When the speedometer of my grandmother’s 1968 Ford Falcon hit 115 mph on Interstate 5 heading north from La Jolla, my 16-year-old mind wondered momentarily if the V8 engine had a any punch left. I never got a chance to find out because at that second the hood blew open and I could no longer see forward. Imagine for a moment that this was you: how would you have handled it?
Before I answer how I survived unscathed, let me suggest that all senior marketers are in this exact position: careening ahead in rapidly changing conditions with no real visibility into the future. How then do some marketers seem to thrive while others putter along? The answer revealed itself as I approached my 200th interview: inside every successful CMO is a renegade thinker — someone who challenges convention at just the right moment. In this post you’ll meet five of them, who not coincidentally are also the first five guests in my new podcast series, Renegade Thinkers Unite.
Episode 1: Embracing Ambiguity with Eric Reynolds, CMO of Clorox
Packaged goods companies are well known for their marketing discipline and not usually the place you’d expect to hear a CMO express the need for “tolerating a lot more chaos and ambiguity in the culture and the way we work in order to get to the good stuff.” But that’s just the starting point with Eric Reynolds, who, among other things, discourages using influencers on a broad scale and believes that unless your brand gets talked about via the “holy trinity of the brand story, the message, and the content,” then the idea isn’t big enough to cut through.
Episode 2: Bucking Category Norms with Lee Applbaum, CMO of Patrón Spirits
With over 70% share of the premium tequila market, it would be easy for Patrón’s CMO to rationalize a conservative marketing approach. Instead, Lee Applbaum believes that success can only be found by “challenging long-standing norms in luxury and in spirits marketing,” and by “always staying ahead of the curve.” To these ends, Applbaum is focused on showcasing Patrón’s authenticity as a handcrafted tequila via advertising, influencer programs, social media and an innovative Oculus VR experience.
Episode 3: Remembering the Art of Marketing with Dan Marks, CMO of Hancock & Whitney Bank
As a long-time financial services marketer, you would expect Dan Marks to have the science of marketing down pat. And indeed he does, having built a predictive marketing spend model at First Tennessee Bank (see The CMO’s Periodic Table!) and the marketing tech infrastructure in his current role. But Marks sees the trend toward data-driven marketing going too far, explaining that, “Just doing the science without starting with the purpose is a recipe for failure.” In embracing the “art” side of his job, he encourages his team to “remember that we are ultimately serving people” and to look at “what’s happening with people in other categories.”
Episode 4: Selective Listening with David Beebe, Content Chief at Marriott
The notion of having a large-scale content studio in house would be radical for many brands but that’s just the opening scene for David Beebe, who “set out to establish [Marriott] as the largest producer of travel lifestyle content.” A veteran of Hollywood, Beebe has turned Marriott into a content powerhouse by “not asking for permission all the time” and by focusing initially on “really premium storytelling.” Noting that successful content needs to be scalable, built around a community and have a commerce component, Beebe reminds us, “You’re not making a commercial — you’re not talking about yourself and your features anymore.”
Episode 5: Creating Personalized Experiences with Arra Yerganian, CMO at Sutter Health
Lamenting the fact that the healthcare industry “says the same thing and blends into this mush,” Arra Yerganian is “working to change the conversation” about Sutter Health. To achieve this goal,
Yerganian seeks to “embrace the digital experience and create one-to-one relationships for the 3.5 million people that we serve.” Believing that this promise needs to go deeper than marketing, Yerganian works in “really close partnership with Sutter’s patient experience folks, executive leadership and operations to lay the foundation for a new [customer] experience.”
How the Crazy Driving Story Ends
Remarkably, given my youth and inexperience (although I’ve never met anyone who has had their hood blow open at any speed), I didn’t panic. Instead, I instantly befriended my mirrors, gradually descended from light speed and coasted my way to the side of the road. Ten minutes later, a chipper California highway patrolman helped me cram the ruined hood low enough so forward visibility was again possible, and then I had 60 miles to think of what to say to my grandmother. Later I learned it was a design flaw and that many 1969 Ford Mustangs (same chassis as the Falcon) had hood straps to prevent just such an occurrence. Needless to say, being able to look backward saved my life, and perhaps that’s why I’ve been a student of history ever since!
Final note: As of today, you can subscribe to my podcast Renegade Thinkers Unite on iTunes and Stitcher (it will be live on GooglePlay and iHeartRadio momentarily.) Upcoming episodes feature the insights of award-winning CMOs from Tableau, Mercy Corp, Intuit, Sally Beauty, VER and many more. Please check it out and let me know what you think.