Inspiring the 'we', with Norman de Greve

Inspiring the 'we'

On a rainy, humid, foggy Wednesday night in NYC, 100 people came together to be part of a conversation between Norman de Greve, CMO at CVS Health and Margaret Molloy, Global CMO at Siegel+Gale. It was an insightful and thought-provoking evening with de Greve providing a candid, humble and revelatory look at his leadership journey. And in sharing his personal story and his company’s strategic growth plans he provided a road map to career and business success.

Aligning customer-driven growth with purpose-driven business is not only possible, it’s essential

Knowing that it’s always best to “begin at the beginning,” one of Molloy’s first questions was to define marketing. And from de Greve’s answer we immediately knew that this would be a strategic and expansive conversation. Marketing, he advised, is not advertising or digital strategy or even brand building. These are tools. Marketing is “customer-driven growth.” That is the role of the modern CMO and this is the lens he uses to evaluate all strategies.

This included the decision to pull all tobacco products from CVS stores. The decision was not difficult, according to de Greve, as it aligned with the company’s values and desire to be a successful health brand. The key was how to align it with the company’s growth plans. As he explained, “it’s not enough to make a bold move in business. You need to know the path to business growth.” For CVS this required patience and being strategic about the timing when other areas of the business would be able to compensate for the $2B revenue loss.

But what about soda and sugary drinks,  Molloy challenged and the audience concurred, these are not healthy either. Aside from the fact that sugar cannot be equated to the dangers of tobacco, de Greve used this as an example of the tricky balance that is required between purpose and growth. Eliminating all soda from CVS would perhaps be business suicide and as de Greve stated, “you can’t deliver on your purpose if you’re out of business.” But CVS has moved these products to less prominent areas of the store, making them less enticing.

Authenticity is critical

Inevitably the question was asked: can and should brands take a political and values-driven stance? Not surprisingly, opinion was divided amongst the audience, but de Greve explained that while not every brand has a “tobacco” which is easy to see how it doesn’t align with its core values, “every brand has the opportunity to do something meaningful for its customers.” But what a brand ultimately decides to stand for has to be authentic and feel true to its core and its people.  

Inspiring the we is one of the keys to super-charging career growth

Every successful senior leader has realized at one point that future success is no longer dependent on personal accomplishments but rather on the perception and achievements of your team. For de Greve, CVS provided this transition. Building the right team, believing in them and trusting their abilities was a key learning for him as he navigated his new role.  That and a few other pieces of advice have served him very well: have 2-3 people that you can reach out to who will argue with you and challenge your assumptions; join respected marketing groups to keep relevant; never focus on how hard something is, ask yourself instead “what would have to be true for this to work;” and remember that “what you do tomorrow is more important than what you did today.”

Ultimately, it’s about being true to your customers and true to yourself

Understanding your customers’ needs and focusing on those (instead of worrying about what the competition is doing) is the key to a healthy, long term business. This is true even if your competition is Amazon.

And working for a company whose values you agree with can be a game changer as it elevates all that you do and gives more purpose to your role. CVS provided this for de Greve and has given him the ability to live his values every day.

Some have written that in an era of so much dissonance, partisanship, and the splintering of media, brands have become irrelevant. But the animated and interactive conversation with de Greve showed the opposite. The influence that brands can have on society and public opinion is enormous (the removal of tobacco products caused a marked decline in national tobacco sales, and CVS’ new Beauty Mark initiative that demands that altered beauty images be identified as such is beginning to have an effect). The question for all of us is, how do we use this ability to change lives and create our best selves?

This event review was by Marketing Society New York board member Adriana Rizzo. Follow her @AdrianaRRizzo