Marisa Thalberg’s role as EVP and Chief Brand and Marketing Officer of Lowe’s Companies is unique–it brings together brand building and the remit of marketing. During the 150th episode of CMO Moves, she shares how she transforms marketing as a function of the brand when the path is not always linear.
You have a title called Chief Brand and Marketing Officer. Can you just explain what that means to Lowe’s because some may or may not have brand [in their title] if they’re Chief Marketing Officers.
To be real about it, I do think that there isn’t consistent meaning in these titles in the industry. But I do think that in crafting that title here, which interestingly I believe I’m the first EVP, CMO that Lowe’s has had. So it was an amplification and elevation of the role. In talking about it with Marvin Ellison, our CEO and my boss, it was really this desire to bring together the idea of building the brand of Lowe’s but also understanding that equal to that is the remit of marketing the business and I don’t necessarily see those things as separate and discreet, but it was a bit purposeful to send a message that this job is going to be both.
At Taco Bell, you were Chief Brand Officer. Did you also own marketing there but it was called Chief Brand Officer?
I did. And that’s why, in that corporation part of YUM Brands, it had become like you were CMO and then you got promoted to Chief Brand Officer, but I don’t know that I felt it fundamentally changed my role. That’s why it’s a little bit situational. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that what it means in one context is exactly the same as what it means in the other. That was the decision making with regards to how my title is crafted here.
Often marketing and brand, frankly, are misunderstood by the C-Suite. How have you approached that with your C-Suite in sharing what you’re working on and really getting that comraderie and that intersectionality really moving and flowing?
Jumping back a step, in the years I spent at the Estee Lauder companies where I was sort of at the very emergence of digital and social media, my job was really to be a change agent and transform. So, in a situation like that, you have to learn–how are you going to educate and also bring people along?
In this role, it was very clear that that was going to be a big part of my remit– transform THE marketing but also transform marketing as a function within Lowe’s. It is kind of a continuing ongoing process and figuring out how to craft your message externally. And I realized–you’re coming in with a new set of colleagues and, in my case, a totally new industry context. You have to have this combination of the confidence in your expertise and the humility to know you have so much to learn and be willing to say “Hmm, maybe my first go around didn’t ring the bell. How about if I try it this way?” And I feel that’s actually very much the journey that I’ve been on internally in this past year. Inevitably you hit some tripwires along the way, some sensitive spots that you didn’t even realize were sensitive. It’s really important not to paint it as linear or easy. Keep pointing forward and proceed with good intent to really be the right kind partner, as well as an emissary for the value that marketing really brings.
What are some of the skills that you think will help marketers if they can actually demonstrate them to earn that credibility in the C-suite?
I wish I had a great “one size fits all” answer on this, but as someone who has moved across different industries, I do think it helps to make sure you really plug in. In my previous tenure at Taco Bell, it was retail in a way in that you have stores, physical locations, and hundreds of thousands of people working in those locations. So, taking the time to see those environments in action, to talk to people, to be really collaborative. And being really motivational. At the end of the day, what I’ve experienced now at multiple points in my career, oftentimes it’s your front lines. Your retail associates, for example, are who want to take more pride in the brand than almost anyone. When marketing’s humming, go talk to the people in the store. They love it.