Mary-Ann Somers
September 20, 2019

Examining Intuit’s Bold Marketing Machine

Guest: Mary-Ann Somers - SVP & Chief Growth Officer, Consumer Group, Intuit

When Intuit’s Mary-Ann Somers took over as SVP & Chief Growth Officer of the Consumer Group business unit, she wanted to build upon the success of her predecessor, and encourage a culture of experimentation. She wanted a marketing machine that led with inquiry, holistically understood the business, and got close to its customers. She wanted big things for the consumer business—of course, when you’re Intuit, which pulls in about $7B in revenue annually, employs over 8,000 people, and has a consumer product portfolio with names like TurboTax and Mint, you’re already going pretty big. Still, Somers and her team were ready to continue building on the software giant’s momentum.

On this episode, she discusses her past in consumer packaged goods, including championing digital marketing at Hershey’s (and moving 35% of their efforts to digital in just 6 months), her commitment to clean, crisp, and single-minded messaging, brand management, and why marketers ought to operate with a holistic view of the company. Listen in to her interview, recorded in front of a live audience, to hear more!

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Mary-Ann Somers

Drew Neisser: My guest today is Mary-Ann Somers, CMO and Chief Growth Officer at Intuit, whose brands include QuickBooks, TurboTax, Mint, and others. Now, by the way, if you were smart enough to buy Intuit’s stock in 2016, in January to be exact, you would right now be appreciated a 3x increase in return already. The company is well known as an innovator in the financial services arena and what makes this show particularly special is that we’re recording in front of a live audience. In fact, the entire Intuit marketing team is here. So, hey. [Applause]. All right. That rocks. If that doesn’t get us excited, so no pressure, Mary-Ann, but we’ve got to rock this. So first, our welcome to the show.

Mary-Ann Somers: Thanks for having me here. I’m really excited about it.

Drew Neisser: It is cool that do this in front of an audience. In our prep call, because, yes, we do prep for these shows, you talked about the success you had when you were a Coke. We talked about the tea business and how you sort of doubled it from half a billion to a billion. That’s a big, bold, audacious accomplishment. Can you start—when you got there, what was the challenge like?

Mary-Ann Somers: Welcome to San Diego by the way, beautiful San Diego. As I got into this new role at Coke when I became the general manager of the coffee, tea, and water business, part of it was looking at the tea category. And the tea category was a really important growing category. People’s behaviors were changing. Their tastes were changing. As we looked at it from a Coke standpoint, we were under-shared and a very important category. So as I saw that, I also had the opportunity—for the first time we really had a portfolio of brands that we could look at and think about how we could grow. And, you know, I was encountering some skepticism because there were times in the past where we had tried a new tea strategy and it hadn’t really worked out well.

Drew Neisser: Can I just stop you on that one thing? I love that. This happens all the time where you’re talking to a brand and they say, “W tried this” and it’s like institutional knowledge, but they tried it wrong. Right? I think that’s what we’ve learned, that they tried it wrong. So what did you try this time that made it work? And why did you think it would work this time?

Mary-Ann Somers: Part of it is, maybe they tried it wrong, but part of it is, sometimes it takes many attempts to get to something and you have to persevere. I think if you give up too early, you can miss amazing opportunities. And that’s something, by the way, as an aside, that we do really well at Intuit. We keep on experimenting, we keep on trying until we’ve cracked the nut. The failed attempts in the past proved to be great learning for me. It gave me great insight into what we could do going forward that maybe this time we would hit it.

There were a few things that were different, part what I said about the portfolio. But also what I tried to do is I tried to start from outside in. I started to look at the marketplace. I started to look at the competition. And I started to set a long-term strategy or vision of what things could be. Like any company, Coke is a competitive company. They like to be number one in all the categories that they compete in. One of the things was that we were number four in the tea category.

I set it up and I said, “What could happen? What would it look like for us to be number one?” So I set up a vision, the what-if scenario at the beginning. I did that just instinctively, but it really worked in many ways for senior management to start saying okay. What senior management wants to say, we want to be number three or we want to be number two? We want to be number one, so I laid out a roadmap to say what that would entail, what we would need to do to get to number one.

Drew Neisser: I think that’s so important. The vision thing. But that is the job, number one, of any leader of any department—it’s to set a vision. Now, what I love about this one is that once you set that, a lot of pieces have to come together and all those folks have to get behind it. You as a marketer can’t get that job done alone.

Mary-Ann Somers: Yeah, sure, definitely. But part of it is setting the long-term strategy. The other part that helped me tremendously was tying it into our corporate goals, our global corporate goals. We at Coca-Cola knew that we needed to grow to be a total beverage company. We had incredible strength in sodas and carbonated beverages, but this was an area we needed to continue to lean into to achieve our corporate goals. So one thing was being able to align it with the bigger corporate goals.

The other part was having a GM mindset to look at the total business. What did this really mean? What were the capabilities we needed? What were the investments we needed? Was it believable that we could get to number one? Those benchmarks along the way, what would they have to be, and how did that look with that roadmap to get to number one? I think that laying out those things really helped me and getting alignment at the top levels, at the CEO at the president’s level to say, “This is our vision, this is our path to get there. This is what we need.”

A big part of that was investment in growing awareness. One of the things that we saw was we had many great brands. One of them was a hidden gem. Gold Peak, which many people did not know about, had a great brand positioning. It had one of the highest repeat product repeat rates of any of the beverages in the company. It had low awareness but yet we did testing that showed when we put some marketing money into it, it responded incredibly well. That was not too hard to figure out. It’s just uncovering that and building the case. We got money to launch advertising behind it and then the other part was really investment in capital for things like new formulas, things like new packages, all those kinds of things to build out the portfolio.

Drew Neisser: I forgot you were general manager as well. There’s somewhat of a big difference between a CMO role and a general manager because you have P&L responsibility and you can actually marshal the forces. So besides effect is you just put money behind the brand, was there any campaign that you look back on in that experience and go, “That was cool. That really worked. That was creative.”?

Mary-Ann Somers: Yeah, I would point to two pieces of it. One’s a marketing campaign and one’s a commercial strategy if you will. One of the things that Coca-Cola did, they had this thing called OBPPC. Very catchy, right? It rolls right off the tongue. It’s about looking at the occasion, so what’s the consumer occasion? Brand, which brand? Because you have a portfolio of brands. What’s the packaging? Beverages come in a lot of different packaging—sizes, multi-packs, big sizes. Price points, and then the channel. So if you think about that, tea is consumed in many different places.

You can go in the middle of the aisle in the grocery store and you can buy shelf-stable tea. You can go to the refrigerated section where the dairy products are and you can buy chilled tea, a fresh formula there. You can go to the deli section and when you’re getting your sandwich, you grab a single-serve tea out of the cooler or even at checkout. Those are all different routes to market many times and those need to be different commercial strategies. We looked at all the brands, developed the whole strategy of which brands we’re going to be in, in which places, and what packages, and what formulas. We built that out, so that was very successful from a commercial standpoint.

From an advertising standpoint. We developed a campaign behind Gold Peak. As I said before, it was really based on a really great, powerful positioning. One of the things we did is we looked at the attributes and we said, let’s not only look at what people say is important. We know as marketers a lot of times the say/do is different, so let’s look at the derived importance of attributes. What’s really driving the purchase intent? What we found there is this idea of homebrewed was so powerful and that’s what our positioning was based on.

It really had a homebrew taste, so we were able to bring that to the forefront, create a campaign where our idea was that when you open a bottle of Gold Peak, you should think about sitting on your back porch in you’re Adirondack chair looking at the sunset. Nice cool breeze coming through. That’s the feeling we wanted to create with this brand, so we developed new advertising. We had a celebrity voice over. We wanted to have somebody who really gave that feeling of homeliness and we picked Ron Howard—just that voice was familiar, but yet people couldn’t place it—and create that kind of a campaign. It scored through the roof. The ROI on it was even better than we had anticipated. It really drove a lot of success for the brand.

Drew Neisser: Before we wrap up this section, I want to dwell on say/do because that’s a really interesting and very simple idea, but it’s one that is so often missed. It’s funny—when I worked in packaged goods, I’d go to focus groups and I really focused on one person who was extremely passionate about the thing because I had a sense that they might actually act on it whereas everybody else was sort of talking rationally. How did you uncover the do versus the say?

Mary-Ann Somers: For me, I look at a couple of different things. And one exercise that I do almost in every job I go to is I look at stated versus derived. I have the market researchers run all the correlations connected to the derived importance. If we’re doing experiments and we’re actually seeing what people’s behaviors are in the real market, we’re looking at what gets correlated. Who said what is important and how does that correlate to the purchase intent? If it’s market research, it’s purchase interest.

Whatever those are, that’s the first thing that I do because you can get really caught up in the say part of it. If you talk to anybody in the weight loss industry, they live that every day. People say they’re going to do all these things and really, there’s a lot of, also for us in tax and financers, a lot of application to that as well. There’s intent on what people want to do, what they say is important, and what they actually do. Those are some of the techniques that we use and the other part is, sometimes if you’re doing research, watching what people’s body language is. That will tell you more about their what they’re going to actually do than what comes out of their mouths.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. Well, that’s a great place for us to take a break. When we come back, we’re going to jump to some of the other experiences that you’ve had, so stay with us.


Drew Neisser: We’re back. My guest is Mary-Ann Somers and we are still in front of a live audience. Let’s hear it. [Applause]. I knew some of the listeners might have forgotten that because you’ve been so good. It’s interesting to me, we have been talking about Coke but you also spent a lot of time at Hershey and Unilever and Colgate. Let’s talk about that transition now. Leaving Hershey, coming here, very different mindset. Why make that leap out of packaged goods into financial services?

Mary-Ann Somers: A couple of things. I mean, first I would rewind a little bit about the difference really between going from some of the consumer products that I’ve worked on to the tax business per se. One of the first things, and we have a lot of Bradisms at Intuit, the things that Brad Smith, our chairman, has said in the past, and they really resonate with people. One of the things that he always says is “We’re going from products that may be desired to those that are required.”

So for me going from chocolate and soda and tea, you know, those are desired. People don’t have to have those, although some people could argue chocolate. is one of those must-haves. I don’t know.

Drew Neisser: A brain food, I think I’m smarter every time I have chocolate.

Mary-Ann Somers: You probably are, too. So going from desired to required—well, what does that mean? When something is required, you tend to think of it in a very functional basis. In my past life, I would look at some of the brands that I worked on and there would be an emotion associated to it. It would be something that you’re providing emotionally through that brand. A Hershey’s chocolate bar, we say it’s like a hug. It’s just a big, arms around you hug. A can of Coke, you open that Coke, it’s a little spark of happiness and optimism. What I was talking about before with Gold Peak. You open that, you get kind of that nice, balmy breeze brushing through you in that moment of relaxation. All those kinds of things.

As we think about taxes, you know, what is the emotional part of it? Let’s go beyond the functional piece of it. As many people know, taxes can be very emotional. There’s a lot of trepidation when people approach it, so how do we think about what we’re providing our role, our emotional role for the consumer? How we’re helping them, how we’re empowering them, how we’re showing them they can do things that they may not have thought that they could do before? That sense of empowerment flows over maybe to the rest of their life. That to me as I brought my past training in my past experience to this category was really exciting. As we think about taxes, we think about financers, a lot of new room to put that kind of learning, too.

Drew Neisser: I’m curious and there are a lot of studies on how CMOs approach their first 100 days. Some go charging in, trying to make something happen really fast, to demonstrate worth, and others take a more circumspect approach and get to know the business. How did you approach your first 100 days?

Mary-Ann Somers: I was lucky enough to join Intuit, and it’s a company that really believes in understanding the business. It’s about leading with inquiry, not advocacy. That was really important, so I approached this with a GM mindset that first I have to understand the business. There’s nothing more important than understanding the business, getting deep with the customer and the consumer, understanding what their needs are, understanding the business, looking at the full funnel of our business on how we drive awareness and how that translates over time to actually filing with us. That was really critical for me.

I have been in situations before where I was hired to immediately bring in change as a change agent right off the bat. I’d say when I went to Hershey’s, we were a company that spent hundreds of millions of dollars in marketing and we had effectively zero in digital. When I came in, and this was not that long ago, when I came in, in six months I moved it to 35% digital. That was massive change, massive transformation, helping teach the teams how to build a new skill.

Here we had an incredible marketing department and it’s a world-class marketing department. It’s a group that doesn’t toot their own horn so I’m going to toot it for them. Just an incredible group of people. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars in a very short amount of time to generate billions of dollars in a matter of months. That requires a certain kind of discipline and focus and rigor that this company has. I was just lucky enough to join in and help understand that. Of course, now as I’ve come on in time, I see a vision for where we can go in the future and how we can transform, but I wanted to take my time to define that.

Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about that. It’s a good segue. You do your homework. You get to know—I love that expression—that this is a company that leads with inquiry, not advocacy. Made a note of that. Note to self: ask more questions. You see the lay of the land, it’s not broken. Things are working. What did you see as an opportunity, a strategic opportunity?

Mary-Ann Somers: I think there were a couple of levels. First, there was a near term opportunity. We were launching a major new product innovation. We were launching TurboTax Live, which for the first time had CPAs on demand, EAs on demand, where we had built a two-sided network platform basically where we were digitizing the service industry. Massive change. And it’s something that consumers and customers hadn’t experienced before, so how do we bring that forward to the near-term. The challenge was, how do you communicate it? How do you build awareness of it? How do you get trial? Just a massive opportunity for us and that’s something that is really building a long term growth platform for us. That was near-term, so I got very involved in that.

As I’ve grown and learned the business and learned from all the different people at the company…We are right now as a company going through a transformation. We have our new CEO, Sasan, who came on in January. As we look, we’re a company that has always innovated, we’re always transforming ourselves, whether Windows or the cloud, whether it was disrupting ourselves from Quicken to QuickBooks. We are known for doing that and that’s the transformation we’re in now, moving to an AI-driven platform.

As we think about that, that has an impact on all aspects of the business. The top line, the cost structure, but also how we go to market, how we think about communicating with our consumers and our customers. As we think about that, we’re looking at what’s that transformation in the future. We’re building out new products with Turbo and Mint that provide more value-added services, solve customer problems in finance. If you think about it, tax is one step in your financial well-being. So how do we build that out? How do we extend our relationship so it’s not just annual transactional and how do we become more for customers? And that vision is super exciting for all of us.

Drew Neisser: So other than that, you really have nothing to do. [Laughter]. Let’s go to TurboTax Live for a second because I am not as familiar with that. It’s a new product. That’s exciting. Again, one of the things that I just want to emphasize—the purchase decision is a short window. It’s almost like you’re launching a movie but the difference is you have to launch a movie exactly the same time every year. Talk about some of the key aspects of the marketing for Turbo Tax Live that either surprised you or they just said, “Okay, I’m excited about this,” and that you helped bring to the table.

Mary-Ann Somers: One of the key insights was that there are a lot of people out there that would like to do their taxes themselves. And they actually get started. If you look at, it’s roughly about 65 million people that do their taxes themselves and 85 million that use a pro. So there’s a whole group of people out there that would like to do it themselves, but they get stuck. They basically have one question that just kind of gnaws away at them a bit and they’re not sure how to handle that.

We see that in our product. We see people start and then abandon at different points, the kinds of questions that they have. As we looked at it, we said, “Well, there’s an opportunity for those people to be part of our franchise if they could have access to a CPA that could review certain pieces of their return. And as we build the product out, what else can we do for consumers?” So that point where somebody can abandon and they have what we call FUD, fear, uncertainty, and doubt is a key part of it. The other part was communicating like, if you think a TurboTax people kind of autofill in their head, do it yourself. Right? I mean, it’s almost like your Google autofill in your head.

So how do we break through the perceptions that we’re only do-it-yourself, that you can’t get that level of professional help for your tax preparation? That was a big communications challenge for us and that’s why we developed a campaign. We have a dedicated campaign where we had a very single-minded campaign brief on what we wanted to communicate. You see in our advertising last year, on both of our initiatives, TurboTax Live, we were very single-minded with CPAs on demand. Our other campaign with free, we were also very single-minded. For me coming into it, I wanted to make sure that we were sharp and crisp in what we were communicating. We tried to refrain from having the brief be too many things and trying to do too many things.

Drew Neisser: I love that. Keeping it simple is hard, but it is so important. We talk a lot about that, and that’s going back to some of the things that I talked to your group about today, the courage to be unique, the courage to simplify. It’s hard because you want to say everything, but you realize, “I can’t remember everything,” so you’ve got to find that one nugget. Before we go to the next section and take a break, I want to tie the two parts of this conversation together. You spent 20+ years in packaged goods, you’re now in financial services. What are a couple of the key lessons that you think you learned back then that you’re bringing to the table now?

Mary-Ann Somers: Yeah, I think a couple of things. I do believe that brand management, my experience in brand management trained me very well. I think the holistic view of the business, setting a strategy, looking at it from all the different pieces of it helped train my brain to look at a way in coming into Intuit. Looking as a holistic business, that was very important for me. Also, as a marketer, I think that that’s invaluable and that’s something that everybody should do—look at the business as a whole.

In my old world, strategy was very important. In the tech world, strategy is important, but it’s strategy developed from experimentation and real-world learning. When you have a DTC business like we have, we have all the data that we can follow everything through. It’s just so different from past jobs where it’s like you’re creating something, you’re putting it on a shelf. First of all, you’re selling it into a bunch of customers and then you’re waiting to see syndicated data.

Just having the granularity to follow customers longitudinally has been extremely powerful for me as I think about how to take strategic orientation and apply it in an experimentation mindset. Combining those two things. I think sometimes in the tech world we move very fast and sometimes there are times when you want to slow down to speed up if you will. Really just stopping, thinking about what you’re doing, exploring it, red hat, green hat, and then making the decision to go forward and being flexible along the way.

I’ve learned so much. I mean, you had asked me earlier about why Intuit and why this business. For me, this has been an incredible opportunity to learn a whole new business, a whole new skill set. As I said, looking at the full-funnel view from the time you’re making somebody aware all the way down to the time that they file and then what happens after they file? Do they come back? That type of granularity on the funnel has helped me. Also, from management practice and theories and how we run a company, a tech company, it is so different. It is so agile. It is the leaps of faith, the hypothesis, the recipes, all that, and then how you manage a business has been expanding for me to learn that paired together with my older experience.

Drew Neisser: We’re going to take a quick break and when we come back, we’re going to keep talking about some of the cool marketing that you’re doing here at Intuit. Stay with us.


Drew Neisser: We’re back. We’re still in front of a live audience. [Applause]. Just in case you were wondering if they had run out the room in the middle of Section 1 and 2, nope, they are still here and with us, and for that, I personally am grateful. I want to dive in now.

You mentioned free, free, free. We’ll connect to it in the show, notes. I do recall the words, but talk a little bit about the execution, the key campaign elements, and when you got a sense of, wow, this is really going to work.

Mary-Ann Somers: I’ll start with the part that really was the aha moment, and that was the insight. We know a lot about our free customer. We know what their journey is, a lot of things. But the key insight for us was, when you start talking about free, that’s what people hear. They hear free. You can say a lot of other things, but what they hear is free. We said, “Huh, well, if that’s the truth, then how do we create a campaign that builds upon that truth?” And that’s the campaign that you saw.

It was the idea that it’s multiple different situations and you don’t know as you first start to see the execution, what’s going on. We have one that’s a lawyer. That’s a very dramatic environment. We have one that’s a game show that’s kind of fun. We have a spelling bee. We have all these different situations, and then the dialogue starts and everybody’s delivering, the actors and actresses are delivering the dialogue as if they’re delivering real words. But the real words are replaced all with free. And that was really important for us because we wanted it to reflect what the change was in our offering and we made a massive change this year.

What we did is, first there was tax reform, so we defined our free product based on the 1040 tax reform as the government had defined it. And then what we did is, we decided this year that we were going to provide what’s called year on year transfer for free. So in the past, people were paying for some of those kinds of things, so the ability to pay zero to file their taxes, we were really making a major change in order to do that.

We wanted to really let people know this was free, really free, free, free. That was a reflection of the innovation and the decision that we made on the product. We wanted that to show up in the campaign in a playful way, simple-minded, engaging. We measure advertising like many other people where we are tracking it during the season. We look at the overall ad track and we look at—Did the ad break through? Did people remember the ad then? Did you remember who the ad was from? So brand linkage. Did you get the key message, and then how did that impact your consideration? Just simple measures and metrics. We looked at it and it started to really do well and that’s when we started to realize we were onto something really big here.

When we look at it, there were millions more people that were able to file for free this year than in past years and that’s something that we take pride in. We want to be able to serve more and more of our customers with our free product as possible.

Drew Neisser: I can hear the listeners—a lot of B2B folks listen to the show. I’ve had the CMO of MongoDB, which has 45,000 downloads a day of their free product. I’ve had a CMO of Red Hat and they have open-source software that is also free. But ultimately they have a way of monetizing on an enterprise-level on these customers. The challenge it at Mongo was, “Okay, we have to convert like 1% of the 45,000 downloads into a paying customer.” That’s an amazing thing. I mean, if you’re giving your product away, it should be relatively easy to get them to the website. How do you monetize that? I could just hear the folks listening going, “Okay, that’s great. But how do we make money?”

Mary-Ann Somers: I think that there are different customers and there are different customer needs. We have a range of products to fit those different customer needs. When we look at our free product, that’s for the simple filer, and we want the simple filer to be able to file for free. That’s our goal. We don’t look at it from a monetization standpoint for that filer. They may choose to do something else on our site. They may choose to get added value services like auto defense. They may choose to use TurboTax Live because they want the comfort and the confidence of knowing that there’s a CPA there. Our goal is really to provide a range of services and let people choose.

Drew Neisser: Okay. So there was a path to monetize these folks. I mean, I can tell there wasn’t a priority, but you’re a shareholder world, you’re putting a lot of energy into it. Okay. I’m gonna just keep moving from that then. Were there any parts of this program that you did that surprised you either in their effectiveness or ineffectiveness?

Mary-Ann Somers: As I mentioned before, I mean, some of the parts about the free campaign are, that came to life and as we were able to bring in more customers that paid zero for it, that was a great surprise. As we looked at it, our TurboTax Live product did even better than we had forecasted, so that was an exciting time for everything. We are now running our marketing mix model to look at the ROI on everything, so I’m really excited to get those results. Those are coming in soon.

We have a history of being very effective with our ROI and really spending money smartly. Again, looking at the funnel altogether. Every different thing that we do from a TV ad to spending a lot on digital marketing and our performance media to get people to visit the site, see if that’s something as they’re shopping around, is our product one that’s right for them? And then going from visits to logins, from logins to starts, from starts to completions. That’s really how we look at all our different vehicles playing a role in that full-funnel view.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I can hear some of the listeners, the B2B ones who have a 14-month sales cycle and 10 different people, and they’re sort of just salivating with envy. They’re looking at and thinking about it. Wait, we market and they buy it and we can measure literally on an ROI basis. That’s cool. So the metrics that matter to you happened to be the same metrics that matter to your CEO because they’re the same.

Mary-Ann Somers: Yeah, for sure. We are very clear on what are our metrics and measurements are going into it. I think that, as I mentioned at the top of what we were talking about, we have very good operational rigor and we’ve defined some of those measures. We’ve aligned with our board. We’ve aligned with our management. They’re the kinds of things that we can show, again, as we look at what our strategy is, what our measurements are, and how it’s coming to fruition.

I feel lucky in that that we have a well-defined approach to this, that I’m not trying to re-educate and our previous CEO, our current CEO, they’ve all managed the TurboTax business in the past as general managers. Our CFO as well has been the CFO for the TurboTax business. They understand the complexity of this business, so it makes my job much easier.

Drew Neisser: Well, that’s one part of it, but since they’ve done their job, how do you get them not to do their old job anymore?

Mary-Ann Somers: Yeah, I would say Intuit’s very good about that. It’s really trying to emphasize really what leadership is and how to get the most out of people and knowing that that’s not necessarily doing their job. That’s the way we approach everything as managers and as leaders in the company. I think the thing that’s really great when you look at evaluating marketing is we have objective views of it and it helps a lot because marketing is so subjective.

Everybody in this building, everybody around has an opinion about the marketing campaigns, whether they’re TV or whatnot. But what really matters is not the subjective, but the objective. And that’s how I approach it as well. I mean, even just when I first saw one of the campaigns that we were looking at, I personally didn’t like it. But it actually doesn’t matter what I personally think. It really matters—what is the objective? Does it achieve the strategy do we think in the objective? And how is it going to play out? Put my head in the mind of a customer and a consumer. That’s how I approach it. Our CEO, Sasan, is the same as well. As he’s asked about things, he’s said, “Really, it’s not my opinion that matters. It’s the data that matters.” It’s a really data-driven, objective view of things.

Drew Neisser: All right. Well, you’ve been here, I think, getting close to a year, but you’ve had a pretty extensive career in marketing. There’s a group of CMOs that are always curious and looking for insights based on your most recent experience. Do you have two dos and one don’t that you could offer your fellow CMOs out there?

Mary-Ann Somers: Sure. I think, you know, one of the things that I’ve learned is that we spend a lot of time as marketers thinking about the consumer or customer truth. It’s super important, but we have to go beyond that. We have to think about what the brand truth is. Evolving the consumer truth to the brand truth is so critical. And what I mean by that is, you know, what is the native genius of the brand? What do we really do uniquely well and how can we extend that? What’s the brand point of view? Like imagine, you know, as you look at different cultural events, what would the brand think of different things? I’m not saying you have to go out and make a statement, but that brand has a truth and it would show up in different ways. Being clear on what that brand voice is, I think that that’s really important. That’s one of the things that I’ve learned over time.

I think the other part is, when I think about marketing people going into new assignments, you have to understand the business. There’s just no two ways about it. You have to get deep and understand the business. Too many marketers might say, “Oh, well, I’m responsible for demand generation.” You need to understand how the P&L works. You need to understand what the key drivers are. It’s only going to make you better and it’s going to make you a more valuable part of the management team.

I’m going to add one more do. The other part is, a lot of times marketers have great minds for strategy. And oftentimes that’s something that is really valued in leadership teams. So leaning into the strategic piece of things and that training I think is really important.

On the don’t, for me, I think of it as you know, check your ego. I’ve seen too many marketers come in, CMOs come into an assignment and they want to put their thumbprint on things right away. It’s in some ways maybe a natural tendency, but I just advise against that. I think really understanding what’s going on there, figuring out what needs to be done. You know, you can thrash organizations around a lot. CMO tenure is, I think, at an all-time low. It’s always kind of a tough tenure. Thrashing people around on what the latest person wants or how they want to make a name for themselves doesn’t serve anybody. So that’s the don’t I feel pretty strongly about—finding out what the business needs and playing to that versus playing to how you want to make your mark.

Drew Neisser: I love it. Those are great. I’m going to attempt to summarize this episode for folks tuning in late. I love how, when we started, you talked about the importance of perseverance. But you quickly transformed from just following through on things and making sure that an idea that hadn’t worked in the past can work. Setting a vision. It sounds like a dove, but you’d be surprised how many folks skip that step and go right to the tactics.

One really important thing that you mentioned that flew by, but aligning your goals with the corporate goals and understanding how those things work together is so important. And part of that is translating the metrics into those, but the vision. And you’re so much more likely to get funding for the program if it fits into the growth plan than not.

We talked a little bit about awareness and I just can’t emphasize enough that people don’t buy products that they haven’t heard of. You know, it’s funny enough. You want to do business with people that you know. Awareness really matters a lot more than that people give it credit for. I’m going to have to study OBPPC a little bit more, but it makes a lot of sense. What I loved is your description of the Gold Leaf experience and what it was like. It reminds me of the way that alcohol brands often think about it. It’s that moment when you’re going to have that drink. I love that.

Drew Neisser: Leading with inquiry, not advocacy. Amen. Yes. And then you just heard these other areas. With that, Mary-Ann, I want to thank you for being on the show.

Mary-Ann Somers: Thank you for having me. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Drew Neisser: And I want to thank the audience for your participation. [Applause]. And then I want to thank the listeners, as always, I’m not pleading with you, but I am suggesting that if you want to take a moment and go to iTunes or your favorite podcast channel and write a review, that would be awesome. Five-star reviews only, please. And as always, until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.


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