The Logistics of Purpose-Driven Marketing
Enter overused marketing advice: Be authentic. Understand your customers. Helping is the new selling. Clichés, yes, but they are as true today as when they were first uttered. You can’t skip these steps, and most people get it wrong by assuming they can, ultimately undercutting their “authentic” image with overtly salesy content or “authentic” messaging with no steps taken to back it up. In our opinion, the true renegade marketer will be able to bring these platitudes to life through innovative actions and strategy. The leaders that can achieve this are sure to see a growth in demand generation and value-added conversations, because working off of a strong foundation will set you up for a lifetime of success.
One such renegade is Christina Bottis, the CMO of Coyote Logistics, a 3rd-party logistics (3PL) provider with a pack mentality. The business is focused on enabling its customers with industry-specific data, forecasts, and content because you can only be as good as the people you serve. Not only do they get e-commerce and the supply chain right; they have established themselves as reliable thought leaders who are committed to their purpose-driven tagline: “Drive your business forward.” Tune in to this week’s episode to hear how Bottis has helped Coyote articulate their promise, align it with the organization to make it real, and measure the results of their successful growth.
Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Christina Bottis
Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers! It’s an incredible moment in this world that we live in right now. Everything that you thought you knew about marketing you’re challenging yourself on and asking, “Gee, is that still relevant?” One of the things that’s so interesting to me is that, in many ways, we may actually be going back to some principles that we talked about years ago that are coming to the forefront now.
I’ll give you an example. In 2008, I started a blog—The Drew Blog. I wanted to focus, so we focused on something called marketing as service. The idea was that everybody hated advertising, so maybe we could create marketing that was actually a service in and of itself. Cut to 12 years later where I’m talking to marketers and they’re saying, “helping is the new selling.” I use the term “sell by serving.” Suddenly, we’re looking at this at a moment where a lot of people need a lot of help and we’re realizing that if we can give that help one way or another, karma, being a boomerang, may circle back to us.
It’s really an interesting moment. I’m still not convinced that some of the rules and some of the things that we used to think about the need to be completely thrown out the window, but this truth, selling to serve and helping, is one that will survive the pandemic and actually be more valuable. And with that, I’d like to introduce Christine Bottis, who is the CMO of Coyote Logistics. Coyote is a wholly-owned subsidiary of UPS. Christina joined Coyote in 2018 and is a first time CMO but you’d never know it based on some of her accomplishments. So, Christina, welcome to the show.
Christina Bottis: Thank you. I appreciate that introduction. So kind.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, well. Let’s just talk. How are you personally doing with this whole shelter in place thing?
Christina Bottis: As an extrovert, it’s hard. I very much feed off the energy of our team and other people, but I’m very grateful to be in an industry that is important to maintaining everyone else’s survival, and I’m also grateful for the ability to work from home, grateful for having co-workers and teammates that are patient and flexible. We’re all trying to have a glass half full approach to this, so, generally, we’re hanging in there.
Drew Neisser: Are you in Chicago? What city are you in?
Christina Bottis: Yes. Chicago.
Drew Neisser: I see in the background some kind of exercise bike.
Christina Bottis: It’s a Peloton.
Drew Neisser: A Peloton. I’m wondering if that’s getting a little more use now than it might have before.
Christina Bottis: Yeah. It’s the usage I had projected to validate the purchase originally, so I’m feeling good. In six months, who knows what that will look like but, yeah, very happy with that change in habit.
Drew Neisser: Well, it’s funny—a lot of CMOs that I talk to are actually enjoying the fact they don’t have a commute. They’re working through the challenges of managing externally, but as a senior person in the company, you know what it is that that you need to do and how to fill your time and make the most use of it. I think it’s a lot harder for a younger generation who just got started. They’re trying to figure out how to manage their time and they’re at home and they have three roommates. I feel a great deal of sympathy for them as well as anybody with children at home under 10.
Christina Bottis: Bless their hearts. They’re doing God’s work and I can’t even imagine what that must be like.
Drew Neisser: When we talked before this—I went back and checked—it was March 6th, which one might argue was right when it all happened. I think that within three days we had shut our office down; I know that Facebook had already shut down. But we were still in the conversation about how it was sort of marketing as usual. I’m curious, for you—and we’ll get to some of the really interesting things that you’ve done—but let’s stay in the moment. What’s changed and what hasn’t for you in terms of your 2020 marketing plan?
Christina Bottis: The biggest thing that has changed, I think, is the frequency of our communication with not only customers but also prospects and the supply chain community overall. We do weekly calls and interviews with customers, including market updates and thought leadership and webinars. One of our customers had said, “I rely on you all to tell me what’s important.” I think we’re all feeling a certain amount of fatigue right now. There’s so much information and, at first, you want all of it. Then you hit a plateau of “I need to distill this down into something that I can make actionable and something that, on Monday, when I revisit the business Zoom of my life, I can implement.”
We’ve really tried to put ourselves in the shoes of our customers and in any of the roles which we support to say, “Here are six things that you need to think about this week,” “Here are some things that we can maybe help give insight into by virtue of the data we have.” We’ve really tried to stay true to our brand values by saying that we’re here to help you do this better, here’s everything we can possibly think of, and if there’s anything you need, let us know. I think the frequency of communication has certainly gone up where, prior to this time period, our customers may not have needed such frequent communication. Some people are just hungry. They’re hungry right now in a time of uncertainty.
Drew Neisser: What’s so interesting about that is that the pace of change is pretty significant. I know that the conversations that I was having with CMOs just four weeks ago are very different than the conversations today, so it makes sense that you would increase frequency. I think the challenge is, how do you make sure that the quality is good and that you are providing news that they can use as opposed to, “Hey, don’t forget us!”? What are you using to filter this and to distill it to make sure? Because, again, a lot of content people tend to be junior. They don’t have the perspective. How are you making sure that the content is, in fact, really useful to your customers?
Christina Bottis: It’s a great point because what we don’t want to do is just be a redistributor of news. As marketers, and probably for anybody right now, we’re in a time of ruthless prioritization, the difference between just putting content out for content’s sake. We are passionate about the fact that everything—during pandemic or not—really has to ladder up to “here’s something that can help you solve a problem.”
Just sharing links to other resources might not be that right now, because we know that there are certainly editorial bodies that are better at that than we are. That’s what their purpose is. For us, we know that Coyote uniquely has a perspective on the freight market and supply chain industry because of who we work with every single day. We really tried to add that level of “here’s the data point, here’s what is happening, and here’s what we think” and that really has shown to be very valuable because, in a time when no one really has a playbook, what you really appreciate is somebody who has a number of years of history and experience in any sort of specialty saying, “Here’s my educated guess, and hopefully you can do something with that.”
Drew Neisser: Are you using any different channels or is it just your newsletters, more frequently?
Christina Bottis: No, we are diversifying channels. Webinars have always been a very high engagement channel and what you’ve seen a shift to is less of your typical webinar with a PowerPoint presentation and more live. Just live conversation with our leadership so people know it’s very authentic, and it gives you a level of familiarity. It really is a goal of ours to feel like people can rattle off the first names of our leadership pretty easily. They see them—at this point they know the things in the back of their living room from where they’re Zooming in from. Webinars have been critical and an authentic execution there.
We have a resource center where we’ve centralized all of that content so that people can take what they need, share if they want but also, we can see the impact. As people consume that type of content, what they also do is gain trust in us and we see them take lead generating actions after that. A combination of really the whole integrated channels, the research center, the emails, webinars, and social. We’re all staring at our computers and outlets like LinkedIn and Facebook are truly another, more authentic way to connect with that customer base.
Drew Neisser: The word “authentic” is being used a lot and it’s one of those things where it’s going to wear out quickly, but I really feel it. It’s valid for this moment. It’s funny—I wonder if this is the death of slick.
Christina Bottis: I hope so.
Drew Neisser: What’s so interesting is that the CEO who is at home and the kid walks across or the dog jumps on the lap or whatever it is—it’s so much more human. Even if they say, “You know what? Great question. I don’t know,” is that connection which, before, you just wouldn’t have thought of. You would have said, “Here’s our webinar, and here are two customers, and here’s our PowerPoint, and we’re going to present you with some information, and we’re going to allow five minutes for Q&A.” It’s like everything’s flipped.
Christina Bottis: Yeah, it’s a spot-on point. I think that one of the things that always makes me laugh within marketing as a whole is that these are fundamental principles that we all know. Somehow it takes these really grandiose scenarios to get us back to the basics that really, truly matter, like “be authentic.” What an earth-shattering concept.
Drew Neisser: Wait, what? this just in.
Christina Bottis: Yeah, right? Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. Try to understand the problems they’re solving. I can say, certainly, in my time at Coyote and just the values of our company, that’s core to who we are. We really, really do push ourselves to put out things that don’t sound like marketing speak or you or just your typical corporate script. That’s not easy because it is a little scary, but people really appreciate that because it builds trust and I think this is a great experience for all types of companies to go through the authenticity filter and just say, like, “What are you trying to say? Help me understand it and show me who you are because I like that better.”
Drew Neisser: “Show me who you are.” All right, we’re going to take a quick break and we’ll be right back.
Drew Neisser: All right, so we were talking about “show me who you are.” I’m curious—in all of this, there is still the need—we’re talking about marketing here and how marketing has a responsibility, if you will, or a role to play in the organization. I know that when you arrived at Coyote, there wasn’t really a marketing engine, so to speak, and that was your challenge. Let’s step back a couple of years and then we’ll race forward if any metrics have changed. But let’s just start with the marketing engine and the kinds of things that you’ve had to do to help build that up as a capability or as a muscle in the organization.
Christina Bottis: When I started at Coyote, both the industry and the company were on the other edge of the mass adoption of e-commerce, and the supply chain was becoming a very important part of differentiation from a business perspective. The majority of the marketing strategy was communications based. We were a startup that was growing heavily and a technology story in Chicago, so it made sense to publicize and to tell the narrative and a lot of it was really geared towards recruitment marketing.
At the time, that was what the business needed. We needed people to grow because of the demand for 3PL to deliver on what was now an incredible demand for those who were shipping packages back and forth. Ten years prior, the model was different, so our whole message around trust and getting the job done and just telling the narrative worked.
Fast forward to next year—we’ll be 15 years old—and the business and the market and the customer have changed. There are more options. They’re more comfortable with e-commerce, digital. I remember when my mother refused to put her credit card online, and now I think she gets more packages a day than I do. When we looked at where marketing really needed to shift, it was to truly support sales and be that growth lover. Where that growth really needed to come from was capturing the demand of the folks who wanted to work with us digitally, and that could be in researching a vendor and converting digitally on a website.
Digital is a heavy part of any person’s buying process and we know that just based on what we see in B2B trends and talking to our customers so, for us, it was building that infrastructure. But it’s funny, the idea of getting back to basics—the first thing we had to do was we had to understand these customers. They’ve changed. What’s important to them now vs. ten years ago is very different.
You add in the digital component and there are certainly things that they expect and certainly things that they want, so step one was getting really insightful information into what we call “value factors” and understanding when you’re making a decision—what are you looking to compare across vendors and how do we think we stack up? Part of that is perception and if we are perceived to be strong or weak in a certain area, we need to know that to be sure that we’re aligning with what’s important to that customer. So that was really the first step for us. Doing the research and getting internal buy-in and educating the different teams and the leadership.
Drew Neisser: Let me pause you there just for a second. Value factors is interesting language and it’s often very difficult because what people say they value vs. what they do is often different. There are also things like reliability—to me, it’s like fluoride and toothpaste when it comes to shipping. I mean, I either trust you to get it there or I don’t. They probably would say that’s a very high value, but it’s certainly not a differentiated value.
Christina Bottis: Absolutely.
Drew Neisser: How did you sort through these value factors and where you fit specifically in this alignment between what they need and what you’re really good at?
Christina Bottis: You make a great point. Some of these things are baseline. They are expectations to just do business, and part of the analysis is being able to build what we believe is orthodox and make sure that we’re hitting those to some extent. If you’re not delivering on the orthodox expectations of a customer set, you’ve got big problems and you need to focus your time to get at least into the buckets where they assume that you’re fine.
Where the real beauty of this starts to begin is, once you’ve got those managed, where are the things that are either unmet needs or are facets that they really say, today, are the things that sway a decision. How do you overachieve in those areas or in the areas of unmet need so that you can start to carve out your space in their mind? To your point, no one’s going to differentiate based on the things that you expect. I expect a business to be trustworthy, dependable, good customer service. The stuff on top of that really is starting to separate you from the pack.
Drew Neisser: We started out talking about building a demand gen engine and we’re very close in the area of brand and brand differentiation. I’m wondering—you could focus on these things as just messages, right? “We need to make more noise about this feature or this facet of the business” or you could say, “You know what, we’re going to pick three and own them outright as our brand.”
I’m curious—as you were going through this and you started to think, what light bulbs went off? We’ll go from low-level messaging about product and service and then high-level messaging about brand. Were there dual things happening in this research?
Christina Bottis: Absolutely. From the product feature set, I think—the irony to me is in a number of companies I’ve been in the past where, nine times out of ten, this idea of creating lead gen and this infrastructure, this understanding of the customer and what’s valuable to them is 100% skipped. There’s a lot of tribal knowledge or assumption. And then—I look at this as a type of building block program—all of this stuff that you put in market is built off of that understanding of the customer. Effectively, when you skip the foundation, you can pretty much guarantee that the rest will be what I like to call “beige.” It beige, it’s out there, it’s nothing great. We just refuse to put out beige anything.
Drew Neisser: Can I dwell on that comment just for a moment? I just want to really put a big punctuation point on it because there are so many times when we’ll get a phone call from a potential prospect and they will want to go straight to it and build a demand gen engine. “Let’s just build a demand gen engine! We have our Salesforce. We have our Marketo. We’re ready to go. What we don’t have is a content strategy, but just create a bunch of content for us. And don’t worry about insight—we know these customers inside and out. Don’t worry about it. We’ll tell you about it.”
I love the fact that you called it tribal knowledge that folks think they have. We could stop right there because that is a huge thing that often doesn’t come up when you have a conversation about building a demand generation engine. Know something about the customer on an intimate level.
Christina Bottis: It’s so incredibly crazy that that’s the case. And again, in my past, that is the fundamental similarity—we get focused on deadlines over the customer, which is, again, if the goal is to convert and drive value and impact, it is absolutely mind-boggling to me how we expect that to happen. We’ve all been there, right? “It doesn’t matter. We need to get this up by that quarter.” Well, what are we going to say?
Drew Neisser: Well, sometimes, to me, with the tools and this notion of agility and “let’s just scrum our way through this,” it becomes a tactical exercise without any, as you said, strategic foundation. I just want to—I need to absorb this. We’re going to take a quick break and we’ll come right back.
Drew Neisser: We’re back. It’s not a revelation, and in fact, it’s not even new, but before you build your demand generation engine and worry about your technology, why don’t you learn a little bit about the customer that you’re trying to serve? That feels pretty basic. And by the way, I think that was true 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, and 5 years from now that will still be true. You can never know enough about your customer.
All right. You do all this research, you find out about your customer, let’s get into the actual tactical aspects. First of all, were there some key insights that you discovered?
Christina Bottis: I think the biggest takeaway for us was that the value proposition that we had led with in the first chapter of our history had become orthodox, the idea of service and commitment. It goes back to when a 3PL was first introduced as a business model—the value prop of trust and commitment and delivering on what you promised was absolutely effective. Absolutely. Over time, the model had become more accepted. It’s a very common mix for lots of corporations, so now that we’ve got mass adoption, the question was, well, who are we now?
Fast forward, we’ve been acquired by UPS, we have access to a whole new portfolio of solutions. We’re no longer the small Chicago startup but now a global enterprise, and the question was, how do we build on what made us great to get here, but continue to evolve and even provide more value and differentiation to our current and future customer base that we are looking to focus on? The next step from all of us was the positioning, it was to say, “Okay, now that we know what they want and what’s important to them, we are better suited now more than ever to serve at a higher level, but we have to be able to deliver on it.”
I can tell any story, but if I can’t deliver on that promise, we might as well say nothing at all. For us, that was the foundation of the core deliverable of Coyote, which is access to capacity to get your freight moved and you can depend on us to do that, we stand for our word. In addition, we now have a fuller portfolio of solutions to build a more flexible supply chain, which, given the way that e-commerce and customer expectations have evolved, for these businesses to be able to flex and surge and be nimble, it was incredibly important now more than ever.
Then finally, it was the fact that we’d been doing this for more than a decade and had grown a business and had gone through a number of different evolutions already. The data intelligence component of who we were and what we knew and what our data showed was incredibly valuable. How were we getting that into the hands of not only our customers but into the community? That was hugely popular. When I look back on the campaigns that were actually produced, being able to unlock the intellectual property of some of the smartest people in the company that I’ve ever met really has been a huge win in positioning us as a thought leader and somebody that you could trust to do business with.
That was number one—positioning us and getting everyone unified. All too often when we think about marketing, it’s like, “Great, you did that and that’s going to turn into a few campaigns, right?” No. Aligning people, the organization, around what’s important to your customer and the positioning has to happen. What we did with that insight was we shopped it around to sales, to operations, to product, and slowly but surely people started to see that marketing is the fabric of how we all go to market together.
It’s not just the email or the PowerPoint presentation or the logo on a sign. Being able to show and commit and deliver on that value proposition internally has really been the reason why we’ve gotten the buy-in from our business and our partners to move so quickly. Because once we got that, we were like, “Okay, great. So glad this is approved because we’re going to do all of these other things in six months.” It’s a testament to that trust.”
Drew Neisser: I have many questions for you as we unpack what you just said, all of which was great. I just want to make sure—3PL is triple bottom line?
Christina Bottis: It’s third-party logistics provider.
Drew Neisser: There we go. Third-party logistics provider, meaning that you provide the logistics for a company instead of them trying to do it themselves.
Christina Bottis: Yea, so we are the connection point between somebody who has products to get to an end customer and the people who have the capacity to move it.
Drew Neisser: Okay, so lots of things that you said really struck me. Marketing is the fabric of how a company goes to market. Yes, I totally agree. Very rare that that actually happens. Were you able to articulate this? Was there a tag line or anything that expressed this notion of your promise or new promise?
Christina Bottis: The internal promise of marketing?
Drew Neisser: Yeah. Or external. Because when we say “we’re all going to be this now,” what is it that we’re all going to be?
Christina Bottis: This is a good time to have this conversation because we actually just took all of this and packaged it up into our new vision and vision tagline. The idea of who we are and what we do is really an empowerment to business.
Within Coyote, we very much are passionate about the fact that, on both levels, we’re helping people’s businesses grow. If you have products to sell, we’re helping them get to the end consumer. If you have the truck capacity—and many times you’re a small business—we’re helping you grow. Along with the development and the execution of a lot of these things from a marketing perspective, the tagline “Drive your business forward” really became something that we were sharing internally a lot, and now it’s everywhere.
It’s on our site. It’s trademarked. And we believe that. We believe that what we do—all the way to the person who works in operations and is making sure that things are moving on time and the product got to the right place—that very data point is one in a large mosaic that is the economy and certainly more true now than ever. That, and when I first started the website, it was referred to as “the brochure site,” and I promised that I would put an end to that terminology if it killed me. I’m happy to say that I have not heard it in a very long time.
Drew Neisser: That’s amazing. Okay, I’m going to do this because this is one of the things I do on the show. I’m going to break the line down, “Drive your business forward.”
First, I admire that it’s short, which is great. Two, “drive” sort of gives you the category. There’s the pun on logistics, so that’s nice. “Your business forward,” it’s about you, not me. “Your business” puts the emphasis on the customer, so it’s a commitment. And then “business forward” is interesting because that’s obviously to be defined by that individual. But there’s an inherent promise here, which is that you’re going to help them drive their business forward.
Now, are you going to do that just in the world of logistics? And how do you see that commitment being realized? We already talked about in the first part of this episode, which is that you’re communicating to your customers a lot about how to deal with this. But when you first came up with that idea, what did you see it as? From a commitment standpoint, what did you think you needed to do to deliver on that promise?
Christina Bottis: I think there are a few tiers. The core, inherent value proposition promise is that we’re going to make sure that we enable you. As the 3PL in the middle, what we know is that somebody is making a promise to someone else and that promise is in our hands. We take very seriously the fact that the connection between those two points really reflects not only on our customer, but also on us. Delivering on what we promise and actually getting the stuff where it needs to be and doing that with a high level of service is absolutely number one. If we can’t deliver on our core competency, we don’t get the chance to do all the other stuff. That is absolutely number one.
Number two is, when you talk to people in supply chain, planning and forecasting for the future is so critical to both sides of the market. Not only for the carrier who’s driving the trucks and getting the stuff there but for the folks who are thinking about demand planning and making sure they have the capacity and the partners to get that done. So when we thought about, “Well, what information do we have that could help both of these groups do that?”, it was the launch of what we now call the Coyote Curve. It’s our data over the entirety of our existence. Our Chief Strategy Officer, who is one of the smartest human beings I’ve ever met, is effectively looking at the ebbs and flows of the market and helping people to plan in a time when planning is not easy.
That was the first step of us delivering on this bigger promise of how we can help your business. We’re going to help you get your stuff where it needs to get because that’s what we do, but we are also looking at helping solve the broader challenges of not only the industry but also just business in general and who you are in trying to thrive. We took a hard look at what information could we provide people and what insights we had that are really helpful.
The campaign is a year and a half old now. We talk to our customers quarterly, and it has become a foundational part of how the market discusses what’s coming next, which, for us, it’s really great to see how we’re positively contributing to how people are doing their jobs better. And that’s really important.
The last piece—I love our brand mark. Our name is Coyote, but there’s a symbolic interpretation of the animal and the pace at which we operate. It’s relentless driving and looking at the future, and it’s almost an arrowhead if you look at it, so we take the word “forward” very seriously in everything we do because it’s about understanding that we will make progress. We’re always looking forward and we’re going to help in any way we can to get us moving in the right direction. It also means continual evolution and momentum. And that’s exciting. It reflects not only our culture but also what we know our customers expect of us.
Drew Neisser: Okay. Last question on this. The program was in the market for 18 months—or has been now—what were your metrics for success?
Christina Bottis: It’s actually a funny story because when we launched the first-ever external Coyote Curve, it was kinda scary for some folks. We felt very vulnerable that this information that had just been internal and maybe in some meetings is now out there. We started with just looking at usage metrics—downloads and people tuning in to the webinar. Now, the marketing KPIs are always the foundational things that our team is looking at to make sure that we’re optimizing and growing exposure and awareness. But really, what I love most about things like the Curve are that they present an opportunity for us to have a conversation with our customers that’s about how we can help them plan.
Let’s naturally talk about the next quarter. Let’s naturally discuss what we see happening with what you have planned or what challenges you may have. The idea of using content and arming sales with the data to empower their customers and have that conversation is a natural form of lead generation that is the Holy Grail. It’s when you can have a conversation that your customer doesn’t feel is a forced point of a sales process. I’ve been incredibly pleased from that regard.
Drew Neisser: Content is often what CMOs struggle with, like “Why isn’t sales using it?” In fact, it sounds like the Coyote Curve has become an asset that the sales folks use to not just start a conversation, but have a value-added conversation as opposed to the old used car salesman’s “Oh, can I write it up?”
Well, I’m going to attempt to quickly summarize this. This has been a fabulous conversation, and it’s so interesting because here we are in the middle of a—a tumultuous time would be an understatement—and yet we ended up having a conversation that was very much about marketing fundamentals. I think that’s critical. Now, it doesn’t hurt that you’re in a category that is an essential need, and there are some categories where all bets are off and they really are having to reinvent everything and rethink everything because their business model has completely been disrupted.
We started by getting to know the customer. From there, once we knew that, we could say, “Okay, these are baseline values.” We moved on to “how do we articulate that promise in a higher level?” And then “how do we make that promise real on an ongoing basis so that it actually aligns the organization?” When we think about the fact the sales guys are using Coyote Curve to do that, using this tool to sell, you suddenly know that everything that you’ve been doing as a CMO is coming to fruition, assuming, of course, they close.
Christina Bottis: Fingers crossed.
Drew Neisser: Fingers crossed. All right. Well, this has been awesome. Thank you so much for spending time with us, Christina. Amazing conversation. I really appreciate it.
Christina Bottis: My pleasure. Thank you.
Drew Neisser: And to all the listeners, thank you for spending your precious time with us. Until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong, and stay healthy.