Taking personal control of mission redefinition: If anyone can, Xerox chief marketing officer Christa Carone can make the brand’s communications strategy more relevant to its customers and shift ingrained perceptions about the business.
Few brands have dominated a market to such an extent that they have shoehorned their way into our everyday language as verbs. Google, Hoover and FedEx have achieved such a feat, but what happens when the company outgrows the business that its name has become synonymous with?
Changing such deeply engrained brand perceptions is the challenge that Xerox chief marketing officer Christa Carone has had to tackle since she was appointed to the global role in September 2008. No longer just a giant in the copier and document technology market, Xerox has overhauled its strategy in the past decade to offer business process services, from call centre outsourcing to accounting, and document management, amplified by its $6bn acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services in September 2009.
US-based Carone explains that the $22bn giant needs to communicate that half of all revenue generated is from business services. “It’s a wonderful thing that Xerox’s brand is so firmly entrenched in the perception of printers and copiers, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” she says. “But only 50% of our revenue now comes from the products and technology that you would associate with Xerox, so for us the real challenge from a marketing perspective is how we start shifting those legacy perceptions of the brand.”
We’re a B2B company but the second ‘B’ is really a person and so we’ve cultivated a “Business to People” marketing approach
Her vision focuses on making the company’s marketing strategy more relevant to customers and rethinking the way the brand communicates with its clients. “At Xerox we’re in the relationship business,” says Carone. “We’re a B2B company but the second ‘B’ is really a person and so we’ve cultivated a ‘Business to People’ marketing approach.”
This B2P strategy includes challenging the sober, impersonal nature of business communications and delivering campaigns that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from Xerox.
Carone says: “B2B marketers have a tendency to fall behind that curtain of a more traditional, very formal marketing approach. We tend to take the philosophy that there’s a person who influences every business decision and we should be communicating with that individual. We try to make our communications more personable, informal and engaging in order to make that connection on a personal level.”
At the heart of this quest for relevance has been defining exactly what it is that Xerox does, taking the peripheral but essential business processes out of the hands of clients so they can get on with what they do best - a concept that Carone calls “real business”.
She says: “For many large companies, doing things like the accounting or managing their call centres is not their real business. That is almost a necessary evil in getting work done. We have developed expertise, technology and specialised platforms to help companies do the real basics of work processes that just have to get done.
“Our value proposition to clients is we’re not just doing it for one company, we’re doing it for dozens of companies so we can invest in technology and infrastructure. This means companies that use our products can shift time and resources back to their real business.”
According to Darrell Minards, Xerox Europe’s head of marketing communications, Carone’s redefinition of Xerox’s mission has greatly improved employees’ sense of purpose.
He claims: “Real Business started out as a communication platform to inform the marketing strategy but Christa’s vision has really helped everyone from the chief executive down to crystalise what it is that we do. I think marketing is the one place where that could happen, other than strategy.” (See Q&A, below).
As well as bringing clarity to Xerox’s proposition, Carone has been responsible for leading the brand’s global ‘Ready for Real Business’ campaign, which sees clients such as Ducati Motorcycles, Virgin America and Michelin take centre stage. In print and TV ads, symbols for each of these brands comically struggle without Xerox’s help. The Michelin Man dashes about an office desperately juggling financial administration, while a Ducati motorcyclist attempts filing while mid-stunt.
“We wanted to do the campaign with a bit of a wink and a smile,” explains Carone, adding: “Telling our stories through our customers’ eyes is not unique to B2B but what makes our ad unique is that we’ve done it with a sense of humour, which tries to personalise the story in a much more engaging way.”
But Carone acknowledges that Xerox is still some way from completely transforming an image that is so deeply entrenched in the consumer psyche. “I don’t think the brand personality has completely changed yet, but we have a commitment to invest in brand activities so we can truly try to move and keep shifting those legacy perceptions. We do extensive brand equity tracking, so I do have a good sense of whether or not we’re getting a return on these investments, but it’s going to take a long time because Xerox is such a well-known brand in the legacy space.”
But how does such a slow process fit with the ambitions of Xerox chief executive Ursula Burns, whose ‘impatience is a virtue’ mantra has become legendary inside the organisation and out?
Carone says: “Ursula has brought a sense of impatience to our organisation, which means that we never settle for the status quo and we’re always anxious to keep moving. I dislike the fact that people still associate Xerox with the copier company, so we’ve worked on what we can do to shatter those perceptions.”
Carone also works closely with Burns on reputation management, product nomenclature and communicating with the company’s 136,000 employees. The challenge of forcing a giant company to be quick and nimble is one that Carone has embraced alongside Burns by pushing for further integration between the marketing and communication departments.
Her desire to blur the boundaries between the two disciplines should come as no surprise, considering the 42-year-old’s background is rooted in PR and communications, first as a PR director for a number of healthcare companies before moving to Xerox in 1996, and later acting as the company’s lead PR strategist in its turnaround period in the early 2000s.
Carone says: “When I was in a communications role, companies were never quite sure where to put PR. Does it belong in marketing or operations? Does it report to legal or HR? This role presented me with the opportunity to bring communications and marketing together.
“But the world has changed since then and communications in many cases is driving the marketing activity, so it’s not unusual that we’ll start a campaign thinking about how are we going to leverage it through social media channels, and it becomes the genesis of something bigger. Our communicators have to become smarter marketing professionals and our marketing professionals need to become much more effective communicators.”
A place where this cross-pollination of skills can be seen most clearly is in Xerox’s social media strategy, developed and led by Carone as part of her B2P vision.
She established an integrated Social Media Council in 2008, gathering together the company’s social media ‘natives’ - who were already using social media whether they’d been given permission or not - and tapping into those brains to develop policies and programmes. The result is a strategy that has led to 42 different Twitter feeds, each personalised for the specific needs of the market, and constant investigation into emerging channels.
This openness to a multitude of different voices and willingness to fuel conversation around the brand is also clear in Carone’s attitude toward external ambassadors, both in terms of putting clients at the centre of marketing campaigns and harnessing the power of recommendation.
Much like the move to allow all staff to communicate via social media, Carone launched Ratings and Reviews last year, a system that allows customers to talk openly about the products and services on Xerox’s site.
Carone says: “We were one of the first B2B companies to do that. It was very scary for our engineers when we said we were going to start letting clients rate our products on our website and we won’t take anything down if it’s negative.
“We’re going to use this feedback to cite any trends or concerns and have it influence engineering decisions as much as marketing decisions. Despite our engineers’ fears, it has been a huge success for us.”
But Carone’s introduction of new approaches has not been limited to digital channels. The company has ramped up its experiential marketing in recent months, focusing on entertaining prospective clients while showcasing their services. One example is Xerox’s sponsorship of Cirque Du Soleil. Instead of just sticking a logo on the circus company’s programmes and using the travelling show to hit a number of different markets, Xerox spent time streamlining Cirque Du Soleil’s business processes from printing technology to admin systems, which it could then use as a relevant case study while backstage with potential clients.
Carone says: “When a sales person invites a customer to a show, it’s creative and memorable for our clients and gives them an opportunity to continue a meaningful discussion with Xerox. Experiential marketing has become a wonderful discipline for us; it’s such an effective way for us to build relationships.”
Looking towards the challenges she faces in 2012, Carone says: “They include making sure that as a company we stay focused on this mission to shift the perceptions of the brand.
“We must remain committed to those investments because such a massive brand transition that we’re going through is not something that you can turn on and off. It’s a long-term investment.”
Simon Morris, marketing director of Adobe Systems in the UK, asks: You were recently quoted as saying that irrelevance is the ultimate “dissatisfier” when it comes to marketing - hence brands must offer engaging, personalised and relevant marketing experiences in order to compete. How is Xerox harnessing the engaging power of personalised social media and demonstrating tangible online ROI to the board?
Christa Carone (CC): When you’re a consumer company driving social media engagement, you connect with consumers in a different way. We use social media more on the thought leadership and relationship building sense. Because we’ve been so empowered by social media, we don’t limit the number of participants in it, so we have 42 Twitter feeds by design. Other companies prefer to have only one or two because they want to speak to the masses. But because of the way we market through a relationship-based approach, having more Twitter feeds allows us to be much more targeted in our communications.
I also think that a much more democratic approach to social media has driven more personalisation. It was definitely a conscious strategy of ours to adopt a ‘more the merrier’ approach, which is a little bit more difficult to control, but we don’t really have to control it too tightly as we have guidelines in place.
I am able to see more of a tangible return on investment through some our digital advertising and the direct leads that this brings to us. But to be honest, I cannot point directly to a tangible ROI on social media.
Paul Davies, director of marketing communications at Microsoft UK, asks: What do you consider to be the biggest challenge facing technology marketers right now?
CC: There’s no doubt that marketers are overwhelmed by the number of communication channels available and that consumers are overwhelmed with themassive amount of information that’s coming their way. But they’re in control, so they can choose to ignore the massive amount of information and go right to friends and family for recommendations, using their social media channels to make decisions or recommendations.
For any marketer, whether it’s technology or not, the biggest challenge is cutting through the clutter.
Darrell Minards, head of marketing communications, Xerox Europe
Darrell Minards (DM): While Xerox is on this journey of transformation, we need to shift perceptions of the Xerox brand from what it was known as to what we’re providing now. In the UK and Europe, it’s the same challenge as in the US, but we’ve got a slightly longer journey. This is particularly since the acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services, which is well known in the US because of its applications like [the toll road system] E-ZPass and Medicaid but less well known in Europe.
The other challenge is making our actions relevant locally. Business challenges are pretty much common wherever you go but it’s making them relevant through the stories you tell. There are the global brands like Ducati and Michelin that we’re using within the global campaign, but we also need to make the ‘Real Business’ message relevant at a very local level. So in the UK, it might be talking about medical records with Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust, for example, or helping Lloyds Banking Group or Morrisons with their marketing applications.
DM: We’re very closely integrated. My mantra is that we really need to contribute to innovation with that team so we need to have regular one-to-ones with the key players in Christa’s team to develop and share ideas. Apart from insight and innovation, it’s essential that we also integrate our activities. We develop all the elements of communications together and the programmes that we run - no one part stands alone - so we need to do that at a global level, not just here in the UK.
I have a monthly one-to-one with Christa. I’m part of her Executive Marketing Council and have one-to-ones with members of her team. They in turn will be involved on monthly calls with their respective disciplines, whether that’s digital, PR, experiential or advertising.
And when we’ve made a decision, we need to implement it. It’s very easy to say “that’s a global decision” and go off and do our own thing, but that really doesn’t work. We need good, healthy debate but once we’ve had all those discussions, let’s just get on and implement them. If you do that, you can move fast because you’re not spending time trying to create something new in each market.
DM: I can see why it would be easy to think that being large means that you can’t move fast but actually I think size gives us that ability. We’ve got 136,000 people, which means we’ve got tremendous reach globally, so we can launch products, services and solutions for our biggest global customers in a way that we couldn’t if we weren’t as large. In attitude, we’re influenced a lot by our CEO - impatience is a big thing with Ursula Burns.
Slick processes are also key. We’re not unusual in that we’re an integrated European team but we’re not a traditional corporate European head office with country specific offices that we’re trying to influence. We’re a truly integrated operation, which allows us to react quickly.
DM: The actions that Christa has brought about have had a profound effect on us as a business. It maybe hasn’t necessarily affected what we’ve ended up doing but it has given us an absolute shape and clarity to what it is that Xerox is about. We’ve been moving towards services, solutions and business process outsourcing for a while but we probably didn’t have full clarity of thought about what our mission in the world was before Christa helped refine it
The other thing she has really brought about is cultivating an environment where you can expect the unexpected from Xerox. So you might see us as a conservative, fairly traditional, large business but actually, you might start to see the brand behaving in ways you might not expect, such as with relationships with Cirque Du Soleil or with an advertising campaign that is a little bit tongue-in-cheek.
DM: I think that the threats that will come to everyone’s mind are the ones around the economy and the environmental challenges and those things are common to everyone. For me, 2012 is about making sure that we keep on transforming this company and the perceptions of our customers in what is a very crowded market.
This year, for the first time, we have a truly integrated plan in Europe where we’ve aligned and understood all the business priorities for the three main business divisions. Picking on something like communication and marketing services - yes, we will have elements of above- and below-the-line activity, but we’ll also combine PR and experiential with that as well. I think it’s the first time that it’s been quite so holistic. I think it’s important that with all the marketing activity that we do, everything crosses over as without integration you can potentially end up with confusion and conflict - we don’t want that.
At 5.35am, the alarm rings in my hotel room in Miami. I’m in town to speak at a year-start meeting with Xerox distributors - businesses across Central and South America and the Caribbean that sell Xerox products.
I have a quick glance at my email to see what came in overnight and what needs attention later and then I lace up the running shoes and hit the Miami streets.
By 7.30am, I call and text home to make sure everyone is off to school, while flipping through iPad and TV screens to catch up on news and social outlets, such as CNBC, Twitter and WSJ.com.
Just after 8am, I join a meeting with Xerox distributors, catch up with our new leadership teams in Latin America and review 2011 results and 2012 expectations. I then participate in country case study reviews and am especially impressed with programmes by partners from El Salvador and Trinidad.
At 11am I deliver the keynote presentation on the Real Business of Marketing before hosting lunch with eight distribution partners. The conversation centres on brand equity and the uniqueness of partnerships in the Caribbean. This is followed by Twitter updates @christabc before an afternoon of conference calls with the Xerox global PR, head of internal communications and head of business transformation.
Around 4.30pm I undertake the weekly issues management review call with global communications leaders and government relations, then check in with our office in Connecticut and close out with the chief financial officer on a key investment decision.
At 6pm, I tackle the day’s emails, read the headlines and check in with home to discuss the kids’ homework assignments. I end the day with a recognition dinner with Xerox distribution partners, before a final check in with family and my email inbox.
Lights out at 11pm with an early wake-up call for a 7am flight home.
2010-present Corporate vice-president, chief marketing officer, Xerox
2008-2010 Vice-president, marketing and communications, Xerox
2007-2008 Vice-president, global communications, Xerox
2004-2007 Vice-president, corporate public relations and communications, Xerox
2001-2004 Director, corporate public relations, Xerox
1998-2000 Corporate media relations manager, Xerox
1996-1998 Communications manager, corporate strategic services, Xerox
1990-1996 Various communication roles in healthcare
Outside Xerox, Carone is a board director of the Ad Council and event management software company etouches.