Contrary to the myth that good products sell themselves, behind every successful brand is a successful marketing strategy. The best products and services can fail to break through without a targeted marketing approach, especially in a time when messages blare at us from every direction, and consumers are highly sophisticated. If anything, there are numerous examples of superior products losing out to superior marketing. Companies that don’t know who they are selling to and how to message to them risk being lost in the crowd.
Marketing is part art, part science. While there’s no easy creative calculus, some basic principles can go a long way. The best marketing campaigns, such as Apple’s “Think Different,” are simple, powerful, and in retrospect, almost obvious. But there is nothing easy or obvious about crystallizing brand, messaging, and positioning. That’s why even the best entrepreneurs, like Steve Jobs, don’t do their own marketing. They turn to help from expert marketing professionals.
InterimExecs RED Team executives, Ray Smale and George McGowan, share the marketing lessons they’ve learned over their careers and when it makes sense to bring in an interim or fractional executive for a CMO or Chief Growth Officer (CGO) role. They emphasized the need for fundamentals yet cautioned that, amid rapidly changing technologies and consumer patterns, companies must be prepared to pivot.
When Barry Zekelman’s father passed away he was 19 years old and six months into college. His dad left behind a business employing 5 people manufacturing steel tubing. It wasn’t much of a head start with beat up machinery, negative $5 million of retained earnings, and losing $60,000 every month. The business was on the brink of bankruptcy. Everyone told Barry to shut it down and stay in school, but he admits, “quite frankly, school was boring,” realizing that for him he had already outgrown it. This was his shot.
Barry had to piece together how to run a manufacturing business, like a pilot learning how to fly as the plane takes a nosedive. “I learned how to read an income statement and put one together real quick. I learned that making money doesn’t mean having money. You can make a lot of income – but cash is king,” he says.
He had no sooner moved into his dad’s office when two employees came in asking for a raise. Problem was, he couldn’t afford it – and he honestly didn’t know how they were making a living off what they were paid. He told them to do that he needed more production. The cash wasn’t there. The employees pleaded, ‘well – if you gave us a $2 an hour raise, this machine would never stop.”
Barry remembers thinking: what comes first, the chicken or the egg? “If this machine never stopped, I’d be able to give you a $2 an hour raise,” he said. “If I give you a raise and nothing changes, are you going to give me the money back?” The guys looked at each other and said it doesn’t work that way. Barry told them they had to do this together to be successful.
There are marketing challenges, and then there is the challenge of marketing a product no one wants to admit they use, much less talk about it in public.
Enter Whitney Vosburgh. He’s an expert, interim Chief Marketing Officer who believes that building community can be a successful marketing strategy.
It worked for ConvaTec, a company that makes something no one ever wants to buy (but many people have to): colostomy and ostomy pouches. Those are the bags used by people who have a bowel blockage, which means they must eliminate bodily waste outside their body. It’s collected in pouches like the ones made by ConvaTec.
Not surprisingly, this is not something people want to chat about with strangers. But, Vosburgh hypothesized, putting them in a room with others facing the same challenges could make all the difference.
it’s time for a private company to go public, or fundraising is needed on a
large scale, an IPO is not the only option. There’s also a less-well-known and,
until recently, less-well-respected option: a reverse merger into a public
shell oftentimes called an Alternative Public Offering (APO).
process, which can be faster and cheaper than a traditional Initial Public
Offering, is growing in popularity and might grow faster in our confusing
Jordan (no relation to InterimExecs’ CEO Robert Jordan), an investment banker
and CFO who spent 30+ years working in biotech, engineered a reverse merger of
a biopharma company in 2019. He says that while the virus has caused capital
flow interruptions, investors in the private markets are still providing
capital to companies with novel / scientifically validated biotechnology companies.
That means reverse mergers and PIPEs (Private Investment in a Public Entity)
can still raise money needed to complete their deals. He estimates that about
20 biotech firms debuted in the public markets last year as a result of reverse
mergers and the number is on track to repeat in 2020, despite the virus.
But let’s back up a step and begin at the beginning.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in ways that seemed
unimaginable just a short time ago. Within a matter of weeks schools have been
shuttered, sporting events and conferences have been canceled, air travel has
ground to a halt, over 16 million workers have been laid off, and those able to
work from home are now doing so almost exclusively.
Commentators are already proclaiming that coronavirus will
permanently change the world. Many of the expected shifts, however, are hardly
new. They were nascent prior to coronavirus and emerging stronger than ever due
to the pandemic-led paradigm shift.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the migration to remote
work and the technologies that enable it. In the United States almost a quarter
of employed individuals already were working remotely, and
while this trend has steadily increased over the past decade, with coronavirus
forcing millions to work remotely, we may have reached a tipping point.
If remote work is indeed the new normal, how can businesses embrace it? Alonso Vargas and Andrew Andrews-Ramirez provide digital transformation, helping organizations with everything from ERP implementation to outsourcing, to migrating to cloud technology, utilizing platforms including NetSuite, SAP, Salesforce, Hubstaff, and Office 365. They have seen a shift in how organizations are operating and have keen insights into how companies can get ahead in the digital curve.
Technology is the most disruptive force in the business world today. It transforms everything that it touches, creating new opportunities while at the same time threatening incumbents and late-adopters.
Futurist Peter Diamandis describes the technology paradox in the following way: “Entrepreneurs will create more wealth in the next decade, than we have in the entire past century. We’ll also experience the reinvention of every industry. Understanding how to navigate accelerating technological change is essential for every leader. The problem with such dazzling change is that most people fear the future, rather than being excited by it. And fear is a terrible mindset from which to create and leverage the opportunities ahead.”
InterimExecs recently held a webinar with Chief Information Officers (CIOs) David Mitchelhill and Kevin Malover about how you should be thinking about technology and your business strategy as we enter 2020. Among the topics discussed were ways to navigate disruption to stay competitive, the value of outside viewpoints in technology, when to pursue new technology versus maximizing current assets, and balancing the fear of change with the fear of falling behind.
“Write down a change you would like to make in an organization that you are currently with…or change in the marketplace. Any kind. It can be a big change, it could be a small change – strategic, tactical, something you want people to start doing, something you want people to stop doing,” says Jeff Leitner as he looks around a room filled with CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, and other C-Suite executives at this year’s InterimExecs’ RED Team meeting. He continues “You’re change is absolutely, almost certainly going to fail. It’s not your fault. It has nothing to do with your particular genius – has nothing to do with your insights. Changes fail. They almost always fail.”
Jeff Leitner knows a thing or two about change and innovation. He spent the last 20 years improving organizations from the US State Department to NASA, Starbucks, Panera, and the Dalai Lama Center for Peace. In a world where innovation and disruption is key, the question is why does change rarely stick in organizations, markets, and society? Jeff has dedicated years to studying why change fails and in his most recent speaking circuit, is sharing what leaders can do to be more effective in leading change initiatives.
In the tsunami of digital transformation, it has dawned on boards that disruptive technologies pose not only a great opportunity, but also bring inherent risks. New technologies bring great promise to help businesses grow, improve efficiencies, and seize new markets. On the other hand, when an organization decides to embrace new technologies, they will come face-to-face with new business models and regulations that are unlike what they have ever seen before.
Boards may not be fully equipped to face the onslaught and speed at which new technologies are infiltrating the business sector. In fact, according to the 2018–2019 NACD Private Company Governance Survey, 80% of directors say that boards need to expand their knowledge of the challenges and risks of emerging technologies.
As an executive who has spent his career growing companies, taking companies public, and successfully selling businesses, Charlie Shalvoy says the first thing he does when he parachutes into a company is begin with an assessment. Whether the company is venture-capital backed or private, or in manufacturing, energy, semiconductors, or industrial equipment, figuring out the current state of operations is always the first step. Charlie divides the stages an interim executive goes through in taking action in a new company into four phases:
Phase 1: Taking Hold (90 Days)
When a company seeks to expand into new markets or scale operations to support current and future growth, Charlie takes on a role ranging from Interim CEO to Executive Chairman, where he coaches and serves alongside the CEO and management team. He describes that in the taking hold phase, an interim executive identifies what’s broken – even fast growing companies need repairs. What is getting in the way? What is causing distress?
May 6 and 7 marked the fourth InterimExecs’ RED Roundtable (Rapid Executive Deployment), a gathering of top interim executives in Chicago. Executives across a range of specialties from CEO to CFO, COO, CIO, CMO, and CRO met for a mix of speakers, discussion, and sharing best practices on creating high performing companies.
The event kicked off Monday morning at William Blair’s headquarters where innovation expert, Jeff Leitner, drew on extensive research and 20 years’ experience improving operations to share why most change initiatives fail and what we can do about it. Interim executives discussed how Jeff’s findings applied to assignments they jump into where they often are called on to drive disruption, innovation, and powerful change.