August 20, 2013

‘Priceless’ Insight for Marketers from Bill Cronin

Bill Cronin, former VP of Marketing for USA TODAY, knows a thing or two about innovation, risk of failure, speed to market, and the importance of staying nimble. During his time at USA TODAY, Bill relaunched the publication across all product platforms (mobile, digital and print) in September 2012, with the goal of transforming a “newspaper” brand into a multimedia news and information leader. He also developed integrated marketing campaigns for the new USA TODAY brand, including TV, digital, mobile, outdoor, social, retail/POS, print, event and SEO/SEM elements.

In this exclusive Q&A, Bill reflects on his years of industry experience to share his insights with fellow marketers and senior business leaders.

Please give our readers some background on yourself.
I’ve worked in a range of consumer and B2B marketing roles for the last 18 years.  I gained a strong background in packaged goods marketing from my time as an account manager at JWT where I led the advertising/brand development for businesses such as Kellogg’s Smart Start.

I joined MasterCard in 1999 and had a great time building the global brand and business across the world, including as the head of brand marketing for MasterCard Europe. MasterCard’s Priceless campaign gave us a terrific platform to react quickly to anything going on in the world and consumers loved to do it themselves. For a while, we would know if the campaign was working in a certain country when we started to see the consumer-created Priceless rip-offs. It was “User Generated Content” before that was a mainstream marketing term.

I came back to the US to take on a role creating MasterCard’s merchant marketing team which was a great experience partnering with a wide range of businesses. My most recent experience was VP of Marketing for USA TODAY where we re-launched the brand across all product platforms, including print, digital, mobile and social.

Why is speed – speed to market, speed to innovate, speed to respond to external feedback – such a challenge for larger organizations and brands?
For years marketers have had to present detailed annual plans to executive management with a particular focus on rationales for investment and how the programs can drive revenue.  This process in many companies remains. Nimble marketers, however, are now able to redirect their efforts at a moment’s notice. While brands still have larger processes for delivering efforts like TV campaigns, much of the work is happening much more quickly.

The brands and businesses that will win in the future are the ones that can effectively manage both the investment/budget side and the media channels. Some larger multi-brand and product organizations have done this for years by constantly shifting funds behind the strongest campaign, segment or market.

Marketers now have the ability to react in real-time to changing situations in the marketplace and that has dramatically changed how you deliver “creative.” I see many brands effectively becoming content publishers of their own and they can learn from the news and other media businesses how to deliver their messages with a strong focus on accuracy, relevancy and creativity.

How do you plan for failure?  Must leaders do this?
While I’d love for all our individual efforts to be successful, it’s important to build a flexible budget/planning approach that gives you the opportunity to quickly identify your top programs and shift funds from lesser performing efforts. I’ve often been in the position where we are still learning which programs will be successful, and it’s critical to find the right mix of channels. We’ve typically had regular results meetings to see what we’ve learned and how we can adjust and improve. From a social standpoint we’re always on the lookout for a strong timely message to communicate and have set up a reserve budget to be ready.

How would you recommend fostering a fast and nimble organizational culture in this age of the Internet and social media?
Predict the unpredictable. From a social standpoint, your brand may not be able to predict what the breakthrough social moment might be during a Super Bowl, debate or other planned event, but you can plan to have all the right players in place to be ready.

As I mentioned previously, there is a lot the marketing world can learn from the news industry in this regard. There is an established process and framework that allows for breaking news to get out quickly with a high focus on accuracy. The key part is having people you trust to get it right, know what type of messages are right for your brand and bring the creative magic.

While I was at MasterCard, I created a global fund during the World Cup that we allocated to countries as their teams continued into the knockout stage. If Germany for example, kept winning, then they would receive additional money to do celebratory “Priceless” ads. Today, that type of program could be done the moment a game ends or even in the middle of it. The key is to anticipate opportunities and set up a process. In the World Cup example, we often had a couple different versions of ads ready to run based on the results.

What changes in mobile/marketing do you see happening in the next 12-18 months?
I think we’ll see a major increase in the amount of commerce conducted on mobile devices. Consumers are using their devices more and more in place of their desktops and businesses are getting better at making it easy for consumers to make transactions on their apps and mobile sites. I think that will continue while at the same time evolving digital wallets will also contribute to increased ease for transactions. Media companies are also trying to figure out the best way to monetize their mobile space and highly transactional “advertising” is potentially a good way to attract advertiser spend. I’m going to keep a close eye on what Apple does with their Passbook feature in terms of commerce as that could be a real game-changer.