Author and business philosopher Peter Drucker said marketing and innovation are the only two basic functions of a business enterprise. These products results. The rest are all costs. It’s a phrase Kevin Sellers has come back to again and again throughout his decade’s long career as a mass communications expert and award-winning marketer. Previously at Intel, he dedicated more than 20 years to leveraging his marketing acumen to create lasting brand value and deliver growth. Today, as CMO of Avnet, he drives key demand generation activities, digital marketing, customer experience, brand strategy, advertising, co-marketing and PR efforts.
Kevin joined the SuccessLab podcast to discuss what he does to stay ahead of marketing trends, martech (and his favorite tool for tracking metrics), and why it’s absolutely vital for organizations to be able to explain their brand with five words or less.
Can you briefly walk us through your career and the various roles that you’ve held?
Intel is one of those companies where if you showed some promise and some ambition and so forth, you weren’t pigeonholed into a specific thing. I had an opportunity. I showed enough acumen in the space of marketing where they said, “Yeah, come on over and we’ll put you in a marketing role.” I did product marketing roles for most of my early career in marketing and then expanded from there.
I spent about eight years of my Intel time (I was there for 23 years total) living in Japan, most of which was doing marketing. For the last several years I ran all of marketing, which included product marketing, pricing, branding, advertising and our retail operations. That’s what kind of got me into the broadest exposure of marketing.
When I came back from Japan I ran brand strategy, which was a lot of fun. I was basically handed the keys to the Maserati. This was a company at the time whose brand value was the seventh most valuable in the world and I had a chance to shape and drive the brand strategy for the company for a few years –– so the Intel presence and identity system you see today was work that my team and I did back in 2006/2007.
They asked me to run investor relations. It was a fascinating opportunity to really hone communication skills because you have to be able to tell the story of the company to a group of very, very savvy investors and analysts.
In my last role at Intel, I handled all of their global advertising and their digital marketing. That was everything from television spots down to all of our digital execution and so forth. So, I did that for several years and then I left Intel and worked for an agency for a bit and then ended up at Avent CMO.
How did you gain the skills for your role in investor relations?
They came to me because I started my career in finance and I understood P&L and balance sheet language. Because I’d spent most of my career in marketing, they viewed it as a nice blend of somebody who understood marketing and positioning but could also speak to a financially savvy audience. It turned out that combination of experiences was really helpful. Most companies will take a person straight through finance and turn them into an investor relations person. What you find is that person understands the business well, but they’re not terribly good at positioning, talking strategy and marketing that story well.
So, I found that my background worked well and I was able to garner a lot of respect and attention fairly quickly. I had enough exposure to the business where I could talk about it, but in terms of learning what’s new, you learned rather quickly that there’s a lot of pitfalls in a job like that which I didn’t understand. I had a lot of help from my boss at the time and from lawyers.
I had a lot of help, but I think a lot of it was using my experience, reaching out to people who had done the job before and then making sure I was leaning on experts in different areas like legal or disclosure or things like that.
Over the years, how have you seen marketing change?
I would say the rise of digital and, specifically, mobile digital has been a tectonic change. As sort of a byproduct of that, when you think about how you would reach a consumer 20 years ago, it was oh so simple because you had just a few ways. You would either use television or you would use print or you might use direct mail or something like that.
I think I saw a stat somewhere back in the ’70s. There was something like 500 to 1,000 messages a day hitting a consumer. Today that number, depending on the research you look at, hovers between 5,000 and 10,000 a day. The rise of digital and the rise of mobile has created so many more touch points for businesses and markets to reach consumers. As marketers, how do you break through just this cacophony of noise that’s out there when you know your target audience is just being saturated and bombarded with messages? How do you break through? How do you stand out? How do you get noticed? How does your message actually resonate and stick with the target audience?
That’s why there’s the rise of so much of martech. All the tools and technologies to help refine your segmentation and refine your media choice and mix and all the different tools and technologies out there. Digital does give you the ability to get more direct feedback in a more real-time manner, but again, the biggest challenge we all face is how to break through so much noise and so many messages hitting our target audience? That’s a big challenge for all marketers.
What’s been a skill that you’ve had to adapt over the last couple of years?
I would say applying digital. Digital is just another channel, right? The core marketing function really hasn’t changed, but what has changed is because of so many access points, it’s finding your core audience, who you’re trying to reach and determining how do you reach them. But at the end of the day, you’re still grappling with “What’s my message? How do I tell it? Does it resonate? Am I differentiated and unique? Am I able to put a value proposition out there that people care about?”
Those are the same issues that all marketers are grappling with. It’s just gotten infinitely more complex because the choice of which you have to go to market now is infinitely broader. The tools you have to use to potentially measure and analyze and tweak and update and modify are almost infinite. Those are things that are requiring a different cadence, a different speed which we operate. It’s much more real-time.
What is one piece of advice you would give to fellow marketers or even an entrepreneur looking to market their business?
One of the things I tell startup companies is, “Understand the business that you’re in, but focus on how do you describe that business in five words or less.” It is a very hard exercise. It may take days, weeks, months to figure that out. But if you can get to a point where you can describe yourself in five words or less and it’s meaningful, people understand it, you’re on to something. From there you can build a marketing and brand strategy because you’ve learned how to position your company, you’ve learned how to tell it very simply and now you can go forward with the full story. That’s one thing I would have them start with, which is a challenging yet very enlightening exercise.
Are you a coffee drinker? Yes or no.
No, I’m a hot chocolate guy.
How do you get going in the morning?
I run in the mornings. That’s what gets me going.
What’s one business tool you’re geeking out over right now?
We’re just implementing Percolate. I love it because it gives me access to the whole calendar of content and campaigns and everything and I can see in a glance everything that’s happening around the world, and it’s the first time I’ve ever had that capability, so I’m actually very much geeking out over that tool.
What is a favorite piece of technology currently?
My range finder. I love it. I pull it out and I can really quickly click a button and it tells me exactly how far out I am from the pin. It’s a simple piece of technology that I use a lot.
What’s one book you’d pass along to a fellow marketer?
My favorite book is a book called “Insanely Simple.” It’s written by Ken Segall who used to be the creative director at the agency that worked for Apple and Steve Jobs. He writes a book about how Steve Jobs, one of his greatest traits was his ability to keep things very, very simple. It’s probably the most important marketing book I’ve ever read because it helps me to remember that the best marketing is also the simplest marketing. Your message needs to be simple. Obviously compelling and interesting, but we typically confuse compelling and interesting with lengthy.
Who’s one person you’d like to go on a road trip with.
Bono. I had a chance to meet him in Cannes one year in France and he is such a genuine human being and I was so impressed that I would love to go on a road trip.
How many hours of sleep do you get each night on average?
Oh boy. I have not been a good sleeper the last month or two. I’ve done better, but for the last couple years I was probably doing about four (and by the way, that’s not good and certainly not something I’m proud of and I don’t think people should wear anything like that as a badge of honor). It’s just not good for you. Now, I’m in the five range and that’s been helpful. I’d like to get it more consistently in the six range and maybe even hit seven once in a while.
Well, lastly, how can people connect with you?
Kevin.Sellers@Avnet.com, so I’m happy to connect with anyone that would like to.