When Victor Cho left his position as president and CEO of Kodak Gallery in late 2012, he took a year-long sabbatical to consider what he wanted to do next. He had spent four years on a turnaround of the photo-sharing network following four years heading up digital marketing and commerce at Intuit, where he grew online revenue from $300 million to more than $1 billion.
This Cho knew: He wanted to do more than just sell a product. The 43-year-old former programmer, who started his career in Microsoft’s early Internet consumer products division, explained that he’s “always looking for something that makes a big impact.” Of particular interest to Cho is what he calls the connected business model. “I’m less excited about selling things than I am about building an online ecosystem that can drive change in a broader way,” he said.
That’s what brought Cho to Evite, where he has been CEO since June 2014. But growing a brand on that kind of networked foundation requires a different marketing approach—one that’s inherently more complex, according to Cho. A connected company cannot simply focus on the four Ps—product, price, promotion, and place—said Cho, who has come up with an alternative framework that emphasizes monetization, ecosystem, embedded experience, brand, and customer acquisition.
CMO.com talked to Cho about this new marketing approach, the concept of the connected business, how his marketing background benefits him as a CEO, and the increasingly critical link between product management and marketing.
CMO.com: What did you see as the biggest challenges—and opportunities—for Evite when you took over the company last year?
Cho: Evite is the dominant online invitation brand. It’s synonymous with invitations in the same way Kleenex is with tissues. We send 24,000 invitations every hour. It’s huge scale. But the company has just scratched the surface of what it could be as a business. I like the idea of making the world a better place ... which might sound hokey. So we revised our mission, which is now to help people get together face-to-face. It’s a fundamentally different interaction when people meet in real life, and we want to not only make that happen, but to make it effortless and more memorable.
CMO.com: How do you plan to do that?
Cho: Historically, we’ve thought of Evite as the invitation organization tool for a party. There wasn’t much engagement before the party, other than to RSVP. And there wasn’t any engagement after. To me that was a big lever for opportunity. Evite sits smack in the middle of this ecosystem of events and parties and get-togethers. We can leverage our brand and scale to bring more solutions into the fold that help both the party host and the guests.
CMO.com: Would those solutions be provided by Evite or a network of partners?
Cho: It will be a combination of both. We’ll do a ton of stuff in conjunction with partners. One of our early forays into the pre-party value proposition is an increasingly large content asset of tips and articles that we’re building in conjunction with a distributed network of bloggers and party experts from around the country.
CMO.com: What is the connected business you refer to?
Cho: The world today is really on one unified network—and perpetually now, given the ubiquity of mobile devices. The implication is that everything is changing, but we’re still at the very early stages of that change. And those changes include the fundamental nature of what it means to be a business and how it functions. Some businesses won’t change. But the vast majority will become increasingly connected, and the way they create value will fundamentally change.
In the past, it was very linear: You come up with a product, you market it, you deliver it. In a world that has more bidirectional connections between businesses and their partners, as well as their customers, a business becomes much more of a system. You create value for customers in a way that flows value back to you. You create value for partners in a way that flows value back to you. Online companies tend to be at the forefront of this change, but there are traditional companies doing interesting things, too.
CMO.com: You have a significant marketing background. How does that inform your decisions as CEO?
Cho: Well, I actually started as a developer. I developed databases and systems and started a consulting business around it to pay my way through college. I always knew I wanted to run a software company.
Once I graduated, I spent my first five or six years in marketing roles and segued into other areas of the business. I was lucky that I knew where I wanted to go so I could make career decisions that would help me get there. I wanted to run companies, and my philosophy was that if you want to really be able to manage teams or organizations well, you need experience in all aspects of business. So I purposefully rotated through functions and also targeted companies of various size and scale at different stages of growth—from those growing steadily, like Intuit and Microsoft, to Kodak, which was in a downturn.
Much of my role as CEO is finding the right people and making connections between functions. And those connection points are getting increasingly important, particularly between product and marketing teams.
CMO.com: Why do product and marketing teams need to be more closely aligned?
Cho: In a traditional business, figuring out the feature set for a product and figuring out the marketing for it were two distinct activities. In the new, connected world, the product is a system, not an individual thing. So you need to bring different skill sets to product development and marketing.
Take Evite, for example. Historically, it was an invitation tool with no robust partnership connections. Today, we’re in the early stages of rolling out features similar to Facebook’s Pages that businesses can use to make social connections. They can use our invitations as part of a larger marketing campaign. For example, Taylor Swift’s marketing organization sent out an Evite to her fans encouraging them to throw listening parties for the release of her “1989” album and offering them streaming music they could play at their events. That’s a blend of product, marketing, and business development.
CMO.com: You’ve come up with a framework that you think works better for connected businesses than marketing’s four Ps. Some of the priorities, such as brand and acquisition, are pretty straightforward. But others are bigger shifts. For example, instead of price, you focus on monetization.
Cho: Traditionally we set a price and put it out there. Today, particularly for online businesses, it’s about monetizing the end-to-end experience. We have five major monetization channels within our business model here at Evite. And I also have an executive in charge of monetization strategy who’s thinking of new ways to monetize the experience in ways that will improve—not detract from—the overall customer experience.
CMO.com: You say that the “embedded experience” becomes increasingly important for the networked business.
Cho: The old-world concept of promotion is very one-directional. We’ve got this thing; let’s get it out there. In the online world, so much of the product is the experience, the concept of acquisition has to shift a little bit. You need to think about the marketing experiences embedded within the product itself. For Evite, for example, we could just hope that people who receive an Evite decide to become customers at some point. But we do much more than that. We think about specific ways during the experience to grab them—say, by including value-added content that helps capture an email permission—so that we can close the communication loop and bring them into the family. In a connected experience, there has to be a tight coupling between product and marketing. But that’s a difficult gap to close.
CMO.com: How do you bridge that gap?
Cho: One key way is through robust customer insight—something I call “voice of customer.” We put in place an analytics, testing, and user research group that serves as our voice of the customer at the highest level. These teams understand the customer experience not only from a hardcore analytics standpoint but also from a user research standpoint, and they feed that information back into our product and marketing organizations so they can have a common understanding.
CMO.com: Why did you feel the need, as a CEO, to come up with a different marketing framework?
Cho: It’s not so much a CEO thing as a Victor thing. I’m a framework guy. That’s how I view the world. When I see significant change happening without an underlying framework, I usually come up with my own. I’ve been thinking about this for the past four or five years now, and there’s a fundamental change happening in marketing. I’m not saying marketing goes away as a discipline, but the historic marketing frameworks absolutely need to evolve.
I feel this is super critical for me as the CEO. The engine of our business is building a great product experience and getting it to customers. And because these two things are getting increasingly blended, it’s important for me to be able to lead my organization through the evolution.
CMO.com: Do you have a CMO?
Cho: I have a VP of marketing who owns the brand and acquisition. He has deep expertise in online acquisition channels, but he also comes from the product side of the world and can bridge the worlds of product and marketing, which is important for me.
I also have a VP of monetization and revenue, as I mentioned. And, of course, I have a separate product group that builds great customer experiences in a way that is inherently acquisitive. So as you can see, the functions that typically were all consolidated under a CMO are increasingly distributed for me, using the framework I described.
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