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Marketing Champion Q&A: Xerox VP Christa Carone Builds the Brand and Reputation

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During the 12 years that Christa Carone has been with Xerox, the company has been on quite a roller-coaster ride, having gone through significant challenges back in 1999 through 2001/2002, when the company's brand and reputation really took a hit.

Recently she discussed with Roy Young her work to strengthen the company's reputation in the marketplace, to bring the brand back to a place that is worthy of such an iconic name like Xerox, and to help the company grow.

RY: Please describe one marketing initiative you are working on now that you find particularly exciting.

CC: As we've looked at our marketing opportunities in 2009, we're trying to identify ways to bring the power of the brand to more of the company's channels of distribution. While we have a direct sales force that sells Xerox products and services, we also rely on many, many other channels of distribution, people who may not be as closely associated with Xerox. It could be a local business supplier in any town or a reseller, distributor—and being able to arm these distributors and channels of distribution with the materials and the tools that they need to effectively sell Xerox is a key priority for us.

We're going from a one-size-fits-all marketing approach to a localized focus, getting much closer to our customers' and channels' needs. We're taking a new look at how we buy media for advertising, and perhaps not always going with the obvious sweeping ads in business publications, but rather reallocating some of those dollars to targeted advertising opportunities in certain metro centers, major metropolitan areas. Looking at doing that same type of approach with sponsorship, we're reallocating some of those sponsorship dollars to more local outlets—like sponsoring a major jazz festival in a metropolitan area where your brand gets tremendous and can have much more of an intimate impact and help our local distributors sell the brand. This is an important marketing initiative for us—looking at very strategic, effective ways where we can take a global or a national level and make it more local.


RY: When you consider the marketers you have respected most, what made them effective?

CC: I've been very impressed with the work of Aldo Papone from American Express. He is a guru in the advertising world and somebody who has a very clear sense of the value of brand. I'm privileged to be in a position to run a marketing organization with a powerful brand. Aldo Papone has done a brilliant job over many, many years with American Express to protect and nurture their brand.

I think everybody looks at Apple—they are seriously loyal to their brand, willing to be provocative with it and stretch it, but at the end of the day the brand positioning is so clear. Whether you're watching one of their ads or walking into their store or having an experience with their products, the brand experience is very powerful.

Then on the flip side I'd point to a company like P&G, which does an amazing job of being very well connected to their customers. So, a very well known marketer, but until you start talking to P&G people you don't realize how much time they spend truly understanding their customer needs. Things that some of us may find somewhat mundane are very important to them—like how we get our laundry done, and how they develop their Tide detergents—P&G has an incredible sense of customer alignment that is very impressive, and that clearly translates into their marketing.

RY: What is the greatest challenge you and your marketing colleagues face today?

CC: Finding ways to cut through the clutter. It's a challenge getting people's attention in a world that is running at breakneck speed, but our view is that if we can find ways to cut through the clutter, we're going to be much more effective in reaching our target audience and convincing them of the value that Xerox brings to the table. It's also an opportunity because it speaks to the product and services that we offer to our customers—communicating in color and having the ability to personalize more documents so that we can be much more effective in reaching our targeted audience.

RY: In general, what do you think is the single biggest constraint facing corporate marketing departments today?

CC: When you are faced with challenging economic conditions, it's key to build a team or an organization that can be much more flexible while still being effective. You must constantly look at your organization and evaluate where to adjust if you need to scale back, yet continue to be effective in reaching customers.

RY: What do you think are the factors most influencing the short tenure of today's CMOs?

CC: I think there is a tremendous amount of pressure for short-term results, and it's just how business is operating now. There is a very, very strong sense of accountability in every organization where you work—it's what the market demands—and while we all very much like to be focused on delivering long-term results, there is a practical reality that says short-term results matter and that makes this role even more challenging.

RY: In your experience, what has made marketing influential and powerful in an organization? Please provide an example, if possible.

CC: I'd go back to brand and reputation management, which is often considered but may not be as top-of-mind for some companies. Because Xerox is such a strong brand, it's very important to us that we fiercely protect the brand. It has served us well during very tough times when customers and employees and other stakeholders and investors stood up and said, "We don't want the Xerox brand to go away; it's been too much a part of our culture and our history. What can we do to save the brand?" So, the marketing organizations—the ambassadors of the brand—put a lot of time and effort into protecting the brand and really trying to influence perception of the company's reputation. We've seen tremendous improvement in the value of the brand and our ability to improve the perceptions and the company's reputation. At Xerox, that success is very much recognized and it feels good to be part of the team that helps to contribute to that.

RY: What changes do you expect to face in your work over the next three years?

CC: Shifting to more of our channel-based marketing strategy. We've always been very much a direct sales force company, but now we are working through an expanded distribution model. We have to do a lot more with our channels and feeling comfortable that these channels of distribution—whether it's a distributor or a reseller or another business supply company—should also be an ambassador for the brand. We are arming those people with the information that they need to effectively sell our brand.

Also worth mentioning is the acceleration of digital applications and how we can be more effective in reaching our customers through online marketing campaigns. I do believe that like every other company we're looking for ways to ensure that we're getting return on our investment there and trying to keep pace with new technologies. We have our eyes on social-networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, and whatever the next big thing is to come along.

We know the importance of cutting through the clutter with a number of our different applications, but keeping pace with it all is a big challenge for everybody. It will redefine how we're going to work over the next three years.

RY: What do you like most about your work now?

CC: In this role, I am so fortunate to be working with great people and for such an incredibly powerful brand. I also get to work with customers where I have the opportunity to share the Xerox story. I get their feedback, and I learn a lot about how they're using our products and services, and it's just been a fun experience. So, I have the benefit of being both internally focused and externally focused.

RY: What do you look for in people you hire and promote?

CC: I look for individuals who have strong business acumen—and I'm probably somewhat unique in that area, but it's really important to me, more because I've learned personally how important it is to truly understand how a company operates, really understand the company's finances and what makes the business tick from a broad prospective. So good business and financial acumen for sure, and creativity—I know you can source that out and we do with a lot of wonderful agencies, but I love to have people on the team who also have strong creative insights. With that, though, they also need to be very effective people and process managers. If you can't find it all in the same person, you have to find it in your team and make sure you've got disciplined process and program management, and strong creative people who have an extraordinarily good sense of what makes the company work.

RY: What was the best professional advice you ever received and from whom did you receive it?

CC: I've not only been really privileged to work for a great company, but also to work with an amazing CEO, Anne Mulcahy, who brought us through some tough times. There's one thing that Anne has always said, "The strategy can be roughly right, but your execution absolutely needs to be effective, and above all else you need the alignment of your people." The message is don't get so hung up on your strategy; map it out, have a very good sense of where you're going, but put a lot of energy and investment around effective execution and ensuring that your people are on board and aligned with what you're doing. I think it's great advice for any situation that you're in, and it gives you perspective on how you should be managing your day.

RY: Describe one of your favorite Eureka moments as it relates to marketing. What was it and what was the outcome?

CC: We just had one this week. We are preparing to launch a major product for the company in 2009. And we were all struggling with the messaging. It was going several different ways and we had a number of meetings trying to brainstorm it, and I don't think any of us felt like we really nailed it. But this week, we took a step back and simplified it by putting on the hat of a prospective customer. When we did that, we brought the messaging down to a simple level and I think truly nailed it. We are now in a position to build a very effective marketing campaign and platform around the product. It was definitely one of those meetings where you walk out and say, "Okay, after a number of exhausting tries, this is it, we've got it." I can't tell you the results now—we'll know after we've executed on the launch. I guess this goes back to the strategy can be roughly right, but the execution needs to be pretty effective on this one.

RY: What advice would you give to someone who is just beginning their career in marketing?

CC: I'd say to be careful not to get stuck in your silo. If you're with an agency or in a corporate environment, do everything that you can to learn what your peers are doing outside of the product or the business for which you're responsible. Get some of that breadth of knowledge and get on other people's radar screens so you don't get stuck in a silo. This actually stays true for wherever you are in your career path—this notion of "that's not my job" just doesn't cut it anymore.

Marketing can be very, very broadly defined in a corporation, so you can get a lot of things tossed on your lap. The one thing I have little patience for is people who come back and tell me it's just not their job. To me, the real winners in a marketing organization are the ones who roll up their sleeves and are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that the company is very closely connected to the customer.


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Roy Young is coauthor of Marketing Champions: Practical Strategies for Improving Marketing's Power, Influence and Business Impact. For more information about the book, go to www.marketingchamps.com or order at Amazon.

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