CMO of the Week: Qualcomm’s Penny Baldwin

December 28, 2020

Brand Innovators caught up with Penny Baldwin, chief marketing officer at Qualcomm to learn more about how the brand adapted to COVID-19, how they are telling their 5G story, what key trends she expects to see next year.

The question that Penny Baldwin, chief marketing officer at Qualcomm, has had to ask a lot this year is: “What do we have to change? What do we have to shift in order to be contextually sensitive and not tone deaf?”

When COVID-19 first hit, Qualcomm audited its full breadth of marketing activity and had to shift a lot of marketing activations and event activations to virtual platforms.

“That called for re-inventing the event marketing experience altogether using proprietary platforms that we developed to drive an effective experience while complying with entirely new principles,” says Baldwin.

As a B-to-B marketer that provides the backbone to wireless technology and mobile infrastructure, the company relies on events and educational opportunities to tell its story. In 2020, the company has shifted to more virtual options, which meant shifting the program to accommodate for at-home participants.

“You just can’t lock people into a virtual platform for hours on end,” Baldwin says. “You have to be sensitive to shorter bites of information, no presentations longer than an hour, building in breaks, thinking about how to sustain engagement and allow for networking – the natural outcome of a physical platform but not necessarily a virtual one.”

As 5G has begun to roll out globally, Qualcomm has been working to tell the story of its critical role in this process in creating a faster and more connected world.

“Qualcomm changed the messaging in our brand campaign to emphasize new use cases that can be enabled through 5G like telemedicine, remote surgery, remote education, all far more relevant and applicable these days than they were in the past,” adds Baldwin. “We systematically walked through all of the disciplines and thought about how we needed to rethink the ways we used to do things.”

Brand Innovators caught up with Baldwin from her second home in Bluffton, SC, where she is taking a break from her San Diego houseboat, to learn more about how the brand adapted to COVID-19, how they are telling their 5G story, what key trends she expects to see next year.  The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How has your strategy shifted due to COVID-19?
The brand strategy and brand promise has remained intact, we haven’t shifted those at all. But the way in which we portray the benefits of our brand, the societal good and impact that we generate has become more relevant to today’s climate. The strategy remains intact, but the fulfillment of the strategy, the demonstration and examples of the strategy are what have evolved. We’ve expanded our brand-building efforts to include more markets around the world. Qualcomm has enabled 5G infrastructure, technology, and facilitated the generation of the new 5G era. However, most people don’t know that.

They don’t know the benefits that 5G will yield, nor do they know about Qualcomm’s role in making it happen and all the downstream ecosystem benefits which Qualcomm enabled when our partners and customers helped us bring our products and services to market. We are trying to educate people on the role that Qualcomm plays in 5G, the critical importance of our technology, the downstream benefits that we generate for our customers and partners around the world, and the societal good that it will ultimately generate for the world at large.

Can you speak more about virtual and digital activations in a time of COVID?

Well, it takes many forms. There is a lot of content that we develop. We do a lot of co-publishing with leading publications like The Wall Street Journal or Axios where we tell long-form stories about how this technology came to pass and the benefits that it breeds, because it’s not as easy to convey the depth of our story in shorter formats like above-the-line advertising (which we do as well).

We have a lot of digital communication and broadcast messaging that we run in key markets around the world, explaining the benefits of 5G and the role we play. All of our channels are constantly advocating that story. If you look across our social media platforms, our website, the content in our speakership, what we say in our events, what we push out on proprietary platforms, it’s always consistently telling this 5G leadership story.

How are you telling Qualcomm's brand story as 5G rolls out globally?

We’ve since converted entirely to a virtual platform for all of our proprietary events. We have a major event called Tech Summit where we launch our new Chipset offering, we are on an annual product roadmap with that offering. We just launched the 888, which is our newest Chipset and all of the evolved benefits that it enables. That was all done virtually. This year, we generated 25 million livestream views [based on preliminary data]. That’s mind-boggling! This is an event that usually has 300-400 attendees in Maui (where we host it every year).

The virtual platform has enabled a greater scale which we have never experienced, it’s almost crazy to think that this was even achievable, but it happened. We are looking at all of the engagement metrics as well to make sure that it was sustained viewership, rather than a lot of click-on-click-off activity. I’ll have that data in the next few days. Right now, the upfront number of those who attended was pretty fascinating.

We also just had a Smart Cities event which is in support of our IoT business, again on our own Qualcomm virtual platform. Everything is done on that platform. The way that we have to think about content, messaging, and production value (which is important to sustaining viewership) really complies with the new COVID era. Shorter formats, keynotes which are no longer than one hour, opportunities to engage people physically and virtually, promotional content leading up to the event, promotional content coming out of the event that sustains engagement and curates content that was provided in the event platform. We are also looking at companion apps, mobile apps, which we are developing for Qualcomm so that we can enhance personalization and the value of the experience for our consumers, customers, and partners.

How do you scale your follow up customer marketing journey when you are going from hundreds of people to millions?

Thanks to the digital platforms, intelligence, and analytics which are now available to us, the personalization capabilities are significantly enhanced. It’s made possible by digital and virtual platforms, it would not be possible in a physical world. That’s one of the reasons I believe that we are never going back to a world of purely physical events. I think we are living in a hybrid-world forevermore.

There will be a handful of events which we will stage on a physical basis, but there will always be a virtual option. After interviewing the media, the press, and the analysts we’ve dealt with (who are also the target of some of these event platforms), we’ve heard consistently that they have figured out how to do their jobs virtually with less travel and more productivity. I’m not going back to flying around the world all the time, I will be far more selective about where I go and what I do.

Speaking of which, I know that CES is not as big of a deal to Qualcomm this year as it has been in the past. Do you think these giant events are over?

I think the big events will continue, but they will evolve. They will also need to live in both the physical and virtual worlds. There are benefits to physical platforms like CES because of the ability to meet in person, network, it’s hard to match those benefits on a virtual platform. But I think that they, like us, will be required to provide the option [of a virtual environment] to folks in order to maximize engagement and attendance. If you insist on a physical only platform, it will just put an artificial constraint on what you can accomplish.

In your career, you have either worked at or on the agency side of client accounts of major tech players including: Microsoft, Intel, Oracle, AMD, NetApp and HP, among others. What learnings have you brought to Qualcomm from your prior experience?

I grew up in technology marketing, being in California that was such a large portion of the economics in The Bay Area. You take a little bit of learning from each and every one. To experience marketing technology to both consumers and B2B audiences, you learn different things. It’s cumulative, it builds on itself over time, you take something from each and every brand, company, and marketing experience. It’s all brought together in my current role.

For example, when I was at Intel, responsible for transforming the Intel brand worldwide, one of the things that was a cornerstone to our strategy was to integrate Intel technology into branded experiences which clearly demonstrated to consumers the role our technology plays and the experiential impact that was generated. Lady Gaga’s David Bowie tribute, that was infused with a whole manner of technology. Instead of just saying what our technology does, it was much better to show it. That is something which I’ve taken to Qualcomm.

We don’t pursue traditional sponsorships based on putting our logo in as many places as we can, because it feels very shallow to me, it doesn’t breed any in-depth understanding of the technology and what we do. Instead of doing traditional sponsorships, I’ve eliminated that altogether in favor of experiential activations.

We’ve since signed a deal with Live Nation, we’re going to use 5G technology using millimeter waves specifically in concert venues around the world to breed an entirely new concert experience where AR and VR are as much a part of the experience as the physical performance itself. Consumers will be able to get a vantage point of the performance, regardless of where they are in the stadium, they can get any vantage point they want. If you want to be on stage, in the green room, first row seats, 5G will enable that experience in an altogether new way. We will make sure that we put marketing programs in place to explain to consumers how they can get that experience based on 5G technology.

What predictions do you have for what wireless communications will look like in 2021?

Connectivity will continue to be essential in 2021. If there was ever an accelerant for connectivity demand, it was the pandemic. That desire for connectivity will be true now increasingly for both work and home. There is a relationship between connectivity in your home because your home is now your office, and that demand will continue to accelerate. I think there will be a convergence between enterprise and home. Video telephony will be the first-choice communication platform now as opposed to picking up the phone and having an audio conversation. Video will be the new norm.

5G will give rise to new experiences and business models. I mentioned the new concert experience as an example, but there will be far more unique benefits only 5G can enable: decreased latency, increased reliability, expanded capacity, real-time interactivity, the fusion of AR and VR, physical and virtual experiences. The networks are still being built out, it’s not all going to happen in a day, but it’s around the corner. Ironically, the pandemic has accelerated the build-out of 5G networks because operators like Verizon have taken advantage of the fact that there is so little traffic on the streets for months on end, so they just accelerated their network build-out.

You can look at China as a precursor for things to come. For users like mobile gamers, tech influencers, and people who want to be on the cutting edge of technology, the rate of 5G phone sales in China has skyrocketed, exploded. 5G phone sales are dominant in China – all 5G phones are backwards compatible so if you don’t have a 5G network, it will run on 4G LTE – there are over 500 devices to date already. The roll-out of 5G is happening much faster than 4G did. Normally, there is a cadence and a pace to every G transition, and it takes a while to have the phones take root, for the infrastructure to be built out, for the operators to have all the networks up. 5G has blown through all the normal gates.

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