CMO of the Week: SiriusXM’s Denise Karkos

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Denise Karkos joined SiriusXM as chief marketing officer in October 2019 after spending almost a decade in the financial services industry, including six years as CMO of TD Bank.

Denise Karkos joined SiriusXM as chief marketing officer in October 2019 after spending almost a decade in the financial services industry, including six years as CMO of TD Bank.

“Some people are surprised that I went from financial services over to entertainment but the common denominator is the customer,” explains Karkos of her natural evolution. “As long as you've got the real capabilities to understand the importance of listening to the consumer, knowing research and data and analytics and beyond, to build nimble marketing ecosystems to deliver the messaging to the right cohorts at the right time, that doesn't discriminate across industries. It's all about knowing the customer and financial services is markedly different from where I am now in entertainment but I was able to port over all of my playbooks and adjust them for this consumer.” 

In her role, she manages the Pandora and Sirius XM portfolio of brands – each with their own different challenges. For Sirius XM, her vision is to ensure the brand is relevant beyond the car.

“We are now competing in the streaming games here outside of the car and that's really where we want to win,” explains Karkos. “So that's really my challenge is changing that brand perception from a distribution perspective on Sirius. And then for Pandora, it is all about relevance with the younger generations, and with so much competition for their time, be it Spotify or TikTok, it's always going to be a challenge for us to find a way to fill a role and that younger generations life that the competitive products are not so so those would be the two main the common denominator from a vision perspective, is just to be intimately in conversation with our listeners, irrespective of the brand, so that we can be relevant modern, in player important role in their lives that other brands are not playing.”

SiriusXM’s competitive differentiator is all their IP and content and their goal is to reach consumers by delivering relevant content “to the consumer at the right time.” For example, when Harry Styles does a performance on Howard Stern. 

“Howard Stern may not be as relevant for a certain demographic, but certainly Harry Styles is and so thinking about the talent that we have, as well as the guests that come on, and using that as fodder for really sophisticated content marketing,” explains Karkos. “We measure every asset and for prospects –people who may be in trial– across each of the Pandora and Sirius XM platforms. So really building the robust intelligence of what relevance looks like through content, and what performs well, in which medium. That's really the the intoxicating part of the marketing mix that we're really investing in.”

Brand Innovators caught up with Karkos from her office in New York to innovation, emerging technologies and the potential of Web3. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

What channels are important to your brands for different reasons to how you are connected to consumers with these channels?

For this company more so than any place I've ever worked. It's, it's, every single channel has a role, because we cover so many different demographics. Also we have different distribution models, be it in the car –where we have the automakers achieving record sales– and use that as a targeting capability. Therefore, traditional channels play a very big role in direct mail, email, and even outbound telemarketing is a successful channel for us. And so you've got that one part of the ecosystem that's incredibly efficient. 

For the Pandora and SiriusXM app, we have all sorts of mobile, digital, social, and influencers. TikTok is playing a bigger role now, to get those younger ears on our platform. And then certainly, we have some OTT and linear broadcast campaigns that serve a role from a mass marketing perspective as well. Which of these channels are now ingested into all of our models to understand the role each arm in place to contribute incrementally to the business. So we've really built a really robust channel marketing plan, and we understand the efficacy of each, and where the next best dollars are spent. 

Can you talk about what innovation looks like for the brands?

Certainly for any streaming company, it's constant innovation in really trying to make sure that you're listening to consumers and putting the next best teacher or piece of functionality in front of them. But maybe the one that's most interesting is actually in the car, which has been the traditional way people have consumed SiriusXM, you we are always looking to innovate on that dashboard. And so we have a product called 360L. Typically, Sirius has been delivered via satellite, which is one way technology, satellites are helping to stream the music or entertainment or sports content into the car. 

With the modernization of in-car dashboards, we now have the ability to have both that satellite content but also to have streaming content via what we call 360L. So it does a few things for us as a consumer, if you're driving your car, and historically, you may get into a spotty area, because satellite coverage isn't great, streaming kicks in to give you a seamless listening experience. But additionally, the robust two-way data we now get through the streaming delivery mechanism goes right back up to your first question about the vision which is to connect consumers with the content that they love. And now we have all that data to now personalize in the car much like we have in the streaming products. But that has been a recent phenomenon for us in the car.

Can you talk about if there's a role for emerging technologies like the metaverse or NFTs for serious?

Yeah, we're very excited to be kicking the tires on NFTs in the metaverse. We are hoping that we will be launching some in later this year. We've got multiple ideas that we're scoping out, but it could be concerts in the metaverse owning land in the metaverse for our talent, our channels. And then as it relates to NFTs, having something around sports for us, because that is a big part of our platform, and what we deliver to consumers. So whether it's sports betting but just gamifying that a little bit through NFTs and building some community around that, we think that's going to be a potential opportunity for us as well. So fingers crossed, we will be in the game in 2022.

Can you talk about SiriusXM's commitments to DE&I and how they manifest in your work as a marketer?

Absolutely. It's personally an absolute mandate for me to drive the business from our CEO on down, it starts with the top and we're incredibly committed to a diverse workforce. Our head of DE&I, Nicole Hughey, has made phenomenal strides here at Sirius XM in the last few years. So we are incredibly committed, I personally make sure that my leadership team is incredibly diverse. And that's I feel like I've had success in the past having broad marketing departments being diverse, but I think the leadership team is paramount to have diversity at that level. And we've achieved that in a very balanced way. 

We're starting efficiency training. We talk about it in every CEO Town Hall. We are constantly putting our efforts in front of people. We have something called Crucial Conversations where we have DE&I leaders across the company talk about their experiences and ways to be more inclusive. So all to say it is definitely part of our OKRs and all of our business objectives. It's infiltrated throughout every part of the company.

Previous to Sirius, you were with TD Bank and other financial services brands. Can you talk about your past roles and leadership have helped shape your approach to your current role?

As a leader, I just love to be a student of people, which helps me with my team and my peer set and my leadership team and my CEO, to really make sure that you're listening at all times. Every culture is going to be so different and if you don't come in and really listen, and don't have your biases at play, and really understand everyone's motivations, I think you will never undersell the importance of that as a leader, especially when you're moving over into a totally different industry with a totally different culture.

In what ways are the brands that you're managing or running, showing up to be culturally relevant?

Our programming team does a phenomenal job of constantly partnering with talent to either have a Sirius XM channel or a Pandora station. And whether it is for Black Music Month, we have propped up a bunch of artists channels, like the Tupac Channel and the Prince Channel. Just being so in the moment for what's happening externally, and just having a pulse of that, then my job is easier. They're constantly curating everything and delivering it to me, and I'm just making sure that it gets in front of the right consumer set, and that we're driving the business. There is really a nice fluid ecosystem that we've built here to make sure that we stay relevant.

What are you most excited about for the rest of the year?

I've been here for two and a half years, and when I got here was largely more of the traditional channels like direct mail and telemarketing, but the company knew that they wanted to really modernize the marketing ecosystem. And so I'm really proud of the teams because we've not shunned the traditional channels, because they are effective, but we've optimized them. And we've introduced every other new channel possible. It’s the balance of performance, content, brand, and understanding how they all assist each other in reaching the right consumer and achieving ROI that is palatable to the company. That to me is a wonderful thing that we're going to continue into 2022 and 2023 and beyond. 

And then I would say I'm very excited to bring some entities to market that would be really exciting for our employees and especially for consumers.

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