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 Cammie Dunaway, click here.
Imagine being the chief marketer of not just a company, but an entire country? That scenario was reality for Cammie Dunaway - well, sort of. From 2010 to earlier this year, Dunaway headed up KidZania, a kids-only role-playing institution that counts 16 "territories" around the world with nine more in the works, each one a functioning metropolis where kids run the show. Much more complex than your average play center, every KidZania location is a two-thirds scaled city where children are guided through occupational role-play (artists, judges, airline pilots, pizza connoisseurs, you name it), are allowed to spend money (KidZos) and are encouraged to exert their independence. (KidZania is also a marketers' heaven: picture two-thirds-sized Wal-Marts, two-thirds sized American Airlines planes, two-thirds-sized DHL shipping centers, just to name some of the company's sponsors).
Moreover, the company provides an innovative intersection of play and education and is broadening its borders thanks in no small part to the help of its marketing department. Last fall, Dunaway received the special distinction of the President's Circle award at the CMO Club Awards not simply because of how she helped her company grow while she held the reins, but because she took to heart the principles of KidZania in doing so, which we'll explain below.
Make Like a Tyke: Play Pretend
There's no denying that KidZania is a fun brand. Kids love it, parents love it, the on-site supervisors love it - fun is the whole point, after all. But Dunaway, during a conversation after the CMO Awards, tells me that it doesn't end there. From a marketing perspective, it's imperative that her company keep this enthusiasm going all the way up the executive chain. Because the selling point of KidZania is its uniquely immersive and believable alternate reality - the closest comparison being the permeating fantasy culture in Disney parks - every detail must follow the plot line. "We bring this story to life in all aspects of our business from our titles (I am a Minister of Communication and a Governor, not a CMO and President)" says Dunaway. "We have a national anthem, monuments, our own special language and holidays." (And I did mean every detail.)
"Infusing this into our culture starts with hiring practices," she says. "We have to hire people who really like kids." From there, KidZania employees are encouraged to brush up on their own role-playing skills at the play centers. "Everyone from the CEO down spends time in the facilities working with the kids," says Dunaway. "If employees are having fun and constantly learning, then they'll be fulfilling our mission to empower kids."
Using the Golden Rule
Putting oneself in the shoes of the customer, as small as they may be, was at the core of Dunaway's marketing strategy. It's a practice she recommends for all CMOs. For an even more engaging customer experience, she suggests not only channeling the target but also giving it a chance to be heard. "You really need to find a way to bring the voice of your customer into the conversation so that you can impact parts of the experience that lie outside your direct control," she says. "I sometimes have to remind people internally that we don't need to just rely on our own perspectives. If in doubt, ask the kids."
KidZania hosts what it calls a kid's CongreZZ in each location-think of it as a pint-sized market research session-to help KidZania tune into its populations' wants and needs. "It's essentially a group of children chosen annually that help us stay current and provide feedback on our experience," Dunaway says. "As long as I'm channeling them, I am usually able to move us in the right direction."
Besides her ability immerse her department's strategies firmly in KidZania's values and embody its experience, what makes Dunaway stand out the most in my mind as a CMO is her knack for cooperation outside of her kingdom, so to speak. It's something the rest of us probably don't do nearly enough. "Wow, I can't imagine doing my job without my peer network," says Dunaway. "I think most CMOs are very relationship-oriented, and yet within our companies the job can be pretty lonely. You want to always project a sense of confidence and yet with all the changes in marketing over the past decade, you can't possibly know everything."
While at KidZania, Dunaway consulted her fellow CMOs on everything from supplier recommendations to talent management, and most importantly, she says, for frank conversations about the challenges of her position. "I don't think a day goes by that I don't either ask for help or give help to a peer," she says. Now, how many CMOs out there can say the same?
CMO of the Week is an exclusive Social Media Today column that appears every Thursday