June 13, 2023

Marketing Leadership: Get insights from some of our best conversations with marketing VPs and CMOs (podcast episode #62)


On episode #62 of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast, we take a look back at some of our favorite insights from our in-depth conversations with marketing leaders.

Listen now to hear marketing leaders discuss key lessons from their careers, and the stories behind how they learned those lessons.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

Marketing Leadership: Get insights from some of our best conversations with marketing VPs and CMOs (podcast episode #62)

The How I Made It In Marketing podcast is underwritten by MECLABS Institute, the parent organization of MarketingSherpa. To learn how MECLABS Services can help you get better business results from deeper customer understanding, visit MECLABS.com/results.

I used to think those TV commercials for Dawson’s Creek were ridiculous. “This week, on a very special episode of Dawson’s Creek.”

It seemed like every episode was very special. “This week, on a very special episode of Dawson’s Creek. A psychic arrives in Capeside, and Dawson, Joey, and Pacey learn shocking news about their futures.”

That said…

This is actually a very special episode of How I Made It In Marketing.

So let me try it now… this week, on a very special episode of How I Made It In Marketing, we’re going to listen to some of the top insights I’ve heard on the podcast.

And let me tell you why. In marketing, we can be so focused on action. We’ve got campaigns that need to go out, products we need to launch, numbers we need to meet.

But to create marketing that is truly powerful, and to chart our overall career journey, sometimes we need to step back from that action for a little reflection.

Summer is the perfect time to reflect. If you’re headed to the beach or the mountains or the city this summer, you’ll probably find yourself in a train, plane, or automobile for an extended amount of time.

It’s a great opportunity to pop in some of your favorite podcasts and fill your brain with ideas, before spending some quality time staring at the lake for a few days and reflecting on your work life, among other things.

Our normal episodes are about an hour long. CMOs and other marketing leaders share the lessons they’ve learned in their careers, and the stories behind how they learned those lessons. A lot of lessons sound good in theory, but how did you put it into practice?

We’ve recorded about 60 hours of those lesson-filled stories so far. Here are a few of the takeaways that most hit home with me. Happy listening.

You can hear our conversations using this embedded player or click through to your preferred audio streaming service using the links below it.

Listen on Apple Podcasts | Listen on Spotify | Listen on Google Podcasts

Stories (with lessons) about what they made in marketing

In this episode, we shared highlights from some of our previous episodes:

All great creative begins with a strong consumer insight.

via Aron North, Chief Marketing Officer and Commercial Owner, Mint Mobile

One place North looks for customer insights is Reddit. North, along with Rizwan Kassim, Co-Founder, Chief of Strategy & Finance, Managing Partner, Mint Mobile, are in Reddit daily interacting with customers to get instant feedback – five minutes after an email drops in customers’ inbox or a notification comes out they can see customer reactions.

[from Not Enough Lobster In The Ocean: Trusting their gut leads to 90,000% revenue growth at Mint Mobile (Podcast Episode #11)]

Tenaciously focus on a few things until you solve them.

via Dhiraj Kumar, Chief Marketing Officer, Dashlane

Kumar shares a story from his time at Facebook and explains how they developed the Facebook ad platform to be so simple to use – even though they received customer feedback that requested 15 different features which would have produced much more complexity.

[from SaaS Marketing: Serendipity’s role in Facebook Ads surprising pivot, focusing (and failing) at PayPal, selling like an engineer, & more (podcast episode #23)]

Look in people’s closets.

via Lindsey Lindemulder, Brand Marketing Director, Merrell

Doing customer research for Cat Footwear, Lindemulder and her team went into people’s houses all over the world to better understand customers.

[from Brand Marketing: Look in people’s closets (Podcast Episode #18)]

Don’t just focus on your direct competitors.

via Derek Detenber, Chief Marketing & Merchandising Officer, Batteries Plus

At Pepsi-owned Gatorade, Detenber and his team had a maniacal focus on competing against Coca-Cola-owned Powerade. But when business started to soften, it wasn’t because of Gatorade’s direct competitor, it was because a new category was becoming popular – enhanced waters like VitaminWater, Sobe and others.

[from World-Class Consumer & Retail Brands: What right do we have as a brand to be in that business? (Podcast Episode #15)]

It’s not about you, and when you make it about you, you are never going to succeed.

via Onaisa Landis, Vice President of Marketing, Octane

Taking a concept to market in record-breaking time within General Mills for its Muir Glen brand had its challenges – their plants weren’t set up for packing jars, so they hand packed and stuck labels on the jars themselves. Yet the biggest hurdle arose when they ran the numbers and learned they needed to 4X the price to break-even on the cost of the glass jars. They didn’t have time to get consumer feedback and Landis pushed hard to launch as they headed into the new year. And so they did – and it bombed.

Landis was so hungry to make a mark on this brand, that she forgot the most basic thing about marketing – understanding the consumer need and delivering a product that the consumer you serve is looking for.

[from Marketing: It’s not about you, and when you make it about you, you are never going to succeed (podcast episode #53)]

About this podcast

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.

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Not ready for a listen just yet? Interested in searching the content? No problem. Below is a rough transcript of our conversation.

Daniel Burstein: I used to think those TV commercials for Dawson’s Creek were ridiculous. “This week, on a very special episode of Dawson’s Creek.”

It seemed like every episode was very special. “This week, on a very special episode of Dawson’s Creek. A psychic arrives in Capeside, and Dawson, Joey, and Pacey learn shocking news about their futures.”

That said…

This is actually a very special episode of How I Made It In Marketing.

So let me try it now… this week, on a very special episode of How I Made It In Marketing, we’re going to listen to some of the top insights I’ve heard on the podcast.

And let me tell you why. In marketing, we can be so focused on action. We’ve got campaigns that need to go out, products we need to launch, numbers we need to meet.

But to create marketing that is truly powerful, and to chart our overall career journey, sometimes we need to step back from that action for a little reflection.

Summer is the perfect time to reflect. If you’re headed to the beach or the mountains or the city this summer, you’ll probably find yourself in a train, plane, or automobile for an extended amount of time.

It’s a great opportunity to pop in some of your favorite podcasts and fill your brain with ideas, before spending some quality time staring at the lake for a few days and reflecting on your work life, among other things.

Our normal episodes are about an hour long. CMOs and other marketing leaders share the lessons they’ve learned in their careers, and the stories behind how they learned those lessons. A lot of lessons sound good in theory, but how did you put it into practice.

We’ve recorded about 60 hours of those lesson-filled stories so far. Here are a few of the takeaways that most hit home with me. Happy listening.

Daniel Burstein: I want to welcome Aron North, Chief Marketing Officer at Mint Mobile.

Aron North: But when it comes to, like, where do I go to fish for really great inspiration? For my brands, I go to Reddit, believe it or not, Reddit is incredible. So, Reddit to me is a social media platform where you can have a healthy conversation, which I don't think the others are sort of predicated on healthy, productive, constructive conversations. And Reddit can devolve quickly too let's be honest, but we're in there. Myself and one of our co-founders, Rizwan, were in there daily, and I'm in there mixing it up with the customers. I'm reading, learning, understanding, what are the issues, what are the opportunities? I get in and add clarity where I can, but we start to see things there. You know, you can start to see trends emerge. And in conversations people are having because everybody's very transparent and I'll get in and ask questions and we use that as direct input into shaping what we do future forward.

We got, I mean, I can look at the almost six years of history of this brand and combine both Reddit commentary along with sort of internal customer surveys and see how there is a direct correlation between the two. And you can see the actions we've taken as a company to better our product, service, offer, everything based on that. And then you can see the conversation shift in these mediums, which it's real fulfilling and it's real immediate, which is incredible because a lot of times for research, you've got to wait till the next research cycle. Or are we getting the people who have seen the stimulus. You go to Reddit and man they're giving you feedback 5 minutes after the email drops in their inbox, or after the notification comes out and it is positive or negative, you can have a dialog with them and it usually doesn't devolve into vulgarity and you know, you're just some corporate shill and, you know, whatever colorful language they want to apply.

Daniel Burstein: So that's really interesting. So I definitely and anyone listening, I think something that's super helpful is even if you're in B2B going on to whatever forum is for your organization, going onto social media, you know if you’re B2C a lot of time to Yelp or Google reviews there’s so many places where you can see these days the thing we used to try to figure out two or three decades ago, that water cooler talk that neighbors talking to each other. They're doing it right now publicly on social media and on the Internet. You can listen. But you're saying I haven't gotten this far. You are actually. Are you interacting as Aaron from Mint Mobile with them or are you just kind of passively listening to their conversations?

Aron North: No, like so yesterday there was a post somebody celebrated their five-year anniversary, which always perks my ears up because we're about to hit six years old. So someone who's been with us from the from the start, they posted the email campaign, or the email noticed that we had congratulating them on five years. Somebody else commented that they love the marketing we do and love all the writing and this and that and they wish they could work here.

We I jumped in and like well, what do you do? Because we've got a lot of openings. And then all of a sudden, the conversation just exploded. It was like, are you kidding me? The CMO is actually in here reading this stuff and like is looking for work. As it turns out, the person is a writer. We don't have any writer openings right now, but I said, Ping me on LinkedIn and just tell me you're that person because it's got their username. I don't know their real name. Tell me you're the Redditor and you know, I'll let you know when that copywriting role comes up so you can apply for it. But I'm in there every single day are co-founders in there almost every single day. It's just something we do, so we keep a pulse on the business.

Daniel Burstein: That's great. I feel like probably a lot of C-Level executives feel like they don’t have the time for that. So, do you time block that? How do you how do you make the time to do that? And it seems like a very high priority for you.

Aron North: I'm doing it right. No, just kidding. I'm not doing it right now. Know it's look, you everybody's heard of the cliche. Find something you love. You'll never work a day in your life. I'm a workaholic. I'm addicted to this thing. I love it. It's been so much fun for me to build this brand and see it grow that, quite frankly, I can't stop so if I have 5 minutes, I'll just go to Reddit real quick. It doesn't take much. I mean you got the phones and laptops and everything, you just go, you read two or three, and then maybe there's nothing maybe there's something. Quick comment and then I'll come back later. So I don't time block, but if I can get five or ten minute increments, I'll just go check it like I would check the news.

Daniel Burstein: Joining me now is Dhiraj Kumar, the Chief Marketing Officer for Dashlane

Dhiraj Kumar: I think you said a great thing, which is we tend to focus a lot on adding features, because if you talk to enough customers, there will be enough requests for features. You have to sometimes step back and say, what does the customer really want? And so have this great story, this is around 2012. I was at Facebook and we had started focusing on building an advertising platform for performance marketers. And we had a lot of work sessions and what came out of it was, well, we had to add these ten to 15 features to make this platform great.

But there was another stream of conversation we came out from. As you talk to customers, what customers really were saying, some of them at least, that what I would love is if I showed up on Facebook as a marketer, as an advertiser, I tell you what, I am looking for. I tell you how much money I can spend and what you know, what is the outcome I want. That you just you do all the work you imagine if it's as simple as that. I come and I do a few things and get started and it's simple. And so we can see this thing where the product team in particular where we said instead of adding a whole slew of features, let's pick the few things that we need to add and actually make it really simple for them, for the advertiser, where they don't have to do that much work to advertise on Facebook.

That was the idea. If you look a few years out and if you look today at what the platform looks like. For the average marketer, that's exactly what it is. You can get started, you can even get an expert within hours, and you don't have to. They take care of targeting and optimization and all the things that, you know, great performance marketers do and make it really simple.

That was a big lesson, and I think that led to so much more adoption of the product and the platform. And so sometimes, you know, what I've learned over the years is like simplify, simplify, simplify. And that in a big way, that's what we focus on at Dashlane. You know, we offer a password manager for businesses, but you know, really what they're asking for is make it simple for me. The less work I have to do, the better.

Daniel Burstein: Joining me now is Lindsey Lindemulder, Brand Marketing Director for Merrill.

Lindsey Lindemulder: …consumer research is really fun. And if I look back like 14 years ago when I started with the organization, I think we were sort of, who the consumer was, was often like, who is the person who's currently buying our shoes at whatever store we're currently selling them at? Versus sort of like having a deeper understanding of consumer segmentation and consumer segments. And I've been incredibly fortunate both at Cat Footwear and at Merrell to get to be heavily involved in understanding and helping define and put a really sharp point on who our consumer target is.

In Merrell, it's been a little bit different because I've spent the majority of my time at Merrell during like COVID days, like I joined Merrell in late 2019 and COVID hit in 2020. And so as when everyone like travel stopped, everything stopped. But when I was at Cat we were doing consumer research work and our leader was like, get in people's houses, like get in their closets. Like see where they are, see them in their natural environment. We literally got to be in people's living rooms in Shanghai, in people's closets in London and sitting around like in a group chatting with them in Santiago, Chile, as well as like places across the United States.

And the thing that I learned in that was like humans are all unique and different and special. But they're all the same we're all human. Like, we're all human and we all just want to be like appreciated, understood. Most humans, I think, want to just work hard and, and like live enjoyable lives. And then the thing is, is with the consumer segmentation, you could see with our customers in those places that they really had all these like really strong similarities that laddered up to the brand.

And we found that to be true, of course, in Merrell as well. When we've gotten to do research in China and UK and Canada and the United States, that there is these consistent things about people, their desire in Merrell, their desire to spend time outside and how the outdoors is core to who they are. Their desire to make the world around them a better place and their choice to do that by making the person next to them better or making their home better or their small community better.


And so that's been really interesting. But the look in people's closets is great because people really are, like if they're willing to show you their closet, like they're being really real with you. And I can remember a guy standing there holding a shirt and talking about like, this is my favorite shirt. If I'm going to go on a date, this is what I wear. Because do you see how the stitching is a special color? And I was like, I do now, I do now. And those details really are the things that I think have mattered in the long run. And we've taken them into consideration. Like even when we're styling out talent on shoots today, it's like well, what color is the stitching of the shirt? Because that's the thing that this customer cares about. Or you know, do they have the right level of style? Because when they go out on a hike, they're probably going to brunch with their friends afterwards. And so are they wearing what's appropriate to that or what have you?

And so when you get to look in people's closets and a lot of people are very willing to show you when you approach it with the spirit of like, I want to know you and I want to learn more about you. And I think being a marketer, one of my very favorite things, the reason I like went into marketing, is because I like people ultimately I was like, I like people and I feel like I get people. And so I think this is a thing that might work for me and I just think that people are interesting and everyone comes from a space, right?

Like everyone's got a story and everyone comes from a different space. And when you can stop and say like, well, I don't know their whole story, I don't know it, and I shouldn't assume to know it. And so what they bring to the table is like there for me to learn and learn and understand and learn something new.

Daniel Burstein: Yeah. You know, as a writer, there's always that max like, don't write to a whole bunch of people, write to one person, write try to write one person and figure that person out. And so, you know, some have tried to replicate where you're talking about. And some ways for people who are listening who don't have the resources to actually physically do what you're talking about is pretty much anthropology.

You know, online now has given us so many options, like looking at customer reviews, looking at social media, all these ways, even just pick up a phone and talking to a customer. To your point, to have not just some like two-dimensional customer persona, some three dimensional, real robust understanding of who these people are and what they do and are interested and passionate about outside of your product.

Because most of their life, other than a few superfans really is just your product is a very small part. But let me ask, you know, you said people were very open about this. Maybe this is because I'm a huge introvert, but it seems really awkward. Was it really awkward?

Lindsey Lindemulder: You know, it was before you did it. But then once you were doing it, it wasn't. And it was just like and I did think to myself, like I'm a huge extrovert, but I'm like, I don't know if I'd let three people and a camera in my house to like look at my closet. But it was cool again, like people are cool and they're interesting.

And so in some instances, it was more awkward than in others. I'll tell you that much. Some, it was like very, very easy and natural. And you're like, tell me more, tell me more. And they're telling you more and more and more. And, and other people you're like, okay, here we go. But overall, it was it was a super cool experience for sure. And I think to, to your point of like, you can find consumer insights anywhere. Like we were one of the favorite places like in the digital world is seriously Reddit. Like Reddit is a rabbit hole and man. But people like just the snippets of things that they say. And then I think the thing when with consumer insights is like, why, why, why, why are they saying that?

Like, what's behind that? What's the thing that sort of motivating that? And people just all around you like I was traveling in L.A. and somebody, we had given them a pair of Merrells and they're like, I'm so excited for these. I love hiking. And I've never worn these shoes before. I've never worn Merrell's before. And I'm like, what do you hike in? Why do you hike in those shoes? And her answer, I was just like, that makes perfect sense to me. She was like, because I've just never bought them, and I just use whatever's in my closet. I'm like, that makes perfect sense. And that's an opportunity. I went home. I was like, found an insight, really? Oh, great.

Daniel Burstein: We'll hear from Derek Detenber, the Chief Marketing and Merchandising Officer at Batteries Plus.

Derek Detenber: I was working on the Gatorade brand. Gatorade was owned by Pepsi. Powerade, its most direct competitor is owned by Coke. And we had a maniacal focus on Powerade in the vein of kind of Coke versus Pepsi Cola wars. It was the same for Gatorade versus Powerade.

We had an 80 something share at the time, and we didn't want to lose, you know, a point or a 10th of a point of shared to Powerade. And we measured it weekly. And it was just very, very, very focused and we understood why that was the focus at the time. But if you go back to, you know, early to mid-2000s, if you wanted something in the grocery store that was not a soft drink, not a carbonated soft drink, that was not milk or juice or water, really the only thing that was available at the time was Gatorade or Powerade.

And so, as people were leaving the carbonated soft drink business and just like they do today, consumers are looking for flavor. They're looking for refreshment. So, milk, juice, water sort of didn't fulfill that flavorful refreshment type of need state, but they didn't want the calories and they didn't want the perception of drinking a soft drink.

You were kind of in this world of Gatorade and Powerade, so you know, in the in that time period in mid-2000’s Gatorade was growing ten 15%. It was really the three or four years post the Pepsi acquisition. And business was good. Everybody was happy. And then all of a sudden you know, we weren't losing share to Powerade, but our business was slowing down. Because the share was measured in the sports drink vertical specifically. So, we're sitting here wondering why are we why are we slowing down here? When we're it's Powerade that's taking from us, it’s got to be something else. And you look around and you have all of a sudden you have all of these smallish new brands that are out there, VitaminWater probably being the most prominent of them at the time and probably today. And what they were doing, they were they were stealing the occasions that, frankly, Gatorade and Powerade didn't really have the right to win. It was a flavorful refreshment, but at a much lower calorie than a Gatorade or Powerade

And so, when consumers are saying, hey, I don't want juice, milk or soft drink and I want some flavor, and I don't just want plain water.  VitaminWater, so they were certainly positioned to take that space and they did. And they grew and they got acquired. And VitaminWater became a mega brand. And, you know, Gatorade has certainly responded with different caloric offerings. And different, you know, water brand in Propel that was tied to it. So, it was a good lesson of you can't always look straight ahead or straight at the competitor. You got to look at the environment and specifically you have to look at what the consumer's needs states are and how they're being fulfilled.

You know, another couple of times that's happened in my career, at Wendy's, I was there at the time really when, you know, we called them fast casual restaurants so like a Panera or a Chipotle, they were really starting to grow. And, you know, our direct competitors at Wendy's are the Burger King’s and McDonald's, you know, we're fighting the burger wars, if you will. But what consumers were telling us is they were kind of migrating a little bit towards Chipotle and Panera was, hey, I'm willing to pay a little bit more for better quality. I'm willing to pay a little bit more for a better in restaurant experience. I'm willing to pay a little bit more to be treated right by the staff and those locations. And at the origin of Chipotle and Wendy's, no Chipotle and Panera excuse me. That's what their value proposition was. And so, you know, it actually in Wendy's case, it worked to our advantage because we always thought, hey, we have actually better-quality food at fast food prices.

And so, we try to play that up in our positioning. And we almost took a little bit of a middle ground between, you know, your core fast food McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell, etc. and sitting in between the Chipotle’s and the Panera’s. So it was fast casual quality, but at fast food prices. And that was really the positioning that we took at Wendy's. And it was a good example of really looking around and seeing what consumers were willing to pay for.

And then even most recently had Artisanal Brewing ventures. You know, craft beer has been growing for 20 years. Craft beer is flavorful. It's not, you know, like the Miller Lite, Coors Light, Bud Lights of the World. It's got unique taste to it and it's got a little bit of a story to it. But then all of a sudden, these things called hard seltzers come around and they go from zero to, you know, mega growth in the matter of a couple of years. And what occasions where they are taking, flavor, but less calories. Sessionable, meaning I can drink the in multiples versus craft beer where, you know, a lot of them are packed with, you know, pretty high ABB levels.

And so, they were taking occasions away of, you know, at the beach, at the pool, you know, hanging out with my friends. And so, craft beer in some ways maybe didn't see that as a perfect substitute but consumers did. So, I think you see this in a couple of different spots in my career. And I just think it's imperative for marketers to obsess with your competition. But really, you have to over obsessed with your consumer and understand, you know, who this consumer is, what's going through their head, what's their buying journey, what's their needs states, and how do you fit in whatever your product or service that you're marketing, how do you fit into that world and make sure that you're fulfilling those things better than anybody else?

Daniel Burstein: Yeah, you know, it kind of reminds me of one of those crime or mystery movies where it's always the one you least expect. You know you focus on that one and it’s always the one you least expect. But I think you bring up that really good point. And I think it's a very prescient point now, coming out of COVID 19 and these things, how did customer behavior shift? How did customer demand shift?

So don't like you said, don't focus on your competition, focus on your customer, and that's the way you learn about your competition. But actually, I want to bring up, you know, you mentioned your three-box approach. I think there's also kind of a three-box approach to competition that can really help us, you know, kind of not overlook things. I posted a blog post called Understanding The Three Types Of Competitors, it’s actually one of the most popular posts we published it’s quite simple. And so, correct me if I'm wrong, you understand Gatorade better than I do? But so, the three types, there's a direct competitor, right? So, for Gatorade, like we said, this probably Powerade, there's an indirect competitor. So, for Gatorade, that might be VitaminWater, but also don't overlook there's a replacement competitor.

So, for Gatorade, for example, it could be reusable water bottles, right? You could be entirely focused on I'm going to beat Powerade. Now, this indirect competitor comes on VitaminWater but when you think about it through the customer perspective, then you think of like, oh, well shoot, maybe we're competing against a reusable water bottle and how would that change our strategy? And then it might be like, well, Gatorade will sell, and you know in the powder form, and you could put it in a reusable water bottle. And, you know, that's how it can help. As you talked about how you position yourself in the marketplace and in the mind of the customer.

Derek Detenber: No, I love that model. I think it's very, very appropriate. And, you know, there are always going to be substitutes and there are always going to be indirect competitors. And so, I love that.

Daniel Burstein: Here to tell us the story behind that lesson, along with many more lesson filled stories, is Onaisa Landis, the VP of Marketing at Octane.

Onaisa Landis: Honestly, this is a lesson that I've learned repeatedly throughout my career. It's not about you. It's about your customer. It's about your team. It's about your business. You have to put your own personal agenda aside. If you don't have the right motivations, that's going to come through really clearly and you're not going to succeed as a marketer. You're not going to succeed as a business owner, as a business leader, and you're not going to succeed as a team leader. Very early in my career a freshly minted grad from business school, I began my official marketing career at General Mills, as you mentioned. And the way that it works at General Mills is they recruit from business schools, and you step in as an associate brand manager or an associate marketing manager, and it's a rotational program.

And so on an annual basis, each class, so to speak, rotates from one brand, one project to the next to the next. That really ensures that the people who are going through the program are constantly learning. They are being forced to wear different hats to really be able to build out their generalist marketing skills. And it also ensures that there's always fresh ideas being brought to these brands that fit within the general Mills portfolio.

That's all the goodness that comes from this rotational program. And the downside here are these ambitious freshly minted business school grads who are so hungry to leave a legacy behind, to leave a mark on the business that they only get to touch and own for one year. So if you have a shelf life of one year, what are you going to do to leave that legacy and leave that mark and I certainly fell victim to wanting to leave a legacy behind, first and foremost, above and beyond what was the right thing, the important thing to do for the business or for the customer.

And so the brand that I was working on, Mira Glen, it's a small organic canned tomato brand, and it had been growing significantly. And as I took a look at the numbers, I saw that while the brand had been growing, we had been losing share. And that's because a category was growing larger than the brand was. And we had been losing shelf space with one of our most important retailers, which is Whole Foods. And this was a really significant opportunity for us to kind of fight back in one of the most significant retail channels, Whole Foods, and become relevant again for our customers and grow share as opposed to lose share. This is a time a decade ago now where the canned tomatoes, canned everything had a pretty negative reputation in the market. Specifically, when you have an organic brand, BPA was a very significant concern and natural retailers specifically were looking for alternative packaging methods.

So we had this idea what if we pack our tomatoes in glass jars? One, it would really allow us to showcase the beauty of the tomatoes that we are glad we're selling to our customers. Two, it would really allow us to differentiate ourselves from our competition because no one really had jarred tomatoes. All tomatoes came in cans. And third, it seemed like it would be right up a Whole Foods alley because it would allow us to break free of BPA.

And this was just in the last couple of months that I had left on the brand. I know that I'm going to be rotating off soon. And we really wanted to bring this idea to market.We spoke to whole Foods about it. We kind of did a lot of brainstorming and incubating of ideas, and they were super excited about the potential of this. And, you know, once you get your key customer on board, you feel also very motivated and driven to be able to deliver on this thing. General Mills is a huge organization. We moved at breakneck speed really over the course of a month and a half. We had created a timeline to be able to go from an idea to actually getting the product in market, to have a pilot in place in one of Whole Foods regions. We flew out to California as a cross-functional team, so that was marketing, that was R&D, met with our tomato farmers, selected the variety of tomatoes that were the most beautiful, that would really shine through in these glass jars.

Our facilities weren't set up for jar packing, and so we did it ourselves. We had packed these jars, we stuck these labels that we designed ourselves onto these jars to be able to get them to Whole Foods at the right time. The biggest challenge that we went through, in addition to just breaking through all barriers and moving at the speed of light, which was difficult to do, it was actually right around the holidays. So especially challenging in the December time frame. Was that it was really expensive, the jars were expensive, the jars were not the same size as tomatoes. And so people are used to buying tomatoes, canned tomatoes for $2. You increase the size by three x, you pack it at something much, much more expensive just to break even. We needed the jar product to be three times more expensive than the canned product.

The very core of what you learn as a marketer. Certainly the core of what General Mills tells you as they're training you to be an effective marketer is that you've got to speak to the consumer. You have to have conversations with them and understand, are they excited about this product? And then you take it to market, then you test it, but you've got to get some degree of just feedback from the customer to validate that they’re there before you put blood, sweat, tears, muscle behind actually launching it.

Unfortunately, since I was rotating off the desk, I didn't have time for logistics of consumer conversations. I needed to get this product out the door. And so we never had that conversation. We never got a did any sort of gut check around. Would a product sell for three times the price of what customers are used to paying. We launched in one of the regions in Whole Foods and it did look beautiful and I was so proud when I saw it on shelf, but it didn't sell. That price point was one that customers were just not comfortable with paying. And looking back at it, it was so much about me and my desire to move so rapidly because if I had waited a month, two months, I probably wouldn't have been the person who took it to market. Someone else, my predecessor or the person who proceded me would be the person who would be taking it to market. And I really wanted it to be me, the person who brought Jarred Tomatoes to Whole Foods.

And so looking back, a lesson that I learned very early, it shouldn't have been about me. I would not succeed. I will not succeed. No one succeeds if something is only about you. Your agenda, your timing is a great idea, something that could have definitely resulted in significant business gains executed in a fashion that didn't prioritize business gains, didn't prioritize the consumer need, prioritized my agenda, my timing.

However, looking back, it was still probably one of the most fun projects I worked on and probably what really started to get me excited about working on small teams, being able to move really, really fast to get something out the door. And so the whole seed of life at a startup I think got planted way back then. Even though I didn’t make a move to a startup for much after that, much after that. But that's where the ability to come together, break through all barriers and move at the speed of light to get something out of the door. I kind of got hooked.

Daniel Burstein: Well, like I said, first of all, just starting out of the gate in this podcast episode with you know, kind of a mistake or something, you could have done better, you know, hats off to you for not, you know, having two or three amazing stories of how you did wonderful things. And then, oh, by the way, this little thing. But let me ask you this. So this happened earlier in your career, which was a benefit. So I'm sure, like I think of when the things happened early in my career, like, oh boy, they imprinted in my brain and I did things differently. So I wonder, like then going forward after this, how did you put their customer first in your campaigns?


I'll give you a quick example from someone else, like I think, and interviewed Sherry Lowe, who's the Chief Marketing Officer of Exabeam on the How I Made it Marketing. And one of her lessons was always bring the customer story forward. She talked about she came into PR and marketing from broadcast sports journalism, and, you know, they learn when it comes to a story, don't bury the lead. You know, it's always like focus on boom, here's why it matters. And you know, in the early days of especially tech marketing, they weren't doing that yet. It was all speeds and fees and all these things. And it wasn't about the customer. So I wonder, you know, wow, that is kind of jarring. I'll say, you know, thing to have happened early in your career, but then how did you how did you use that to, you know, later in your career really put the customer forward and really focus on the customer?

Onaisa Landis: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the very next role actually that I had from Mira Glen was moving into innovation within a convenience store channel at General Mills. And that's when the whole idea of design thinking was really changing the way in which marketers were bringing new products to amarket. And so the idea of rapid prototyping, bringing a customer in, even when you don't actually have a product that you're selling, but you're coming up with the basic principles of what could this next thing look like?

Like I remember bringing in customers and having focus groups where we're literally designing things with pipe cleaners because we wanted it to look so very infant. In it's very early stages that our customers felt like, Oh, I can give complete, true, honest feedback because it's not like this thing is final the thing is ready to go and my feedback is going to potentially derail the project. People just felt a lot more comfortable being able to give very honest feedback. I mean, from that point on where it's at, something that's really been at the forefront of how we have delivered anything to the market. Capital One at Octane as well. The first question that I would ask my team, the first question I always ask myself is have you spoken to our customers about it?

Something we used to do very frequently at Capital One on a weekly basis, even for a while, bringing customers into and through the door, sitting down with them and speaking to them for hours about the way in which we taking new things to market and getting their feedback. What do you think about this? Why did you make this decision? Why did you open an account with this bank? Why did you open an account at this point in your life at Octane? What do you think about when you think about Octane? How do you think about the lender that you're choosing on a daily basis? What are the challenges, the struggles that you're having in the market today? And that really is the first gate that we go through before we begin work on finalizing what an actual product or what actual marketing campaign will be.

Daniel Burstein: Thanks for listening to this very special episode of How I Made It In Marketing.

You can hear the full episodes from the marketing leaders you just heard, or browse through all of our other episodes, at MarketingSherpa.com/podcast, that’s Marketing-S-H-E-R-P-A.com/podcast.

Have a great summer.

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