Modern Marketing According to Uber (& Me)

Modern Marketing According to Uber (& Me)

“We are not making these changes because Marketing has become less important to Uber. The exact opposite is true: we are making these changes because presenting a powerful, unified, and dynamic vision to the world has never been more important. Under Jill’s leadership, Marketing will soon be operating at full strength.”
- Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO Uber

Uber recently reorganized its entire marketing team. After letting go of its first CMO alongside a group of other senior executives, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi laid off 400 people from their marketing department, representing one-third of the employees with marketing responsibilities. I feel for those laid off, as I think a lack of understanding of exactly what marketing is and how it is best practiced often makes marketers easy targets during downsizing and re-orgs. But as an expert in the field, I also have difficulty understanding the need for 1200 marketing employees, especially considering the many agencies I’m sure Uber engages.  In a mostly digital world at a mostly digital company, it seems hard to believe that they would need that many people to effectively distribute their message.

The marketing reorganization included the promotion of Jill Hazelbaker to SVP of Marketing and Public Affairs, and the hiring of Thomas Ranese — formerly of Google and the New York State Development Corporation — to Vice President of Global Marketing. Ranese will work alongside Hazelbaker’s other direct report, Mike Strickman, Vice President of Performance Marketing, who was hired in July.  

This is where things get interesting.

In my experience, quite often there exists a significant amount of confusion among company leaders as to how marketing operates and how it is best structured within an organization. In my view, there are two types of 21st-century marketing — brand and growth. Both have tremendous value, but both are also extremely different, requiring different personality types and skill sets.  Uber seems to have recognized this reality and adjusted accordingly.

Brand marketers are the soul of an organization. These people are responsible for the emotional elements: visuals, values, vocals, the creative stuff and the storytelling. For the most part, they also handle the owned distribution channels such as the website (UX), social media, email newsletters, communications etc. In addition, they engage in experience-building: how does a consumer interact with the product, and what are the key points of differentiation? Last but not at all least, brand marketers partake in company culture, because truly great organizations are no different internally or externally— they are integrated. 

To explain the value of a brand marketer I would simply say, How easy is it to sell a bad product? Great brand marketers create products and experiences people love and eventually are willing to pay an aspirational price premium to enjoy. Or as the guru of business management Peter Drucker explained “The aim of marketing, is to know and understand the customer so well, the product or service… sells itself.”  This is brand marketing.

Starbucks. Apple. Nike. Rolex. Virgin.  Brand marketing their long-term value builder. It’s one of the key’s to what makes great companies great. If you are okay just being okay, don’t focus on brand marketing.  But if you want to be a truly great company in the contemporary world, you cannot ignore brand marketing.

Growth marketers, on the other hand, are the brains of a marketing organization. These people are responsible for using data analytics to marry the right marketing messages and advertisements with the right audiences so that they push customers down the funnel to make purchases, aka convert. They control the paid acquisition channels: Google Adwords, social media/Facebook advertising, direct marketing, email marketing, retargeting, platform optimization, 3rd party relationships such as OTA’s — basically anything and everything that they can use to sell stuff today. 

To expand, let’s think of Nike. If the company’s brand marketers made the “Just Do It” campaign or the Colin Kaepernick advertisement everyone talked about, the growth marketers sent the targeted email offering you $30 off and retargeted you with the advertisement on nytimes.com and every other website you visited after you left that pair of Air Jordans in your cart without checking out.  Amazon is probably the great growth marketer of our time, but that connection you feel to Nike, Apple, Starbucks, Virgin, and Rolex would not be possible without the revenues that growth marketers drive. Growth marketing is all about generating revenue today. It gives you the fuel necessary to be able to make great long-term decisions. 

A highly intelligent venture capitalist once told me that great companies have decreasing customer acquisition costs over time. This is only possible where a strong partnership exists between brand and growth marketers. While everyone loves to say data never lies, real power is generated when creativity and data — brand and growth — work together. But this is where most companies get tripped up. They simply don’t understand the separate realms of brand and growth marketing, or they project their internal biases or fears onto the situation, so they set up a structure advantaging only one function. What this means is you end up with amazing products that you don’t necessarily know how you sell, or you have mediocre products that you need to discount and manipulate people into buying. Neither of those are good approaches. You need both kinds of marketing and someone in the middle, “a triangle” that understand the value of both, to balance the two.

“Whoever is running marketing needs to become the voice of the consumer around the boardroom table – and needs to be the executive who understands, focuses on and uses the full range of marketing tools at their disposal to deliver the brand message to the consumer, where, when and how the consumer wants to receive that message.”

So back to Uber.  Jill Hazelbaker, SVP of Marketing and Public Affairs, is the triangle: she sits on top of the marketing organization and is voice of the consumer in the boardroom. Thomas Ranese is the brand marketer, the circle. And Mike Strickman is the growth marketer, the square. Jill’s job is to make sure that both have the resources and support necessary to be successful. To deliver a differentiated offering always while optimizing conversions today. She’ll focus on creating an environment where brand and growth — Thomas and Mike — work together, so Uber’s heart and brain work together, and the company flourishes.

And on another note: Dara Khosrowshahi is turning around a cruise ship while navigating extremely choppy waters, but in my humble opinion he is making the right long term decisions and might be one of the great business leaders of our era. I’m sure he did not want to let go of those marketers, but he needed to do what was best for the overall body and that meant cutting off an arm, or at least part of it. So for all you marketing leaders out there, if you are interviewing one of the laid-off Uber marketers, give them the benefit of the doubt, as their departure probably wasn’t a reflection of their ability to contribute.

Uber recently reorganized its entire marketing team.  After letting go of its first CMO alongside a group of other senior executives, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi laid off 400 people from their marketing department, representing one-third of the employees with marketing responsibilities. I feel for those laid off, as I think a lack of understanding of exactly what marketing is and how it is best practiced often makes marketers easy targets during downsizing and re-orgs.  But as an expert in the field, I also have difficulty understanding the need for 1200 marketing employees, especially considering the many agencies I’m sure Uber engages.   In a mostly digital world at a mostly digital company, it seems hard to believe that they would need that many people to effectively distribute their message.

The marketing reorganization included the promotion of Jill Hazelbaker to SVP of Marketing and Public Affairs, and the hiring of Thomas Ranese — formerly of Google and the New York State Development Corporation — to Vice President of Global Marketing. Ranese will work alongside Hazelbaker’s other direct report, Mike Strickman, Vice President of Performance Marketing, who was hired in July.  

This is where things get interesting.

In my experience, quite often there exists a significant amount of confusion among company leaders as to how marketing operates and how it is best structured within an organization.  In my view, there are two types of 21st-century marketing — brand and growth.  Both have tremendous value, but both are also extremely different, requiring different personality types and skill sets.  Uber seems to have recognized this reality and adjusted accordingly.

Brand marketers are the soul of an organization. These people are responsible for the emotional elements: visuals, values, vocals, the creative stuff and the storytelling. For the most part, they also handle the owned distribution channels such as the website, social media, email newsletters, etc. In addition, they engage in experience-building: how does a consumer interact with the product, and what are the key points of differentiation? Last but not at all least, brand marketers oversee company culture, because truly great organizations are no different internally or externally— they are integrated.  

To explain the value of a brand marketer I would simply say, How easy is it to sell a bad product?  Great brand marketers create products and experiences people love and eventually are willing to pay an aspirational price premium to enjoy.  Or as the guru of business management Peter Drucker explained “The aim of marketing, is to know and understand the customer so well, the product or service… sells itself.” He was clearly a believer in brand marketing.

Starbucks. Apple. Nike.  Rolex. Virgin.  Brand marketing is a long-term value builder.  It’s what makes great companies great.  If you are okay just being okay, don’t focus on brand marketing.  But if you want to be a truly great company in the contemporary world, you cannot ignore brand marketing.

Growth marketers, on the other hand, are the brains of a marketing organization. These people are responsible for using data analytics to marry the right marketing messages and advertisements with the right audiences so that they push customers down the funnel to make purchases, aka convert. They control the paid acquisition channels: Google Adwords, social media/Facebook advertising, direct marketing, email marketing, retargeting, platform optimization, 3rd party relationships such as OTA’s — basically anything and everything that they can use to sell stuff today. 

To expand, let’s think of Nike.  If the company’s brand marketers made the “Just Do It” campaign or the Colin Kaepernick advertisement everyone talked about, the growth marketers sent the targeted email offering you $30 off and retargeted you with the advertisement on nytimes.com and every other website you visited after you left that pair of Air Jordans in your cart without checking out.  Amazon is probably the great growth marketer of our time, but that connection you feel to Nike, Apple, Starbucks, Virgin, and Rolex would not be possible without the revenues that growth marketers drive.  Growth marketing is all about generating revenue today.  It gives you the fuel necessary to make great long-term decisions. 

A highly intelligent venture capitalist once told me that great companies have decreasing customer acquisition costs over time. This is only possible where a strong partnership exists between brand and growth marketers.  While everyone loves to say data never lies, real power is generated when creativity and data — brand and growth — work together. But this is where most companies get tripped up.  They simply don’t understand the separate realms of brand and growth marketing, or they project their internal biases or fears onto the situation, so they set up a structure advantaging only one function.  What this means is you end up with amazing products that you don’t necessarily know how you sell, or you have mediocre products that you need to discount and manipulate people into buying.  Neither of those are good approaches.  You need both kinds of marketing and someone in the middle to balance the two.

“Whoever is running marketing needs to become the voice of the consumer around the boardroom table – and needs to be the executive who understands, focuses on and uses the full range of marketing tools at their disposal to deliver the brand message to the consumer, where, when and how the consumer wants to receive that message.”

So back to Uber.  Jill Hazelbaker, SVP of Marketing and Public Affairs, is the triangle: she sits on top of the marketing organization and is voice of the consumer in the boardroom. Thomas Ranese is the brand marketer, the circle. And Mike Strickman is the growth marketer, the square.  Jill’s job is to make sure that both have the resources and support necessary to be successful.  To deliver a differentiated offering always while optimizing conversions today. She’ll focus on creating an environment where brand and growth — Thomas and Mike — work together, so Uber’s heart and brain work together, and the company flourishes.

Dara Khosrowshahi is turning around a cruise ship while navigating extremely choppy waters, but I believe he is making the right long term decisions and is one of the great business leaders of our era.  I’m sure he did not want to let go of those marketers, but he needed to do what was best for the overall body and that meant cutting off an arm, or at least part of it. So for all you marketing leaders out there, if you are interviewing one of the laid-off Uber marketers, give them the benefit of the doubt, as their departure probably wasn’t a reflection of their ability to contribute.

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