Senior vice president of corporate marketing, FedEx Services
Laurie has moved on from this role since the interview.
You’ve had a remarkably diverse career inside FedEx. How have your various roles informed your work as head marketer?
I’ve learned from having so many different jobs here that we always need to understand what we do in terms of customer touch points. So many companies think that if they operate their specific functions at peak performance they’ll be a great company. What they forget is that you can have the greatest customer service in the world, but if a customer experiences a failure at their last interaction then you’ve failed them. Our customers entrust us with their most important business and their most important shipments every single day, and we have to strive for perfection to warrant that trust. As large as we are now and with as many employees worldwide as we have, it’s really tough to be good every single day unless it’s at the core of what you are as a company.
You told Fast Company in 1999 that you were moving from merely listening to anticipating the customer’s needs. How has your ability to anticipate changed in the ensuing 14 years?
Well, it still all comes back to observation. Our teams are constantly observing and bringing back feedback from our customers as a way to improve service and develop new products and services. My innovation team spends most of its time in a room whose walls are covered with ideas that get distilled into new products and services.
Have any seen the light of day?
A couple of years ago one of those ideas became something we call SenseAware, which is a really cool device that can be dropped into one of our shipping boxes. The whole time a SenseAware box travels it communicates back to us, telling us its location, its temperature, whether it’s been dropped, exposed to light, etc. It also continues to track even after we’ve delivered it to its destination. So if we deliver to a hospital and it got dropped at the front door, but no one can find it, we’ll know where it is. SenseAware took off-the-shelf components and added our tracking capabilities. So we didn’t really develop a device, but more of a platform. And that comes back to anticipating what our customers need based on our observations, maybe before they know themselves.
The idea for SenseAware came out of marketing?
It really was a co-design. Marketing worked closely with the technology folks to solve our customers’ problems. The way our innovation team works here at FedEx is that we have technology and marketing teams co-located. We don’t have a separate IT lab and a marketing lab. The two do everything together.
How did those two departments mesh?
They really got into a rhythm of working together quite quickly. The problem we ran into was more about our corporate culture. Once a company moves beyond the startup phase, it’s harder to spend lots of research dollars on something that might not have a direct return on investment. Everyone wants to know what the payoff might be on a project and when we’ll see revenue. But companies need to realize that not every innovation dollar you spend is going to translate into a new invention, a new service or a new capability. I’ve also learned that it helps to have a strong partner outside of marketing for whatever you’re doing. Senior officers in whatever part of the business we work with have to be 100 percent supportive. They have to be involved in the project and they have to put their own money in. Otherwise, it’s just marketing’s idea and we’ll be hung out to dry.
Are you under pressure to guarantee ROI?
Marketers have always had a tough time with ROI because a lot of what we do is build awareness, and even if I build that awareness, does that translate into sales? Does my work translate into higher shipments? The good news is that the shift to digital has given us a tremendous ability to measure the effectiveness of pretty much anything we do. We can see which ad or which search actually resulted in a transaction. So now we’re able to build business cases around our work and demonstrate why we should get more funding. That’s been fabulous and so I really think these are very exciting times to be a marketer. It also means that marketing has become a much more analytical role than in the past and so we’ve gained more esteem among our financial brethren.
What role does creativity have in this new era?
Sure there’s more data and analytics, but I don’t think that makes marketing less creative or less fun. I think it only adds to our ability to be creative and more targeted in our messaging. Our marketing teams have really embraced these new technologies.
I’ve made sure that we’re present on every social media platform that is viable and relevant, and even a few that aren’t quite there yet. We have to—or we won’t be relevant to our customers. We also bounce ideas off an online group of customers who’ve volunteered their time. We’ll ask them almost anything, from a campaign idea to a new service, tagline or even color choices for the interior of our stores. We don’t really do anything anymore without throwing it out to this group. It’s all about being as close to our customers as we can be and providing them with messages and services that are relevant to their needs.
How targeted do you get in your communications—and how do you steer clear of creating the impression that you’re stalking customers?
There’s definitely a lot of talk and fear these days about how companies use data and how they know so much about us. But actually we don’t know that much about any individual person. We have data about your habits and can use that to tailor offers and services to you as a way to be more relevant to you. But that’s not the same as knowing who you are. When I tell people this, they get it. They don’t actually feel like it’s an invasion if they’re getting something in return. That said, marketers have to be really careful. We can’t exploit this willingness. We need to always use our data to bring real value to customers.
Where does traditional media fit in? Has big data diminished its role in your marketing plans?
When you ask customers how they hear about our products and services, the number one answer is still television, so we still spend a big chunk there. That said, we definitely spend less on TV than we used to because it’s so hard to say how much additional business we get from commercials. We learn the most from print and digital. Of course we also spend a lot on sponsorships with the NFL, PGA and NASCAR. That’s where we get to take advantage of our brand and use social media, too. We also believe that’s an effective place for TV because people watch sports live, so there’s less watching on Tivo or DVRs and skipping commercials. There will always be a place for traditional media, but we must increase its effectiveness with supporting digital and social channels where we can target and measure our messaging’s results.