Winning Hearts and Minds

Why Consumers Shape the Core of Cammie Dunaway's Yahoo

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Three years into her marketing career at Frito-Lay Co., and after receiving her MBA from Harvard, Cammie Dunaway faced a challenging new responsibility: driving a truck. A route sales truck, actually. For three months, she drove it to supermarkets and stores in and around Chicago neighborhoods delivering chips for displays. "I've got some disaster memories," Ms. Dunaway says-like dropping a case of dip on one particularly hot day.
Yahoo CMO Cammie Dunaway says that listening to the consumer is the fundamental basis for every product offering and marketing vehicle the online giant uses.
Yahoo CMO Cammie Dunaway says that listening to the consumer is the fundamental basis for every product offering and marketing vehicle the online giant uses. Credit: Robyn Twomey

"Not high glamour, but high-impact opportunity," she says of her stint out on the road, a requirement of what had been at the time a recent decision to move from marketing to sales management.

"Part of understanding sales at Frito-Lay is driving the route," says Ms. Dunaway, now chief marketing officer of Yahoo. "One of the things that's benefited me in my career is being thrown into situations where you really don't know all the answers-because you learn by doing. It keeps you humble, it keeps you focused on building great teams, and it keeps you respectful of the talent, energy and ideas that other people bring."

That humility, that willingness to learn and heed others' perspectives is why she's cemented a reputation as a highly consumer-centric CMO. Indeed, at Yahoo, Ms. Dunaway, 43, says that listening to the consumer is the fundamental basis for every product offering and marketing vehicle Yahoo leverages.

Now a long-established brand, Yahoo is viewed as "a stable online player and a stable media company," says Mich Bergesen, executive director of corporate identity, Landor Associates, New York. According to a recent global-brand-value survey from Millward Brown Optimor, the specialist brand-ROI-metrics division of market researcher Millward Brown, Yahoo's brand value in 2005 was $14.1 billion (the amount of the overall market cap the research firm attributes to the brand). That puts them at No. 34 in the world, on a ranking headed by Microsoft and followed by General Electric and Coca-Cola.

The core of its marketing strategy is its acknowledgement that "the consumer is in the driver's seat like never before," Ms. Dunaway says. Ms. Dunaway-herself a self-described Nordstrom fanatic who values the retailer's customer-centric shopping experience-goes so far as to include consumers in the new product design and development process-rather than just observe them in focus groups. To get "as close to the consumer as possible," under her charge, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company also incorporates ethnographic research, digital salons and cutting-edge quantitative techniques.

One of Yahoo's key strengths is its flexibility and mix of offerings, says Peter Fader, marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "From a product and service standpoint, they're on track. They are trying a lot of things," Mr. Fader says. "They are willing to let customer tastes go in many different directions, and they are finding a nice balance between depth and breadth of their focus-for example, in the music and entertainment area."

While some marketers and experts would argue vehemently that consumer control is merely an overused concept du jour, and that indeed consumers always have had control, the extent of that control, made possible by technology and innovations such as TiVo, Netflix, iPod and XM Satellite Radio, is new, and it continues to evolve. What's also new is the control that marketers, including Yahoo, have in reaching and accessing consumers and, in turn, of markets, profits and brand building. "I don't think it is about the marketer giving up control," Ms. Dunaway says of today's marketing landscape. "It is about the marketer listening more than ever to what the consumer has to say. Whereas before it was easier just to push your messages onto the consumer, today the consumer can really choose."

Creating brand fanatics and engaging consumers in brand building-and the vehicles marketers must use to make that happen-was a topic Ms. Dunaway talked about extensively in her presentation at Lindsay, Stone & Briggs' Brandworks University in Madison, Wis., in May. "Computer screens are really just one more means for developing relationships with consumers," she says. "Technology isn't the issue here. What we're really trying to do is get inside the hearts and minds of consumers."

Varied Experience

Ms. Dunaway's path to Yahoo has led her through several positions in marketing, as well as sales. After graduating from Virginia's University of Richmond with a marketing degree, The Martin Agency, in Richmond, offered her a job as marketing analyst. Nearly two years later, she moved to North Carolina, where she took a job as account executive for another agency, Howard Merrell and Partners. After three years there, and seeking to make her next move in the marketing world, to the client side, she sought her MBA.

Ms. Dunaway attended Harvard Business School from 1988 to 1990-a rewarding experience, but not without its challenges. "I would characterize my career as being one where I always took opportunities to stretch and grow and learn. At Harvard, I was one of the few with a marketing background," she says. "It was exciting to bring a new perspective as well as to be surrounded by people with really diverse backgrounds."

Her first job after graduating from Harvard was as assistant brand manager for Smartfood, a cheese popcorn that had just launched, at Frito-Lay in Dallas. From there she worked with the company's potato chip and dip brands, and later was promoted to product manager for Rold Gold pretzels.

But her experience at Frito-Lay was not limited just to marketing roles. In 1994, she moved to Princeton, N.J., to enter a sales training program. That summer, the company sent her to Chicago to drive the route sales truck before returning to Princeton to manage a team of 200. She later moved again, to Portland, Ore., as regional VP of the Pacific Northwest, a general-management position in which she managed a $600 million P&L, and later to Dallas to assume the role of head of Frito-Lay's national sales force before returning to the company's marketing organization in 2001 as VP-kids and teens marketing, in part so that she could travel less and spend more time at home with her husband and son, a newborn at the time.

Her experience in sales management, she says, contributed greatly to her marketing skills, enabling her to "be aware of the importance of multiple audiences and think about marketing to the customer and marketing to the employee, as well as marketing to the end user," she says. And her experience in general management "made me a marketer who is very committed to measuring profitable results and very focused on metrics."

And that varied experience, she says, prepped her for her next move. "Even though most of my career was with one company, the fact that I was in several different positions within that company made it easier for me to make a change from a package-goods company to an internet company."

Connecting on Many Levels

Yahoo came calling in 2003, and she was ready to make a change that would enable her to leverage her 13 years of sales, marketing and general management experience at Frito-Lay-as well as what had become her decidedly consumer-centric approach to marketing.

She's overseen several milestone events and launches in her three years at Yahoo-a period in which Yahoo's sales went from $1.6 billion in 2003 to $5.3 billion in 2005, according to Bloomberg-including the company's 10-year anniversary campaign; the launch of Yahoo Music Unlimited at the Yahoo Music Penthouse in Miami for the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards; the Yahoo Life Engine campaign in 2004; the Yahoo Personals Live Billboard campaign, which won the 2005 Gold Effie Award; and, most recently, the launch of Yahoo Answers, Yahoo's user-generated question-and-answer product, heralded with a campaign in New York's Times Square called "Ask the Planet 2006."

"Yahoo has an unwavering focus on the consumer, and that is thanks in no small part to Cammie," says Dan Rosensweig, Yahoo chief operating officer. "She has been a great asset to Yahoo as the driving force behind innovative global-marketing and branding efforts. Cammie has an ability to bring the Yahoo brand to life for our hundreds of millions of users around the world, really winning their hearts and minds."

One of her greatest achievements, she says, has been Yahoo's integrated campaigns. She characterizes them as communication plans that "really connect in emotional, unexpected ways, but that are seamless across multiple touchpoints." In June, Yahoo won a Silver Effie for a campaign she oversaw in fall of 2004 for Yahoo Local. "The insight there was that consumers really want to partner with a company that understands their local environment, and we needed to bring that to life by using local media," Ms. Dunaway says. "We used alternative newspapers and local radio so that the creative could be very specifically targeted to the geographies in which it was being seen." Yahoo created interactive bus shelters where people could log onto computers and look up local retail stores or services and then print out results.

"Another campaign that I'm very proud of is the campaign for Yahoo Music Unlimited [that ran in fall 2005]. "We were going for an 18-24 demo who owned a portable music device," she says of the target market for the subscription service. "We created little characters that we called mini pops: digital representations of artists. The campaign launched at the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards in Miami. "We had [TV] spots with Green Day, who had the highest number of votes, and we ran our first spot right after they won their first award. We also had spots with Missy Elliott, who had the second highest number of votes. We took the idea of the TV spot, but online we made them very interactive. [Using the mini pops], you could make Missy do dance moves on the computer screen."

They also did some buzz marketing, she says, handing out CDs with a trial offer, and had street teams out all over Miami and hosted several parties with music influencers. The result: "Free trials on our subscriptions doubled, we got a 50% lift in our 18-24 demo and we generated about 20 million in PR impressions," she says.

"In these kinds of campaigns, everyone-including the internal marketing team, the agency and the PR team-comes together to make sure there is a very integrated message to the consumer," she adds. And, she says, it is important that all employees also are educated on the new campaign and its message. "Whenever we launch a new marketing campaign, we launch it on our campus as well. [In June], when we launched the 'Ask the Planet 2006' [campaign], we had elevator wraps, we changed out all of the coffee cups to 'Ask the Planet' coffee cups, we had video running in our cafeteria. Your employees can be your best evangelists for your brand, no matter what their function. Many of them are customer facing, so you really want them to feel well informed about all of their efforts."

Media for each campaign isn't chosen arbitrarily; it has to make sense, and Yahoo's media plans vary depending on business objectives. Not surprisingly, Ms. Dunaway believes online media is a necessary element in all consumer-focused campaigns. "I do think it is tough to do a campaign today without an online component just because of the amount of the time [consumers] are spending online and because of the interactivity, the ability to tell a deeper story and a story that is controlled by where the user wants to go with that story," she says. "CMOs ought to always challenge their agencies and their marketing departments to think about the role that online can play in a campaign. You don't do it just because it's the flavor of the month, but if you're not asking your team, you're missing an opportunity."

In fairness, her proclivity to champion internet advertising precedes her tenure at Yahoo, a brand that subsists largely on online ad revenue. Ms. Dunaway saw unique value in the online medium while at Frito-Lay, where she eschewed expensive Super Bowl TV spots for internet ads.

Ultimately, what she strives to apply to all Yahoo campaigns is the understanding of media meshing- "the way that media really work together for multitasking consumers," she says. "You probably have a TV show that you absolutely love; most consumers do. But now when consumers see something on their TV, they're IM'ing [using their laptops] with their friends to talk about shows and creating their own versions of their shows. TV and online work very well together. Similar with print. When people read something, they then go online to explore it more deeply."

The most significant piece of technology for being able to unlock consumer insights, Ms. Dunaway believes, is broadband. "Broadband changes everything," she says, noting that broadband penetration is approaching 50%. Wireless is the next most significant technology for reaching consumers, she says, because it makes the web ubiquitous. "It is enabling people to have exactly the kind of content they want when and where they want it. And Yahoo wants to be available wherever consumers want that experience," she says.

"We see in consumer behavior that when you put broadband into a consumer's home, media consumption actually increases, and when you put in wireless, it increases fairly dramatically," she says. According to Yahoo, consumers in dial-up households spent 43.6 hours consuming a combination of TV, radio, newspaper, magazine and online. For broadband households it went to 44.2 and wireless to 47.3. "The story isn't so much about share-shifting as it is more about how you make all of the pieces of your media mix work together. Online can be a hub and part of the glue that holds it all together."

Distinguishing Value

Ms. Dunaway is eager to see the radical evolution her market has experienced in the three years she's been on board continue. "Search marketing is something that was just starting to be talked about when I got here. Today, if a marketer isn't taking advantage of search marketing, then they're probably not doing their job. It is a wonderful way to reach people when they're raising their hand.

"User-generated content and how you really engage consumers in a dialogue about your product, word of mouth, marketing to your influencers-all of these things weren't in the vocabulary five years ago. I find it exciting."

Moving forward, Ms. Dunaway plans to continue with efforts that cultivate consumer loyalty through web 2.0 communities. "We definitely believe that we as a brand can help connect consumers to the people they care about, causes they care about, to their passions. [For example,] we announced [recently] a relationship with We helped One launch a new web site that brings in all of Yahoo's community features and really helps people come together to help try to alleviate AIDS. You can join a Yahoo Group, you can look at related Yahoo Answers questions, you can dress your Yahoo Avatar."

Also moving forward, of course, Yahoo, and Ms. Dunaway, in particular, will remain watchful of their biggest competitor online, particularly in the areas of search and brand value, Google. "In absolute size, [Yahoo is] well below Google, which was No. 7 at $37 billion [in global brand value in 2005, according to the Millward Brown Optimor survey]," says Landor's Mr. Bergesen.

"Google is a strong competitor that helps keep us at the top of our game," Ms. Dunaway acknowledges. "But we have a different view of the world. Yahoo believes that people are valuable, that people get better by engaging with each other, that there's a collective experience and knowledge that is more alive than any machine can replicate," she says. "Bringing people together with the people, information, fun, entertainment, products and services they want is what Yahoo does."

To distinguish itself, Yahoo is "combining the best of people with the best of technology," Ms. Dunaway says.

Still, for Yahoo-and Ms. Dunaway-there's still much work yet to be done. Says Wharton's Mr. Fader: "There is a bit too much concern on my part that they are going to build something great, but unless they come up with some catchy positioning, consumers might not become fully aware or appreciative of it."

Yahoo's all-things-to-all-people positioning is too "amorphous" and may be undermining the quality of their offerings, he says. Yahoo needs to be willing to take the risk of alienating some customers for the sake of a bold, crisp positioning message, he adds. "They need to be doing things that actively pull people in."

Still, it's a challenge Mr. Fader says is not insurmountable. "I'm entirely confident that [Ms. Dunaway] and the rest of the folks there have what it takes to make it happen. It's just a matter of balancing their priorities," he says.

In the end, Ms. Dunaway says, Yahoo's edge is its community-building reputation. "We are creating the world's most valued community by enabling the creation and sharing of ideas and content people value most. We have amazing assets: The largest base of consumers in the world, a well loved brand and strength in the areas that are key to future internet growth-content, personalization, community and search."

Ms. Dunaway has said that in college, she settled on a marketing major, rather than a psychology major, when she realized that "marketing was like psychology but for big groups of people." Clearly, that focus on consumer motivations and human interaction has always been of interest to her.

"It is still all about figuring out what motivates people," she says, "and how you can help make their lives a little better."

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