Unless you're an avid gamer, you've probably never heard of Reggie Fils-Aime. But if you are a member of the brand cult otherwise known as Nintendo, Reggie is nothing less than a demigod.
Actually, his title is "chief marketing officer" — a post that at some companies is looked upon as the employment equivalent of a rounding error. Nintendo's customers, however, see something else entirely in Reggie Fils-Aime.
"Reggie is the light of Nintendo, nay, the light for the world!" posted one such true believer on an Internet bulletin board. Wrote another: "When Reggie walks, his massive footprints fill with beautiful flowers for the children to enjoy."
The enthusiasm doesn't stop with words. Reggie's fan club created rap songs about him, drew comic strips glorifying him, and, in perhaps the ultimate accolade, fashioned Reggie action heroes immortalizing him.
To what does Reggie Fils-Aime, who less than a year ago toiled in near-obscurity as, yes, chief marketing officer of VH-1, owe such ardor?
It's actually rather simple: Reggie spoke up for Nintendo's customers, and he did so in no uncertain terms. He stood up, at the Electronic Entertainment Exposition (AKA E3) last spring and, like a post-modern Muhammed Ali, this is what he said:
"My name is Reggie. I'm about kickin' ass. I'm about takin' names. And we're about making games."
Now, most of us might not understand exactly what Reggie was talking about (takin' names?). But his meaning was crystal clear to Nintendo's gamers. As Reggie himself explained in an interview with Reveries magazine:
"These fans — these kids — want to see Nintendo bringing back fantastic games and driving the industry and driving innovation the way the company has for years and years," said Reggie, who, in real life, is actually exceedingly polite and rather soft spoken. "So they were proud — they were happy for someone like me to come in and articulate a very aggressive attitude, and, frankly, have the games and the innovations to back it up."
If you were to ask just about any other chief marketing officer whether speaking for the consumer is a key part of the job, it's a safe bet that 100% of them would say that it is. But how many actually articulate that as directly and powerfully — as purposefully — as does Reggie Fils-Aime?
Honestly, I can't think of a single one. Perhaps Sergio Zyman once filled that role at Coke, but usually the part falls to the top dog in the C suite: the Chief Executive Officer. Steve Jobs comes immediately to mind, as does Richard Branson. A.G. Lafley at Procter & Gamble, Phil Knight at Nike, Michael Eisner at Disney, Sam Walton at Wal-Mart. Donald Trump... oh, maybe that's not such a good example.
Well, why not the CMO? Plenty of brands could use the kind of edge Reggie lends to Nintendo. Krispy Kreme, for example. Krispy Kreme most definitely inspires the sort of passion that few brands will ever achieve. But right now the brand is struggling, for a whole host of reasons, ranging from Atkins to overexposure.
This is not to criticize Krispy's CMO, but merely to make a suggestion: Why not step up to the plate and articulate for your base why they love your brand in the first place? Not through advertising or promotions but through your own words — using real, human language that they can remember and recite for friends and family.
BMW (which has a truly great and innovative CMO in Jim McDowell) is another brand that perhaps could use this type of focus. In BMW's case, the brand actually does have someone who speaks to its base — Chris Bangle, the plate's chief designer. He's the one who is responsible for all those "interesting" designs on late-model BMWs. You know... that trunk. Trouble is, Chris Bangle's designs (and his attitude about them) tend to infuriate, rather than inspire, those who love BMW cars the most.
BMW might make good use of another voice to make sure it doesn't totally alienate its most loyal customers. A chief marketing officer is uniquely positioned — and qualified — to deliver that message. Kind of like the way a talented politician uses a set of key words to energize the faithful and keep the campaign on message.
Few chief marketing officers would shrink from such a role. Many of them are outgoing, to say the least. More than a few have even been accused of having egos. In fact, a feature story in Brandweek suggested that the high profiles of what the magazine called "Super CMOs" was perhaps getting in the way of good marketing.
The implication was that a handful of the best-known CMOs were more interested in making names for themselves than in building their brands.
That's a serious charge, and not one I would endorse. But if it's true even just a little bit, that energy could easily be turned to brand advantage. If it's the limelight these CMOs want, why not seek it in a way that also benefits the brand?
Reality is that few CMOs match the "Super CMO" profile. In fact, it is a challenge even to figure out who they are, most of the time. Around our office, we have turned the case of the missing CMOs into a game of "Where's Waldo?" The first part of the game is spotting references to CMOs in newspapers, magazines, and online.
The second part, nailing down their contact information for a database we've dubbed "The Waldo File," is even more difficult. A good number of brands have built a fortress around their organizations to the point where it simply is not possible to speak to a real, live person on the telephone to confirm their CMO is alive and well and planning his next coupon drop.
Now, we understand that CMOs are busy people. Yes, most of them are very, very busy trying to find their seats at the table in the coveted C suite, right next to the CEO, the CFO, the CIO, the COO, the CCO, the CAO, the CTO, the CBO, the CLO, the CKO and, last but not least, the CZO.
Conventional wisdom has it that the CMO will find a permanent place around the big table once they figure out how to calculate the return on the money they spend on their marketing programs. That is certainly important. Just ask the CFO.
But they might also give a little bit of thought to whether ROI might start with speaking up for their customers.
Just ask Reggie.
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