Kristin Patrick - Making the Leap - CMO to CEO
September 27, 2022
This week's MasterClass with Kristin Patrick explored how to be a CEO with the heart of a CMO, and how to make the leap from CMO to CEO. From talking about ZAlphas to exploring phygital spaces, she offers a candid view of her life in the C-suite. Kristin is a forward-thinking executive, who has served as Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Claire’s since March 2021. Building on the fashion brand’s more than 50 years of leadership as a global creator and influencer of youth culture, Kristin plays a vital role in taking the brand into the future.

As a driving force for the brand’s evolution, Kristin has spearheaded a new brand platform and creative, while also introducing new experiences that connect on a deeper level with the brand’s Gen Zalpha (Z and Alpha) customers and their phygital worlds. In the course of her career, Kristin has been responsible for repositioning brands across lifestyle industries, including entertainment, beauty, fashion and CPG. She most recently served as the global CMO of PepsiCo, responsible for delivering the company’s long-term global growth strategy and expansion plans across the entire billion-dollar portfolio of brands.

Key Takeaways:

  • Find out what Phygital means.
  • Learn what ZAlphas are interested in.
  • Understand how Kristin navigates the C-Suite.

The role of the CMO is about making physical and emotional connections between brands and the people that we want to buy our products.

Ultimately, what we want to do is set up the brand to drive sales. Obviously, this is no small task, right? We walk this tightrope as a Chief Marketing Officer, between the consumer outside of the company and then of course, you always have the inside of the company that you're marketing to and all of the shareholders. And you're doing this during a time of web3, quiet quitting, this wobbly economy, and you're trying to balance all of these things. So in addition to balancing the internal needs of the company, the shareholders, everything happening in the world, you have the consumers, obviously. And the consumer really wants you to be authentic and to listen to them and involve them in the decision-making. And really, driving brands and responding to business fluctuations, it puts you in the position of having to pivot and to pivot quickly.

There are so many more ways to reach consumers than ever. And oftentimes, budgets are cut in half. And so you're trying to balance all of this. Couple that with a recent Deloitte survey, CMOs are the shortest tenured people in the C Suite. So of course, I had to pick a career where there's all of this pressure and need to deliver, deliver quickly, and sort of balance all of these needs. And then of course, you will always have your own personal situation in terms of what you need to learn and what you need to balance. And frankly, that's been the biggest learning curve for me over my lifetime in my career.

I smell out the Zeitgeist. But, I hold back, now, on sharing my thoughts too early.

For those of you who know me, or don't know me, I am a big visionary thinker. And I'm always thinking out across the span of years. I love to say that I use data and analytics, but I also start to smell stuff happening in the ether or in the zeitgeist, I talk about the zeitgeist a lot. So I've had to balance just blurting things out in meetings, creative ideas, highly visionary things, with going into talk to a CFO or CEO. And that has been, like I say, the biggest learning of my career. I think early on in my career, I would show up in meetings and just kind of like burst out with half thought through plans and strategies, and really honing that skillset over the course of time has been a journey for me. And I think, showing up and being able to explain things internally to shareholders, an audience that is more steeped in black and white and analytics than I think marketing people sometimes want to be, has been the great, I would say, divide of my career. I think that all of the CMOs that I talked to, because I know many of them and some of the greats, we do talk about balancing that. And oftentimes, they are supposed to be the visionary in the company. They are supposed to be trying things, pushing them forward, taking risks, but still with meeting the financials and continuing to move things forward. You know, I think the other thing that's going on is that there's so much out there for consumers. It's harder to reach them. It really requires a new level of intelligence and understanding.

We're all living in a time where technology becomes outdated over the course of six months sometimes, and so you've really got to pivot.

And consumers want a new voice in the relationship with brands. So, kind of pulling all of your plans together with the consumer at the forefront is something that I've learned to do. Sometimes, for me, it begins and ends with the consumer. I've been at companies where it's a bunch of people sitting around a conference table kind of guessing what consumers need. And the more you can let them in, the better off a business is shall we say. Consumers also have higher expectations than ever. They want empathy. They want to be engaged in different ways. So I think just setting up a traditional business and going about business in a really traditional route is not where the future's going. They want lots of ways to experience your brand. And they want to do it through content and entertainment.

What to Known About ZAlphas.

I have a real challenge because the consumer that I deal with at Claire's is what we call Gen Z and Gen Alpha, or what I lovingly refer to as the ZAlphas. And this is a crowd of consumers who were never in the world without computers and technology as we know it. They are highly creative. They're very, very entrepreneurial. They care very much about social responsibility, with important emphasis placed on things like mental health for them, the earth and doing good for the earth. They care a lot about fluidity both from a gender perspective, but just in terms of, how often they change. And so, as an executive focused on marketing, you really have to take all these things into consideration. The Alphas, which are kids that are like 13 and under, they are even at a completely different level. Think about this, this group of consumers never knew a world without Alexa. And they expect these sort of virtual worlds, and so they merge the virtual with the physical.

Let's Get Phygital.

We actually call it phygital at Claire's. We have our freestanding stores in the world. But how are you merging the Metaverse, web three, and everything happening with NFTs with the actual worlds? That's how their minds work. So I think that it gives executives the opportunity to be incredibly imaginative. And that's really, you know, what we deal with today. And by the way, these consumers, particularly the ones that I'm focused on at Claire's, they've got more power than they ever had. They've got the world at their fingertips with more information. Trends coming in and news at a seconds notice. They flip through their social media feeds and, you know, you've basically got two seconds to capture their imagination and their attention. And that's really different from where we all were growing up, you know? They just have more access than any generation before them. So you're dealing with your internal constituents, you're dealing with your external constituents who are really the ones that matter, and obviously, shareholders, and merging those worlds together. And it is a tightrope, in some ways, the balancing act, that Chief Marketing Officers are asked to do.

Balancing Empathy with Your Gut in the C-Suite.

And, you know, it's funny, my CEO always says to me, "There's two things that people love to have an opinion on, internally, anyway. It's marketing and merchandising." It's like, everybody thinks that they're experts on the product and the marketing. And I think really being empathetic to other people's voices in the room, but also knowing when you've got to trust your gut and your instinct and being present to make decisions about where to go, and multiple input from a measurement and analytics perspective, but also from a good gut instinct perspective. And I always think, of course because I run marketing, but when I think about everything that a CEO is looking to balance, you know, they're thinking about operations and the supply chain and the shareholders. You know, at the end of the day, consumers are the ones that we should be focused on, right? So with consumers having more power than ever, shouldn't companies that rely on customer love really invest in resources and people that can answer their demands? The answer is yes and no. Of course, as a Chief Marketing Officer, I would love more of the budget to be put into marketing, and I'm sure my team would as well. But I think that you have to be realistic about resources. I think that you need to be knowledgeable about revenue and EBITDA and ensuring that you're really focused on driving the business, being the voice for the consumer. I think within your company, it's incredibly important to get inside of the head of your CEO, to understand what he's trying to accomplish as well. I know my team and I sit around and talk about all of the things that we'd love to do. But I always think that it's a give and take between the CEO, the CFO, and the head of marketing, and where the company needs to go. So you need to ride the wave of looking into the future, staying in the present, and making it all meet somewhere in the middle.

So how do you get in front of consumers?

That really is something that plagues me a lot, you know, how do you get your brand culturally relevant? We've got a bunch of tools as marketing people that we can use. But the ability to really create a thunderbolt, as I like to say, in culture is an incredible task nowadays. I think I'm lucky and Claire's is lucky because we do have 3000 stores around the world, so we actually own some of our channels of communication. I think back in the day, marketers were asked to build the brand. And again, you kind of had a toolbox, and you knew exactly what was going to happen. You put out a TV spot, it was controlled, you researched it. Now, things can catch fire in social media, both in a good and a negative way. You're constantly monitoring on a daily, hourly, minute, second basis what consumers are saying and trying to be responsive. So the whole customer service model has been upended. And in some ways, marketing and the Chief Marketing Officer are thinking about customer service. For my team at Claire's, the first line of defense, or the first communication, is not the 1-800 number. It is my team, connecting with and communicating with a super broad audience and them telling us what they want to do and where they want to go. And when they don't like things. So we we've got to be super responsive to that. So that objective of just building the brand, that old adage, I think has shifted dramatically.....

Anytime I look at an opportunity, I try to think about how the CEO of the company that I'm at is thinking, and again, they're thinking about bottom line and EBITDA. And they're thinking about delivering results to the street if it's a publicly traded company. If it's not, then the private investment group and how you're delivering results for them. So I think about them and what they need to accomplish. I look at every opportunity with a CEO hat on, so how is every decision I make creating short and long term growth for the company?

And then sometimes I need to act as the Chief Information Officer. How is brand marketing smarter? How am I marketing smarter because of what I know? And where am I gathering that intelligence? Intelligence gathering is a 24/7 job. It's not just about reading a couple of publications. Again, it's what I just talked about with leveraging organic social feeds and all of the comments coming in from customers. And you've got to be on top of that.

In some ways, I also put the hat on of my CTO, and I work really closely with them, but I've got to look at opportunities in terms of how I'm leveraging technology to drive consumer connection. And this is an especially poignant point for me as the head of marketing for a company that caters to the most technical audience, probably alive on the planet today. These guys are savvy, savvy, savvy in terms of technology. And it's interesting because I was listening to and talking to a fellow marketer and they said, "Listen, I don't need to be bleeding edge in terms of technology." We actually need to be bleeding edge at Claire's. I need to be out there experimenting and trying different things because my consumer demands it. They're out there. They're on BeReal. They're trying new things. They're creators. So I've got to be ahead of that game and thinking about how to reach them. How am I doing live feeds. And it really is quite a task and undertaking because we're constantly pivoting. We make mistakes.

What mistake did the Claire's team make? (Hint: It involved TikTok nails!) Log on to the Masterclass recording to find out!



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