“Marketing Matters” CMO Spotlight: The Role of Brand in a Digitally Connected World

Aired November 11, 2015

Key Takeaways

Although the digital world has lessened face-to-face interaction, human interaction is still an important touchpoint, as brought to life by those in the specialty retail industry.

“We are a passion category, and in those passion categories, people want to spend the time talking about it.” – Frank Hamlin, Chief Marketing Officer of GameStop

Marketers must gain a clear sense of brand objective and brand identity, which all brand stewards embrace and exude it through all touch points in the human, physical and digitally connected world.

“It really comes down to having a firm sense of what your brand is about … and that emotional connection you’re trying to create and then having the right people on your team who feel the same way and believe in the brand and believe in that brand personality.”- Rob Lynch, Chief Marketing Officer of Arby’s

Increasing transparency through technology has simplified the way customers want to interact with brands. And as we all know, making complicated things simple, is sometimes the hardest.

“The number of touch points is increasing but the way people can interact with your brand from a customer point of view is actually getting more simple.”- Roel de Vries, Corporate Vice President, Global Head of Marketing and Brand Strategy of Nissan Motor Corporation

This week on “Marketing Matters”, Executive Director Catharine Hays teamed up with Forbes’ CMO Network Editor Jenny Rooney for another monthly episode of CMO Spotlight to discuss the role of brand in a multiplatform and digitally connected world. They welcomed three guests onto the show— Frank Hamlin, Chief Marketing Officer of GameStop, Rob Lynch, Chief Marketing Officer of Arby’s and Roel de Vries, Corporate Vice President, Global Head of Marketing and Brand Strategy of Nissan Motor Corporation. The guests offered insights on the role brand in their respective industries.

Frank Hamlin
Frank Hamlin, CMO at GameStop

GameStop’s Chief Marketing Officer Frank Hamlin describes GameStop’s core business as a small box retailer in specialty categories. “The brand- its essence- has remained the same,” he explains. “The tagline and the positioning notion of the GameStop brand is power to the players.” The self-selective nature of specialty retail is essential to GameStop’s brand as it seeks to form a community among gamers with active participation from the store associates.

“What we are finding from a technology investment and where we lay focus is predictably investing in those technologies that enhance that human relationship and the strength of that specialty retail experience,” Hamlin says.

Hamlin cites store associates as a key driver to the success of its specialty retail brand. To ensure store associates are engaged with the brand, GameStop hosts an annual Managers Conference and forms close relationships and communications with all its stores managers and associates. Hamlin describes GameStop’s business as an inverted pyramid, where the key focus is “the interaction with the store associate and that customer, and everybody else is there to support that.”

Hamlin emphasizes the importance of understanding brand identity. He explains that while millennials, GameStop’s largest demographic concentration, are often thought to prefer mobile interaction over social, the GameStop experience is an instance that goes against this popular belief. “We are a passion category, and in those passion categories, people want to spend the time talking about it.”

Rob Lynch
Rob Lynch, CMO at Arby’s

Catharine and Jenny’s next guest was Rob Lynch, Chief Marketing Officer of Arby’s. Lynch joined Arby’s in 2013 and has been a key contributor to the Arby’s turnaround. “What we’ve really tried to do over the last couple of years is transform the brand from a place where you can go get a roast beef sandwich to a place that can deliver a whole lineup of high quality sandwiches with largest variety and quality of proteins in the industry,” Lynch says.

Rather than using traditional media outlets to increase Arby’s brand engagement, Lynch cites social media as a large part of its success story over the last 24 months as it allowed Arby’s to tell stories, communicate with customers and engage them in a unique and interesting way.

One example of this dialogue occurred during the 2014 Grammy’s when Arby’s tweeted “Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs.” This message was retweeted 90,000 times in less than 12 hours and generated over 300 million impressions. From this experience, Lynch says, “You start building this conversation that you are authentically a part of. It doesn’t feel forced; you’re not trying to control it; you are actually just embracing it.”

Later when Jon Stewart made unfavorable comments towards Arby’s during his show, instead of sending Stewart a letter requesting him to stop, Arby’s decide to play along. The conversation between Stewart and Arby’s continued for many more episodes, cumulating in a final ad by Arby’s featuring Stewart attacking the Arby’s brand. This story became the top headline on Facebook the next day, and the month of August, when the event took place, saw the highest sales in the history of the brand. “The thing I’m most proud of, the thing that excites me the most, is that everybody got the joke.”

Lynch is not worried there won’t be a similar opportunity in the future. “It really comes down to having a firm sense of what your brand is about … and that emotional connection you’re trying to create and then having the right people on your team who feel the same way and believe in the brand and believe in that brand personality.”

Roel de Vries
Roel de Vries, Corporate VP, Global Head of Marketing & Brand Strategy at Nissan 

The final guest on “Marketing Matters” was Roel de Vries, Corporate Vice President, Global Head of Marketing and Brand Strategy at Nissan Motor Corporation. In speaking about building a brand, de Vries says, “The basics of building a brand are probably still very similar to the days before the internet, which is about having customers trust you and building an emotional connection with people.” However, due to the increasing importance of transparency, “building that trust and building that emotional connection is a much more engaging, open activity than it was in the past.” Additionally, de Vries adds, “The number of touch points is increasing but the way people can interact with your brand from a customer point of view is actually getting more simple.” This is because along with the additional touchpoints comes with the expectations from customers to interact with the brand in a simpler and more transparent fashion. However, de Vries adds that the simplicity expected from the consumer will complicate the marketers’ jobs.

In regards to building the Nissan brand, de Vries says it’s important to build digital platforms in order to allow consumers to interact with the brand in a seamless way. Additionally, traditional marketing, digital marketing and social marketing need to become more integrated to form an integrated marketing communications department.

With regards to the agency’s role in the digitally connected world, de Vries says it’s important to figure out the models of the future. “We’ve built big coordination models between us and the agencies and the future is far more fluid, far more integrated, far more flexible.”

Written by:
Rachel Yuqian Li
WFoA Program Assistant
University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2016