David Buckley is a busy marketing executive. He's responsible for development, planning, and execution of the consumer marketing strategies for not just one, but four retail chains under the Sears label. He also oversees marketing efforts for the brand's more than 1,200 locations. Before taking the CMO post with Sears, Buckley spent time as global director of advertising for the Associated Press, where he led the advertising strategy for digital assets, focusing on mobile and tablet technologies.
Note: For Buckley's views on how the CMO role can enhance franchise recruitment, see our online newsletter, Franchise Update Sales Report (May 2013).
Describe your role as CMO.
As CMO for Sears Hometown & Outlet Store, Inc., I am responsible for the consumer marketing strategies for four unique formats: Sears Hometown Stores, Sears Home Appliance Showrooms, Sears Appliance & Hardware Stores, and Sears Outlet Stores. With more than 1,200 locations across 50 states and Puerto Rico, my team and I are tasked to execute a national marketing strategy that also leverages the hyper-local aspect of retailing. We plan and execute marketing campaigns across a wide variety of marketing assets, including newspaper (preprint, ROP, TMC), radio, cable TV, billboard, and direct mail. In addition, what we market in traditional media needs to be integrated into digital media, social media, and our loyalty marketing program.
What's the most challenging part of being a CMO today?
There are more new and exciting marketing opportunities than any organization has the capacity properly to execute. The job is less about finding a good idea, but rather finding ideas that are both scalable and likely to produce a higher marginal ROI than current programs. A large part of this is understanding and prioritizing our marketing approaches within our strategy.
What are the 3 most important keys to being an effective CMO leader today?
By far, the ability to understand data. There is an amazing amount of customer data available that can be used to drive large strategic decisions, as well as more targeted offers at the consumer level. An effective CMO today must possess the ability not only to read the data, but also to draw inferences and build actionable plans around it.
Second is understanding both traditional and emerging marketing opportunities and how they influence each other. Too often, traditional media are pronounced dead prematurely, while the newest trend is often pursued with a disproportionate level of spend and resources relative to the size of the audience and how that audience engages with that media. I firmly believe that people consume multiple sources of different media in a variety of forms, and those media influence each other.
Third is the ability to build relationships and credibility with cross-functional members of your company's senior leadership team. A strong CMO has a role at the table when the strategy is refined, representing the customer in these conversations. In addition, the CMO needs to provide more input than just managing the marketing expense line in the P&L. The CMO needs to provide guidance to the rest of the team as to the expected ROI for different possible actions. It isn't enough just to drive top-line sales; the CMO needs to ensure the incremental profit from these sales provides a sufficient return on the marketing investment.
Describe your marketing team and the role each plays.
My marketing team is divided into closely integrated teams. It may sound like we have very distinct teams with segregated work flow, but they are so tightly integrated that the lines between them sometimes blur. The marketing operations team is responsible for all media planning, budgeting, and execution. The marketing creative team brings our marketing to life across all forms of media. These two teams closely collaborate with each other, as well as with the digital marketing team who integrate the strategy across all digital assets. Both the marketing operations and creative teams work extensively with our creative and media placement agencies.
How is your marketing/branding strategy developed, and how does it flow through the system?
It is a collaborative effort that includes key stakeholders from finance, IT, merchandising, and our field teams who represent our owner base. It flows through a series of cross-functional meetings for annual planning, key seasons, and a regular biweekly meeting that addresses short-term (within 90 days) tactical implementation.
How do you work with other internal departments, and how does technology help?
Very closely. Our field leadership engages our franchisees surrounding our marketing events. Our merchant team builds offers and ads in close coordination with my creative team. We also work very closely with our operations team to ensure all of our promotions execute as planned when a customer is at the register. Technology plays a role in each of these relationships.
How do you manage costs and budgets for the marketing department?
We develop annual marketing budgets for each format and that budget is managed on a monthly and quarterly basis. Some portions are planned far in advance, while others may be used to react quickly to market factors. Throughout this process, attention is paid to store-level investment to ensure that stores are equally supported.
How do you measure marketing results and effectiveness?
In three major ways. In all cases, it is effectiveness, as measured by a positive ROI on the marketing spend based on incremental profit generated by the efforts. On a large scale, we use complex multi-variant models developed specifically for our business based on large amounts of store-level data. These models go well beyond marketing investments to address pricing, weather, macroeconomic factors, and a variety of other variables. This type of analysis takes a great deal of time and effort to complete but helps us answer some of the larger and more strategic questions.
For shorter-term testing, we leverage the benefit of more than 1,200 physical locations by running test and control groups to better understand the impact of our actions. We measure every new thing we try. We are also able to leverage this approach with our franchisee base. We've run marketing tests in partnership with our franchisees and have been able to aggregate the results to show them the impact we saw nationally--which they would not be able to recognize in a few stores. With our ability to create large test and control groups, we are able to help our franchisees differentiate between response and results. The last type of analysis we do leverages customer-level data, which allows us to understand consumer reactions to various efforts by constructing test and control groups.
How have marketing strategies/tools changed over the past decade, and how have you adapted?
The answer could be an entire book in itself. There have been major changes in media consumption and consumer technology in the last five years alone. To adapt, we are constantly testing and evaluating our marketing choices and using data to make decisions. However, the biggest change is that the control of the brand has irreversibly changed from the CMO to the customer. The experience happens at the store level and the customer is going to share that information instantly and permanently online. Customers trust other customers more than they trust the claims of companies. Today you can review a restaurant online before you pay your bill. It used to be believed that people would tell 10 people about a bad experience. Now a bad experience is posted instantly for everyone to see and these reviews are showing up in search. To adapt to this, we are paying close attention to the feedback we receive from our customers, not only through our surveys, but through ratings and reviews on sites like Yelp.
How is technology changing the way franchise marketing is done in terms of efficiencies?
We are leveraging different technologies to allow local customization of national marketing assets. One of the largest benefits we saw from a new technology over the last 12 months was the ability for us to improve local discoverability in search for our brick-and-mortar locations. We initially partnered with Yext simply to make sure our basic information was correct on a variety of third-party publishers. It is extremely important to us that this data is correct to maximize local search. With half of consumers having GPS-enabled smartphones, the importance of being discovered locally is growing. The concept of people going to your website to find your locations is going to have a shorter life than the Yellow Pages. It may not be sexy digital technology, but with estimates that 50 percent of all listings have an error in name, address, or phone number, it is necessary. This year we are taking that relationship with Yext to the next level with an increased focus on managing online reputation at the store level through a disciplined approach of monitoring customer reviews across a variety of sites.
Are you using cloud technology or other tools regularly? How?
We use cloud computing to manage the data in "Shop Your Way Rewards," our loyalty program. We use it to append endless member information together from disparate sources. The more we collectively know about the member and store in the cloud, the better we can contrast and compare it with similar member behavior and identify what and when they want to hear from us. Cloud-based technology allows us to quickly slice and dice the information in many ways, forming meaningful and actionable member segments. This allows us to be more targeted and relevant in our interactions with the customer.
Today's franchisees expect more from the franchise marketing department. How do you provide it? We provide a very robust national media campaign that takes into account local input from the franchisee. We also provide a great deal of customizable marketing assets our franchisees can use to supplement this marketing locally, including ROP ads, television commercials, and direct mail. We keep an extremely open dialogue with our franchisees, and in fact have implemented some great ideas based on their feedback and partnership. We've formed subcommittees with our franchisees to generate their input on major initiatives.
How are you assisting your franchisees more quickly and efficiently?
The best way for us to quickly react to the needs of our franchisees is to anticipate them. We are in close contact with our franchisees through our field leadership and interact with them directly on a regular basis as needs arise. We provide a wide variety of customizable assets for our franchisees, but we can't anticipate every need. If a new need arises and is scalable across a sufficient number of our franchisees, we will look to solve it on an institutional level. For other needs, we'll work with the franchisee based on the scope of the project. We give our franchisees direct access to our creative agency for any needs we can't solve with existing tools or assets. We also ensure that the franchisee is given the same rates we have negotiated as part of our multi-year agency contract. Our franchisees get access to world-class creative talent--even to help design a flyer for a local event.
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