CMO Insights: How the Grammys Became More Than a One Night Affair

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.

CMO Insights: Programmatic Marketing

Rachel_Meranus

Embracing change has never been an issue for me.  Hopefully, other marketers feel the same  because marketing is about to change in a fundamental way.  The dream of putting the right message in front of the right person at the right time is about to be realized on a massive scale.  This is the 1:1 marketing idea that Don Peppers & Martha Rogers wrote about 18 years ago finally coming true.  Why am I so confident?

First, “addressable TV” is right around the corner and this means our set-top boxes will no longer be dumb terminals. Instead these devices will be smart, feeding our preferences back to broadcasters who in turn will aggregate and sell our “eyeballs” to the highest and most relevant bidder.  This is not just good for marketers.  It will also be good for consumers in that we would no longer see irrelevant ads–for me, that means no more ads for feminine hygiene or baby products when an ad for a paddle tennis racquet or a new off-Broadway show would actually be relevant.

Second, outdoor is about to become smart as digital displays receive information about us (with our permission of course!) via bluetooth or Wifi and therefore can serve relevant messages in a flash.  Third, retailers use of beacons will enable our mobile devices to receive personalized messages again on a permission basis in real-time inside or outside of their stores.  And finally, the ultimate reason you can trust this prediction is that this sort of highly targeted real-time messaging is already happening online and on our mobile devices!

Ultimately, behind all of this wizardry will be a marketing operating system like the one developed a few years ago by MediaMath, a leader in what is currently called “programmatic” marketing.  These operating systems will enable marketers to tie just about every penny of their ad spending to measurable outcomes, the ultimate dream of our soon to be transformed industry. So it is in this lofty context that I encourage you to read my extensive interview with Rachel Meranus, SVP of Marketing for MediaMath.

Drew: Can you talk a little bit about MediaMath and your growth in the last few years?
We’ve come a long way since we made industry headlines when we introduced the first demand-side platform (DSP) in 2007.  Today, we’re one of the leading change agents in the advertising industry, helping the biggest brands and agencies evolve through programmatic buying and maximize their marketing performance and ROI.  We are on the path of making marketing a software function and continuing to innovate in the industry by adding capabilities to our TerminalOne Marketing Operating System.  For example, we recently introduced closed-loop attribution functionality, in which T1 ingests attribution data to optimize the bidding and decisioning, enabling advertisers to realize the full benefits of advanced attribution in an RTB environment, and automated guaranteed deals to facilitate automated media buys that are traditionally done directly with a publisher.  We are currently developing our propriety cookieless cross-device targeting and measurement solution, and continually enhancing our data management, creative optimization, and analytics offering.

In addition to growing the scope of our technology, we are experiencing incredible human capital growth – more than doubling our number of employees in the past year and on track to do the same this year.  In June, we raised more than $175 million in additional funding; funding that will support our rapid global growth. We have put experts on the ground around the world with our recent office openings in Australia, Brazil, France, Japan, and Singapore, and in 2015, MediaMath will relocate its New York City headquarters to more than 100,000 square feet spanning three floors of the new 4 World Trade Center.

Drew: Can you give an example of a client that is doing amazing things with programmatic? 
Many of our clients – both agencies and brands – are seeing success with programmatic tactics, leveraging geo-targeting, look-alike modeling, and even building proprietary models to identify new prospects through TerminalOne.  One example of a client that is accelerating their programmatic efforts is ShopStyle by PopSugar, the social shopping and fashion website.  They were looking to leverage programmatic media to create scalable return on ad spend, with a focus on campaigns in both the middle and lower funnels.  Using our TerminalOne Marketing Operating System and working with our OPEN partner AddThis, ShopStyle was able to create more robust and scalable profiles based on user data and implement more granular targeting around behavior and contextual variables.  Additionally, utilizing FBX, ShopStyle by PopSugar was also able to expand its retargeting pool and tactics beyond traditional display.

Drew: The big media buying agencies are all over programmatic and have been for a while now.  This doesn’t seem to be case with most brands and their CMOs. Why the understanding gap and why do you think it is so important that CMOs understand the power of programmatic?
We see quite a range when it comes to a CMO’s understanding and level of sophistication with the technology.  Some jump right in and get their hands dirty. Others are treading lightly on unfamiliar territory.

Traditionally, agencies had more exposure to the ins and outs of digital media buying, but for many brands and their CMOs, they haven’t had this much control over or transparency into their digital media buying.  There is still a lot of confusion about how the technology works, but it’s critical for CMOs to understand the power of programmatic, especially when more marketing dollars are shifting to digital.

With a central marketing operating system, CMOs gain the visibility into how their money is being spent, the impact of their media buying decisions, and the ability to identify real-time opportunities with their audiences.  Furthermore, the more CMOs embrace programmatic – within their own brands or together with their agency partner – the greater opportunity they will have deploying first-party data, integrating with internal systems, and normalizing marketing across disparate media types for greater performance.

Drew: MediaMath has made a concerted effort to engage CMOs through your partnership with The CMO Club. Can you talk about your approach to this partnership?
The value of our partnership with The CMO Club is two-fold.  Firstly, we are able to learn, first-hand, from CMOs across a variety of industry verticals what is keeping them up at night.  We are able to be on the pulse of the major challenges that CMOs face, what they view as the biggest opportunities, and how they’re building out their organizations to keep up with the evolution of digital.

Secondly, the CMO Club gives us tremendous exposure to an engaged, interested audience of CMOs, allowing us to educate and inform them on programmatic marketing, which is where our expertise lies.  We’re helping them to understand how our technology applies to their broader goals and addressing the challenges that they face on a daily basis.

Drew: What’s the hardest part of trying to engage CMOs and what kinds of things are you doing to cut through?
When it comes to engaging CMOs, we look to explain why programmatic should be the basis of any digital marketing strategy and have the lion’s share of digital budgets.  This requires us to explain how the technology fits into their stack, the new or different skillsets that are needed, and the ideal team structure that should be put in place to fully take advantage of a central operating system.

However, there are steps that we’re taking to help educate CMOs about the opportunities, what they can do to maximize the return on investment in the short term – from their current digital efforts, as well as what they can put in place for the longer term.  We’re educating them through tailored content, which varies depending on their level of experience with and understanding of programmatic, case studies, and interactive training sessions.

Another way that we’re doing that is by working with brands’ agency partners who bring trading best practices, cutting-edge tools, pooled media buying, and data co-ops into the relationship.  Programmatic technology creates new roles for agencies in which they are able to leverage proprietary modeling and optimization approaches and data-driven creative services, among others.  This benefits the client outcome and that’s what has led to more CMOs having a greater interest in and understanding of programmatic.

Drew: As a B2B brand, what role does social media play in your marketing mix? 
Social media is an important part of our marketing mix, which we use to raise brand awareness, identify influencers, and engage brand advocates in a competitive space.  As a B2B brand, LinkedIn is particularly beneficial to engage influencers, seed our messages in specialized groups, and participate in timely and topical conversations.  Furthermore, as social channels expand their programmatic capabilities, we are able to leverage our partnerships with them.  For example, we use TerminalOne’s decisioning engine and data sources to power campaigns on Facebook and engage target tailored audiences on Twitter.  For these channels, we regularly leverage our original content – blog posts and research – and news to spark conversations that can generate new leads.

Drew: MediaMath recently unveiled new positioning. Talk me through what led you to make this change and some of the challenges you faced along the way.
The industry has been moving at such a quick pace, with new players emerging seemingly every day.  The industry has reached a level of sophistication in their understanding of technology and is recognizing that a complex chart of logos to represent today’s online advertising ecosystem isn’t the answer to their need for scalable marketing.  Rather, they are realizing that it’s achievable through technological unification and a flexible, open platform. Our new brand message, ‘Performance Reimagined. Marketing Reengineered,’ epitomizes both our goal-based approach to drive transformative marketing results, as well as the technology platform that powers it.

Drew: What advice would you offer a fellow marketer who was about to consider a rebranding campaign?
Evolution is inevitable, especially in the fast-changing world of digital marketing.  Therefore, when it comes to a rebranding campaign, there are a few essential steps to consider before diving in, including the need to:

  • Gauge market readiness for change and have a clear understanding of how your brand is perceived in market.  This requires research and due diligence with a brand’s key stakeholders – current employees, clients, prospects, and industry influencers, as well as having a pulse on the competition.
  • Have a clear, concise mission statement to which everything you do as part of the rebranding maps.
  • Know how this change will impact your company and prepare communication plans – internal and external – that also include a roadmap for what will happen post launch.
  •  Manage expectations.  Shifting perceptions and seeding a market with a new message takes time.
  • Agree upon the metrics by which you evaluate success on an ongoing basis and establish a feedback loop to capture reactions to the effort, including the accuracy of your mission statement.

Drew: Given that MediaMath operates in a relatively new field, do you think bringing greater awareness to the field itself is just as important as marketing MediaMath?
We do and it’s the reason why we are so bullish on our educational initiatives.  We introduced our educational arm, the New Marketing Institute (NMI), in 2012.  It’s an extension of our mission to educate, empower, and engage a new generation of digital marketing professionals, providing an educational platform and different levels of certification.  NMI’s team meets with these professionals where they are and brings our best-in-class onboarding process to them – best practices, access to a central repository of knowledge, and an understanding of the digital marketing technology in which their employers have invested.

We also recommend marketers visit our OPEN portal, which includes a Partner Marketplace, enabling them to gain clarity around the vast number of data, media and technology providers that comprise the ecosystem.  By understanding the value proposition and differentiators among partners, they are armed with the information and tools to make more informed buying decisions.

Drew: Your product is really good at helping brands track performance of their marketing dollars. How do you measure your own marketing success?
We measure our marketing success based on a number of factors, including leads generated, opportunities that can be mapped back to specific efforts, engagement with our original content (blog posts and research), how our messages resonate across social channels, and, of course, revenue.

Disclosure: I’m proud to note that Renegade created the “Train Your Brain” CMO engagement program for MediaMath. 

CMO Insights: Turning Marketing into Service

john-hayes (1)A common phrase in the service industry is “the customer knows best.” While waiters and retail associates will roll their eyes at this, especially when it’s delivered by a manager following an unpleasant customer interaction, there’s definitely some credence to it. American Express is one company that takes “customer knows best” to heart, and has used the adage to help inform its marketing strategy for decades.

AmEx CMO John Hayes and I caught up around the time of the CMO Club Awards, and he gave me a glimpse into the intensely service-focused world that runs American Express from the inside out. From creating an Open Forum that lets small businesses help each other out, to starting a publishing arm way before “content marketing” was a buzzword in—wait for it—1971, to offering live streamed concerts to its music fans, Hayes and his team are are not just believers in “marketing as service,” they are the poster children for this approach. 

Drew: One of the big issues that big companies have is how to keep their marketing fresh and nimble and not get stuck in a rut. Over the years, you have been incredibly innovative in terms of your marketing. Have you been able to institutionalize this innovation?

There are a couple of answers to that question. The most fundamental is that you have to continue to focus on the customer. If you become focused on the issues that present themselves inside the company instead of looking outside at the customers, you’re sacrificing innovation. If we’re going to be a great service company, we need to be serving them, we need to be communicating with them, we need to be marketing in the places where our customers or our prospects spend their time.

Being customer-focused is the first part of innovating because what you’re trying to do is anticipate the needs that those customers have and looking for an advantage over your competition, which usually comes from serving your customers in a unique way. The second part is to generate a level of curiosity about what’s happening in the world, both in terms of the talent you bring into the company as well as the culture that you build and maintain over time. We have been able to build a culture of curiosity where people are curious about how to make things work better.

Drew: You’re a great service company, yet one might argue that you also sell a lot of products. Has a service mentality always been front-and-center at American Express? How does being a great service company affect your marketing?

American Express has been around since 1850, and when we first started, we were a freight forwarding company, not a payment company. Then we slowly moved into the traveler business and the travelers check business. The company was 108 years old before the first American Express card appeared. Since the beginning, there has been a focus on being a great service company, whether that service was freight forwarding, opening up markets for people to travel and experience, offering people a safer way to carry their money with travelers checks or offering them something like the American Express card to simplify their lives and make it more rewarding. All of those things come from a service culture, a company focused on service.

This brand has been about 3 things from its very origin: Trust, security, service. So the iteration we experience today happens to be mostly in the form of plastic payments, whether that’s corporate, small business, consumer or for our merchants, but that’s just the way we’ve taken service to market today. It starts with understanding what business you are in and understanding that this is a company that believes it’s noble to serve. From that comes the way we go to market.

Drew: I saw the case history on Small Business Saturday, and there’s a lot of evidence that it drove a tremendous amount of traffic. That was probably among your more measurably effective initiatives, at least from a small business standpoint. But my understanding of Open Forum is that you can’t find a direct link to revenue, yet you’ve been investing in Open programs for years.

I think there are some general trends that are very positive but you’re right. When you get to a granular level, it’s difficult to say this program generated this many cards and this much spending for American Express.

We have a belief that if you serve people well, they will become your customers, because people find it rare to be served extremely well. We don’t require people to be a cardholder to use Open Forum. We created the site because we knew that part of enabling the success of small businesses was helping them understand what other small businesses had already learned to help them be successful. That’s why we created it, and that’s why we made it an “open” network – so people could find the people that would be of most value to them.

When you’ve contributed in a meaningful way to a small business’ success and then say, “Hey, I’ve got some other services for you. I’ve got a card that could help you manage inventory better,” they are quite open to it because they’ll say, “Well, you guys have already been enabling my business, enabling my success,” and that’s the philosophy. Some programs we can measure on a granular level, and some we can’t, but we’re careful not to overvalue the things we can measure or undervalue the things we can’t. 

Drew: You’ve been developing content, one way or another, for small businesses for years. Given that everybody is creating content, and other companies are targeting small businesses like you are, what are you doing to stay ahead?

What’s really important is that we don’t do things just because they’re a trend; we do things because we think it’s the right thing to do for our customer. In 1971, we started a publishing group called American Express publishing. Wow, what a concept. Who was talking about content in 1971? But this company has the foresight to understand that if you’re going to be a lifestyle services company, you’re going to serve businesses and people. You need to talk to them about their life, not what they’re going to use to pay for something.

The philosophy that got this company to create a publishing group in 1971 is no different than the way we think about our company today. If you’re in the service business, every interaction with a prospect or a customer should be a service interaction. We provide those magazines as a service to those customers. If you look at what we do on stage – bringing music to so many people on a live-stream basis – the philosophy is the same. That is our way of serving customers who we know have a passion for music because of the things they do, because of the way they spend their money. We should be helping our customers experience what it is they want to experience, and many of these experiences are open architecture because we want prospects to know that’s what it feels like to be a member.

Drew: Have you seen your role, in the last 10 years, evolve as a CMO? 

My role has evolved a lot. First, it’s evolved from the standpoint of understanding what is happening in the world related to media. How are people consuming media? How are they absorbing new messages? Those things have changed fairly remarkably in the last decade. Part of my job is to make sure I understand how the world works today from a media standpoint, whether that’s social media, digital, or traditional, and how it’s changing. How are brands being established in the landscape today?

My role is also about identifying which elements of American Express will not change from 1850, and which elements absolutely will in terms of how we go to market. Trust, security, and service will not change. This company has existed for 163 years because it’s reinvented itself, but always around the ideas of trust, security, and service.

Drew: What role is Big Data playing in your job today?

Data is a fundamental part of what we do today, and it’s a great opportunity, because data can allow us to optimize on a much shorter cycle. We also see it as an opportunity to serve customers better. I can anticipate your needs, I can help you with the things you want, I can begin to understand what you might need in the future based on data and that data can be very useful in service and marketing standpoint. I won’t talk about marketing without mentioning service because I think there’s a lot of marketing out there that is of no service to anyone and frankly doesn’t have much impact. The things that are sustainable are the marketing elements that serve people well. So data becomes an enormous opportunity not only to find prospects, but to also understand them and to offer things that are a real service to them, so that you can begin the relationship on a service level and not just a sales level.

Drew: If you had to justify the creation of Open Forum today based on data that you didn’t have because you hadn’t yet introduced it, how would you do it? I believe there’s a risk today that marketers might not take the giant leaps of faith in an untested program because its’ impact is not going to be linear.

I think your assumption is entirely correct which is that the data allows you to find the opportunity, execute the opportunity, and prove that it was a success; all on shorter cycles than ever before. You’re not waiting 6 months to say ‘did it work?’; you’re saying ‘let me show you the week after Small Business Saturday’. Let’s take a look at the behavioral shifts we saw. You’re able, because data is as robust today, to see insights to what might have cause and affected certain positive outcomes.

You cannot be a great marketer without experimentation. Experimentation requires great accountability. You have to be experimenting with a purpose and you have to have the data and the metrics that will allow you to demonstrate what worked and what didn’t. It’s okay to fail as long as you don’t fail twice on the same thing. That’s the way we try to operate here, we experiment a lot we have some things that work phenomenally well which the world gets to see on a broad scale basis and we have some things that don’t work at all and we say that didn’t work fold it up let’s not do that again, let’s try some other things. That to me is a big part of how the job has changed because 20 years ago, it was not as experimental as it is today because the data wasn’t as robust, the metrics weren’t easy to access, the cycles took longer and there weren’t as many new permutations to try.

Drew: Let’s talk about the Link Like Love and Card Sync programs. Are they both social? They have transactional elements, which is very different than some of the other things you’ve done. How would you evaluate those two programs, and do they have futures?

They definitely have futures. They come from a very clear observation of many digital channels, which are unlike many traditional media channels, which tend to be really focused on communications. These new channels are distribution channels, they’re service channels; they operate on so many different dimensions that it allows you to create products specifically for these platforms.

I believe iIt’s a missed opportunity if you’re working in the digital space and all you’re trying to do is create a communication. You’re going to disappoint people, because people who consume these channels don’t see them as just communications channels.

If you start to build products and services that exist within these very robust platforms then you start to create more interesting things that people can spend time with on the platform. You’re building something that mirrors the behaviors you’ve already seen customers take in those categories and on those platforms. Our philosophy has always been to build things that compliment the platforms that we’re building them on.  We are able to distribute products, services, and communicate with our customers because the channel is so robust it allows us to do that.

Drew: Let’s take Facebook Link, Like, Love, how does that work?

We have a lot of card members who spend time on Facebook so this program now gives them a way of further utilizing their Facebook presence. We then offer them things based on their social graph, their friends, their behavior, and their traditional spending behaviors. We’re then able to see how well we’ve done because some things have an enormous uptake. We’ve offered other opportunities to customers to sync their cards that have not gotten enormous uptake.

When we launched Tweet Divide, it was basically a similar product on a different platform. We communicated with people who were going to South by Southwest before they went on their route. We also reached them in a variety of ways en route to South by Southwest. There was a special show that we were doing, which we were live streaming with Jay-Z. If they wanted to attend the show all they had to do was sync their card on Twitter, tweet the show, and they would get tickets to the show. The viral effect was unbelievable. It was an incredible show. The headline the next day was something along the lines of “The most innovative new startup was American Express.”

We don’t like to just put everything on autopilot, particularly with something like South by Southwest. If you’re going to do something, we believe it should live up to very high standard of innovation and newness so we didn’t repeat it this year. We are taking the things that worked from it and applying it all over the place.

Drew: As the CMO, how much influence do you have on the entire customer experience?

At any company, that grows with time. I do believe there is a benefit of having been in this position for so many years. You have earned the right to influence many things that ultimately build your brand by doing things, demonstrating the value, measuring the value over time. I feel for CMOs who are just coming into a complex organization and trying to manage all of the elements that they believe are impacting both their brand and their business. It’s very difficult in a short amount of time to get your arms around it. I don’t know of a company structured in such a way that the CMO has control over all of the touch points.

For me, what’s really been tremendous is having the steady support of a CEO who has said “This is important,” and being able to demonstrate to my colleagues: “Here’s the value that we can bring,” and how, if we work to together and bring something that has synergy to the market, we all benefit. We’ve seen the impact that service has on the American Express brand, our customers and their behavior following a positive experience. It’s really been about picking things off and demonstrating the value of each over time.

It took me a few years before I was really able to get people on board and see how we can be more successful with greater synergy. It’s really a plea to consistency. Some people think consistency means boring and tired, and I don’t. We’re demonstrating that we have a consistent level of talent. Our organizational structure has allowed us to build relationships internally, and some things that were difficult 12, 15 years ago are second nature today.

Small Business Saturday

As far as I am concerned, Small Business Saturday is the quintessential example of Marketing as Service, achieving the kind of success that most marketers can only imagine.  The service in this case not only establishes a day that puts the spotlight on small businesses and rivals Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but also enables small businesses to be more competitive throughout the year, with marketing toolkits that highlight their distinct advantages over their larger competitors.

With the third annual Small Business Saturday set for November 24, perhaps the most remarkable part of this program is how it is developing a life of its own, with politicians uniting over its significance and more and more small business owners trying to take advantage of “their” day. To better understand the thinking behind this program, I spent a good hour on the phone with Scott Krugman, Director of Communications at American Express.  Here’s part 1 of my interview with Scott.

Drew: So let’s start with the origin of the idea of Small Business Saturday back in 2010.
Well, like all good ideas, in a way, they originate from our customers. AmEx OPEN’s been around now for twenty-five years, and the reason why we’ve been around so long and been so successful is because we really take the pulse of our customers in a variety of ways, and in this particular case, what we found out through research and talking to our customers, their biggest need coming out of the recession was more customers. So that got us to thinking, what can we do to help small businesses get more customers?

Drew: So after identifying the need, what then?
After a number of conversations with a lot of people, the thought came: what could we do to drive business to small businesses during key times throughout the year?  Naturally, that got folks in the room talking about the holiday season. Obviously big-box merchants have “Black Friday.”  Online merchants, more recently, have Cyber Monday.  So we thought there might be something there for small businesses, and the thought here was, let’s give small businesses their ceremonial kickoff to the holiday season.  Let’s get their holiday shopping season off to a strong start.  Let’s create a day for them.  It wasn’t as quick and as simple as I’m making it out to be, but what that ended up becoming was Small Business Saturday.

Drew:  Looking back now, it seems like a no-brainer, but why back in 2010 did you think it would work?
We thought it was the right message at the right time.  There were a lot of conversations that were happening about the importance of small businesses to the economy.  The “shop local” movement was going strong, so we knew that there would be a lot of support.  We also knew through research that 98 percent of consumers said that they wanted to support small businesses.  So we wanted to create something that would take that support and turn it into sales.  And as we started iterating, it became clear that this was a movement.

Drew: So how long did it take to go from idea to execution?
I should point out in terms of the timing element, this was basically getting the concept of Small Business Saturday to market—it had to happen in a matter of a few weeks.

Drew: Wait, let me make sure I heard you correctly. So in 2010, from green light to execution, it took how long?
A matter of weeks!

Drew: Did you advertise Small Business Saturday in Year 1 (2010)?
There was definitely advertising.  There was also a press conference at city hall involving New York City Mayor Bloomberg and our CEO, Ken Chenault.  There was a lot of earned media around it in terms of announcing the day.  It was a unique enough concept where it got a lot of curiosity and a lot of pickup.

Drew: What role did social media play in the launch of SBS?
There was a lot of social media around it.  In just that first year, we saw 1.2 million people liking the Small Business Saturday Facebook page.  That’s a lot of likes in a very short period of time.  We saw 30,000 tweets using the hashtags #SmallBusinessSaturday and #SmallBizSaturday.  I was told this, and I guess it was determined with Google, that it (“Small Business”) was the fastest-rising Google search term over that time period. So, I mean, there was a lot that went into it, but we knew in order for this thing to take off, it really needed to have a strong foundation in social media for it to become viral.  That certainly worked.

Drew: So why do you think this program took off?
We’re looking at four factors that really helped.  One was there was a lot of inclusiveness.  There was national scope.  The message was clear in terms of individuals being able to boost the economy.  This is really key and really important, because as much as we talk about American Express in this—and we’re not always comfortable doing that because we feel it takes away from the day—it became an agnostic day.  For small businesses to participate, they don’t have to accept the American Express card.  For consumers to participate, they don’t have to use the American Express card.  Is American Express making an offer for consumers on the day?  Yes.  But, they’re not limited to using that card in order to make a difference.

Drew: How did small businesses react?
It created a solution to help spur more business for small businesses, and small business owners really took to it.  I think in Year 1, not as much, because there wasn’t a lot of time to get them to own the day.  So I would say Year 1 was probably more about claiming the day.

Drew: So this feels a bit like cause marketing, another idea AmEx essentially invented.
You know, there are a couple schools of thought on that.  Small businesses definitely needed the help.  But at the same time, this isn’t charity.  Small businesses are the engine that drives the economy.  They’re creating jobs.  If people support small businesses, they’re supporting their local communities.  So they’re not just supporting the businesses, they’re supporting themselves.  They’re helping everyone.  It makes the entire engine work, especially as you’re coming out of recession. But the other piece of it is, it’s the discovery aspect of what makes small businesses so special.  And it’s not the fact that maybe they do need the help, but it goes beyond that.  It’s helping consumers rediscover these businesses that have been there all along in their communities: the amazing customer service, the unique selection and the special experiences.

Drew: So how do small business compete against larger rivals in the face of discounting?
They focus on their core elements.  Large businesses spend millions of dollars a year on customer relationship management tools to understand their customer. Small businesses?  That’s an inherent part of who they are.  So it’s a day for them to really leverage those strengths and allow consumers to kind of rediscover what makes them great.  But at the same time, it’s helping small businesses not just own the day, but give them the tools that they need to thrive during the day.  This might kind of take us a little bit into Year 2, but we can always pivot back and forth.

Drew: It must have been tricking to balance AmEx branding and the SBS idea…
This is one of those campaigns where the message was so compelling, and the reason for doing it was so genuine, that people naturally wanted to take part in it.  Again, this is where it needs to become more than just about American Express, because you’re not going to get the response from public officials if Small Business Saturday is owned by any one corporate entity.  You’re not going to get that kind of response.

So that’s why it’s more than just about us.  We might have been the one to push the idea into the marketplace, but in all honesty, it’s the small business owners that owned the day.  It’s their day.  We might have given it to them, but they have taken it and made it their own.  We will always support it.  We will always do things in the marketplace to support the day and to support small business owners because that’s what we do at OPEN.  But it is their day, and that’s what makes it genuine.  And frankly, that’s what’s made it successful.

Drew: Was it hard to relinquish ownership of this idea?
That’s a fair question.  I think it’s one of the tough things when there’s such a good idea on the table.  I think the natural inclination is to want to own and control it.  But that’s the irony here.  For it to be successful, you couldn’t do either.  And I think there were enough smart people in the room to know that.  Ultimately, we realized, it takes a village to create a day.

Drew: AmEx “$25 offer to shop small” couldn’t have hurt the program.
For us to do this right, AmEx also had to be “skin in the game,” so of course the card member offer was critical.  Otherwise, it’s just lip service.  Like I said, Small Business Saturday is what we created for the entire small business community.  But I think our merchants come to expect us to look out for them in ways that others don’t.

Drew: So, did Small Business Saturday drive small business sales? 
Yes, actually.  I can tell you on the record that transactions of—we can only right now measure folks that use the American Express card, right?  That’s what we have available to us.  So for merchants that accept the card, card transactions were up 23 percent on the day.

Drew: How about the softer measures like favorability among small businesses towards the AmEx brand?
I’m limited in terms of some of the metrics that I can discuss.  But let’s say our philosophy is, if you do the right thing, customers are going to recognize that about you.  And I think that there are not many companies that would have been able to do something like a Small Business Saturday in a genuine way.  I think that has a lot to do with the OPEN brand as it relates to American Express, frankly.

Drew: It must help that this is not the first time you’ve focused on small businesses.
Yes.  We’ve been in the marketplace for small businesses probably longer than anyone else.  I believe we had the first business card devoted to small businesses.  I think because of the history we have in this community, there’s an expectation that we are going to be supportive beyond product offerings.  So I think that it’s one of those situations where all those interests are aligned.  Obviously, we have an interest in doing the right thing to help small businesses: it’s what we’ve been doing.  Our customers expect us to help them with their solutions.  So I think you could say, in a lot of ways, Small Business Saturday was a result of us doing what we have always done, and that’s listening to our customers’ needs and trying to find solutions.  It just so happens that we found something, in this particular case, that was massively innovative.  And is there a halo effect from that?  Absolutely.  That’s why I think you see a lot of other companies wanting to be a part of Small Business Saturday as well.

Drew: So is this about doing well by doing good?
Like I said, I think for a company to do the right thing in a meaningful way, it needs to be genuine.  And I think the marketplace, whether it’s small business owners or consumers, are smart enough to know when it’s not.  So I think it needs to start from the desire of wanting to do good and wanting to do the right thing.  That’s where Small Business Saturday is no different.  That’s where it starts.  I think there’s… if you do the right thing in the right way, good things come with that, yes.

Teaching Social Business at San Jose State (with IBM)

Ben Franklin’s line, “well done is better than well said,” gets at the very heart of Marketing as Service.  If you want to truly engage your target to the point that they have a genuine desire to do business with you then you have to do something–it can’t be just talk.  A great example of doing something is IBM’s recently announced collaboration with San Jose State University with a program they call The Great Mind Challenge.  This program brings together students, teachers, IBM’ers (as mentors) and local companies that seems to be a win/win/win/win for all involved.

As part of my background research for a story on this program (see FastCompany.com), I interviewed Larry Gee, the SJSU instructor working with IBM to teach “social business” to a select group of undergrads.  I think you’ll find what Gee has to say about this business/academic collaboration quite interesting.

DN: Can you give me a little background on this program from SJSU’s perspective?
SJSU,  College of Business, has always brought innovation to the classroom so students can learn, apply, and differentiate themselves in the business world.   SJSU and IBM has a long relationship over the years.  It is only natural that ideas are bounced back and forth between us;  how we can make a difference when preparing the next generation of leaders.  Bringing social business into the classroom was one of those ideas that fit the innovation framework.

DN: Why did SJSU decide to collaborate with IBM on this project?
SJSU, College of Business,  decided to collaborate with IBM on this project because Social Business is a critical skill that students need to have to be competitive in the market place.   Social Business is a transferable skill across multiple disciplines ie business, bio-sciences, engineering, humanity & arts, etc.  Students worked on a real business problem, real time, to learn and apply social business tools and processes.

DN: Do you have collaborations with other large corporations?
Yes, we have collaborated with other large corporations such as Cisco, Google, Microsoft to name a few.

DN: If you were talking to another educator at a different university who was considering a similar collaboration, what advice would you give them?
My advice:  1) Identify key social business partner asap.  This is critical because a real life component is needed to reinforce key concept and process.  2)  Plan quickly with a clear course work and administration buy-in roadmap for execution in 60 days.  3)  Execute plan and have class up and running by next term.

DN: How are you evaluating the success of this program?
Students must be able to understand and apply social business tools/process to a real life problem.  The program success is measured on how well students learn, grasp, apply, and demonstrate how social business can be used in a business environment to increase competitive advantage or improve business process cycle time.

DN: How have students responded?
Students response has been great because they have already been exposed and used social media, Facebook, blogs, bookmarks, wiki, to name a few,  basic components of social business, at a very young age.   What is new then?  They are able to build a social business environment using various social media tools they already know and use, but this time, in a business setting.

DN: Can you speak to the advantages of having IBM experts mentor your students?
Certainly.  Having a subject matter experts available to talk, demonstrate, and relate to actual projects are key.   One can read articles and talk about them in class.  But when you are given access to the latest  materials and platform to create a social business environment then this is collaboration at its highest.  Mentor is only a few clicks away to kick around ideas and bring those ideas to reality.  This is where academia  and business intersect.

DN: Is there a risk with a program like this that it will be perceived more as a marketing ploy for IBM than a more company-neutral business course?
I don’t believe the program is a major marketing ploy but rather a  business neutral course because majority of tools and contents used were not IBM but rather current tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Bookmark, wiki, etc.  GBS, IBM Business Partner, provided the real life problem for students to do a deep dive into their social business space.

How to Sell More by Selling Less

He was harder to shake than a telephone poll and just as dull.  Another financial advisor spouting out his expertise into my ears before I’d even downed my first cup of coffee.  I didn’t know the guy from Adam and he sure as heck didn’t know me.  Nonetheless, he droned on until my patience expired, forcing a polite but stern, “thanks but no thanks,” followed by a hope-ending click. [Funny enough I just got another cold call much like the one described here. Make them stop!]

Later that week, I attended my fifth Media & Technology CEO Summit put on by my friends Tom Livaccari and Ken Shapiro, two UBS financial advisors who are about as far from the cold-calling yacker as you can get.  Long-time proponents of the approach I call Marketing as Service, The Livaccari Shapiro Wealth Management Group offers a textbook case on growing your business by selling less and doing more.

Know your Niche
For Marketing as Service programs to be effective, it’s essential to have a tightly defined target to whom you can deliver a meaningful benefit.  Having been entrepreneurs themselves in the ‘90s, it’s not surprising that Livaccari and Shapiro decided to focus their practice on advising entrepreneurs and CEOs of Internet, media and tech companies. Remembering the unique issues these entrepreneurs faced, Shapiro noted, “We always wished we could find an advisor that would in essence partner with us.”

Start Small
Since Marketing as Service programs can be costly, start small and build from success.  When Livaccari and Shapiro first realized they could help their clients by bringing them together, they started with a roundtable discussion among a few CEOs facing the same issues. The program grew quickly. Reported Shapiro, “They found [the events] so valuable that [attendees] suggested other CEOs that they thought could benefit from similar discussions in the future.”

Vary the Value Add
At the core of every successful Marketing as Service program is something of genuine value to the target.  For Livaccari and Shapiro, the value to their prospects and customers is more than just useful information.  Explained Shapiro, “Clients tell us that these summits have helped them stimulate meaningful ideas, make valuable connections and in one case even initiated a conversation with a party that later acquired their company.”

Rely on Relevance
One of the more obvious aspects of Marketing as Service is the benefit of pinpoint relevance to everyone concerned. “Because the content and the other participants in these events are so relevant to our clients and prospects’ lives we find they are eager to join us,” added Shapiro.  “This leads to these events being excellent ice breakers, which enable people to experience first-hand our consultative and value-added approach.”

Differentiate by Doing
The essential notion behind Marketing as Service is the fair exchange of value between buyer and seller, during which the seller earns the trust of the buyer by doing something meaningful instead of just talking about how good they are.

“These events are an excellent way for us to provide prospects a window into the way that we interact with clients, put their needs first and help them with a wide array of issues that are not commonly addressed by others in our field.”

Triumph with Trust
It is the mandate of any form of marketing to build trust. Without trust, there is simply no brand, especially in the financial services arena. Marketing as Service programs like Livaccari and Shapiro’s CEO Summits are particularly good at building trust.  “From these events prospects often begin a dialogue with us regarding whichever matter is most pressing to them, and over time this often leads to them becoming a client as they gain comfort with us, our approach and our thought process.”

Extend your Engagements
Done correctly, Marketing as Service programs offer unique opportunities for meaningful engagement that go well beyond a specific event.  With the goal of being recognized as “uncommon partners,” Livaccari and Shapiro have built a community of likeminded CEOs who are thus positively inclined to share what they’ve learned. “We know that as long as we put our clients’ needs first then over time they become our best sales force as they share with their friends the positive experience they have had.”

Final Note:
Having been in their client’s shoes, Livaccari and Shapiro have built a successful practice by simply doing what they wish others had done for them when they were entrepreneurs. Its not rocket science. Just smart marketing.  For more insights on their approach, see the Q&A with Shapiro on these pages.  (This article first appeared on FastCompany.com.)

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