Earlier in my career I would help with earnings calls. And it opened my eyes to the relentless focus on the short term. An overemphasis on metrics like quarterly earnings-per-share guidance.
For us marketers, that short-termism can take the form of pouring our budget exclusively into the bottom of the funnel and performance marketing. On a related note – the average CMO tenure is only 40 months.
But the guest of our most recent podcast episode has overseen marketing at her brand for 26 years.
Listen now to the latest episode of the How I Made It In Marketing podcast to get a long-term perspective from Mary Rodgers, Head of Marketing Communications, Cuisinart.
This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
Before you optimize your marketing, you must optimize yourself. Which is why we have offered free digital marketing course sessions like The Marketer’s Self Image: Three distorted concepts that are robbing your conversion results. This approach to self-optimization was top-of-mind as I heard lessons from our latest guest. Lessons like “you must remain wet clay” and “find intellectual inspiration.”
Listen now to hear Mary Rodgers, Head of Marketing Communications, Cuisinart, discuss the importance of a long-term approach to product and marketing strategy, along with the need to stay flexible and fresh in your approach to your brand and its customers (hence the need for self-optimization).
Rodgers manages a $30 million annual budget with a staff of 20 marketing professionals. In her 26 years leading the brand’s marketing, she has helped position Cuisinart as the #1 high-end housewares brand in a highly competitive industry. The brand holds the first market share position in 13 of 15 product categories, according to NPD syndicated research.
Some lessons from Rodgers that emerged in our discussion:
A never-give-up attitude, resourcefulness, and tenacity are some of the personal characteristics that serve you well no matter what field you are practicing in
In her first job out of college when she was new at Dansk, the only thing that showed up for her booth at a major trade show was a toaster the size of a car. James Frazee encouraged her not to give up, that the show must go on, and she found a way to make the booth a success.
Always focus on the needs of consumers
Testing and research are integral to Cuisinart’s product development and marketing.
Look for long-term growth
When Cuisinart launches a product, it tends to stay in the line for quite a long time. For example, it has been selling food processors since the 1970s and the classic model remains the top-selling item in the food processor category. So the team doesn’t like to just launch models and discontinue, they strategize the next steps they will take in that category when developing a product.
Rodgers also shared lessons she learned from key people in her career:
Ron Diamond, President and CEO of Conair LLC: You must remain wet clay
Conair is the parent company of Cuisinart. Diamond recently challenged Rodgers by telling her, “We need to blow things up.” He was referring to the fact that even though they have worked at the company a long time, they need to constantly try new things.
Laura Schneck, CEO, International Insights: Find intellectual inspiration
Schneck was helping Rodgers evaluate customer opinions and gave her new ways of thinking about the relationship between Cuisinart’s customers and the brand.
Mary George, Advisor of American Securities, former CEO of Bell Sports, and Co-Chairman of Bell Automotive Products: Get education through mentorship
American Securities is a private equity firm, and the owner of Conair. George gave Rodgers ideas for how to check-in with and understand her team during remote work and hybrid work setups.
This podcast is not about marketing – it is about the marketer. It draws its inspiration from the Flint McGlaughlin quote, “The key to transformative marketing is a transformed marketer” from the Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages free digital marketing course.
Not ready for a listen just yet? Interested in searching the content? No problem. Below is a rough transcript of our conversation.
Daniel Burstein: Earlier in my career, I would help with earnings calls and it opened my eyes to the relentless focus on the short term in business and marketing. I mean, just look around. It's quarterly earnings per share guidance and myopic focus on the current news cycle or Real-Time Marketing. The people that pour their budget only into the bottom of the funnel in performance marketing.
In fact, no less than Warren Buffett and Jamie Diamond wrote an Op-Ed (opinion piece in the newspaper) in the Wall Street Journal with the title, Short Termism is Harming the Economy. Come on. We see this in marketing. The average CMO tenure is only 40 months. But our next guest has been marketing at the same company for, get this, 26 years. She is going to tell us about bringing a long-term growth perspective to product launches and how one of the most popular items her brand sells in that category was launched in the seventies.
That's just one of the many lessons we're going to hear from Mary Rogers, Head of Marketing Communications at Cuisinart. Thanks for joining us, Mary.
Mary Rodgers: Thank you for having me today.
Daniel Burstein: As we look at some of your background here, I just usually go through people's LinkedIn real quick. We see earlier in your career you started as National Sales and Marketing Coordinator at Danske. You were Marketing Manager at Farberware, but then it goes to Cuisinart. And I saw 26 years, that's incredible. And I just kind of was doing a little back of the folder math.
So, if the average CMO tenure is 40 months, there's probably about like ten CMO's who don't even last like a year and a half and you're just kind of bringing up the average for them.
Mary Rodgers: I got to do my best there and help out my friends. So yes, I've been with the company for 26 years. As you can imagine, it's changed dramatically in that time frame and so has marketing. So has the world and you know. Some of the biggest changes in our business have been around, you know, D to C and eCommerce and some areas of business that are really new to marketing in a way newish in that whole time frame.
But my team consists of market research, digital marketing, e-comm, D to C, also good old brand marketing is in there too. And so I have a pretty deep group of people who help us. And then we have a huge group of agency partners who specialize in specific areas to help support our business for the long term. So, you know, you had asked me when we were prepping for this about, you know, what do I do in a given day?
Well, the gamut, as you can imagine, you know, it could be everything from, you know, analyzing data for you know, a huge study. Or it could be something as, you know, thoughtless in some people's mind as reviewing inventory and understanding where our D to C business is going. And so, I say the reason I'm still here at Cuisinart is because not one day has been the same in 26 years.
And so, it's all over the place. You know, last week we had a gigantic meeting about Amazon Summit, prepping for things like that, prepping for, you know, retailer meetings, presenting marketing programing. It's basically all over. And you have to have a pretty diverse set of skills to be in marketing now in my opinion. It's not just about, you know, a lot of people I have people, young people who work for me and they say I thought it was going to be fun and I didn't realize there's so many numbers involved. I’m like, you're running a business, it's a business. You know, it's not all the fun stuff. There's all this stuff that you have to do to keep the business running for the long term.
Daniel Burstein: There is, but there's some fun stuff to it looks like there's some trophies behind you. Are there some trophies behind you?
Mary Rodgers: Oh, yeah, there are. I had a little bit of fun to get those too. Oh, yeah and my thing of Lysol over there.
Daniel Burstein: So, let me tell the folks at home a little bit about your team. So, you have a staff of 20 marketing professionals in addition to your creative agency, you manage a $30 million annual budget and you have helped make Cuisinart the number one high end housewares brand, according to NPD. So nice job. Let's find out how you did that.
So, let's jump in your first lesson. You told us about was never give up attitude, resourcefulness and tenacity are some of the personal characteristics that serve you well no matter what field you are practicing. And this goes, I think back to earlier in your career. Tell us what happened.
Mary Rodgers: So, one of the of the really big trade shows in our business in the houseware industry is the International Housewares Show. And I had started working for Danske like that week. And they wanted me to go to Chicago with them. So, I'm like going to this big trade show. And I had no input. You know, I had no real involvement in the set up in the organization of it.
And we get to the show, and they had hired a consultant to like to do that aspect of the show, set the show up and get everybody like trained and everything and we get all the way to this show. And literally nothing showed up like nothing, nothing at all. And I'm like, oh my God, this is my first intro to this company. And I'm like, oh, like, go into survival mode at this point. And so, the person I worked for at that time, his name was Jim Frazee, we still keep in contact with each other. He's doing other things now. He's basically semi-retired and moved on to some things that are of his interest instead of like real marketing work.
But I was you know, my first big lesson was like, you know, don't give up, the show must go on. Let's figure out how we're going to do this. You know, we dragged all over Chicago looking for, like, fixtures and product and, you know, grocery shopping and finding everything that we needed to so that we could still have this really important show. And and we had all these new, like, launch products, too. And and the funny thing was, I didn't tell you this part was, one thing did show up with this gigantic toaster that was like, you know, supposed to be like the, you know, the piece that was going to get people all interested.
It was like it was like the oh my God, it was the size of the car. So that was like the only thing that did show up and everything else didn’t. So, the one thing it did to teach me really early on, in my career, I was like, am not going to say how old I was because I can't figure out how old, how old I am now. But, you know, it really taught me that you could figure your way out of anything. Like someone said to me recently, like, you know, you can there's nothing you can't solve without your brain and money.
So, I really took that with me along my career, like looking at things from a different way, like never giving up. You know, sometimes we work on these gigantic projects that have so many variables involved in them that, you know, you really have to stay on top of it. Recently, about a year and a half ago, we did a huge overhaul of moving our web property from a PHP site to a custom, from a custom PHP site to best in class to DXP.
And that was a long haul, but we stuck to it and, you know, stayed on top of everything and made it happen. And the site was never down, ever. It was like flip the switch. And it you know, there was things we had to clean up afterwards. But, you know, there were so many people involved in that and also staying on top of it and being tenacious and never giving up and sticking to the timelines. And that's that's actually how you get things done. At the end of the day, you know, you can't give up. I mean, because that's how things start to slip and that's when, you know, the train goes off the tracks.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, I mean, tenacity is such an important mantra in marketing. I guess in probably really in any career. But it's funny, when I read your story, I had a pretty similar experience. And it was also in Chicago it was at that McCormick? Yeah. So, I was running the media center at IRCE, which is this big e-commerce event at McCormick and I was doing the interviews and nothing showed up. We didn't, you know, our AV production crew, all their cameras and whatever editing stuff they use and all this stuff the like, nothing, nothing. Showed up. And so fortunately, I was not the only person there and I can't take it, you know, it's our marketing team and our production team. Not that they scrambled like crazy, and they track down.
It was you know, some tractor trailer was somewhere where it wasn't supposed because like the wrong dock or something, cause that place is massive and they got to the right dock, but we got it, like they're literally standing up. Normally we would have been set up a day before, do run throughs and all that stuff. But literally when we had the first guest show up there because we were doing, I think it was every 20 minutes for like three days of all the different speakers.
And so literally when the first speaker showed up, they were just still wiring stuff around me and I was just, you know, kind of going, running through them. And then right away I was like, at the minute we had to start, it was ready and, but you know, the thing I took away from it was and, and actually I don't want to get too deep into the Oscars, but this is the thing that surprised me at the Oscars.
So yeah, I'm sure everyone knows what happened with Will Smith and Chris Rock and I won't get what’s wrong or right there. But the thing that surprised me is like the producers didn't seem able to handle it. Like, from what I heard, they were like my wife was telling me like in different parts of the auditorium they couldn't get together and figure out how to react.
And from my experience from event marketing working on an event the biggest takeaway is like stuff's going to happen, you know what I mean, stuff's going to go wrong. I don't know what that thing's going to be, but stuff's going to happen, and you better have a contingency plan, or at least like a clear set of decision makers. Know who can you know, make the call and have, like you said, money sometimes too. So have like a backup budget for a contingency because I don't know what's going to go wrong with something's going to go wrong.
And like you said, the show must go on. So, anyone engage in event marketing, learn from Mary, learn from me, learn from the Oscars, like have a contingency plan in place, right?
Mary Rodgers: Yeah. We had another situation happen when you said it just reminded me of it. We used to do this thing called Cuisinart college, and we would go around the country and I would lecture about like the company history, and we would have cooking classes. And so, we were doing one up in Napa and which is not a horrible thing. See, that's the fun thing right there. It was fun until this happened.
So, the shipment arrives, and the freight company made a big mistake and they've delivered us this gigantic computer and the stuff we were supposed to get went to the place the computer was supposed to go. And so, somebody who works for me, who was doing the event marketing part of it, you know, like total meltdown, I'm like, get it together, get it together now because that's not going to help you get where you need to go, you know. Which in some ways sounds like maybe it's not very empathetic, you know, that I like letting a person have a meltdown cry out, but the thing is, at the end of the day, you're putting your energy into the wrong thing. So, you're putting your energy into your emotions instead of saying like, let me keep it together, let me get a hold of somebody and we did get the stuff, but it took like the entire day for us to, you know unwrangle that mess that we didn't create ourselves. But I was like, the computer is probably worth a lot, though.
Daniel Burstein: We're going to hold it hostage until we get till get our stuff. You know you got to save the meltdown for later. That's what I’m like Because sometimes when it's done, it's like, okay, now you could just let all the emotions out. And so, we talked about I mean, and in fairness, you know, there it's fun to marketing and if you want to be creative. If you want to get into the event marketing side, I mean, you got to have nerves of steel and you got to be able to roll with the punches no matter what happens. Because again, it's in that moment.
Mary Rodgers: It's funny because I used to handle all the big trade shows when I was at Faberware and when I came to work for Cuisinart, they're like, our ops team handles all the trade shows. I’m like, Great. Oh, I'm so happy you don't know how happy that makes me because, you know, it's it's a tough job and there's a lot of thankless parts of it, too. When it goes really great, it's like fabulous. And nobody notices a thing but when it goes south, it goes south bad.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And sometimes when it goes really great, people don't know what happened behind the scenes. It went all wrong, but.
Mary Rodgers: It's all perception.
Daniel Burstein: Exactly the front of the house perception. Right. Let's talk about your next lesson. Always focus on the needs of consumers. So, tell us about this. How do you do that at Cuisinart?
Mary Rodgers: Well, lots of different ways. I mean, we use obviously research is a big part of it. And also, just keeping lines of communications open because you know, we get lots of input from our consumers, like through email and through phone calls and through our social media channels. And, you know, we always have to keep them at the heart of what we do because at the end of the day, we're serving them.
And so, if we're if we're providing something to them that is of value and it improves their life, that's what's really important to us at the end of the day, that's what keeps our brand relevant in the consumer's mind.
Daniel Burstein: Right. And so, you were telling me, for example, you engage in concept testing for a new product and you're like.
Mary Rodgers: Yeah. So, we're always working on we have so many research projects going on at the same time. One of the ones that we've been working on for, I would say probably more than six months is concept testing. We're always doing testing on our products. You know, when they launch, right before they launch. We also do a lot of work around, you know, research in general, understanding the consumer’s needs.
But one of the things that we worked on recently was some concept testing for a new product in the air fryer category. And some of the things you learn from consumers are just so intriguing, like the way men think about food that has a lot of fat content versus the way women think about food that has a lot of fat content and they're at opposite ends of the spectrum.
You know, men are like the more fat the better and the women are like, no fat, no fat, you know? And so, it was totally interesting to see their perspective on it, you know, that they men were like, oh, I don't care if it's swimming in grease, you know, and women are like, oh, no, no grease, you know, and, you know, there's a saying in food, it's like fat carries flavor.
So, it was interesting to see men's perspective on it versus women's. And have them voice it themselves. You know what I'm saying? It's like it’s so interesting. Because so much so much of communications and in marketing and in the food business is about less fat, you know, and so it's almost like they're serving, you know, half of half of the population with some of the messaging there. So, I thought that was super interesting.
Daniel Burstein: Well, I think that's a great example too. My background was as a copywriter is understanding the connotation and denotation of every word you using to describe your brand. Because as you said, like fat brings flavor, but fat has certain connotation and denotation to people you know, reading that and depending on who they are, you could be, you know, setting up some entirely wrong message you don't want to be sending.
Mary Rodgers: So. Exactly and so like if you’re trying to go after like, you know, a segment of I’ll just make something up. You know, moms with kids under the age of two and who are like super concerned about the health of their kids and things like that and you and you like, you know, come out with a message related to full of fat, full of flavor, you know. That's like a complete turnoff to that to segment. But to maybe, you know, a younger male audience might be the opposite, you know, so it is it's true the nuances of it and how consumers, you know, interpret it.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah. You know, when you're since you remind me of, I had written this blog post a customer's always right, but they're not always right about your product. And I was inspired by it. It was a grocery store up by where you live. And when I visit up there called Stu Leonard's, you know, you know Stu Leonard's? Yeah, and I remember it was something is either like there was this big rock by the front door or there was something where they had like this thing all about the customer and the customer being, you know.
Mary Rodgers: When you get to the bottom, you say, you know, go back to step one. The customer's always right. So, it's like it was like this iteration. And then it's like if you didn't understand the rules, read rule one, which is the customer's always right at the end of the day.
Daniel Burstein: Right? So, when I read that, but then I thought. So, I know if you've ever seen The Simpsons, there's this famous Simpsons where Homer Simpson realizes his brother, like, owns this car company and then his brother sees him and he's like, Homer is the everyman. Let's let him design a car. And so, he designs a car and it's just the biggest flop in the world.
It's I think they're comparing it to the Edsel because it's like, you know, a plays like La Cucaracha when you hit the horn and stuff like that, because this was this this one guy's made up idea of what a fantasy car would be. And so, in that blog post I talk about, you know, the customer's always right. They're not always right about your product. This is where research comes in. And you have to be careful not to listen to the loudest voices and the edge cases, you know, because sometimes it's really good to listen to the customer, but sometimes it's just the edge case. The most extreme person that's really communicating with you. And they don't represent an addressable market that you can profit from.
Now, it's kind of curious. It sounds like you're engaged in a lot of concept testing, a lot of testing with your customers. Where do you balance that with, okay, what is an actual marketable product versus here's a squeaky wheel or loud voice or sometimes customers don't understand. Like you said with fat. They think they don’t want fat but then eat something without that and it doesn't taste good.
Mary Rodgers: So, a couple of things there. So interesting about your comment about the loudest voice in the room, basically. So, we recently did a round of a whole bunch of focus groups in person focus groups and we had one group that that happened in, and the person was a little cynical. And so like the whole focus group got a little cynical and we're like, I was like, what's going on? And then they started saying like some really unkind things that hurt my heart. Let me put it to you that way. And it was interesting it was like later in the evening. So, I don't know if people are like just like had it, you know, had a full day and, you know, it was like, you know, 9:30 at night and it was a younger group a younger group of consumers, too.
And I was like, oh, that's painful. But you're right. You can, you know, we use the focus groups as basically just to inform, like what are the things that we want we want to learn? And then what do we take from that? And then do deeper research, which is very typical avenue when you're doing that type of like big brand work or big concept work.
And so, you have to be a little careful too, like what are some of the threads that run through all of those people that you've spoken to? And are there differences between the younger and older or different types of consumers. But that's not going to get you to the final place. You don't I mean, it's basically just meant as early learning so that's how I, that's how I, I use it like early learnings. Like it was interesting to me about how consumers, like, think about buying products based on their personal living situation. And so, you know, we're not necessarily thinking like that. We're thinking, okay, well, consumers and, you know, in an apartment and they move in a home, they have more space and so therefore they'll buy more things, you know.
And so that's not where their mind space is, you know. And so, you know, we do a lot more after that point in which we do super, you know, these big surveys. And then after these big surveys, we go back again and then go speak to smaller groups of users to kind of come to our final conclusion on where we're going with whether it's a concept, whether it's positioning for a specific product.
And we found a lot of success in that process, I mean, we don't I mean, let's be honest, we don't do it for every single item. We do it for really important categories. And also, like maybe categories that we haven't been in that we don't have like built in knowledge on the category. We found a lot of success there.
Daniel Burstein: OK, this kind of gets into the next lesson you're talking about. Always look for long term growth with your product launches. And really kind of you've shown through your entire career, you're kind of focused on the long term. So, so kind of take us through a product launch and how do you kind of focus on the long term for that.
Mary Rodgers: So, it depends on it depends on what the product is. But so, in certain categories I’ll use, air fryers, for instance, we had talked about this a little bit earlier only because it's like one of the right now, one of the categories that's fastest growing in our business. And the thing is there, it's like this is a new category we hadn't sold in. And so, at the very beginning, I was for myself, I was like, okay, how do we position it? Or, you know, what are the needs of the consumer? You know, how can we message it, what messages are important to them? And we use that research. And also, because it was a format that hadn't existed before it was an oven format versus the like this kind of basket style, what we call it basket style, air fryers.
There was there was some concerns with our retailers, like where do we where do we put it in the store, you know? And you mean like, well, if a consumer's looking for air fryers and they go over to look at air fryers, ours is with the ovens and theirs are not with ours. So, we had a lot of decisions to make around those areas. And also, just completely understanding the consumer journey, like what was their purchase journey? How did they make decisions? Where do they go buy? You know, where they bought like when we launched the product in 2017 versus now two completely different universes. The shopping habits of consumers has changed dramatically, but that has been a very successful product for the company.
I completely believe based on the research that we did and understanding the positioning of the product to the consumer. And we also during that research phase we also were able to garner enough information from consumers to plan out our long-term category development. So, you know, not just for that moment like how do we get this air fryer in the market and how do we position it and this and that, it’s more like how do we get enough data so that we can plan a future for that line and the product and the advancement of the product. So that's what I talk about, like long-term thinking and not for the moment.
But, you know, the other thing too, that we had talked about was things like, you know, marketers not thinking for the moment and not necessarily down the road. And I think it also plays into like how long are they going to be committed to the place they're working at the moment? You know, are they looking to make big hits now and move on to something else? Or are they really in it for the long-term growth of the brand and also the business? So, I think that that's an interesting perspective to.
Daniel Burstein: Sure. So, we're talking about your budget earlier. I'm sure you have to report quarterly earnings or monthly or there's some sort of results you have to present in the short term. Like how do you balance your budget to address the short term and the long term? Do you split it up of like, okay, it's, you know, 80% to the short term, but hey, we got this 20% where we're just going to totally focus on the next ten years and building out a category and branding? And is there kind of a way you chop it up?
Mary Rodgers: Well, right now, the way we believe it or not, the way that we do it is we focus. We have like overall brand, which we call like evergreen, the stuff that's evergreen that we're constantly doing, constantly working on. And then we have the parts of the budget that are focused on key products and key product launches. So, it's a combination of both. And then layered on to that, we have a separate cost center for D to C and eCommerce. So those kind of work hand-in-hand because, you know, you are you're still, you know, working and driving the brand. But for the direct-to-consumer business, it's, you know, it's a lot easier to gather data and statistics and kind of understand that on like a day-to-day basis, you know, that's how we look at it.
So, we plan, you know, on a calendar year and then we break it up into quarters. And then what we do is we calendar out all the channels that we're working in. And then if there's a product focus, if it's a brand focus and then basically map that all out on a calendar. And then we also share that out to management and also to our sales teams because we have a combination of internal and external sales, and we share that out so that they can also plan accordingly so that they're also maximizing in the marketplace at the same time we are. Because if we can get all of our retailers focused on the same things that we're doing in the marketing space, that we actually will maximize the brand in the total market. And so, it's also a way of extending the value of what we're doing.
Daniel Burstein: And getting your partners there along with you.
Mary Rodgers: Yeah, exactly. That's not as easy as it sounds, though.
Daniel Burstein: I bet they've got their own agendas, right?
Mary Rodgers: Well, they do, but they also the thing is like, you know, we also our focus on like you know, distribution and growth and all those things that tie back into the marketing planning part of it. So, it makes it exponential if we can get them rallying around the same efforts that we're making in the marketplace, it's better for growth for both parties.
Daniel Burstein: Right. Right. And let me ask you, so we talked about before, like when launching a new product like the Air Fryer segment, but you had mentioned that the number one selling product in a category was a product that launched in the 1970s for Cuisinart and still the number one selling product in that category I think it was a food processor maybe.
And so, I would think that that is kind of a different challenge of taking that same product and still trying to make it relevant to an audience today. We think that's a whole different type of research on a whole different type of marketing because obviously you talked about how we were different in 2017, which is very true because of COVID, we were very different in 1972 also and all of that. So, what do you when you have like all kind of a long-term legacy product like that, how do you approach the marketing or the research differently or do you?
Mary Rodgers: Yeah, I mean so I mean it happens to be the food processor category. So interestingly the lesson here learned is that sometimes simplicity is the best choice for consumers. So products that we made that the product that I'm speaking to, it's, it's a, it's very classic, has a classic look, it has a simple operating platform. So basically, has three functions on off and Pulse and pulse is just a version of on. And it has like two paddles, we call on paddles, but basically press release, it's very intuitive.
And so, I personally believe that it's basically also one of our super iconic looks and consumers are attracted to it because it does have a classic look. It's simple and easy to use. There's not a zillion bells and whistles like sometimes, you know, you'll see people try to like just add on and add on and add on to products when that's not necessarily driving value to the consumer.
And, you know, there's certain things that we're working on right now. It's like, okay, we have how many there's 20 functions available in a toaster oven, but how many people actually use them? You know? And so, at the end of the day, they're not using 20, you know, and so you have to kind of keep those things in mind. And I really believe that's why that product is so well-loved. It's been in the market for a long time. It's, you know, it has great reviews. It has lots of editors, love the product you always see it placed in lots of scenes in like cooking shows and, you know, segments and things like that. The thing about that product too, is that it's beautifully constructed. So, the physical construction of it, the quality of the finish and also the implements in it, it's actually beautifully made too. And that's why it's stood the test of time. And it's just consumers just love it because it's simple and easy to understand and use. And at the end of the day, you know, I believe that's why it's still a top selling item in our portfolio. But in the, in the category, it is the top selling item.
Daniel Burstein: It's really interesting. You mentioned that when I mentioned to my wife, I was going to talk to you. She’s like, oh, yeah, we have Cuisinart food processor. And now that you mentioned that I have used it and it's just that lever and it’s those three things. But we also we bought a washing machine like six months or a year ago. And the washing machine has AI, like it brags about that. And there's also an app you can get with it and stuff. And so, I was trying to tell my wife because, you know, it's the shiny objects more, it's like, oh, put away the app on your phone and more. And she just like, why would I want an app from the washing machine? I don't I don't need an app.
And I think marketers can be kind of the same way. You know, we're always looking at this shiny, shiny object syndrome, right? It's the metaverse and it’s Tik Tok and whatever. And I was that recent podcast episode, I was interviewing the CMO of Mint Mobile, and they've had success in the newspaper, a newspaper print advertising. And so, I think it's kind of something to really think about as marketers when we're doing our media plans or if we're kind of advising and helping on products. It doesn't always need to be the shiniest new object, like you said. What strikes me now, when I think about food processor, it is easy to use. It's just up and down. You know, my washing machine has so many settings, I don't even know what most of them do.
Mary Rodgers: Yeah, I agree with you there because, you know, that's a conundrum in our business in general, in the durables business. You know, smart just to say it's smart. Is it smart? Is it is adding value for the consumer? And the other thing with with smart is somebody has to pay for smart. You know, it just doesn't happen. And, you know, the business that we're in is in elastic. And so you have to be super conscious about like the way you price your products and things like that. And as, you know, like what's going on in in the market in general right now is like pretty tough. Just between, you know, all of the supply chain issues and raw material cost increases and labor shortages and, you know, fuel costs. And, you know, there's a lot of things going on out in the marketplace that make it, you know, really important on how you price your products to consumers.
And so, I was actually reading a really interesting article about this yesterday, too, about delivering value to consumers. But the thing is that I think that you know, pricing in and of itself is interesting right now. Because with that, and then adding smart onto it to it, it has to have a purpose and it has to deliver something that the consumer wants and sees value in. I actually am really lucky because my husband loves to do laundry. And so that's one thing he does I have a lot of other responsibilities at home, but he he loves to run the washing machine. He doesn't even like me to touch it. But I think if it could fold things that's that's adding value, somebody's got to work on that. Like how does it come out of the dryer and it will fold.
Daniel Burstein: Oh, I had an idea for an invention. If anyone's listening, you stack the washing machine on top of the dryer, and when the wash is done, it just opens drops in the dryer, you know, then you don’t have to move anything.
Mary Rodgers: I like that idea.
Daniel Burstein: Probably very good reason why that won't work. But anyway, I wrote down a very good question. You said if anyone misses, I think if you take away one thing from this podcast, fantastic question that Mary said, is it adding value for the customer? So, I think that's true for our products. I think that's true for our marketing as well.
So, let's talk about, so we talked about some of the things you made and that's, you know, how I made it in marketing podcast. Kind of one of the reasons for the name is I always felt like yeah, it’s how we made it successfully? But also like as marketers, we get to make things. So, I've never really had another career but feel like you see a dentist or an accountant or these other they don't really walk away like I made this, you know, I made this thing, you made these things.
And the other great thing we do, though, is we get to make things with people, we get to collaborate, we get to kind of all concept and brainstorm and learn together. And so, let's talk about some of the people that you learned from. So, we're going to start with Ron Diamond, the president and CEO of Conair LLC. And Con Air is the parent company of Cuisinart. And you learned from Ron, you must remain wet, Clay. So how did you learn this from Ron?
Mary Rodgers: Well, I mean, this is one this is actually one of his mantras. I have my own mantra
Daniel Burstein: What’s your mantra?
Mary Rodgers: So, my mantra is I'm a marketer, not a miracle worker.
Daniel Burstein: I think everyone can relate to that one.
Mary Rodgers: Yeah. So anyway, that's kind of my funny mantra. That's not like, you know, I do the best I can. So, Ron is the president and CEO of Conair LLC, and I've been working with Ron he's been here longer than I have. Believe it or not. And which is really great. That's a stable leadership is fabulous. If you if you ask me but Ron always says, you know, you have to remain wet, clay. In other words, like you can't be, you know, think of being a statue, right? You're like stuck in your ways. You don't move you're immobile and you are not willing to change. And because our world is changing so quickly, you know, it doesn't matter what category you look at or what subject matter you look at, you have to constantly be taking in new information, being able to you know, be malleable, you know what I mean? Be able to still remain relevant and be changeable, not change for change’s sake, but understanding that in order to progress in the world, you still have to be able to think, you know, take in new things, try new things. I think it's really important. I think that when you see people who get like that, like think, you know, like I said, like the statue like you're in, you're immobile, you basically become irrelevant. And that's how I perceive remaining wet clay.
Daniel Burstein: Well, I think it's interesting because when you say that, when I hear that, I think the way some people do that in their careers, they just jump to the next role and the next role and the next role, and they are always like, okay, the next goal is going to solve all my problems. But staying where you have been, how have you done that within a role? I think you said Ron told you recently, we need to blow things up a little. Like what? What does that mean?
Mary Rodgers: Yeah. He said to me, very recently, he goes, we need to blow things up. And it kind of goes along with the wet clay thing. In other words, like, we need to evaluate our situation and how can we do things differently and how can we, you know, not do things the same way all the time. The way we did it five years ago or five weeks ago.
It's just really about self-evaluation, you know, and looking at the business from kind of as some people say, like the 35,000-foot view. Right. But when they say that, sometimes I say, you know, there's no oxygen up there. But basically, like looking at it from like, you know, sometimes with, you know, with what's going on in in the working world right now, you're so task driven and focused on. That you have to kind of step back and say, you know, where are we? Where are we going? You know, just because we did it this way doesn't mean that's the way we should be doing it for the future. And I agree with him. You know, it's about evaluating the business all the time. You're kind of always evaluating the business. And so, there's things that we're going to be doing that will be blowing things up.
Daniel Burstein: So, kind of along that theme, the next lesson, find intellectual inspiration. I think that will probably go along with that. You learned that from Laura Schneck, the CEO of International Insights. So how did you learn that from Laura?
Mary Rodgers: So, Laura and I are working on this huge long-term project. And, you know, I started to realize when I was talking to Laura about the purpose of the project and what we wanted to do, what we wanted to learn and at the end of it. I was realizing that I was thinking like on a functional like, you know, we're so feature and benefit oriented, what are we delivering to the consumer? You know. And we were having conversations about like people's emotional state, like because, you know, when consumers are going through a purchase journey or they're deciding on a product or purchase, you know, what are they thinking about? Like what is their emotional state? And then trying to trying to get that out of out of how they attach it to our brand.
And for me, it was really hard. It was like, how do I get from here to there? And you know, how do I get them to articulate that to us in a meaningful way? And she really had some interesting methods to her madness and how she did that. And I just thought it was so, so inspiring. And also, for myself, like, you know, when you're working on a brand for so long, sometimes of people say to you things like, what's the essence of the brand? You're like, oh.... you know, and so, you know, working alongside of her, it's like showed me like a way of thinking that sometimes you end up over time detaching yourself from and you don't, you don't realize it.
And so, when you're talking about serving the customer and serving the consumer, at the end of the day, sometimes it gets functional, right? Instead of emotional. And then when you kind of look at our brand and how it like intertwines with family life and how consumers are like, what's the first thing they do when they get up in the morning, you know, before or after they take a shower, they make a cup of coffee and how you know, we're so, like ingrained in some of their lives in some ways. But what's their emotional state when they're doing that? And how does that that serve our brand too at the end of the day? So, I thought that was really intriguing and also shows that I'm definitely wet Clay, I can still change. It’s a process.
Daniel Burstein: No, that's great because I think one of the hardest things to do, I think not just as a marketer but as a human being, is to see things through someone else's eyes. And so if you're working in a brand, if you're working at any company, you pour so much of your heart and soul into it. You know, you live in those four walls, you kind of, you know, you're on that team almost, right? You're on that team. And so to kind of just see it through dispassionate eyes and the customer's eyes is such a big challenge. Like, what was one of the questions or two? You mentioned one thing, but you said she had these methods. You have like a question or two she asks that like whoa boom.
Mary Rodgers: Yeah, like this one I thought was so smart. And it was something she did on the fly because we were like working on these focus groups and we were having conversations, you know, when you're working on focus groups, you're constantly talking about like what they said, what happened, you know. And then she started to say to the participants, like, if this brand was a music, what kind of music would it be?
And so, like, articulating it in a different way, that was so interesting. And also, then like, if it was a personality, who would the personality be? And people there was really distinctive thoughts between different brands. Obviously, we're not just looking at our own brand, but looking at other brands too. Always do that. And so, I thought that was super interesting. Like that's an automatic way to articulate something that shows emotion. But without like you know, it's hard to get to that level with consumers by just asking them the question like. So, I thought it was interesting the way that she did it and I thought it was brilliant personally.
Daniel Burstein: It's almost like therapy in a sense, consumer therapy. You know, when you said some of these things like you must remain wet clay and find intellectual inspiration, it got me thinking, you know, Conair is the parent organization of Cuisinart. MECLABS Institute is a parent organization of MarketingSherpa, and we've got a free digital marketing course and the first section of that course before we get into, you know, how to build a landing page or anything, it's about the marketer and one of the sessions, the marketers self-image. It's all about, you know, before you can optimize your marketing, you have to optimize yourself.
And so, like when you talk about things like you must remain wet clay, find intellectual aspiration, that's where I think our self-image as marketers before we even get into the brand before we do these things what can we do for ourselves to optimize ourselves. So, I think that's a kind of a great lesson and a great thing to focus on for everyone who gets off the podcast.
So lastly, I want to talk about Mary George. She's an advisor of American Securities, which is the owner of Con Air. We talked about the parent company of Cuisinart and she's the former CEO of Bell Sports and a Co-chairman of Bell Automotive Products. And you said you learned from her how to get education through mentorship. So how do you learn that from Mary.
Mary Rodgers: Well, we're working on a long-term project, and Mary is our Key Advisor. And the thing for me was that I had mentioned to you that even though I've been in this business for a really long time in our categories, there don't tend to be a large group of women who are or have worked at the caliber that Mary has.
And for me, it's super interesting, though, because she's really good at, she has a demeanor about her that's like really even keeled, and she kind of knows how to, like, get people involved. And, you know, I was explaining to you, like what I've found myself that's been very difficult with working. a hybrid schedule is especially like hybrid. Like we're on a consistent schedule, so we only see the same 50% of the people 50% of the time.
So, it's a lot harder to collaborate with people like some of the natural collaboration that happens when you're just like, you know, making a cup of coffee and you run into somebody or you go down the cafeteria to grab something to eat and you, you know, sit down for a few minutes with somebody and you talk about things like and openly. She's been really good about saying things to me like, you know, you should involve so-and-so more in the project, you know? And the thing is that sometimes we're so overwhelmed with what we're doing, like on a daily that you're just like, Okay, I'm on a deadline with this and I have to do this, this, this, this, and this is my long term, and this is how I get from here to there.
And so, like, you're trying to move these things along because of the importance to the business. But sometimes on the other hand, you kind of have to step back and say, you know, how do I get you know, it's a kind of fine line between it's a fine line between having the right people involved and having too many people involved. There's that there's a danger zone between the two of those. Like you want to have the certain amount of input from the right people. So, they have ownership. And but you don't want too many people involved who are going to muddy the waters and stagnate the, you know, the entire program, whatever it happens to be. So, she's done a really good job for me. Also, just reading people to she's really good at reading people like, you know, noticing and like who's giving input and who isn't. And like I said, sometimes, like when you're in the throes of it, like you're not necessarily, that's not registering.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah. I think you know, it's funny when you're saying that about how you were getting mentored. I wonder how you mentor others because we were in one of the earlier episodes of the podcast, we interviewed Nasya Kamarat and she told this great, really amazing story of how she was in the maternity ward and she was on a client pitch call and like alarms were going off in the maternity ward on this client pitch call. And she's like, Oh, that's just the sounds of Brooklyn. Don't, don't pay attention that.
But the reason she was doing this is because she really kind of never had that mentor before saying, hey, like if you're in labor or whatever, it's okay. To, like kind of take a bit of a break. And so, then kind of she had that initiative of kind of telling people in the future, hey, this is okay, this is what I've done, and now I've kind of you need to take a break at certain times in your career because other people would want to help them out.
So, you talked about Mary mentoring you, like what you know, how have you kind of taken that on in and mentored your team from what you learned from from Mary? Especially, like you said, in this hybrid workforce this weird environment. We're not always seeing each other in person.
Mary Rodgers: Yeah. So, a couple of things, like I always say to people like, you know, sometimes like when you do those like annual reviews and they're like, you know, we have like competencies, like leadership, innovation, you know, teaming. And it's like I try to explain to young people, like they think a leadership, they think like somebody has to work for them, right? And I'm like, no, that's not leading. Any person that you are in touch with internally, externally. Any time you are guiding, educating, teaching, is leadership. It's basically like sometimes people don’t even realize it. I'm like, you remember how you led that that project and you worked with the outside teams, da da da. And they are like oh yeah
Daniel Burstein: Don't need special title to be a leader. Everyone, when they're young, they're like, well, I want this title. I want to be a leader, well be a leader. Nobody's stopping you, right?
Mary Rodgers: No one is stopping you. And for me, I also like for my team, I feel like I'm constantly mentoring them, you know, when I meet with them to set their goals for the year, I make it, I don’t want to say a requirement, because it sounds so kind of firm. Develop, they have to pick something that's development oriented, like it has to be one of their goals. And we discuss what it is because I want them to own it. So, like and I also do the same for myself. I'm doing, I'm doing a leadership course with CMO's, with the ANA that starts actually tomorrow the 5th. And it's a long-term leadership program. And so, I feel like I'm constantly mentoring people.
I also do some mentorship through the A&A with college students. They started that about a year ago, so I'll be doing that again this summer. And so, I mean I, I think that I'm constantly doing it. I think the part that’s hard though is, you know, making sure that I'm constantly making sure that I'm helping my people progress, whether they're here working with me or they choose to go work somewhere else.
I think that the value that I add to it is my style of management, my leadership, and also the fact that I'm invested in them, and I saw recently this is not my own quote, I like it, so I am borrowing it. Your team doesn’t work for you, you work for your team. And I believe that’s really true because if you are not invested in them, for the long term, and being able to read them and understanding when they are overloaded or understand when they need a break. Or understand that they have lives outside of here. You know, they have older parents, or they have young children, or you know, you have to have some empathy for that. And I think by showing that to them, that when they are in maybe in a similar situation, they'll handle it the right way. That's my job. That's how I feel about it.
Daniel Burstein: Well, that's great. Well, we certainly learned a lot from you today, Mary. I mean, I think one of the things that really hearing you talk to you about how you're just constantly trying to learn and change and read articles and all these things, and hopefully a lot of people learn from you in this podcast as well. But let's leave them with this. One final thought. What are the key qualities of an effective marketer?
Mary Rodgers: A couple of things I would say. So, my personal situation is not the situation of my consumers. That's like number one to me. It's like I think sometimes we personalize things and so we have to we have to like remember like I'm a focus group of one. You know, I say the way I live and the things that are important to me, that's not the universe. You know, that's just Mary Rogers perspective. But sometimes it comes in handy, too, because I'm like, hmm, we're doing research projects. I'm like, you know what? I know that I wouldn't do that. So, let's see if the consumer is thinking about that a different way, the same way, an alternate way. And so, I think some of that does help me think about things in an alternative way.
But on the other hand, like you can't believe that you're the center of the universe and that everyone's just going to follow you to the end of the rainbow. That's not how it works. It's a lot harder than that.
Daniel Burstein: Very good point. Very good point. And, you know, I think, like I said earlier, that's kind of the biggest challenge in life, to realize that we could be very different from the people who are trying to sell to. As I have had said kind of before in the podcast. But when I started as a copywriter right out of college, I was writing for these multimillion dollar third and fourth home Ski and Ski out condos in like Vail Valley and Bachelor Gulch Village.
And, you know, I would I remember pitching an idea to my boss of something having to do with, you know, them sleeping in and, you know, enjoying the day or whatever. And he said, these are the titans of industry. They're up, you know, before the markets are open in Japan or whatever, you know they are up at like 5 a.m. And as me, someone right out of college who like to me, I thought success would be being able to sleep in. So, so different.
So, I think that's such an important thing to remember is we're not our customers. How can we learn from them? And one way and I'm going to ask you one final question about what music are you? Because one way you did it in your focus group, you're asked what music are your customers or what music would your brand be. So, if you were a brand Mary what music would you be? I would be Pearl Jam. I know that. What music would you be?
Mary Rodgers: I would be Andrea Bocelli. But in Italian because I study Italian, too. So, I listen to a lot of Italian music. So, like in my kitchen and stuff like that. And I do study, I'm studying, I have been studying Italian for like ten years, but still not 100% fluent. But I've always working towards it. And I also believe that's another thing that you have to make sure that you're feeding your personal passions.
I know you asked about music, but on the other hand, like, I love to cook, and you know, my husband, I love to hike, and I love to travel. And so, I also think that's been tough on people the last couple of years because they've kind of not been able to do all of those things. That maybe fill them up inside, you know? And so, I would also say that keep that in mind, too.
Daniel Burstein: Yeah. And that will come out in our career. Well, you're far classier than I, Mary. Thank you for joining us today.
Mary Rodgers: Doubtful.
Daniel Burstein: Thanks so much for being here. And thanks to everyone for listening. I hope you learned a lot from this conversation. Mary. I know I sure did.
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