What (Alan) Brown can do for you
March 1, 2006
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
down to lunch with Alan Brown you sense pent-up, positive energy.
This is a CMO who gets it done. Yet, Brown also is a listener.
He opens his presentations by asking his audience for questions.
there anything you want me to talk about?” Brown asks. Right
away I understand how it is he can sell books and music as well
as he sells stocks and bonds: Brown’s a natural-born CMO.
served as CMO of Seattle-based Amazon.com Inc. and Chicago-based
Nuveen Investments Inc. Now he’s taking his Internet and
financial services pedigree and moving to new heights. After four
years as CMO of Nuveen, he’s just been named executive vice
president of the investment company, running Nuveen’s $14
billion global mutual fund business.
lasted more than 23 months,” quips Brown, in reference to
the limited average tenure of today’s corporate CMO.
How does he
do it? The common thread is customer-centricity. Brown lives,
breathes and thinks the concept--and the concept works.
a diagram with concentric circles to illustrate that the customer
is at the core of his thinking. He worries about the customer
experience. He tries to personalize his offerings. He strives
to build community around that customer. He’s on a neverending
quest to invent new ways to delight the customer.
not shy in the boardroom. He knows the talk is about cutting marketing
budgets, and hey, he’s a quantitative guy. He understands
the numbers--but knows you can’t be a slave to cost-cutting.
are we always on the defensive to justify our budgets?”
he asks. He relates how a chief information officer happily reports
a 20% reduction in the company’s total cost of ownership
for expensive enterprise resource planning software. “That’s
great,” he adds, “but I don’t know anyone that
went out and bought a latte because the SAP solution’s total
cost of ownership dropped 20%.”
is crystal clear: Marketers must remember that they’re in
the customer advocacy business, not the cost containment business.
Forget that fact, and you’ve lost.
do customers come from?” Brown asks. “(From an) an
article they saw? An ad they read? Word-of-mouth?”
about your watch,” he goes on. “No one ever talks
to you about the total cost of ownership (of personal accessories).
They bought the watch because someone recommended it. They liked
You do have
to measure, he adds, “Just like the CFO, the CIO or the
VP of operations. You are a businessperson with a marketing emphasis.
The question is, ‘Where do customers come from?’ ”
measures it, Brown knows customers arrive as a result of marketing
actions. He measures ROI, but in his case, it’s return on
imagination. He knows human emotions drive customer purchase
more than total cost of ownership. He tracks return on experience:
“You go to Starbucks and look at the great detail you see.”
He measures return on adoption, getting customers to use a product
or a service and the financial benefits that brings.
In fact, Brown
calls himself a “measurement maniac,” but adds, “there
are parts of the business where you have to take a chance.”
to Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos to make his point. Bezos and Brown
were in a war room near Christmas time about five years ago. It
was the height of the selling season--make or break time. Bezos
turned to Brown and said, “Alan, we should offer used books.”
today like he did five years ago. He had top-line responsibility.
He wanted to make his numbers, but there was Amazon’s founder
saying, “It would be good for the customer.” Brown
knew Bezos was right.
put it out there,” Brown says. Right next to the newest
Steven King novel selling for $24.95, Amazon offered the used
version. The publishers screamed. The authors screamed. Everyone
screamed, but the customers loved it. And Brown notes that customers
bought a used book and then three new books over the course of
the year. That’s a pretty positive return on adoption.
was completely counterintuitive to a retailer, but it was customer-centric,”
to talk about the personalization of the Amazon Web site. He doesn’t
harp on the complicated collaborative processing technology that
enables Amazon to offer like-minded customers purchase suggestions.
Instead, he points to pithy e-mails he has received from real
customers. One delighted customer wrote Brown the following:
for the music you recommend, well, I am baffled. How do you know
that Celine Dion is one of my favorite singers? Maybe there is
a high correlation between middle-aged fat male Italian oceanographers
and sweet and mellow young female Canadian singers? Or was it
that she once teamed with Pavarotti?”
Fat or thin,
the oceanographer was plainly delighted, and that’s Brown’s
Brown’s been applying his customer-centric philosophy to
selling stocks, bonds and retirement security. Nuveen is a 108-year-old
financial services firm known for trust, integrity and conservatism.
Brown’s job is to help the company grow without losing its
roots. His mantra is “conservative ingenuity.” He’s
helping Nuveen change while staying true to its heritage. So far
who invest don’t invest for returns,” Brown says.
“They invest because they have children who they want to
put through college. There are always strong and powerful human
emotions that drive why people put money with us or any other
firm. Our promise to them is, we are never going to be No. 1,
but over the long haul with conservative ingenuity, we’ll
have investment quality.”
Brown is customer-centric. He’s personalizing offerings
to Nuveen’s customers. He’s building community, and
he’s working to surprise and delight the customer. Those
are the lessons Brown learned at Amazon. “It’s about
marketing expertise. You can take the marketing side of what you’ve
done and apply it in very different businesses,” he says.
“There’s no ceiling to what you can do.”
living proof of that.
Krauss is a partner with Marion Consulting Partners based in Highland
Park, Ill., and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Marionpartners.com