NdG: We have another group called Resources for Living that really helps families and people with mental health issues, behavioral health issues, including suicide prevention, by the way. So there's a ton going on in there. I mean, I'm sure you've seen the stats about teenage girls. It's just not really good. It's really bad.
GS: I didn't see it. I experienced. I have twin daughters.
GS: I've often said, "I wouldn't wish..." And I hope this doesn't come off wrong to everybody, so I think I'm okay here. But like, "I wouldn't wish teenage girlhood on even my worst enemy." It really felt like a very incredibly difficult time. And I had one daughter who really, really struggled with it. I mean, we really had to step in and kind of help her. She's great today. But it's a very scary, uncertain time.
NdG: I have a friend going through that same sort of situation. So yeah, I think it's actually, unfortunately reasonably common.
GS: That's an epidemic.
NdG: It really is. Actually, the highest-volume dispensed drug in America are anxiety/depression medications, which is good in a way because people are getting help. And you could say it's getting diagnosed more, which is probably true, but there's something going on with the way that we're living that isn't conducive to the just fundamental chemistry of the human body.
GS: Yeah. Okay. Well, let's go back to marketing. The less intelligent of all the sciences out there. As I've kind of said, this podcast is really about the future of modern marketing and how really CMOs can be better at what they do. I mean, that's the whole thesis of the trade body that you've been involved with me here on the journey for quite a while. So let me start with what is a big question. You've now served as CMO for seven years, eight years?
NdG: Yeah, just about eight. I'm in between seven and eight. Yep.
GS: How is the role either different in the last seven, eight years, or if you want to go back to your experience having sat at Digitas and worked with other CMOs, how do you think the role has changed in the last general decade?
NdG: Well, I can tell you my experience. It requires a much higher degree of business thinking than creative thinking. And that's not to say creative is not important. Of course, it is, and we can all point to amazing ads that did amazing things. But that's not the general everyday reality of the CMO and companies. You are at an executive table with others that may not understand marketing, may be suspicious of it, or may not think it's particularly valuable, are all operators, and it doesn't mean they're bad people. But in order for you to use your tool set, your marketing tool set to really grow a business, you have to speak the language of the others at the table. You have to put things in a way that they understand. And so when I look at the skill set that I use in my job, it actually leverages more of the skills I built in management consulting than it does in my 14 years from the agency side.
GS: Yeah. You're a very rare bird to, I think, have that kind of experience. In fact, didn't you tell me at one time you don't use the word brand? You have a substitute for the word brand there, don't you?
NdG: I mean, I don't use the word brand because I feel like whenever you say brand, there's somebody, at least the finance person, and maybe somebody else is like, "Aha, can we cut that money? That sounds useless."
GS: They roll their eyes at minimum. We get an eye roll at minimum if they don't have the power to cut budgets. Right?
NdG: Right. Exactly. And so if you just talk about what's the purpose of a brand and why are you building a brand, you're building a brand for one reason, which is to have the highest returns on your marketing spend over a number of years. And that's just a very different way of talking about it. If you say, "Well, here's the activities to have the highest return on our marketing spend." You're like, "Well, that sounds like a smart idea." But if you come out and say, "I want to build the brand." People are like, "I don't know. I think I just kind of want to improve our operations over here."
GS: Well, I remember the phrase you used, words like "maximum multiyear returns."
GS: Which is—
NdG: That's awesome. Right?
GS: ... really what brand—
NdG: That's like marketing at work.
GS: We'll never skip a couple of ad guys who could come up with a clever phrase. But that's kind of the idea, right, is that what people don't understand is that brand needs to be performance, but over time. It needs to be valuable over time. And the problem is we don't really have good techniques or methodologies or approaches to really do that today. And I think that's where we get in trouble. Do you have another example of how you talk business or use the language of business to talk about marketing with the rest of the executives there?
NdG: Well, I think that the job of a marketer is to work with the CEO or business leader, business unit owner, to help them build their business. And that comes in a couple of ways. One is consumer insights and how you help them figure out the right offering that they should have and where that's going. So now you're participating in the product or the service development. But the second piece is to define the amount of margin and revenue that you think you can deliver for them and to not necessarily expose them to your whole toolbox because that's not what they're interested in. What you want to have is a discussion of like, "I think we can generate this amount of money from marketing. I'll take accountability for that and I'll obviously keep you informed, want you to participate in that, but I'll be accountable for it. You can put it in the forecast. And let's go."
And so that's kind of the different conversation as well. And that's also different than saying, "I want people to feel differently about us," because that's just a much harder thing for a traditional business unit leader, many of who come through from the operator side to understand.
GS: Norm, are you really that far along that you can... I mean, I assume for you it's taking accountability for store traffic at some level. And then there's a basket size that comes with that, that marketing may or may not be able to dictate. But are you really going that far that you would tell the front of store or back of store in the case of where you understand your business, that you can really do that? Do you guys go that far?
NdG: Yeah. And it is maybe on the retail side because you get more of a closed loop from activity to sales, so you can do it. But the analytics are all there. And by the way, nobody... people don't believe you at first, so you have to do these at an excruciating level of detail. And frankly, a level of detail that nobody else in the organization seems to have to adhere to. But you do that, and then it's very clear. And so it, in a way, creates your own P&L. And that P&L... I can tell you, the P&L that I have implicitly at CVS is now bigger than a number of the business units, but it's measured quarterly.
GS: That's extraordinarily powerful. Norm, I don't think I knew you had actually gone that far. There's a terrible stat out there that allegedly CMOs keep their job three or so years, whatever it is. I don't know. Spencer's talking about that.
NdG: I love that stat because that makes me feel good about being almost eight years.
GS: Well, yeah. So let's assume for the moment you've outlived everybody by double. Okay? Is this what you attribute to your longevity or is there some other... What else do you do to have stayed in this seat as long as you have given the complexity of the role?
NdG: I mean, I would say the first part is demonstrating listening and collaboration. But yawn, yawn, everybody does that, exciting. So what?
GS: That's the price of entry.
NdG: Right. Yeah. I think it is being seen as a collaborator to help build their businesses in a way that they understand, in a way that they can measure that has done that. And by the way, they can have good ideas, too. So sometimes you get a marketer and some people want to be in control of everything, and so they have the ideas, they want to do it their way, but other people have ideas, too, and they might be pretty good. So my general thought is like, "I'm a mercenary. I'm just looking for ideas, and I'll take them from anywhere because I got to achieve this goal." So yeah, in some ways, I think that is true that you're seen more as a co-conspirator in building the business than as the creative person building affinity.
GS: Yeah. I like that. There's a certain accountability and contradiction. In fact, it's funny. I was telling somebody, one of my team members on today, I say, "I take a hundred percent responsibility for everything." And he kind of looked at me and says, "Why would you do that," was kind of the look he had on his face. And I said, "Because it's the only thing I can control is what I can do about it." If I don't own the responsibility, I've turned it over to somebody else, then I'm a victim of the world around me. It just sort of misses the point at some level, I think. So, okay.
NdG: Actually, it's a really interesting point because it gets to a mistake that I think some marketing groups make, which is, because they're not completely aligned or they're not sure, they take what they want to do and they go to the business owner and say, "Yeah. Well, you've got a couple of options, and here's what we're thinking about doing." And my point is that when you do that, you have outsourced the decision-making. And by doing that, you've outsourced your kind of respect and ability to contribute to the business. You're now a service provider and you don't want to end up in that position.
GS: Yeah. So it really is for you a co-conspirator, co-partner to really go figure it out.
NdG: If you're an entrepreneur, it's an amazing place to be because let's just face it, it's a lot easier than building a website. It's a lot easier than building a store, than building a service, than building a product. So if you are just... You give me so much money and I give you back a ton of money, and I can use this marketing tool set, it's amazing. I don't want to say it's the easiest job, but it's a lot easier than some of those other jobs that take a long time to build with a million voices in them.
GS: Norm, you kind of provided, as I would've expected, a total segue here. So you've just done that, which is you've served on the North America board of the MMA here with me for I think almost... Well, they said almost as long as you've been there, so seven years, give or take. You served as chair, so you've got an opportunity to... You've listened to the conversations. You've talked to other CMOs and stuff. I'm not trying to be mean here to the rest of the industry, but what do you think that generally marketing does need to get about itself? Or maybe CMOs don't sometimes get about the job that they need to do?
NdG: I mean, this is going to go right back, Greg, to what we started working on two years ago or something. I think that many don't have a robust framework for how to drive growth. They have some ideas and some thoughts and what people have told them, but it hasn't been proven in, frankly, academia or other places that can really do the rigorous tests on how this is done. And as a result, I think they create things that, in the moment, a senior executive or CEO might say, "That was really cool," and they feel good about that. But in the long term, people start to say, "Well, how much value are you really driving in this organization?" And then that starts to create an entirely different set of conversations, which tends to go, "Well, I'm going to beef up measurement. I'm going to do data-driven targeting." And listen, it's not that those things are bad, but actually if you had a framework for growth, you may not go to, "I want to do the most hyper-driven targeting." As we've talked about, there are broader sets of targeting that you would go to first.
GS: No. I'd say I probably have a hundred calls with CMOs over the course of the year, and I ask most of them kind of the same thing, which is, "Do you know the growth frameworks? There are three of them currently. Do you understand them?" And to your point, at least one of those is really predicated more on... What's more popular is predicated on, I think it theoretically feels right. We happen to think that it's off base. So yeah, that's very interesting. And Norm, I wasn't sure we'd sort of go there now. But what was the problem you came to me about... boy, it was probably two and a half, almost three years ago, would've been now at this point. Do you remember how you framed that and what you asked Joel and I to take a look at?
NdG: Yeah. I remember us sitting at the table. We know exactly where it was. It was after a board meeting and we were having a discussion. And part of the issue that we were talking about is vendors are coming in every day pitching CMOs on ideas, and they all sound kind of interesting. But if you don't have a sense for your framework on how to drive growth, and by a framework, I mean, should you go broad? Should you go narrow? Should you target your current customers? Should you target other customers? I mean, really, a framework. Then they can all sound kind of interesting. And you and I started talking about this, that it's really interesting. Other disciplines don't have five different frameworks on how to do their job. Right?
GS: The finance people don't. I think the ones that do end up in big trouble, but go ahead.
NdG: Right. Yeah, exactly. That's actually an interesting point. And so that's what set us down this path of, "Let's go understand what the big frameworks are in the marketplace, in academia, and let's take a practitioner's view about which ones of those, or which combination of them actually leads to the best results." It's been very valuable for me, of course, but overall.
GS: Yeah. No, and I remember, too, what Joel Rubinson had said to us at that time. I think you were questioning some of the either analytics or conclusions that people had gotten to within, I think, CVS as I remember. And Joel said to us, "What most people don't understand or what they don't factor into their analysis is consumers' natural responsiveness to that particular brand." And in fact, I think what he was kind of saying in some regards is that there's a certain arrogance that come with marketers that we have, which is that if we run enough ads and the creative is compelling enough, then of course the consumer will believe in us and believe in our brand. But Joel was saying that's just simply not the case. There's almost no amount of money you could spend in some cases.
NdG: Yeah, that was interesting. Just think about this marketing landscape. There's just so much crap out there. How many people... And you know I've spoken a lot about purpose. We've done a lot of purpose, but people show up to me, agencies, "Oh, purpose-driven moves. You got to do those." But they don't know the facts. They actually don't know the facts about whether or not it works or doesn't work. And I can tell you, I have a pretty good sense of what works and doesn't work, and most of it will not build your business. Then there's like, "Well, we've got to do storytelling to build affinity." I mean, what are you talking about? That is not a framework. That is just like, "I want to do something that makes people like me." What are you... So what?
GS: It's a quaint notion. Marketing is full of quaint notions that sound good but aren't.
NdG: Yeah, I mean the line that we love is that the discipline of marketing tends to be very undisciplined.
GS: It was a board member who said that. I think all of us still could picture that board meeting when he said it. Oh my god.
NdG: It is just a crisis in the marketing world. The fact that people come out of school, that they go into these marketing groups in different companies, and that you could put 10 of them in the same room. They may not even have A: a growth framework at all. B: they may not have a growth framework that's born out in evidence and academic research and other things. And C: they may not agree on what the growth frameworks are. I mean, that is incredible.
GS: It's crazy. And you remember the research that we did a little while ago that Facilis did for us, where we basically found that mid-level marketers felt that the appropriate growth framework was one where senior marketers thought it was something completely different. And there was enough data on that to know that that was happening within the same company. That wasn't like across companies, per se. Oh my god. Yeah. We don't agree at all. And if we don't have that clarity... And I often say, "If you don't know what you're aiming for, I guarantee you're not going to hit it."
NdG: Yeah, that's right. That's right. And by the way, there are, let's just say, a thousand companies out there that have solutions in different areas that are all going to tell you why the way they see the world is the right growth framework. And so you'll get twisted totally in knots if you start listening to what other people are telling you who want to sell you something.
GS: Oh, boy. Well, now we're making this sound even harder.
NdG: But it's not harder, actually. Because you know this, it's not harder. The research is there. Go to the MMA website, look at the Great Debates. I mean, as far as I know, that's open to the public.
GS: It is. It is.
NdG: You can go research. You can go see it right now. You could figure out what works in your business. You can run the test, and that will give you the framework against to evaluate your decisions both in your investment, the vendors you use, where you're going, what you should be focused on.
GS: Yeah. No, there's just so much. I think that could kind of go on and on about what we get wrong. Norm, you kind of mentioned it there, though. There's a podcast out there about purpose, so I don't need to do that. But I do want to just take a moment and acknowledge what CVS did. I think it was mid-2010s when you guys came out and said, "No more cigarettes to be sold at the store."