These days, marketers are seeking to recruit brand converts through entertaining, shareable and highly interactive experiences delivered via social, mobile, AR and VR. Ask any of the tech-savvy CMOs profiled below, and they’ll agree: To consistently win at the highest level, they must leverage media dollars to extend their sales propositions and product pitches in exciting, relevant and experiential ways. From Bacardi’s program that let folks DJ from their Instagram feeds to Royal Caribbean’s virtual tour of an island in the Bahamas and National Geographic’s astronaut-helmet view from Earth’s orbit, immersive fare helps brands gain and retain not just casual customers, but loyal advocates who willingly spread the word.
John Burke knows all the best drinking songs, and he’s not afraid to bust a few moves.
The 25-year company veteran originally joined Bacardi as a warehouse and distribution manager, adding brand responsibilities and marketing oversight as he rose through the executive ranks. Lately, he’s gained rave reviews for innovative digital and experiential campaigns that leverage popular music and dance trends. Burke’s dropped beats across Instagram, Snapchat and Spotify, consistently striking the right chords to position Bacardi as a chill, collaborative brand in tune with young adults and popular culture.
“Technology is an inextricable part of our consumers’ lives, so we embrace it as a way to better understand them and to better entertain them,” he says. “But it’s not just technology. We need to learn to leverage permission-based data to better serve and anticipate our consumers’ needs. When I talk digital transformation, it’s not just about consumer marketing. The idea of fusing tech with marketing and with sales can be a strong driver of business performance. It’s a tool that should be in everyone’s toolbox.”
A pair of music-video-themed outings encapsulate Burke’s approach. Fun and flashy, they strive to extend engagement through user participation. Last summer, Instagram had just launched its IGTV platform, and Bacardi ranked among the early-adopter brands to channel the buzz. Working with DJ A-Trak and dancing duo Les Twins, the marketer launched “Live Moves,” an initiative that let fans direct a music video in real time. Via Instagram polls, folks following @officialLesTwins voted on creative elements, such as dance styles, New York City locations and visual effects. Les Twins created a video based on that input, with A-Trak providing the beats.
Garnering 14 million impressions, that campaign followed a Snapchat-based push from the previous year. With dance-jam trio Major Lazer, Bacardi launched lenses that harnessed AR to put fans’ faces into brief, stylized clips set to the band’s hit “Front of the Line.” It generated 42 million plays, with some of the content later integrated into a three-minute promotional clip for the song. “Snapchat said it was the most ambitious lens they’d ever made, pushing it far beyond the standard 10-second experience,” Burke says.
Steven Panariello, executive vice president and senior director at Bacardi agency BBDO, says Burke “encourages his teams to react to good ideas, which can come out of nowhere. Not all great ideas are born from briefs; many are born from passion. John is a great collaborator who is very generous in thought. He’s daring, and good ideas genuinely excite him, which has a contagious effect in a room.”
Other ideas he’s dared to try include last year’s “Instant Jams,” which hacked Instagram’s Peek and Pop feature to turn the platform into a drum machine and test users’ song-mixing skills. “We had 300,000 brand interactions, 1.4 million impressions—and it cost zero dollars to post,” Burke says. That effort’s predecessor, “Instant DJ,” engaged Instagram Stories to help folks create scratches and loops on their phones, just as they would on turntables. For “Music Liberates Music,” Bacardi traded on its status as a purveyor of Caribbean rum to give new artists much-needed exposure. Every time someone played Major Lazer’s latest track on Spotify, Caribbean musicians received free studio time.
Such work consistently scores by reinforcing Bacardi’s strong cultural identity and inviting users to flex their creative spirit. “A customer-facing brand is not about what it makes—it’s about what it means,” notes Saint Joseph’s University marketing professor Michael Solomon. “The brand has to firmly insert itself into the customer’s reality by becoming part of his or her self-expression. Music is definitely a great platform for that.” Moreover, through Burke’s innovations, Bacardi “harnesses our desire to be marketed with, not marketed to,” giving users a chance to fully share in the digital experience, Solomon says. “These efforts mesh together nicely to build the product/lifestyle connection in multiple ways, rather than just being a hammer in search of a nail.”
Burke’s bottom line: “Embrace any opportunity to put more control in the consumer’s hands,” he says. “If it’s designed thoughtfully and with their experience in mind, they’ll take you up on it.”
And be sure to check out this podcast featuring Burke.
Since joining in 2016, Cress has mapped out experiences designed to delight, inform and engage NatGeo’s audience. For “One Strange Rock,” she deployed VR-powered “Astronaut Reality Helmets” to give wearers a glimpse of how our world looks from space, while devotees of the Free Solo film could don headsets and scale a rock wall to experience Alex Honnold’s El Capitan climb in Yosemite. Fans of docu-drama Valley of the Boom were invited to explore early-’90s technology in stylishly recreated internet cafes, and a full-scale New York City artist’s studio, tricked out in the Cubist style of Pablo Picasso, promoted Genius, the network’s first scripted series. “We’ve been able to not only amplify the brand, but further our mission of helping countless consumers understand the world around them and their role within it,” Cress says.
“Our team wins when we boil the details down to simple nuggets that compel people to ask if Allbirds shoes are truly as comfy as they sound, or to begin wondering if material choices really do make a difference—all while delivering the message in a lighthearted and non-preachy way,” Channing says. Strides in that direction included last fall’s quirky “Meet Your Shoes” campaign that employed an interactive web experience and videos to highlight the sources of Allbirds materials such as sheep’s wool and eucalyptus trees. Channing also invited folks to slip into a collection available exclusively on Instagram, sold Shake Shack shoes at the chain’s original Madison Square Park, N.Y., location, and fashioned Air New Zealand eye masks from locally produced Merino wool for the carrier’s business premier passengers.
For Brandless, an ecommerce company offering groceries and household goods, Magness strives to forge a strong sense of camaraderie with customers, sifting through data points and user feedback to perfect product launches and marketing messages. “We are constantly asking questions and having direct conversations with our community to inform the way we create products, categories and an overall experience that is curated to better their lives,” he says. In January, he leveraged such input to introduce collections for babies and pets, along with an optional subscription service, while his “Good News” email and social-media program spotlights how community members positively impact the lives of others. Last May, he staged a novel two-week pop-up store experience in Los Angeles; no items were for sale at the venue, which hosted panels on health and nutrition instead.
Kellyn Smith Kenny
So far, Kenny’s enjoyed a busy stay at Hilton since arriving from Uber as 2018 began. Along with realigning her staff into a single global team and fine-tuning regional ecommerce and destination marketing, she launched “Expect Better, Expect Hilton,” an integrated initiative that seeks to accelerate loyalty membership enrollments and secure millions of incremental bookings through the hotelier’s website and app. With Anna Kendrick out front, the campaign’s humor and digital focus—playing across social video, OLV and IP Radio, as well as on more traditional platforms—scored with the 21-38 demographic. After just four months, Hilton brand chatter among millennials doubled, consideration rose more than 22 percent in the target segment and ad memorability scores topped the competitor benchmark by a factor of three.
Findlay works hard to weave the personal styling service—which makes fashion recommendations and ships items to customers after they complete an online survey—deeper into the mainstream consciousness. She recently launched the brand’s first integrated campaign, which includes an NBCU partnership that generated custom content aired during E!’s Live From the Red Carpet program. She also brought greater personalization to Stitch Fix’s email marketing efforts and plans to expand that technique across more platforms moving forward. “I’m incredibly passionate about building personal and relatable brand experiences that are authentic to who we are and empower everyday people to celebrate who they are,” Findlay says. “Now I can layer data and metrics on top of that to more deeply understand what drives consumer behavior and measure our success.”
“What if you could do anything?” Automattic’s WordPress website management service posed that question in a fun brand campaign that debuted across TV, digital, social and IRL as 2019 began. Taylor also implemented two new subscription plans—one targeting bloggers and another for ecommerce—while revamping the signup and purchase experience. “I spent the first 10 years of my career in corporate strategy and analytics roles, so my approach to marketing reflects that: very data-driven and focused on the entire business as opposed to just marketing,” he says. “On the strategy side, this has led to very deep partnerships with our product and design teams to deliver new experiences that address specific customer use cases from first touch through subscription renewal.”
“We don’t buy or build mar tech for its own sake, but with purposeful and specific business and consumer outcomes in mind,” says Horwood, who was named CMO in January after serving as Kellogg’s integrated marketing chief. For the holidays, she used Google Assistant and fanciful storytelling to help families create yuletide-themed Rice Krispies Treats—resulting in a 5.3 percent base sales boost, as 2,500 people engaged with “Krispie Kitchen” in just two weeks. During the Super Bowl, Kellogg, CBS and Innovid livestreamed a CTV campaign for Pringles. A dynamic overlay touted flavor-stacking combinations, adjusted the city name based on user geography and let consumers scan QR codes to make purchases via Amazon. Some 6.4 percent of households used their remotes to interact with the ad, beating the benchmark by a factor of four.
Macri arrived at Wayfair a dozen years ago with bona fides in marketing, product management and software development from tenures at Bain, Digitas and IBM. Initially, he launched the analytics group for the home-goods etailer, building its business intelligence stack from the ground up. Over time, Macri devised technology innovations and marketing strategies fueling customer growth across the $6 billion company. Recently, he’s leveraged AR and machine learning to help mobile app users find the perfect products and visualize how these items will look and fit in their dwellings. On April 25, 2018, Macri oversaw “Way Day,” the first-ever retail holiday for the home. This multichannel campaign generated the biggest single revenue day in company history at the time.
Last spring, Berra harnessed VR and AR to launch a private island concept in the Bahamas, inviting 150 press professionals, influencers and VIPs to a 360-degree virtual tour of Perfect Day at CocoCay. That event helped the cruise line sail off with 2.5 billion impressions, building buzz well beyond its usual itinerary of media outlets. Aboard ship, RC introduced SoundSeeker, an AI-powered system that creates personalized, shareable music videos—with original soundtracks, not licensed songs—based on guests’ travel photos. “I’m proud of the team and the culture we are creating where we are not afraid of failure, and look forward to jumping into ideas that make us both excited and nervous,” Berra says.
Mehra established an impressive pedigree at Ancestry.com, where he led the genealogy company into the mainstream via inspired campaigns that drove the entire market while positioning Ancestry as a trusted leader in the space. Powered by mar tech, the company shifted its approach “from advertiser to a fast-twitch personalized publisher with the ability to create culturally relevant content,” Mehra says. A month ago, he brought his expertise to Walgreens Boots Alliance and began “transforming our company to become truly agile, digitally enabled and customer obsessed,” he says. “Digital infrastructure, capabilities, technologies and partnerships will be at the very core of this transformation across both pharmacy and retail as we look to inject many of the principles of digitally native companies into our iconic 100-plus-year-old brands.”
“Coming into a company where marketing had merely been a support function for sales, I needed to bring a new sense of the art of the possible into Aetna’s go-to-market strategy and member-engagement programs,” says Edelman of the challenge he faced when he joined the insurance giant in 2016 from McKinsey & Co. Since then, key initiatives include a system allowing sales professionals and business managers to access curated content to share with clients; a website that ties together Aetna’s Medicare products with heightened integration and efficiency; and the implementation of Salesforce Marketing Cloud to manage member communications. Moving forward, he says, “together with my CMO peers across CVS Health (which recently acquired Aetna for $69 billion), we are looking to reposition our company as the leader in transforming healthcare.”
Last summer, Milone primed ShopRunner to capitalize on an epic Amazon snafu. When Jeff Bezos’ behemoth crashed during its July 16 Prime Day event, Milone’s team sprang into action. In minutes, they developed and deployed a promotion offering free one-year ShopRunner memberships to folks who tweeted at the two-day delivery service during Amazon’s outage. “We’re actively listening to consumers’ needs, and we will take advantage of moments of shopper frustration—like Amazon Prime’s downtime fail—to demonstrate to consumers that there are hundreds of other options available to them,” he says. “We’re not afraid to be bold, and we’ll jump in headfirst.” In December, ShopRunner jumped in with District, a mobile app providing a single cart and seamless checkout across brands such as Cole Haan, Neiman Marcus and Kate Spade.
“For us, a successful strategy not only achieves business results by demonstrating the unique value of Squarespace but also advances social-impact causes that we and our customers care about,” Mathur says. Toward that end, last April 10—Equal Pay Day—she offered all users 20 percent off a new website (the average wage gap between men and women), and harnessed Instagram to share inspirational stories from Aja Dang, Deun Ivory, Liz Plank and Gloria Steinem. In January, Mathur tapped into an aspirational theme with “Dream It,” a Spike Jonze-directed campaign starring Idris Elba transforming from fashion designer to boxer to astronaut. Meanwhile, the Squarespace “Casting Call” documented the search for America’s next standout podcast host, generating 5,000 entries from all 50 states.
In December, Xandr issued its first “Relevance Report,” which buttressed the newly minted AT&T-owned ad-tech company’s proposition that data-driven, targeted messaging represents the Holy Grail in a complex and fragmented media environment. Its release followed a glitzy Relevance Conference, which featured Arianna Huffington, Derek Jeter and Issa Rae, and championed the work Xandr does with its clients and partners. “Consumers today have infinite options when it comes to premium content, but attention is finite,” says McDonald. “And that creates a paradox for content producers and advertisers. We wanted to explore the connection between attention and a consumer’s willingness to tune in or out to a certain piece of content. Moreover, we wanted to help marketers determine the best creative mechanism for their message.”
Last June, tasked with making The Trade Desk’s Next Wave product fashionable with as many advertisers as possible, Vobejda channeled her experience as chief marketer at clothing and footwear provider Tory Burch to develop a push based on brand heritage. Eschewing tech jargon for the sun-and-surf imagery associated with The Trade Desk’s beach-town home of Ventura, Calif., this approach helped generate 650,000 views across the company’s digital properties for three livestreamed announcements. A few months later, she harnessed outlets like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal for text-heavy placements with headlines such as “Buying This Ad Was Excruciating.” The novelty of using print to tout data-driven programmatic advertising drove impressive engagement, with the initiative reaching more than 43 million people.
Steven Wolfe Pereira
This former CMO measures success one person at a time—from satisfied customers to motivated employees. “Most marketing done by technology companies isn’t great,” says Wolfe Pereira, who until last week devised strategies to enhance Quantcast’s position as a leader in AI-driven insights, targeting and measurement for internet advertising. (Wolfe Pereira on March 11 joined Encantos Media Studios, a leading family entertainment and education company he founded, as its chairman, CEO, where he will build direct-to-consumer brands from a multicultural perspective.) “I’m committed to building purpose-driven businesses, and that starts with people.” Last year, he made good on that vision both internally and externally. At Cannes, he spearheaded an effort uniting creatives and techies to study industry trends and solve problems. Shortly thereafter, he led the introduction of Q for Publishers, a product that helps media owners derive new revenue from online audiences. Inside Quantcast itself, Wolfe Pereira championed diversity, inclusion and social consciousness, deepening the company’s relationships with Glaad, Girls in Tech and other organizations.
“We believe that businesses can be powerful platforms for change, and one of our platforms where we can best help educate, elevate, empower and learn is our marketing,” says Buscemi, who leads a 1,200-person team tasked with propelling Salesforce’s cloud-based CRM brand to new heights. Last month, she helped roll out content centered on inclusion and diversity to the company’s Trailhead free online learning system. Dreamforce—billed as the world’s largest software conference, with more than 170,000 attendees last year and 10 million viewers online—provides a global stage for product launches and company news. In 2018, Salesforce used the event to introduce Einstein Voice (its AI assistant enhanced with voice recognition); unveil Customer 360 (a service for integrated data management); and announce an Apple partnership to enable mobile apps for business.
Berland’s conversational marketing approach really gets people talking. In September, she unveiled a chattier brand voice, amplified by sharing actual tweets from @twitter on billboards in New York’s Times Square. Engagement spiked in the past six months, with @twitter replies, retweets and likes up more than 1,200 percent each compared to the previous half year. “We believe the world is better when we can come together and discuss what’s happening,” Berland says. “It helps us learn, hear new perspectives and get a front-row seat to hear from amazing people.” She’s also given Game of Thrones’ final season the royal treatment, teaming up with celebrity fans Kristin Chenoweth, Jimmy Kimmel, Aaron Rodgers and T-Pain to create a #ForTheThrone video that’s amassed nearly 7 million views.
Airbnb booked Tariq, a former Apple, Ford and Nike executive, last October to help grow its new Airbnb Experiences platform. Moving forward, he’ll leverage stories that exist throughout the Airbnb community to stoke consumers’ love for travel and adventure. “I believe modern-day marketing’s goal is to earn your consumers’ attention, not buy it; to do more good than say how good you are; and build excitement and demand for your product through fostering community and advocates,” he says. “With thousands of unique and transformational Airbnb Experiences on the platform, we have amazing stories to tell and share, but I believe they’re 10 times more powerful if told by those who experience them daily around the world. Our job is to encourage and facilitate that conversation.”
In little more than a year, Amazon Go has reenergized the grocery category with its cashier-less stores in Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle. “We often get asked what has changed the most about our stores, and it’s the evolution of our selection,” Fabrega says. “Amazon Go features delicious, ready-to-eat food both from our own kitchens and from local vendors, and we love getting feedback so we can carry our customers’ favorites.” Amazon Go operates 10 locations, with more on the way, and the concept has caught on beyond the Bezos empire. Startups Zippin and Standard Cognition have ventured down similar aisles with checkout-free stores, and stalwarts like Target and Walmart have adopted Go-style tech and programs to enhance the shopping experience.