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In this episode of The Marketing Rapport, host Tim Finnigan sits down with Melissa Hendricks, Chief Marketing Officer at Verisk. Melissa shares her insights on the challenges and opportunities in the marketing landscape, particularly in a post-Covid world.
Melissa emphasizes the importance of personalization, segmentation, and targeting in marketing. She discusses the balance between being data-driven and understanding the emotional side of marketing. She also highlights the importance of technology partners in helping marketers realize their vision and create personalized customer journeys.
The conversation also touches on the role of new technologies like Gen AI in marketing. Melissa encourages marketers to explore these technologies and think about how they can be used to automate tasks and foster creative thinking. This episode provides valuable insights into the evolving world of marketing and the strategies that can help businesses succeed.
The Role of Marketing in B2B
Timestamp: [00:09:00 – 00:11:00]
Melissa Hendricks discusses the unique role of marketing in B2B organizations. She emphasizes the importance of partnership with product, sales, and business teams to drive outcomes. Melissa also talks about the need for marketers to understand the culture of the organization and navigate relationships effectively.
“And the role of marketing in B2B is, it’s slightly different, because you’re now partnering with product, you’re partnering with sales, you’re partnering with the business to drive the outcomes […] The consistent need is to build that brand, to build that awareness, perception, and drive demand.”
Navigating a Matrix Organization
Timestamp: [00:10:00 – 00:12:00]
Melissa shares her insights on navigating a matrix organization. She talks about the importance of being respected and trusted inside an organization to achieve fantastic outcomes.
“Really working with yourself, with your leaders to understand the culture of the organization, the ability to navigate the relationships and the conversations […] you have to really be respected and trusted inside of an organization to be able to achieve really fantastic outcomes.”
The Importance of Technology Partners
Timestamp: [00:17:00 – 00:18:00]
Melissa highlights the importance of technology partners in helping marketers realize their vision and create personalized customer journeys. She also discusses the need for marketers to fully utilize their MarTech tools.
“I mean, a marketer’s best friend is that technology partner that’s helping you to build what you can envision. So it’s extremely important today — different than 25 years ago — the advent of so many technologies to help you with that personalization become really important to building success on top of what you know is a good business practice and enabling you to achieve the outcomes you’re looking for. ”
The Role of Personalization, Segmentation, and Targeting
Timestamp: [00:14:00 – 00:16:00]
Melissa discusses the importance of personalization, segmentation, and targeting in marketing. She emphasizes that these aspects matter more today than they did in the past.
“Personalization, segmentation and targeting really matter, and they matter more today than they did in the past… So number one, I would say make sure you’re up to date on GDPR and all of the other rules and requirements, but then secondarily, your technology infrastructure.”
[00:16:00] Melissa Hendricks: “I mean, a marketer’s best friend is that technology partner that’s helping you to build what you can envision. So it’s extremely important today — different than 25 years ago — the advent of so many technologies to help you with that personalization become really important to building success on top of what you know is a good business practice and enabling you to achieve the outcomes you’re looking for. “
[00:18:00] Melissa Hendricks: “When vendors come to me with opportunities to help my team get more educated, expand my knowledge on topics that are changing in the marketplace more frequently. That’s probably gonna get me much more stopping power than sending me a Starbucks gift card.”
[00:20:00] Melissa Hendricks: “The problem that marketers face is similar to the problem we’re all facing, especially in a post-COVID world […] it’s a challenge that most folks in the business face, which is, do we have clear goals and objectives?”
[00:22:00] Melissa Hendricks: “Excel is my love language […] Sometimes, personally spending time in the data and churning through it gives me — even though it may feel counterproductive, that investment in the churn of the data initially — gives me the confidence to move much more quickly and make decisions.”
[00:23:00] Melissa Hendricks: “Gen AI is just a new technology and tool that’s coming into the marketplace […] And so, you know, for us as marketers being less focused on what it is and just focused on, it’s always going to be something and how do we begin to create a mindset that’s ready to embrace and to leverage the new activity or technology that’s coming for us.”
Melissa Hendricks: [00:00:00] My big joke with finance to that is that I generally don’t try and give advice on gap accounting rules, but maybe in my off time, I could do that. And when a finance person comes and tells me about a marketing activity, I could come back and say, “you know, I have a great idea, but I also wanted to talk to you about this gap accounting role.”
Tim Finnigan: [00:01:00] Hello, I am Tim Finnegan and welcome to the Marketing Rapport Podcast. This is a great experience for me because I get the opportunity to talk with thought leaders, marketing executives, subject matter experts, all about the latest trends in their specific industry or their experience, or any challenges they’re facing.
And today’s guest has extensive experience, not only in marketing leadership, but brand strategy. She has led brand strategy at Schweppes, Dairy Farmers of America, Cerner, and she’s currently the Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Verisk. I would like to introduce everyone to Melissa Hendricks.
Melissa Hendricks: Hi everyone. How are you guys doing today?
Tim Finnigan: Well, I’m doing great. I’m so happy that you’re on the podcast today. So, Melissa, just for our listeners as CMO, [00:02:00] like what, what are you most responsible for? What are you currently doing right now as CMO?
Melissa Hendricks: Well thanks, Tim. That’s a great question. Well, first let me tell you who Verisk is. We’re a technology company that, helps the insurance industry have the data to better price, underwrite, and fight fraud in the industry. We also extend into other areas including Tim’s group who does a lot of consumer insights for us from a business perspective.
And in my current role as the Chief Marketing Officer for Verisk, I’m responsible for what you would consider traditional marketing, our corporate communications, and our customer experience functions.
Tim Finnigan: Great. So Melissa, when you think of marketing, and you’ve probably got all this information coming at you, all this data that you can make decisions with, but there’s also the emotion side of marketing. How do you manage through being data-driven [00:03:00] versus the emotions side of it?
Melissa Hendricks: You know, I think anyone that’s a marketer understands that as marketers, it’s the juxtaposition between the art and the science, and the two coming together. And sometimes individuals lean heavy in one area versus the other. As CMO, I tend to have aspects of my business that become more creative and then others that are more scientific.
You know, I spend a lot of time thinking about the data behind what we’re doing and how do we actually demonstrate that the creativity we’re bringing to market is actually achieving a quantitative outcome.
Tim Finnigan: So Melissa, when you think of your team, how do you build a great marketing team? Like you just don’t get, I mean, sometimes you get handed a great marketing team, but either build it or how do you get them to level up as well?
Melissa Hendricks: I think you have to [00:04:00] have an organization that’s curious. You have to spend the time, teaching, training, and connecting with individuals. In all organizations and especially in marketing, with the advent of new digital technologies, our industry is changing rapidly and it’s important to maintain the current set of skills that you have and also be prepared for the future.
For me as a marketing executive, I want to empower my team members to take charge of their careers and advocate for themselves. Build relevant skill sets and be willing to retire those skills that may not be as necessary in the future. So I think giving everyone permission to be accountable, to have the aptitude to learn, and to have great attitudes that bring in that passion, that curiosity, is how we’ll be successful in the future.
And it’s [00:05:00] easy to say it’s much harder to live. And so I think if you had my team members listening in on this, they’d probably say, “Hey, I think the intent is always there, but, you know, sometimes we struggle with the ability to be able to do it today and to give everyone enough time.” You know, the windshield can be formidable, and you can lose sight of being able to think about building and coaching and developing yourself. So, I always say it’s a two-legged race in the sense that the leaders actually have a huge responsibility, but the individual has to also be aligned with you and working with you on that.
Tim Finnigan: So, speaking of your team, I did do a little research on you, and I spoke to one of your team members and she said one of the things that she likes or she most admires about you is your consistency. Could you just expand on sort of that consistency and, your point of view on it?
Melissa Hendricks: Yeah. gosh, consistency is probably [00:06:00] core to who I am as a human. But also core to what I think makes for great marketing. If you think about it, you know, the premise of what a marketing and communications function is for hasn’t changed much since the auspices of marketing organizations. But if you went back to the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s, the tactics are entirely different than they are today.
But the reason you were there hasn’t changed. We’re here to create a passionate love affair with our Verisk brand. We’re here to build perception and we’re here to help drive demand. So it’s easy to be consistent when you’re always knowledgeable about why we exist.
Tim Finnigan: You had mentioned brands you had worked within. Four key areas. You ran brand strategy for Schweppes, you ran brand strategy [00:07:00] for Dairy Farmers of America, and then you’ve also done more of the B2B with Verisk and Cerner. What are the differences between brand strategy with like, something that, I mean, Schweppes is, it’s almost got like a personality to it versus Verisk gets more B2B and, and you know, directed towards, you know, the insurance industry.
Melissa Hendricks: Yeah. Well, Tim, you’re too generous. When I was at Schweppes, when I was at Dairy Farmers of America, I was in the consumer packaged goods marketing fields. And, while I could appreciate that I had great experiences. I was working on some smaller brands. I had a much lower and smaller remit because I was earlier on in my career.
But in those roles, I, as a consumer-packaged goods marketer, really got a much broader appreciation for the commercialization of the businesses that you’re running. Because as a marketer in that space, I was responsible for the P&L, the [00:08:00] forecast, the marketing plan, the innovation pipeline.
And so it gave me a very holistic view of what a marketing function can do and how marketing can drive brand awareness, perception, and outcomes. And then about now, almost 20 years ago, not quite, I moved over to the B2B space in the technology field and have worked in both the healthcare and, now, insurance industries.
And the role of marketing in B2B is, it’s slightly different, because you’re now partnering with product, you’re partnering with sales, you’re partnering with the business to drive the outcomes. As a marketer, you’re generally not responsible for the P&L or the entire commercialization strategy.
So for me, the ability to blend the two is probably where consistency was, an “aha” moment for me. [00:09:00] That even though these industries are vastly different, the expectations of the marketing function are different. The consistent need is to build that brand, to build that awareness, perception, and drive demand.
So, I think it’s interesting to look at the two as different, but I also believe that it’s less about what you’re doing and more about why you’re doing it. That gives you the permission to actually have a really robust and full career.
Tim Finnigan: Great answer. So Melissa, you had mentioned something about the B2B side of it and how you have to partner with other functions of the business and you’re maybe not responsible for the P&L. I’m going to brag and tell you I read a business book. It’s one book that I read. It’s called “Mastering the Matrix.” So, it’s working within a matrix organization.
I know you feel pretty strongly about, you know, matrix. So how do you see, right now and it’s maybe a little easier as CMO to say, “Hey, this is my vision. I need this done.” But sometimes it’s not that easy when you’re [00:10:00] sort of mid-level manager or director. To getting things done, talk through some tips and tricks on how you get things done in a matrix organization.
Melissa Hendricks: You know, it’s a great question and I’d be lying if I said I always figured it out. Early in my career, I got to take a course called “Crucial Conversations,” and I would love to tell you that that helped me as well. I think, especially in what I would say the B2B space, more so maybe than I found in the others, the ability to be able to navigate the organization is critical as a compliment to your actual marketing skillset. Because oftentimes if you’re great at marketing and you have a true vision for that, you’re probably on the early adoption curve of where some other business unit leaders may be. And you know, maybe you’re in front of where sales, [00:11:00] product, and other spaces are, or thinking differently than they do.
In that scenario, really working with your yourself, with your leaders, to understand the culture of the organization, the ability to navigate the relationships and the conversations, and you asked, or you mentioned that being a CMO makes it easier, and I would say it 100% makes it easier.
But I have a lot of compassion for those that are still in that mid-level career stage. As they join new companies, it’s really important, if not the most important thing beyond being really a subject matter expert in your field, is to being received as somebody that others want to work with. Someone others want to work alongside and enjoy being with.
It doesn’t mean that you have to be friends, it doesn’t mean you have to socialize outside of work, but you have to really be respected and trusted inside of an organization to be able to achieve really fantastic outcomes. And I think that [00:12:00] appeals and applies to any role, whether you’re in marketing, finance, or any other space.
Tim Finnigan: Yeah, I agree. Especially with, you know, when we talk about a matrix organization, it’s like, “okay, how do I get something done?” And I need to go across the aisle or to another team to say, “I need help.” But it’s also understanding what their goals are and how your project can impact them.
So, I don’t think it’s easy, but I think you’re right. It’s something that you can work on and get better at for sure. Have you ever had this as a marketer, where finance or operations will come over to you and say, “Hey, this is how I think marketing should be run,” which is unfair because as marketers we never go to finance and say, “Hey, this is how you should really count the numbers.”
But I’m not gonna have you answer that.
Melissa Hendricks: I can. What I would say, one is, you know what? We know what marketing activities have worked. So oftentimes when folks come to me with ideas, it’s based on real world experiences around what appealed to them.
And so I actually embrace that to a certain extent and leverage that. My big joke with finance to that is I generally don’t try and give advice on gap accounting rules, but maybe in my off time, I could do that. And when a finance person comes and tells me about a marketing activity, I could come back and say, “you know, that’s a great idea, but I also wanted to talk to you about this gap accounting role that I think we might be able to create.”
Tim Finnigan: I love it. When you say everyone’s a marketer, I sort of say the same thing, but I say: “everyone needs to be good in sales.” So I actually appreciate people with sales experience, and even if they’re not [00:14:00] a true seller, you still have to sell your ideas or market your ideas within the organization.
Like, “Hey, I think this project is important. We should go for it, and you need to have that skillset.” So, for people listening, if you’re in college, take some sales classes or, you know, try practicing.
Melissa Hendricks: Yeah, I always tell, and I’m a big fan, you know, when I was in high school and college, I waited tables; and the customer service aspect of it. The individual selling aspect of it. Because you know, as a waitress or a waiter, oftentimes you’re upselling: “can I sell you a dessert? Can I upsell, an appetizer or something like that.”
And then you’re also balancing that multitasking. Generally speaking, you have multiple tables you’re running. I think that’s a really good life experience all around. How did it feel? What was the experience? You’ll figure out when your clients have a great experience because they’re navigating and engaging [00:15:00] with you and, and so I generally offer that to folks and say, “Hey, that’s a good preamble to what corporate America will look like for you because you’re really trying to hit on all cylinders.”
Tim Finnigan: So Melissa, when we, you know, we say “marketing;” and I want to drill down and be a little more specific. How do you deal with incorporating personalization and getting more to that one-to-one when you’re trying to market messages? And it’s even harder with B2B trying to market that message.
But touch on a little bit about your point of view on personalization and segmentation and targeting.
Melissa Hendricks: You know, personalization, segmentation and targeting really matter, and they matter more today than they did in the past. And one, you’ve got to be cognizant though that with more personalization, the rules and regulations around that customization, that [00:16:00] personalization. So number one, I would say make sure you’re up to date on GDPR and all of the other rules and requirements, but then secondarily, your technology infrastructure.
I mean, a marketer’s best friend is that technology partner that’s helping you to build what you can envision. So what does the customer journey need to look like after they’ve visited the website and they come back a second time? Is there an experience that we can begin to personalize and tailor that?
How do we understand our customers when they come to our events so that we can talk to them about the problems they’re facing with the solutions that we offer? So it’s extremely important today, different than 25 years ago, with the advent of so many technologies to help you with that personalization, it becomes really important to build success on top of what you know is a good business [00:17:00] practice and enable yourself to achieve the outcomes you’re looking for.
Tim Finnigan: So, Melissa, you mentioned a couple of things. Technology partners and personalization. What do you look for, like, ’cause I’m sure you get a ton of technology vendors or partners reaching out to you or getting your email and sending you messages or direct mail. What do you look for?
It says, oh, you know, I should really talk to them.
Melissa Hendricks: You know, I think as much as anyone, I’m a pretty good gatekeeper to myself and, I keep most vendors and that type of thing at arm’s length. But, you know, I spend time thinking about are “what are the MarTechs that we’re fully getting our utilization out of, and where are we not getting our utilization and how do we make sure that we’re not over purchasing or under utilizing our technologies when [00:18:00] vendors come to me with opportunities to help my team?”
Get more educated when they come with opportunities to expand my knowledge on topics that are changing in the marketplace more frequently. That’s probably gonna get me much more stopping power than sending me a Starbucks gift card, than sending me a package in the mail with some high-end gifts. Because for me, the ability to have utility with those solutions will have more stickiness.
Tim Finnigan: What’s the craziest gift that has been sent to you?
Melissa Hendricks: So, not at this company, my previous company, a professional soccer team in Europe sent me a jersey. Wanted me to become a jersey [00:19:00] sponsor and sent me their jersey and on the back, my last name.
Tim Finnigan: Did you keep it?
Melissa Hendricks: I still have it. I still have it, but I mean, because I didn’t know what to do with it. So that was kind of a crazy one where I brought it home and at the time I had small kids. But it was literally, I won’t say the team’s name, but I probably could dig it up somewhere in my house. It’s a professional jersey with my last name.
But I would tell you that’s probably an area where it wasn’t even the company’s name, it was my personal name. So they were trying to appeal to my own vanity and that really was an interesting gift, but not one that gave me any pause to saying they don’t really understand their target audience.
Tim Finnigan: So Melissa, when you think of challenges that you’re facing. What are some challenges that are facing all marketers as we go into the second half of this year going into 2024?
Melissa Hendricks: I think the problem [00:20:00] that we face, that marketers face, is similar to the problem we’re all facing, and especially in a post-Covid world, where in Covid we all kind of…we’re able to focus on one thing. You know, we were focusing on work and you could reach anyone at any point in time because we were all at home.
And today, I think the advent and the explosion of new technologies, email, the business needs that are coming in, it can be really difficult. I mentioned this earlier, to manage the windshield and you can spend your time managing a windshield and not really getting your job done. So I think for us as marketers, it’s a challenge that most folks in the business, face, which is, do we have clear goals and objectives?
Is it a manageable number of goals and objectives, and are we holding ourselves accountable to getting outcomes across those activities?
Tim Finnigan: And do you have any cool tools or technologies you’re using [00:21:00] to manage those? What’s the best way?
Melissa Hendricks: Oh, you know, I’ll say, we use project management software. We use, you know, agile sprints in the technology space to get things done. I will tell you, and if anyone meets you and talks about me a little bit, and I’ll date myself here, that Excel is my love language. And, you know, oftentimes while we can over, you know, you can get dashboards, you can get it simplified and faced up.
Sometimes personally spending time in the data and churning through it gives me, even though it may feel counterproductive, that investment in the churn of the data initially gives me the confidence to move much more quickly and make decisions. So, I spend time thinking about workforce allocation in that environment and with Excel on occasion.
So, I think Gen [00:22:00] AI, I was talking to somebody the other day who was saying, “Hey, Gen AI is going to kill some of those spreadsheet management tools and technologies” and, and I will cry a tear or two, or shed tear if that were ever to happen.
Tim Finnigan: So you had mentioned AI. Besides AI, and you can expand on it a little if you want to, but what are other industry leaders or what are executives paying attention to right now? What do they need to say?
Melissa Hendricks: Yeah, I mean, I think the world today, to your point, Gen AI is taking over the vernacular and preparing ourselves for that. But Gen AI is just a new technology and tool that’s coming into the marketplace. And so, you know, for us as marketers being less focused on what it is and just focused on, it’s always going to be something.
And how do we begin to create a mindset [00:23:00] that’s ready to embrace and to leverage the new activity or technology that’s coming? You know, for us, ChatGPT and, and the Gen AI and Dolly and Bard are all exciting technologies. And I encourage my marketers to go out and explore that in their personal lives and think about how it actually helps you, figure out if it’s working in certain ways, and how we might be able to leverage it to especially reduce the 40% of our jobs that everyone would tell you “if I never had to do that again, it wouldn’t be soon enough.” All right, great. If we really dislike doing something, how can we use new technologies and tools to simplify it? Maybe automate it and reduce that so we can spend more of our time creative thinking.
Tim Finnigan: So to that point of spending more time with creative thinking, what are some key skills and knowledge areas that you see that are going to drive [00:24:00] marketing forward? So maybe, if you could say to people out there, like, “Hey, this is the type of skill you need, or you need to go back to school and get your MBA to study this.”
Or even college kids, like, “Hey, this is what you should be looking at so you can be that more, you know, valuable going into, your next job.”
Melissa Hendricks: Depending on what you wanna do in marketing, you know, there are, roles that are fairly concrete. So if you wanna go into the design field, there’s lots of great, fun, exciting, dynamic roles with tremendous amount of career advancement. If you want to though be somebody like myself who is a chief marketing officer in the future:
One, I don’t think a lot of people when they graduate from college have that on their wishlist. You know, that that’s just generally if, if I talk to most marketers, many of us have engineering degrees or other degrees that wouldn’t have anything to do with marketing. And, and the reason I share [00:25:00] that is I think of marketing as an integrated skillset and you’re better when you’re well-rounded.
I do recommend an MBA. I have an MBA and I got it at night. Primarily because my undergraduate degrees were a Bachelor of Arts degree, so I left college without a science degree or finance degrees and accounting degrees. Having done that in my MBA, some of my favorite courses were actually my accounting courses and I was actually a little bit sad I hadn’t taken some in, in my undergrad. But I think having the, the well-rounded skillset is important.
As a marketer, you have to be knowledgeable and skilled. As a utility player in a lot of areas, unless, as I mentioned earlier, you go down a path like creativity and design, which is really an art skillset.
And then I just say really, really hone that, that creativity and that skillset.
Tim Finnigan: Well, Melissa, I wanna thank you for joining [00:26:00] the podcast and I will see you at the VIA Consumer Insights and Experience Summit we’re having in Chicago. So let’s, enjoy the conference together.
Melissa Hendricks: Oh, I’m looking forward to it.
Tim Finnigan: Thanks Melissa, I do appreciate it and if anyone wants to reach out to you, they can find you on LinkedIn, they can go to the Verisk website, and reach out if they want more information.
But thanks again, Melissa.
Melissa Hendricks: Thank you so much, Tim. It’s been great talking with you. Have a great day.
Tim Finnigan: [00:27:00]