Former Global Chief Marketing Officer at Uber and Beam Suntory
Rebecca is a leading global Chief Marketing Officer with experience across various industries. She started and built her marketing career at Coca Cola for over 22 years before being promoted to SVP where she was responsible for global marketing productivity and integrated communications across channels. In 2016, Rebecca joined Beam Suntory, the Japanese owner of the Jim Beam Whiskey brand, as CMO where she led the company’s marketing strategy. Rebecca left Beam in 2018 and was recently the Global CMO at Uber.Read moreView Profile Page
Rebecca, what have you seen, from a marketing perspective, during this Covid phase, that has really impressed you from brands?
Brands serve the public and some have worked out, the time is now, for our brands to really step up. The brands that have done that are the ones that have really impressed me. The brands that have recognized that this isn’t, actually, a time to market, but it’s a time to help, have been those that, I think, have really stood out. What’s really stood out is those brands that have found ways to help that are squarely in their wheelhouse; and brands that have found ways to help, that may not even be in their wheelhouse.
I can give you a couple of examples. Crocs, they make shoes. They make shoes that hospital workers wear. This is a time when they have a product that can really help, but it’s not about profiting from their product. They really have invested in long-term love and equity, with hospital workers. They’re doing a tremendous job donating their shoes. I think that brands that have a capability to help, like Dyson. Dyson is known for innovation; it’s known for its technology and its design. But it’s not known for making ventilators. But they have the capability to make ventilators and they’ve leaned in, to do that.
Ford and some of the car companies have done that. LVMH, with turning perfume factories into hand sanitizer production plants. Your spirits companies who understand they have a strong ethanol base that can be used for something. These are not in their core products. But these are things that they know that they have the capability to help and they believe that that will work, long term; that you will choose them over their competitors. That you will have some more love and they just know that it’s the right thing to do.
The other thing that I would say is, there’s a number of companies where it’s impressive to see how they’re pivoting their business model. There is a small company, here in the United States, it’s called Jimmy John’s. It’s known for incredibly fast delivery and they make sandwiches. They also make the bread, to make those sandwiches and they have found that the bread is in more demand than the sandwiches. So they’ve pivoted their business model to make, what would be, if you or I were running that business, a pretty high margin product, and getting that to consumers pretty quickly.
There’s a number of companies that are pivoting their business model. SIXT is a car company, that you probably know pretty well, that rents cars. They’re doing a great job at going, listen, no one is really renting a car right now as they’re not doing a lot of driving. But coming out of this crisis, you are thinking about buying a car and you are uncertain about your financial situation, you’re probably going to think long and hard. So they’re doing long-term rentals, which is just such a nice way to bridge you through this gap; three-month rentals, for example. They can just get you through the financial instability and it will cost you $300, which you probably could afford, versus the investment of a new car.
So there is so much happening. The core to it all, though, is knowing who your brand is. The brands that are getting it wrong are when the actions don’t follow the words and when it’s just off-brand. I think you see this a lot. When the Coca-Cola company separates its Spencerian Script logo, first of all, that’s a really big deal for them to do, because they don’t mess with their logo, ever. But when they do that for a broader public service message, to really emphasize the idea of people standing apart, in my view, and I was an insider, in the sense that it was, firstly, an important message, but it’s company that’s always been about togetherness and bringing people together. So it had that double meaning of really emphasizing that this is actually a time for us to be apart, so that we can come back together, later.
That’s what I’m seeing that there’s some really good work out there, right now.
How do you know your brand? How do you get to know your brand, as a marketer?
I would say, this is a terrible time to have to figure it out quickly. I think that would be scary, right now. This is good example of playing catch up, on who your brand, with stake, to be quite honest. That’s your job. Your job is to really understand your brand’s DNA, the value system you stand on, what you stand for, what you stand up against. That’s fundamental work and it should start with your product truths.
What does your product do, literally do? Then you can ladder that to what that might, emotionally, mean and what that physically means, of course. What that might, culturally, mean. What that might mean, in terms of society. That’s really important, in core work. I think, right now, more than ever, there is genuinely this social consciousness emerging. If your brand didn’t have a higher purpose, you’re going to be looking for that higher purpose. If it did, great; your purpose is going to be put to the test and you’re going to have a great chance to show that, because that’s what we’re more interested in, right now. We’re seeing through everything superficial. We’re getting to what is really important. We’re getting to what’s public, what’s universal. This is about health and the stakes are high.
I think people are holding brands to that high level of accountability. But I would say, if you don’t have it figured out who your brand is, it’s very hard to do that in a hurry.
What were the key lessons you learned about brand building, at Coca-Cola?
I’m so grateful for those 22 years. I think it’s, probably, one of the greatest brand-building companies in the world, evidenced by the test of time, the products that it has and their sustainability. The role they’ve played over generations and, I think, the role they will continue to play.
I think I learned what we just talked about, above all. About really understanding the role that brands play in the world. No matter what you sell, whether it’s something as simple as a Coca-Cola, something as necessary as water, and everything in between. I think one of the greatest foundations was that understanding and putting consumers first and really being driven by insight. The Coca-Cola company has an incredible appetite for the consumers and the stakeholders it serves. We were always driven by insight, first and foremost.
What do you mean by insight?
Insight, in terms of physical needs. We know how many times a day you drink a beverage of some kind. In so doing, we know that there are physical needs. That is core to the company understanding it, better than anybody else in the world, what are physical needs are, for hydration, for replenishment, for refreshment, whatever it may be. I think the Coca-Cola company does that, second to none.
But there’s more than that in building brands and moving those products. It’s understanding the communities we serve. It’s understanding the emotional wants and needs of consumers, because that’s how we have to connect, to make our brand stand out. Someone else can serve the same physical need, but rarely, can someone match the emotional and cultural connection that you might make with people. That’s really where you will differentiate. That’s something you learn, very well, at the Coca-Cola company.
The other thing I think you learn there is, it’s like working at the United Nations. It does business in over 200 countries and there are some things that are universal and these universal truths build beautiful Coca-Cola brands. There are some things that are just truly local. I think the company does a very nice job of looking at that. The other thing I think all brands do – I’d like to make this a general comment about brand building – is that I think brands that are going to survive the test of time do two things well and they do them a bit simultaneously. Sometimes they turn one on and they might turn the other off. That’s that they have this incredible ability to be timely and timeless.
You can think of luxury goods companies that do this very well. Chanel. Chanel has stood the test of time and stood for a certain look. Yet, it has stayed incredibly relevant, by leveraging trends and pop culture but it has stayed true to those timeless qualities that have made the brand what it is. I think the Coca-Cola company has done that incredibly well, in ensuring that it plays in the timely conversations that are happening in the world, but it does so, based on that really timeless message that the brands have been built on.