In partnership with The CMO Club, The CMO of the Week series profiles CMOs who are shaping, changing and challenging the world of modern marketing. For Drew Neisser's complete interview with CMO Award Winner Emily Culp, click here.
Every year, The CMO Club recognizes a handful of up and coming CMOs who are taking their organizations to new heights with a Rising Star award. One thing that ties the recipients together, in my observations, is their enthusiasm. Chalk it up to the energy of new blood, but they care deeply about thoroughly understanding their customer and creating the best possible product experience for them.
This habit of expressing passion plays out in my new book, The CMO's Periodic Table, as Sharing Passion, a crucial element in the Inert Fundamentals family that is inextricably linked with one of its kin: Listening. It should be of no surprise, then, that Rising Star award-winner and new CMO of Keds Emily Culp possesses both qualities. Prior to the awards, we discussed how Culp's genuine curiosity to hear from Keds customers allowed her to hit the ground running this summer and helps her marketing team make strides for the brand. So lace up those sneaks, as Emily Culp speaks from the sole about how listening lets Keds keep its cool.
The First Steps
Since we're nearly in an election year, let me offer a parallel: New presidents always talk about what they hope to achieve during their first 100 days in office, and it turns out that newly appointed CMOs like Culp share this same goal-oriented thinking. After the CMO Awards, I asked Culp to share her top priorities for her first three months in office at Keds, which had coincidentally just come to a close when we met. She pointed to starting from the ground up, thoroughly understanding Keds and achieving clarity "on the strategy of the brand from a growth perspective, a heritage perspective and a product perspective and just really emerging myself those aspects of the business." And, like a true leader, getting to know the Keds team was also at the top of her list. "I am enjoying building relationships with my team and peers in product development, international, sales and strategy," says Culp. "To me, teamwork is one of the most critical aspects of business."
Walking the Walk
Not surprisingly, much of Culp's self-education over those 100 days came via listening. Shortly after she began, Keds was focusing on a Women's Equality Day initiative to amplify its "Ladies First Since 1916" campaign. Culp and her colleagues created a pop-up event in Manhattan where they handed out 1,916 pairs of shoes to women who hoped to find solid footing and conquer the world. A testament to her innate curiosity and passion for marketing, Culp personally interviewed the first 100 in line, women of all generations, about their relationship with the brand and product. "It was a terrific way to start at Keds," she says. Her department captured a wealth of content from the event-"a big success," says Culp-which they shared across social media to a national audience.
While this is a very literal example of listening, which has the dual benefit of letting Keds get up-close with customers and also harvesting content to spread its brand message, listening takes on a central role when it comes to marketing. As an admitted superfan of Keds long before becoming CMO, it's easy for Culp to empathize and understand her customer. But no matter the company, she says that staying in touch with them is a core tenet of the CMO's role. "A large aspect of my job is to tap into other people who feel that way about our brand," she says. "Because somebody who's worn Keds-even if they just switched from another product to ours or just rediscovered them-I love to hear from them." It's equally important, she says, to make sure that the CMO gives the customer plenty of opportunities for feedback. "My job as a marketer is to make sure that I do...and I provide them platforms to share with us, whether it's on social, it's in e-mail, or comment cards in store."
Feeling Out the Path
Listening is important for customer service, but it's increasingly effective for preemptively improving the product and services a company offers. Keds, for their part, have adorned the feet of classic female figures including Audrey Hepburn, Yoko Ono, Taylor Swift and Jackie Onassis over their century of existence. However, like any brand in fashion, the shoes' "cool" factor has ebbed and flowed during this time. Luckily, knowing just how to adjust course is a matter of listening carefully to the chatter surrounding your brand, says Culp.
In addition to social listening, she and her team at Keds invite consumers to participate in beta releases of new services, and they seed products early on to amass feedback from loyal buyers. "Because we have these amazing customers who love us and who are vocal when things go well and equally vocal when they don't go well, it is important to provide them with the level of engagement they desire with our brand. So this could take the form of providing feedback on advertising, testing to price elasticity, to literally just saying, 'We're between these two product names; which one do you like more?'" It's a gesture of trust that empowers the customer and builds an even stronger bond with the brand. "That way, you create a loyalty," says Culp, "a genuine loyalty, because you invite your customers into the process."
She cites her own experience with an outdoor apparel brand that she favors. "I have told one story about their customer service hundreds of times simply because I love the brand and how they treated me," she says. Indeed, many consumers share Culp's desire to both be heard and to give back, which the smart CMO can seize upon for the benefit of brand and customer. "If a company listens or engages me," says Culp, "then I will be a vocal advocate for them forever."
CMO of the Week is an exclusive Social Media Today column appearing every Thursday