Can a good story create value for a brand? It can, according to Jeffrey Crow, who has twice served as the CMO for fairly large enterprises.
The reputation the network services and solutions provider Earthlink gained for customer service is a prime example. The story the company told “was the foundation of our sales strategy and differentiated us in the market” and contributed to the company’s eventual acquisition.
Jeffrey shared this on a panel of CMOs presented by the Marketing Society within the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG). I followed up with him after the event and invited him to share more – and today he’s my guest for the 44th edition of the Off Script Q&A series.
1) How did you get into marketing?
JC: I went to college expecting to be the next in a line of Crow family physicians. I was pre-med for two years and took a marketing class as an elective. The experience opened my eyes to what marketing was and I realized I had a passion and an aptitude for it.
2) Briefly, where are you now in your professional career, and how did you get there?
JC: I started my career in consumer-packaged goods. I’ve run businesses ranging from a startup to a division of a publicly-traded company. I’ve served as CMO for two different publicly traded tech companies and I’m currently looking for my next assignment. This is a broad range of experience and has opened my eyes to what’s really important to me personally and professionally. While I look for my next gig, I’m doing some consulting for a range of different companies helping to set their brand strategy and developing plans for them to attack their respective markets.
3) At a recent CMO panel event, put on by the Technology Association of Georgia, you talked extensively about the concept of storytelling. From your perspective what is storytelling?
JC: Storytelling is, in my mind, the essence of brand development. If there’s no story, there’s no brand. I believe that a salient brand story that’s eloquently defined and delivered is the most critical component required to differentiate any brand in any market. In my experience, many tech brands overlook this essential part of the go-to-market strategy and instead focus too stringently on the technology instead of what the technology is able to address for customers in the market. Customers are looking to understand WHY a brand is different not simply WHAT features are different and that’s the essence of the brand story.
4) What is the difference between an average CMO and one that focuses on storytelling?
JC: I don’t think there are “average” CMOs. If someone holds that title, there’s a reason. It’s an incredibly difficult role and one that’s in my opinion, absolutely critical to commercial success. That said, many CMOs I know get so infatuated with the tech and HOW they go to market that they often gloss over the notion of WHY their brand actually matters to customers. Today’s CMOs have to be cognizant of the technology available but I still passionately believe that developing and telling the story is far more important than optimizing the tech stack. The best stories will be found, will go viral, and will be so well absorbed that the delivery matters a little less.
5) As a marketing leader in a large enterprise, how have you used storytelling?
JC: At EarthLink, we leveraged a breakthrough story around serving our customers to develop our SD-WAN technology to a point where we drove a strategic sale of the company in Q1 2017. In this particular instance, our technology was as good as, but not markedly better than, the market norm. Our story and go-to-market approach around offering a heightened “concierge” level of service was derived from market and customer insights as well as the heritage of the brand. This story was integrated into the product design, our customer service infrastructure, and our sales materials. We developed content around customer service and partnered with entities that were known for great customer experiences. This integrated and differentiated story was the foundation of our sales strategy and differentiated us in the market.
6) Just for fun: in just a word or a phrase, fill in the blank:
- You’re favorite marketing campaign of all time is…(JC) tough to find anything as effective and direct as Just Do It.
- One business or marketing book you’d recommend reading is…(JC) The 5 Day Turnaround by Jeff Hilimire. He’s a terrific guy with great insights.
- One marketing tool you can’t live without is…(JC) social media…twitter specifically…is there a better way to get an immediate pulse of the market?
- If you weren’t doing what you do now, you’d be…(JC) an unhappy lawyer…I would have loved law school but hated practicing law.
- If you suddenly got 10% more marketing budget you’d spend it on…(JC) depends what I was already spending on and what market I was in…that said, I’m a huge fan of smart PR activation and there’s always another stunt to execute but it really depends on what is already in place and what market dynamics were at play.
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Thank you, Jeffrey, for sharing your ideas. Find more from Jefferey on LinkedIn
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Borrowed Time for the AOR and the Impact of the Big 4 on Marketing and PR Agencies; Off Script No. 43: Chris Forhan of Bytelion
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