Kellie Richter: The brand is who you say you are. Reputation, on the other hand, is what people say about your brand. And when those two are not tightly linked, that's where trust gets broken and no marketing can solve that broken trust.
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 Kellie Richter, the chief marketing and chief client experience officer for First Command Financial Services. Kellie previously worked at Ameriprise Financial, AIG, and Provasi Capital Partners. Today, on Building Better CMOs, Kellie and I are going to talk about owning your title as a marketing leader, responding to one-star reviews, and the power of asking “what do people hate about this?”
This podcast is all about the challenges marketers face and unlocking the true power that marketing can have. Kellie Richter is going to tell us how she did that right after this.
Well, Kellie Richter, I'm glad you could join us on Building Better CMOs today. How are you doing?
KR: I'm doing well, Greg. Great to be here.
GS: Yeah. So listen, just for the audience, in case they didn't take the time to read the, I don't know, jacket cover. But you're actually EVP chief marketing and chief client experience officer, correct? Titles right?
KR: That is correct. It's a mouthful.
GS: Well, but we're going to get to that today, though, because it's right on topic and why you're here. So all good. And then it's First Command Financial Services. Take just a couple of seconds here and explain to people, because I don't know if everybody here on the call would maybe know who First Command Financial Services is.
KR: I'd love to. Yes. First Command has been around for nearly 70 years, and our mission is coaching those who serve in their pursuit of financial security. So what we do is we help military service members and their families get financially squared away. We serve about 300,000 client families currently.
GS: Oh, so is this a little bit like what happens with the NFL? They had to step in. They were paying these big sums of salaries to people, and then they'd find out they would be destitute and poor later because they mismanage their finances and their lives. So in some regards, how important the military is to us in America, and how much appreciation I think Americans have for their military today, which is so nice to see.
GS: We need to make sure that they're well taken care of through the rest of their lives.
KR: In the military, we'll say, "Financial readiness is mission readiness." And I think Americans are hoping that our military is mission ready.
GS: Yeah. Boy, no kidding. No kidding. And listen, we're facing a funny thing. I bet you this will be resolved. Oh, please, let's cross our finger this will be resolved by the time this airs. But you and I are now sitting on this side of another potential government shutdown.
KR: That is correct.
GS: So what does First Command do in a situation like that for military to help them see through? I mean, listen, some of them could start losing their paychecks any moment. That's the effect of the Congress' dumb-ass actions, right?
KR: That is the effect on real human beings, and very undeserving of this type of stress in their financial lives, and uncertainty. But yes, so how we've helped before in a situation like this is when the government has not reconciled their budget, that means that they have not been able to agree in Congress on their spending, then the government gets shut down until such time they can make that agreement. And back in 2018, that actually occurred. It didn't impact service members across the services, but it did impact the US Coast Guard, who is part of the Department of Homeland Security and not part of the Department of Defense, like the other services are.
And so what First Command did back then is we provided pay continuity for all of the US Coast Guard service members who were our clients. And for those who were not First Command clients, we provided a no-interest loan to service relief organizations who provide that financial support to needed members of our services. And so that was a really important way for us to show the military that we're there for them, we care about them, and we care about their financial security. As I said earlier, financial readiness is mission readiness for our military service members, and we're counting on them to do that. Now First Command is a for-profit organization.
GS: I think you said that. Right. How does that work? They just establish an expertise within this, is that what that is?
KR: Our service members are our mission, and it's about coaching them in their pursuit of financial security. So we are structured as an employee stock ownership plan, meaning our employees own the company. That's a great thing because we get to make our own decisions about how we invest in the future and in supporting our clients. And in that respect, however, First Command does not receive tax benefit for making charitable contributions, which means those contributions come directly from the company profits. And interestingly, I saw a statistic just a couple of weeks ago at a board retreat I was attending at the end of the year in December, and I saw, across the board, corporations are decreasing charitable contributions under 1 percent annually. First Command gives more than 8 percent of its company profits to military service causes and our local communities annually. And so this was one example of one of the most mission-driven organizations you'll find in the for-profit sector.
GS: I love it. I love it. I guess we don't need to ask why you went there. I mean, who doesn't want a job in the world that has also such a powerful mission to it, too?
KR: Yeah. Thanks for calling that out. I couldn't agree more. And it's living the mission and that connection to purpose that gets me out of bed every day.
GS: It's funny, this is a total side personal story here that sort of, maybe not for nothing. But this is the second nonprofit trade association that I've turned around. The first trade association I actually was asked to turn around, I told them I would only run it for three, six months. I was just a board member stepping in to help out in the transition of the leadership there. What I didn't get is that there was a sense of mission and purpose that comes with, now here, my role at the MMA or my role there at that particular trade group that I find really, like you said, it gives you a really extra powerful reason to get out of bed every day and run to the office to get the work done because you're really helping a group of people.
KR: It's funny, we do a lot of analytics on the reviews that people leave for First Command. We pay attention to Glassdoor reviews, we look at the text analytics. And the most common thing that comes up about why people choose to work at First Command is the mission.
GS: We've told people that. But until I had really an experience like this, I don't know if I fully understood what it is. And listen, I got nothing against people who do other business. At the end of the day, I am just trying to help marketing here. So let's be fair. It's not considered the noblest of functions within the corporation. But nonetheless, we get to play our role and feel good about that in the overall mission. So good for you. I love that. Well, good for you. Great. Just a little background here before I get to the core question, too. So if people look you up on LinkedIn, which probably people do who are listening, they'll notice you were at Ameriprise. But you started at American Express Business, is really what that was. Just give a little small history of that because I think it's important to where you're going to go here today.
KR: Sure. When I started in school, right out of college, it was with IDS Financial Services, which was a wholly owned subsidiary of American Express. IDS actually became American Express Financial Advisors, and then ultimately was spun off in 2004 to become Ameriprise. So that all occurred during my tenure at that organization.
GS: How long was it under American Express?
KR: It was part of American Express as a holding company about 10 years. I want to say it went from 1994 to 2004.
GS: I only call that out a little bit. It's funny, too, those years, because I worked on American Express Business when I was at Y&R back in the mid-nineties. They were the best client I had. They were smart and thoughtful, and they figured things out and they hunkered down, they'd get it right. And there was a real drive and passion there within that company that I really appreciate and loved working with.
KR: They paid attention to customer service and brand. You truly understood it, right?
GS: Oh, the best. The best of the best. Yeah, the strongest of brands. And I've known a lot of businesses—
KR: It's a great place to start a career, especially in marketing.
GS: That's kind of how I'm setting that up. I want people to sort of understand that for you and where you come from.
GS: Let's get into the core of the question here for Building Better CMOs. So we're a nonprofit trade association for marketers, and we're supposed to go fix stuff to make an industry better. But I think until you can make things better, you need to acknowledge that things aren't best. So the question that I always ask everybody on here, every CMO that's come before, and by the way, nobody's given the same answer ever once. What do you think that marketing or marketers don't completely maybe either appreciate, maybe don't understand? It could be what do they just fundamentally, foundationally get wrong about marketing in your perspective? Let's spend some time on that. What do you think that marketers maybe don't get exactly right, in your experience?
KR: I think marketers don't always get it right when they think they can solve a broken client experience through marketing. Or not meeting client expectations with your product or service offering, and trying to market your way out of a poor client experience. And Greg, I like to explain it this way. The brand is who you say you are. You heard me talk quite a bit about First Command at the beginning of our conversation. That's who we say we are. And through that discussion of who we say we are, we set an expectation with our clients. And reputation, on the other hand, is what people say about your brand. And what they say about your brand is based on their experience with your brand, your products, or your services. And when those two are not tightly linked, that's where trust gets broken. And no marketing can solve that broken trust.
GS: Okay, so Kellie, how do you operate? You have chief experiences officer in your title. So is that the solution? Or is it that you're saying marketers can get a little arrogant about—you didn't say this, but I'm asking—that marketers get a little arrogant about what they think they can fix with marketing? Or because you think they don't own responsibility for the feedback? As marketers, I've been a victim of bad products. I can tell you lots of stories of products that just failed horrendously, no matter how good a job we did at the agency.
KR: You bet. I don't think that marketing understands, in all cases, that you cannot gloss over what is broken at the end of the day. And you have to listen to your customers in order to know it. And you mentioned my title. I'll tell you what, what comes with that is accountability. Putting it in your title, it's on my LinkedIn profile, it's on my business cards, it's in my email signature line, and it's on our website. So anybody, at any time—our clients, prospective clients included—they do their research. We all know they do their due diligence. And I'll tell you, especially in financial services, and add to that in military, because they do their due diligence, they're protective of their services and they should be.
They see that in the title and people are not shy about reaching out and saying, "Hey, this is the experience I had." And it was either a triumph or it wasn't. And both of them are extremely instructive for us. And so paying attention to that, there is accountability that goes with the title, but it's more than that. It's about how do you know you're delivering the experience that your clients are expecting from you and your brand?
GS: I love the bit about title is accountability. I'm going to use that a lot because there's a part of me that says, oh, we just get titles because they make us sound good or something. But you're right, you really better damn well own the thing.
KR: Tell you what, it gives me a little credibility internally as well when I say, "Look, I've got this title." People look to me and they're counting on me to represent their needs, and I need to be that advocate for them.
GS: Where did you get that kind of orientation, by the way?
KR: It's funny. Coming out of college, I thought I was going to go to law school. That was my goal. I got this dual major in communications and French because I studied a year over in France during my undergraduate degree. But I also had a minor in political science, and I was always attracted... I worked part time, during my undergraduate school, at a law firm and I was really attracted to the legal side of things. I applied to law school, took the LSAT, applied to law school, was accepted at a legal organization in St. Paul, Minnesota, which is where I'm from. And they conditionally accepted me on getting more professional experience because I was coming right out of undergraduate school. So they said, you need to go and get some more professional experience before you join the law school.
And so that is how I got connected to what was then IDS, now Ameriprise. I knew someone in their legal department, and they brought me on board. And one of my first jobs was to negotiate professional services contracts on behalf of what was owned by American Express at the time. And these were large professional services contracts. Part of that conversation, believe it or not, was the discovery, in the legal process, that when you are across the table from another party, but you're both together at that table because there's an exchange of value that needs to occur in that conversation. You're negotiating terms.
And one of the first rules of negotiation is make sure, it's not about winning and getting all of the best terms for you on your side of the table. It's about leaving that table knowing you both got a value exchange that you feel good about. So this is a long-term relationship. Well, at the end of the day, that's what a client experience is. It's about designing and delivering an experience and delivering that value that your customer feels good about and that you feel good about.
GS: Yeah, and that exists. So that thinking, although at that time I think existed company to company, you're talking that you've taken that philosophy and walked it right over into your consumer experience.
KR: It's really what caused me to think about, "Am I going in the legal direction?" Which ultimately I did not do. I instead went back for my MBA in marketing because I found, first of all, I enjoyed the financial services industry. I loved the idea of helping people get better financially squared away. But I thought, how can I actually leverage this concept of value exchange where it's not about winning, right? It's about feeling good about that exchange of value on both sides of the table.
GS: Give me an example of maybe where you think a company really got it wrong. You can do it with or without names, I don't care. Just where you would emphasize like, "Oh geez, we really missed the boat there." Or another part of that similar kind of question is, what do you think it means to really listen well, to really hear in such a way that you're then responding to them or in a position to respond or accommodate them or do better?
KR: Oh gosh, I can tell you so many stories on that second one. Rather than maybe get it wrong, I'd love to share one that gets it right, one that I admire personally: Trader Joe's. I just absolutely love that they get their customers. I will tell you, I hate grocery shopping with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. But I enjoy shopping there. And the reason I do is because they've got this great newsletter, they make it super easy to prepare meals for the week, and they stock limited choice. They get their customer. And they encourage interaction with their product in the store. They keep their prices competitive. Their team, they hire the best people. They're all bought in on the brand. One of them happens to be my nephew. One of them's my nephew.
GS: Okay, fair enough.
KR: Fair enough. But anyway, they get it right. They listen to their customers. If they no longer serve a product, people complain on social media, they love it, they make sure they bring it back and then they create all kinds of social media excitement around it. This is a whole exchange of they set the expectation, it's so aligned with their brand, they engage with their customers both physically and digitally, and they respond to that, and customers just rave about them. And that's the best cost for acquisition you could ever ask for. I aspire to have First Command be the Trader Joe's of financial services. And I say that because, think about it, most people really don't relish the idea of getting financially squared away.
GS: No. Not at all.
KR: I feel that way about grocery shopping. People feel 10 times that about getting financially squared away. It's just not a fun process. So how do we make it more fun?
GS: Financial services also has had a bit of a tough reputational dynamic, right? There's been elements of trust. I mean, certainly the last major fallout in 2008, 2009. Is there a way that you can actually leverage experience to even overcome what is, in essence, kind of a brand perception issue there?
KR: It's interesting because it used to be marketers could control your brand, right? You could say, "Hey, these are our brand standards. Here's what we say about ourselves." That control is no longer. That's a fallacy. The control is in the hands of the consumers. Anyone can say anything about your organization at any time, and it's easily accessible online. All you got to do is basic research, company name plus reviews, right? And there it is, pages of reviews. And it's Google reviews, it's Yelp reviews, it's Glassdoor, we talked about that earlier, at any time. So we welcome that, by the way. Fortunately for us, and I think it's because we listen, we pay attention, we respond, we're at 4.9 stars. I don't think there are many financial services organizations out there who can say in aggregate across all Google reviews, they're in that territory. And that has not happened overnight. That has been about making sure that we are listening to customers, non-customers, anyone who mentions our brand, and being able to be responsive to what they're saying.
The other thing I'd add is unique to financial services, by the way. And especially from a regulatory standpoint, if you are a registered investment adviser, a fiduciary, like First Command is, not until recently did the SEC even allow companies to use testimonials from your clients in your marketing. And that's a recent rule change, as in the last two years. And so that has been a challenge for First Command because our client testimonials are everything.
If you can think about a military service member early in their career who really isn't sure... One, they might be intimidated by the process of getting started on a financial plan. Two, they might feel embarrassed. We learned this through our research, they might be embarrassed of their current financial situation and be worried that taking that first step might be judged in that process. So having those insights, understanding those concerns from prospects, how did we put something in place? We actually use client testimonials to share, "Hey, I was in your shoes. If I hadn't taken that first step, I wouldn't be where I am today. I wouldn't have the things that I have today. I wouldn't have achieved the goals that I have today." And it's using those insights to help people see like, "Look, you're not alone." Not everybody is financially squared away, but we're going to help you get there.
GS: Okay, so you've got to build it into your products, you've got to build it into messaging. But I think what you're also saying is that you just do a phenomenal job of listening. And listen, your high reviews suggest that everybody's positive on you. So I don't know, how do you listen or change things? Give me an example of something you've listened to and then changed.
KR: Gosh, what a great question. And by the way, they're not all positive. We've had one-star reviews. And I think in today's environment, people expect to see that. If it's all five stars, something's not right.
GS: Otherwise you don't believe it.
KR: It's not believable. They don't expect you to get it right every time, but they do expect that you're paying attention. It was really interesting. We had a fun situation where very often our financial advisers will sit with their clients in a public space, could be a coffee shop, could be a restaurant. It's wherever that client chooses to meet, or in our offices. But in this situation, we actually had a client meeting with one of our financial advisers in a coffee shop locally. We had a Google review that was left with one star. And the person said, "I happened to be trying to enjoy my coffee, but instead got to hear one of your advisers giving a spiel to someone across the table from me, and it really disrupted my day."
But we had some fun with that. We responded to it and we said, "We're really sorry to hear it. We hope you'll come in. We'd be happy to buy your next coffee." Believe it or not, that person actually came back and changed that review from a one to a five star. A lot of times, it's not about getting a one or a five star. It's about, are you listening? Are you paying attention to the feedback? And are you responding to that? And that's what people want to see.
GS: But Kellie, if it's this obvious, and it kind of is, why don't all marketers do it?
KR: I think one of the challenges with client experience is how do you measure it? And I think marketers have this need, and rightly so, to prove the value that they brought to the organization. And when you aren't sure how to approach measuring, whether or not you succeeded in delivering that great client experience, that can be an intimidating prospect. And quite frankly, this has been, for us, about a six-year journey to truly put some meaningful metrics around the experience. And for us, it was a discovery process to understand what was important to our clients and find ways to measure it, both objectively and subjectively, qualitatively and quantitatively.
I'll give you an example. One of the things that we found out from our clients, in particular—I'm sure it's for most clients of financial services organizations—is that having accurate and current and secure data that is kept private about them... Individually, as you can imagine, there's security concerns for our service members, is really important. So one of the ways we measure that in the exchange between a financial adviser and the client is, is their client record complete? Is it complete? Is it accurate? Is it up to date? That gives us one score. How do clients feel about every interaction they have with First Command, whether digital or in person? Give us that feedback. That also makes up the score.
And so it's that combination of things that we know that our clients have told us are important to them. We've built an algorithm around that, that is weighted, that gives us an indication of not just a score, like what does that score mean? It's only meaningful in context. But importantly, it's about that trend. And if we see that trend going in a direction that we wouldn't like it to, it's an opportunity to intervene. It's an opportunity to get in front of a situation where we should not be surprised if we lose a client. We should be surprised if we do and those scores are different. And so, that has helped us get started in this process.
GS: Let's take a quick break. We'll be right back after this, with Kellie Richter.
This is Building Better CMOs. Let's get back to my conversation with Kellie Richter, the chief marketing and chief client experience officer for First Command Financial Services.
So experiences is a pretty far-reaching topic at some level. In fact, the CMO of Citibank was a friend of mine. And this is about at the dawn of mobile, this is back in 2010 I'd had this conversation with her. And she disclosed to me—and this is the early days of mobile—she said, "The customer satisfaction scores for our mobile customers is significantly higher than our in-branch customers." Which I was like, "Oh boy, I really would've hated to spend all that money on all that real estate capital." But that's their problem to deal with. What else fits under your domain and the role you have there as chief marketing and chief experience officer? Are you responsible for the technical delivery or the user interface or that experience, too?
KR: That's correct. I have responsibility for what we call experience design and voice of client program. So it's everything to understand: primary research, ongoing feedback, testing, and feedback and testing for all of the products and services that we offer at First Command. And so, like I said, having that title is accountability at the end of the day. It's products. It's experience design. It's our brand and our marketing efforts and our voice of client programs.
GS: You wouldn't have oversight, though, to the actual client representatives or financial advisers, would you?
KR: I do not. I do not. It's funny, the age-old challenge—maybe an incentive for CMOs to really pay attention to the client experience—is what you might call traditional sales and marketing alignment or misalignment, as is often the case. One thing I have found is you're never not aligned around focusing on that client experience. We've been able to prove that if your client experience improves, your sales numbers will improve. And so it's easy to get aligned around delivering a great client experience. It's about your reputation, as I said before, your brand, your reviews. Those reviews are amazing marketing for our financial representatives, as you might imagine.
And so people do their due diligence. We'll do marketing, but they'll do the research and they'll say, "I want to work with that adviser because he or she has reviews that resonate with me. They served in the same branch of the military, for example. They listen to their clients according to those reviews. That's who I want to work with." So it's a partnership with sales, and we're very aligned around the impact of the client experience. I'm fortunate in that way. But it's a unifying metric that we can both get our arms around.
GS: Let me ask you another funny question I've been meaning to ask somebody who has a customer experience background. You're ready for this one?
KR: I hope I am.
GS: I had the opportunity—as I've probably said on this podcast before—I founded multitouch attribution as a measurement analytics technique back about 20 years ago, popularized that. I did it with a guy who had the technical knowledge, and I made it a popular measurement. And what that gave us the ability to do is to measure every fine tune. In one of the early studies we did, because we were doing a lot of experiments at the time to understand. We actually measured the value of a press release. It was hard to do and it cost more money than the press release was worth, but we could do it. That was the power of MTA is that you could measure any little, tiny bit of advertising communications. And by the way, Steven Levitt from Freakonomics wrote the chapter for a book and looked at our research and said, "Yeah, these guys really did it."
Okay, but here's the point. I don't know that customer experience is that far along. So what I've often wondered about is can you really measure the investment into a better mobile app versus the in-branch experience, if that was a part of the business? Because customer experience, it's not one size fits all. They're all a little bit different. They all get measured in different ways. So how do you bring that together to hold a vision to know where to really invest for value?
KR: That's an amazing point. Let me give you an example on the prospecting side to maybe even tie in your experience there with attribution. One of the things that we have learned is that we generate leads through awareness campaigns, as many marketers do. We can tell what actually gets their attention and engages them. But right on our website, we have this thing that says get started, and it guides them through your funnel through a series of questions that helps them sort of understand here's the first step in my financial journey. And what we learned through those metrics is that numerous of our financial advisers were having pretty significant higher degree of conversion rate of those leads coming through our website than others.
And we did the research, reached out to these advisers, what is it that uniquely you're doing versus what you are doing? And we heard things like, "I treat every customer as though they're maybe the next high net worth customer of mine, whether they have no assets or many assets." Great, that's awesome. Another person will say, "Well, I make a personal connection with them since we have a shared history in one of the military services." Great.
The point is I heard a different reason, all of them wonderful, for their success in converting these clients. But the only thing that all of them had in common was that they reached out immediately. What we understood about that is it's really important to our prospective clients that when they're ready to take that first step, you immediately respond to them. And so that is an example on the prospect side about the experience that we know is a driving factor. And so it's about educating our entire field force. When you see one of these come through, and by the way, some of them are a million-dollar client, many of them are not. They're your future million-dollar client. But this is a pivotal turning point for them in their path to financial security, and it needs to be addressed immediately.
GS: Yeah. Listen, there's going to be real high anxiety amongst the customer set here that you're going to need to manage against.
KR: Yes. Yeah, that's right. It's interesting. The people that we serve, if they are not financially secure, they become a security risk and unpromotable. So this has ramifications to them and their careers, not just their personal financial lives. This is an anxiety-producing situation for anyone. But for them, I think even more so. And so that's something we really pay attention to. I think you had a guest on your podcast, Greg, if I may, Andrea Brimmer from Ally. She said something that is really important, I think, relative to the discussion of client experience, and that was, many years ago, I can't recall the exact year, but they asked the question, what do people hate about banking? What do our customers hate about banking? And they went to work on how do they deliver an experience that addresses those pain points? And that is focusing on the client experience at the end of the day. And she and her team at that time truly understood that, may not have articulated as so. But that's what it's about. I'm a Jerry Seinfeld fan.
GS: Good. You're talking to a New Yorker. I'm right there. Jerry Seinfeld. He's like, it's Buddha, Jesus, and Jerry Seinfeld if you're in New York. But yeah, go ahead.
KR: Largely his success, believe it or not—and I saw this right out of an HBR interview with him—is answering the question, "What are people sick of?" And for him, it was really the model of his whole comedic career. His show was a show about nothing, if you've ever watched it. Comedians in Cars is really an attempt to have conversations with other comedians in an interesting way. But he cites the Savannah Bananas, I don't know if you're familiar with their story.
GS: I know who they are. Yeah, let's be clear. It was a failing baseball team that brought entertainment to the sport.
KR: That's it. You nailed it. But really, it was about, they looked at their business model and they said, "What do people hate about baseball?" They don't like the long stretches between innings, the long stretches between pitches. How can they make this more entertaining? And so not just for baseball fans, but now everybody. A lot of people follow them on YouTube. And that, again, I don't think that people appreciate that this is what paying attention to the client experience is all about.
GS: You're totally right. There's so many facets I can take. Well, let's shift gears here for a moment. I always like to ask this question, too. I run a very small business here. I mean, MMA's a hundred people at this point, maybe a little bit more than that. I'm a small business, but I sit in a senior role and I work with some very big executives around the country, around the world. And so I just think that a lot of young people maybe don't necessarily appreciate what it takes to get to the senior-level job, a C-suite job like you have. I don't know if everybody really appreciates what it means to continue to operate effectively in that environment.
I mean, there's a lot of complexities of the companies. There's a lot of different missions. People were fighting for budgets. In fact, I didn't tell a story here in your experience one, but we had a bank marketer friend of mine who lost $100 million in marketing budget because the people in the branch had figured out that spending a $100 million in carpets produced a better return. And so he lost $100 million to the carpet. So that was carpeting over marketing, which was very disappointing. The whole point of MMA and Building Better CMOs is let's stop the carpeting people stealing our budgets, I guess. So there you go. Okay, but wait, I digress.
KR: I'll take that one with me.
GS: Exactly. But listen, back to sort of your orientation to be there. So I guess I'd ask were you always oriented to try to get to the top job? I mean, you set out to be an attorney, so you've clearly got ambition. What advice would you have for people that they might otherwise not see in either getting there or staying there?
KR: Yeah, it's so funny because people will say, because you've got that C in front of your name, "Hey, you've reached the pinnacle of your career. Now you're there." And I got to say, no. Now the camera's on you, the microscope's on you, right? And maybe it's a scope on you, a target on you. And so my advice would be, first of all, never stop learning. And that kind of comes natural to me. I'm a child of two educators. Both my parents were educators, their whole careers. And so everything in our lives, my siblings and I, was about learning, whether it was a camping trip across the US or whatever. So my advice is never stop learning. From the start of my career, and whether it was going back for my MBA, I was always looking for what can the company contribute to my development? And then as a result, what do I owe my company for making that investment in me? And so I think it's important to take advantage of those resources. Got my MBA, got all my FINRA, SEC licensing and certifications.
GS: I saw that. Yeah, you have Series 7 in there, everything, right?
KR: Series 7, 24, my state licenses. And it's important because I'm an industry practitioner. I need to understand the business. I need to understand the industry, and I need to understand my profession in marketing. And you look at young marketers coming in today, and they are digital natives, and they want to know that my leader understands and speaks my language, they understand the technology, they understand the importance of data, technology, and what their generation cares about. And the only way to do that is to make sure you continuously learn. In fact, I just completed a yearlong course at Columbia Business School in chief marketing officer's executive program. And that was not an easy commitment to make for a year.
GS: No kidding.
KR: It was fascinating. It was fascinating. It was a global cohort of fantastic marketing professionals of wide-ranging ages and experiences. And so not only the traditional academic learning that went on, but obviously the professional networking and learning was also extremely valuable. But it's really making sure you're staying on top of your profession.
GS: So by the way, what'd you learn from Columbia University's program that you didn't expect to learn? What caught you by surprise?
KR: It's interesting. One of the things that first got my attention is that they basically said that marketing is about the customer centricity and the customer centricity focus. So I wanted to see what they had to say about it. One of the data points, right away that had me out of the gate, was over the past 20 years, the highest searched marketing terms 20 years ago was "marketing" and "product." Not a surprise. Today, it's "marketing" and "customer." So if you're not connecting your profession to the customer, you're really not remaining relevant in your profession. And we went on to tie that to data, client research, analytics, insights, storytelling, and really understanding that as a leader, you've got a responsibility to be a great steward of your company resources and make sure you're getting a high value for your investment in not only your people but your customers.
GS: Got it. Interesting. Okay, so back to being in the C-suite. So constantly learning, staying abreast, understanding the marketplace, keeping track of the news, I think that's learning, advancing your knowledge to the most advanced. That's all good. But I don't know that it's just about being smart at that level. In fact, I think I was 33 or 34 at the time, I was made an SVP at Y&R. So at an agency, SVP starts to be kind of a real title. And I'll never forget, I called a friend of mine who was just really smart. I said to him, "I hope I'm smart enough to keep up with everybody." He says, "Greg, at this level, everybody's smart. That's no longer the competition." He goes, "Now, it's about keeping fifty-one percent of the vote." I thought, "Oh my god, he just told me the orientation of how the world works."
So it is that, right? I mean, marketing, we often have a phrase here from the market work we've done, which says, "Marketing's no longer managing a function. The CMO is no longer managing a function. They're managing a coalition." And listen, you're the rare one that has experience under your domain. You put it in your title. So I don't know, what's it mean to be an effective CMO marketer in a non-marketing company, by the way?
KR: Great point. I think I've been part of an executive team at three different companies over the course of the past 15 years. And I can recall a time when that was, you're sitting around the table with your colleagues and folks would really expect you to stay in your lane, you've probably heard that reference before. So you're a marketer, and this is a salesperson and this is your CFO and this is your legal counsel, and everybody stays in their lane. At the end of the day, there are no lanes anymore, and especially not for marketers. When we're talking about the customer experience, the client experience, that crosses. That's a horizontal responsibility. And CMOs, in particular, are connectors and expected to understand how your profession touches every other part of the business.
GS: I think, if I heard that answer right, then that's about you staying abreast of what's happening, learning about the rest of the organization.
KR: What does the rest of the organization need? And how do I make sure I'm partnering with them to deliver that? You've had a lot of great guests on your podcast that talk about the partnership with the CFO, with your head of sales, how critical that is. But I'll tell you what, legal is just as important, especially in a highly regulated industry. We've got bank regulators, we've got the SEC, we have FINRA, we have the DOD added on top of that in dealing with the military.
GS: Oh, right, right. You got them from all sides.
KR: Keep us out of hot water, please. I don't want to wear orange. It's a partnership across the C-suite for certain.
GS: I got a funny question for you. And no comment on your current management. But what's it take to keep all those executives aligned in that direction? I would feel like that'd be a pretty tough job.
KR: It is a tough job, but we're so vested in the mission that everybody around the table is there for the right reasons. And for very personal reasons, in some cases, many have served or have immediate family members currently serving, and so it's personal as well as professional. And so we're all there with a common mission in mind. That's a big part of it.
GS: Oh, right. It's funny. I thought that was going to be your answer. You've got to keep people aligned to a particular mission.
KR: Absolutely. Absolutely.
GS: Probably the number one job. Forgive me, is First Command a public company?
KR: It is private. Employee stock ownership plan with an independent board of directors.
GS: Yeah. It's kind of like it's not traded in public markets, but you've got accountability to a lot of shareholders there and stuff, right?
KR: Absolutely. Yeah. Our own people. Our own people, the toughest shareholders there are.
GS: Yeah, no kidding. Exactly. Well, especially when they can walk out the door at any moment. You know what's interesting about the conversation I've had here, and I don't think I've had it with any other CMO on the podcast on Building Better CMOs... One is the sense of affinity and importance you feel with your customers. I don't know that everybody appreciated their customers in the way that I hear you talk about it. So you're probably the perfect person, by the way, for your job, just FYI.
But I think also, you really do feel that there's a higher order of importance that's going on here, as you mentioned, that is the security of the country. The security of the individual, security of the country is at risk if you guys don't do this right. That's a lot of responsibility sometimes, which can bring about additional levels of potential stress or at least just, I don't know, anxiety is a funny word. But how do you manage that on a personal level, the intensity of trying to keep moving and make sure you're doing the right thing, that you're not missing anything. There's a lot of little details to yours that'd be really tough to me, I would think. You'd always be wondering if you didn't miss something somewhere. How do you deal with that on a personal level?
KR: Occasionally we do miss something, and that's not always easy. The main thing is to recognize it when you miss it and address it. So much about delivering a great client experience is taking care of your people, yourself included, because your experience is the client experience. Your people are on the front lines dealing with clients every day. If their needs aren't met, that translates to the experience they deliver to our clients. We see that. We pay attention to our people. And not everybody's going to have a great day every day. But I'll tell you, post covid, that couldn't be more important. And this is one business that is highly dependent on personal relationships. We value that, and so you got to take care of the person to have the relationship.
GS: Got it. Very interesting. Very interesting. Yeah, it's so important, and especially the teams. And I think we learned the importance of the stress that the pandemic put our teams under. I would say that one of the theme conversations that happened, dialogues that happened from board meeting to board meeting, was about how do we help manage teams who feel stressed out and are maybe even isolated at home? Just to kind of emphasize that point. Difficult, right?
KR: A hundred percent. And I think as much as we can appreciate the value of digital for efficiency, effectiveness, measurement, tracking, trends, all of it, all of it very valuable. I think what's underappreciated is the personal connections that people still need to be able to make an effort to do and know when it's the right time to send an IM or a chat, and know when it's better just to, when practical, get across the table from someone or sit with them for lunch or pick up the phone and call. I think a lot of our young people don't really appreciate the value of that today, and so we put some special emphasis on that.
GS: Yeah, I think one of my more common comments, and I don't think it's just my age. Please do not write another email. Call them. Call them. Talk it through. Oh my god, it just drives me crazy.
KR: Yes, it does.
GS: I don't know. Maybe my team says, "Geez, you wish he'd write some more stuff down and stop talking to us so much." I don't know. Maybe that's what they say. We'll see. Listen, this has been great, Kellie. I really appreciate it. I got a couple of lightning questions here. I'm not sure I told you these in advance, so we'll see how you do. You ready? They're not that tricky.
KR: Okay, great. Yes, bring it on.
GS: Okay, so who else in marketing... I mean, you're a learner, so you're reading the trades and studying the press and paying attention. It can't be anybody you work with and you can't name your own company, obviously, and probably not even your last two companies. Who else in marketing, person or company, do you have a sense of admiration for? Anything you've seen recently you thought was, "Wow, that was really well done. I really liked what they did, or I think that person's really smart or sharp." Who do you pay attention to?
KR: I already gave you my answer. It was Trader Joe's. I'm telling you, it resonates with me. They have, I don't know if it's their sense of humor, it just speaks to me. But mostly it's about the connection to how they make something people have to do, don't really want to do, a fun experience at the end of the day. And like I said, I admire them because not only have they done that for me personally and created a raving fan, but because that's what we need to strive to be doing in our industry, not just our company. We need to do a better job of making the experience of managing our personal finances more fun. It does not have to be as difficult a chore as often we make it for our clients.
GS: Oh boy, I don't know. You just really raised the bar there on an expectation. I don't know. You know what? I admire the goal. It feels like—
KR: I hope I did raise the bar. I raised it for myself.
GS: You did. That's a tough mission. With the whole company there, it sounds like good. Okay, okay. Trader Joe's still stays in this top spot. Nobody else. I got it.
KR: They stay at the top spot.
GS: Okay. Well, anything you think that's super overhyped in marketing today? What's overhyped? Anything in marketing you think is overhyped?
KR: It's so funny, Greg, I don't know if you know this. You had reached out to me on LinkedIn for a connection, and it wasn't until we were connected for this podcast discussion that I realized that I had an invitation from you when I tried to send you one, and it was just that I needed to accept it. The reason is my LinkedIn invitation list is pages long on my mobile device because every AI vendor out there has decided this is the hot topic du jour, and this is what's going to get the attention of the CMO. So I say that with caution because certainly there is power in the possibilities of AI, and financial services in particular, health care, lots of industries.
But we also have to understand that it's not this thing over here. We're using AI in this algorithm to help us understand this client experience metric and predict what's next for our customers. And we lean on our best-in-class business partners to help us sort through where to leverage AI in our business thoughtfully and in compliance and all of those things. But I have to say the AI thing got my attention because I've lost connection opportunities with real professionals I need to network with because they're in the string of those who are pitching me for AI product.
GS: Okay, well, listen, you can send those AI companies. Just say, "Hey, Greg Stuart's qualifying stuff for us CMOs." Kellie, you and I haven't talked about this, but I did start here within the MMA what is the largest collection of marketers working to advance the application of AI to marketing.
KR: Fantastic. You are going to get what you asked for.
GS: I'm going to pick apart all that bullshit. In fact, you know what the first guide we wrote is? It's very funny, you'll laugh at this. The first guide we wrote: is it real AI or not?
KR: There you go.
GS: It's a little simple guide that you can go through to determine... I've worked at AdTech companies. I'm a little suspicious of all that they tell us or how they communicate to us sometimes, marketers. And so, I think it's a common complaint by marketers. So, okay. Is there anything you think is really underappreciated in marketing today? It's kind of the whole point of what you said here, probably, right?
KR: I think at the end of the day, it's not about just promoting a product or a service, it's really making sure that you can tout your client experience. They're going to keep us honest. I think I said earlier, marketing is all about a value exchange. And what that ultimately means, at the end of the day, it's the right product for the right client at the right time. And the only way you know that is if you're listening to your customers.
GS: Okay. And last one, if you had one thing that someone listening to this podcast should be doing to become a better CMO, in one sentence, what would you advise them?
KR: Understand your client experience and measure it so that you know.
GS: Listen, Kellie, this was really fun. We didn't know each other before this, but I could tell just from the interaction we had originally I absolutely have to have you on Building Better CMOs. So I can't thank you enough for doing this. Thank you a lot.
KR: I feel like I made a friend today. Thanks so much for the time, Greg.
GS: You bet. Thanks again to Kellie Richter from First Command for coming on Building Better CMOs. Check the description of this episode for links to connect with Kellie. And if you want to know more about MMA's work to unlock the power of marketing, visit mmaglobal.com, or you can attend any one of our 30 conferences in 15 countries where MMA operates. Or write to me, Greg@mmaglobal.com. Thank you so much for listening. Tap the link in the description to leave us a review. 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 bettercmos.com. Our producer and podcast consultant is Eric Johnson from LightningPod.fm. Our project manager is Lili Mahoney, artwork by Jason Chase, and a special thanks to Lacera Smith. This is Greg Stuart. I'll see you in two weeks.