of Brightness – extends beyond a single day to give employees the flexibility to choose any day over the course of 100 days.We were really impressed the first time because we really didn’t know what would happen but 98% percent of the people who participated said they would absolutely do it again.

Drew: What was the reception of the Bank it Forward initiative” among senior BBVA Compass executives?

Jennifer: Our executives have been extremely supportive of this because, as a company, they all understand that we can’t just talk about our purpose, we have to go out and fulfill it. For example, the Head of Business Development is an avid runner, so he ran around a park on Father’s Day and surprised other park runners with gift cards. He also visited one of our charitable partners along his route to surprise them with more gift cards.

Our COO, who is very much supporter of animals, visited an animal shelter to deliver much-needed supplies for the shelter. And our CEO pursued his passion for helping children by bringing a cool treat to kids at the Community Family Center in Houston. In addition to some new sports equipment and art supplies, he also served snow cones to nearly 200 students and staff on a hot July afternoon.

Drew: So have you changed or adjusted your hiring practices to emphasize brightness among candidates?

Jennifer: People are definitely looking to bring in others with a like-minded, positive energy. We aim to on-board people who share our purpose-driven methodology and look for ways to empower people to act brightly across our employee base.

Drew: How did you go about making employees feel comfortable to bank at BBVA?

Jennifer: As our CEO said, if we are going to talk about brightening the lives of others, we also need to do a good job of brightening the lives of our teammates. We emphasize our employee banking perks and make sure people take advantage of the benefits of being loyal to your employer. We’ve done a lot of employee banking drives to encourage people to sign up, and those events provide the perfect opportunity to remind employees why they should bank where they work. It’s more than just a reminder that each account benefits the company. It’s a reminder that, when you bank the brand, it’s easier to successfully live the brand and share it with others.

That said, we need to make sure it is easy and rewarding for those associates to bank with us, – for both clients and employees alike.

Drew: So we spent most of our time on internal activation, is there anything that you would like to highlight from an external standpoint?

Jennifer: Absolutely. We knew we had hit a home run internally, so we wanted to make sure our external push was equally successful. We created an online portal for our video content, and because we are official bank of the NBA, we were able to launch Bright Futures externally in a robust way.

Our brand ambassadors tell their own personal stories to bring to life the ten Bright Futures principles. For example, Becky Hammon, the first female coach in the NBA, talked about the hurdles she faced on the road to becoming an all-star player and the first female All Star coach. Instead of telling the athletes’ stories from the sports angle, these videos really captured the human angle.

Drew: What is the reason behind the sports focus of Bright Futures?

Jennifer: We started with sports because that’s where many of our sponsorship lie (we are the official bank of the NBA and the Houston Dynamo and Dash call the BBVA Compass stadium their home) but as I said, we intend to expand it to a lot of different walks of life. Ultimately we will feature musicians and artists, technology, entrepreneurship and other areas.

We’ve also incorporated the Brighter Future mantra into nearly all our external marketing. From a social media perspective, we engage our audience with our #LiveBright and #BrightFutures hashtags. The two work well together because we’re saying if you want to help others have a bright future, then you have to live bright along the way.

Drew: It’s fascinating to hear you talk about how you shifted from product-first to story first, which must have sparked a good amount of doubt and discomfort internally. What made you confident that this risk was worth taking?

Jennifer: Well, we still do free-checking and rate-based advertising for our deposit products, and we still promote our loan products. But we’ve tried to layer acquisition marketing, digital marketing, and branded advertising with messaging that’s consistent with the brand, using the video and the storytelling piece. The brand, the content, and the storytelling have enabled us to improve our consideration scores with consumers, to bring new clients to the bank and to engage our existing ones.

Drew: We’ve heard about the successes of the Bright Future initiative but I’m guessing there have been some mistakes along the way? Can you tell about some of the challenges you have encountered?

Jennifer: I would say that there have been definitely some creative executions that didn’t work as well in the beginning. Creative development for us was an iterative process, and we learned what resonated and what didn’t as we experimented and iterated based on learning. The good news with digital is that it’s easy to do a lot of testing, but part of our initial challenge was aligning the right creative with the right media and doing so in a nimble and flexible way. I don’t think it was a failure, but more of a learning process and a recognition that some efforts don’t produce immediate results.

Drew: You’re the Chief of Marketing and Digital Sales Officer. Do those two often conflict?

Jennifer: Not really. Digital has been a major focus to drive sales through all of our channels, along with improving the branch experience and engaging our clients. In fact, all of the key marketers in other countries in the BBVA portfolio also have this title. I’m lucky that I don’t just own marketing, but I actually have online account origination and analytics which allows me to see much more of the end-to-end experience.

Drew: I know you’re heavily focused on digital but how much of your role is centered on traditional marketing?

Jennifer: In the old days, marketing was very much “put the product over the fence and tell the clients what they need to know.” Historically, digital and traditional marketing have been separated. But having these two areas together is fundamental because I have the flexibility to allocate resources between digital and traditional efforts. We recognize that it can’t all just be about digital. There are many times when more traditional marketing like direct mail or newspaper ads make the most sense; in other cases, we know that branded content on YouTube will be more widely watched that television. Having ownership of both sides lets us leverage the best channel for each initiative. All in all, it’s been a very interesting time to be a marketer and the fact that I have both of these sides is wonderful.

Drew: Now, you have to tell us about your 500 mile bike ride. What a great example of how you are living the brand purpose. 

Jennifer: Well, it was the experience of a lifetime seeing our client, David Baldwin, literally ride from coast to coast. The trip really encapsulated living bright: everybody was happy, helping each other, and teaching each other. It was very powerful to know that we were doing something for a good cause, and that we were able to put ourselves literally our client’s shoes. The Pursuit ride raised $12.5 million for the Center, a private, not-for-profit organization caring for adults with intellectual and development disabilities, while raising awareness for adults with disabilities nationwide. Baldwin rode 3500 miles, and BBVA Compass was proud to be the ride’s presenting sponsor. The event aligned perfectly with our belief that that everyone deserves a bright future. I could not be more proud of riding alongside David and team. As the Chief Marketing Officer, it is my responsibility and honor to not only shape the brand but believe in it and live it, too.

Why IBM is Hiring Hollywood Storytellers

07/26/16

New Maria WinansIt’s no secret that I’m a big proponent of storytelling as a relatively fresh way to approach marketing strategy and execution. Not only did it earn its own chapter in my book The CMO’s Periodic Table, I’ve featured other champions of storytelling like CMO’s Douwe Bergsma (Georgia Pacific) and Darren Marshall (Steinway & Sons) on this blog. In my heart of hearts, I keep hoping that having a story framework rather than a brand-centric messaging framework will reflect and capitalize on the changing dynamic between what a brand wants to say about itself and what a consumer actually says about a brand.

As you might expect, CMOs don’t all share the same perspective on storytelling. Douwe Bergsma sees it as something entirely new and even hired a storytelling agency to craft the story framework for brands like Brawny before getting his other agencies involved.  Darren Marshall believes in the importance of telling a compelling story in his communications but didn’t see the need to change his strategic approach.  So now, allow me to introduce Maria Winans, CMO of IBM Commerce to this on-going discussion.  Maria is a big believer in the power of storytelling and has hired professionals from Hollywood to support these efforts.  To understand why, read on.  

Drew: As you look to do more storytelling at IBM, has this changed your approach to staffing your marketing team?

Maria: Absolutely. As we look at our staffing needs for today and tomorrow, we are focused on three primary skills sets, digital, portfolio and the ability to engage an audience via storytelling. For the first area, we are hiring the best talent we can find to quickly create new ways of engaging with our audiences in the most personalized ways possible. The second area is more product / category specific in terms of finding talent with deep knowledge of e-commerce and marketing automation. And the third is all about content creation and storytelling in a manner that entertains and informs audiences.

Drew: Interesting. So let’s talk more about the skill sets of the storytellers.

Maria: Sure. These people are not traditional tech-centric IBMers. Their expertise is completely different in that they can create truly engaging content or they know how to lead the creative storytelling process. These folks will help IBM engage specifics audiences in a very different manner than we’ve done before. And working with the rest of our marketing team, the storytellers will help us translate some of our broader themes down to a very compelling and ideally, personalized conversation.

Drew: How else are you bringing the idea of storytelling into IBM?

Maria: One way is by collaborating with organizations like TED. The TED organization is among the best at storytelling and they helped us orchestrate a conversation about innovation last year in a completely new way for us. Presentations were limited to seven minutes, which forced us to make every word count and propel the story forward. We really learned a lot from that.

Drew: So why not outsource your storytelling? 

Maria: Frankly, that’s exactly what we did for a long time but it comes at a price. Not the cost of development, but the absence of expertise that comes with knowing how to create stories. Bringing this skill in house uncovering talent and skills in very different places. For example, I’ve recently hired individuals that were doing scriptwriting in Hollywood for film. Their ability to write scripts and plot out storyboards is essential to the kinds of communications we want to create moving forward.

Drew: How does all of the new product or divisional storytelling you’re doing fit into the bigger stories IBM is telling on a corporate advertising level?

Maria: One of the things that we’re looking to do is have content that tracks with the entire customer journey. While the corporate ads are great at positioning all of IBM we need to be more specific with our product and divisional stories, whether we’re talking lead generation or product research or demos. All of this content needs to be compelling enough and personalized enough to drive an action – an action that we can track, score and keep moving forward with other content.

Drew: Let’s dive into this more. Can a big story like Watson get translated into demand generation and lead nurturing for a specific ecommerce product?

Maria: Yes. IBM is telling big stories about the art of the possible by demonstrating Watson’s amazing cognitive learning capabilities. My challenge is to take that big emotion-rich story and appeal to a merchandiser or a supply chain manager with very specific challenges. I need to be able to show them how they can work with IBM in a way that pertains directly to their job and move them along from prospect to customer. It comes down to storytelling on a level that resonates with the target and helping them see cognitive as a competitive advantage for their businesses and an opportunity to excel for them personally.

Drew: How does big data fit into all of this?

Maria: Great question. We marketers have so much data. The key is to be able to use that data to drive personalization and deliver the best possible experience. Obviously, this is easier said than done. It’s important to recognize that data is a means to end and not an end in itself. Data informs the story, how we talk to you, what we share and when we share it. If we know you react to certain words or images, then we’ll be sure to zoom in on those in our stories. Ultimately, our goal is really to make an emotional connection and we think we can do that better by being personal without of course, being creepy.

Drew: So how hard is all of this?

Maria: It’s hard but we’re making a lot of progress. We’re getting better at not forcing a discussion about product too early in the process. Before we introduce a solution, we want to make sure we really understand a particular prospect’s challenge. Some of this we can infer through the data, which makes it a lot easier to start a fruitful conversation. And some of this is understanding narrative, bringing the prospect along through a series of nurturing activities related to their past behavior. Ultimately, this really is another means of being customer centric – we are trying very hard not to waste a prospect’s time by delivering superfluous information.

 

Q&A with Evan Greene, CMO of The Recording Academy

06/26/16

Evan Greene_Recording Academy

The Grammys have brought us some of the best moments in television, and the most spectacular performances in music. From Michael Jackson’s moonwalk across the stage in ’88 to the Elton John and Eminem duet in ’01, and most recently Lady Gaga’s tribute to David Bowie, the Grammys have been the place for historical moments in music. And if you’re like me, you brim with excitement before the show, and are unable to stop rehashing the night’s best moments for days after. One night a year, the telecast captivates people around the world and easily dominates the conversation on social. However, is the show on your mind for other 364 days? Well, I spoke with Evan Greene, a friend of mine and CMO of the Recording Academy, to hear how his team approaches the challenge of marketing a show that airs one night per year. Key words here: social, social, and more social.

Drew: What does your marketing purview include?

Evan: I can tell you that anything that touches the Grammy brand ultimately runs through the marketing area, whether it’s marketing and brand strategy, PR, social media, digital content and yes, partner strategy. We represent the biggest brand in music, and for other brands, there is value in aligning with us. We partnered with other brands to utilize the impact and the marketing reach of brands that are complementary to our own. Also, we are a 501(C) 6, a not-for-profit trade organization, and this affects our marketing strategy.

Drew: How does it affect your marketing partnerships, specifically?

Evan: We put together marketing partnerships so that we can leverage the impact of the Grammys, which is unparalleled in terms of credibility and prestige. On the flipside, the value that partners bring to the table opens up other marketing channels. Now, because of the prestige of our brand, there is a value associated which means there still needs to be an economic model in place.

Drew: Was there partner integration for Lady Gaga’s performance? Did Intel do the projection?

Evan: Yes. This was the first time when we partnered with a company to actually help us enhance the performance. If you notice, there was no Intel visibility or attribution on the telecast because we wanted it to be subtle. We focused on making the performance memorable, something that people would be talking about for a long time. At the end of the day, Intel received a tremendous amount of credit and earned media.

Drew: And with that comes months of hard work and constant communication between Intel and the Grammys.

Evan: Yes, there was a lot of heavy lifting and coordination. We put something together that had never been done before. There were things that happened on the Grammy stage from a technology standpoint that have never been put on television. It really was the next generation of Grammy moments, right before our eyes.

Drew: Every year, you challenge your agency to do some new things. Let’s talk about the new things that you did this year in terms of marketing and social.

Evan: This year we started thinking about the inspirational power of music and the intersection between music and sports. Sports came in because it was SuperBowl 50 and it ran on CBS, eight days prior to the Grammy Awards, which created an extraordinary opportunity to bring the two together. We engaged our agency of record, Chiat/Day, which in my opinion is one of the best shops on the planet.

Drew: How was the concept further developed?

Evan: We started from the standpoint of how do we celebrate sports and music. How do we align the best in music with the best in sports, globally? What came out of that was a powerful tagline, called “Witness Greatness.” We looked at the music that inspires the athletes who in turn inspire the world. “Witness Greatness” really is about the inspirational power of music, and we could apply that in a number of ways.

Drew: So you were able to move beyond just the “Witness Greatness” tagline?

Evan: Yes, it was not only the theme and tagline, but also the visual representation and how we applied it. We then applied the theme to social and made sure that any visual we associated with represented greatness. We made sure to elevate that conversation whenever and wherever possible.

Drew: How did your team focus on the witness portion of “Witness Greatness”?

Evan: We have a companion stream, sort of a shoulder programming experience called “Grammy Live.” It shows different angles and elements, not necessarily the telecast itself, but it shows backstage etc. This year, we inserted a camera inside the base of the Grammy statute so that we could actually witness greatness in a different way-from the position in the POV of the statue itself. We got some great footage and content that had never been captured before. 

Drew: After the Grammy team fully adopts the theme, I’m guessing the next step is for the media to pick it up?

Evan: Yes, and was amazing when the media starts quoting our taglines, and when other members of our social ecosystem started organically using the “Witness Greatness” hashtag. When I think about all the touch points, from those doing social to the persons pitching media stories, to our marketing partners, there is a consistent look and feel across the board.

Drew: Any favorite projects from the “Witness Greatness” theme?

Evan: There were a couple of components that I found particularly exciting. If you go on our YouTube page, youtube.com/thegrammys, there is a video that we did with Kendrick Lamar in his hometown of Compton. We went on the street, and asked people to sing a couple of lines from his song Alright, which has become sort of an anthem over the past year. We created a video of all of these individuals singing particular lines of the song, and at the end, it culminated with an impromptu performance and the tagline was “Greatness Comes From Everywhere.” This served as a drive to the Grammys. 

Drew: I know the Grammys has worked with user-generated content in the past. Can you give an example of how you used UGC in past seasons?

Evan: Several years ago, we had a campaign called “We’re All Fans,” and it underscored the idea that what makes an artist great are the fans. With that in mind, we invited fans to upload videos of themselves and become part of the campaign. That was probably the most organic example that we had. People actually got to see themselves as part of the national Grammy campaigns, creating mosaics of Lady Gaga and other global superstar artists.

Drew: How was UGC executed for this Grammy season?

Evan: The idea really drives the execution. This year, our campaign was about creating the conversation, engaging with fans and having them share what about their favorite artists represents ‘Greatness.’ So in terms of UGC, we didn’t invite video submissions this time around, but we focused on having respectful dialog with our fans and followers about inspiration and greatness.

Drew: The reviews have been very successful on social. Obviously, you’re at the center of the social media conversation during the show, but you’re still very present months after it aired. How is that even possible?

Evan: I think we’ve been very successful and I am happy with the work of our social team and everybody involved in that effort. I think we can get better, I really do. The core reason for this year-round success is respecting fans and speaking with trust and authenticity.

Drew: What are some of the mistakes you are seeing other organizations make with their social media?

Evan: When communication seems gratuitous, and it is focused purely on making a sale or driving behavior, consumers see right through that. We simply want to be a credible part of the music conversation. When you look at the brands that resonate and break through, it’s the ones that earn your trust. If you speak with authenticity, and you respect your audience, then that becomes the cornerstone of trust. Trust is how you build a long-term relationship.

Drew: Being a nonprofit, how do you allocate the money brought in from the Grammys?

Evan: The money that we make doesn’t go to pay dividends, meet a quota or achieve net profit goals. It’s filtered right back into the music industry so we can create more in-school music programs and empower the next generation of music makers. We give back in a variety of different ways to enhance and srengthen the industry platform that the Recording Academy sits on.

Drew: One of the other things that you’ve done over the years is expand the Grammys from Grammy night to Grammy week. I feel like this was Grammy month. Where are you right now in terms of the scale of the Grammys?

Evan: I think we’ve made a considerable amount of progress over the years, but we still have a ways to go. What has struck me is that we’ve built this massive brand with a tremendous amount of impact by virtue of a single television event held for three-and-a-half hours, one night per year. The marketing opportunity that creates is enormous. If we take a proactive brand management approach, how impactful and powerful a brand could we be if we continue to extend throughout the year?

Drew: What a challenge! How do you rate progress? 

Evan: I think we have expanded the impact of the Grammy as a brand, beyond simply one night per year. I do not believe that we are anywhere close to being there yet where people started thinking about the Grammys as a relevant brand they need to interact with in June, July, and August. But like I said, we’re making progress and there are a number of exciting things on the horizon.

Element 65: The Undeniably Power of PR

06/13/16

An apology is in order. Probably not the only one that you’ll see from me on this blog but certainly one that is a long overdue.  This one goes out to the thousands of public relations professionals, particularly the ones who almost always find a way to plant the seed that becomes a story, who uncover the news when others just see a plain old brief, who instinctually know a potential buzz machine from the proverbial blind alley.  To these fine folk who helped drive the success of many of Renegade’s classic guerrilla marketing successes (BankCab anyone?), I officially apologize for omitting Public Relations as an Element in my book, The CMO’s Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing.

Please note that this was not a conscious omission but rather a statistical anomaly.  In retrospect, it seems impossible that PR wouldn’t become front and center in one of the over 150 interviews with senior marketers I conducted prior to finishing the book.  To make amends, not that any of you are all that upset or not used to receding from the marketing spotlight, I am thrilled to present part 1 of my interview with Caralene Robinson, CMO at Vh1. A recipient of last year’s CMO Award for Creativity, Caralene was kind enough to share her thoughts on the importance of PR and how that aspect of marketing is so critical to the success of VH1 programming.

Caralene robinsonDrew: Last year you won The CMO Club’s creativity award. Can you talk about a program you’ve done at VH1 that you’re particularly proud of?

The sheer volume of projects times rate of change demands constant innovation. So there are many programs I quite proud of. For example, the launch of our original scripted movie, Crazy Sexy Cool: The TLC Story. TLC was cultural phenomenon that came to life in the most authentic way. It was an incredible multifaceted campaign. The film and the campaign were used as momentum to launch a new TLC album. Epic Records saw the opportunity, decided to release an album simultaneously, and this collaboration amplified the impact. In general marketing has changed so much. When I first started, there was no such thing as social media and print was the big thing. The dynamics of the marketing mix have completely changed. I am particularly proud of campaigns where we effectively partner with Press, which I see as a critical part of the marketing mix. I have a great consumer marketing team that constantly looks for activations designed to get people talking in a very unbiased way.

Drew: Is there another example you’d like to share?

Dating Naked is a great example. For Season 1, we released a viral video that generated more than 2 million views. What we spent on that is nominal compared to the views. So creating adjacent content that captures the pop culture zeitgeist and gets people talking is huge. For Season 2, we created an outdoor board in Hollywood that was essentially peel-off stickers. Consumers could walk up and peel for prizes, eventually revealing the two nude leads of the show. I like the stuff that gets people talking.

Drew: My book The CMO’s Periodic Table covers 64 elements of marketing but there is one element that I know I haven’t really covered very well, and that’s PR. Could you talk a little bit more about the role that PR plays in your business, and how you make sure that your marketing is buzz-worthy and press-worthy?

Since the beginning of my career I’ve always considered Press part of the marketing mix. We can’t survive without our amazing Press team, which reports directly to our President, Chris McCarthy. Press is equally as important as paid media, social and on-air. So there is never an instance where we’re not walking hands-in-hand with the press team, regardless of where it lives in the organization. Extending the overall strategy via press not only on the consumer side, but also the trade side as well is crucial.

When you’re evaluating a potential marketing campaign, do you compare them based on how much press one might get over the other?

Well, I think we all do that. We look at a number of factors and prioritize launches. In terms of press, some shows are stickier than others. But that’s why our press team is really good at what they do. They figure out the starting point and ask the right questions – what do I have to work with? They look at everything–the actual concept of the show, the talent, our marketing plans, etc. Then they figure out how to create excitement.

Drew: It’s got to be easier to get press for VH1 than it would be for Coke. Are there some lessons that you think that someone outside the entertainment space could draw from your experience at the VH1 in terms of getting press coverage?

I’ve had projects where it’s easy to get press, and I’ve had projects where it’s difficult to get press. It really depends. I’ve marketed carbonated beverages, dish liquid, and cell phones. I’ve gone from selling tangible products to intangible content. It varies on a project-by-project basis. In terms of press as a crucial part of the overall marketing mix, I think it’s important to customize pitches to verticals. Our VH1 press team is extremely good at this. What you pitch to a Fast Company is different than what you might pitch to Billboard, and different than what you might pitch to The Wendy Williams Show. And I don’t always feel like the brand needs to lead the story. It could be a pitch to the New York Times about adult millennials, for example. And if we’re just referenced in the article, that works for me too. Because that means we’re perceived as being culturally connected or culturally cognizant.

Storytelling is Not a Walk in the Park

05/9/16

You could say that the three of us were walking to the park, but in truth Pinky was merely along for the ride. Sitting tall in his new chariot, our Frenchie sniffed in the sights as if his ‘hood had been transformed. Hands, those most desired instruments of affection, were suddenly at cheek level, drawn in by his come hither gaze. Few were immune to his entreaties especially his fellow geriatrics who enjoyed comparing heart meds though one contrarian vigorously recommended homeopathic hawthorne with a touch of cayenne. Inured to all but attention, King Pinky was bemused. Thus began our new normal.

I offer this window into our Sunday sojourn as a reminder that a change in perspective, even one forced upon you, can open your eyes to new opportunities. Storytelling, as explained by Douwe Bergsma, Georgia Pacific’s CMO, is indeed a different way of looking at marketing communications, one that requires new processes, metrics and staff. In this last part of our interview you will find some of the fascinating details that often separate a good story from a great one concluding with three secrets to success should you want to embark on a storytelling adventure of your own.

Drew: Are your KPIs different than you would have had in a pre-storytelling era?

Douwe: On a high level, I don’t think so. We still look at brand awareness and key brand attributes and the impact it has on penetration, loyalty and ultimately our profit. We just noticed that the way we were approaching it, we were not optimally achieving our KPI. We still want to see how Brawny does with the idea of toughness and gentleness. We still want to know if our core consumers- our key target segments- still appreciate Brawny in a way that they are receiving the right value for their money, compared to their alternatives. At the highest level, it didn’t change. At the lower level, it did, because before we were single-mindedly measuring the impact of a 30-second ad on this metric. Now we look at the combined impact recognizing that at the end of the day, it’s still about driving conversion from intent to purchase.

Drew: Do marketers need to be more patient with storytelling?

Douwe: Good question, I haven’t thought about that. In the development, yes. It takes longer for a fully integrated story to develop because design plays a key role. One of the things we’ve learned is that a story needs to be holistic including the design of the brand packaging as well as the design of the products inside. One example of this is the way the Brawny giant comes to life on our packaging. And packaging, in our industry, has a longer lead-time. So in order to do it right and holistically, it takes longer to prepare and develop. In actuality, I don’t think the level of patience is different from what we used to do.

Drew: Let’s get specific. What’s your leading example of storytelling?

Douwe:  Brawny is the only brand where we have completely overhauled our packaging as well as our other touch points. We’ve developed our story frame work– the conflict is really between tough and gentle. And then the fundamental human truth is about protecting yourself and those you love.  This requires you to be understanding and open to what life throws at you, but also have the tenacity, toughness, and strength to tackle any challenge. We were inspired by a quote from Roosevelt: “speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far.” We translated that into a campaign, featuring the Brawny giant. How do you tackle and handle life’s challenges? By staying strong while continuing to be gentle as these challenges come at you. We showcase The Brawny® Man with the larger-than-life look he had in the 1970s — so there’s kind of a double meaning here  — in our campaign, which represents kind of a gentle giant, which is gentleness and strength in there.

Drew: Tell me more about your partnership with AOL.

Douwe: With AOL, we were able to develop and sponsor content that helped tell our various brand stories. For example, in Brawny®’s Everyday Giants series, we featured Khali Sweeney, who started the Downtown Boxing Gym in Detroit, which basically became an afterschool academic support program, where he gives kids free boxing lessons after they finished their homework. The program was for inner city kids in Detroit and every student who went through his program that’s been going on for several years now, there’s a 100 percent graduation rate and 80 percent went to college.

Drew: In a programmatic real-time world, how do you adjust to storytelling or does that play any kind of role in all of this?

Douwe: Programmatic is more into where and when and what frequency; it’s less about the content. And our storytelling predominantly focuses on the content of our communication, which closely relates to our media placement. So programmatic has not really impacted the story we’re telling, more when and where we telling it. And obviously, it allows us to find those people that are in our target audience. It allows us to find our specific audience better and faster than we normally do.

Drew: What are some of the pitfalls to be avoided?

Douwe: First and foremost, it’s very tempting to just focus on the storytelling. You first need to really focus on the story framework. Because our whole industry is so used to drafting a brief to develop an ad. Draft a brief; write a Tweet. But before you do the brief, you actually need to know your story’s framework. It’s like sending an improv artist on stage who doesn’t know what a story framework is.

Second, with storytelling there is not a single linear pass to it. You need to be very agile and experimental and embrace the mistakes and the failures you have along the way and have a very experimental mindset. You need to do a lot of trial and error and go down specific pathways to figure out what’s going to work for the brand or what doesn’t.

And last but not least, we’ve learned that you also need to make sure that you recruit and cherish the few storytellers in the building who have the passion and the talent to develop story frameworks. I discovered that there are quite a few people that have that innate balance at companies like Coca-Cola. In fact, Shari Neumann, who leads all our storytelling here at Georgia-Pacific is a former Coca-Cola person.

Storytelling: Chapter 2 with Douwe Bergsma

05/2/16

IMG_2774In truth, I tend to get obsessed with topics of interest.  Since my first conversation on storytelling a few weeks back with Douwe Bergsma, CMO of George Pacific, I have now read (via audio) two books, ordered three more and am in the middle of listening to a Great Course on the subject.

Just in case you want to dive in with me, here’s the list I’ve devoured thus far, all of which I can recommend to anyone in marketing:

  • “Story-Selling: How To Sell Without Selling” by Nick Nanton & JW Dicks
  • “All Marketers are Liars” by Seth Godin
  • “The Art of Storytelling: From Parents to Professionals” by Professor Hannah B. Harvey

What you won’t find in any of these resources, is how an emphasis on storytelling could impact client-agency relationships, hiring practices and advertising measurement.  For that, you’ll have to read part 2 of my delightfully informative interview with Douwe below.

Drew: Tell me a bit about how the agencies fit into this process.

Douwe: When we develop story frameworks, our design and advertising agencies are included, but not leading it. Our story framework experts at Character lead all the work at this phase. Then you brief your agencies on the story framework (the bottom of the iceberg) and ask them to come back with the tip – the storytelling — that everyone will see. They come back with the big idea and the campaign gets extended to all the marketing roles.

Drew: This sounds very different that most agency / client processes.

Douwe: Yes, it is different from what we used to do. We now have a major step between the our typical brand equity work and the design- and campaign development, which we call the story framework. And that leads to the stories you’ve recently seen. The conflicts on Angel Soft are pretty clear because it is our selling theme: “Be soft. Be Strong”. We are bringing it to life in terms of the struggles that parents have. In order to be a good parent, you have to be strong and yet you also have to be soft. We highlight that story through the most challenging parent relationships like a stepfather raising a stepdaughter. We take it to the extreme in terms of parenting challenges, and show how people have to be soft and strong in their context. This allows for a higher emotional connection than just promoting our toilet paper as being the right balance of softness and strength at a better value than the next best alternative.

Drew: How did this impact your agency relationships?

Douwe: We made the decision to expand our agency roster because some agencies are good at advertising, and some are good at storytelling. In our point of view, storytelling is a broader and a longer-term approach than advertising. Let me give you an example: If I give you five pages of a book and I say, hey, what do you think of it, you’d probably say, I don’t know, I read five pages. In traditional advertising, every page could feel like the same, with a benefit, a reason to believe and bringing some brand personality to life. With story telling you are expected to experience different chapters of the book to understand and appreciate the brand more and more over time, resulting in a stronger engagement and relationship.

Drew: Have you had to train your staff, your product managers or the people responsible for advertising development to think more about how to judge stories?

Douwe: Yes. There are multiple layers from an organizational growth perspective. But first and foremost, there was a challenge to convince people that this would be an improved alternative approach to communication. So that was one. The second was then when people were kind of like, “I am willing to give this a shot.” We basically took almost everybody in the organization through a three-day story immersion, called Character Camp, where they have former movie writers, TV writers, cartoon writers, improv artists, and standup comedians explain the power of story, how story writing and storytelling works, what the story framework is and then literally help us practice it. Then we have what we call a Brand Summit with all our brand builders, including agencies, and there was a whole training process to get there, and a hands-on coaching. On top of that, we assigned Shari Neumann to be in charge of all our content development. She’s not called our Chief Storytelling Officer, but that is basically her role.

Drew:   That’s interesting. So you have to tell the story one chapter at a time?

Douwe: If you believe in true storytelling, what you do on Google or Facebook and what you do on network TV help deliver ‘chapters’ of the story. For example, we initiated partnerships with AOL and Meredith that combined with the things we put on our product page on Amazon complimented each other to tell the whole story. It’s only when you’re exposed to multiple touch points that you start to understand the value and the deeper meaning of the story. While ideally each individual communication by itself might be effective, it not as effective as the whole thing would be.

Drew: This must be tricky to orchestrate. Do you still evaluate the performance of the individual ads via things like copy testing?  

Douwe: One of the key challenges we ran into is that we had to completely reconsider our qualification approach. Because we would qualify a 30-second ad in the past via testing and attribute some value to the ad. Today, however, you need to understand, for example, on-line search with Google, as well as the social media activities on Facebook, the partnership videos we developed with AOL and Amazon’s product pages. Then there’s eCommerce, the in-store experience and our package design. To fully appreciate the value of the brand and the meaning a brand could have in a consumer’s life, we have to consider all of these elements as part of the story. That was a big, big paradigm shift. Without this shift, we would not be able to turn storytelling into a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

 

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