Rocket Mortgage, Paypal, NYTimes, IBM & Mary Kay Share Leadership Tips in Trying Times

C-Suite executives from Rocket Mortgage, Paypal, The New York Times, IBM and Mary Kay joined Brand Innovators' C-Suite Leadership livecast this week. Hear from these thought leaders about how to navigate these challenging times.


Rocket Mortgage ran two :60 Super Bowl ads with the goal of informing and entertaining audiences at a time when the country could use some much needed levity.

The ads star comedian Tracy Morgan with cameos from Dave Bautista & Lizy Koshy in one and Joey Bosa in another. In the spot, Morgan shares why “Certain is Better” than “Pretty Sure,” in a series of humorous unfortunate events. The mortgage company delighted audiences with the spots, ranking first and second in the USA TODAY's Ad Meter – The first time the same brand has held the top two positions in 14 years. Casey Hurbis, CMO at Quicken Loans & Rocket Mortgage spoke at Brand Innovators’ C-Suite & Marketing Leadership livecast on Feb. 10 and shared the strategy.

“We didn’t know exactly what to do in the Super Bowl this year,” said Hurbis. “But, thankfully for us as a brand, we do a great job of delivering good creative. I believe that creative messaging should educate, engage, and entertain. That’s who we are. This was not the year to be serious for us, we knew America would want to lean in, have fun, and smile. We don’t use celebrities just for the name, our partners execute the brand idea all the way through the ad.”

Beyond entertaining audiences with fun content during tough times, Rocket Mortgage also wants to help out in its own backyard. The Detroit-based financial services company has found that 30% of residents in its city cannot access the internet. The brand has created a series of programs to help bring connections to those without.

“You need to think about how that must affect a community, from an 8 year old in education to a 28 year old looking for a job,” said Hubris. “We used that to announce our Changing the Course and Connect 313 initiative. We raised over $2.6 million. We have a plan to bridge the digital divide and bring digital access to every Detroit resident within five years.”


PayPal is also hoping to democratize access to financial services. Everything that the brand has been doing is leading towards this fundamental value proposition. “It has really been accelerated as a result of COVID,” said Jill Cress, VP Consumer Marketing at Paypal during the livecast. “COVID really super charged this shift from digital to physical to digital shopping.”

US ecommerce penetration has experienced 10 years of growth in three months, according to McKinsey. PayPal saw that more than 40% of consumers shifted their shopping from physical stores into the digital space and the company has been doing more to educate consumers and small businesses about its services as behaviors change.

“So while we are proudly digital first, one of the things that was really important to our consumers and to our merchants was to ensure that as consumers were in the physical world, there were safe ways to pay and that they could pay touch free,” said Cress. “So we accelerated our plans to launch physical acceptance through QR Codes, so there has been a big focus on that, really understanding that consumers were really looking for financial flexibility, so launching our Buy Now, Pay Later product, an installment program to give people more control and flexibility.”

Cress was joined at the summit by C-Suite executives at The New York Times, IBM and Mary Kay. Here are four key takeaways for strong leadership in challenging times. Head to Brand Innovators’ YouTube page to watch the whole event.‍


Make Your Service Invaluable. The New York Times has a challenge, which is to sell news subscriptions when news is free elsewhere. The company has created various marketing tag lines to associate its high-quality brand of journalism as invaluable and worth paying for.

“The challenge at The Times is that we are trying to get you to pay for the news and to buy a subscription when there’s a lot of free sources,” said David Rubin, Chief Marketing Officer, New York Times. “You have to believe in that environment, you’ve got to really believe our product is different, because we are not just competing with somebody else, we are competing with free. You’ve got to really believe that that is worth something.”


Adopt a ‘Figure it Out’ Mindset. Employees at Quicken Loans & Rocket Mortgage might not know how to do everything, but they have thrived by trying to figure it out.

“In order to experience growth as a company, we need to have foundational values that not only drive business decisions but also how we conduct ourselves outside of the office,” said Casey Hurbis, CMO, Quicken Loans & Rocket Mortgage during Brand Innovators’ C-Suite & Marketing Leadership livecast on Feb. 10. “One of my favorite isms is ‘We’ll figure it out.’ I probably use that no less than five times a day since we moved our company to work-from-home in March. 98% of us have been home working safely since March 11th. We have utilized the ism of ‘We’ll figure it out’ every step of the way, especially in marketing.”


Simplify your identity. We have been evolving from a product-based company to an audience-centric company to drive great storytelling. That kicked off what we were doing in marketing, which was implementing the principles of agility into creative messaging. I want people to take ownership in the creative space.

“Brands need to look internally and assess who they are, and then simplify that to one or two things,” said George Hammer, Chief Content Officer, IBM. “For us, it’s all about Hybrid Cloud and AI. We are simplifying our messaging to focus on that. IBM overall has always stood for the intersection of business, technology, and society. Brands that have a purpose are doing better right now, when society needs brands. People need something to believe in. They need to trust that companies are on their side and not using their data for something else.”


Energize Your Sales Force Digitally. Mary Kay has a strong sales force that is deeply connected to its customer base. These days, the company’s investments in technology are helping the brand keep these relationships energized even as people cannot meet face to face.


“The key for us has been maintaining and deepening relationships with our consumers,” said Sheryl Adkins-Green, Chief Marketing Officer at Mary Kay. “Our beauty consultants have strong relationships with their clients, based on mutual trust and understanding. We are spending more time on bringing excitement, energy, and connectivity to virtual events. We have been leveraging all of our digital tools and platforms. We have been inspired to dream of new ways to make our clients feel recognized and important. We are finding new ways to create a sense of community in our virtual environments.”

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