Bon jour, and welcome to the first-ever overseas RTU! This episode was recorded from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport. Why? This beautiful airport, in the spirit of the show, serves as a perfect symbol of breaking into new territories, and acts as a wonderful hub for exploration. Well… That, and this week’s guest, Jan Huckfeldt, had a flight to catch after this interview. After all, the former Global CMO of Motorola and Lenovo, and current chairman of Ledger’s advisory board, has quite a few places to be.
Still, his busy schedule didn’t stop him from taking some time to dive into a few crucial traits every great marketing leader should have. Jan helps break down how leaders need to approach inspiring and engaging employees, but also how to work towards a purpose, how to protect your marketing, and how to instill trust. He explores the subject in more detail, and also discusses broader brand strategy tactics, and his extensive marketing career, in this interview.
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Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Jan Huckfeldt
Drew Neisser: Hey, it’s Drew, and we try to bring you “firsts” here at Renegade Thinkers Unite, and this is the first interview that I’ve done in an airport. But not just any airport; we’re in the Paris airport and we’re here with my new friend Jan Huckfeldt.
Jan is the former CMO of Motorola and Lenovo, and also the Paris chapter president of The CMO Club, so shout out to our good friend Pete Krainik. We’re going to talk about marketing in an airport like Parisians. I don’t really know how that’ll go, but we’ll see. We will practice our French accent and it will be just fine. First of all, welcome to Renegade Thinkers Unite.
Jan Huckfeldt: Well, thank you, Drew. I’m delighted to have you here. We’re sitting right now in the Eiffel Cafe, which is brand new obviously inspired by the Tour Eiffel, the Eiffel Tower
Drew Neisser: It’s actually hilarious. We landed this morning and we’re here for a little adventure. We met because Jan is on his way somewhere. Tell us a little bit about what’s going on in your life right now.
Jan Huckfeldt: Well, I’m actually going to go to Dublin to visit my two older kids. They are 15 and 17, so looking forward to that for the weekend.
Drew Neisser: Now, you went to school in Dublin. You got a Ph.D.?
Jan Huckfeldt: Yeah, so I’m unusual for a marketer. I have a Ph.D. in chemistry awarded by the University College Dublin, actually.
Drew Neisser: And so from there, you went right to PNG to be a product developer?
Jan Huckfeldt: Well, I’m was in research and development, and my specific task was actually to move a formula called ready lab experiment into mass production, so it was mainly process engineering. The first renegade moment in my career was when I said, “Look, I can see where I’m going on this technical career, but that’s not what I ultimately want to do. I want to become a general manager.”
In Procter and Gamble, you have to go through marketing to become a general manager, so I actually asked the director of R&D at that time, an American woman, if I could not move into marketing. And she said, “Jan, we have great plans for you, but you are the furthest away within the organization from marketing and I cannot see this happening.” I didn’t listen and interviewed a number of people. It was a German marketing director, Stefan Hoffmeister, who I thank still today for taking me on. And that is where my journey in marketing started.
Drew Neisser: There are a couple of things that you said that are so interesting to me. First of all, there are very few companies that say you can’t get to general management without going through marketing. In fact, that’s the first time I’ve actually ever heard that. I imagine it might be true at Colgate or Unilever. But that’s so interesting; it says a lot about where you were. Where P&G’s mind is.
Jan Huckfeldt: Well, I think it has changed, unfortunately. I think now that it’s no longer the case, but at that time, it certainly was.
Drew Neisser: What brands did you end up working on?
Jan Huckfeldt: Well, I was working first in baby care. From an R&D standpoint, I launched the Can-Do Wipes for little toddlers, which was a fun project. Then I worked on big paper brands like Bounty and Charmin, so highly commoditized non-involvement categories which were very good learning. It’s tough. If you can market those kinds of products, you know how to market.
And then I moved, I was one of the first to move onto the Gillette business. That is when I was then actually approached by HP because their printing business was following the blades and razor model. I ultimately joined them and that was an interesting move from one American company to another, but in a very different world. HP did not have a lot of systems in place. At P&G, if you needed a data point, you had it at your fingertips, and at HP it felt a bit small like in the Wild West at that time.
Drew Neisser: And was HP B2C or B2B? Or a little bit of both?
Jan Huckfeldt: It was both. First consumer and then I was promoted to VP and I was responsible for all verticals. One of the renegade campaigns at that time we created was the Printing Money Campaign. It was a provocative campaign of showing how good quality these ink printers actually are by being able to print bills.
The bills were at the same time communicating that it was actually cheaper than laser printers and therefore communicating the value of it all. It was both quality and value at the same time. It was renegade in the sense that many of my colleagues were scared, obviously, about this notion of having a campaign talking about printing money, which from an external relations point of view could have created issues.
Drew Neisser: Exactly. I mean, the first thing you think about is you’re encouraging people to do something that is illegal. So what was that point of view? That’s one of those moments where somebody had to sell something and have a little courage. How did you get the courage to sell this to management?
Jan Huckfeldt: Well, I strongly believe that when you do marketing, you need to stand up. And for that, you need to take risks. Obviously, it needs to be an informed risk, not a crazy risk. It needs to follow a certain purpose. And in fact, when I brief agencies, and you could ask them, they will confirm it, I always tell them, “I want you to come back with things that scare me.” And if their ideas don’t scare me, it’s simply not daring enough.
I think that’s important. I will give you another example of a campaign which we developed during my Motorola time, which as you know, we relaunched the brand. And we can talk a little bit more about it because it was a very interesting and very insightful period. We were looking at relaunching the brand as a challenger brand, and we took on Apple and Samsun. We did it in the right tonality. I think it’s important to have the right tonality.
Drew Neisser: Yes. So, I’m going to pause for a second because we’re in Paris and you mentioned printing money. Of course, that allows me to talk about Ben Franklin. It’s not really a great show if I don’t because Franklin is my hero and I’m reading yet another biography on him, and I learned something. When I learn something about Franklin, it’s surprising because I’ve read so much about him because he was America’s first Chief Marketing Officer. That’s why he’s important to this story overall. But interestingly, a very important first contract that he got as a young printer was printing money for Philadelphia and the Dominion of Pennsylvania.
So, we’re talking about printing money—yes, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, so that was an important thing for him. Now I’m digressing, but I want to go back to the money campaign. How did it end up getting executed and did it work?
Jan Huckfeldt: Frankly, I can’t remember, Drew. It’s so long ago. I was just thinking of different renegade moments, and that was certainly one. I know that we executed it and I believe it did well enough, but I wouldn’t know any further details.
Drew Neisser: All right. Perfect place to take a break. When we come back, we’ll dive into the Motorola campaign. So stick with us.
Drew Neisser: All right, we’re back. We’re still in our little Eiffel Cafe here in Charles de Gaulle Airport. You started talking about Motorola before I interrupted you to talk about Ben Franklin, so let’s go back to the Motorola thing. What were the key insights that you pulled out of that experience in terms of lessons learned?
Jan Huckfeldt: There are a number of lessons. One, I think it is important is to have the guts to be strategic. To make a choice, a tough choice, is not easy. I think it’s critical that one does their homework in terms of analyzing the landscape and the data and then indeed driving towards a strategic choice. And that was the moment in Spring 2016, where Google had acquired the mobility part of Motorola. There is mobility and solutions, and they acquired the mobility part.
Two and a half years later they sold it to Lenovo for actually a fraction of the original acquisition. For Lenovo, this was a very smart investment at that time because Lenovo wanted to get into the hardware business end-to-end. Lenovo was, at that time, already number one in PCs. They wanted to go into a broader breadth of software, therefore they needed to also invest in mobile devices. Inevitably, as the world went mobile, there was more and more cloud needed, and more cloud means that companies might need more servers. They actually acquired two companies at the same time, the server business from IBM and the mobility part of Motorola from Google. That was smart from a mobile business group standpoint because Lenovo lacks IP rights to actually enter the Western market. They were covering, with the Lenovo brand, 50% of the world.
From 2016 moving forward, what we found when I was joining the mobile business group, Lenovo had just decided to discontinue, to terminate the Motorola name and fold it under Lenovo. There was Lenovo Moto, there was another brand called Lenovo Bite, there was Zuke, and there were a few other sub-brands.
We analyzed the market and said, “If we want to have any shot at this highly competitive market, we have to be putting all our eggs in one basket. We have to be investing behind one brand, one team, and a greatly reduced lineup.” That is exactly what we did. In the year after Lenovo announced to discontinue Motorola, we relaunched Motorola at the Mobile World Congress in 2017.
The first big campaign we launched was the challenger campaign I mentioned earlier, where we invited people to skip the seventh generation of the Apple and Samsung phones because we said they they are only doing incremental innovation, which was very much true at that stage. That was when the screen got a little bit bigger and the camera got a few megapixels more, and these were incremental innovations while this Moto Z which we offered was a very smart idea of enhancing and breaking the limitations of a smartphone by adding a module to it in a simple snap on the back.
If you were into photography, you would add a true 10x optical zoom too take shots of your son playing football, which is notoriously difficult with a smartphone. If you’re into music, you can put a little speaker on it, which is also wonderful for business purposes.
Anyway, that was a great campaign if you want that gutsy move taking on the big guys. It was accompanied by a very good PR stunt and it earned us a lot of awards actually at the time. And then the big question for us was, how do we move from there to the next stage of the challenger campaign?
With the Oracle team in New York, we worked on identifying the true insights and true tangents when it comes to the category. So rather than just taking on the competition, we said, “Let’s look into the category overall.”
What was blatantly obvious, and where we then did research together with Havard Professor Nancy Etcoff. She was working in the medical department as a psychologist. She’s a wonderful person. We found that the use of smartphone was becoming misused and impacted relationships.
It impacted many things. It impacted security on the roads. It impacted productivity of people because they check their phone every seven minutes. It was particularly terrible in terms of sleep patterns and all of that. But we particularly looked into relationships and found that it actually helps people to build better relationships with people far away, but it has a negative impact on the relationships of people living close.
So what we wanted to do, and what we did with our Phone-Life Balance Campaign was actually raising awareness, first as a smartphone brand advocating for a better phone-life balance. We launched that campaign first in India in Fall 2017, during Diwali where we showed some videos of people being completely absorbed during this family festival and very important holiday. We showed people being completely absorbed in their phones and not participating in the actual event, and it struck a chord with people. Then we did a number of further works and executions which brought this to life. And ultimately, it won us a Cannes Lion, which was nice.
Drew Neisser: There you go. As you’re talking about it, I remember reading about it and writing about it. It’s funny, now there’s a term for it called, “phubbing,” when you ignore someone because you’re looking at your phone.
We recorded, I think, 140, maybe 150 episodes of the show and no one has actually said, “strategic choice,” and I really think that’s so important. I want to pause and just think about that for a second because strategy is choice, and a lot of brands and people that I talk to don’t think of it that way. It’s like, “We want to sell as many products as we can to as many people as we can in as many channels…” Strategy is not being all things to all people. Even Byron Sharp would agree with that, even though he’s Mr. Awareness and so forth. It’s making choices and deciding… What are you gonna say about the brand? What aren’t you going to say about the brand? Who are you going to talk to you? Who aren’t you going to talk to? And I think that’s really important.
The other thing that you said that really struck me was when you said that you reduced the product line. I’m remembering a very important moment when Steve Jobs comes back to Apple and he finds his product line, and there’s lots of… There’s a famous story that Isaacson talks about this book where he pulls up a chalkboard and he basically says, “We’re gonna have four products. These are the four products and these are the four targets. Boom.” He got rid of 30 or 40 of them and really, that was the beginning of Apple coming back. So strategic choice, and that’s what that was, saying, “Four products. Four targets. Here we go.”
Again, the easier choice is just to add another one. The other last thing is, and this will go back to the P&G days, I feel like the way these brands have grown is just keep adding line extensions, to keep adding iterations to them. And I just wonder—maybe that’s increased shelf space but, has it? Not necessarily. Not to diss on P&G, but I feel like you’re not necessarily getting to innovation when you do that, you’re not making important choices.
Jan Huckfeldt: I couldn’t agree more, Drew. For me, the definition of the marketeer is a growth strategist. It is a person that is delivering the strategic choices to drive growth within a company. These choices go across the four Ps. Which product? What pricing? How do you promote a product? I think if more of us marketeers would actually define themselves that way, they would have an easier life.
I define three imperatives which are related to that. As a marketer, you’re the voice of the customer. I think it is absolutely critical that you think and act like a CFO. Instead of trying to talk marketing language to your peers, talk business, talk like a CFO talks. I think it will help a lot.
Then the third aspect is really about leadership and influence. I think that’s an area where I’m learning still a lot and where I have learned a lot and I can suddenly improve personally a lot more. That is how to influence your peers and how to be smarter in getting what you want to get without having formal authority. And that, I think, is the biggest challenge of the CMO because you are exposed to all of these functions and typically, your peers believe that they know marketing just as well or better than you do, so the influencing part is absolutely crucial.
Drew Neisser: We’re going to take a break, and when we come back, we’re going to dive into that aspect of CMO success. Stay with us.
Drew Neisser: Since we’re in Paris, and we’re thinking big—we’re in one of the great capitals of Europe and the world—I thought it’d be a good time to talk about leadership. Let’s break those things down. You mentioned three key things, first, the voice of the customer. Obviously, that’s one that I think most CMOs understand, why they need to have that. Being a CFO and understanding that, and then leadership. Let’s start with the voice of the customer—what’s state of the art today as a CMO?
I think we were talking about your experience with a P&G product manager who went to China to watch someone wash, but what can a B2B marketer do today to really understand their customers?
Jan Huckfeldt: Well, I would like to refer to a wonderful article from the Havard Business Review, “Jobs to Be Done.” I think what we easily fall into is that we just think a very singular way about the usage of our products. Many companies might not even think of them and just push their product. The next level would be then to say, “OK, so how does my actual customer/consumer use the product?” but I think the real work lie is to understand what the emotional state from the beginning of the journey a customer or consumer is taking in using our service. I think that’s also where the big insights can be found and where you as a company can really make a difference.
Drew Neisser: So, I’m going to refer you back to the most recent episode we did with Brent Adamson. We talked a lot about “Jobs to Be Done” and buyer enablement, and doing it. What’s interesting about it is that it’s a lot harder than it sounds because you have a buying committee on average of maybe 10 people. If you’re selling software you’ve got to start with a $100,000 contract, that’s gonna become a $1M dollar contract, there are 10 people that could weigh in on that from the security guy to the IT guy to the HR person to the CFO, maybe even the CEO. There’s a buying committee in finance that has to approve a purchase after that, legal might want to see it, and maybe even procurement. I’ve still only named seven, so I don’t know who all the 10 are, but organizations are big and buying is broken.
One of the questions that we get asked a lot is, “Okay, the “Jobs to Be Done,
the CFO wants to know how is it going to payout? How do we learn about that CFO? How do we find those insights about that CFO at a particular company and then try to generalize them?”
Jan Huckfeldt: I think when it comes to the return on investment of marketing, that’s still the biggest challenge of all. In any company what a CFO will be demanding or a CEO will be demanding of us marketers is to demonstrate that it actually has a return on investment short term. I think that entire piece is probably still the biggest challenge—to find and develop a scorecard that is a good mix between the typical high-level business metrics and marketing metrics and shows a correlation between these. Despite the fact that in the digital area you have a lot more data at hand, it still is very challenging to make that connection. In some businesses, it’s easier than others, but it remains a big challenge we still need to work on.
Drew Neisser: One of the things that’s interesting to me is that, in observing this in B2B in particular, is that because there’s such an emphasis on the ROI, the B2B marketer says, “Alright, I’m going to focus all my energy on demand generation. I’m not going to think about brand at all. I’m just going to try to get as many leads as I can.
Jan Huckfeldt: That’s a terrible policy of course.
Drew Neisser: Right, and the fact that you could actually do demand gen without brand is… tell me why you say that is a terrible fallacy.
Jan Huckfeldt: Well, because, if you don’t build your brand, it’s a little bit like your pension. You don’t stop your pension to have a great life, then wake up and you’re 60 and you realize, “Oh, I haven’t paid my pension!” You need to pay every month, and that’s how you ultimately build a brand. As Byron Sharp is saying, “It’s about creating these connections and creating mental availability,” and that takes time. It takes, again, a strategic mind to identify what exactly are those specific hooks for connections that you want to be planting and building out in people’s brains. That’s not done by a short-term lead generation campaign.
Drew Neisser: No, it’s not. I talk about it as deposits in a goodwill bank that you’re gonna need to draw upon. Sharp would say, “Look, without awareness a B2B marketer, you’re going to struggle because salespeople are going to have to work 10 times harder to get in the door. The conversation will go like, “Who are you? I don’t know who you are. Het out of my office. I don’t want to talk to you. I want to talk to someone that I’ve heard of, that I that I trust.” It’s very difficult. You can’t just say, “Here’s a product, it is terrific. You should buy it.” That just doesn’t work. Yet, that still is the prevailing wisdom.
As we look to wrap up because Jan has to get on a plane at some point soon. What would you say—as you’re looking ahead, what are some of the things that you could say to help instruct younger, aspiring CMOs? We talked about voice of the customer, we talked about talking like a CFO. What about leadership? Let’s talk a little bit about your insights on how these folks can develop their leadership skills and what that really looks like.
Jan Huckfeldt: Thank you for that question. I’m actually passionately working on a book called the CMO Handbook, that’s the working title, at least the draft title for now. It is a collection of tools to use across brand strategy, go-to-market strategy, advertising, and advertising agency management. It’s also about leadership.
When it comes to leadership, I think of a number of different leadership behaviors. One which I think is absolutely core is that you as a leader have a purpose. You think of Simon Sinek, purpose is also important for brands, but it is equally important for leaders to inspire and engage people in a much more powerful way when you are actually chasing to fulfill a specific purpose.
For anybody who hasn’t read Viktor Frankl’s book, it’s a beautiful book about his very tough time at Auschwitz. He is one of the few survivors. He’s describing about how his therapy is ultimately based on finding meaning in life. That’s all about finding a purpose.
Another one is, as a leader, you need to protect. You need to give a sense of protection to your people. My last boss was certainly excellent in this. I felt very protected and therefore would take risks that I otherwise would not have taken. If you feel not protected, you’ll just watch. You’ll back up, you will cover your backside. You won’t dare, and therefore, you cannot achieve what you need to be achieving in business that is really going to the edge.
Strategy. We talked about it. It’s extremely important to make tough choices, and strategy is a set of integrated choices to achieve an objective. The choice is really what you do and not do. If you can spell out what not to do, the sharper and better your strategy is. And that’s tough. Inevitably, it means that people are not going to be happy because you say no to their proposals or to whatever that may be.
Simplicity is extremely important. It’s important to trust and reward your people. There’s probably nothing more empowering than your boss saying, “I trust you with this,” because you want the opposite of micromanagement. Your boss gives you an objective and says, “Look, I trust you with this. Just tell me along the way how I can help you.” In busting barriers, this is much more empowering leadership behavior than following up on every individual action along the way.
And finally, it’s influence, what I mentioned earlier. Influence has a lot of different aspects. Ultimately, it’s all about emotional intelligence, and that is certainly an area where I have learned the most over the last couple of years.
Drew Neisser: We both know Thomas Barta, who has done a lot of research on leadership. What I realized in all the interviews, most of the focus of my work has been on marketing and the practice of marketing and very little on leadership, so I’m glad we had a chance to talk about that.
It’s a great list. One thing that, when I talk to CMOs who are in between opportunities, we always talk about how it’s not about the company, it’s about the CEO. If you don’t pick your CEO well, you’re not going to succeed because there’s so much pressure on the CMO to perform and perform quickly. You need that protection—I love that word. You need the protection to be able to work. You need some time to do the homework that you need to do to build a solid foundation. You need time to build influence across a suite of other people who are ready to say, “Yeah, I know marketing better than you because I watch ads on television.” You need that CEO to say, “Wait, wait.”
One of the things that one CMO said to me, which I think is so interesting, is, even if you had the idea—if you go in and say “Here’s the idea,” you lose. It has to be a team effort. You have to get it out of the group. So anyway, you’ve made me think. I’ve got to do more episodes on leadership. Jan, thank you so much for your insights and for being on the show. Any last words before you hop into the security queue?
Jan Huckfeldt: Thank you, Drew, for making this happen. So unexpected doing it at the airport—why not?
Drew Neisser: Exactly. We’ll be looking for your book. I know personally the struggles of getting a book out, so very good luck with that. Thanks for being on the show.