'We knew we needed to completely rebuild brand trust': Samsung CMO Marc Mathieu on Samsung's biggest ever brand crisis
- Bringing the voice of consumers to the boardroom was instrumental in Samsung overcoming its biggest ever brand crisis, says CMO Marc Mathieu.
- In an interview with Business Insider's Tanya Dua, Mathieu said he drew from a similar situation he'd dealt with in his career in the past, when he worked at Coca-Cola.
- Mathieu said marketing used to be about creating a myth and telling it, and how now, it's "about finding a truth, and sharing it."
- He added that issues of fraud, transparency and brand safety were a shared responsibility, and that Samsung has these conversations with the platforms on an ongoing basis.
Following is a transcript of the video, which has been edited for clarity.
Tanya Dua: Joining us today is Marc Mathieu, the chief marketing officer of Samsung Electronics America. 2016 was not the greatest year for Samsung. You had the biggest brand crisis you've ever had, yet you managed to pull a major comeback. And your sales are up, your brand affinity is up. How did you manage to do that?Marc Mathieu: Well, one of the things we knew is we needed to completely rebuild brand trust and also what we call brand love, the emotional connection with people. But the one thing we needed to start first was to listen. To listen to people, and to hear, basically, what they had to tell us about our brand. And who to listen to better than our Note loyalists? We know that 85% of the the Note users love their Note, and they wouldn't give it up. Yet, they had to. And so we built very early on a community of loyalists, which we called "hand raisers." People who said, "We'd like you to keep us posted, you know, as you learn what happened, as you come back." And we kept the conversation going with them all the way from that moment to when we did a root-cause event.
We knew what happened, we shared it with them, we invited them to talk with our leadership and ask all the questions they wanted, all the way to today. But importantly, when we launched the Note8, we brought 50 of them to New York with partners to have them experience first hand the "Unpacked" event for the Note8. We even captured some of them before the event. We never do that. We showed them, you know, the new phone, and we told them, "What do you think?" And we actually showcased their reaction in front of all the audience at the "Unpacked" event. So that was really an important step, because not only we listened to them, but they became our source of inspiration, and even motivation internally to do this comeback.
Dua: But the internal climate, I imagine, wasn't the best, right? And the pressure on you and your team was particularly intense since the brand love, as you say, was suffering. Tell me about that. Tell me about the internal climate. Tell me about how you motivated your team and kind of, you know, got them to step up to the challenge.
Mathieu: So against all odds, I actually had been through a similar experience back at Coca-Cola over 10 years ago, when I managed, I guess, the biggest recall of Coca-Cola in Belgium at that time. And so I had a little bit of insights on, you know, how to - on what to do and how to manage in a situation like that. Again, going back to listening. One of the key roles as a marketer was to listen and to bring the voice of the consumers to the boardroom. And that was really the number one thing, to make sure that everybody knew that, yes there were lots of constituencies, but the most important constituency, the one we had let down, were our users. So that was an important step.
The other thing that was important is Samsung as a company has, I think in its DNA this relentless pursuit defying barriers, embracing adversity, and overcoming challenges. And so that was really central to the way the whole team behaved day in, day out. And it was also what, in a certain way, led the birth to our "Do What You Can't" campaign, because that philosophy, that ethic, is in our company's roots. And it's also what brought this whole empathy towards consumers, embracing the humanity of the brand.
Dua: Kind of taking a step away, talking to your consumers about this, it's accountability. And a lot of brands today face situations where they should stand up, but they don't often end up doing that. How important do you think is accountability as a brand today?Mathieu: I mean, it's a great question. Our motto was, basically, two words: accountability and transparency. And we used that as a North Star throughout all that comeback.
Dua: And what about, you know, the human connection? You involved people throughout the course of your comeback and also focused on forging a deeper connection with your consumers moving forward, as you mentioned, with the campaign. Why is it important to put your consumers front and center?
Mathieu: Yeah, in a certain way, I've always been personally about putting people first. I actually, for a long time, used to say, "Consumers, who are people too," just to make the point. And I did it at Coke, I did it at Unilever, and when I came to a tech product, there are two things that struck me. The first one is we had the opportunity instead of talking about our products and the features of our product, to talk about the people who use our products, especially all that younger generation that uses their phone, their camera, as a way to communicate, to create. So this whole group of creators and makers, which led us to all the work we did with Casey Neistat and other creators and makers of this YouTube generation was part of this idea that it was much better for us to empower people who are using our devices and let them tell their stories as opposed to us telling the story.
And the other part which was really important was, again, as a tech product, was to understand that indeed, we had a responsibility about the way people use these products, the way it does actually change the way we live. And therefore, we need to make sure that it changes the way we live for the better, hence this whole ethical responsibility, which is something I'm, you know, very keen on.
Dua: So you spent a number of years at Coca-Cola and Unilever, and now you're at Samsung. I imagine it's much harder today to build a brand than ever before. Would you agree with that? Is it harder?
Mathieu: I mean, I think it's changed a lot. I'm not sure it's harder, but there are a couple of things I always say. First of all, you know, marketing has changed. Marketing used to be about creating a myth and telling it. And now I often say, "It's about finding a truth "and sharing it." The truth, the authenticity is essential. But also the sharing, you know, letting people in, having a conversation, as opposed to just a one-way communication, is essential.
And the other thing that's very different is that the brands used to be built, really, very much as a one-way, mass-media format. And today, if you think about it, you have a number of micro-interaction with the brands that you love, you know, multiple times a day in a way that's relevant to you. So it's both personal and contextually relevant. And that's how, for instance, a brand like Google ends up being a brand you can't live without. Because if you think about, you know, coming here this morning I used Gmail, you know, Maps, you know, Search. All of these are ways that are the way we build the brand today. So it definitely has changed quite a bit.
Dua: So I'm glad you brought up Google, because I want to ask you, what is your relationship with Google, YouTube, and Facebook like? The last time I saw you was at the IAB breakfast. And you mentioned that, you know, brands and marketers are taking a stand as far as issues of transparency, brand safety, ad fraud are concerned. So where do you stand?Mathieu: Well again, I do think that there is something which is quite interesting about all that's going on, especially in the digital world, on mobile phones. I mean, the beauty of all those platforms is that the mobile phone is actually the number one form of, you know, communication that people use to pull the content, you know, out of YouTube, of Google, of Facebook, et cetera. So clearly, this whole idea of taking responsibility for the way digital media has actually changed the way - now brands interact constantly.
And in a certain way, we've all assumed, we knew that TV was finite. You could only have so many TV spots. But in the digital world, we thought that we could communicate forever, anywhere. And I think today we are discovering that actually, again, there is a responsibility that we have as marketers, and as platforms, and as manufacturers, about how much is too much.
Dua: Have you been having conversations with these big platforms about them taking responsibility as well? Because for the longest time a lot of them did run away from that responsibility.
Mathieu: Well, I do think it is a shared responsibility, and we certainly have had these conversations on an ongoing basis. We also have, you know, a lot of conversations about how we come together to do things that are unique to both of our brands. So one of the ways that, for me, is really interesting is, again, because a lot of the content of those, you know, engagement platforms are used by people on their devices. We really have an opportunity to really think, not just as a relationship, or partnership, even almost as a joint venture. So how do we create joint IP? How do we create something that neither them nor us could create without the other one?
So a couple of examples that I love is, the way, for instance, we partnered with the New York Times on their digital platform to actually create what we call " The Daily 360," which was journalism by the New York Times and technology by Samsung. Or the way we partnered with Facebook to create Instagram Storytellers, which was a way, again, on a daily basis to have Instagram creators tell their stories, not ours, using our phone, our camera, to actually capture, you know, their daily moments of their life and tell their story on the Instagram platform.
Dua: Tell me a little bit more about Samsung 837. What's the idea behind that? What are you hoping to get out of it?
Mathieu: Yeah, one of the things that was really great from the very beginning is, I mean, not us, but some of your colleagues coined the word, "The Unstore." And we really conceived it more as a technology playground, where people could actually - in a very interactive way, experience our products and our brand around their passion points. And so we really built it as such, all about immersive experiences and some of which were just amazing.
I remember, you know, one of my favorite was, for instance, the "Social Galaxy," which was a tunnel made of 300 Samsung devices, from phone to tablets to TVs. And you entered your Instagram profile, and you got in, and you had - both in images and in voice, you were immersed in your Instagram life. And I remembered the head of an NGO, who was actually having tears in her eyes by experiencing in an immersive way, everything that she had been living, all the people she had met, and that were part of her Instagram in her account.
Dua: As a CMO today, what do you think is the most powerful tool in your marketing arsenal?Mathieu: Well I think there are two things. The first one is the team. You know, I really believe when people ask me, "What's the number one thing that you've achieved at Samsung, and that you're most proud of?" I usually like to say, "It's the team I've been able to build." I was actually almost embarrassed - you know, another company created a ranking of the most tech-savvy CMOs. And there was a reception in New York, and I went, actually, with my team. They came along. And we were there, and I realized as we were taking some pictures, and for me it was really an award for the team, because behind the tech-savvy CMO there's gotta be a tech-savvy team. But I was the only one who had brought my team. And so that was both very exhilarating, but at the same time a little bit embarrassing versus the others.
But other than that, the second thing, I think, is less the skills that you have as a CMO than the choices you make. And I personally - having always been focusing a lot about people, and coming into a tech product - I really have spent a lot of time and pushing this whole idea of tech and humanity and really taking the ethical responsibility for the way people engage. Both with the marketing we make, but also the products we make, and the way, actually, it does help us create a better life for you, for me, for everyone.