Building Better CMOs
Building Better CMOs
Linda Lee (Campbell's) Transcript
Linda Lee: Intuition isn't just, "Well, I believe, I think." I know it can come across feeling fluffy, but it really should be connected to the observations. It is the act of hypothesizing based on observations and facts.

Greg Stuart: Welcome to Building Better CMOs, a podcast about how marketers can get smarter and stronger. I am 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. 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 Linda Lee. Since 2019, she's been the CMO of meals and beverages at Campbell's. And she serves as chair of MMA's North America board of directors. Linda got her BS in chemical engineering, and in this interview, she'll explain to us why marketers need to be more scientific. We'll also talk about bringing original thinking to iconic brands and why grasping for bigger roles inside your company might be counterproductive.

You can find a 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 Linda Lee.

Linda Lee, welcome to Building Better CMOs. How are you today?

LL: Thank you. Great. So happy to be here.

GS: Yeah. Good. Now listen, I'm going to jump right into it. Linda, usually I have a little casual chit-chat. I don't try to create the controversial topics right at the beginning, but I have to comment on this one just immediately. You took franks out of SpaghettiOs. They had franks, the little hot dogs. You took them out? How could you take them out? I'm just, I'm aghast.

LL: We brought a new Frank to town. Yes, we took those little hot dogs out of SpaghettiOs, and we brought in a new one with Frank's hot sauce.

GS: I don't know, boy, I was raised on SpaghettiOs. I don't know that it makes— You know, my makeup today... it's probably the reason I'm as big as I am. Tall as I am, to be clear.
GS: Yeah. I'm very disappointed in the lack of the little frank hot dog.

LL: Well, we'll have to send you, we'll send you some, some of the new ones.

GS: Okay.

LL: Spicy SpaghettiOs are delicious. They were my dinner recently, actually.

GS: I'll try them. I'll get them. I got it. Okay, good. I appreciate that. So, listen, just for the audience here, this is Linda Lee, CMO of meals and beverages, correct? Right, at Campbell's? Is that correct?

LL: Yes, correct.

GS: Okay, good. And maybe just for the audience, because listen, everybody knows red can, right? I mean, nobody's not going to know that. But give all the products that sit under your domain, as we might talk about some of those today.

LL: Sure. Within soup and broth, we've got Chunky, we've got Swanson. And moving over to meals, there's Prego, we've talked about SpaghettiOs. There's also Pace Picante Sauce. That's what I grew up eating a lot of from Texas. And we also have beverages like V8. And within V8, there's Energy in addition to that iconic vegetable juice. And we also have Pacific Foods. Pacific Foods is our organic brand, and that crosses over all the categories that I just talked about.

GS: Wow. Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, listen, so I've talked to you. It's a collection of family favorite brands. No question about that. And I would imagine, too... We'll probably get into that: maybe an extraordinary amount of loyalty by some customers around the brands, right?

LL: Oh, absolutely, yes. These are obviously fast-moving goods. So, we have lots of consumers come through, but no question the iconic equities that many of us grew up with remembering on TV or on the dinner table.

GS: Yeah, no, it's crazy. I mean, I really would've been raised around so many brands like SpaghettiOs that just, it's sort of unfathomable, its level. Before we get into our main topic here, there's an awful lot of tension given to retail media of late. I don't know, you bullish, bearish, thumbs up, thumbs down? Do you think it's the next big trend? Is the media over hyping? What's your sense of retail media, especially given that you're fast-moving goods?

LL: Definitely bullish. I come from a place that this will only continue to grow. And so, I know some folks approach it with a bit of stiff arm, trying to keep it away. I'm very much embracing of how do we get smarter. Then with that is making the assumption that this is only going to get stronger. You can see it quickly evolve, but there's still a lot to evolve, to optimize, to make it truly what it needs to be. If we are talking about really shifting significant dollars. And to be fair, we have shifted significant dollars already, but I expect that to continue.

GS: Why would some people hesitate to retail media? It seems like an obvious way to better know your customer, which can never be bad. I mean, granted, you're kind of then conflating, I guess, advertising with people who control distribution. So maybe, there's complexity of that. I don't know, where do the challenges lie a little bit on that?

LL: Honestly, it's been the lack of transparency and confidence in the measurement, and each of these are its own walled garden. So, as this becomes larger, how do we measure across and optimize across to ensure that we truly are getting the best outcome? It's not the concept of it that's wrong. The concept of it is actually very strong and has a lot of benefits. It's the practical: how do you operationalize this in a way that gives us that transparency and confidence and ability to plan?

GS: Broadly, we call these solutions companies on the MMA board: AdTech, MarTech, platforms, media companies. And I remember I went through an exercise. I was surprised at the number of them that had either become or at least identified themselves as walled gardens, and I thought, "Boy, that can't be good for us having a cross-media understanding of the world at some level." I mean, I respect that they get to choose how to run their business. I'm certainly not disagreeing with that, but it's hard when you're trying to consolidate across properties, right?

LL: Oh, most definitely. It makes it challenging.

GS: Do you see anybody making progress against that or have you heard a solution around that that's going to help, say, in the future, it's going to get a little bit easier to know?

LL: I'm digging. I feel like The Trade Desk has given me some, I guess, optimism that we will figure this out. Certainly, if we've talked true partnerships with each of our partners, I would hope that transparency is there because it's all in service to how do we drive more demand? How do we collectively be more successful? Because if we drive more demand and grow our businesses, that means we will be spending more as well.

GS: Yeah. It's kind of the point of this podcast in some regards. How do we become better as marketers? And everybody wins in that scenario.

LL: Yes.

GS: So, if marketers become more influential, more powerful, they have hopefully larger budgets that they can help drive more growth within the business, shareholders win, marketers win, and then downstream those who provide solutions win, too.

LL: Yeah. Exactly.

GS: It's kind of the whole schematic. I feel it's lost sometimes.

LL: Right. Open systems, truly open systems allow you to get to the best outcomes.

GS: Yeah. And Trade Desk has been a big leader in the whole open web thing, so I'm not surprised to hear them leading around that. Do you envision that you'll be spending more in retail media over time or about the same percentage over time? What do you think?

LL: Oh, more.

GS: Oh, okay. Oh, wow. You didn't even hesitate. Okay. Okay, good. So, listen, this is again about what are we doing to help marketers unlock the power of marketing? That's the main thesis and part of the MMA, though this is not, just to be clear, about the MMA. The big question I often like to hear—and listen, there's a lot of things we do. We can always talk about the successes, maybe even the awards that we win, or maybe the growth. Just if you were to take a point of view, what do you think that marketing, marketers, CMOs maybe don't get as well as you think they could or should or would benefit from better understanding?

LL: Now, I can only speak from my experience, which is one that did not start in marketing for the first half of my career. I was always adjacent and partners with the marketers. And so, perhaps, my perspective comes from that of seeing behaviors and the other pieces, the majority of that was in big CPGs. So, with that as context, I think there's not enough value that's placed in taking on the hard stuff and taking risks. It's very counter to what I feel like I grew up around, which was give me the biggest brands with the biggest budgets and the biggest teams.

That was the recipe for career success. That seemed to be the kind of accepted belief. I feel like that's actually quite the opposite. To stand out, to really leave a fingerprint and to show yourself and others what's possible and what you're capable of, it actually means you have to take risks and you go after the difficult ones.

GS: Well, give me an example of the difficult ones. Either an example from just metaphorically or even directly from your career, if you want.

LL: Early in my career, I knew that the desk, when I was at General Mills, I knew that the desk to be on was the big cereal brands. At that time it was known as the franchise portfolio. So, you've got Cheerios and kind of led by Cheerios. That was the desk to sit on. Probably 180 degrees from that was being in the baking division. It was the smallest division, baking as a category, it had more traffic going through the aisle to get to the bathroom than it was to actually shop the aisle. So, it was a declining category and had very little spending against it, marketing spending against it. So, the right answer was aim to work on Cheerios, and the avoided answer was to take on a category that's declining with very little budget.

GS: Did you lean into those declining categories?

LL: Oh, yeah. Well, I would say I joined General Mills through the door of baking, and while in that role, I was asked to move over to Cheerios and I actually said no. I wanted to stay in baking because we had great innovation that was in the pipeline, that was in the works, and I wanted to see it through before moving on to what most people would aspire to move on to.

GS: What in your makeup or thinking led you to that as a philosophy? Because you're right. I don't think everybody runs towards the fire, so to speak.

LL: Honestly, I think those are the moments to test yourself as well as to prove to others what you're capable of. That's when you grow the most. And I think there's this element of when you work on the iconic brands... Especially in CPG, the likelihood of your CEO, your president, your general manager, having also gone through those desks is quite high. And therefore, it's sometimes a little difficult to influence and to bring original thought or to create a plan that others will fall in line easily behind is because everyone thinks they know it. They've known it because they've had direct experience.

That was, at least certainly in the first half of my career, what I was observing was happening around me within the marketing world. I have an even more recent example. Within my portfolio, the smallest desk is what we call specialty. It actually includes SpaghettiOs. It includes Swanson Chicken. We joke that it has cats and dogs like Campbell's Pork & Beans and Campbell's Gravy. There is just a ton of smaller pieces that we don't support much behind, but we recently had someone lead that portfolio and bring forth some really great, scrappy, business-building ideas that includes the Frank's, the SpaghettiOs, replacing franks with Frank's hot sauce, as well as in the last few years has doubled our Swanson Chicken business.

GS: Wow.

LL: And these are not tiny businesses. These are businesses that are over 150 million each, but really just didn't have a lot of attention. But it's in those moments that you really can show what you can do with and with the levers that you have, the creativity that you bring to be able to compete. And so, this person last year actually was our marketer of the year.

GS: Oh, wow.

LL: And that says a lot because we had a lot of great things happen across all of our brands. But it's just a more recent example of when you take on the hard stuff and the things that people don't maybe have the highest expectations, you can really make your mark and leave your fingerprint.

GS: I love that. And it really does become a sense of legacy-making in your own mind. It's funny you say that, Linda. I'll tell you, as I've gotten older, I spend a little more time looking back than I do looking forward. That's kind of the nature of life, I'm now realizing. And I do think that those moments where I feel like I had the greatest impact and made the biggest difference are the things that matter the most to me—especially when, and you sort of identified it as when they were particularly challenging.

LL: Right.

GS: I love that notion. I tend to like things that are broken. In fact, I tell people all the time, I go, "I get the phone call when they don't know what else do." If they knew how to solve it, they would not take the time to call me.

LL: Exactly. And I think that's just become more and more true. We see there's no longer a steady state environment that we're operating in. The last three years have taught us anything, it's that resilience, the ability to be agile, to quickly understand a problem, a new problem that you didn't even predict nor could you have predicted, and to quickly then come together with a solution, an approach, a new way of doing something, all of that. I just think that that is the norm now. Whereas 20 years ago, that wasn't necessarily the norm. It's a shift that I don't see going away.

GS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I love the fact you seize opportunity when others don't see that. I think the other thing that's funny to me, too, as I look across—listen, sitting in the middle of a trade association, you get to look at a lot of big businesses. I'm always a little bit surprised. Not everything is fixed. Even in the biggest of well successful companies, there's always something that's kind of wrong. There's always something that can be improved upon, and those opportunities are bigger than you think. It's kind of that hard to get business right at some level, I guess.

LL: Oh, completely. And I think if you view it as there's nothing to be fixed and everything is great, that to me is already a signal that something's wrong.

GS: Right, right, right. Because by the way, that sometimes can be the precursor to arrogance. And I'm assuming once you have arrogance, you're toast. That's my experience.

LL: Yes.

GS: Depending on how big the brand or how long you've been around, you can ride on that. But once you've got arrogance, you're dead. You're toast.

LL: And honestly, if things are going well—and to be fair, I think I'm equally guilty of when I look at something and things are green and red, I bypass the green and immediately go to the red where the problems are, what can we do? But we even talk about when things are green and way darker green, we should also be dissecting those equally to say, well, what's driving it? What's different than what we assumed and how do we learn from it to be able to replicate that? There's learning available, whether things are working or not working.

GS: Yeah. Under that umbrella of "We can still be better than we are right now," you have a very unique background. You originally educated as a chemical engineer.

LL: Yes.

GS: And you did R&D within Procter & Gamble, as I remember.

LL: Yes.

GS: And then, eventually, you moved over to an insights research role. I don't know a lot of, in particular, CMOs that started as chemical engineers. How has that training, that perspective, informed the way that you approach the role? And again, I'm not trying to make it critical of your fellow marketers, but what do you think other marketers don't see that you do because of your unique position?

LL: I don't think I connected this until fairly recently. A bit of that look back and try to dissect it a bit and understand it better. I didn't realize how critical my science and engineering background was in really using the scientific method as my backbone to everything.

GS: Are you going to go in the direction of marketing might not have a lot of science behind it? Is that where you're going to go?

LL: No, no, no, no. I mean, certainly not today, right?

GS: It'd be true.

LL: Certainly not the MMA audience. I would say that that is what attracted me to learn more and get more involved in the MMA. It is because I think there's no question, science, a scientific approach is just even more and more important these days as data becomes democratized and technology makes it easily digestible as well. But that certainly was not my... I was not that visionary of why is that important. It was very much of just, "Hey, I happen to have been trained to think in that way through the lens of a scientific method." And I think we all have our jobs for a very simple reason, which is to solve problems.

And how I approach problems, there's lots and lots of data out there, and you could be highly analytical, but if you don't approach it through the scientific method, data can take you anywhere. You've got to start with really understanding what's the problem you're trying to solve. That is not an easy task, but being really crisp and clear. And then, having hypotheses, multiple hypotheses that are derived through observations and data points, but having those hypotheses to then further use data to validate or to adjust. And having that iterative approach, that is something that I would say growing up in big CPG alongside the marketers, I definitely probably didn't see as much of that as I see now.

GS: You didn't see marketers doing that, or you didn't see as much of a need for it until now?

LL: That's a good... I would say, I didn't see it as much through the marketers.

GS: Okay. Okay. So, you don't see marketers taking on a real scientific approach?

LL: Correct. And being comfortable with having hypotheses that you then iterate.

GS: Yeah. So, walk a marketer through your scientific approach, just how you look at that so that they're really clear on it.

LL: So, the first is, what's the problem you are solving? And how I see that is through briefs.

GS: How do you decide that in the myriad of many things that you could start with? Is it strictly customer insight? Is it about solving some other problem? Is it around the product dynamics? I mean, there's many elements that make a company, or a product in this case, marketed successfully. There's a bunch of things you could look at, right?

LL: Oh, yes. It could be, honestly, let's use even a four Ps approach. The problem can be any of those. It doesn't have to only be a consumer, but there certainly should be an insight that's in there. But it could be an operational insight, it could be a customer, retailer insight. It could be a consumer insight, a product insight. All of those could be possible. I think how I see this manifest is when I read a brief, assuming there is even one. Can people articulate the problem they're solving with an insight that makes sense to me?

GS: It's having the hypothesis, right? It doesn't matter what area of the business, there's not a place to focus, but are they really clear on how to articulate what they think that problem is that you could then go test or assess against? Am I hearing that right?

LL: Yes, yes. Well, and the other hypothesis is on the solution. So, there's two pieces here. The question you're trying to solve, and then what are the various possible solutions to then test, invalidate, or adjust?

GS: Okay. So, then, you develop a series of hypotheses, a series or a singular one. Then you go and you assess those. So, is this an elongated process sometimes? Is it a short process? Give me, just try to help that come alive for somebody to understand. And then where do you go next?

LL: It depends how much you already have access to. So, if you have access to a lot of information already, it could be fairly short versus having to set up new experiments, that can certainly sometimes take a bit more time. So, I think it depends on how much do you already know and have access to.

GS: And then, I wonder, too. I think a lot of marketers really just rely on their intuition. Do you see that sometimes? And do you think that really plays a role in this?

LL: I think this is a little where I would say it depends. Marketers is a broad group. I see marketers who are highly analytical and don't use enough intuition. And I've seen marketers who are highly intuitive and would benefit from being able to connect it with facts and data. So, it's a wide range. In my world, I would say I probably am surrounded a little more with the highly analytical folks. And where I spend time in both role modeling as well as encouragement is the intuition is a critical piece.

And intuition isn't just, "Well, I believe, I think." I know it can come across feeling fluffy, but it really should be connected to the observations, the many, many, many opportunities to have observations or be presented with information that you connect the dots on to put forth hypothesis. I think intuition is, it is the act of hypothesizing based on observations and facts. Connecting them from different sources and over time with experience, you're able to put forth, "Here's where my intuition is taking me."

GS: Yeah. I think I've heard you call it educated intuition.

LL: Yes, definitely. And some people are better at it than others, and there's a nature and nurture side to it. I don't think you have to necessarily be born with it, but you have to have an inkling to be able to nurture.

GS: Yeah. No, listen, I've had the opportunity to work with some really big deal agency creative types in particular. And I always, for some of those who are really the biggest of DO, and early on in my career, I would listen to them. I'd go, "Wow, they are tapped into a whole other data stream that the rest of the world is not."

LL: Right.

GS: That they did just look at the world uniquely, powerfully, differently. I don't know that I heard them go through a process, though, of then... whereas what they said was powerful and interesting, very potentially right. I don't know. But I didn't hear them go through a validated position on that. It was more about getting the client to agree rather than validating their thesis or hypothesis, I thought.

LL: And this is, oh, and there's a couple—you just threw in a new topic. In the agency world as a business, you are optimizing to client satisfaction in getting the client to buy into something. Unfortunately, that's the equation to that. That said, in the example that you just shared, that's where I think the strategist or the planner's role is to be able to take a brilliant idea, a brilliant notion, and peel that onion back to be able to find the logic and to use facts and data to support. That to me is why the strategist or planner is such a critical partner to the creative.

And I oftentimes see there is this bit of put that ECD on a pedestal, they just come up with brilliant ideas and that's it. It starts and ends there. But to me, the real power is when you've got an equally brilliant planner to help dissect that brilliance into actual logic and facts.

GS: So, is there any inconsistency here? So, listen, a lot of people believe that advertising in particular works on an emotional level. I think they even would suggest it doesn't operate at an intellectual, rational level. So, how does getting a hypothesis, testing and assessing that—and do you buy the thesis that marketing, advertising in particular, always needs to be about the emotional side?

LL: I don't buy that.

GS: Okay. Okay. Go ahead.

LL: I don't buy that. In certain industries, absolutely. When I think of luxury industry, alcohol industry, there's certain industries that it is probably 99% emotion because that is the difference. It's what people are paying a lot for because the product itself, really, there is no difference, certainly in those cases. But in my industry, the product, absolutely—this is where I'll take it back to the basics: that brand, that simple brand ladder where the first rung is at product attributes. The second one is functional benefits. The third is emotional benefits. And the fourth is, you know... That is, I absolutely still believe in that.

And I go back to it. At the end of the day, you have to have a problem that you're solving for. You have to fit into someone's life. It's one thing when it's a nice to have. It's another when it's categories that people, they need. Therefore, why would they pay a branded premium? It's got to be more than just emotional. It's got to actually function in their lives.

GS: Do you have an example, and maybe it's not a Campbell's one, since you currently work there, I don't need to have any company secrets. But do you have any example of where you've had a hypothesis, assessed it, maybe discovered it was flawed and fixed it, or maybe where you discovered it was correct? Anything from your repertoire history you can share?

LL: Sure. At one point I had Wheat Thins in my portfolio, large-scale brand. And this was around probably 2013, that time frame. And that business had been in a stable, maybe slight decline, but every year launching new flavors to keep it stable. And it didn't make sense because healthy snacking was growing as a segment, and yet Wheat Thins wasn't. And that was a bit of like, "Well, then why?" And when you peeled it back, it was people actually like the "thin" part of Wheat Thins. That thin, crispy, crunchy texture, but it's got this name. In the name, it's got "wheat" in it.

And this was during the gluten-free. A lot of the trends definitely were not in favor of a want to be limited by thin, crispy, crunchy snacks that only have wheat in them. And the hypothesis was that of is being limited by wheat limiting how much we can grow and how relevant we can be? And from there, it's what triggered the launch and creation of a new brand, kind of a sister brand, called Good Thins.
LL: And so, in 18 months, we went from a hypothesis to a new brand that was launched sitting alongside to Wheat Thins. And the "good" part allowed us to introduce different ingredients that we knew consumers wanted: whole ingredients like sweet potatoes, beets, I think at some point. And ultimately where it's found a home, Good Thins has found a unique spot, is in gluten-free. So rice-based, the rice-based ones really have stuck and have created a space for itself.

GS: I love that. That's exactly what you're talking about. That's perfect. Can you just tell me a little bit, didn't you guys do some program called Dinner Insurance? I saw, can you just...

LL: Yeah.

GS: That's a crazy program. I can't imagine that would work. Were you involved in that, by the way?

LL: Oh, yes, yes, yes. So, that was the first holiday of the pandemic.

GS: Okay. So, we're nine months into the pandemic at this point. Six, at least, six-plus months into the pandemic.

LL: Yeah. About six months into the pandemic.

GS: And people weren't getting together for Thanksgiving, right?

LL: Exactly. That was the data point that we saw, and trying to put ourselves, transport ourselves back to those days. None of us, at least very few of us, the majority of us did not realize it would last the way it did, right?

GS: Oh, I thought it was going to be back in the office in two months. Yeah, exactly.

LL: Correct, correct. So, it wasn't until that summer, I'm guessing it was probably July, August, and probably even after that. But we started to realize, oh no, people are not going to be traveling for Thanksgiving, and we are going to have so many first-time Thanksgiving cooks.

GS: Right. Grandma's not going to do it or whatever the traditional family stuff there was.

LL: Right. Exactly. Or going over to your neighbor's house.

GS: Right, right, right, even that.

LL: Really, the rituals of that is all around gathering and not everyone's creating their own. But there are rituals and traditions, and I think we were all seeking that comfort, but without the norms of what normal Thanksgivings look like.

GS: Or the comfort level of somebody who knew what they were doing to cook the meal.

LL: Right. Exactly. And so, that was one piece. The other was in those early days and continues, e-com was such an important piece. Instacart really broke out, and you could see that. And so, we combined a few of these things that were just real changes that were happening right in front of us. Well then, how do we provide dinner insurance for all of these first-time Thanksgiving cooks? And let's partner with Instacart. We were a first for them in terms of having a branded email go through Instacart systems, their ecosystem, and really in that combined effort to make that Thanksgiving successful.

GS: Interesting. And so, somebody could call, they could call a hotline or something and say, "Hey, I messed up green bean casserole. Can you get it to me from my local Wegmans or whatever?"

LL: Yes. Can you get it to me through Instacart? Yes.

GS: Okay. That's funny.

LL: And that was a very point in time, us realizing what was happening and how can we be helpful. It was all in that time. We said, "Our advertising, any marketing has to be of utility to our consumers." What has evolved from that, though—because we know that that was very much new at that moment. What's evolved is what we now call Sides Season. Which is, for these holidays, while the turkey, which we all love, gets a lot of attention, we also know that the real stars of the show, the stuff that people look forward to and talk about...

GS: I know where you're going, are the sides.

LL: Right, right, are the sides. And so, that's been the evolution of what started as Dinner Insurance about us saying, we need to help ensure that those sides are successful, not just the turkey. And then, moving beyond that and saying, "Well, wait a second, these sides should be the stars." How do we build upon it? And it's more than just green bean casserole.

LL: Last year, we launched our Jacked Up Mac & Cheese made with Campbell's cheddar cheese condensed soup, and it was a home run that is coming back and we've got other ones coming. But it really generated a whole new approach to Thanksgivings.

GS: I love it. There's a real insight in that. I find myself in restaurants sometimes ordering because of the sides, not because of the main whatever element.

LL: Exactly. I've ordered dinners where I just pick a bunch of sides and that is my...

GS: And that too, right?

LL: Yeah. That is my dinner.

GS: You didn't set out to become a CMO, did you? Was that when you graduated with a degree?

LL: Never. No. I didn't even know marketing was a career.

GS: Yeah, fair enough. Well, they've often said that it was the business created for C-level students. I don't know if you've ever heard that, but that was...

LL: No, I haven't.

GS: Yeah, that's a little damning to the business, but we say it when we're alone, not out loud like this. Getting to a C-suite position, getting to a senior executive position with big teams and a lot of other senior smart people, sometimes a little bit jockeying for a position can be a challenge. Talk about maybe your journey to get there a little bit. And then, what do you think it takes to be successful at that level?

LL: I will first start with once I understood what marketing was and I found a bit of interest and curiosity about it, and even had some successes in it later in my career, I never once thought I would be even attractive or eligible, so to say, as a CMO. And so, that is a little of, for me, my journey was definitely not, "I want that job. How do I get it?"

GS: Okay. Maybe then, what did others see in you then that they gave you that nod, by the way?

LL: I think number one: results. I'm a big believer in letting my results speak for myself. And there this element of meritocracy as a value that I'm very much driven by. I think what others saw in me, it was that "Let me understand the problem and find a creative way to solve for it." And I'm able to set a vision that's a little, what I call my head in the clouds. But because of my engineering background, probably, I'm also incredibly pragmatic and I can break it down into pieces of how do we get from A to B?

How do we use metrics to keep ourselves accountable and ensure the probability of success is high? Yeah, breaking it down. And I do think, I mean, I don't know, I'd have to ask others. But I do think there's a boldness of not fearing failure and putting creative solutions in front that are strategically sound but pragmatically feasible.

GS: Why would you have a lesser oriented fear of failure than maybe others? Which I think is what your comment might suggest.

LL: Probably because I've not aspired, right? I'm not aspiring for a certain role.

GS: Right. You didn't grasp to be CMO and therefore you weren't protecting being that.

LL: Correct. Yes.

GS: And Campbell's has brought you in as CMO, correct? You came in like that.

LL: Correct.

GS: So, from the outside, they took that chance. Was it some, did you...

LL: Well... a couple of people knew me, and so it was very much, I don't think I'm a classic CMO and being able to be myself and bring my full self, there's a lot of positives, but there's also some negatives. And I don't try to sell myself as the full package. I can just be really honest about what I'm really good at, let the results speak for themselves. But also be really honest on what I don't bring and is not natural for me. And I think it's all about fit, and you have to have the fit. You have to have the chemistry and trust that's there.

GS: But now, you could get in there and when you get the position, you could start to grasp. I mean, that's kind of a Buddhist theory. That's where all misery lies in grasping or the desire to... how does the phrase go? It's like, how do I not lose what I have or get what I want? It's that kind of orientation. You don't feel you've flipped into that now? I don't know. That's a hard question to ask you, but you've not become that way? How have you remained, I guess, with a lack of a fear of failure?

LL: One thing is I live my life way under my means. That definitely, I mean, there is an element of when you don't have the pressures of I have to keep a certain lifestyle, it allows you to not feel like, "Oh my goodness, I have to have this job or a job that's equally large to be able to not lose what I have." I think it's human nature to not lose what you have. I joke about, "Oh, if I look back at the conditions of which my college housing looked like, there's no way I could go back to that level." But who knows? It's always possible. And I think a bigger picture. So, if I step way back, I have so much more in my life than my parents could have even wished for me.

And I come from an immigrant family who had to escape China to grow up in Taiwan, who then came to a country that they had no family or language or experience with to be able to give my brother and I a life that's better than theirs. And I look at that as, honestly, my life is way more than what could have been dreamed of. And so, what is there to lose? So, I do keep that in perspective.

GS: Yeah. If you start with an attitude of gratitude, it's very hard to be upset.

LL: Absolutely. And my metric of success is, do I wake up every day not only with that gratitude, but really just happy?

GS: Oh, really?

LL: That's my metric.

GS: Is that a natural thing for you? Do you think your parents taught that? Did you have a coach along the way that helped you get there to that? That's a very—

LL: Oh, definitely not a coach. That I think is just, there's a nature and nurture, probably it's just part of who I am, but I think it's also my parents. They are Chinese, very traditional in many ways, but incredibly progressive around the idea of ultimately be happy. Your happiness is what is most important. And so, some of the traditional questions or demands that you would expect, they never placed on us. It was all self-driven.

And so, I think that self-driven need to succeed and not waste the opportunities that we have balanced with parents that really emphasized being independent and being happy led to, I think, my belief that it's not about what do I have to lose, it's more about what do I... I think I come from a place of not wasting all of the resources and gifts that I've been given and really figuring out how to best make an impact in those around me and the businesses around me. How do I do the best I can to bring out the potential? Probably how I talk about it is, how do I unlock the potential of those around me?

GS: Go one more step on that. You used words earlier there, how do I help others make impact? Or I think maybe you said have impact with others, but it was around that idea being helpful to them. Could you just go one more step on that in your orientation toward working with, I guess, with teams and your staff?

LL: I think my biggest lesson and clarification of that was when I was in China. So up until then, I would say I think I came from a place of a little of selfishness of me. How am I successful? In China is when I realized—and I went there to go launch gum for Kraft. In that time, and when I look back, once I was leaving China, we took on an impossible assignment and were beyond successful in doing so. But what I learned was that wasn't what I was most proud of. I did not walk away with, "Wow, we did such a great job and here's the in-market success."

But it was absolutely, I worked with a team that had no, on paper, had no right to be successful, and to see them be successful and to deliver more than they thought they were capable of doing, that was the win for me. And it completely shifted when I came back to the US just what success looked and felt like for me. It was no longer about my success. It was absolutely around the success of others and helping them be beyond what they thought they were capable of. And having new streams of revenue or businesses that have new streams of revenue and future, a brighter future. That, I loved.

And it's actually, when you take it away from yourself and you make it about those outside of you, or you put the focus on others, that's actually much more motivating and fulfilling.

GS: I'm so glad I asked you that, Linda. I 100% agree. I think the brightest moments of my life are the opportunities where I've helped somebody be more than they thought they could do, which by the way, is obviously probably a reflection of what I wanted for myself at some level.

LL: Right.

GS: But the opportunity to help guide somebody to get there. We have somebody, I have somebody on my team who really pushed themselves last year into a project that I could just tell they had a huge amount of fear and they did an amazing job. And it's so exciting for me to tell them how great they did and pushing beyond what I think what we thought and they thought they could do. It's just, it's an amazing thing. It's the best.

LL: Yeah. And yeah, I could feel the energy, right? The energy that comes from that.

GS: I just recently spoke to Jonnie Cahill from Heineken, and he did a big shout out to you. In fact, he was envious at the opportunity to get to work on your brands, which I thought was very interesting. I mean, Heineken's a pretty iconic brand in its own right, but he was envious of you, just so you know.

Jonnie Cahill: I think you're talking to Linda soon and something like Campbell's, right? You just look at that and you think, "Wow, wow. It's cool."

GS: Right. Exactly.

JC: And she probably thinks, "Oh, I'd love to do beer and I wouldn't want to do soup." I would do it tomorrow. So, we should job swap.

GS: Okay, I'll see if that's available.

JC: You can tell her I said that.

Jonnie Cahill, CMO of Heineken USA: Buy the Idea, Not the Execution
Cahill explains why live experiences are underrated, working with Marvel to promote zero-alcohol beer, and the genius of ideas like "You're not you when you're hungry."
LL: I love this. There is no question. The grass is always greener, right? And that's why we all love what we do is that there's always something additional to take on. Jonnie, you are always welcome to be a guest CMO here at Campbell's.

GS: There you go, CMO for a day. I see a new program. MMA is going to execute it. I got it.

LL: Exactly.

GS: Listen, let's do a couple quick lightning rounds. We're going to get you out of here. Okay. Ready?

LL: Okay.

GS: So, listen, who else in marketing—person, company, past, current—do you most admire? Just pick one person. Tell me why.

LL: It's been, for me, Gary Hirshberg. He started Stonyfield over 20 years ago, and even today, I still would put him at the top of someone who really has mastered marketing, and how I'd describe that is the traditional way. And certainly, when you grow up in large CPG, you put "paid" in the middle, you add a little "owned" to it and "earned" is the outer circle. Versus the modern marketing—which I think Gary definitely was amongst the early adopters of it, in creating that—you put "owned" in the middle, that then gets you the "earned," and the "paid" is the cherry on top.

And it's what I think marketing is today. When we talk about content marketing, when we talk about influencers and creators, all of that. When you dissect it in that way, it's "owned" that's in the center, which is having stuff or content that really matters, that brings value to consumers, to others.

GS: So, to you, that's the core, that's the inside of the ball, the lava. So what in the Earth's core, that makes the whole thing—

LL: Yes. And Gary was just a master at having the "owned," kind of the owned content.

GS: Right. Okay. Next one. You want to pick on something you think is a little overhyped by marketers today?

LL: We'll see how it all plays out, but just the whole metaverse, crypto, NFT, that was all the hype, call it, two years ago. I'm sure there will be another coming of it that will look differently. I don't think they're necessarily going away. But you could see and feel the difference between the latest generative AI.

GS: Yeah. No, and I saw you last year spoke at our MMA CMO & CEO Summit. You talked about your experience with developing NFTs and so on. Yeah. I mean, I think that you're right. That story's still being written. Anything you think is really super unappreciated in marketing? What do you think is the big opportunity that people are missing that they should pay more attention to?

LL: Well, I think it's picking up critical mass very quickly, but there's no question the generative AI, it's hard to ignore. And I think we're just scratching the surface of what's to come with that. And my advice is to, for all of us to learn as much as we can. But that, I do think, will be game changing.

GS: Oh, 100%. I think it's both overhyped and underappreciated, and it's going to be bigger than we ever could have imagined.

LL: Correct.

GS: Yeah. I think it's the biggest thing that's ever going to happen. And listen, I was there at the dawn of the internet very early on. I saw it right away. I remember it. I remember thinking it was a big deal, and I don't think it's anywhere as close to what AI is going to mean to us. Yeah, I think, well we're hearing some of that now.

Okay, Linda, listen, you're amazing. I appreciate you took this time to help the audience here at Building Better CMOs. So, I can't thank you enough for that. And it's a pleasure to get to work with you and super excited I've gotten to know you better here today. So, thank you for that.

LL: Thank you so much.

GS: Thanks again to Linda Lee from Campbell's for coming on Building Better CMOs. Check the show notes for links to connect with Linda. 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 Aneta Palevska. 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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