CMO 2.0 Conversation with Karen Quintos, CMO at Dell

Written by on June 18, 2011 – 2:54 pm -

quintos_karenI truly enjoyed my CMO 2.0 conversation with Karen Quintos, the CMO at Dell. Karen has somewhat of an unusual background for a CMO at a high tech company. She spent almost half her career in the pharmaceutical industry and did a stint in the financial services industry before landing at Dell 11 years ago – a rich background that was clearly reflected in the conversation. Karen also has a passion for being close to the customer – a good trait for any CMO.

We first talked about social media, a topic we had discussed at length with Erin Nelson, the previous CMO at Dell, and Manish Mehta, the VP of social media and communities, during an earlier CMO 2.0 Conversation. Karen confirmed that social media absolutely has to be built into the fabric of the company and that the (social) customer has to be at the core of everything. In fact, Karen believes that customer centricity is key to win in the marketplace. At Dell, they leverage social media as part of everything they do – product development, sales, marketing, HR, IT, finance, and service and support.

Karen then described the evolution of IdeaStorm, the Dell innovation communities, and how they now include Storm Session – focused and directed customer feedback sessions bound in time. Examples of successful Storm Sessions included discussions with CIO’s around virtualization, sustainability, and data center-type solutions – where customers could discuss how they think about ROI and total cost of ownership rather than just talk about technology deployment issues.

The Dell Social Monitoring Command Center, which was launched last year, is set up for employees to monitor, respond, and trend the conversations that are going on about Dell all over the world. On any given day they get upwards of 25,000 different conversations about Dell. A small team of people triage the conversations  by coding them red, orange or green, and feed them into processes like product development. Karen made the point that when it comes to social media monitoring companies need to realize that it should not be about hearing, but about listening and making sense.

“Leveraging social media cannot be a bolt-on strategy,” said Karen, “it has to be built into the culture…it cannot be someone’s second job, it cannot be something that they think of once a week. It has to be something that’s integrated into their day-to-day operations.” Right on! But amazing to hear that and then realize that more than 60% of those companies that participate in our Tribalization of Business Study (co-sponsored with Deloitte and the Society for New Communications Research) have 1 or less than a full time person associated with these efforts. Those companies need to wake up and listen to truly Hyper-Social organizations like Dell.

There are of course risks associated with social media. One of the early risks that Dell identified was to react too quickly – either latching on to negative comments first or latching on to proposed product ideas that very few people want. Sounds a lot like not giving in to the “tyranny of the minority” and instead reacting to real trends. Another risk they identified early on was around transparency – especially when eager employees don’t disclose that they work for Dell. Karen believes that many of the risks can be mitigated through training and education.

As many other CMO’s at successful Hyper-Social Organizations, Karen pointed to the importance of having simple values to ensure consistency across the multiple employee touch-points that they have with their customers – in their case be open, be transparent, be simple, and be caring.

Next we switched to the topic of culture, which Karen believes is, if not the most important, one of the most important elements in a company’s success. She considers Dell’s culture fairly young at 27 years old, but truly believes that is what guides behavior and brand. She also believes that it is extremely important to link your own culture(s) with that of your customers – especially in the B2B and public sector space, which make up 80% of Dell’s business.

An important part of culture is the culture of innovation. Over the last two years, Dell has fueled innovation not just from within but also through acquisitions. Interestingly enough, but not surprising (the world is not flat after all), Dell sees aquisitions from major innovation centers like Silicon Valley as being totally key to continue to bring the spirit of innovation within the company.

We closed the conversation by talking about a super-cool program that Dell is doing in partnership with the University of Texas – the Dell Social Innovation Competition. It’s open to higher education students around the world who have a passion for taking a social issue that they see within their community and coming up with a plan to address it. They submit ideas, business plans and videos which get voted on. The best ones get to travel to Austin where a finalist gets selected. With kids from India, Nigeria, France and the United States competing with one another, they are able to create a cauldron of diversity of thought necessary for innovation that would be hard to create in any corporate environment.

That is definitely something I would want to tell my 16 year old son about!

Other things we talked about include:

  • The recommendation for companies to listen and engage with the both the good and the bad in social media, and how the sooner you engage the more successful you will be
  • How Dell has training programs in place to teach people (9,000 people trained so far) how to listen and how to engage
  • How to ensure that the proper experts get involved in deeply technical discussions
  • The importance of trusting employees to do the right thing
  • The importance of being able to trend conversations and launch more in-depth discussions with customers about important topics
  • The importance of hiring people with a passion to win
  • The importance of tying compensation and rewards to a set of behaviors – not just “what” behaviors, but also “how” behaviors
  • The importance of social rewards in fostering the right culture
  • The importance of employee rotational programs to foster innovation

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Posted in CMO 2.0 Conversation | 3 Comments »

CMO 2.0 Influencer Conversation with Grant McCracken, author of the Chief Culture Officer

Written by on June 17, 2011 – 10:28 am -

grant_mccrackenHaving known and admired Grant McCracken for a few years, I knew I was in for a intellectual treat with this CMO 2.0 Influencer Conversation. Grant is an academic with a background in anthropology, economics and complexity theory, a blogger and also the author of multiple books, his latest being The Chief Culture Officer, how to create a living, breathing corporation.

Grant has always focused on contemporary American Culture, making his knowledge a real treasure trove for marketers who are trying to understand people’s buying behavior rather than shoving products down people’s throat. His interest in economics comes from the fact that when you study American Culture, you quickly see that it comes from the interaction of culture and commerce.

Having so many definitions of culture out there, we started the discussion by defining what culture means for Grant. Forgive the technical nature of this part of the conversation (and also the fact that Grant was cut out for a bit – we my rerecord that part in the future), but being a new student of Culture, it was important to me. Grant does accept the classic definition of culture as presented by Geertz – which says that culture if a transmitted pattern of meaning embodied in symbols by which people communicate, perpetuate and develop their knowledge about and they attitudes towards life.

Grant then took us through the evolution of culture over time. In hunter gatherer societies, culture was very egalitarian, like language – everyone shared it and nobody had a disproportionate influence over it. In more developed and structurally more complicated societies with hierarchies, we saw the creation of elites who decide what meanings should be and what shape culture should take. In Western societies and all the way into the 20th century we had magazine editors, the keepers of mass media, marketers, and agencies that shaped public opinion and cultural meaning making. In the last 10 years, we have entered a new era, one in which the production of meaning and culture became more egalitarian once again. A kid with $2,000 worth of computer equipment in his parents’ basement can now influence public opinion as much as the elites do. A question in Grant’s mind is whether, with the democratization of culture and the emergence of the long tail, we may lose the centricity and shared-ness that Geertz was talking about and end up with a solipsistic world when everyone is their own universe. We both agreed that while it is structurally a possibility to end up there, we probably will never see that happen.

Next we talked about the importance of culture in business – and started with the example of Coca Cola, which without culture would be nothing more than sugared fizzy water. In the early days Coca Cola had the world to itself, with Pepsi not showing up for another 30-40 years. At the time, Coca Cola’s advertising shaped America’s concept of itself and even influenced how we think about Santa Claus. But then came the competitive phase , and a market crowded with alternatives. Brands now had to keep up with contemporary culture rather than shape it – you would pick a trend and ride that wave into mainstream acceptance. Now that world has completely gone as well. With culture coming from so many places, in so many forms, and lasting such a brief time. It’s like a perfect storm out there, you pick a trend and it’s gone before you know it. And so many companies end up engaging in a desperate game of catch-up, which means that they don’t really have any strategy at their disposal.

That is why Grant makes the case that every company should have a Chief Culture Officer (CCO).

We then talked about the role of agencies in the marketing and meaning making mix and how Grant believes  that  30 seconds spots are still powerful tools in shaping meaning. Contrasting a Volvo ad with the Ford Fiesta Movement program in social media, he argues that the Volvo ad did great things for the brand that could not be achieved in social media. In fact, and while the Ford Fiesta Movement was a brilliant program, it did not sell any cars.

Next we talked about slow culture vs. fast culture, and how most companies forget slow culture. Fast culture comes from the cool hunters who know only the hippest things. What they don’t understand is that 80% of all the meanings in our culture are relatively ancient – they come to us from the 19th or 16th century, or even beyond that. Focusing on the 20% cool hunting or fast meanings is what causes everyone to play the desperate game of catch-up he talked and to constantly repudiate their own brand.

I could have written a book with all the information that flowed during this conversation. You will have to listen to the recording to hear Grant talk about some of the other things we discussed, which include:

  • How many companies have lots of CCO kinds of people on staff, but no-one in the C-Suite
  • How agencies will have to adapt moving forward and how cultural intelligence is so important that you cannot outsource it to them
  • How successful brands are a set of meanings that are exquisitely responsive to the consumer and delicately and brilliantly crafted by the tactician, the brander, the marketer or the ad agency.
  • How brands are bundles of meaning that need to be manufactured and can be a conduit for sociality
  • The lack of culture training in business education
  • Whether co-creation of meaning making with consumers can work
  • How the older generation had multiple group memberships while teenagers have multiple selves
  • How social status no longer plays a role in American culture and how it was replaced by celebrity culture
  • How Gen Yers get their security from their networks where we got it from the workplace

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Posted in CMO 2.0 Influencer Conversation | 2 Comments »
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