Speed To Market Dominance

How Jerri DeVard Is Making Technology Work for Verizon

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Ask Jerri DeVard to explain her technology meal ticket, and she'll sum it up with two recent takes from her own living room. A few weeks ago, Ms. DeVard's 16-year-old daughter was in her bedroom with the door closed. As Verizon's senior VP-brand management and marketing communications hollered to get her attention, Ms. DeVard's 13-year-old son text-messaged his sister, who emerged right away. Later, Ms. DeVard asked her son to stop playing a game on the TV so that she could watch the 6:30 news. He stared at her in disbelief: "Why watch it now? Why don't you just record it?"

To Ms. DeVard, those moments aren't just 21st-century parenting clich├ęs. They sum up everything today's chief marketing officers need to know, not just about selling technology, but using technology to sell. "Technology is these customers' second language," and that fluency brings them "technological glee. This under-34 demographic doesn't ever watch something just because it's on-they watch what they want to watch when they want to," she says. "They demand products that provide personalized, customized instant gratification."

Her job, she says, is to figure out what will bring this critical market segment glee two, three and four years down the line. "Getting out in front of your customer is so important," says Ms. DeVard. "Marketers like to go to their boards and say, 'If you give me X to sell this, you can expect Y in terms of ROI.' But it's more than that-you have to build the business case and sometimes convince your management what it is you need to be selling." She concedes that those needs are especially urgent at a tech company like Verizon. "Given the capital and lead time it takes to develop technology, you can't wait for something to happen in the marketplace-then it's just too late," she says. But she maintains the ability to read the customer's future needs is the most important thing any marketing executive can do. "The future belongs to those brands whose messages and products are best able to travel to wherever the consumer is moving," she says.

Verizon is hoping to morph as fast as those moving consumer targets. The $90 billion company delivers wireless, broadband, data and long-distance services, including fiber-optic services (FiOS), its ambitious fiber-optic network with lightning-fast capabilities. And of course, the company also operates Verizon Wireless, the cell phone company that serves 51.3 million customers nationwide. (Verizon Communications owns 55% of Verizon Wireless, and has plans to buy back the 45%-owned by Vodafone, a British company, said to be valued at at least $38 billion. Marketing for that division is handled separately.)

More interesting than what Verizon is now, though, is what it's planning to become as it shakes off the remnants of its just-another-phone-company image. Following the merger with MCI earlier this year, it's building an expanded presence in the business market. Its total revenue base is evolving toward a higher percentage of wireless and broadband services in all market segments, and the company has said that the traditional consumer voice segment-the market in which Verizon initially made its name-will be reduced in half, from about 25% of total revenues in 2002 to a percentage in the low teens in 2007. And it plans to control 30%of the data market in five years and 25% of the video market.

Verizon is spending heavily-close to $2 billion in 2004 and 2005-on its fiber-optic cable system, in order to woo more customers away from dial-up and conventional broadband. FiOS, which delivers 10 times the bandwidth of regular DSL, is expected to be available in 3 million to 4 million homes by the end of this year. While the rollout has hit plenty of speed bumps, and many of the benefits of fiber-optics-like downloading movies in seconds-aren't yet apparent to consumers, Ms. DeVard couldn't be more bullish on the company's aggressive push to be a technology leader: "FiOS has taken a great investment, but we know that's our future. So we created an ecosystem that gets to our future now."

Finding the '-er' in Verizon

While the technology Ms. DeVard finds herself marketing may be mesmerizing, she says, it requires essentially the same discipline as pushing muffin batter or mascara. "It's all the same marketing science," Ms. DeVard says. "We talk about the benefits of the product, as opposed to the product itself," she says. "Technology for technology's sake is only interesting when you can break it down and say what it means for me."

OK, she concedes, there's a bit of fun inherent in selling products that are, well, cool, like watching VH1 on your cellphone. "Technology is so top-of-mind with people, and you can engage anyone-age 5 to 95-in a conversation about it. People want to talk about technology. They want help demystifying it. And our markets are changing so fast that it's very exciting."

But Ms. DeVard says she's felt that excitement about every job she's ever had, including a stretch where she worked on Pillsbury biscuits, "an intensely trade-driven product. At that moment, I was 100% consumed-with the quality of ingredients, with pricing structure. I was passionate about what made consumers want our biscuits. I've never once thought, 'Boy, is this dull' about any brand I've worked on."

Colleagues say this purposeful, almost dogged determination to get to the bottom of consumer behavior is what sets Ms. DeVard apart. Laurence Boschetto, president and COO of Draft, New York, recalls a meeting with Ms. DeVard to figure out why one of Verizon's DSL campaigns had flagged after a promising start. "She kept saying, 'There's got to be a reason. We're missing something, and we need to find it,'" he says. "So we did a study of prime prospects, and it unearthed a major thing. People weren't buying DSL because it was faster. They were buying it because it was richer."

That clicked, and it eventually led to a DSL marketing plan that focused more on what Ms. DeVard calls the "-er benefit, the thing that clearly differentiates to a customer why your product is better than a competitor's. We create a demand by explaining how our products help people accomplish their objectives, whatever they are."

Those specific product messages work so well, she says, because Verizon has created such a strong master brand, an essential brand message that layers over all its products. "The core of the Verizon brand is reliability, trust and performance."

Ms. DeVard, who has been with Verizon three years, says she loves working for a company that puts its money where its mouth is. "In 2000, this brand did not exist, and it's now ranked No. 15 in domestic brands. We grow the brand, protect the brand, and every year I get money to strengthen it-it's in our corporate DNA."

To stay in front of that all-important 18-to-34 consumer, Verizon uses an impressive arsenal of media, customizing its advertising messages for streaming broadband spots, ad insertions within video on demand, TiVo showcases and podcasts. What's important is that she's finding the customers with methods that are relevant to them. And at a time when Verizon and its competitors are placing increasing emphasis on "bundling," combining phone services with DSL, for example, that kind of constant and varied communication is critical. "We don't ever want to lose a customer because people didn't know that we provide a product or service-that's why we spend so much money and time on advertising," she says. In fact, Verizon will be introducing a new campaign in May. Ms. DeVard declined to give details at press time.

How technology enables communication

Verizon has also been aggressive in using technology to monitor the ROI from on that ad spending. "Proprietary systems enable us to match spending to response and sales data, to measure and optimize performance of ad spending," says Laurie DePrete, Verizon's director of marketing communications and branding. Among the metrics it uses: response rate, click-through rate, cost per call, conversion rate, cost per sale, and by market, medium, target, product, creative, and offer. "We continually optimize the investment based on these measurements, and all are valuable for marketing mix planning," she says. The company also employs "a sophisticated customer segmentation strategy online and on-site to deliver target-appropriate messaging, and then use the metrics learning to refine and improve performance."

But the most powerful technology Verizon is leveraging, Ms. DeVard says, is broadband. For consumers, the benefits are obvious. "It makes everything the Internet does better and more satisfying. Once consumers switch from dial-up, they say they'll never go back." But broadband's influence on marketers may be even more powerful-even the ones who don't use it. "Whatever you're selling, the consumer now has the opportunity to compare it to other offers. People always come back to it as a comparative research gathering spot. Look at how broadband has changed the way cars are marketed-everyone who walks into a dealership today knows exactly what's available, and what it's going to cost."

Verizon believes that broadband's power is so pervasive that after introducing its "Richer. Deeper. Broader." campaign last year, the company launched www.richerdeeperbroader.com, inviting consumers to send in stories of how broadband changed their lives, then posted video-blogs. One man relied on broadband to help restore a 1960 Corvette, for example, which he eventually sold on eBay. A mother of a child with heart problems used it to launch a support organization.

Ms. DeVard believes these varied marketing efforts can't be effective in a vacuum, and she can be relentless in making sure every Verizon message gets delivered, both internally and externally. "If there's anything my staff doesn't like about working for me, it's probably my emphasis on accountability," she says. "It can be frustrating when we're working on a program that involves 10 or 12 stakeholders, to have to spend time bringing each one up to speed. But our success depends on it."

She's also a big fan of Verizon's emphasis on working in teams, including close working relationships with Verizon's IT department, where so much innovation begins.

She brings those standards of communications to ad agencies, too. "She jumpstarts the year by coming in and giving a state of the union to everyone on the account," Mr. Boschetto says. "She wants us to have the same information as her team, in terms of where they are, where they're going and what the metrics for success are." He says it's rare to find a client that committed to top-down communication.

And just as Verizon relies on multiple technologies to reach consumers, it also uses separate agencies-including Burrell for African-American advertising and La Agencia de Orci for Hispanic marketing-to make sure its many messages are relayed as expertly as possible, Ms. DeVard says. Verizon also works with R/GA, an online agency, in addition to Draft and McGarry Bowen, which handles the corporate advertising.

The making of a tech-savvy CMO

Her painstaking thoroughness is one of the many ways Ms. DeVard's old-school pedigree shines through her current role as a tech-marketing diva. After graduating from Spelman College in 1979, the Harlem-born Ms. DeVard earned her M.B.A. from Clark Atlanta University, married, and started as a rookie marketer at Pillsbury, where she stayed 11 years. There, she learned the marketing fundamentals that she's been able to translate into every job since. "Pillsbury taught me how to tear apart a profit-and-loss statement and understand the cost structure, how to give R&D the right product input, how to get the best work from an ad agency. It's where I learned how to stand up and present to management, to be persuasive."

From there, Ms. DeVard's career got more exotic, including brief stints with the Minnesota Vikings and Harrah's in New Orleans. Both jobs forced her to examine entirely new kinds of consumer behavior. It was fascinating, Ms. DeVard says, but grueling. "Gaming is 24/7. You'd work on your marketing programs from 8 to 6, then have to be in the casino at night, to see what was working and what wasn't." By then, she and her husband had two children, and after two years of letting her husband pick up more than his share of parenting, "I knew the gaming industry wasn't for me."

So Ms. DeVard came home to New York, where she headed marketing of color cosmetics for Revlon. As different as it was from poker chips, football or biscuits, it was perhaps the most technology-driven job she'd ever had. She arrived just as the company was launching its revolutionary ColorStay line, and besides pushing the season's hottest colors, she found herself selling a breakthrough concept. "The color stayed on all day," she says. "Women had never seen makeup like this."

Next, Ms. DeVard joined Citibank as the CMO of its fledgling e-bank. "It was very exciting," she recalls. "We were launching a whole division around the e-consumer, taking everything about the terrestrial bank and turning it into an online experience." There, says Barry Herstein, a former Citibank colleague who is now a senior VP at American Express, Ms. DeVard quickly established herself not just as an astute marketer, but as one who kept her equilibrium even in that intense launch mode. "Even under tremendous pressure, she just has this strong sense of inner balance," Mr. Herstein says.

"She's got this unique ability to use one-liners not just to defuse tough situations, but to get everyone refocused," adds Judy Verses, Verizon's senior vice president of regional marketing operations. "We just came out of an operations review with our vice chairman, and he asked some tough, challenging questions. But Jerri is unflappable-she knows how to lighten things up, but then get right to the point."

That directness, even when it's blunt, has won her fans on the agency side, too. "Creative people do their best work for people they like-that's when they stay until 3 in the morning," says Gordon Bowen, chief creative office of McGarry Bowen. What's more, he says, compared to many CMOs, "she's the perfect blend of right brain and left brain," he says. "On one hand, she's very big picture, and she can see things in rough form, and understand it. At the same time, she really grounds things in reality and keeps people on plan."

For Ms. DeVard, her first priority will always be trying to figure out exactly what the connected, entertained and informed consumer of the future demands next. "My job-working with all the other eyes of the corporation-is to permanently have my finger on the wrist of our customer. The clues to the future are always there," she says. "You just have to know how to decipher them, and connect the dots."

What's Her 411?

Name: Jerri DeVard

Job: Verizon's senior VP-brand management and marketing communications

Home: Manhattan's Upper East Side

Alma mater: Spelman College, B.A., economics, '79; Clark Atlanta University, M.B.A., '83

Secret to her success: "I've got a great husband. So I'm happy at home and happy at work. It's a nice balance."

First marketing job: Marketing assistant, Pillsbury

Hobby: 6:00 a.m. workouts with a personal trainer

Best recent vacation: "We took the kids to Spain, and then Morocco-just an amazing mix of the new and the old worlds."

If she couldn't be in marketing: "I love babies, so I'd work in a daycare center."

Her hero: "My mother. We talk at least twice a day, no matter where in the world we are. We're joined at the hip. I watched her put herself through undergraduate school, getting her master's degree, and finally a Ph.D., all while raising two kids on her own. That certainly let me know anything was possible."
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