Q&A with Trish Mueller, Former CMO of Home Depot

Michael Zimbalist

Chief Marketing Officer

Excerpt from ANA Magazine story:

Q. From your perspective as the former CMO of a big box retailer with a growing e-commerce business, describe all the different jobs TV advertising did for you.
A. Television is a brand builder, an awareness builder, and a traffic driver, even with the growth of digital advertising and online video. Television viewing continues to change, but within key programs, targeting specific audiences, it is still a great way to get your brand and products in front of the customer. In addition, that awareness also drives search behavior and further engagement with the brand across multiple devices after seeing the TV ad.

One area that is often overlooked for leverage of TV ads is your internal customers. TV advertising can become a rallying cry for store associates and stakeholders inside your corporate offices. Sharing it with them before the ad runs publicly can generate tremendous excitement and engagement, as well as adoption of new product launches. Giving internal stakeholders an advance look at TV ads and related content helps make your front line more knowledgeable and engaged to drive success in the aisles.

Q. In what ways have digital media and marketing changed the way you think about traditional TV advertising?
A. I now expect TV ads to work much harder than I did even a couple of years ago. Content in TV spots should be expandable for an online experience, particularly as we see set-top TVs moving to smart devices — and ads moving onto digital platforms as pre-roll or digital video placements on key platforms. If the customer wants more information or to engage with the brand, TV ads must be able to connect and deliver a deeper experience. This takes planning when ads are produced.

In addition, formatting of TV ads has to be thought through. TV spots served on a handheld device are smaller and are often viewed in a vertical format, with the sound off. The spots have to tell the story without sound, and without the ability to read small type — and they also need to be interactive to allow deeper engagement on the mobile device, in particular. We used to put URLs in ads years ago — can you imagine trying to interact with one of those on your phone today?

I think the days of the network upfront are numbered. With the options available to target effectively in real time, why would anyone commit substantial resources that far in advance and pay a premium to do it? The big networks have a problem they’re happy to let marketers pay for, and it’s time to hold them responsible for being better partners, with rational CPMs and up-to-date targeting techniques.

Q. Marketers have access to more customer data than ever before. How can we use that to become better marketers?
A. We should be using data to avoid serving irrelevant content to consumers, and to avoid wasting money serving those ads. Leveraging what we know expands to partnering with others to source the right audiences who are most likely to be interested in the messages we want to share. I would never answer the door today to someone if they were trying to sell me something I wasn’t interested in, so why would any marketer want to spend money to do that digitally, and risk annoying customers?

The power of using our own data and partnering with others to target messaging allows us to close more sales by being useful to our customers, as opposed to disruptive. Data should also be used continuously after the fact to optimize which customers are responding, to fine tune the messages, how they are delivered, and where. If people don’t engage with online video in specific formats and on certain platforms, we should test and learn why — is it the platform, the format, or the content? In each case, we can do a better job if we study the test results.

Data should be used to remove “gut” from spending on nonproductive platforms. If your returns are low in a channel, cut it loose and get those dollars working somewhere else.

Q. Audiences are fragmented across more channels and devices than ever before. What’s the best strategy for reaching through all this complexity?
A. I always start with the customer, and determine the best way to make the brand and product useful to them, in the places — channels and platforms — they frequent. I remain passionate about following the behavior, not a segment label, and believe it’s important to go deep versus broad in targeting. In 2016 it’s irresponsible to use adults 25 to 54 as a target audience.

Marketers must have a clearer understanding of who is most likely to be interested in their product. Merchants want their message in front of as many customers as possible, but not those that don’t need or want the product. This requires marketers to be more thoughtful when writing creative briefs for ad agencies and creatives. Imagine how different your message would be if you moved from broad to sniper-sharp targeting.

It’s also important to understand the platforms and channels you plan to reach those customers on, so you’re not producing content that will never be needed, or missing key content that would help customers convert to a sale. I think the digital world has us running so fast we don’t always take the time to stop and think through the desired outcome, what the messages ought to be, and where we need to put them to effectively achieve that. I prefer to thoughtfully begin with the end in mind and work back from there.

Finally, you don’t need to be everywhere every day to reach your audience. I have seen some siloed channel communications be as effective as multichannel campaigns — it all depends on what you have to say and who you need to say it to.

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