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Kristin Lemkau on Purpose-Driven Brands

We talked to Kristin Lemkau, JPMorgan Chase’s CMO, about the importance of taking marketing risks, fostering cross-department collaboration and how to be a purpose-driven brand.

You’ve talked about the importance of being a purpose-driven brand. How do you create a purpose-driven brand? What do purpose-driven brands do that other brands do not?


There’s a great TED Talk by an author named Simon Sinek, and the key message is that “people don’t buy what you do–they buy why you do it.” Great brands don’t just explain what their product does or why it’s better—they communicate the value it brings to people’s lives. Think about the cleaning company Method. Their purpose is “people against dirty.” That’s a much more compelling way of saying, “Our soap cleans better than the other soap.” Your product has to be great, and the experience customers have buying it has to be great; that’s a given. But what distinguishes the greatest brands is that they communicate their meaning.

What advice do you have for businesses looking to foster collaboration between marketing, sales and product groups?

You have to look at everything you do through the lens of the customer. The customer doesn’t care if you’re in different business lines or divisions. You need to establish a shared goal for the customer and shared accountability. In the end, successful people never worry about turf. They worry about doing a great job for their customers and clients, and good work always begets more good work.

How important is brand loyalty and advocacy in marketing today, and how can marketing departments create more brand advocates? What’s an example of a strategy JPMorgan Chase has used to reach, engage and ultimately convert current and future customers into brand-loyal advocates?

The days of controlling your brand are clearly over. Word-of-mouth is now viral, and it creates the ultimate accountability for brands. The best you can do is influence your brand. And that’s a great thing. Companies now have easy and open access to their critics, which allows us to make our businesses better. And equally as important, we now have access to our loyalists. At JPMorgan Chase, we have hundreds of customers writing us letters or sending out tweets about how much they love our company. It’s the best advertising we can think of. In fact, that is our best example—we took the actual letters that customers had written about one of our employees and just ran the letter with a picture of the employee reacting as they read it. It was much more emotional and authentic than other kinds of advertising can be. 

As social media continues to grow, how do you think JPMorgan Chase will leverage the value of these channels while balancing the risks?

There are now 4 billion social media accounts in the world–75 percent of adults are on some form of it. Media consumption is changing rapidly–40 percent of all media is now consumed via the Internet, and 60 percent of all time spent on this Internet is consumed on mobile. These are powerful, often inexpensive channels we can use to tell our story. To manage those risks, we have defined our policy, communicated it to employees and rolled out training. And we meet regularly to ensure the policy is up to date in a rapidly changing social environment. But that shouldn’t stop us from thinking about social in the same way we think about other forms of marketing. It’s very powerful, and we need to be engaged.

You’re very involved in the community—you’re Chair of the Board of Directors for the Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit focused on preventing the causes of gun violence, and you’re a member of the Leadership Council for the Robin Hood Foundation. Can you talk about the importance of these activities to you?

We talked about the need for brands to have a purpose. It may sound corny, but I think people need purpose. Preventing gun violence and breaking the cycle of poverty are mine. These are two issues that are entirely preventable, and as a mother, I can’t look my children in the eye if I don’t make a very significant effort to do what I can to make these issues something they don’t inherit.

Forbes has named you one of the 10 most influential CMOs—what a coup! What have been your biggest professional and personal influences during your career?

That was hugely flattering, and on a list of people I have admired for years.

Every career takes a village. Professionally, sponsorship has made a huge difference to me. I don’t know whether mentorship works, if the mentor doesn’t actually see how you work—but sponsors who know your work directly and can affect your career are critical. I’ve had no better sponsor than Gordon Smith, my boss today. I’m sure it sounds like I’m sucking up, but he’s pushed me into new areas and then had the patience to let me grow into the job. At JPMorgan Chase, I’ve had a number of sponsors along the way that I wouldn’t have this job without. I’ve been really lucky. 

Personally, the biggest influence on my life was my father. There’s not enough ink to go through everything he taught me.

You’ve talked about how one of the biggest challenges women face in the workplace is “not taking enough risks”—how do you encourage your employees to be more fearless?

There isn’t a formula for fearlessness. But I have seen more women than men turn down career opportunities. And usually, it’s not because they don’t think they’re capable; it’s because they don’t want to take on any more during what’s already an overloaded day. You just have to trust that thoughtful people have faith in you—do it and figure it out. 

On day-to-day risks, I worry about whether my marketing teams are taking enough risks with their thinking. Both the banking business and the marketing industry are changing very, very quickly. We are the leader in the category, and we need to behave like the leader and take some smart risks with our brand. As a leader, I try to let people know which mistakes I will underwrite. Well-intended and calculated risks that don’t work out: always. Mistakes of integrity or principle: never.

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