It’s always about listening to our customers and improving their experiences and addressing their needs and concerns. It’s not enough to attract customers; we must also retain their loyalty.
As a part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business or career. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Frank Boulben.
Frank currently serves as the Senior Vice President, Consumer Marketing and Products for the Verizon Consumer Group where he is accountable for revenues and customer investment. Frank is a seasoned C-level executive with a track record of transformational impact and value creation. He has uniquely broad experience in the technology, media, and telecom (TMT) sector over the last 25 years, having worked for global players (Vodafone, Orange, Vivendi Universal, BlackBerry), national leaders (SFR, Rogers) and start-up (LightSquared) in a variety of senior positions (CMO, CSO, CEO), in multiple geographies (U.S., Canada, U.K., France) and different situations (hyper-growth, restructuring, market entry, growth turnaround).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
The “tipping point” for me was after six years with SFR. The company was then owned by Vivendi and the Vivendi CEO appointed me as CEO of the internet division. Now, take into account that this was at the end of 1999 and in the middle of the internet bubble. The internet division was valued at $50B — the most valuable division of Vivendi. I was solicited by analysts, partners and others. I thought I was doing well. Then the internet bubble burst and the value of my division went down to zero. I had to restructure and layoff members of my team. I went through a whole industry cycle in three years: creation, success, destruction and rebuild.
The lesson: don’t confuse personal success with the success of your business. You will work for companies that do well and those that don’t. Stay focused on where you can have an impact as a leader. Others will see — and you will feel and understand — whether you are having a positive impact, irrespective of the industry or company circumstance.
Exciting times! Let’s shift gears a bit. What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Marketers, in particular, are charged with regularly coming up with creative new ideas, so it’s critical to get away from work and regenerate. It’s also important to get exposure to different people, cultures, art, movies, travel, and other outlets. If marketers don’t take time to get out of the office and immerse themselves in their passions and outside creativity, they will find it more and more difficult to be creative professionally. That’s when atrophy begins to set in and the day to day will become tougher and longer.
Great advice. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person professionally or otherwise who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are?
I learned most of what I know about marketing during my time at Orange, a leading French telecommunications provider. Orange engaged the most talented marketers; people who made the company, and the brand, the most popular in Europe, across multiple sectors. The brand was pervasive throughout the company, even in the HR department. When I received my job offer, I received a package at home — a beautiful white shiny box with the Orange logo. I opened it, and under cellophane, was the one-pager of my job responsibilities and the usual items. It was like I had received a luxury package! When I received my first paycheck, it came in a black envelope with the Orange logo in the top right like a stamp with a big Thank You across the paycheck. The brand touches were everywhere. Everything — for customers or employees — was done through the filter of the brand values. That was memorable. That was exceptional marketing.
Consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. Where do you see the future of marketing headed?
Consumers are becoming savvier and they can see through marketing that doesn’t address their pain points. They want products and services that address problems, meet needs, and fulfill desires. A blended digital and physical retail experience that is more and more personalized is the next frontier. The other critical dimension is the growing trend differentiator for companies will be how they give back to the community and make a difference. The examples I provided earlier of how we adapted at the start of the pandemic are indicative of where marketing is going — it will be “powered by the people.” Consumer behaviors colliding with our rapidly changing world will drive the marketing of consumer needs.
Especially excited about more and more companies giving back. What 5 things do you wish someone told you before you started?
- You’re only as good as your entire team. I cannot enact lasting change on my own and I’m proud to have a great team behind me who are identifying customer wants and needs, monitoring competitive offerings, and helping us nimbly adapt to serve our customers.
- The customer drives marketing and business strategy. Marketing is not what drives customer behaviors and business strategies. The customer leads. As we’re doing with expanded entertainment partnership offerings and expanding our 5G network and plans, the customer and their behaviors are driving our business strategies and the marketing behind them.
- Expect rapid change. When we plan for a changing landscape, we often make timeline predictions. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that change can be accelerated, and we need to prepare for it. We saw a 200 percent increase in digital transactions when the pandemic began. We were preparing for a digital evolution and the pandemic simply pushed it forward much more quickly.
- Customer loyalty is built with empathy. Not only do we listen to our customers, but we try and put ourselves in their shoes. We know 2020 was a year of high unemployment rates and a time of furloughs, which is why we have had flexible payment plans and other means of financial relief and understanding during these times. Working through these situations with customers is what builds loyalty for life.
- Marketing should never be empty. We build our customer relationships by delivering upon our connectivity promise, not by simply a good marketing strategy. We’ve been recognized by J.D. Power for a 25th consecutive study. But our marketing is not just about “feeds and speeds,” it’s about the customer experience plays out every time a customer connects to our network, contacts a representative, or interacts with us digitally.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
I’m a huge fan of business theorist and management consultant Peter Drucker. He’s left behind a legacy of The Drucker Institute and many books and studies that I find quite interesting, primarily because of one of his key philosophies: “The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.” I also really enjoy the Harvard Business Review and MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research. Both of these resources leverage Drucker’s philosophies.
Lastly, the measure of customer loyalty and fan base relies upon the Net Promoter Score (NPS). This score measures how likely a customer is to recommend a company to a friend or family member. We track our NPS to closely inform our decisions and ensure a positive experience that helps expand that fan base. If our NPS rises, it illustrates our success and helps us grow our consumer base. And we’re never satisfied. It’s always about listening to our customers and improving their experiences and addressing their needs and concerns. It’s not enough to attract customers; we must also retain their loyalty.
You have shared so much value with us today. One more before we go: As a person of great influence, if you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I think everyone can find a cause to donate time, money, or resources to help make a difference. I contribute my expertise and my network to Epic, a global movement to fight injustices by rethinking philanthropy. Together, with other influencers and change-makers across industries, I promote innovative and systematic ways to give painlessly. The money we raise funds outstanding organizations carefully selected by Epic for the strength of their social impact. One hundred percent of the money raised goes to the beneficiaries and all of their services are free.
Thank you for taking the time to do this and for sharing so many fantastic insights with us!