Symphonic Marketing Moves Customers


After amassing impressive and varied marketing experience at Toys “R” Us, World Wrestling Entertainment, Tommy Bahama, and VF Corporation, former classical musician John Bancroft joined iconic retail brand Harry & David as its SVP of marketing. Since taking the marketing helm at the gourmet gift company, he’s orchestrated a rebranding effort and served on the executive team that helped compose the acquisition of the company by

What’s your marketing passion?

Blending art and science to create great—or greater—branded experiences. I feel like I’ve developed a keen sense as to how data can drive the branded experience. I also enjoy harnessing digital technologies.

How do you deploy this sense at Harry & David?

Some of the best marketing we experience is informed by large amounts of data. It’s magical. The marketing looks so easy and effortless…so right…but behind the scenes you know that a lot of people are working hard by connecting data, insights, creative, positioning, and more to make everything just right for the customer.

Tell me when this passion struck you?

There have been many moments of art, science, and technology that inspired me. After my first year of business school [at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business] I landed a summer internship at Walt Disney World. I didn’t want to leave my apartment in Philadelphia vacant, but I also didn’t have the time to get it rented. I took a chance and used the Internet to advertise the rental. This was 1999. Within an hour I had it rented, sight unseen. Everything about that experience made me think, “Wow, this is a powerful medium.” I really knew I was onto something, and the rest of my career has been, to a great degree, focused in the online space.

Tell me about an arts-science aha moment that occurred to you as a professional.

When I worked on VF Corporation’s corporate strategy team [about six years ago], I experienced the seamless interaction of art and science to drive solid business results for a variety of world-class brands. In that environment, brand equities, customer insights, and statistics combined with creative, videos, and other content technologies with additional marketing tools to form a world-class symphony of marketing expertise.

What do you mean by “symphony?”

I grew up playing the French horn in symphonies and ensembles. Some of my favorite early-adult experiences involved playing in a brass quintet and an orchestra at Tanglewood and Carnegie Hall. I was also fortunate enough to tour around the world. From this experience I learned that the best groups have world-class members who interact seamlessly together. This notion of greatness has stuck with me through my marketing career. I’ve seen that the best marketing organizations tend to have strong individuals who also perform extremely well together. In my daily routine I strive to maintain this balance of attracting—and developing—world-class team members who also work flawlessly together, like a great symphony.

Do you apply any conducting techniques to your work as a marketing executive?

Marketing is a complex discipline, and it’s becoming even more complex as technology, data, and the needs of business change over time. Orchestra systems are inherently complex, as well. The discipline of playing a single instrument needs to be combined with the discipline of working with other instruments of your own type and then other members of the orchestra. All of this needs to be combined with the complex and nuanced nature of a conductor and his or her vision. So, the notion of working really well in your discipline, across your department, and aligning with a vision, I think that dynamic absolutely applies to great marketing organizations.

What types of marketing talent do you recruit?

I look for great scientists, great storytellers, and great operators. With a strong marketing team I can act as the conductor by ensuring that all of the critical elements play in perfect harmony with each other while mentoring key skills and talents.


What do you mean by “operators?”

Marketing is very much about operations. For example, operating a robust, global, world-class e-commerce website is a marketing requirement nowadays. Of course, if you’re operating an e-commerce store globally and efficiently, you have to be fluent in the data analysis and key statistics. You also have to have a content-creation engine run by storytellers.

What indicators of success do you look for when you’re hiring data scientists, storytellers, and operators into your function?

It really depends on the level of the role I’m recruiting for. I generally look for core aptitude in the function itself. I’m looking for people with the right blend of great experience who happen to be very smart and absolutely love what they do. The people I hire also tend to have passion for advancing the discipline of marketing that they’re involved in.

How do you transform your passion into success?

I enjoy seeing creative empowered by data, and data informed by creative. Integrate those two with emerging technologies and you have an unbeatable marketing force.

What’s the most formidable challenge you encounter when putting your passion into practice?

Organizational inertia, which can hinder the progress of transforming brands and customer experiences. The best organizations are able to overcome organizational inertia.

What are some causes of the organizational inertia that marketing contends with?

I think we all know what that inertia can be. It could be an organizational history that’s no longer as relevant to the current customer. It could be internal policies. It could be organizational structures that are no longer efficient, given current business conditions. If you can unlock that organizational inertia, you’ll be able to achieve more than your comparable marketing peers.

How do you address the organizational inertia challenge?

Great senior leadership is the key to success. Great senior leadership teams are able to break through the inertia in a collaborative way to transform brand and customer experiences. Combine that leadership with an empowered creative and data-driven team, and you enable organizations to unlock that full potential of their brands and their customer experiences. Our recent rebranding for Harry & David is a good example. We’ve had 80 years of amazing success—Harry & David has really become an iconic American brand. At the same time, the market changes and customer tastes change. We felt that there was an opportunity to take a fresh look at the brand and then honor the brand by taking it to its next level.

What are some key aspects of the rebranding?

Our customers were clearly telling us that they were looking for a brand that reflects the premium price they expect to pay for gourmet gifts. The key elements of this request were: a brand they could trust; a brand with a clear and iconic style of communications; and a brand that reflected sophisticated and premium quality. We approached this by updating the overall look and feel of the brand elements, and redesigning our catalogs, our website, and our email templates. We also created new touchpoints, such as a gourmet catalog, email newsletters, and other communications. This updated positioning has allowed the company to move into new and exciting product categories, expand our product assortments, and prospect new customers. And it all started with the rebranding.

Creating symphonic marketing requires marketing mastery, so Harry & David SVP of Marketing John Bancroft is focused on:

Hiring passion: Bancroft recruits “great” data scientists, storytellers, and operators who possess different types of core marketing expertise. He also seeks candidates who have a passion for advancing their marketing expertise.

Conducting expert marketers: “I can act as the conductor,” he says, “by ensuring that all of the critical elements play in perfect harmony with each other while mentoring key skills and talents.”

Reducing inertia: Outdated internal policies and organizational structures cause inertia that poses a challenge to all marketing functions, Bancroft notes. He monitors and works through that inertia through a combination of savvy senior marketers and a highly collaborative work environment.

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