March 28, 2019

How Emerson’s CMO Reduces Complexity

Perhaps Kathy Button Bell’s title should change from “Chief Marketing Officer” to “Chief Complexity Reduction Officer”—after all, she’s been simplifying things at Emerson Electric for over 20 years. Over that time, marketing has become complex due to the advent of new tools and the increased precision of targeting, among other things, but sometimes marketers need to shift their priorities towards making things easy to understand.

On this episode of RTU, Kathy and Drew discuss unnecessary complexity, employee engagement, the importance of—and keys to—longevity in marketing, and perhaps most importantly, how to keep your marketing brave, human, and uncluttered.

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What You’ll Learn

How to stay fresh as a tenured CMO

In a world where there is massive CMO turnover, Kathy Button Bell has not just survived for 20 years as CMO at Emerson, but she has thrived! She digs in and stays at one place by working on culture and driving it in a positive direction. She stays fresh in her job by being transparent. The world is pushing her to change every day, and she says to not be afraid of this change but to run with it! Marketing today has become overly complicated with all sorts of new channels, but it’s not becoming more effective as a whole. Return to your main purpose.  Instead of advertising your way to greatness, you have to earn your way to greatness.

Emerson’s “We See” Marketing Campaign

Emerson launched its “We See” marketing campaign for its 125th anniversary. This campaign started internally with videos, banners, and information going first to employees. This campaign plays on Emerson’s core brand idea: Consider It Solved. Focussed on video advertising, it highlights the warmth and care from Emerson by showing how they enable life-saving drugs to be made faster and allow quicker access to natural gas. Kathy explains that they chose to go broad with this campaign to drive the relevancy of their business and remind people who they are! With this campaign, she has set the table for other businesses and created an umbrella for the campaign to be stretched and applied locally.

2 dos and a don’t for CMOs

Kathy Button Bell shares her biggest dos and don’ts for other CMOs. She says to be the Chief Complexity Reduction Officer. Meaning, a great CMO should reduce complexity in an organization and make others’ jobs easier. A great CMO should also reduce complexity externally by creating messaging that is simple and understandable. Secondly, she shares that CMO’s should always do the thing that is a little unexpected to keep people’s attention. For example, when Emerson wanted to create a video on its core values, instead of filming its employees talking about values, the children of employees were filmed! A small change such as this keeps people interested. Kathy says that as a CMO, you should never be defensive. Defensiveness is the enemy and makes you inauthentic.


  • [2:01] Who is Kathy Button Bell
  • [3:47] How she dug in and stayed at one place as a CMO
  • [11:24] Living out her moto: Be Brave and Have Fun!
  • [18:48] How to stay fresh when you’ve been in the same job
  • [22:12] Emerson Electric’s new iteration of a campaign
  • [28:21] Kathy Button Bell’s guiding principles
  • [31:30] Measuring the success of the “We See” campaign
  • [34:16] Two dos and a don’t for other CMOs

Connect With Guest:

  • Kathy Button Bell’s Bio on Emerson’s Website
  • Connect with Kathy Button Bell on LinkedIn
  • Follow Kathy Button Bell on Twitter
  • Follow Kathy Button Bell on Facebook

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Drew

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Kathy Button Bell

Drew Neisser: CMO tenure is notoriously short. Spencer Stuart put the figure at 44 months for CMOs at the top 100 advertisers in 2017 but then reported massive CMO turnover in Q1 2018, which means that number will actually drop may be below 40 months.

When I see a bio of someone who’s been in the role for nearly two decades, it definitely gives me pause. Inquiring minds want to know her secrets and yes, on this episode we’re going to try to find these out as well as learn about a relatively new marketing initiative.

Before I introduce my guest, I do want to point out that Kathy Button Bell, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Emerson Electric, hasn’t just survived, she’s thrived, and is frequently included on lists of top B2B, top women, and top global CMOs. Kathy Button Bell, welcome to the show.

Kathy Button Bell: Thank you. I’m delighted to be here with you.

Drew Neisser: It’s exciting to be here. We’re actually sitting in this amazing bar in the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown New York.

Kathy Button Bell: It makes me feel very cosmopolitan. It’s exciting to be here.

Drew Neisser: Yes, well, in fact, we should be ordering them except it’s a little early in the morning. First, I have to ask—most of the people I interview just have two names, and some in fact just have one because I can’t pronounce their last name like Chandar, we just did went with one. You’ve chosen to have three names as your brand. How come?

Kathy Button Bell: Well, actually there’s a certain joy in the alliteration of Button Bell.

Drew Neisser: It is. It’s so alliterative. I love that I thought that must be it.

Kathy Button Bell: No one forgets it. Actually, I was born a Button and I married a Bell, so I kind of picked it up along the way, and then it stuck. And no one ever forgets it. I always wanted to be Faith Popcorn because I thought she had the coolest name alive, so I kind of jumped in her jet wash.

Drew Neisser: Plus, you almost have a three-digit emoji. I mean, if was only there was one for Kathy—you could just kill it.

Kathy Button Bell: I know, it’s good. Thank you.

Drew Neisser: Longevity is not a strange notion to you. I couldn’t help but look at your LinkedIn profile and notice that the shortest period of time you had at a job was four years and one month and that was two jobs, Wilson and Converse, but before that, you started your career as a commodity trader and you did that for six years. First, it took you six years to figure out you didn’t want to do that anymore?

Kathy Button Bell: No. Actually, it was a lot more complicated than that, but I actually waited to go into marketing. My father was Head of Marketing at Sears and he was in the office of the chief executive, so I wanted to work for one of the ad agencies, but he had every ad agency in Chicago. I went and traded commodities until he retired.

Drew Neisser: Oh, there ya go! You knew all along. You like to settle in.

Kathy Button Bell: I do. Very much I do.

Drew Neisser: What is it that makes you able to dig into a place, to stay? What is it about you?

Kathy Button Bell: I think the thing that I love the most is working on the culture of the company because that’s where—I always say, “Don’t be the advertising girl. You want to be something much more important and try to help drive the culture in a positive healthy way.” That’s the most fun part of any of those jobs and you can’t help but settle in if that’s what you’re doing. You become part of the fabric of that. I always say I don’t really want to be the wheel; I like being the cog in the wheel.

Drew Neisser: Affecting the culture is sometimes on a CMOs list sometimes, sometimes is not. When you say that, what do you mean? What kinds of things are we talking about doing as the CMO to impact the culture?

Kathy Button Bell: I think one of the key things you have to do is put your wet finger in the air and feel where the wind’s blowing. When business is good, you have to take huge advantage of that moment to fill the organization with optimism and, if they’re at a jog, try to get them to a run. You always want to accelerate positive change. If things are tough like 2009, you need to try to be the optimistic face of global business to try to help our customers innovate their way out of trouble, but most of all to keep the organization going and happy and enthusiastic about what they’re doing.

Drew Neisser: Are you creating communications? Are you creating programs? What are you actually doing? I get the attitude, but how do you make that happen as a CMO?

Kathy Button Bell: A bunch of different ways. One way that we did, especially with our values rollout is, we went to them, went to the organization, and actually both during tough times and good ones, and surveyed them for how they feel. We went through transformation tension, as I call it, as we shrunk the company before we grew again. Go and ask them what is hurting, and then ask them two questions: What are we best at? And what do we need to do to be more successful? 13,999 employees told us the three things that we were made out of, and the four things we need to do better to be successful. They wrote their own plan.

Drew Neisser: I love that. I’m working on my second book and employees are a critical aspect of the CMO arsenal, and it’s so often overlooked. They look and they say 83% of my budget is for demand generation, I’m way down here, employees are the last. In the book at least, I talk about flipping that around. I love the fact that you’ve done this survey. Now, is this an annual thing that you do?

Kathy Button Bell: No. We did it as we came through the transformation of flattening the enterprise and splitting it into two pieces to make us much more focused instead of five pieces. It seemed the perfect moment to unify the organization with one set of values. It’s funny how we did two main things: we did, we totally started from scratch on our website. We had 750,000 pages. You want a nightmare. Both the values initiative and that we did really close together in a year. The organization needed something to hang on to as we came out of that, which the values did a good job for us. Then, in general, I think the programs just knitted everyone together. looks better and feels better now. That wasn’t the best benefit. The best benefit was them having to work together to do it, and it drove so much unity and it drove so much collaboration. They didn’t have a choice. Same thing with the values. Did that too.

Drew Neisser: When I talk to our clients about doing employee surveys, we do try to encourage them to do it annually.

Kathy Button Bell: Oh yeah, we do those too.

Drew Neisser: Merely asking them questions, open-ended questions, or to be involved in the brand—which everybody thinks they’re a marketer to begin with—might as well take advantage of that.

Kathy Button Bell: It did. We put it in their voice that way. It’s very funny how engaged the employees were. As I said, 13,999 took the survey.

Drew Neisser: That’s a lot.

Kathy Button Bell: If I’d taken it, it would’ve been 14,000, but I thought it was more genuine to just leave it where it was. It really made a difference. Every single one of them— there was an open-ended question at the end, anything else you’d like to tell us— 13,999 people gave us responses. So much so that we had to take it in chunks to analyze it.

Drew Neisser: Well, you can really slice and dice that data, and you really get a sense of the internal brand health.

Kathy Button Bell: We had a really positive culture that was so consistent it was not hard to analyze the data for where we went going forward.

Drew Neisser: I’m going to go back to this longevity thing. We’ve spent five minutes together and I can see that you’re a likable person, and I would think that part of being able to survive—forget thriving for a moment—just to make your way through—likability is an important characteristic.

Kathy Button Bell: Do you know what I think? What I tell everyone about marketing? That it’s more important to be a good Pied Piper sometimes than to be correct, and it’s more important to be consistent. Especially in an engineering organization, it kind of demands consistency, and it demands a discipline on the marketing that engineers can believe in. That’s why I would say research is your sword and your shield. You know, right in front of you.

Drew Neisser: Well, I love the consistency thing. We did a survey among B2B CMOs recently in preparation for the book and asked what percentage do you think of your communications are consistent across the board? The number was like, under 50%.

Kathy Button Bell: Oh wow.

Drew Neisser: And I went, “Okay, that’s shocking” because the one thing the CMO is always in control of is consistency.

Kathy Button Bell: Right. Well, you hope so. Depends who’s running around with it.

Drew Neisser: Exactly. All right, well we’re going to take a quick break and we’re gonna come back and we’re going to talk about your motto.


Drew Neisser: We’re back. My guest is Kathy Button Bell. We’re sitting at the Fabulous Four Seasons downtown in this amazing bar. It’s inspiring and it’s brave I might even argue.

Kathy Button Bell: It’s beautiful.

Drew Neisser: It is beautiful. In an interview that I found you did five years ago on, you noted that your motto was “be brave and have fun.” Well, this show is all about bravery—we use the word courage though. Are you still adhering to that motto five years later? And if so, can you share some examples of that bravery?

Kathy Button Bell: Actually, yes, I guess I can. It is a couple of things. One is, I think, authenticity. If you can hang onto that when you’re being brave, it makes it meaningful because it also means that some part of it’s a little scary and unexpected.

As a rule, like we did 125th anniversary of Emerson a few years ago, and we picked a date, we hired Hank Green the well-known blogger on science and math, and launched it in the Wall Street Journal with an edgy ad. We did a television commercial called “I love science” with him and launched it on Big Bang Theory, and we did everything on one day and made it enormous. We never do network television, but it was so consistent with who we were and what we were.

We’ve hung with that and with big STEM programs. We love STEM days at our organization, all over the world, where people bring their kids to work and do experiments all day long, engineering experiments. It’s been so terrific for kids to see through their parents’ eyes and vice versa, of their jobs.

Drew Neisser: Just for the folks, there may be the two people in the world that don’t know what STEM is, we’re talking about science, technology…

Kathy Button Bell: Engineering and math.

Drew Neisser: Engineering and math. Good. The idea there is that you know for a large swath of America, that kind of thing isn’t cool. Helping folks see it and feel it, particularly among young ladies. What specifically do you think you’ve done in that area that’s made a difference?

Kathy Button Bell: Oh, I think it’s one of our best things. We started that in 2015, which was our anniversary date, and we started launching all these “we love STEM” programs. We dedicate part of our website to it. But probably the single best thing is we do an annual survey and we put money behind it, we do paid and earned. I aim it at the media. I don’t necessarily aim it at teenagers or even parents. I aimed at the media so they can do that. I’m looking for pure amplification of Emerson supporting that just energetically, and globally, for that matter.

Drew Neisser: I love that and that’s definitely part of the tool kit that we prescribe. Any time you can do proprietary research to generate news, it’s awesome. How did you make sure that the research that you’ve been doing on STEM was newsworthy?

Kathy Button Bell: You know what? The ones they liked the best about women. Since I worked at Converse, I know this. You get pantyhose and, in the title, you can get it printed. No, media loves things that show women are underrepresented, under-cared for, under-encouraged, and those are the ones that get picked up by far the most. I can talk all day long about boys and STEM, but it’s not as interesting.

Drew Neisser: One of the other things that I noted—a lot of times will companies will do this research, they’ll some PR, and they’ll stop. You’ve been doing this now for five years? That really matters, doesn’t it?

Kathy Button Bell: It does a lot. Actually, I can tell it works by how many organizations reach out to us to support them. I know it’s working somewhere, so they’re coming back at us for stuff.

Drew Neisser: And part of it is that it takes time to get known for something. You get credibility over time, you can map the changes over time, and so it’s just such an easy thing for a brand to do, but it’s amazing to me how few do it and do it well and do it with any kind of consistency over time.

Kathy Button Bell: You don’t want to be a campaign, kind of one and done. We’ve done it lots of different ways. As I said, we have lots of different aspects to it. We’ve hung with Hank Green. When we signed him, it was about two weeks before President Obama picked him to be one of the people who interviewed Obama after his State of the Union address. You might remember, he picked three bloggers. We have hung with him and he’s been just terrific for us to work with.

Drew Neisser: Going back to brave. I think you folks get this now. We’re doing research on an interesting topic that the company is passionate about, you stick with it for a long time, you put women in the headline, and you’re good to go.

Kathy Button Bell: That’s a recipe for success.

Drew Neisser: There you go. That will work, and folks are listening for those kinds of tips, but we’re talking about your motto and being brave, again, this is the show called Renegade Thinkers Unite—how do you, as a CMO, make your staff brave?

Kathy Button Bell: I think I live the example. I always tell employees—especially our creative agencies—”Scare me and let me pull you back. Take it to the edge.” I said, “It’s so much harder to make something more interesting; it’s a lot easier to tame something extraordinary back a little bit.” Actually, one of the best things is that I’ve been with the same CEO for all 19 years and he is the only person who has to approve what we do. We’re able to hang on to a single pointier point of view, and he is really brave. That has made a huge difference. We have great trust in one another on that.

Drew Neisser: Going back to the longevity part of this—pick your boss wisely.

Kathy Button Bell: He’s been great. He is my creative partner. I’ve also had the same creative director at our ad agency for 21 years because I worked as a consultant at the company first. The three of us, I think, have had an extraordinary run. It lets you sequentially move, so it makes sense. It’s not like switching agencies and switching ideas. We have the same tagline we’ve had for 19 years of “Consider It Solved.”

Drew Neisser: See, this is one of the things that CMO turnover just negates. What happens is, the new CMO comes in, they want to make their mark, they’ve got to change the brand, they do new research, they fire the agency, and they lose it. It’s funny, she wasn’t on the podcast but, another three-word individual, Terry Funk Graham who was the CMO at Jack In The Box for years and years and years, like 17 years, and in the marketing department for 20 plus. She had the same agency and the same campaign, the Jack campaign for Jack In The Box. It took that kind of longevity, and she was able to survive multiple CEOs until finally, one came along that just…

Kathy Button Bell: That happens, you know.

Drew Neisser: I think the interesting part about once you find the right position is, it takes a long time, and it’s very hard to change perceptions of a brand. Consistency matters, and that I think is a good place to sort of say, “Okay, you’ve been on the job for almost two decades—how do you stay fresh?”

Kathy Button Bell: Well, you hope that you learn and change. The world is so demanding now. I tell everybody, especially when we do our executive leadership programs, the world is so transparent—you know how much you’re worth, you know where the jobs are, you know how much they pay, you know the questions they are going to ask you in a job interview. The world is like, made out of glass now. I think staying fresh in that is being able to stay transparent yourself. The world is pushing me to change every day now and I’m in love with some of the new things we’re able to do with voice and search and paid and earned and making it sing, and say, “Just don’t be afraid to do the next thing.”

Look at ad agencies. Look at the makeup they use to have a cake on people to do a commercial. Now it’s high def. You look terrible with that makeup on. You don’t do $500,000 productions over and over again. You do fast quick light things, it’s different, and you just got run as fast as you can with it.

Drew Neisser: It’s interesting. One of the things that I have observed is, yes there’s all this great, amazing marketing technology and you have to know how to use it and there are all these channels, but the result has been an incredible overcomplication but not an increase in effectiveness. If you look at most sales quotas, they’re not being met. Half of them are being met. Even though marketing is delivering all these marketing qualified or sales qualified leads, marketing isn’t getting more effective, which is an interesting fact and a reality right now. You could miss the forest from the trees here.

Kathy Button Bell: You can. I think one of the things that’s great that’s happened is the return to purpose and how important that is now for people. As I said, I think it’s the authenticity—I always say, “If you only have one dollar, spend it on PR. Don’t spend it on advertising.” It’s just like reviews online now of who do you believe and how do you believe them. You won’t advertise yourself to greatness. You have to behave yourself to greatness first, and then that’s how your earned works so much harder for you than your paid.

Drew Neisser: I love that. You can’t advertise your way to greatness. Love that. All right, we’re going to take a break, and we’ll come right back


Drew Neisser: We were talking about the fact that you can’t advertise your way to greatness which is a perfect transition to talk about your new advertisements!

Kathy Button Bell: Yes. Thank you. That was such a graceful way to get me into that.

Drew Neisser: Anyway, you have a new campaign or iteration of the campaign. Talk a little bit about it.

Kathy Button Bell: As I said, for about 20 years we’ve hung with our core brand idea of “Emerson: Consider it Solved” which is that you can depend on us to solve your greatest problems with you and on behalf of you as a customer. I think in this age of purpose-driven communication and, again, authenticity, we kind of have migrated the campaign to unleashing new possibilities. We called it the “We See” campaign and we’ve actually brought those stories closer to the business. They’re a little more literal in some cases of everything from lifesaving drugs being made faster and easier, to access to natural gas being much better, and bringing great humanity into the campaign and warmth. We run on things like CNBC this morning, and in the middle of all that finance and all those numbers and all that, we love to show the warmth and care from the company that is truly genuine. I’d say it’s the warmest campaign we’ve ever done.

Drew Neisser: You’re putting, I think I saw, six million, seven million dollars into video advertising, television and digital, and so much of the dollars are being spent today on demand gen not what some might call awareness building, top of the funnel type of activity. Why now was it important for Emerson to go broad with your story as opposed to highly targeted against the businesses?

Kathy Button Bell: Two things go on at, I’d say, two levels. Historically, we actually did do a lot more outside advertising and that as we integrated the company more every year since about 2000 to actually make the critical mass big enough. Dave Farr likes to call it the relevancy, so we’re driving relevancy of the business.

When we shrunk it a few years ago, we took it from about 25 billion down more like 16. We actually stopped advertising and I turned to almost all the money we had internally to get our ducks in a row and organize the business. We are organized. We’ve got that lined up. Business has been good. It’s a great time to rebuild that relevance and remind people of who we are.

Drew Neisser: We’re out here. We exist.

Kathy Button Bell: The 125th anniversary I thought was a weird number to celebrate originally, but I said, “Anytime you can raise your hand, you have an excuse to signal to the world something’s going on over here, come look, I feel like this is one of those great times to do that.” Dave Farr has had great visibility the last few years. He was president of NAM, he testified in front of Congress, and that’s all earned and warmth and importance. I think we needed to jump in there and support that at this kind of level.

Drew Neisser: How do you measure a campaign like this? Do you have tracking studies? It’s essentially top of mind awareness. There’s really not even a call to action that I can find. It’s just, “We exist, and you should know about us.”

Kathy Button Bell: Well the digital’s probably an easier call to action because people just click through on those, so we can read that, and we do brand lift studies. That’s very easy to do on the digital. It’s essentially the same creative, so you’re testing that at the same time. Now two things happen. It’s a little bit of a trick on yourself to say, I’d say, “Of course, you got a brand lift” because as soon as you talk to somebody, it tends to lift the brand anyway. But our favorability went up, and also our emerging on top of emerging new technologies lifted, which is what you want to see for credibility to your actual customer.

Drew Neisser: Right. Their perceptions of you as forward thinkers. Do you have an annual brand health study?

Kathy Button Bell: We do sometimes. I think, in this case, we run it concurrently with the advertising because you can do that just at the same time. It’s a little bit more, on the temperature rather than annually, it’s a little more sequential and perpetual that way. I want to go back to your question you asked me about the lead generation. That’s what our businesses actually do, and probably the difference between a business marketing person and being either at the platform like automation solutions, commercial residential solutions, versus my job—it’s my job to set the table for those guys to jump in and then generate their demand gen. Their demand gen can go right in here.

Drew Neisser: I’ve seen this lots where corporate has this lovely beautiful brand message that says, “Wow, we’re forward thinkers, we’re incredible, we’re on top of the technology,” all these good things that a technology company wants to promise. Then it gets to the business unit and its speeds and feeds. How do you make sure that at least there’s some connective tissue?

Kathy Button Bell: Well, we’re actively driving the “We See” campaign down into the businesses, and actually I’ll see some next week, as a matter of fact in our automation solutions business, to directly feed off of that because it actually works very well. It is a very stretchy campaign of unleashing possibilities whether you’re selling transmitters or a corporation. The demand has to have humanity, we have guiding principles, I would call them more than anything, and they should nest like a Russian doll, is the way I would think about it.

Drew Neisser: By the way, if you haven’t seen the Netflix show, Russian Dolls. Amazing.

Kathy Button Bell: Oh, is it really? I just finished a couple of Netflix serious, so I’m a little alone in the world now.

Drew Neisser: And they’re only like a half an hour episode. You just power through them. Binge, right?

Kathy Button Bell: Binging, it’s that dopamine in your brain. It goes three, two, one, go again.

Drew Neisser: You used a lot of terms—”very stretchy,” and I love that. The idea there is you have an umbrella idea for the business but nonetheless they can apply it locally. You mentioned some guiding principles. Can you share some of those?

Kathy Button Bell: Sure. First and foremost, I guess I call them a lens, what lens are you going to put this through? It should always be about something we can see in the future. It’s a promise to go forward on something. As I said, we try to pick topics that are very sensitive to the environment, we do “a billion more people breathing free and China replacing all the coal-fired heating” and things like that that are just positive, purposeful. We link everything to our noble causes, we call them. There are five noble causes for each big piece of the business, so five for commercial and residential and five for automation solutions. Those are the guardrails, a look and feel—clear, clean, uncluttered.

Drew Neisser: Is there a review process? Or brand police to make sure that this is consistent?

Kathy Button Bell: Yes, as a matter of fact. We actually set up sort of a Mary Kay kind of pyramid where hopefully it goes at least to the platform level. There are two senior brand officers on those businesses that actually everything’s supposed to go through. We actually do a pretty good job. I think I think within a year, you’ll see it improve a lot as we’ve really pushed out that “We See” campaign to the businesses.

Drew Neisser: Is there anything about this where there’s something new in terms of an offering that you as Emerson are doing differently in the marketplace or offering as a product or service? It’s a big promise to say we’re going to help a billion people breathe better. What are the tangible things that makes “We See” real?

Kathy Button Bell: I’ll use an example of cold chain, one of our businesses where it’s literally farm to fork. We do all the refrigeration along the way, and that is a tangible change. We actually can do everything from monitor the food temperature when it’s in cargo, we do all the refrigeration in grocery stores, we can do an algorithm—freezer door number seven, we monitor from Atlanta, Georgia, of a grocery store in St. Louis. “Door Number Seven must be open, your temperature is rising.” They put in bricks that can do the algorithm of how long that chicken can last or how fast bacteria will grow on it, and we can get that to someone’s table in a healthy way.

Drew Neisser: Very cool so it’s very IoT…

Kathy Button Bell: Lots and lots of software. We are building our reputation around that.

Drew Neisser: Which today is really where it is so much of the world is going to. You’re not selling hardware anymore, and even if you’re selling hardware, it’s about the software that you could manage. We’ve already talked about measuring success in terms of brand lift in certain aspects. Is there anything else we should talk about in terms of measurement of this campaign as it rolls out?

Kathy Button Bell: One thing we’re about to do is a culture climate survey of the organization and I think what we’ll see is a positive blowback from that as well. That will show us, you know—are the best days ahead or behind us? I want to see how well the transformation has worked inside the company so the transformation tension should be alleviated. It may be not gone, but it’s infinitely better. Then I think we should do the same thing in the outside world. We get a pretty good sense of that actually from the kind of surveys we’re doing but I think we can do more.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. Again, this comes back to why the employee audience is so important in all of this in that you had a big transformation at the company that was painful because it was disruptive, and disruption is always hard. Did you share any of this work with employees in advance of the launch?

Kathy Button Bell: We shared the tension. We shared all the survey work we did on the values deeply. That’s the best initiative we ever did. We partnered with HR and we brought in Korn Ferry, a global taskforce we brought in. They were sort of like marriage counselors, and best practice is you do that with HR. I would say when we launched our branding in 2000, I don’t think we did a good enough job. Marketing kind of did it to the organization, as opposed to this, which was a true partnership.

HR is good at understanding the organization and how to disseminate things. Marketing is good at communicating. In doing that, I think we hit a best practice on how we did that. The “We See” campaign actually be rolled out internally after our values. That was the only place it lived for a while; it was actually inside. Whether you were at all our meetings, had “We See” video, “We See” banners, we’ve taken it to a diversity message as well. We’ve really of branched it out.

Drew Neisser: And that was before it actually went on. That, to me, you just set it up for me perfectly. We did some research—most CMOs agree that employee communications are important, yet they allow less than one month for internal communications before they launch a new campaign. Sometimes, that really is problematic because the new campaign is about a promise of service or something that the company isn’t actually prepared to do.

All right. I digress. I want to circle us all the way back as we wrap up the show. We’ve been talking about CMO longevity and I’m wondering if you have two dos and a don’t for the CMOs in the crowd in terms of you why longevity is a good idea and how to help yourself stay on the stay of course.

Kathy Button Bell: I’d say the number one thing is to be the chief complexity reduction officer. That’s number one because great marketing is a reduction in complexity. You should make things easier to understand, make us easier to do business with, and everyone from the COO appreciates that because it’s financially efficient. I care actually much more about the understanding that people have about business. We sunset more brands and then we invent. We’re very acquisitive, so we acquire so many businesses that we have to cope with swallowing them whole and has driven a lot of discipline on that. We’re much better when we acquire companies on that.

Secondly, I think you have to always do the thing that’s a little unexpected to keep people’s attention and keep it interesting for people. When we launched our values, we used the children of the organization to do it. We interviewed 72 kids about values. Who wants to hear me or even Dave Farr talk about values—that is incredibly boring. We let the children of the organization do it which, if you haven’t seen the video, you have to see it. It is just awesome.

Drew Neisser: We’ll include it in the show notes.

Kathy Button Bell: You have to. It’s really fun.

As a don’t, you have to be careful. I think the number one enemy of a CMO is defensiveness. I am like the marriage counselor a lot of the time and chief integration officer, too. I think defensiveness is the enemy. It makes you inauthentic actually; it means you’re not listening.

Drew Neisser: I love it. Your first comment about reducing complexity is a wonderful place for us to wrap this show up as I think about, again, this is sort of me on writing the second book. The reality is that marketing has become more complex with all the tools that are available with all of the targets and so forth, but the definition of strategy is in fact what you say “no” to and reducing complexity. For the CMO to accept responsibility for reducing organizational complexity reducing communication complexity is a really profound place for us to wrap this show up because just think about it—simple it’s hard. It means saying “no” to something.

Kathy Button Bell: It does.

Drew Neisser: And you have to do that somehow in a nice way.

Kathy Button Bell: Yeah, well, we try.

Drew Neisser: Kathy Button Bell, thank you so much for being on the show.

Kathy Button Bell: Thank you. It was a great pleasure. I want to help you on your book.

Drew Neisser: Oh, thank you.

Kathy Button Bell: I love talking about this, so that’s great.

Drew Neisser: Thank you very much. And for all the listeners, I’m always grateful for your time. I got a call yesterday from a CMO who was bingeing on the show and suggested other opportunities for me to cover here so I encourage you to do the same. Text me with an idea for the show, we’re listening. As always, until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong

Quotes from Kathy Button Bell

Research is your sword and your shield.
I always tell people, especially our creative agencies, "Scare me. And let me pull you back." It's hard to make something more interesting. It's a lot easier to tame something extraordinary.
You won't advertise yourself to greatness. You have to behave yourself to greatness first.