Disruptive marketing, risk can pay off

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Jaime Cohen Szulc
Jaime Cohen Szulc

Levi's CMO Szulc discusses disruption marketing and risk taking on a budget

Q: You've talked a lot about the need for disruption within a marketing organization. How do you enter an existing organizational structure and make changes without destroying the things that work?

A: It is all about bringing about a change in culture. Levi's is a global brand, but it is represented in different ways throughout the marketing mix. It is not about coming in and changing 100% of your media mix. It is about finding the low-hanging fruit and looking for small opportunities to disrupt. Sometimes those small opportunities become big and take over the company.

Q: How is the creative disruptive?

A: You not only have to be disruptive, you have to be disruptive in a way that is relevant on a very personal level. It creates energy so that people will get engaged. Loyalty is about a passive way of dealing with the brands, and advocacy is an active way, so the idea is how to get at that advocacy. The Dockers "Wear the Pants" campaign and the Levi's "America" campaign were both successful in this way. You have to consider whether there is an occasion to be disruptive and decide if this is something you should take chances with.

Q: These were successful examples. Do things ever go wrong?

A: I prefer to test a bunch of things, and 90% of those things will not work. You have to learn from them. The risk in a bigger company is that you test a bunch of things, you don't learn from them, and newer generations start repeating the mistakes.

Q: How do you explain this to your bosses when you have to deliver ROI and stick to budgets?

A: Some of those things are expendable through low-hanging fruit. So, for example, if you spend two or three times more in your advertising and promotion budget, maybe you start looking into the consolidation of the media buy and offer some savings there. With the savings, you can experiment. That is a fact-based way to do it. But many things are really a leap of faith.

Q: Levi's has focused on digital and social marketing. Are you seeing a transition from a traditional ad model to a direct and digital model?

A: There are cases and points in time in which one makes more sense than the other. These days you may be doing a lot more peer-to-peer marketing, microtargeting and branded entertainment content stuff. But it doesn't mean that the medium is more important than the core idea.

Q: What kinds of data are you using?

A: We are really looking to approach business research data in a new way... to find a fun way to ask people for their opinion. Consumers have to feel that there is value for them to invest their time in something.

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