CMO Insights: A Story of Sustainable Growth

In October, the Kilts Center for Marketing hosted a talk with Ann Mukherjee, ’94, Global CMO at SC Johnson & Son. As I sat in a room full of my fellow students, watching Ann, take the stage, I was ready to hear a story of a career journey, successes in different roles, and marketing at SC Johnson & Son. What I took away, though, was much more meaningful—the inspiration to be a strategic storyteller and the courage to be an authentic leader, unafraid of failure.

As Ann began her presentation, she focused on the current world of CPG and the reality that growth is slowing from a GDP perspective. The limited growth that exists comes from low-share developing global markets, and small, niche brands that don’t have scale.

One way to fix this is great marketing. But what makes great marketing truly great? Ann took this opportunity to poll the audience. Awareness, loyalty, revenues, all true. And yet, what matters the most and what everything comes back to is sustainable, profitable share growth.

In the world we live in today, it’s not as easy as it once was. Barriers to entry are crumbling for competition, and when facing consumers— “build it and they will come” no longer applies. Technology has changed this and consumers are now the ones in control. In order to succeed today, CPG companies must use data to precisely reach consumers in meaningful and noticeable ways.

The answer to this? Strategic storytelling. The type of storytelling that leaves a great deal to the imagination of the reader. As Ann described, smart marketers tell stories because people buy into them at a strategic business level.

Ann gave a case study illustrating how, after years of decreased share, Lays (the well-known potato chip) used strategic storytelling to pivot and reach consumers in a way that is authentic to how consumers use and imagine the brand. Rather than shying away from the indulgence that many associate with potato chips, they began leveraging it.

In another example, Ann shared work that Glade is doing to reach female consumers in Saudi Arabia by utilizing scents of the culture, and connecting to them and their unique traditions using strategic storytelling.

During the last few minutes of her presentation, Ann took the time to deviate from stellar work and brand growth to focus on personal growth. She said that great leaders know their priorities; that her job has never defined her, it is simply a part of her. She shared with us her personal learnings, focusing on embracing failures, being vulnerable, playing to win, not being a victim, and loving herself. She then challenged each of us in the room to, as leaders, make it our responsibility to go and reinvent the world.

Ann’s demeanor was one of levity, realness, relatability, and sincerity. It is through those traits that she has seen such career success and set herself up for sustainable growth. I think I can speak on behalf of everyone in the room in saying she has now instilled that same goal in each of us, personally and professionally.

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