She has spent two decades executing branding and marketing strategies for some of the world’s largest companies, including Coca-Cola, Proctor and Gamble, Coty Inc., and Sundial Brands. She stepped into the world of media at BET in September 2019 and has spearheaded the company's marketing during some of the most pivotal moments of the company’s 40-year history. A seasoned brand marketer, she is widely recognized as a leading business executive who drives transformative growth among existing and emerging brands and companies. In this interview, Kimberly shares the value of developing genuine connections with consumers rooted in deep empathy and inviting them to join your brand.
You started with BET in September of 2019. Before that, you spent the majority of your career at Coca-Cola. When it comes to engaging with multicultural audiences, how has your strategy differed?
Strategically, it hasn’t shifted a great deal because ultimately, it’s always driven by strong insights. I take those insights to inform strategy with the intent of driving a deep level of consumer engagement and connection.
The only thing that has changed is how I engage with audiences. There are different levers that I’m trying to pull. At BET, we can dig deeper into what it means to be black. We know we are not monolithic, and there’s more than one way to be black, so we don’t try to box in all black people. There’s a nuance of education and insights, and we are creating a narrative that allows us to engage at a much deeper level with consumers. The beauty of doing it at BET is that we’re not trying to justify why we focus on those nuances. We’re trying to take that thinking to the next level.
The other piece that most companies get terribly wrong is they target - they don’t invite.
What do most companies get wrong about targeting diverse audiences?
Everybody’s chasing black right now. And you’ve got to do it in a way that feels authentic. If not, it just feels like a marketing campaign which can feel very shallow and surface level. Part of what they get wrong is they don’t understand the depth and the nuance of it. They’re looking at stats versus really having a deep understanding in terms of the whole journey of what it means to be a person of color in this world today.
The other piece that most companies get terribly wrong is they target - they don’t invite. As a marketer, you never hear me use the word target. People often ask, “who’s your target audience?” I don’t talk like that. I think target as a term is very predatory. If you think about someone who’s targeting you, you’re in their crosshairs, as opposed to inviting diverse consumers to participate with the brand in a meaningful way.
Can you describe your leadership style and the process for managing your team?
I definitely feel like a servant leader. I truly believe you can’t lead people unless you’re willing to serve people. I would say my style is very much in service to my team. My style as a leader is to establish the north star in the vision and then empower the teams to make it happen. I try to operate at a level where people feel encouraged, empowered and protected and feel challenged and willing to take risks. I state those north stars in the vision and ensure that you’ve got the tools and the resources to make it happen. That’s generally how I operate.
The second piece of leadership, I would say is, I’m incredibly decisive. Once I have what I need, I’m going to make a decision. I’ve worked for people who were just in this constant swirl, and it’s very draining. It can impact the effectiveness and efficiency of a team and how we operate.
How do you hone that decisiveness?
Part of it comes with experience and time. Marketing is art and science, so I get the data, but it doesn’t 100% dictate the decision as much as it is as a piece of a broader puzzle. Over time I’ve been able to discern the one piece of data that’s important out of, say, the ten pieces of data available. So when I’m asking for data, I don’t go off and do this deep analysis. I’m usually pretty clear in terms of what I’m trying to understand in order to make a decision. That comes with time and experience. It also comes with really understanding what’s working and not working in the business.
What are some key characteristics that make a strong marketer? And what are the necessary elements of an effective campaign? How do you define a successful campaign?
I think you’ve got to have an insatiable curiosity. I often say, if I weren’t a marketing major, I’d be a psychiatrist. I’ve always been curious about why people do what they do; buy what they buy or don’t buy. I’m curious about what motivates people.
I think you also have to have a passion for people. I have a passion for culture, and culture is linked to commerce. Great marketers today - even if you’re selling financial services - must understand culture because everything is wrapped and engulfed in culture. Marketers today have to have a deep understanding and appreciation of culture in general.
In a previous interview, your advice to women who want a career in media was to bring their whole selves to work. What are some ways women can utilize their personal experience to help them at work?
That’s so important because when you’re not your authentic self, you’re pulling energy to be something that you’re not. When you show up as your authentic self, your authenticity does a couple of things for you. It allows you to be focused on the work and allows people to get to know you as a person. There’s a difference between being authentic and bringing your whole self. Some people don’t need to bring every part of themselves to work, but they do need to be authentic.
There’s also the fact that you spend a lot of time at work, so you have to be able to do something where there’s a meaningful connection to what motivates and excites you. The lucky ones get to end up in a space where passion and purpose are aligned.
There’s never a question around if I am bringing my whole self to work because part of what I do is a passion. I’ve always had such an affinity for black community and culture. Even when it wasn’t about black, I made it about black. I feel such a deep sense of purpose, and quite honestly, a bit of responsibility and obligation because BET has a dual mission. We’re obviously in the content business and developing experiences for people. But we’re also in the business of changing outcomes for the black community. And those two things ring true for me as a person.
When is it an advantage to be a woman in your business?
I think as a woman, we generally have a degree of empathy. I have deep empathy for our consumers. And that shows up in ways that allow me to connect at a much more meaningful level.
What’s missing in your line of work? Or what is one thing you would change?
I don’t know if I would say anything is missing. Because I do think we’re in a very interesting time right now, in terms of the power of content and the power of black storytelling. I would say what’s missing taps into probably one of your earlier questions around when people decide or companies decide that they want to engage with the black audience. I think what’s missing is an accurate understanding of the consumer.
People buy products, but they join brands. People are much more discerning around the brands they want to join. There’s an opportunity for a deeper level of engagement.
What do you attribute to your success?
I am very much rooted in building meaningful relationships. I don’t subscribe to building transactional relations and I take pride in the fact that I could pick up the phone and call a number of people from over the years. A lot of people have followed me from one job to the next and I think it really is a testimony to how I support and build people. Relationships have been an integral part of my success.
I would also say its always being a champion of the culture. I’ve always tried to show up in a way that taps in, in a meaningful way. I often talk about marketing with a big M, which basically means doing work that is meaningful.
What mistakes have you made during your career, and what did you learn from them?
Early on, I was trying to strive for this balance in terms of work and personal life, and I don’t think that’s possible. When I gave myself a bit more grace, stress tended to go away because there wasn’t a balance, and there never will be. My family will always come first.
It’s challenging because I’m a working mom, and sometimes as working moms, we carry a lot of guilt. There were a couple of moments of disappointment with missing school stuff with my kids, so I had a conversation with them. I said, “Listen, I’m not perfect. You tell me when Mommy needs to be there, and I’ll be there. I’m not going to be at everything. But if you tell me these are the five things you must be at, I will make it happen.”
I did that when they were super, super young, and there was this relief that allowed me to be even more effective. It was an honesty and transparency that, oftentimes, moms don’t have with their kids. But once we had that real conversation, there was a pivot that strengthened our relationship and released me from a lot of the guilt and burden.
What is a productivity hack that you would like to share?
That’s such a great question. I’d rather be 85% right versus 100% slow. That’s a tech mentality that traditional marketers don’t have. It’s this notion that projects are an iterative process instead of a 100% ready big reveal.
I switched to this approach because I had the amazing fortune of spending extensive time at Google during my Coke days, exposing me to iterative thinking. That allowed me to increase my productivity because too often we get caught up in thinking, “Oh, my God, it’s not right.” The fail-fast mentality really allowed me to increase my productivity.
The last thing is great leaders generally hire powerful, smart people. And the only way to really increase your productivity is if you’ve got a solid team that can work without you. If you’re the linchpin and the decision-maker on everything, that’s going to slow down your productivity. So I think part of this hack isn’t a hack. It’s just fundamental management and leadership. You’ve got to be surrounded by smarter people.