Model Reveals What Works
April 30, 2009
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
up in Cleveland, Mike Linton thought he would be a famous writer.
Instead he became a world-class CMO who is a role model and guide
for marketers facing a challenging economy.
His junior year at Bowling Green State University, Linton was
editing the campus newspaper. “I realized I liked running
the paper even more than having my own column,” Linton says.
“I went into business and never looked back.” He earned
an M.B.A. at Duke and joined Procter & Gamble.
writing was a passion, Linton took a lot of math. “My undergrad
degree is in market research. I've always gravitated to math.
At its core, marketing is 70% math,” Linton adds. Linton
credits his father, an electrical engineer, and his grandmother,
a calculus teacher, for inspiring his love of numbers.
“Great advertising and packaging—outstanding marketing
tactics—are fundamentally outcomes of the business strategy
and the marketing process. They aren’t an end to themselves.
They’re just windows into what you're really trying to accomplish,”
Linton says. Yet Linton helped create top marketing programs,
including hiring the Rolling Stones and Elton John while he was
CMO of Best Buy and establishing the company’s Reward Zone
got to consumer electronics and realized people love this stuff,”
Linton says. “They can’t wait to plug it in, turn
it on and listen to it. They’re just not as crazy about
buying it as they are about having it.”
“We worked hard to change the whole marketing program, so
the fun starts when you start thinking about it. It doesn’t
start right after you buy it. That led to the ‘Turn on the
Fun’ campaign and the entertainment deals. We were trading
marketing for entertainment.”
At 52, Linton is a multi-disciplinary, multi-industry CMO who
has worked at P&G, Progressive Insurance, Best Buy and eBay,
where he just stepped down as CMO.
“Mike Linton is a pretty rare breed,” says Greg Welch,
the global leader of Spencer Stuart’s consumer goods and
services practice. “He is well-trained, incredibly smart
and someone who has earned his stripes as a CMO.”
“After learning the marketing discipline at P&G, he
put Best Buy on the map with their ‘focus on the customer,
the customer experience and the brand’ concept,” Welch
says. “At eBay, he jumped trade channels and demonstrated
an ability to connect with consumers in a unique and relevant
way in a highly analytical environment.”
In addition to management roles in the soap business, insurance,
retail consumer electronics and the online world, Linton sits
on two corporate boards, with Peet’s Coffee & Tea and
the Allen Edmonds shoe company.
learned about putting customers first at P&G. He still quotes
a poem he read as a brand assistant, from a satisfied user of
Lava soap. “The guy was using Lava to clean his dentures,”
Linton says. At Progressive, Linton learned to link performance
metrics and rewards in selling insurance. At Best Buy, he helped
change the way consumers feel about buying electronics.
At eBay, he learned online marketing. “I didn’t want
to miss out on the Internet,” he says.
has one of the most diverse and successful marketing backgrounds
of any CMO. He shares five points for marketers coping with the
Between Short Term and Long Term Profitability: Linton
cautions marketers to think like Intel and P&G, who invest
in good times and in bad.
Objective About What’s Truly Happening: Be honest
about the forecast and the expectations. Don’t bend the
math to make the story.
Will Buy the Brand Benefit: Don’t let the core
brand benefit degrade. If price becomes the primary reason to
purchase, the brand is at risk.
is Math: Make sure you’re being fact-based, and
build programs that align with the current realities and the
measures that drive the company. These are usually sales, margin
and profit, not specific marketing measures. Work to connect
the marketing measures to the key financials.
Compensation Drives Behavior: Get everyone
on the same page--marketing staff, agencies and suppliers. Compensating
for specific marketing measures can create a divided house as
well as a disconnect with the rest of the company.
is stepping down from his role as North America CMO for eBay,
which he has held since 2006, but he enjoyed the experience and
praises his colleagues. Linton goes to great pains to point out
that marketing is a team sport. He’s always learning from
subordinates, peers and managers.
“I’ve worked at really good companies. I’ve
had fantastic trainers and some tremendous peers who have taught
me a lot,” Linton says.
“One of the things I like most about Mike is his battle
scars,” Welch says. “Not everything in his career
turned to gold. Those experiences gave him maturity. He is unafraid
to fight for what he believes. He pursues what he believes is
best for his company.”
What’s next for Linton? He’s not sure, but it will
be a learning experience. “I like consumers, general management
and marketing,” Linton says. “I’m not wed to
a specific industry. Hopefully it will be something fun and interesting
that consumers care about,” he says.
His advice for marketers trying to build their careers: “Go
to the place that trains you the best, not necessarily the place
that pays you the most.”
Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago,
and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Mkt-strat.com