CMO 2.0 Conversation with Erin Nelson, CMO at Dell, and Manish Mehta, VP of Social Media and Communities

Written by on March 4, 2010 – 6:52 am -

erin-nelsonmanishMy CMO 2.0 Conversation with Erin Nelson, the CMO at Dell, came with a bonus in that Manish Mehta, the VP of Social Media and Community for Dell joined us as well. I hope you will enjoy this CMO 2.0 Conversation as much as I did.

Erin is responsible for Dell’s Global brand strategy, social media, global communication, as well as for the talent development of the Dell marketing teams – where she focuses on reinvigorating the way Dell marketing works. She has been with Dell for 11 years, while Manish has been with them for 15 years. Manish is in charge of social media and communities, including, their intranet and their extranet.

One of the first things we discussed was the role of social media and communities within Dell’s business strategy – and how they got to become one of the leaders in social media adoption. On the one hand, dealing with customers directly through social media is a natural extension of what the Dell brand has been all about for the past 25 years – having a direct relationship with the customer. On the other hand it was also precipitated by what has come to be known as “Dell Hell”, when prominent blogger Jeff Jarvis and others had some not too flattering things to say about Dell in public forums. The latter incident gave them no choice but to jump full force into embracing the social on a large scale. As Erin said, it wasn’t a question of test, learn, and measure, it was actually a question of survival – with their brand under severe pressure. In hindsight, Erin believes that this has been a huge benefit for Dell, saying that you cannot get into social media by just putting a toe in the water – you are either all in and it becomes part of your culture, or you’re not.

As we argue in our upcoming book, the Hyper-Social organization, we could not agree more. Companies that successfully embrace the social are those, like Dell, that make it part of the fabric or DNA of everything they do – it cannot just be managed as bolt-on programs to existing strategies. It is also interesting to note how companies like Dell and IBM, which have managed to totally transform themselves, were able to do so only after “near death” experiences (and those are my words/observations, not Dell’s). Dell truly rebuilt itself with the customer at the core of everything they do – how they sell, how they market, how they service and support, how they communicate, and how they design new products.

The scale at which Dell interacts with customers online is staggering – with billions of connections every year through the purchase path, the support path, and through the community path of learning how to use technology and achieve more with it. All that cross-functional customer interaction required them to set up a cross functional governance council, with member representatives from across the entire company – business units, marketing teams, service organizations, and product organizations. They meet on a regular basis to share the learnings, and to make sure that the learnings become embedded within all company processes.

Next we talked about the lessons learned from listening to what is being said about the company in the marketplace and from deciding how and when to engage in those conversations. As many other successful Hyper-Social organization CMO’s told us, they do not always engage. Listening is incredibly important, but often times hearing, learning, and acting upon what is being said are the real keys to success – not direct engagement. It is also important to realize that in this new world, notwithstanding that you can have a common brand spirit, you cannot really have a singular voice of the company anymore. At Dell they have 100,000 team members who are experts in what they do and who will speak out in their own voice.

We also spent a fair amount of time talking about how best to measure the impact of social media and community initiatives – especially in view of the recent announcement that Dell sold $6.5M worth of products through their Twitter channel last year. Obvioulsy being engaged in social channels such as Twitter is not all about generating revenue (although that is a nice side effect). At Dell they try to gauge many other things, including level of engagement/connectedness, sentiment, the value that they are adding in the customers’ buying decisions, and whether they add value in how customers utilize their technology better.

Lastly we talked about some of the recent changes that Dell made to their IdeaStorm environment, and how they felt the need to expand their successful online suggestion box concept with directed and time-bound innovation jams called Storm Sessions through which they ask the community questions in real time, sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks, and sometimes for hours. They have found this real time learning capability, which they use both inside and outside, to be extremely powerful.

Other things that we discussed include:

  • The importance of assigning roles to employees who engage in social media – making sure, for example, that technically unqualified employees do not attempt to respond to tech issues
  • The challenges associated with integrating acquisitions within your corporate culture (specifically the acquisition of Perot Systems, which increased the number of employees at Dell by 40%).
  • How making the social part of the fabric of the way they do business changed the way they think about market segments – thinking more about customer clusters or tribes rather than classic demographically based segments
  • The importance of ratings and reviews in leveraging the social as part of your business
  • The two types of customer interactions that happen online – disgruntled ones where you need to turn their sentiment from a negative to a positive, and fans, who are brand amabassadors and who you want to engage to influence the influencers
  • The importance and risks of status in communities
  • How talent acquisition shifted from looking for people with existing expertise to people who can develop new capabilities

As usual, you can listen to the full podcast below.

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Posted in CMO 2.0 Conversation | 50 Comments »

CMO 2.0 Conversation with Christa Carone, CMO at Xerox

Written by on March 2, 2010 – 10:35 pm -

ccaronesmI had a very insightful CMO 2.0 conversation with Christa Carone, the CMO at Xerox. As with many other CMO’s I interviewed on this site, Christa has had a pretty long tenure at Xerox – 14 years to be exact, with the last 1 1/2 years as CMO.

Being the CMO at Xerox is a unique position in that the company is in the business of helping its customers market themselves better. So not only do you need to market your company, you also need to serve as a best practice for your customers – you need to walk the talk.

Early on in the conversation we talked about the dramatic changes that social media brought to customer communications and go-to-market strategies. Christa described how Xerox is very active in social media and how they have a real cross-functional approach to social marketing. They found that the cross-functional team that they put in place, which consists of existing social media enthusiasts, is keeping a much higher level of energy than typical cross-functional teams. Part of the reason for this is that they enlisted people who had a personal passion that they could now put to work on behalf of their company.

They obviously listen to what is being said about themselves, and they pay a lot of attention to what conversations  to participate in, and perhaps more importantly which ones to stay away from – realizing that sometimes participating in conversations can hinder more than help. An interesting problem that they face in listening to what is being said about them is that the term Xerox is often being used as a verb and returns a lot of content that isn’t relevant to them.  They also get the fact that sometimes you can start a conversation on your own platform, but that often times conversations already exist somewhere else and that in these cases it is better to engage people where they are rather than try to attract them to your own environment. As Christa said, you can build it, but if nobody shows up, you are not getting any return on your investment. Unfortunatelly, and according to the results of our yearly Tribalization of Business Study, most companies do not realize that – resulting in many dead company-sponsored forums and communities littering the web.

At Xerox, they encourage every employee to become part of the voice of the company. They developed friendly guidelines that empower employees and encourage them to use social media on behalf of the company. By tapping into employees’ passion they are achieving a level of virality with new product launches that they never saw before. In order to do this they had to give up some control, but the benefits are tremendous.

Next we switched the discussion to some more traditional marketing issues – including how to deliver a consistent brand experience through a complex distribution channel, and the impact of the economic downturn on the marketing mix.

Xerox has over 10,000 resellers and more than 6,500 authorized sales agents – making for a lot of customer touch-points. While they are incredibly disciplined on branding, they, like everyone else, are losing some control of how the brand is being perceived by the customer. What perhaps keeps  the brand perception across all those touch points the most consistent is a shared passion for the brand by both employees and channel partners.

The economic downturn and the associated reductions in marketing spent has had three major effects on Xerox’ marketing mix. First they doubled down on cross-media customized content (one-to-one) as part of their direct marketing campaigns – dramatically improving their rates of return from their target markets. Second, they redefined marketing programs for which they had long standing contractual obligations like sports sponsorships – turning them into business functions where the customer hospitality actually has a business purpose. Not only did they get business value from it, the hospitality piece allowed them to strengthen the relationship with their customers. Third, and they are still working on that, they developed an integrated communications/messaging platform that has tentacles across all lines of business and that is more than just a tag line or ad campaign  for the company.

Another interesting part of the conversation was when we talked about how Xerox transitioned from being a research lab-driven bastion for innovation to a customer-driven innovator. They still have their research centers, but even the researchers get out of the labs and participate in the periodic “dreaming with the customer” sessions that are now at the core of the Xerox innovation process.

We closed the conversation by talking about the need for new marketing metrics in this new socially-enabled business world. As some other CMOs said in previous CMO 2.0 Conversations, Christa reminded us that there is a certain level of subjectivity that goes into what we do in marketing. There is this gut check that says that something’s working, especially when you are looking at brand based marketing that is not intended to have a direct and short term revenue-generating objective to it.

Other things that we discussed include:

  • The role of one to one communications in marketing
  • The challenges associated with shifting marketing resources to social media marketing (discretionary budgets vs. headcount)
  • How to use Facebook as an extension of your employee communications strategy
  • How to strike the right balance between being taken hostage and spending the right amount of energy with those people who have the largest social media megaphones
  • The importance of surrounding yourself with people who can make good judgment calls on behalf of the company
  • The changing role of market research in defining the marketing mix
  • The importance of employee passion in getting things done

As usual you can listen to the full podcast of the CMO 2.0 conversation below.

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CMO 2.0 Conversation with Larry Flanagan, CMO at MasterCard

Written by on March 1, 2010 – 9:44 pm -

larryflanaganMy CMO 2.0 Conversation with Larry Flanagan, the CMO at MasterCard was a good one.

As is usually the case with these interviews, Larry started off by giving us some context to the career that led him to become CMO at MasterCard – in his case a background that includes a stint in the advertising business, as well as client side experiences with Proctor & Gamble and L’Oreal, where he was involved with major acquisitions. He joined MasterCard 13 years ago when the brand was in dire straits, and became CMO 5 years later. Not surprisingly, one of his main yardsticks in managing global marketing campaigns for MasterCard is Marketing ROI.

MasterCard has an interesting and fairly complex business model. On the one hand, they deal with partners, for the most part banks, but also merchant partners and non-financial institutions, who are basically franchisees. On the other hand they deal with consumers, who are the carriers of the cards. That makes for a business that is not just into B2B or B2C, but also into B2C2B and B2B2C – resulting in interesting and unique challenges as it relates to balancing the marketing mix and branding.

We then talked about the challenges associated with delivering a consistent brand experience when you have as many customer touch-points as MasterCard has – most of which are not in the company’s control. Brand is especially important for MasterCard as it is fully intertwined with the value propositions to their partners. At MasterCard, just as is the case with many other companies, branding has undergone dramatic shifts over the last decades. Larry described how branding went from being a process that consisted of a one way dialog in which companies told the consumers how they should think about the brand, how it’s differentiated from competitors, what the key benefits and value proposition are, to a many-to-many process in which the brand exists in the consumer’s daily experience, and is influenced not only by what the company says, but also by what is being said in consumers’ social networks, and what friends are telling them. Larry calls this a consumer inside-out view of the brand – one in which the brand truth lies with the consumer.

What that means for marketers is that they have to think differently about the channels through which they try to influence consumers. Sometimes the best way to have a dialogue with the consumer is through third party influencers and stake-holders who enjoy a high level of trust within their communities and networks.

In Larry’s view, social media and digital technologies have ignited a revolution that has leveled the playing field between individuals and corporations. In a way, it has enabled word of mouth, which has always been one of the most successful means of influence and decision-making, to become word of mouth on steroids, with everything being amplified and traveling much faster than before. That is true in all aspects of business, not just in marketing, but also in the way we recruit and manage talent, and how job applicants select the companies they want to work for. And while we may not fully understand the long term impact of social media on our business – one thing we know for sure is that as companies we have to be part of those conversations.

One of the challenges facing marketers who are investing in these new channels and leveraging these new-found opportunities to engage with consumers, partners, and competitors, is how to measure the impact of those programs, and how to attribute value to all those new behaviors so that we can influence the ones we want. Clearly there are no good models out there to do that and Larry believes that many companies will develop proprietary models.

We then talked about an issue that is very specific to the financial sector, yet applicable to all industries – that of trust. It’s no secret that the last economic downturn have severely damaged the trust that consumers have in their financial institutions. When you are hit with a trust confidence crisis like this – how do you overcome it and how do you regain that trust? According to Larry, the key to overcome this is by first listening to the marketplace and truly understand what is going on. Next is to engage with the marketplace in a manner that is transparent and value driven. Specifically for financial services companies that means convincing consumers that they want to make their lives easier while not hiding the fact that they are for-profit commercial institutions and not charitable organizations.

Other things that we discussed include:

  • The changing role of reputation management in a social media world
  • The importance of listening to what is being said about your company and how to select the conversations in which you want to engage
  • The skill set of people needed to successfully lead you through the current changes
  • The importance of mobile applications in the marketing mix
  • The role and valuation of impressions and engagement in paid media, earned media, and owned media
  • The balance between global/local needs in the marketing mix

As usual, you can listen to the full podcast below.

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Posted in CMO 2.0 Conversation | 3 Comments »

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