Listen to this episode of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast to hear what Meghan Gainer, VP of Marketing & Communications, DSD Renewables (BlackRock), has learned from rebranding GE Solar, building a CRM for Comcast, and business leaders who encouraged her to attend Wharton.
This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
“The key to transformative marketing is a transformed marketer,” Flint McGlaughlin taught in Landing Page Creation and Optimization: 6 key questions to prepare the marketer.
My latest guest made a hugely transformative change, rebranding her company from General Electric. Imagine having to rebrand from one of the most legendary brands of all time – Thomas Edison, Menlo Park, the light bulb, the Carousel of Progress at Tomorrowland, “We Bring Good Things to Life,” and on and on.
So I had to ask her – what did you have to transform in yourself to make this major marketing transformation possible?
Hear that story, and so much more, in my discussion with Meghan Gainer, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, DSD Renewables.
DSD was formerly known as GE Solar and is now owned by BlackRock Real Assets. Gainer has managed budgets from $1 million to $10 million and teams from three to 15 people.
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Some lessons from Gainer that emerged in our discussion:
Put stock in your own brand.
While spinning out of General Electric, CEO Erik Schiemann tasked Gainer with determining what the new, stand-alone company would be called. Gainer rebranded the new company as Distributed Solar Development (DSD) and leveraged the tagline “a GE Renewable Energy Venture” as well as backing from BlackRock while building the new DSD brand to stand on its own.
When no one is raising their hand for something that can make an impact, raise your hand.
While at Comcast, Gainer was the first to volunteer on a cross-functional team to overhaul its billing system and CRM, while others (mostly individuals who were higher up in the company; director-level) were then “voluntold” to join her in the effort. After about two years of work, outside of her regular day-to-day tasks, Comcast finally had a separate billing system and an actual CRM that sales and retention teams could use effectively.
Customer experience and feedback are vital to success.
At Comcast Business, Gainer’s boss at the time, Kathy Hickey, had a lot of experience launching partner programs. She told Gainer that one of the keys to a successful partnership program is making sure that partners feel that your company is invested in them.
So, when Gainer helped roll out the partner program at Comcast, she gave partners resources, and asked for (and truly valued) their opinion. This level of care and communication led partners to bring Comcast more business.
Gainer also shared what she learned about marketing from Elon Musk while working at Tesla.
Gainer also shared lessons she learned from the people she collaborated with:
Nita Wright, Global Marketing Director, SES Satellites: Your company is not your advocate, you need to advocate for yourself.
Wright was Gainer’s first boss after undergrad. She was no longer Gainer’s boss at the time but was unhappy in her current role and wasn’t being recognized or compensated for what she brought to the table, so she was deciding whether or not to leave the company. It was the first time Gainer realized that being employed is not a one-way street.
Corey Eng, Senior Vice President of Product Management and Systems, GTT; Mark Schweitzer, Partner, CMG Partners; and Bill Stemper, President, Comcast Business: Appreciate your employees – let them challenge themselves, provide feedback and grow…even if it means you’re going to lose them.
Eng, Schweitzer, and Stemper always advocated for Gainer, had her back and made her feel appreciated, even if she didn’t report directly to them – from inviting her into executive meetings even though she was only a senior manager, to helping her get into business school even though they knew they would lose her as an employee.
Eric Pollock, Chief Commercial Officer, DSD Renewables: When you find people you work well with, stick together and you’ll always enjoy what you do.
Pollock was skeptical when Gainer proposed they go with the DSD (Distributed Solar Development) name as the company spun out of GE because he thought it was clunky and would be hard to explain to customers. As the head of sales, Gainer needed Pollock to be on board, so she encouraged him to lean into it and trust the process. He did, because he trusted her, and within a couple of months he was the one saying they didn’t need the GE name anymore.
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This podcast is not about marketing – it is about the marketer. It draws its inspiration from the Flint McGlaughlin quote, “The key to transformative marketing is a transformed marketer” from the Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages free digital marketing course.
Not ready for a listen just yet? Interested in searching the content? No problem. Below is a rough transcript of our conversation.
Daniel Burstein: It is a tight labor market these days. Marketing talent is scarce, so it would only be natural for marketing leaders to do everything they can to hold on to their current team. Hey, that can lead to a lot of positive management practices. However, if you're not careful, you could try to hold on a little too tight and put your interests and your company's interests way out ahead of what would best serve the employee.
That's why I love this lesson from our next guest. Appreciate your employees. Let them challenge themselves, provide feedback, and grow. Even if it means you're going to lose them. She’ll share the stories behind how she learned that lesson, along with many other lessons with us today. Joining me now is Meghan Gainer, the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at DSD Renewables. Thanks for joining us, Meghan.
Meghan Gainer: Thanks so much for having me.
Daniel Burstein: Let's take a quick look at your background here so people know who I'm talking to. You got an MBA from Wharton, Senior Marketing Manager at Comcast. You were a Senior Manager of Energy Marketing for North America at Tesla, Senior Marketing Leader at GE Solar. There's more roles too many to mention, but also you manage budgets from one to $10 million and you've managed teams from three to 15 people during your career.
Right now, you're the Vice President of Marketing and Communications for DSD, which stands for Distributed Solar Development Renewables. DSD recently spun out of GE. You're going to tell us some of those stories. And is owned by BlackRock and well tell us what does it mean to be the Vice President of Marketing and Communications?
Meghan Gainer: Yeah. So basically means I manage everything from, you know, our overarching brand, who we are as a company and what we do and sort of getting that story out there. To day-to-day PR sales support, manage all of our digital footprint, including website, social channels, etc. So pretty much soup to nuts, everything that is sort of marketing communications both internally and externally my team touches.
Daniel Burstein: All right. Great. Well, actually our first lesson comes from that current role. So in the first half of the podcast. We'll talk about some of the things you made. And one of the first things you made is this brand, DSD Renewables. And the lesson you learned is put stock in your own brand. So tell us this story.
Meghan Gainer: Yeah. So when I joined GE back in 2018, I kind of knew at the time that it was a possibility that we would be spinning ourselves out of GE eventually as an organization. What we do at DSD is we develop solar projects, commercial, industrial sized solar projects, and it's something that's very different. It's a business model that's very different from what GE does, which GE makes a lot of stuff. And so it just didn't really fit within sort of like the GE organization. And we kind of knew that. And so when I joined, I kind of knew that I might need to do something like this. I did not realize that I would need to do it(a) so quickly and (b) in such a short period of time.
So I joined in the fall of 2018 we started sort of shopping around our platform that winter, the following winter. And we had spun out of GE by July of 2019. So when we started shopping ourselves around, I was sort of tasked from our CEO Erik Schiemann, to start thinking about what would we be called when we spin out? What are some names that we'd banter around? And I did not obviously I did not have neither the budget nor the time to do in-depth brand research. You know what names would make a difference in the industry? What names seemed to make a lot of sense. And so on this you know, sort of like three to basically had three to six months to come up with a name come up with a brand and be ready to spin out, you know in July of 2019.
And so you really had to go with like a gut instinct Luckily, I had been in the industry for a while now and I knew the big players. I also knew that, you know, it's quite possible that our organization would move and change and evolve over time. So I didn't want to do anything that would pigeonhole us too much into a particular thing. And I also knew I was kind of starting from scratch. And so really where this first lesson comes from is like at some point, you just kind of trust your gut and then lean into it, because if you don't feel confident in it, then the people around you won't feel confident in it. And more importantly, your end customers won't feel confident in it.
So that's kind of where we went from it and it really ended up taking. So we spun out, first of all, the look on my colleagues faces when I said that we were going to be calling ourselves Distributed Solar Development instead of being able to introduce yourself as working for GE, everybody was just shocked and scared to be honest. They're like, What? Like, this is never going to work. And I think once we actually spun ourselves out and people started to get used to explaining sort of who we are and that we were backed by BlackRock which was obviously like a really big, big financial institution. It gives us a lot of that sort of like, you know, financial like, okay, you know, you have money behind you. That's a good thing. Everybody started to get a little bit more confident and within a year, we were so confident in our brands that we were even able to drop sort of any tie to GE whatsoever, which was a really great feeling. Feeling like you didn't need that as sort of like leverage anymore.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, we're going to get into a great story actually, probably the last story we're going to talk about in this podcast about a specific individual the Head of Sales and how you kind of had these conversations and work together. First of all, I just want to be clear, when you talk about shopped around, right? I think what happened was it was owned by G. and ultimately was backed and funded by BlackRock, BlackRock's the owner now. Right? So give us a sense of the timing. Was the rebranding before and did it help that BlackRock was involved or how was that?
Meghan Gainer: So basically our CEO had kind of positioned this within GE to say like, hey, we know that you appreciate what we're doing as a business. And we're making money. So you still want, you know, a foot in the door, if you will. But we need an investor who can sort of, you know, give us the funding that we need to take this to the next level.
And so GE was on board with keeping a 20% stake and then giving 80% stake of us away to whoever we all, as you know, mutual parties agreed would be the best fit. And so those conversations happened in late 2018 early 2019. We got interest from a lot of different investors. We were actually kind of surprised at how many investors were interested in looking at our platform, our company to take on that 80% stake and ultimately BlackRock and the team at BlackRock that we had been speaking to, it was just the right fit. We knew that they allow us to continue to operate pretty autonomously the way that we were doing it. They were fully on board with our approach, our strategy, long term strategy where we want to take the business. So GE did still hold a 20% stake in us. So in that time we were also negotiating internally with GE as to what does that 20% stake mean?
And largely it was our ability to use the GE name, much like a lot of other GE ventures do. So basically we were going to be whatever name we came up with and then a GE Renewable Energy Venture was sort of like the tag underneath it. So it was our way to sort of spin out, hold on to some GE parent relationship. But majority of our funding was coming from BlackRock. So that's kind of how that relationship worked. And that was also a part of what I had to take into consideration when doing this brand, as I had to think short term, we're going to be a sort of sub GE brand, if you will, but then long term we're going to have to stand alone.
And after going through at Comcast, I went through I think like three different rebrands in essentially like four years. That was when Comcast was moving towards the Xfinity brand. And we had gone through a whole bunch of different brands in between then, and it was just too chaotic. And I knew I did not want that to happen again. If I could at all help it. So I had to be thinking both short, medium and long term with this. And that's kind of how we've landed at DSD Renewables today.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah. I mean, first of all, that is a great approach to your branding to how you kind of took that gradual approach. I always think of it as, you know, that visual of evolution where it's, you know, that first man, you know, you see the beast crawling out of the sea that it turns into man crawling and walking and stuff. In within good rebranding it’s that evolution of how do we go from just a major brand like GE to the brand your with. But when you mention Comcast and Xfinity it got me thinking, you know, I used to be a consultant to a company named BEA Systems. And I remember I was at one of their events and a leader from Comcast spoke there. Comcast was a major customer, and this is before anyone had heard of Xfinity and he had teased out, Hey, you're going to be hearing about this brand Xfinity and stuff. And it was part of kind of the pre tease of the hey, this is coming.
So when we think of the kind of evolution, was there any kind of pre-tease you had to do with especially when you're shopping this brand around, you know, talking to maybe industry analysts, talking to the marketplace, talk to funders about how this is going to be? I would think for anyone that's interested in investing and anyone that interested in investing and sees a GE brand, that brand would be important or some of these marketing decision strategies would be important.
Meghan Gainer: Yeah for sure. So, it was it was a little bit of I guess I would call it a little bit of art meets science with us. Because we also had to figure out what we could legally coin in such a short period of time. So it really limited our creativity, if you will. Hence, we landed on Distributed Solar Development after shopping around. We had like a short list of, I don't know, ten names or so that we kind of shopped around to various investors and that's kind of where we all landed was Distributed Solar Development because we could shorten it to DSD pretty easily. And being able to, you know, kind of how I pitched it to the leadership team was that kind of like HP, you know, you can at some point just leverage your acronym and that becomes your identity and that's fine.
And down the line, people aren't going to necessarily ask what DSD stands for? And that's the goal, right? That's what you're hoping to get to. You get to that point. So it's not this awkward conversation. That said I was very realistic with everybody involved and I said, yes, you are going to need an elevator pitch. And I actually wrote out what your three sentence elevator pitch of who DSD is and what we do for everybody to have in their back pocket. Because, you know, you can you can picture people sort of stumbling over like Distributed Solar Development. What exactly is that? Who are you? What are you doing? Where did you come from?
And oh, by the way, like, you want to do a multi-million dollar project with me? Like, how can I trust that you're a company that has money behind you? So that story was really important as well at the very beginning, making sure that everybody was kind of prepared for how to talk about something like this.
But yeah, you you definitely, you know, you shop around a lot of stuff, and then at some point you just have to make a decision, right? Like, you can't just you know, there's never going to be a perfect decision. And then so at some point you just need to execute and just go with it. And I kind of the approach I took.
Daniel Burstein: Now, it's kind of funny you mentioned about the letters in the name. So I just mentioned I was working with BEA Systems and I was at an event and I heard about Comcast, so they don't exist anymore they were bought by Oracle. But BEA, so what does BEA stand for and everyone called it BEA. It stood for Barry, Ed and Alfred, the founders. You know, it didn't really have anything to do with anything.
Meghan Gainer: Yup!
Daniel Burstein: But I love that you say the elevator pitch, too. Because the next question I was going to ask you is, is a challenge for a rebrand, but challenge for any company. How do you make sure everyone in the company understands the value proposition? Because you mentioned there was concern, there was pushback from some. So you gave everyone in the company an elevator pitch. I got three lined elevator pitch to really understand, okay, here's who we are and why we are. And that's sort of thing.
Meghan Gainer: Yeah, exactly. And it's funny, I think because talk about throwing a lot at a business at once. So we were spinning out of GE, basically developing a new relationship with the new investor. In addition, the reason why we spun out of GE is because like I said, GE as a company that that creates and sells things for profit.
Solar development is not something that you necessarily build and sell for profit immediately. The value proposition of CNI Solar in particular is owning assets long term and you get this long term return on these, you know, 25 plus year assets, solar assets, when you have this like recurring revenue model through a what's called the PPA agreement, which is essentially just it's very similar to your cable agreement where customers pay you for the energy that's produced from the solar array that's located on their house.
They don't actually have to pay for the solar array itself to get built. So they don't have any sort of upfront capital. And that's where the value for our business comes out of it. We wouldn't have been able to do that within GE, having BlackRock come in and back us allowed us to do that. So now we're also sort of changing what is our like revenue model. We're changing you know, what our really sort of where we are in the market as we're making all these other changes, too. So it was a lot to ask a young small organization of about 40 to 50 people at the time. But luckily, like that's the time you do it right.
That's the time you do it when you have like just a few people that you need to sort of change the ship instead of changing this like massive cruise ship. You're changing, you know, at 13 foot boat instead so. So yeah. So that was, it was really important for us to have that story sort of written out for everybody for early on.
Daniel Burstein: Well, thanks for that and you shared a lot about kind of corporate strategy, the business strategy level. But I also want to ask on the personal level for you, for Megan, like you're talking about rebranding from one of the legendary brands GE my gosh. You know, and so I just wonder, you know, at a personal level, what was it like for you?
Because so we have this free digital marketing course. I love this quote from Flint McGlaughlin who teaches it in session two. He says, The key to transformative marketing is a transformed marketer. So you're talking a lot about transforming the brand in the company. What did you have to transform in yourself to make that rebranding possible?
Meghan Gainer: Honestly, I think it was I needed to drum up some confidence that I don't know where it came from. But I basically had to repeatedly telling myself, like, you're the only person in the room right now who's thinking about this. So you've just got to do it. You know, you make good decisions, you've come this far. Worse comes to worse. It fails. And you have to go find another job. But you have good credibility behind you. So you could probably find another job if you needed to. It was really that it was just trying to be as confident as I could about my decisions.
And it was a task that I had never really been tasked with before. I had never been really the only owner of something this big before. And so I knew that it was going to be either very rewarding or I would learn valuable lessons from it. And either way, I was all in.
Daniel Burstein: Well, that's great. Well, hopefully that gives a vote of confidence to anyone who's listening right now who's going through a rebrand, if Megan can rebrand from General Electric, you can rebrand from whatever you've got to rebrand from. Well, let's talk about your next lesson, when no one is raising their hand for something that can make an impact, raise your hand. So how did you learn this?
Meghan Gainer: Yeah, so in a very unglamorous way. Back at Comcast, when I was working for Comcast business, we were basically a small organization within the bigger organization. And Comcast as a whole had you know, it's a company that's been around since like the fifties or something like that. And we had basically built our CRM off of our billing system, which nowadays seems completely ridiculous to do.
But it was one of those things that it just happened over time where all of our information about our customers was in our billing system because that's how we originally got to know them. And then it just it continued to evolve and at some point it was breaking, it was just breaking left and right. So we knew we had to completely sort of separate the billing system part of billing from our CRM like and create like an actual CRM. So they decided to come to us first because we were a smaller business. They could work out the kinks, but of course we were a smaller business. We didn't own our billing system, we kind of leveraged everything that they did on the residential side. So nobody was like a billing system expert per se. And so we needed to figure out a way to do this.
And I knew that because there was nobody else who was an expert here. I was like, Well, this is a good way for me to quickly learn about our customers and quickly learn about our systems. And I thought it was going to be like an easy project to sort of do as sort of an add on to my regular day to day job. And it turned out to be kind of this like nightmarish side project where like things were just so broken and needed to be untangled and it was gross. But I was like one of the first people to raise my hand and say, like, sure, I'll take this on. Obviously, everybody else knew better than me. So there's a little bit of that in this too.
But having been a part of that and it gave me exposure to leaders across the organization who I have said were basically voluntold that they need to make this happen, as in, Hey, this needs to happen for the business. The residential side slash the behemoth that is Comcast needs this to happen. So it's on us to do it. You got to go do it. So I got exposure to some great leaders across the organization. I learned way more about our organization than I ever would have in just years of working there in a relatively short period of time. And it also gave me a real appreciation for standing up systems and how much work needs to be put into it and things like, you know, just testing, beta testing and how important that stuff is. I think that you take it for granted if you don't have to be a part of it.
Like I said, incredibly unglamorous. I never wanted to do it again. It is a very sort of unsexy part of marketing and, you know, very loosely a part of marketing. But I was a standing up a CRM system. So, you know, now that you appreciate sort of how that sausage is made a little bit more, you develop that appreciation, and you learn from it right? And it also gave me a leg up in terms of other folks in the organization that didn't have that that experience and that knowledge now that I had been able to develop in a short period of time.
Daniel Burstein: Well, first of all, I love that term voluntold. And when you when you mentioned you're like a smaller customer you were actually working for Comcast was just you're on the B2B side, right?
Meghan Gainer: Exactly, yeah which is now known as Comcast business. Speaking of how brands are made, Comcast business class when we first developed Comcast business as an actual company within Comcast, the name was Comcast Business Class developed on an airplane two executives were on an airplane and they knew they had to come up with a name for this business by the time they landed. That's how we got Comcast Business Class.
Daniel Burstein: Well I am glad it wasn’t Comcast overhead bin or something like that.
Meghan Gainer: I know, exactly.
Daniel Burstein: Comcast carry on. Well, you mentioned how the sausage was made. So this is where I think it can really help. Like, as you as you grow in your career, as you raise, as you mentioned, you've managed budgets up to 10 million people. You've managed up to teams of 15 like has that experience of being in the trenches given you now a better understanding of how you work with the IT department.
Because one thing I found in my career, I mean I got to work in software early my career which was helpful. One thing it's, I hate to say this, but like IT is almost like the quicksand where good marketing ideas go. Because it seems like you've got this brilliant marketing idea and it just dredges through there and it comes out on the other side like I said, two years later looking totally different all dirty. So how has that improved your ability to work with IT departments?
Meghan Gainer: Yeah, just in terms of like how to speak with them and speak in their language, right? Understanding how they will translate your ask into something that you're like, That's not what I asked for. And they're like, This is exactly what you asked for. And you're like, But it's not working the way I wanted it to. And it's like, Well, this is what you asked for. Being able to, you know, go through those iterations on a number of different, digital marketing infrastructure type projects has been incredibly helpful. Because now I know to be really like how specific you actually need to be when they ask for requirements. Like the term requirement means something very different from a digital infrastructure perspective than it does from like a user perspective, right? Like, I require it to be necessary that I, you know, capture these five fields, but to them that's like, okay, great, we'll make those required fields. But then how they translate on the backend could be something very different in terms of like why you required that.
And so it's like, you know, you have to be really specific, be very careful with your words on a whiteboard as much as humanly possible, which is hard to do these days in this very virtual world that we live in. But like really understanding that making yourself, I guess I should say, being very descriptive in terms of what you expect the outcome to be as early on in the process as possible is like key so that you're not figuring things out when you're in like user acceptance testing.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, that's good, I mean we as marketers sometimes we're so focused on external communication. Like, hey, if you're communicating to the, you know, executive team of BlackRock or whatever, that's exciting we are going to focus on that. And we can just overlook that internal communication that's so essential. Right?
Meghan Gainer: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Daniel Burstein: Well, let's talk about your next lesson. You mentioned customer experience and feedback are vital to success. So how did you learn this?
Meghan Gainer: Yeah, so that again back at Comcast, and I usually harp on that part of my career because it was the largest chunk of my career at this point. But Comcast I mean, if you unless you live under a rock, Comcast has a reputation of having poor customer service. It's a utility. Nobody likes their utility. That's where it is at the end of the day. But at Comcast Business in particular, we were launching a partner program, and my boss at the time, Cathy Hickey, had a lot of experience launching partner programs at other organizations, including IBM, I believe. And one of the things that she told me was like one of the key partners key successes to a partnership program is making sure that they are invested in you as a partner too.
So whatever you can do to sort of bring them in and make them feel part of the organization, you are going to get far more out of those partners by doing so. And so part of that includes just listening to them, understanding what their needs are, understanding what they're looking for from you. And so we were able to do that, and we built out one of the if not now, the industry's strongest partner programs in Comcast business by doing that. So like our our partners really do feel like they are invested in our success as well as their own success. And that's really key. And I just I see customer experience. And when you and when you say customer, that is everything from the people who pay your bills to your employees, to partners that you work with, your vendors. That all of those individual customers and various transactions that you do in quotes on a day to day basis. You know, that experience is everything. And trying to make that the best experience means that you're going to get more out of everybody involved. And everybody will do better is what I've seen, at least in my in my experience.
Daniel Burstein: I wonder if you think back when you think of one, one or two of the most surprising things you learned from getting that feedback, because, you know, that's our challenge as marketers. We've got this blind spot. We're so focused on our brands where we don't see through customers eyes. But what really surprised you?
Meghan Gainer: I think that the fact that it doesn't take much. You don't need to wine and dine and throw a lot of money at people. Listening, just the act of listening can make a world of difference in their eyes. If they feel like they've been heard and feel like needs have been addressed in some way, shape or form. You don't have to solve everything. You don't need to find a solution for everything. But the fact that you've actually addressed it and say, I'm sorry, I can't fix this one issue because of X, Y, and Z at least they feel like they've been heard, it's been addressed, and we can all move on. And so I think it's that that it really just it doesn't take a whole lot of extra effort to make a lot of difference.
Daniel Burstein: You know, and it's funny you mentioned too about, you know, cable companies having a bad reputation in terms of customer service. Because I think that's also the difference between actual value and perceived value. In our job as marketers to influence perceived value. And so you're talking about listening to customers. That's one way to influence that perceived value that they see or listening.
We had on Michael Diamond on the podcast previously is now at NYU, but he was the former acting CMO of Time Warner Cable. And he mentioned so Time Warner Cable, we did a lot to improve our customer service. Didn't really matter, people still thought we had horrible customer service. Then they launched a marketing campaign an advertising campaign, a funny one about how the customer service was better. Like, I think there was a guy ready to go on hold for the cable company to do all these things. They were surprised because they picked up so quick.
And so I think that's an example too, of like the first thing you have to do the best marketing is a great product, right? The first thing you have to do is improve the actual value you give to customers, but that's not enough. Then as marketers, we need to make sure they perceive that value.
Meghan Gainer: Exactly. Exactly. Yes and that's actually a fantastic point because, you know, going back to what, you know, listening to customers and getting their feedback and things like that, I think you and I have talked about like the idea of you hear customers and sometimes you only hear the loudest customers. So you think you're solving for something that is this mass problem and you realize you haven’t at all. You've just placated, perhaps placated, a small number of your loudest customers. And instead there are these root cause issues below the surface that you really should have spent your time addressing instead. And they're just not bubbling up because probably your customers don't care anymore. Like they're no longer invested in you as a brand and you as a company, and at that point you've lost them. So getting to some of those root causes of or those root issues is really important. And that's something that you may not get with just listening to, you know, or just watching a customer survey, for example, you end up getting this bias of respondents.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I love that. As I've written before about, you know, the customer is always right, but not always right for your company. And the analogy I love to use, I don't know, are you a Simpsons fan? And I'll do watch The Simpsons at all.
Meghan Gainer: Yes. Yes.
Daniel Burstein: So this is an older Simpsons. I remember it. But as Homer Simpson, he finds out his brother, he's got a brother you know, about. He owns a car company and he's like, wow. And so they reunite, they're so excited. Anyway, his brother sees Homer Simpson. He's like, this is the average guy. This is what we're missing. We don't have it. And so he tells his product developers, you listen to that guy, do whatever he says. So then towards the end of the episode that I’m talking about the car comes out and it's ridiculous. It plays like La Cucaracha. It's like it's got this crazy like Big Gulp holder that's massive. It's a Homer car! Yeah. So they made it for Homer, right? They didn't make it for that customer. I know you mentioned you had like 20 examples of your customer experience. Do you think of any specific example where either you kind of started going down that road or you just kind of we're hearing things from a customer or maybe a business leader, a boss that was saying, Hey, do this thing. And you're like, Well, wait a minute. I think that person is just really loud. I don't know if that would really serve our customer base.
Meghan Gainer: Yeah. So this actually happened at Tesla for us. Because Tesla's ….
Daniel Burstein: Is it the farting of the Tesla, don’t tell me, was that just from one person…
Meghan Gainer: Yeah exactly. No, but so I joined Tesla as part of the, I was with SolarCity prior. And when Tesla acquired SolarCity, I joined Tesla as part of that acquisition. So we had gone from SolarCity was a mass market residential solar installer, all across the country. And then Tesla was this high end vehicle manufacturer that had a very small customer base, very exclusive customer base, very particular customer base. And those were the most loyal customers on the planet. Like a Tesla customer is incredibly loyal. It's like a dream from a marketing perspective. Which is why Elon Musk doesn't think marketing is a requirement for a business.
And so which was just interesting in and of itself working as part of a marketing organization for a CEO that didn't believe in marketing. But that's a whole other story. But so we would sit there and we would try to sell solar, we could sell solar to our current embedded customer base, Tesla customer base. It was a no brainer. They were like, yes, we want clean energy. We like we're happy to pay for it. I like it was a no brainer. But what we were missing is how do we tell our story to the mass market? So as we introduced new energy products like storage for your house, you know, a battery for your house and, you know, solar roof and things like that, we couldn't be talking to our tiny embedded base or else the product would never work. We would never make any money if we only sold, you know, hundreds to thousands of this thing. We need to sell hundreds of thousands to millions of this stuff.
And we didn't know how to talk that we were solely talking to the embedded Tesla customer. So I knew early on, like something needed to change because like, there's no way this is going to translate to a mass market audience in the way we needed to. And it was a challenge internally to get folks on board because the Tesla folks weren't used to having this sort of mass market appeal. And it was scary for their brand. And then you also had a bunch of folks that had come from the SolarCity side that said, how come this isn't working as well as it did when we were at SolarCity? And they just didn't understand how it wasn't translating.
So it was definitely a challenge and one that I am not sure how successful I was at it just given I didn't have a whole lot of stake in the organization on it. But it's something that I think Tesla probably still struggles with a little bit to this day. Of getting sort of that mass market, solar appeal and energy appeal out the door. It's definitely been easier with there were sort of more mass market friendly auto lines for sure, like the three and the Y. But yeah, that definitely was sort of that issue.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah. Well, since you brought it up, it's too juicy to miss about maybe if there's any marketing lessons you have from Elon Musk because from what I see externally, you know, no one has been better able to build a tribe around eco friendly, climate friendly product than Elon Musk. And it's funny because, you know, on the on the BlackRock side, they also seem like the organization that is doing more than anyone else to build a tribe so to speak in the B2B world around considering climate. So I wonder, did you any marketing lessons stick out from Elon Musk?
Meghan Gainer: Yeah, I think and it kind of goes to that back to sort of like that confidence and that lean in. I mean, the man's a genius. You can't argue that. And he has this amazing vision that he just accepts as reality, which I think is that is both it's a blessing and a curse a little bit.
I think it's amazing because that's how you get true believers to follow like his like you said to basically become part of this tribe. And it's doing great things not only for climate change but SpaceX and the whole sort of, you know, reopening of our, you know, exploration of space that could not have been done without Elon Musk so you cannot argue that he isn’t a visionary. He's an incredibly smart man. And you get that following from that. It becomes a little dangerous because you also have to think about ho far you're willing to go to make something like that happen. And unfortunately, I think people get I mean, at the end of the day, people have to work for him and have to get the stuff done.
And sometimes it's not the greatest experience working for somebody like that. So I think that's a that's a lesson as well as like, you know, it's one thing to be a visionary, but you also have to remember that it takes a lot of people and you need to have those people on board with you need to treat them well all along the way to make sure that your vision really comes to light in the best way possible.
Daniel Burstein: Well, I think that's really a great transition for the next part of our podcast where we talk about lessons from some of the people you collaborated and work with, and you have a lot of lessons here about not just marketing, but actually working and what it's like to be a human being working in a company. And so we kind of do this part of the podcast, we talked about Elon Musk, you know, back in the day I remember writing this post, Forget Charlie Sheen- Here are five marketing lessons for marketers. Because there was this thing in marketing where it was always like marketing lessons from Charlie Sheen, marketing lessons from Justin Bieber, marketing lessons from Steve Jobs. And I always kind of felt like, well, I'm not Steve Jobs, I'm not Elon Musk. And you are. And maybe we need to look around at the people we're actually working with on a day to day basis and see what marketing lessons can we get from them or what career lessons, right?
So let's start with that. The first person you talk about is Nita Wright, Global Marketing Director of SES Satellites. And your lesson was your company is not your advocate. You need to advocate for yourself. So how did you learn that from Nita?
Meghan Gainer: Yeah. So she actually hired me at Comcast, up from the get go as sort of like a Regional Marketing Manager or Assistant Manager at the time, right out of undergrad. And so she was my first like full time boss and she was a great mentor. And, you know, over time, my career kind of went one way. Her career went a different way, but we still stayed very close and very in touch. And I still sort of utilized her as a mentor. But at one point in her career, the company just wasn't valuing her for what she felt she had brought to the table. And what I knew she had brought to the table, too. And so at the end of the day, she said, you know, like, I don't owe this company anything. Why am I sticking around? And that really stuck to me because I had seen, especially working for a large organization like Comcast, where you had people and like GE, for example, you have people that have been there their entire careers and they have built their careers on the notion of if I give enough time to this company, the company will give it back to me.
And that's not the case. At the end of the day, the company doesn't owe you anything. It is up to you whether you want to stick around for that long. Like, yes, there might be incentives to stay. There might be you know, but you're not going to work your way up just by doing time, that notion is sort of like out the door at this point. And so you should always be doing what's best for yourself and your career and not expect anything from the company really. And that was really valuable because not only did that help me sort of look at what my value was and what I thought I brought to the table. But it also made me feel more comfortable and confident and like, okay, if the company doesn't owe me anything, I don't owe anything to the company either.
So while I may say something to my boss who's been able to, you know, mentor me and so I want to make sure that I don't leave them hanging, for example, or the people I work with but the organization itself, like I shouldn't feel like I'm tied to it in any way, shape or form. And that was really freeing.
Daniel Burstein: And I think it probably goes to a version of the brand customer relationship, right? Because earlier in this episode when you were talking about rebranding from GE, I was like, hey, that seems like a big thing. How'd that go? You're like if this goes south. You know, I've got other options. I think it's a way of saying I have a personal value proposition in the marketplace. I have you know, a personal brand. And so we are always, I think, trying to deliver value to our company right through that value proposition. But it's a two-way street, and there needs also to be a value proposition to the employee. And I think really that's a great lesson for any leaders listening now. So, you know, we talk about the tight labor market. I recently wrote an article about what are marketing leaders doing to help recruit and keep people now. And there were a lot of creative ideas in there, like the four-day workweek and different things like that, where it's about not just, okay, pure productivity and how much can we, you know, get people in an office and four walls and staring at a computer and being in meetings, but, you know, what do they need? And then at the end of the day, you know, can we give them what they need? And they can also give us back if they can do it in four days, right? If they can be productive and we can create, you know, enough margin on these four days, let's do that for people. And there's a mutual value proposition. And there's many, many other things that can happen too.
So I think the next story is probably the opposite of what we were just talking about. The flip side of a company doing a good job or at least marketing leaders doing a good job and kind of creating a value proposition for you. You specifically called out Corey Eng, Senior Vice President of Product Management and Systems at GTT, Mark Schweitzer, partner at CMG Partners, and Bill Stemper, President Comcast Business. And you said appreciate your employees let them challenge themselves, provide feedback and grow, even if it means you're going to lose them. So tell us the story. This sounds like a juicy one.
Meghan Gainer: Yeah. So Corey was the Vice President of Marketing for Comcast Business when I joined it. And he was really great in trying to elevate his team. And by elevate, I mean make sure that we were at the table. And so he would invite me into meetings with higher ups, even though, you know, I was just the manager at the time and, you know, two folks down from him. And he would make sure that I was not just a fly on the wall in the meeting either. Like he would ask for opinions and solicit feedback and things like that. So I was a voice in the room and he sort of allowed me to do that. And he would trust me with things and give me some autonomy.
And it was the first time I had ever really experienced that from somebody at that level within an organization. And I really valued it. And not only did it challenge me, but also made me want to make him proud, right. It made me want to do a really good job and excel at it so that so that he would shine, too. And so I think that that sort of like mutual like lifting up of those folks is really important. And then down the line, Mark Schweitzer and Bill Stemper both again, both leaders within Comcast business at the highest levels. Again, they allowed me to make decisions and they showed appreciation when my boss at the time had to go out on maternity leave. And I kind of covered her when she came back. Mark made it a point to, you know, to pull me aside and say, I really appreciated you filling in for her. You didn't. Outstanding job. I'm going to give you like this bonus, like, you know, this type of mini promotion sort of thing, just to show how much that that mattered.
And that was really like I just thought I was doing my job and, you know, to be called out, I felt rejuvenated, and it was like, oh, like it's nice to feel valued and to feel like you going above and beyond was actually appreciated. And then when I was making the decision of whether to sort of leave my career at Comcast to go and pursue my MBA full time. Bill Stemper, who's the president of the business, actually invited me into his office to talk to him about it. And he was a Wharton alum. And so he came he kind of came to it. He's like look, on the one hand, I want to tell you to go to Wharton because it will change your life and it changed my life. And it's a fantastic thing. He's like, on the other hand, I really don't want to lose you as an employee. But he was very honest and straightforward, and he was like, look I'm going to lay it on the table. We really, really, really appreciate you here. You will always have a role here if you ever want to come back. But I think you should pursue this, like this is a fantastic opportunity if you want to pursue it like you have all of our support.
And it was just really great to again, just like feel valued but also feel like they wanted me to succeed no matter what in or out of the company. And, you know, I take that very seriously with my team today. I make sure they know that part of their goals on an annual basis are not just the deliverables that they need to do for the company, but I ask them to put their own sort of career goals included in that and like, you know, do you want to have an opportunity to speak at an event?
Do you want to understand a different areas of the business more? Like what do you want to do personally to sort of feel more fulfilled in your career as well? And I make sure that they prioritize that too because I know how much that meant to me. And I think at the end of the day, if you have well-rounded employees and employees that feel valued, you're just going to get that much more out of them.
Daniel Burstein: That's a great takeaway and that's a great lesson anyone else can apply, whether we're have direct reports or not. And I think the thing is really heartening about your story is you know, once we get into organizations, companies, departments, whatever we want to call them, you know, they just kind of naturally strip out the humanity we have for each other for some reason, you know, I mean, often people behave differently at work than they do with their friends or whatever like that.
So see, at such a big company like Comcast, which as you said before, is basically a utility. That some of those leaders there did not lose that humanity. And they're like, hey, this is another individual that's in the same shoes I was. And even though it might hurt me personally or hurt the company, like for this individual's life and career, what can I do to do that? I think that's a beautiful thing.
Meghan Gainer: Yeah. Yeah, for sure.
Daniel Burstein: Let's talk about your final story it’s with someone you're currently working with, and it kind of brings the podcast back around in a circle this episode, because that's what we talked about in the beginning, that very big thing, rebranding from General Electric. You mentioned Eric Pollock, who is the Chief Commercial Officer from DSD Renewables. And you said when you find people you work well with, stick together and you'll always enjoy what you do. So how have you and Eric stuck together, especially through this, you know, spinoff, this rebranding and all this stuff going on?
Meghan Gainer: Yeah. Yeah. So I actually remember from when he was one of the people I interviewed with before joining GE. And I remember our interview conversation felt more like just like a conversation. It felt like we were like at a networking event or something like that. And we were like having a conversation over beer. Like, it was so comfortable and we were on the same page with so much stuff. And we just clicked really well together in terms of, like, how we think about things, how we think about the business, how we think about our industry. And it was just very comfortable. And since then, like, there have been times where he and I, through this whole process, we've had to work very closely with this whole rebranding because he manages the entire commercial side of the business. Including all of our sales team.
And even he at first was like, Meghan, I don't know, how are we going to make this work? Like, I don't know that I believe that. And I'm like, I'm just like Eric, just lean, I was like just say it with confidence. Because if you don't say it with confidence, nobody else is going to be either. And so he was like okay, I'm going to trust you. And I earned that trust from him. And sure enough, it worked. And we both have conversations on a weekly basis, and he's out in California. I'm on the East Coast but we always connect on a weekly basis, and we're always just like amazed at what we've done with this business.
And it feels very much like I don't know, like it's very much a collaborative friendship type relationship. Even though he's my boss, where like I said, we're so on the same page with a lot of stuff. And we also kind of like look around, like we've kind of done this. Wow. like, this is kind of crazy that we've done this and we take that sort of, like, mutual pride and it makes my job that much more enjoyable. He finds his job that much more enjoyable too, I think. And so, if you find those people to work with and it's a joy to work with them, then you'll never feel like you're actually going to work, right. And I know that's said a lot where like if you enjoy what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. It's really true. And I find that that comes across most with the people I work with and finding the joy in the people that I work with makes all the difference in the world.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah. You know, we throw that word around team a lot, right, in marketing. But I mean, truly being a team is a beautiful thing. Pulling for each other.
Meghan Gainer: Yep. Yep.
Daniel Burstein: All right. Well, Meghan we covered a wide swath of territory today about what it means to be a marketer. My gosh. So if you could leave us with some final words of wisdom, what are the key qualities of an effective marketer?
Meghan Gainer: I think first and foremost, you have to be an effective listener, and that really requires a level of EQ and being able to put yourself in other people's shoes. And really think about, you know, how other people are getting to a particular outcome or idea. And yeah, just being a good listener, I think is is incredibly, incredibly important. And I think it's something that people don't think about enough.
Daniel Burstein: Well, it was a pleasure listening to you, Meghan. I learned so much. Thanks for being with us.
Meghan Gainer: It's been a pleasure being on. Thank you so much for having me.
Daniel Burstein: And thanks to you all for listening as well. Have a good one.
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