Renegade Marketing (2021) is an incisive guide to becoming a cutting-edge B2B marketer in today’s frenetic corporate climate. It distinguishes four key characteristics of very successful marketing executives and shows you how you can apply them in your own company. Most importantly, it demonstrates how to create meaningful brands that are embodied at every level of your organization.
Marketing, Sales, Business, Direct Marketing, Web Marketing, E-commerce Professional
Introduction: Learn how to build meaningful, original brands that cut through the noise.
Every day, we’re bombarded by information. From the moment you check your phone in the morning until you fall asleep, you’re absorbing content. Every day, there are 5 billion new Google searches, 4 million new blog posts published, and 500 million tweets posted. Never has the human brain been so overloaded.
As a marketing executive, your sole purpose is to break through that wall of noise. To have a message so distinct that people are able to absorb it. And – even more importantly – to remember it.
This is something that Drew Neisser knows very well. Over his four decades in the industry, he’s worked with huge corporations like IBM as well as cutting-edge start-ups. He’s witnessed marketing technology change beyond recognition. And he’s made it his mission to stay ahead of the curve.
The marketing company he founded, Renegade, has a simple slogan: “Cut Through.” Its campaigns are designed to help companies cut through the information overload to deliver simple, effective messages to its clients.
Neisser has also interviewed over 425 leading chief marketing officers (CMOs) in the field. From these interviews, as well as his own experience, he’s distilled the four key characteristics of really successful marketers. These are: courageous, artful, thoughtful, and scientific. Together, these characteristics create the anagram CATS.
In this summary, you’ll find out about Drew Neisser’s transformative approach to B2B marketing, and how you, too, can develop CATS qualities and apply them in your own company.
In this summary, you’ll learn
- how to create a company mission statement even your grandmother can understand;
- why words without actions are useless; and
- how to build strong teams and get the rest of the company on board with your wild ideas.
Have the courage to craft a distinctive identity.
Today, marketing executives are trained to make marketing ever more complex; they have more data to work with than ever before, go to fancy training academies, and are given huge teams to work with. They’re told to imagine their target audience as having different personas and to try to tailor their message to fit every different audience.
But, here’s the thing: you absolutely cannot be everything to every person. If you make your message too all-encompassing, you actually end up confusing the consumer and pleasing no one. In order to be successful, you need to have the courage to have a simple pitch that’s different from your competition.
Let’s look at an example from the building industry. Neisser’s apartment board decided they needed to renew the hallway carpeting, and invited bids from different companies. The first two companies proudly stated that they worked for big restaurants, corporations, and private apartment buildings. The third company, JMPB Enterprise, made a different sort of pitch: it said that it worked exclusively on private apartment carpeting and offered no other services. It showed its expertise by naming specific problems it encountered on the job, namely complaints from residents about dust. Furthermore, it showed how it had solved that problem by budgeting for nightly cleanups and using special vacuums. By the end of the pitch, the board was sold. JMPB Enterprise had a unique selling point, and it could state it clearly and simply.
In the beginning, JMPB Enterprise had to turn down a lot of work because its target market was so specific. That was very scary, but over time it turned out to be its key selling point. It had dared to be different, and it worked.
The first letter in CATS stands for courage. To be courageous, renegade marketers need to be willing to cut through the noise and craft a simple, distinctive identity. And if something’s not working, they have to have the courage to pivot to something that does.
Making changes takes courage. But, in reality, failing to make the change can be riskier. Look at Netflix. The streaming giant was once in the business of mailing out DVDs. It invested in streaming well ahead of the competition and became a market leader. Blockbuster, on the other hand, was way too late to join the streaming game. This former entertainment giant went bust because it didn’t embrace change.
So, what kinds of changes are you willing to make to cut through the noise and make your company unique? In the next chapter, you’ll discover how to artfully articulate your company’s unique purpose — and make sure that it’s shared by everyone in your organization.
Master artful communication.
Have you ever had the experience of reading a company’s purpose statement and afterward being none the wiser about what it actually does? Sometimes it feels like marketers think it’s more important to sound smart than to communicate with the customer.
But, in reality, that will just turn people off. No one cares whether you know how to use big words. The success of your branding lies in your ability to communicate, which takes us to the second letter in CATS: artful communication.
Let’s start with your company’s mission statement, or statement of purpose. This should be as simple and distinctive as possible. In fact, you should be able to explain what you do in eight words or less, in language your grandmother can understand. If you can’t do that, you need to go back to the drawing board.
Once you’ve developed your slogan, you can start thinking about the design elements of your branding. Neisser once went to a trade show where every company stall had muted pastels, and one stall was bright orange. Guess who had the most foot traffic? The company that dared to stand out from the rest. Think about which colors will best represent your statement. How can you express the visual identity of your brand?
By taking these steps, you’ll hone your skills in artful communication. But good branding goes much deeper than just developing a pithy slogan. It won’t mean anything if the values in your statement don’t permeate throughout your organization. Health insurance giant Aetna’s CMO David Edelman understood that very well. The health-care industry ranks in the top three least-liked industries. When he joined health-care giant Aetna, he knew he had to find a way to turn that around. Working closely with his team, he created a new slogan: “You don’t join us. We join you.” It’s under eight words and signals the company’s selling point: we’ll go the extra mile to meet you where you are, and work with you to get the best health care.
But the company didn’t stop with the creation of a neat slogan. It took six months to train the 250-strong leadership and the rest of the staff in those values. It also made structural changes that prioritized building a stronger relationship with the customer and getting to know them and their needs. This strategy paid off. Aetna is now a market leader in the industry.
Edelman’s campaign wasn’t skin-deep. He backed up a promise with structural change. And he made sure to get the buy-in from leadership and the rest of the organization. He understood something very important: marketing is a team sport, not an individual endeavor. Marketing professionals might have amazing ideas, but if they don’t know how to communicate effectively, then no one is going to come on board.
To transform an organization, you need to be able to take everyone with you: the leadership, teams, and – most importantly – the customers. And how do you do that? By honing another key tool of artful communication: listening.
When Dara Royer was tasked with leading the rebranding of international nonprofit, Mercy Corps, she came to the job with clear ideas about what needed to be done. But nobody bought them. After all, she’d just arrived. What did she know about what needed to happen? Royer realized she’d have to do extensive research to really find out what the staff, donors, and clients thought the company needed.
The organization didn’t have enough money to fund such an ambitious research project. So, Royer trained company employees in research skills, and let them conduct the research. From this exercise, Royer didn’t only get good data. She allowed her staff to feel like they were a part of the solution. Using the insights gained from the research, Royer and her employees crafted a clear new vision and developed compelling, emotional stories to communicate who Mercy Corp is and what it contributes through its work.
In 2017, Mercy Corps was awarded the prize for most loved brand in the international nonprofit category. Royer’s strategy had resulted in a profound transformation for the nonprofit.
Artful communication involves, more than anything, the art of listening. Go and do research, Interview your team, and your clients. And make sure that you listen carefully to what they have to say. Once you’ve done your research, you’ll be able to create an artful brand statement that your team can get behind.
Thoughtful execution makes for engaged employees and loyal customers.
In the last chapter, you heard about how to craft a distinctive brand identity. And, even more importantly, how to get the rest of your team on board by developing your listening skills. This is a good segue to the third letter in CATS, which stands for thoughtful execution.
Once you’ve got a meaningful mission statement, how do you translate it into providing excellent customer service?
Well, let’s start with your employees. Many corporate executives forget that their employees are their product. If they neglect to invest in their employees, they’re essentially neglecting that core product. Take Deloitte, for example. The company has 400,000 employees spread across offices all over the world. When customers contract Deloitte, they’re paying for the interactions they have with their employees. So how could Deloitte ensure that customers have consistently good interactions that are of the same quality at every location?
The insightful leadership board decided to solve the problem by investing heavily in employee education – to the tune of $300 million. In fact, the company built its own training premises – Deloitte University – where 65,000 employees are trained in the company’s core values every year. This is the kind of thoughtful execution that has made Deloitte a leader in the field.
Investing in engaged, well-trained employees should be your number one priority as a B2B marketer. But coming close second is investing in your relationship with your customers. Usually, companies focus on trying to recruit new customers and pay relatively little attention to existing customers once they’ve signed on. That’s the wrong strategy. In fact, you should flip those priorities around, and focus on your existing customer satisfaction before even thinking about marketing to new ones.
More than anything, your aim should be to cultivate customer champions. Customer champions are the people who stick by you through thick and thin. The clients who provide glowing testimonials and evangelize about your product. The clients who convince new customers that you can be trusted.
So how do you go about cultivating customer champions? Essentially, through thoughtful service. First of all, make sure that your customers are happy with what you’re providing and that your product is meeting (and hopefully exceeding) their expectations. Read customer reviews online. What are people saying about you? Are there certain issues that get flagged again and again? Most people are scared of reading bad reviews, but they’re actually a goldmine of information that can help you improve your product and services.
Next, involve your most loyal customers in the development of your company by creating a customer advisory board. This is a select group of customers who can provide early warning of unpopular changes, and let you know what is – and isn’t – working.
Creating a loyalty program is also a great way to create customer champions. Airlines have been doing it for a long time with their free air miles programs. What benefits can you provide your customer with when they stick with you? How can you make them feel good about using your product as much as possible?
One of the most important ways to create a customer champion is to cultivate a sense of community between your company and its customers. Pre-pandemic, it was possible to do that by organizing special conferences, trade shows, and concerts. Post-COVID, a lot of those events have been forced to migrate online. Zoom gatherings have a different vibe, but they can fulfill the same purpose, especially if you execute them thoughtfully. Think of hosting small, intimate gatherings, providing entertainment, and sending all participants a box of refreshments like good wine and whiskey especially curated to be enjoyed during the event.
In fact, providing free stuff or swag is always a good way to cultivate a customer champion. There’s something irresistibly pleasing about getting a gift – especially if it’s been thoughtfully chosen.
Companies around the world have been through a very tough time over the course of the pandemic. The most effective B2B marketers have made the effort to check in with their customers during this time and go the extra mile to make them feel valued. Basic human compassion is also good business sense. What will set your company apart isn’t only an artfully-communicated message, but also the thoughtfulness with which it’s executed.
The last letter in CATS stands for scientific method, which is exactly what you’re going to learn about in the next chapter.
Embrace a scientific method to measure your results.
Imagine you’re a motivated renegade marketer, bubbling with fresh ideas, and dying to take your company in exciting new directions. Then imagine you present your ideas at a board meeting, only to have your CEO throw most of them out and slash your budget in half.
This scenario takes place in many companies and may be the reason that most CMOs only last a couple of years on the job. Too often, especially for B2B companies, marketing is seen as something frivolous and nonessential – about clever logos and pretty colors, instead of the core business model.
As you’ve seen over the course of this chapter, this isn’t true. In fact, done right, marketing allows a company to hone its core values, communicate clearly to staff and customers, and develop strategies for delivering fantastic service. Seeing as marketing is so fundamental, it’s essential that top leadership is on board and that your expectations are aligned.
How can you achieve that? Instead of just talking about what marketing can do, you need to scientifically measure your achievements. That’s where the “S” in CATS comes in. Having the right scientific data will allow you to find out what challenges the company is facing, and show how your marketing interventions are helping to solve them.
But before you even start gathering data, you need to come to an agreement with the leadership team about what to measure. What, for your company, is the measure of success? Many companies see the only metric of achievement as being profit. They measure things like new client acquisition and sales and leave it there. But that approach has its dangers. Look at Enron. Its emphasis on profits-above-all-else led to unscrupulous sales practices and fraud.
To really get a good picture of success you need to track sales, sure. But you also need to measure the broader health of your brand and look at employee engagement and customer satisfaction. You may have thousands of new customers signing on in a given year, but how many stick around the year after? What is your staff turnover? Asking the right questions is essential to getting the data you really need to measure your success.
The word science may conjure up images of very serious people in lab coats. But a scientific method can also be very playful. After all, science is done through creating experiments, and seeing what works. Cultivating a scientific method in your company means making room for playfulness and experimentation. Make sure that your team has space to try out new things, without fear of failure. And make sure to celebrate your wins – both big and small.
The most important thing to remember from all this is:
Becoming a Renegade Marketer is about much more than creating a pretty logo. Fundamentally, it’s about having the courage to cut through the waffle and develop a distinctive statement of purpose. It’s about having the skills to artfully communicate that purpose, and the skills to thoughtfully execute it at every level of the organization. Finally, it’s about being willing to scientifically research what your company needs, and how the marketing strategy is contributing to its success.
And here’s some more actionable advice:
Mari Kondo your to-do list.
Most people have heard of Mari Kondo, the leading guru of home decluttering. She teaches that you should only keep the most essential things; things that spark joy. As a marketer, these insights can help you streamline your work life. Look at your to-do list. Which items spark joy, and which make you feel dread? Which meetings could be replaced with an email? By decluttering your work day, you’ll leave more time for big-picture thinking.
About the author
Uniquely wired as both strategist and writer, Drew Neisser founded two companies (Renegade & CMO Huddles) and has interviewed over 450 CMOs for his podcast, articles, and books. His second book, Renegade Marketing: 12 Steps to Building Unbeatable B2B Brands comes out in fall 2021.