“Marketing Matters” CMO Spotlight: Reinvention & Relevance

Aired July 29, 2015

This week, “Marketing Matters” tackled a theme close to every contemporary marketing practitioner’s heart: reinvention and relevance. Continuing their CMO Spotlight sessions, Executive Director Catharine Hays and Jenny Rooney, Editor Forbes CMO Network, welcomed four guests to discuss how brands stay fresh in the rapidly evolving world: John Dillon, SVP, CMO, Denny’s Corporation; Christy Kaprosy, President of Papyrus-Recycled Greetings, CMO of American Greetings; Alison Engel, VP, Global Marketing, LinkedIn; and Bill Brand, President of HSN, and CMO of HSNi.

“Denny’s is an iconic American brand, which is both a good and a challenging thing,” explains John Dillon, the company’s SVP and CMO. “We’ve been around for 63 years.” Denny’s is hugely recognized, but, as Dillon explained, recognition does not correlate so simply to patronage. “If we asked a room full of people about Denny’s, we had a 98 percent brand recognition. But if we asked if they’d been to a Denny’s in the past 10 or 15 years, a dramatic number of hands would go down. The recognition was something from the past,” he explains.

John Dillon, SVP, CMO, Denny’s Corporation
John Dillon, SVP, CMO, Denny’s Corporation

As Dillon succinctly put it, “Our challenge was to reinvent a classic American brand and make it relevant to today.” Importantly, his team had to respect their core customer group, who had long been loyal to the brand. “We needed to understand our brand,” explains Dillon, “so we sat down with our guests, in the restaurant and in their homes, and tried to understand why the ones who loved us loved us, and what the barrier was for those who didn’t. And many of them told us they loved Denny’s, but were frustrated because they didn’t know who we were anymore. The common denominator was we’d lost our identity.”

In response to this, in 2011 Denny’s launched the idea, or tagline, ‘America’s Diner.’ “The concept has given us a really strong north star from a marketing standpoint, but also a broader stand point,” says Dillon. ‘Diner’ means more than just a place to eat in the American imagination: “people use the word in an emotional sense—it means the ability to come as you are, to just relax and be yourselves—everyone parks their title at the door, and everybody can let their guard down at the diner.” This concept, which has tested extremely well with new and loyal customers alike, has given Denny’s its identity back.

Keeping ‘America’s Diner’ in mind, the company has developed a series of projects and partnerships that embrace current trends. The Den, targeted to millennial audiences, can be found on several college campuses. “Dens feature a smaller, more streamlined menu, and more of a fast casual service model,” explains Dillon. When Denny’s launched it’s menu titled ‘classic hits remixed,’ it partnered with Atari to produce games—available on the Denny’s app—that were spins on Atari classics. “Asteroids became Hashtroids—instead of a spaceship shooting the asteroids it’s a ketchup bottle shooting hash browns,” Dillon says. “We did it to turn some heads, but also from a practical perspective, we’re getting app downloads.” All the while, ‘America’s Diner’ creates a coherent, and relevant, brand identity.

Catharine and Jenny’s next guest, Christy Kaprosy, President of Papyrus-Recycled Greetings, CMO of American Greetings, had tackled reinvention from a very different starting point. “Historically, American Greetings had not really stepped into the limelight from a consumer marketing perspective,” explains Kaprosky. “Marketing emphasized more of the business to business side. Turning to the consumer has been an incredible opportunity for us, as we weren’t burdened by a history of marketing. We started with a white piece of paper.”

Christy Kaprosy, President of Papyrus-Recycled Greetings, CMO of American Greetings
Christy Kaprosy, President of Papyrus-Recycled Greetings, CMO of American Greetings

As a greeting card company—something which seems intuitively material—an increasingly digital world could seem intimidating. But, as Kaprosky explains, digitalization was a benefit, not a risk. “So many consumers are surrounded by digital communication 24/7, and they therefore place more value on our category—the physical card—because it is so much more meaningful.”

So how does a printed product embrace the digital age? “We wanted to grow the personalized greeting card business,” explains Kaprosky. “Traditionally, a card is pre-printed. We wanted to drive a behavioral change to get consumers to co-create with us—adding photos, writing their own messages.” Digital enables this co-creation, an option that consumer’s find hugely appealing, once they know it’s available.

Popularizing the personalized card, a fundamental conceptual change to the greeting card idea, was crucial. Enter American Greetings’ campaign “World’s Toughest Job,” which has won 52 advertising awards to date. The campaign presents online interviews for a role titled “Director of Operations.” The interviewer, talking to people who genuinely applied for the job, reveals the increasingly strenuous conditions—applicants had to work 365 days a year, standing up, with no breaks and no pay. When candidates refused the position, calling the job inhumane, the interviewer finally revealed that billions of people already have the job—moms. The campaign is candid, genuine, and heart warming: many of the ‘applicants’ tear up when the twist is revealed. “In this modern marketing world, things are a little less scripted and more authentic,” says Kaprosky. “When we heard the pitch, we felt like that was the breakthrough idea we were looking for.” And, of course, the campaign directed viewers to Cardstore, where they could personalize a Mother’s Day card for their own hardest worker.

The campaign was hugely successful—both on the awards circuit, and for exposure: “We wanted to leverage earned and owned media, and this is exactly what we did,” says Kaprosky. “This campaign received seven times the paid media. It was the number one trending video on YouTube, it is up to almost 25 million views. And it was the most shared ad for Mothers Day in 2014 and 2015.”

For Kaprosky, the most exciting element of World’s Toughest Job was the learning opportunity it provided. “We realized that what was really at the core of the campaign was people wanting to express gratitude to their mothers,” she explains. “Now, we’ve taken that idea further, and recognize that consumers almost always want to express gratitude—its part of every occasion and relationship.” Like Denny’s ‘America’s Diner,’ American Greetings found it’s north star: gratitude.

Alison Engel, VP, Global Marketing, LinkedIn
Alison Engel, VP, Global Marketing, LinkedIn

Alison Engel, VP, Global Marketing, LinkedIn, and a Wharton MBA graduate, was the next guest on “Marketing Matters”. A young and intrinsically digital company, LinkedIn essentially invented it’s own space. “The company was founded with a core mission that stays constant,” says Engel. “To connect world professionals, and make them more productive and successful.” The professional audience is crucial to LinkedIn, and is what differentiates them from other social platforms. “With a focused audience you can achieve great things because you can be very specific about meeting and anticipating their needs,” she explains. “We can build products and services that really resonate with them, which is why we’ve seen tremendous growth on the platform: we host 364 million professionals from over 200 countries world wide.”

While young and highly targeted, LinkedIn is no stranger to reinvention. “Our investment in our mobile platform has been a point of both reinvention and relevance for us,” says Engel. “We’ve recently crossed the point where more than 50 percent of our traffic comes through our mobile platforms, and have had to refashion our desktop experience into a mobile experience that professionals can take with them wherever they go.” When thinking about relevance, one should not be limited to thinking about brand identity, or finding a conceptual north star. “Mobile is where consumers are going, but especially professionals and millennials,” explains Engel. “For a brand to be relevant today, you have to have mobile as an operating priority.”

While adapting to different user platforms, LinkedIn has also been establishing itself as a publishing space in its own right—a logical move, considering the uniqueness of its professional audience. “We don’t feel like being a publishing platform and being a social network are mutually exclusive—we see power in the combination,” says Engels. In 2012 the company launched its LinkedIn Influencers pilot program, to see how users would respond to long form content. It took off like wild fire. “Now we’ve expanded LinkedIn Influencers to include about 500 people from around the world—designers, chefs, people from pop culture—people who you might not think of as spending a lot of time on LinkedIn, but who see it as a platform to engage with a really unique and high quality audience,” she explains. The social aspect of the site encourages feedback and dialog in a way other publishing platforms do not.

Now publishing on LinkedIn is an option for all users. “We have a huge range of subject matter experts who can share unique insights. The publishing capability gives users a halo for their professional brand, and means they can position themselves as a thought leader,” says Engel. “Anyone can give great advice.”

While a focus on professionals gives LinkedIn its essential coherence, it is important to be relevant to the vast range of professionals who use the service—from age, to career stage, to goals. Personalization is therefore key. “Really understanding the segmentation of all of the audiences that engage with LinkedIn is so important,” says Engel. “how do you create the right experiences, the right feed, the right content for each of those audiences? And how do you strike the right balance between personalization and privacy?” For LinkedIn, a site trusted with the profile information of its users, maintaining the right balance is crucial. “The holy grail of marketing is trust and loyalty,” she says. We can tune the LinkedIn experience so it does feel personal to you, but we have to be very careful with it: users trust us with their information.”

Reinvention and relevance has a big picture aspect at LinkedIn. “We have a vision of building the first economograph,” explains Engel. “We want to be able to map the world’s economy, and create an exchange—if there’s open positions in certain markets and skills in others, our economograph will discover it. We want to create more transparency to the global economy then there’s ever been.”

Bill Brand, President of HSN, and CMO of HSNi
Bill Brand, President of HSN, and CMO of HSNi

To close the show, Jenny and Catharine welcomed Bill Brand, President of HSN, and CMO of HSNi. “This July, we celebrated our 38th birthday month,” says Brand. HSN—which officially changed its name from the Home Shopping Network 10 years ago—is a service that many associate with television. But as Brand explains, “Digital now makes up 42 percent of our sale [up from 12 percent nine years ago], placing us in the top 10 e-commerce players. 20 percent of our sales now happen on a mobile device.” To position themselves so strongly, HSN has had to reinvent itself—but has at the same time kept an essential continuity in its service and brand.

“The world of television is really about a world of content and storytelling,” says Brand. By developing this content, and imbuing the whole brand with it, HSN worked to create a unique experience for its customers. “We want entertaining and engaging experiences that can play on any single platform,” he explains. The launch of the Jimmy Buffet brand, Margaritaville, provides an example. “It’s a true life style brand,” Brand explains. “You close you eyes, and if someone says ‘Margaritaville’ you can almost feel the sand in your toes, taste the salt on your glass. So we built the brand around the idea that we can take our customers somewhere—whether they live in New York, in the Mid West, LA—we can help them escape to paradise.” To create this experience, HSN would host a ‘Five O’clock Somewhere’ party on Friday afternoons, which would promote a product, and create an experience. “Whether you’re shopping or just hanging out, you’re engaged, and connecting emotionally to our brand.”

Through the television, the customer—which is 90 percent female—has always had a direct connection with the experience of HSN, but thanks to new technology, this connection can be deepened. “18 months ago I reorganized our marketing organization into customer lifecycles instead of channels,” says Brand. “We’ve created a personalized shopping experience, so we’re touching consumers in a much more personalized way.” For Brand, the television component of HSN is the marketing, whereas other digital means of engagement—from an personalized online portal, to gaming access, to direct mail—offers the space for a more individual relationship. “Digital allows us to make it even more about what’s important to them: this idea that we know them and we respect them, and we’re able to communicate to them directly what they think they’re going to love.

For HSN—like the other companies represented on the show today—relevance and reinvention does not mean a total shift in service provision, developing a whole new platform, or abandoning the old for the new. “The bottom line is its emotion, and people have to remember that shopping is a want, not a need,” says Brand. Remaining relevant can be as simple as finding ways to connect with those emotions a little bit differently.