On Tuesday, May 17, the Chief Marketing Officer Institute will reveal the winners of its "CMO of the Year" award for leadership excellence. As we did last year, CMO.com is publishing exclusive interviews with each of the nine finalists, who discussed with the CMO Journal the strategies and tactics they employed to achieve marketing success at their respective organizations.
>> Category: Small To Midsize Organization
>> Company Description: For over 25 years, Scott Kay has been acclaimed the foremost authority in bridal and fine fashion jewelry. Credited for the platinum resurgence in America, each hand-perfected Scott Kay design is made with the same platinum-smith techniques and offered in "Art of Man" hand-woven wristwear, neckwear, cuffwear, and more. The result is the finest hand-finished jewelry available.
>> Highlights: In 2010 Scott Kay was able to secure a significant new deal with Sterling Corporation (the parent company of Kay and Jared Jewelers), creating a unique product line for each subsidiary. The company also introduced a new metal to the jewelry industry, BioBlu27 Cobalt, an exclusive metal made by Carpenter Technologies. The creation of this new metal and its successful launch led to the biggest year in sales for Scott Kay, a remarkable feat for a jewelry company in the current economic environment.
>> The Conversation:
CMOJ: In 2010 you were instrumental in securing a deal with Carpenter Technologies, making the metal BioBlu27 exclusive to Scott Kay Inc. This new metal provides the company with the ability to fill a vacant price/quality space in the jewelry industry that competitors are now trying to replicate. Describe the strategic impetus that lead to that masterstroke.
DS: The dramatic success of BioBlu27 Cobalt started with the prediction of escalating and erratic precious metal market prices and the direct relationship with consumer purchasing. Since many soon-to-be-married men simply can’t afford a platinum or gold wedding band these days, we concluded we should offer a naturally white, highly durable, and designer-branded option starting at $220. (The same Scott Kay style in platinum would retail at over $3,500, and even 14kt gold would average $2,900.)
The next step was to find a “contemporary metal” that we could call our own and was worthy of production into a wedding band. Please note: a wedding band is not just jewelry, it is a band typically blessed in church, temple, or synagogue. This is a sacred or spiritual ring that, at the very least, is deeply symbolic. It is meant to be worn on a person’s finger for the rest of their life, embodying adoration of and devotion to another. When our national research proved that the only existing options for $200 to $400 wedding bands were stainless steel (which can stain, corrode, and even rust) and tungsten carbide (which cracks or even shatters when dropped on a hard surface), we found the solution through the brilliant minds at Carpenter Technologies: BioBlu27 Cobalt. It's a very affordable, amazingly durable, naturally white metal that has been used for years in the medical field (prostheses) the aerospace community (rocket ships), and the sporting goods industry (golf club heads).
The distinct challenge was bringing BioBlu27 Cobalt to the jewelry market with no known consumer or retail awareness and immediately competing within the same price point of steel and tungsten -- both have had decades of awareness, acceptance and sales history.
A portion of this early success was collaborating with brides.com for “Groom of the Year.” Being the exclusive wedding band sponsor for this highly visible national niche promotion placed BioBlu 27 Cobalt top of mind with often hard-to-reach future brides and grooms. We not only reached them, we received their opt-in wedding date and full contact information. Eighty-seven percent converted into sales within 60 days.
Adding nearly 24/7 retail training and consumer marketing, utilizing a concentration of digital integration, we created divisional brands (SK Cobalt, Brawn Cobalt, and Brute Cobalt) to protect the parent premium precious metal line. The results are frankly staggering. We are breaking sales records every month while building consumer retention to the product for anniversary and jewelry gifting. These are all sales we would have lost had we not focused on this leading trend, soon to be constant. Now, our upper-tier platinum and gold consumers remain satisfied, while the U.S. mainstream has an affordable, luxury alternative within BioBlu 27 Cobalt.
CMOJ: In addition to the traditional activities of a CMO, you seemingly wear several other hats such as producing sales training videos, negotiating contracts for raw materials, and so on. Does that ever cause friction with your peers in the organization? If so, how do you handle it? If not, why not?
DS: When I was offered the title of VP of Marketing at Scott Kay, I read a job description that was in line with most executive marketing responsibilities. I asked the board to allow me to draft a new job description with the title of Chief Marketing Officer. The reasoning behind this was that I have always believed a marketing officer for any company should offer their very best talents beyond that of “expected” marketing knowledge. For me, this meant years of broadcast expertise producing direct marketing television and video, handling contract negotiations, and finding and building new business development. The board accepted this direction; at the same time, we both agreed that interaction with key executives, namely a Creative Director and EVP of Sales, would be challenging.
Here’s how we solved it: I presented a new corporate organizational chart. Instead of a “tree hierocracy” which has a traditional org chart reporting structure, we developed a circular management map. These “rings of Saturn” style circles displayed how we could best interact as a true team. The center circle was the CEO, and the outer bands represented senior management. It proved there had to be a blend of talents to reach newfound profitability, sometimes having two executives working together, each bringing a level of expertise to reach the end goal.
As a timely example, we have a stellar Creative Director [CD] in house who put Donna Karan on the map and created almost every Chanel fragrance ad for the last three years. She has had massive print experience, with major broadcast also under her belt. When it came time to incorporate video into our soon-to-be-launched bridal creative, she proposed bringing in a highly qualified producer and director. I reminded her of the circular chart. While some companies would mandate the CD handle the video themselves, we choose to work together. The CD and I blended her artistic talents with my video and branding production past. Not only did we save over $250,000 in freelance fees, the branding learning curve of hiring out-of-house turned into a straight line. I would be honored to have you be the judge of the end product. (I could make this available to anyone wishing to view it as an advance screening,) The results are the best work Scott Kay has ever produced.
I think more CMOs should tap into their very best skill sets (outside traditional marketing) and see how they may truly help -- not invade or dominate -- another area of the company, for the good of the company. Offered properly, this process excites and builds morale, often cementing internal business relationships, and heightens profitability.
CMOJ: You clearly had a great year in 2010, but surely you hit some bumps in the road that have been instructive. What’s the most important thing you learned in 2010 that will enable you to be a better marketing leader in 2011 and beyond?
DS: By far, I learned to do a lot more with a lot less.
Before we saw the significant, bright sales increases last year, we saw darkness. Trying to navigate through dimly lit, early-year budget cuts, like in advertising and social media research, were quite frankly daunting . . . and draining.
Here’s what I did: I posted a very large, hand-drawn poster that migrated out of marketing into customer service and throughout the company. It read: “STOP THINKING RECESSION. START THINKING PROGRESSION.” It was followed by a brief but critical group interaction on the meaning of this sign. The words made people stop and think. If we don’t focus on the future and find ways to do more with less, we are headed in a constantly negative direction. I needed, for myself first and my team second, to stop thinking of the bad news and start offering creative solutions to produce good news. Positive energy and positive thinking started blooming brilliant ideas and new partnerships and created a daily uplifting message of success in succession. Think forward; go forward. This process should never stop or sustain. To be a great marketing leader, I believe in finding the good news and applying it to business . . . each and every day. The good news is there, it’s just hidden sometimes. I’ve found that locating it and rewarding those that search and find it motivates, educates, and builds profitability with a smile.
CMOJ: Describe the relationship you have with your CEO, Scott Kay. What are his expectations of you and your team, and how are those expectations measured?
DS: My relationship with the CEO, Scott Kay, is a critical, often daily interaction focused on one key goal: always raise the bar, no matter how regional or global the project may be.
When I first joined the company, I was warned of the harsh and extremely challenging expectations the CEO had. After all, this was his company he started with a mere $5,000, and now our products are sold in over 2,000 locations in the U.S. alone. Moreover, Scott Kay understands marketing. He is a master marketer himself and not one to mince words if he doesn’t care for what he sees or hears.
I recall a statement I made to Scott Kay on my first day of employment. I said, “Scott, marketing will be with you, not for you. Let’s make this a handshake, not a hand off.” He smiled and extended his hand in agreement. From that day forward, I always remember he has the final say. I must bring him true innovation and carefully researched marketing strategy and tactics -- before he thinks of them!
One example of our interaction is his request for a monthly monitor meeting. I welcomed those sessions, but offered my own request in addition to his. I asked for a quarterly marketing meeting where each manager would present their most significant development as part of the master plan. I wanted him to see it was more than me; it was leadership from the top down that motivates people to do their best, always raising the bar.
At Scott Kay, we do not do anything that is simply “acceptable.” We must strive for the very best in every aspect of what we produce. As Scott Kay often reminds us, we craft the finest jewelry in the world. (Our return rate is so low it’s immeasurable -- unheard of in the emotional arena of bridal or fashion jewelry. )Scott Kay needs us to step up our marketing to be on par with his designs and speak to two words: Never Compromise. These words are not an ad slogan or motto: they're our company credo.
If more asked themselves and their team how they could be better and achieve more, I believe they would see tremendous, newly spun success. Scott Kay’s daily high expectations taught me to expect more and be more. I awake each day to that marketing challenge and strive to be stellar.