Building Better CMOs
Building Better CMOs
Norm de Greve (CVS Health) Transcript
Norm de Greve: 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.

Greg Stuart: Welcome to Building Better CMOs, a podcast about how marketers can get smarter and stronger. I'm Greg Stuart, the CEO of nonprofit MMA Global. We have three goals: to change how we think about marketing, to understand the challenges CMOs face, and to unlock the true power that marketing can have. Now, this podcast is not a place for hero worship or how great CMOs are. There's lots of places for that. Instead, we're going to talk about real leadership in marketing and what it takes to drive growth today.

Today's guest is Norm de Greve, the CMO of CVS Health. This is the first interview we ever recorded for this show. And I knew Norm would be absolutely the perfect guest. I've known him for at least 10 years, it seems. At CVS, Norm has overseen some incredibly important and sometimes controversial campaigns, including the removal of cigarettes from all of their stores. We'll also talk about the growing importance of mental health care and the balance between being successful and doing the right thing.

You can find the full transcript of this interview and more at And if you like the podcast, do me a favor and leave a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. If you don't like the podcast, email me. Seriously. I'm I'd love to hear from you. But now let's get to my conversation with Norm de Greve.

Hey, Norm, what a great opportunity to get a chance to catch up with you again. I always really just am fascinated and love the chats that we have. Some of which this audience is going to get to hear, some of the things that have come out of those chats, so interesting. But before I get into this, and I think everybody knows who you are. We'll maybe do a little bit of introduction. But just while it's relevant, what'd you think about the ads in the Super Bowl this year? I mean, you had to have watched, right?

NdG: I did.

GS: Are we getting better? Are we not getting better? What do you think?

NdG: I think we're getting slightly better. I think the world's just changing much faster than the ads in the Super Bowl are changing. They tend to reflect an approach that feels safe, that was built up over decades, but you can't ignore the authenticity of what's happening in social media and influencers. And there just seems to be a very big disconnect between the tonality of what a lot of people are engaging in and the tonality of those commercials.

GS: But what do you think, $7 million for a 30-second spot, 110 million people all at once?

NdG: Well, that is still valuable. It's a lot of money, but you're not going to cue that many people in that amount of time doing anything else. So that's still pretty valuable. But it's a pretty astounding number, especially compared to the Olympics. Right? Didn't do so well and...

GS: No. No, the Olympics didn't do... Yeah, I don't think they were nearly as strong this year. Yeah. I've done research in the past around the value of the Super Bowl. And my impression, although it was a much lower price point, was that it was pretty damn valuable because you just had massive reach all at once with a highly attentive audience. It really worked.

NdG: Yeah. Don't tell that to the networks.

GS: Yeah. Whoops. Are they listening here? Whoops. Hey, so Norm, people probably know, but why don't you, just for official purposes here, give your title and make sure everybody's clear on the exact business name, which I know, but go ahead.

NdG: So I'm the chief marketing officer of CVS Health, and I spend all of my time thinking about the CVS Health brand as well as all of our work for consumers: how we connect with consumers, how we drive more demand, how we build our brand with consumers, particularly around the retail businesses that we have. So people know CVS Pharmacy. They know the MinuteClinic, our omnichannel businesses. So that's what I do. And that kind of goes from brand to demand gen to experience, the full amount.

GS: Yeah. And it's kind of an interesting business, isn't it, too? Because you and I have talked, like pharmacists, most trusted non-family member in people's lives or some variation of that, isn't it?

NdG: Yeah. No, it's totally true. And they're fantastic people. Mostly, when I go visit our pharmacists, I just think about how they're such better people than I am. I'm just like—

GS: Oh, that's funny.

NdG: I'm like, "I could be a better person." They're just really fantastic human beings. There was this great line—it wasn't a line, it was a Harvard Business article. And it was, "Health happens between doctor's appointments." And if you really think about it, most people see their doctor once or twice a year, but they come in the pharmacy every month. And so there's a real opportunity to help them be healthier 99% of the year when they're not seeing their doctor.

GS: Yeah. No, I think I've heard you even say in places, too, that health care has become very episodic. It's sort of when there's an emergency. Other than that, we don't really engage around health.

NdG: Totally. I mean, that's the whole problem in the health care business. It's built around episodic issues. You break your leg. You have cancer. All these sorts of things. And the biggest problems in health today are all chronic conditions. I have high blood pressure. I have diabetes, anxiety, depression. These are ongoing issues. So we kind of have a system that's built for one thing, and it's not the thing that most people need help with.

GS: Is CVS doing anything in mental health care?

NdG: Yeah. It's a huge focus. So our MinuteClinics in a number of states are providing behavioral health counseling, which is what we call mental health. We have virtual care for behavioral health, which is super important. As you know, we've tried to do some other things like what we did with untouched images and the Beauty Mark to help girls and boys, frankly as well, have realistic expectations of what beauty can do for them, which is super important.
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.

NdG: Yeah.

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."

NdG: Yeah.

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."
NdG: Yeah. That was a big decision, of course, and I think a lot of people are aware of it. But I do want to talk about that for a second. So there's a couple of behind-the-scenes, interesting components about that. Number one is, think about this. How is an investment analyst going to react to that news?

GS: It's not going to be good. You're reducing sales. You're reducing maybe margin. I assume cigarettes are high-margin. Yeah, you're—

NdG: Right. Your cash flow, seems like less sales. So that was the worry at the time, and yet the stock went up. And that is the power of people believing that you're doing the right thing and have the right story going forward. Because it wasn't just that we were getting out of tobacco because we thought it was evil. It was because we were getting out of tobacco because we were going to build a health company. And they saw both of those together and they could say, "I see where you're going and I can see your commitment." That's investors. Let me tell you something about consumers because friends of mine show up to me and say, "Oh, their agency just pitched us. We got to do a move like tobacco. That'd be amazing." We got out of tobacco and consumers didn't flock to our stores because we didn't sell something.

That's not what happens. That's just not what happens. It's not how we all work. And in general, I think there are very limited examples of declaring a purpose and saying that's what you're all about, and consumers showing up to buy stuff. We know what consumers want. They want a cool, quality product that works for them at a price that's reasonable and it's easy to get. And if on top of that, you've got a little purpose, maybe on the outside. However, here's where it matters. Where it matters is that your employees care because they want to work for a company with a conscience. And if your employees care and you demonstrate you hear them and you want to do the right thing, they'll be more engaged at work. And if they're more engaged at work, they drive more innovation. If they drive more innovation, they'll grow your business. And so that's where I think it's important.

GS: Basically, in some regards, you think the greatest asset developed there was hopefully more talent and more motivated talent.

NdG: A hundred percent. I saw what happened. Completely.

GS: Wow.

NdG: That generated engagement, the greatest rise in our engagement scores everywhere. But more importantly, I saw what happened at the mid-level manager level where they all started thinking of new ideas of how they could help CVS on its health journey. And I don't need to go through it because it would sound like bragging, but there were probably another five or six purpose-driven moves done by mid-level people in the company because they wanted to be part of this story, and they were all helping us get to our destination.

GS: Hey, Norm, list them. I mean, you mentioned unretouched photos. I remember when you did that, which I mean, again, I'm a father of teen daughters at the time. So yes, absolutely critical. What else?

NdG: First national retailer to get out of artificial trans fats in every food product we sell. When the evidence showed that sunscreen with less than 15 SPF isn't effective, took it off our shelves and had to make the sales up a different way. First national retailer to get out of parabens and phthalates and other chemicals of concern in all our store brand beauty products. When EpiPen went to $600, the first and only national pharmacy that worked with a generic manufacturer to come out with a generic EpiPen that with a coupon was $10. The first national retailer to make sure that all these vitamins that contain different things that aren't good for you, the only one that makes sure that everything that comes into our stores is third-party tested to ensure it contains what it claims, called Tested to Be Trusted. My point is, you can look across these things and those were different people, and they all were inspired and engaged to contribute to this journey based on that first purpose-driven move.

GS: And very clear in that sense of purpose. Go back to one thing, though. Because the theme here has been around bringing business into marketing. Investors don't tend to be sentimental groups. Are you saying they gave you greater multiples because you got rid of cigarettes?

NdG: Yeah. A multiple is reflective of your growth rate. And so they saw a higher growth rate, and they weren't wrong. In the year after we got out of tobacco, we added $16 billion in revenue in our B2B businesses.

GS: Wow. Wow. That's crazy.

NdG: People want to be part of a story like that. I mean, look at what we just did. So we just announced fourth-quarter earnings. So we're buying a company called Oak Street Health. And there's a lot going on with these primary care practices, but we kind of lowered our guidance. But we said, "But come with us on this journey of going into health services," and our stock went up. People want to be part of a story that they can believe in.

GS: And a positive story, because there's certainly not enough of that that gets featured in the world today. Hey, Norm, the cigarette thing was personal for you, too, wasn't it?

NdG: Yeah. I mean, I lost my father to lung cancer when I was seven years old. And so I can see the effects that it has firsthand. I can feel it. And you can think about each cigarette that someone smokes takes on average 10 minutes off their life. And in the markets where we had a meaningful presence, in the year after we got out of cigarettes, tobacco sales in that market went down 1%. If you go across the country, that is thousands of lives, thousands of people, thousands of dads that are here today that wouldn't otherwise have been around to see their kids and their family. I mean, it's amazing.

GS: It's heartbreaking. I think about a young boy missing their father, having no idea what had happened or understanding that, and then you get to make a contribution to lessening the chance of that for somebody else.

NdG: Yeah, it's awesome.

GS: Talk about a life well lived.

NdG: Yeah.

GS: Hey, let's shift here a little bit, too, because I'm constantly struck. I have the great opportunity here at the MMA to get to work with a lot of senior executives. I get to watch you guys and the moves that you make. And I'm also in the middle. I'm a small entity and dancing with Goliaths here, right, gorillas, maybe it feels like some days. And I often get a sense that young people that come into the business undervalue how hard it is to do what you do in being a senior executive. Well, in your case, at one of the five largest companies in America.

NdG: Yeah.

GS: What advice would you have for people?

NdG: I think you're right. And I think that there's actually a number of them—maybe not even out of college, at the mid-levels—who see that and say, "I don't want to do that."

GS: Yeah. I see a lot of that. Yeah.

NdG: And it takes a tremendous amount of emotional energy and emotional resilience. And this is true for every executive, and particularly for marketing because of the dynamics we talked about earlier: lack of understanding, skepticism, worry, opinions, all that sort of stuff, which I don't think show up to the same degree in other areas within the company. You put on top of that what you and I have worked on and seen, which is a complete convergence of different roles within the company, particularly around digital and marketing and other areas. And that creates a lot of angst for people and a lack of clarity and goals, but also co-dependency on delivering goals and just confusion. It's really hard. But at the same time, what's really good is that if you can build the right coalitions, you have a coalition that's going to help each other succeed. And it feels like its own community in a way.

What happens in big companies is there's a lot of analytics and, as a result of analytics and operating mentality, it's a lot of incremental growth and a lot of focus on optimization. Which can be fundamentally different than a marketer's mindset of "Create new. Go after the new seat. See the consumer trend. Go after that." And so you're living in this world where you're seeing, "Oh, well, you guys all want to optimize something and I think we're missing this giant consumer trend over here, and we got to go after it." And then those people are saying, "I hear you about your consumer trend and I got to deliver earnings today." And so it just keeps going back and around.

GS: Correct. Yeah. Marketing tends to really lean into a cultural zeitgeist of some kind, and it's often amorphous and hard to get a hold of. If you had advice for a younger generation, let's say there's a small select group of them that actually do admire the jobs that we do at the top, and they would like to aspire to that. What do you do to keep yourself fit? And I'm not just mentioning physically, but just sort of fit for purpose to show up and do what you need to do on a daily basis? Are you just wired that like, "This is what I do, I got it nailed, let's go"?

NdG: Well, let me just say that actually there is a lot between physical and mental. You get that. But it does affect your energy level in a major way. The clarity that you have in your decision-making and what you want to do. I think that you have to have a passion for entrepreneurship or growth or what you can build. It's a little bit more about the outside and what you can build than it is about the inside and how you navigate. I'm sure some people have been very successful in navigating the inside. But it's not what drives me. What drives me is like, "Oh, there's a big opportunity over there and we can go after it and we can go after it at scale." And that's really interesting. Go back to the tobacco thing. We could have scale impact in America when we do something like that. So that's kind of motivating. You can get excited about that. But even the small business opportunities, you just got to be a bit of an entrepreneur. That's the fun part of the job.

GS: For you in particular, if I'm listening to you, it is a sense of mission and purpose. Dare I say, a sort of preventing another seven-year-old from having to go through what you did, that it sounds like really drives you on a very regular, daily basis. Just show up and fight the war.

NdG: It's a bit of that. It's also the Martin Luther King expression: "It's never the wrong time to do the right thing." And we're all a participant in society, and we can do both. We can be really successful and we can do the right thing. And so in some ways, that's how I look at a lot of these moves. Maybe they drive additional business, but they're also the right thing to do, so let's just do them and find out a way to get going. So yeah, there's a bit of purpose, but the purpose is broader than tobacco. It's a little bit more... like I said, you want to work for a place that you feel has a conscience and is helping to make the world a better place.

GS: But I think I heard on another podcast that you had done that you're actually an active biker, that you cycle on a very regular basis. And I think I even heard you mention meditation is a part of your regime. Right?

NdG: At the moment, yeah. It's six days a week of biking and meditation every day. And I do it in the car sometime, so don't go drive. But the biking is fun for sure, and it is also mind-clearing, which is great. The meditation, you can feel yourself. I can feel myself in 60 seconds I'm in a more relaxed state. And so that calmness is really helpful and centering in a way. And I don't think people have read a lot about that, but I do think that it's a worthwhile thing to do.

GS: I had a guy tell me a number of years ago, he says, "If you're going to spend 20, 30 minutes getting the outside of you ready, why wouldn't you spend at least a few minutes getting the inside of you ready, too?"

NdG: It's totally true. It's totally true. And by the way, the other thing that people should do, I look at those two things together, that's my second job. That's not something I do for me or a nice thing to do. This job, it's just as important as my current job. The job I get paid for. You got to do it.

GS: Yeah. It's part of my fitness of what I need to do to do what I do. Yeah. It was funny, the guy who told me that, he actually did a funny thing with me for quite some period of time. It was a guy that taught me how to meditate originally. And he would ask me how I was doing. And then he would ask me if I'd meditated that day. And he'd say nothing else. And it didn't take me long to get the pattern that the days that I was calm and feeling good and activated and ready to go were the days I meditated. And the days that I didn't were not the days that I had. And so I'm not sure anyone on my team would suggest that they think I meditated in a real level. So I do want to identify that it is progress, not perfection, but nonetheless.

NdG: Yeah, I know.

GS: We're all working on the right path.

NdG: Your kids will remind you of that all the time.

GS: Yeah. Yeah. Kids are a great reflection of, well, I don't know, of really who you are I guess. Before we kind of wrap up here, anybody else's work out there that you really admire? Who do you most look up to at this stage as a marketer out there? Definitely somebody outside your company. Let's not complicate that with inside the company.

NdG: You know who I never see, but I still think they have the best campaign of the last 20 years is the CMO of Geico. Disciplined and engaging. There's discipline in that: same message, done in an interesting way again and again and again and again over decades.

GS: Yeah. I've often wondered if marketing fails too often because we just don't give it enough time. We change too fast. We don't stick with anything. We don't keep hammering away. And that's easy for me to say when I'm not sitting on trying to put out earnings reports for the quarter. But I've often wondered if we didn't give up stuff.

NdG: Well, I think there's some truth to that. If they're like, "Well, Greg, so what's your plan this year?" And you're like, "I'm going to do the same thing I did last year." It's like...

GS: No one wants to hear that. No way.

Okay, so Norm, you ready? I got a final question for you. I just thought of. You ready?

NdG: Yeah.

GS: Would you advise anybody to want your job?

NdG: I would. I would. I think people should want my job. It's a fun job. It's hard. Listen, no big job is easy. Running a company like you are, it's not easy. There's nothing that's easy.

GS: Nothing easy.

NdG: But there's fun in it. There's reward in it. There's cool people in it. There's collaboration in it. There's impact in it, which is fun. I think if you look at corporate America, there are many things that are hard about the CMO's job. We've talked about many of them. And if you look at the functional work you do every day, it's probably the most fun job in corporate America.

GS: Yeah, that's true. We won't pick on any of the other functions, but I totally agree with you. I can't imagine really trying to do anything else. It really is. Hey, Norm, you're awesome. I honestly probably got through like 20% of really what I wanted to engage with you on. So I don't know. We'll have to do it again, but I can't thank you enough for showing up and sharing some insights with everybody here today.

NdG: Yeah, it was fun.

GS: Thank you.

Thanks again to Norm de Greve from CVS Health for coming on Building Better CMOs. Check the show notes for links to connect with Norm. And if you want to know more about MMA's work to truly unlock the power of marketing, please visit Or you could attend any of the 30 conferences that MMA operates in 15 different countries, or feel free to just write me:

Don’t forget to leave a review on Apple Podcasts. And if you’re new to the show, please follow or subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeart, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can find links to all those places and more at

Our producer and podcast consultant is Eric Johnson from Building Better CMOs' researcher is Anita Pavlosky. Artwork is by Jason Chase. And special thanks to Lacera Smith. This is Greg Stuart. I'll see you in two weeks.

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