Marketing Through Change with Glenn Thomas

Industry: Healthcare

Role: Chief Marketing Officer

What is the craziest or most inspirational thing you've witnessed in your marketing career?

A relatively recent crazy one that sticks out for me is when Siemens re-branded their healthcare division. Let me start by saying that I have tremendous respect for Siemens - they are a truly great company. But even great companies do strange things. I was the CMO for their main competitor at the time, as they launched a new distinct identity for their brand ahead of an IPO. It was so astonishingly awkward that it looked like a spoof. Their new name "Siemens Healthineers" evoked Disney overtones, the brand design and color palette was jarring (blue and orange anyone?). Plus, they held (and broadcast) a cringe-worthy launch concert where we were treated to blue and orange spandex-clad dancers gyrating to a dreadful company theme song along with their senior execs. It was such a departure from the core values of that business that I kept wondering what agency they had worked with to create this slow-motion train wreck. But, it became apparent that much of this was homemade. They are a truly fine company with excellent products and services, so they weathered the disaster, but it was an amazing lesson on how not to execute a re-brand.

What is the best thing you have learned about marketing during this crazy time of pandemic?

The biggest thing for me has been the importance of, and the ability to, establish authentic human connections despite the self-isolation in this pandemic. Many people are feeling vulnerable and alone, and need authenticity and meaningful engagement. People don’t want (and can’t have) the same old engagement while in lock-down, and they see thru the now formulaic pandemic message overlay on old value-propositions. B2B sales has been something of a "digital hold-out” over the years, but this pandemic has shown that remote and digital sales does work - and that many customers prefer it to the old ways of selling.

What is the biggest marketing mistake you've made, and how did you adapt going forward?

I once developed a new target market and offering strategy in a financial services business. I worked with my team to size the opportunity, conduct the research, develop the offers, establish external partnerships and channel strategies. It was compelling and I was convinced it would be a home run. It never saw the light of day. I simply had not invested the necessary time in building the right internal company stakeholder engagement and buy-in, and it was dead on arrival at exec team review. Ever since that experience, I am paranoid about stakeholder engagement and buy-in, and take a much wider definition of who my “team” really is. I still get it wrong on occasion though!

When you look in your crystal ball, what advice can you offer marketing leaders over the next five years?

Recent events will shape new opportunities and accelerate a lot of pre-existing trends in marketing and sales. We will see new customer needs and behaviors that we need to understand. Digital engagement will be the default. The existing marketing ecosystem will be redefined. The phrase “never let a good crisis go to waste” may be a little clichéd, but it’s true. Marketing leaders should take the pandemic as a call to duty and step up to lead and to accelerate change now and into next years. It’s inevitable that many marketing leaders will be called upon to significantly cut costs. But do more than simply cut - reinvent the model. Your customer needs are changing and the clay is still damp - mold it. Business models are being disrupted - show the way.

Any parting thoughts/words of wisdom?

Few disciplines operate in such a fast moving environment and require the marriage of technology, rigor and creativity that marketing does. Fewer disciplines yet have the role to understand market and customer needs, and the duty to take a leadership role in shaping business models and opportunities. Now more than ever, marketing has never been more exciting and essential, so enjoy it!