Building Better CMOs
Podcast Transcript - Building Better CMOs

Charisse Hughes, Chief Growth Officer at Kellanova, Page 1

Charisse Hughes, SVP and Chief Growth Officer at Kellanova — a spinoff of the Kellogg Company — talks with MMA Global CEO Greg Stuart about the dangers of short term-ism, the evolution of the CMO title, balancing hard truths with optimism, and more.
Charisse Hughes: One of the most important things is stakeholder management, understanding the landscape clearly, and to your point, what's at stake and what the tradeoffs are. I think weighing options is really key at this level. Having a degree of discernment, for sure. It's assessing risk, but you can assess risk and I think still not make the right decision.

Greg Stuart: Welcome to Building Better CMOs, a podcast about how marketers can get smarter and stronger. I am Greg Stuart, the CEO of the nonprofit MMA Global, and that voice you heard at the top is Charisse Hughes. She's the senior vice president and chief growth officer at Kellanova, which has spun off from the former Kellogg Company last year.

She previously served in marketing leadership roles at Avon, Estee Lauder, and Pandora, and she's also on the board of directors of Crocs. And some really exciting news: Charisse has just recently been announced as the vice chair of the MMA global board. Can't thank her enough for that, so I'm delighted to get her on the show this week.

Now, today on Building Better CMOs, Charisse and I are going to talk about the dangers of short-termism, the evolution of the CMO title as evidenced by hers, balancing hard truths with optimism, and so much more. This podcast is all about the challenges that marketers face and unlocking the true power that marketing can have. Charisse is going to tell us how she did that right after this.

Charisse Hughes, so nice to have you here on Building Better CMOs today.

CH: Oh, thank you for having me, Greg. How are you?

GS: I'm good. I'm good. I'm good. This will not be breaking news for everybody, but we had a small earthquake here in New York City today.

CH: I know.

GS: Did you hear that?

CH: I just texted so many of my friends. How scary was that? Were you at home?

GS: No, I'm not in the city today. I'm out in the East End of Long Island, but it did. It was funny, I was on a call with somebody on my team who's a little bit closer, and he was really kind of panicked. He was like, "Oh my god, there's an earthquake." I go, "Are you making this up? Really? There's no earthquakes in New York City area." Then, 20 seconds later, there was just a light rumble here.

CH: I need to check when the last one was. I was living in New York when we had the last earthquake.

GS: Oh, but it's been forever. Doesn't it feel like it? I mean, I really don't remember, forever.

CH: Yeah. It's been forever. It had to be the teens or something, 2010 or something. I don't know.

GS: Listen, for people in California, they really worry about that stuff. But here, it felt like very exciting.

CH: Yes, exactly.

GS: It felt kind of a fun ride everywhere.

CH: Yeah, I asked all my friends, "Did you feel it?"

GS: It's kind of like the wrong attitude. I'm sure they have.

CH: Exactly.

GS: I should be respectful. I'm hoping there's no damage.

CH: I know, hopefully, hopefully.

GS: I don't know, maybe we'll have to cut this out if there was. I apologize to people, but I don't think there was so, well, all good.

What Is Kellanova?

GS: Listen, Charisse, I think that what we want to do here, before I get to the big question with you is let's talk a little bit about Kellanova. Brand-new company. Let's maybe just take a moment and not assume that all listeners know. Could you just introduce the company to them first?

CH: Thank you for letting me do that. Kellanova is a company that is the result of the spinoff of the Kellogg Company. Many of you know the Kellogg Company, 117-plus years old, and in October of 2023, we spun the company into two. We spun WK Kellogg Co, which is the North America cereal business, we spun that into its independent publicly traded company.

The remaining business is Kellanova, which is what I work for. Within that business is our brands like Pringles, Cheez-It, Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispies Treats, and we also have an international cereal business. That is Kellanova, an amazing portfolio of great brands that are loved by people all over the globe and for many, many years.

GS: Oh my god, love, love, love. Your brand health score for those brands just have to be off the charts.

CH: Absolutely. Talk about longevity, too. I mean, this is a master class in how you develop and maintain great brands.

GS: What is the oldest of those brands, by the way?

CH: The oldest is the Kellogg master brand.

GS: Yup. Okay, of course.

CH: Then, after that probably is Pringles. No, Cheez-It and then Pringles and then Pop-Tarts. I think I have that in the right order. Pop-Tarts is 60 years old this year.

GS: Wow.

CH: Can you believe it?

GS: That's crazy.

CH: It's amazing.

GS: I really am, I'm serious, not just because you're here, but I'm a big fan...

CH: Yes, yes.

GS: ... big, big fan.

CH: Great brands.

The Significance of Titles: Chief Growth Officer vs. CMO

GS: Great. Here's the thing that I think is most interesting about you... we're going to come back to some of your background, too, because it plays in some of the conversation. But just to be clear for everybody, this is Building Better CMOs, but your title is actually chief growth officer. Although, you have been CMO, you did officially have the title CMO at a previous company, but talk a little about chief growth officer. I don't know if I would've seen that for sure coming.

CH: I mean, I think you're seeing the evolution of the CMO title. What I like about the growth title is that it reinforces the value that marketers and people who are marketing-adjacent bring to the company, and I think that often gets lost. While I was originally focused on marketing, I had some capability around advanced analytics. I added R&D and innovation to my scope.

When you think about the different growth levers, that 'where to play' within strategy, marketing is a part of it. RGM is a part of it. White space opportunity, innovation, of course, is a part of it. All those elements go into that growth agenda, if you will.

GS: Can I ask a funny question? Was it your idea to have a chief growth officer or the company's idea?

CH: Well, actually the company has had chief growth officers in the past, so that is not new to the organization. It was a natural evolution as I added R&D and innovation. It really just made sense.

GS: Yeah, you know I had an interesting conversation on one other episode here. I forget exactly who it was, but they were talking about the importance of title and what it signals to the rest of the company about what you're doing. It was a very interesting conversation.

CH: I think that's spot on. In fact, we, as a team, just rolled out a new mission statement and we wanted to make sure within marketing we talk about the end benefit. That's both growth and value creation to the enterprise, right?

GS: Yes, yes.

CH: And being able to talk about that more and more, I think, is critical for marketers.

GS: Yeah, it feels like it's kind of been left out of the conversation or the dialogue or the job description in some way. It just feels really funny to me we haven't done that.

CH: We've always focused so much... I mean, listen, I love the art of marketing, but for some reason, people think it's only art and there's so much science.

GS: Yeah, yeah. I interviewed somebody for the MMA and she was explaining to me that the marketing team there, they really thought they were just making pretty pictures. I was like, "That's what the marketing team thought they were doing?" It was very funny. It was a very small B2B company, but I was like, "That's exactly what's wrong, that we don't take more ownership of actually really driving the trajectory of the company."

CH: I think it's really important to continue to have training and be training and developing your marketers so they understand what the science and business of marketing is all about.

From Finance to Marketing: Charisse's Career Journey

GS: Yes, yes. By the way, just so part of the background, you actually have an undergrad degree in finance, I think I saw?

CH: Howard University.

GS: Somewhere along the line, you went back to get an MBA, but then you, somewhere midstream or something, I think your concentration was marketing, at least one of the concentrations...

CH: That's right.

GS: ... in your MBA, correct?

CH: That's correct. Yeah, that's right.

GS: Why'd you make that switch, by the way? What got you and where was that point that you made that, I think, a shift? I don't know, maybe not.

CH: Yeah, so actually when I came out of college, I worked in finance. I was working in financial planning and analysis at an airline that is no longer here at Northwest Airlines in Minnesota, and I did that for two years. I think what I felt was missing for me was the creative lens. I've always been data driven. I've always been needing numbers. I was anchored in it. I felt like I didn't have any sort of leg to stand on to communicate size of prize or opportunity without data, and it's sort of how I developed and grew. But then I was missing that creative part and the art. I felt, "Okay, let me go back to business school and let me explore other opportunities."

I had the great fortune of working with several folks who had been in business school and who had graduated and had a variety of different careers. Some were in yield management in the airline and some were in FP&A or ad hoc or whatever. From that experience, I decided to go back and marketing was one of the first things that I kind of started to lean toward, and I'm very happy that I chose the field.

GS: I love it when people, when they don't start there, but they find an excitement about it. I don't know if you have to originally have it if you're a transplant. I don't know if it really matters. I mean, listen, I always wanted to be in marketing ever since I was a kid. Isn't that funny? I think it's because I watched Bewitched too much as a child, I'm guessing. I don't know. Must've been it. I don't know why.

CH: That's interesting.

GS: Yeah. Isn't it funny?

CH: Yeah.

GS: There's a book by George Lois, the name of that book will escape me at the moment. And then Jerry Della Femina, and he had written a book called From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor. The book was only in the library. I couldn't check it on... at that point, we weren't buying books on Amazon, so there wasn't access to it. But I went to the library on a succession of days just to read that book, and I was so enamored with the business I decided that's what I was going to do. Isn't that funny?

CH: Wow, that's amazing. I love that. Well, I think that's how I ended up at beauty. My first job was in beauty. I worked at a hair salon.

GS: Oh.

CH: Yeah. I was washing hair. I was in high school, and I was doing hair. Who knew that was serendipitous that I would end up working in beauty for a little bit.

GS: It's very funny... boy, we're really off track here, we'll come back on that list, but my kids just turned, they just graduated. Two of my daughters, they're twins, just graduated from university and started their careers.

CH: You know I have twins also, right?

GS: I know. It's crazy, isn't it?

CH: Isn't that wild?

GS: It's very popular. Twins are very popular, like we did it by design. But the funny thing is that I said to them, "Listen, plan your career as best you can, but I guarantee you you'll have no idea how you really got there, and you'll be surprised at the serendipitous route that you would take based on these limited experiences that at some point appeared in your past, then become big in your future."

CH: Yes.

GS: It's very funny.

CH: It is so interesting. It takes reflection sometimes to even know where you've come from and how you got to where you are.

GS: Yes, absolutely.

CH: Spending time on that is key.

GS: Okay, well, listen here, we have marketing to go fix. There's another thing, though, that we are making everyone aware of today is that the global board... Well, let's see, by the time this will have come out, the global board will have voted you in as vice chair of the MMA, so congratulations.

CH: Thank you so much. I'm really excited. I love the MMA. As I told my boss as I was asking for permission to do this, what I really love about the MMA is the way that the MMA helps marketers solve business problems and does so in a way that is structured, but brings science to it and a level of analytical rigor that I think is so needed in our space. As I told you, I started in finance, so that's where my heart lies. I mean, it helps marketers communicate to the organization better.

GS: We need to be a little more right than wrong sometimes, and that's not to take away the creative because I think the X-factor is creative. I mean, don't lose that, don't lose brand, don't lose the importance of that, right? But it can change the trajectory forever. I'm concerned that procurement department sometimes—and I don't know Kellanova's, so I won't comment there—but I'm concerned that procurement don't understand that X-factor also, while we also get some of the fundamentals better.

CH: One hundred percent. Speaking of creative, just a little plug because next week—and obviously this will have aired—but next week, I'm bringing my top marketers together for a masterclass. We are doing it with Cannes Lions in partnership...

GS: Wow.

CH: ... with them for two days, about 50 marketers from around the globe.

GS: Wow.

CH: Talk about creative and the importance of creative and creative effectiveness, it's half the way there. If you nail your creative, you are much closer to driving that business overall effectiveness that we know is so important. I 100 percent support and believe in continuous learning and that development that is so key for all of our marketers, but anchoring it in creative.

From Short-Term Gains to Long-Term Success

GS: Yes, absolutely. Okay, well let's jump into this one a little bit here. We've sent you the question, you know where we're going to go, but let me just set up here for our listener: Building Better CMOs, it's all about trying to understand from those who have the broad perspective like you have and other CMOs, what do you think that we, as marketers, don't fully understand?

Maybe don't completely conceptualize, maybe don't appreciate? Maybe it could be something that we believe to be true, but really, you think in your heart of hearts, maybe isn't, you can disclose it here. But it's really about where do you think we really need to have some massive improvement and that we could just be better than we are right now? That's all. I'm not trying to be critical, it's just where can we be better? What do you think that is?

CH: I think that we continually underestimate the impact of marketing. For me, thinking about the full value of marketing from the short and the long term of it is where we continue as an industry and, I think, as marketers are missing the mark in terms of our communication strategy within the organization—as well as how we look at, measure, and think about immediate versus long-term business results or long-term brand equity.

That's something that, I think, we're all trying to tackle. I know you're doing quite a lot of work at the MMA to help us make progress in this space, but that's one big area of opportunity for us.

GS: MMA has some answers around this, and we can talk about it in a minute. But what do you think we miss by not knowing that now, Charisse, what do you think happens? What's the maybe negative consequence to the business, because this question hasn't been fully answered or addressed in some regard?

CH: I think it's just short-termism. I think we just are so focused on the here and now, and we are potentially sacrificing value in the long term because we're thinking so on the immediate. As I said to you, I was listening to a CEO who I won't name, but who said that they were going to increase their spending in marketing because the investment was going to pay off significantly better than any promotion you could ever do.

I think if you have that mindset, and you think about what are the implications of the full mix and what does it mean today and tomorrow, some choices would be very different. I feel like we, as a marketing community, have to get better at educating our organization, our CEOs, our CFOs, on what is the value of a click today, what is the value over the course of time, and what tradeoffs are we making here and why? I think that's really key.

GS: And we've not been good. It's maybe an esoteric question, so you can even choose not to answer if you want... I mentioned to you that 250 CMOs that I've talked to about some of what the MMA is working in, they have all identified as one of the top one or two issues in discussions, I should say, discussion with their company is this long versus short term. If it's on everybody's mind, why have we, as marketers, not gone and resolved? Why have we just not tried to answer it? It feels funny to me and I don't know, maybe there's a part of that that says who cares, but let's go fix it now.

CH: No, I mean, we need to fix it. As I said to you, I think there's the two schools of thought around brand versus performance. I think if you grew up as a brand marketer, then you think that you are only measuring brand power. You're only measuring the different dimensions of your brand equity and whether it's consistent or not consistent or did you land your impression. But you aren't taking it to the next level, which is understanding the value of the algorithm or really tying more closely.

One of the best bits of analysis that I did in my prior life is understanding the correlation between the funnel metrics and my brand performance. If you understand what's going to drive this consumer from awareness to consideration, looking at the full media mix, that will help you think more holistically about your business from a short- and a long-term standpoint. I don't think we're doing that as much as we should.

GS: What made you do that research or that analysis, and/or what did you do if it's not been too long?

CH: Great question. First, let me tell you why I did it is because I was in retail and in retail, you're not just focused on the short term, you're focused on the now term. Like, what did we just sell last hour?

GS: Yeah, you're focused on the last night term, last hour term.

CH: Exactly.

GS: There you go. Exactly. I got a lot of CMOs in retail.

CH: Exactly.

GS: Oh my god.

CH: That's a stressful—

GS: That could be a brutal data inflow.

CH: It's brutal. The data is real and you're trying to explain it and justify it, and I probably need to go back and look into my files and explore how we did this. But I did it with an agency because at the time, the business problem that I was solving was how do I get the consumer who's aware of me to consider me because I'm getting such a drop-off to that consideration phase, so how do I do that?

We wanted to look comparatively at how we're investing our media across the funnel, and then do some correlation analysis to really shift that metric. And that way, I think, was a really good big unlock. But I had a CEO, or he was the president of the region that I was working for, and I wanted to have some data and some insights that I could share with him to bring him along on the journey to say, "You know what, okay, every quarter having a promotion is probably not the right strategy for a jewelry brand, so how do we pull back there?"

You're encouraging the consumer to wait and so there's implications to the full marketing mix of understanding these different stages of the funnel and how you want to shape your full strategy to go after that business.

GS: For that brand, for that company, that product, I'm going to say, it really is about brand.

CH: Yeah, 100 percent, 100 percent.

GS: It's largely about that.

CH: I mean, it's the largest jewelry brand that there is, that's branded jewelry, because there aren't many branded jewelry... I mean, Tiffany is the other one, right?

GS: Yup. Yup.

CH: So, there aren't that many.

Unlocking the Value of Brand Marketing

GS: Let me ask you, what was it like to go, because you were at Estee Lauder before, am I remembering this right?

CH: I was.

GS: Okay. So you were at Estee Lauder, you go to retail, you go to Pandora. What was that transition, because you went from the maximum of brand to a brand-oriented but retail, which I guess is kind of a semi-unique combination, right?

CH: Yeah, I think it's super complementary, and I have this philosophy of lifelong learning. My mother was a teacher for 33 years, so it's kind of a value of mine. I wanted to have deeper exposure to the performance side because I just knew what was, I mean, I could see what was happening in marketing. And I felt like there's no better way to get this learning than to be there, to be working in retail. Yeah, we had e-commerce, but within a big company like that, you have an e-commerce team. It's more of a matrix.

I was responsible for the visual identity on e-commerce but not the operations associated with that. But when I went to Pandora, I was able to get that experience, have e-commerce experience. We had digital media, but we had first-party data. Before first-party data was really as valuable as it is now, so that was 2015.

GS: Wow. Yeah. That's kind of early for a marketer being focused on data.

CH: Talk about understanding your consumer, there's no excuse not to when you're in retail. I hate to say it, but it's true.

GS: At the risk of trying to lead the witness here or otherwise, I'm not trying to trip you up on this, but I'm curious. Listen, I actually do know now the value of brand in the way of the CFO because of this research project you know we've been working on at the MMA. We call it the Brand as Performance initiative. It was really set up because we heard that tension between performance-oriented marketers and brand.

In fact, the way it was always articulated, the way I would hear it was that the brand people would say the performance-oriented people were ruining the business. They had no appreciation for long-term customer brand equity, and if you'd ask the performance people, they'd say things like, "Well, the brand people are full of rainbows and unicorns and they have no measurable goals."

There was a tension in that. And we took a step back and we said, "Well, that's a math problem. That's not a 'we've got to go to Mars' kind of problem that's never been done. This is a math problem." The issue is that can you collect the data? For the listener, we've been running now three studies, Ally, Campbell's, and Kroger, brands who stepped forward to go execute that research a couple of years ago.

When you would talk about brand before, were you able to articulate in a business sense what brand you thought was worth to a company? My guessing is maybe no on that because I don't think any of us knew, and I worked in brand for a long time, like I mentioned, but we didn't really know then, right?

CH: Yeah, I mean, I think to your point, we have the brand tracker, which tells you your equities.

GS: Yeah, you have a brand tracker, but it's almost impossible to move a brand tracker, right?

CH: Right.

GS: Brand trackers don't move.

CH: It takes forever to move a brand tracker. Yeah.

GS: We don't know relationship to sales, correct, generally?

CH: Nope.

GS: Generally?

CH: You don't know that. Nope, you don't know the relationship to sales. You know your power, you know how you compare to your competitors, and then you're making some inference or deduction or whatever the word is on what that means to market share or share of voice and things that you can put numbers and data around. But typically, no.

GS: Yeah, we really didn't know. It's kind of nuts to me, sort of crazy. By the way, like I said, let me be clear, I worked in brand for a very long time on behalf of Procter at various ad agencies. Although, it was the big thesis, we didn't know.

Well, here's what we do know now a little bit, and I don't have pattern recognition because I don't have enough data, so I want to be a little careful with the listeners that we're not getting too carried away here. But in the first study we did, we found that if a brand campaign, a brand-focused campaign, developed $100 in sales today, that we saw it develop upward... For the one financial study, I think we saw another $150, so 2.5x with the original sale. Now, you go, "Oh, brand actually matters long term." Okay.

In the Kroger case study, we actually had told the boards at one point that we thought the number was around plus $550. We're now about to announce at the Possible event, so this would've come out already, that we think that that number is actually closer to plus $750 on that initial $100. I mean, that's massive gain and it'll be really interesting for you, I suspect for Kellanova, to really see what the Campbell's study looks like and what that means over time.

CH: Yes. Yeah, I'll be excited to see that.

GS: We did also find that once a consumer is made favorable, that they appreciated the brand, they liked the brand, we saw that the cost of acquisition was 85 percent lower. And it's led us to say, funny, brand works both top of the funnel and lower funnel. That's a very funny thing to say because most people wouldn't have ever acknowledged that.

CH: Yeah, absolutely.

GS: They tried to separate those things and we're like, "They're not separated, they're integrated and they drive the whole business."

CH: Which is why the funnel is so important. We've been building education within our company around the funnel and how you think about the funnel, and the funnel is not just a marketing tool. The funnel is a commercial tool to understand how the consumer navigates their journey. I think if we were to talk about it more that way, there could be more adoption and engagement and understanding.

GS: The important part of the funnel is really customer journey is what it helps us outline.

CH: Yes. Yeah.

GS: Yes, exactly. Would you have been ever willing to tell a CFO that, "Hey, we think that the brand campaign we're running today actually develops sales 7-8x to what we think it is initially"? When you'd run a brand campaign, you would know the sales, you can isolate sales. Media mix modeling could have done that. I don't think I would've been willing to say it was that big.

CH: Yeah, I think you'd be very nervous to say that, and I think that's some of the risk aversion also, right? If you haven't proven it in your business, the implications are that you're over promising and you under deliver.

GS: I'd be curious what you think this kind of data would mean, but I'm hoping that it puts the CMO and the CFO at the same side of the table to figure out an investment strategy for the company through marketing. When I start to know the value of brand... I've done all that too with clients and as a marketer myself, talking about the softer side of what some of these metrics mean, but that's hard when you're trying to translate to real business terms, right?

CH: Yeah. I mean, I think the other thing is that it reinforces the importance of experimentation. It really means that you and the CFO should be lockstep on this journey of experimentation that I'm continuously improving, right?

GS: I do hope, though, that with some of this data, you really could start to come together because there is a part... My original training in undergrad was in economics as an economist, and one of my takeaways from that is that if we don't know, it's probably undervalued. That's kind of my sense of most things in life. Isn't that funny?

The same thing was true, when I was running the IAB and we were trying to develop online advertising as a business, it was very clear to me that consumers were fast to move to internet, but marketers were slow to move. Because of that slowness, so if you have high supply of inventory and middling demand from marketers, that inventory was going to be the deal of the century.

I went and actually spent $5 million in developing multitouch attributions, the first time that technology or that methodology has been used, to validate online. We basically proved the obvious, which is that if it's undervalued, it's underpriced. Brand here is all valued. It's still undervalued. If we don't know, then we're going to undervalue it because that's just the way business works.

CH: Yeah, but it's so surprising because we talk about brands so much, right?

GS: I know.

CH: And it's inherent in all of our language. I mean, it's pervasive, so you have the CEO and the CFO talking about brands. The fact that we haven't cracked this nut, it continues to be a head scratcher, I think.

GS: Let's take a quick break. We'll be back right after this with Charisse Hughes.

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